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 meant to breach the copyright of Paramount and Pet Fly Publication.

With thanks to Jade, Gail, and Ferry for their help in beta reading the story and for their input.

For JR, and Susn Happy Easter Ladies.

WARNING: This story is rated "R" for intense emotional content
The story is general fiction, but depending on the reader some elements may appear to be slash in contents. Please read at your own discretion

Cry of the Panther

Simon picked up the next section of the Saga of the Ancients.

Each of them where were put in his personal safe after reading, the only person that would understand the sub-texture of the manuscript was Commander Dan Slater. But, as of yet, he didn't quite trust Slater enough to show the papers to him, but maybe that would change soon.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The camp was at peace, except for the daily arguments that were a result of people living in a close community. But even these things were all forgotten as the Clan celebrated one of the main religious festivals of the water god, a bringer of life.

The ceremony had given way to a party of the kind that Blaer had never seen before. Saemund had tugged Jeme away, leaving Blaer with Caro and Daryl to enjoy the music and stories around the fire. The young guide was as eager as any child to learn the myths and legends of his new clan.

Blaer spent the last part of the festival trying to avoid the almost predatory females of the clan that seem to target him, much to the enjoyment of Hender and Bryn, who had been joking with Saemund about him. His first impulse had been to pummel them into the ground, then he hesitated, Jeme would not like it if he killed them, and they didn't mean him any disrespect. With an almost physical jolt, he realised that they had accepted him as one of them, and the joking was a normal release among friends in this barbaric clan.

He had finally decided to go back to their tent, and looked around puzzled, Jeme had been gone some time. If it had been anyone but Saemund, he would have been tearing the camp apart looking for him. With a shrug the young guide made his way back to his new home, he pushed open the flap of the tent and froze. Jeme was laid on the furs naked with the body of a young woman draped over him, her face was fused with fear, and she was trying to shake him while she called him name.

Blaer knew straight away that this was a massive zone out, any woman with any sense would have rushed to get his guide, knowing that time was important. //Instead, she was trying to shake Jeme out of it, the idiot.// He caught the girl by the arm and pulled her away, throwing her onto the floor. "Get out of here." Blaer snarled. He fleetingly recognised her as one of the girls that had been trying to catch his sentinel's eye during the festival, //She must had caught up with him after he had finished his business with Saemund.//

Blaer's first emotions when he had seen the naked girl and his equally naked sentinel, had been to put his hand around his knife, and start to pull it to remove this threat to his bond. Only the fact that Jim had been zoned had stayed his hand. The girl was now forgotten as his whole being was focused on Jeme.

The girl was tugging on her dress, embarrassed to be seen naked by the dark guide, but at the same time angry that he did not give her a second glance. She was not use to being ignored. "We were making love when he went like this." The girl put in.

"What did he say?" The guide still did not look at her, his attention still fixed on Jeme.

"That my touch hurt him." The girl swallowed nervously at the look the guide gave her. "I never...."

"Leave us."

"Should I get Wulfstein?" The girl stayed near the entrance, unsure.

"No, just get out. NOW." Blaer dismissed her from his mind. His sentinel's body was as taut as a bow, his muscles like the bowstring, vibrating. Jeme's sweat glinted in the light of the candles, defining the muscles of his stomach, thighs, and chest. His neck muscle stood out like whipcords, fingers clawed into the furs, his eyes were closed, and there was no response to his guides voice. Blaer accepted that Jeme was already blind and deaf, those senses tended to overload first. With two of the five gone, all he was left with was touch, taste, and scent with which to call him back with.

Blaer bent down and breathed his scent over his sentinel's face, but Jeme was too locked into the zone out to register him. Attempting to link failed, he was locked out of his sentinel's mind. All Jeme could feel was the emotions to mate, when he had zoned during the act of mating, it had become the only conscious thought left in the frozen mind.

Blaer's anger was bubbling to the surface, when would those feayr idiots learn that only a guide could bring their sentinel out of the void. When Saemund had told him that Caro had hit Jeme to release him once, he had been horrified, they had no knowledge, and with a start he knew then he would have to instruct them.

Sex in particular was a trap for a sentinel, unless monitored by their guide, they could get lost in the moment, the feeling of completion; all the senses brought to a peak at once, the emotions crashing through any reserve. He would have to speak to Jeme about it, the only safe sex for a sentinel was with ... he pushed the thoughts away as he flushed. But that was the future; now he had to bring Jeme back before death claimed him, already Jeme had been in the void too long.

With shaking hands h began to strip, a sentinel in this heightened state needed skin on skin contact, if Jeme's senses were that high, he had to break through the barrier fast. He eased down on his hands and knees straddling his sentinel's torso, lowering his body so it slid over Jeme. Blaer closed his eyes, concentrating on what he was doing, as at the same time he talked, Jeme might not be able to hear him, but he continued to talk; needing to hear his own voice.

For a moment he hesitated, then rested his weight on his elbows and framed Jeme's face with his hands, taking a deep breath, Blaer pushed down his own emotions at what this was doing to him. Then his lips covered Jeme's, the tip of his tongue traced his sentinel's lips. When he still didn't get a response, Blaer nipped Jeme's lower lip with his teeth, the pain registered with the zoned sentinel, as did the warm weight on him. But his mind was still over loaded on the girl's scent and pheromones; the sentinel was locked onto that. It was all he knew and responded to.

Blaer felt Jeme's mouth open under him, his tongue flicked over his sentinel's lips then into his mouth, making sure that he could taste him. He had to make the connection. He could not wait too long; the zone could get deeper.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

The girl's face showed total disgust at what she was seeing. //Wulfstein had to know about this//, she had heard the stories circulated round the Clan about the Dark Guides and their base practices. //Everyone knew why they were isolated behind the locked doors of the temple//. Now she had proof, the Clan would not tolerate this. She stormed out.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Jim's hand came up and fastened into Blaer's hair, pulling him down hard. The only senses the sentinel had working were smell and taste, and they were threatening to swamp him again. He began to actively plunder the mouth he had lip locked to.

Blaer struggled to free himself, but Jeme's hand held him close, while the other arm trapped his waist. He tried to push against the block in Jeme's mind, but only the need to mate was there, the one thought to mate and pass on his seed was all consuming to the sentinel.

The kiss was broken brutally, and Blaer was throwing over onto his back. The sentinel's body pinning Blaer's own body down as his legs were pushed open. Then Jeme's mouth was back again, aggressively tasting every part of him while the sentinel moved, grinding himself over the soft body underneath him.

Blaer managed to free a hand, and boxed the older man hard around the ears, the overload splintered as the zone broke. Jeme found himself looking into the face of his guide, his hand tangled in the long hair, and the blood-smeared lip where he had bitten him.

"God no." Jeme pulled back from his guide, his face showing horror. He was confused, the last thing he remembered was the soft sweet body of the girl moving over him, then she had morphed into the hard wiry body of his guide, his very male guide. The shock threw him into another zone.

Blaer's mind tore through Jeme's, like a knife through butter, reaching deep into him before he could be shut out, for a split second he was nearly swamped by the feelings of fear, loathing, and guilt, then he began to calm the hot spots of anguish in his sentinel's mind. The young guide then lay resting against his sentinel's now relaxed body, //That had been close//. He raised a hand and swiped at his mouth, and was surprised to see the smear of blood on the back of his hand. //That had been too close//.

Exhausted, Blaer settled down, and then his mind began to reflect on the changes in their act of bonding. Jeme's senses has lately been going higher, peaking at random, so that a simple touch could throw him into a rage, have him lashing out. His reactions, sometimes, were almost aggressive to the point of territorial. Jeme didn't know what he needed, but instinctively he was reaching for it. His job as a guide was to give him what he needed, even if he couldn't vocalize it. The most important change in the bonding was the need for skin to skin contact, he could not bear for them to be parted by clothing, he had a need to feel is guide without any physical barriers between them.

There was a level of bonding which the priests called The Darkest Bonding. Sometimes a dark guide and an ordinary sentinel could reach that level. But with Jeme, when it happened, it would be glorious. Blaer hugged him closely; this was more than he could ever have dreamed of. When they had first bonded, Blaer had moved out of the sentinel's bed, only to wake each morning curled up next to Jeme. That was when he realised that they both needed this closeness, Jeme needed to know that his guide was here for him, and Blaer needed the support. Although dark guides where stronger than grey, they had weaker barriers at night, and leaned more heavily on their sentinel for night-time shielding.

Jeme had a need, at the moment, for Blaer to be more submissive to him. He understood why, submission was a tool in a guide's armoury. A skilful guide could take an aggressive sentinel in battle rage and gentle him like a kitten, or put him straight into blessed protector mode just by what he did and said. //The power of the guide//. Blaer found it intoxicating as well as humbling.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Simon laid the manuscript down, //this put a different slant on the guide's submissive role. If he was reading this correctly, the dark guide used submission to control the sentinel//. From what he had seen, and he was no expert, the sentinels on the whole seem a lot larger. Jim topped Blair by some 6 inches, even Lisa was a good four inches taller than Karl, and Edward and David was a prime example as well. //Physically the guide was at a disadvantage and couldn't force the sentinel against their will. So, they used guile instead//.

An instant jumped into Simon's mind; when Blair had pulled Jim back from killing a man with the lightest touch of his hand, and a softly spoken word. //The power was in the guide's hand. The GDP was *not* going to like that one bit//.

Blair, Simon noted, had added. Jim is showing signs of what could be the darkest bonding. My guess is he's in the early stages now. Jim's need for skin-to-skin bonding has increased. He finds any clothing between us a barrier.

//Sandburg, I really did not have to know that //.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The dark guide stroked his hand lightly across the powerful shoulder and arm, //this most powerful predator was his to command//. Other sentinels where protectors, Jeme was that as well, but he was also an avenger, a predator.

Jeme moved slightly in his sleep to maximum the touch, burying his face against his guide, appeased by the beat of his heart and familiar scent. A large powerful hand ran down Blaer's body, and then Jeme settled against him, one word whispered with an outward breath. "Mine."

Blaer buried his head against his sentinel. The darkest bonding would herald a return to the temple; this was always done with great ceremony, with gifts from the House Leaders. But this was no sentinel protector from the ruling houses, this was a barbarian sentinel from the Clans, and they knew nothing of ceremony.

"Jeme." He said the name softly, needing to hear it. Even as the thought came to mind, on some level Jim must have heard it, and understood it. The link between them suddenly burned through his mind. Where his body touched Jeme's, he seemed to melt against the larger man, and through his mind was one thought that excluded all others. //My sentinel. MY MATE//. He pushed up slightly on his elbows, raising his body off Jeme's and breathed his scent over the sleeping face. He saw Jeme's nose flare at the scent and a hand pull him down against him, while he buried his face against Blaer's neck, a hand dropping lower, securing Blaer's body to his in a tight hold. Blair whispered softly, "Claimed and Marked Sentinel. Yours and only yours." Then finally, he surrendered to the exhaustion.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Jeme woke to a warm weight in his arms, and he looked down at the smaller guide in repose, he who was curled around Jeme. The sentinel tried to remember what had happened. One minute he was with Tia, he had found her warming and willing on his furs, and he had responded to her. Then nothing. Something else tried to come forward in his mind, but it was fleeting, no more than a half formed idea, and then was gone. His guide had been there to bring him out of the zone; Blaer was always there for him.

Already he could hear the camp coming alive round their tent, he carefully eased Blaer down onto the furs. His guide made a small noise as the warm body of his sentinel moved away from him. Jeme lightly stroked Blaer's face with the back of his fingers, and then tugged the blankets up around Blaer, mindful of how his guide hated to be cold. He dressed and then moved to the tent flap and looked out, the mist was still lifting from the trees. It was going to be a hot day.

"Morning, Jeme." The voice still carried the traces of sleep in its tones.

"Blaer You're all right. I didn't hurt you last night when I zoned?"

"No, I am fine." Blaer looked thoughtful and a little serious. "But it was a bad zone, Jeme. We need to work on that."

"With you, I don't have to worry."

Blaer felt the warmth of his feeling run down him, //Jeme trusted him//. "You rest. I'll get our food." Jeme crossed over to Caro's fire.

Caro glanced at their tent, "Is Blaer alright?" Usually when she saw Jeme, his dark shadow was by his side, there had to be a reason for his absence.

"He... well... tired. That's all." Jeme changes the subject, not wanting to explain about him zoning out during sex "That smells good." He leaned over to try some of the bread.

Caro gave him a slap across the hand, just as she would have done with Daryl. "I'll dish it up." Going to fetch several bowls. While dishing up the stew and getting bread she added. "Maureen is in labour; she carries Todman's baby, I'm looking in on her. Her time is very near now, and Megan needs me to be there, she wants to pass on her skills." Caro took deep breath and delivered the part of the message that she knew was going to get a reaction from the tall sentinel. "The baby is feayr, but you will need to acknowledge its arrival in the clan."

Jeme shook his head. "If the baby is feayr…”

"The baby is Panther Clan, you are sentinel prime, and it will be expected of you both to visit her once the child is born." Caro paused to make sure the Jeme understood the importance of it, and that she would brook no argument. "I will call you when it is done, now get back to Blaer before he misses you." She gave him a push, catching the "yes mother" remark, and the brilliant smile. Caro shook her head and mused, //More than one maiden has lost herself to that smile//.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Blaer needed to centre himself after last night, his emotions were churning around inside him, his sensitivity to Jeme had increased as Jeme's emotions had become more heightened as he began to undergo his own darkest bond changes. He settled himself in the centre of the tent by the sleeping furs, crossing his legs in meditation before closing his eyes. His hands rested loosely on his knees and he took a steadying breath. Even with his eyes closed he knew the moment his sentinel entered the tent. It was as if a heat like a blacksmith's fire had been ignited in his stomach, blazing up through him, through ever nerve in his body.

For the sentinel the food was now forgotten, he was circling the guide, inhaling deeply, and taking in Blaer's scent. It was familiar and was calling to him, but now that scent had an edge to it. He could not put his finger on what it was yet, just that it was calling to him. Without thinking Jeme put his hand out, his fingertips brushed the curls, as he marvelled at the changing colour of them in the light of the small fire.

Blaer opened his eyes, and blue met blue, Jeme's hand moved to cup his face, never once losing contact with his guide. His hand now stroked Blaer's face with the back of his fingers. //His guide//. Those two words were echoing through his mind. //His and only his, no one else would touch him this way. If they did, they would die. His and only his//.
The fingers then brushed Blaer's lips. The guide opened his mouth slightly, breathing his scent over them. He saw the reaction, the flare of his sentinel's nose as he caught the scent.

Jeme ran his hand down the front of his guide's body, and gently pressed against his chest. Never losing eye contact, Blair eased himself down onto his back.

The sentinel knelt back on his hunches and just looked at him. Blaer lay still; this was no longer Jeme, this was the dark sentinel, and he was opening his senses to the fullest fixing them on him. Jeme wrapped around him like a soft caress.

When Jeme didn't move, Blaer pushed himself up on this elbow and reached out a hand to him.

Jeme's senses were going to a higher level. The need to touch, feel, scent, and see was overwhelming. These were all symptoms of Dark Animal Sprit Bonding, considered the Darkest of the Bonds, it was coming and nothing now could stop it.

Blaer lay back down again, as Jeme loomed over him, only his arm stopping his weight from crushing the smaller guide. He lifted his hand back to Blaer's face, it moved down his guide's throat as he felt the life pulse under his fingers, then the flat of his hand on the shoulders, and then they moved down across his chest. The coarser hair on his guide's chest was like fine cord, it took his attention and he was lost, falling towards the void. Only to be caught and pulled back by the touch of a cool hand, and the kick ass roar of the dark guide, echoed in his mind. //Stay with me Jeme; open up your other senses. Don't focus on one, balance them//. Blaer raised himself up. But this was not to the Sentinel's liking; the guide must be submissive and Blaer was thrust back down on the sleeping furs. One hand pinned his chest the other on his shoulder. Fingers clenched tightly, bruising his flesh. From the way the blue eyes flashed, Blaer knew that Jeme had been taken over by the spirit guide panther's persona.

The dark guide's own anger flared, //He would not allow himself to be hurt//! It had worked last time, so he lashed out again, boxing his sentinel around the ears, hard. With a howl, he was released and Jeme pulled back. Blaer fought the twitch of a smile; Jeme was pulled away from him, kneeling, and rubbing his ear. All he needed was a long tail to thump and he would have been his spirit guide.

Blaer pushed himself up slowly and gracefully, tucking one leg under his body, the other knee was pulled up against his chest and an arm holding it in place. Jeme started forward; the panther seeing what he needed and what he wanted presented to him.

"Jeme. NO!" Confused eyes and a snarl greeted him. Jeme lunged forward and received another hard clip and pulled back again, growling constantly as it rubbed its ear again.

"You will NOT maul me. Do you understand?"

Jeme continued to rub his ear. //That had hurt, his guide would not let him touch him, his guide, HIS. // Those two words began to beat through his head like a drum, blocking out all others. He could see that he wanted, what he needed but was not allowed to have. Then he realised his guide was talking too him, and he forced himself to listen.

"I am your Guide. NOT your TOY." Blaer could see that his word appeared to be getting through to his sentinel

The panther sentinel was rocking backward and forward on its haunches; his head tilted as he scented the smaller man, his mouth open tasting his scent on the air.

Blaer's breath caught in his throat, his hands were sweaty, he wiped one on his thigh to dry it, and watched the sentinel follow the move, he couldn't afford to blink, any move that was not controlled would be seen as weakness, and the panther sentinel would pounce and he would loose control of the situation.

Blaer's eyes were fixed on the sentinel; he raised a hand and waved the panther closer. The Panther made itself moved slowly, //His guide had hit him not once but twice because he had spooked him and that would not do//. He settled close without touching him, having to fight the impulse to grab and possess. He rubbed his ear thoughtfully, in his heightened state it still hurt.

Moving carefully Blaer leaned forward slightly, offering his hand to sentinel. This time the panther sentinel, almost timidly and with only the tips of his fingers, connected with his guide and was pulled closer. "It's alright, Jeme. You can hold me now." The Panther, with great care, pulled Blaer to him, treating him as if he was fragile and would break.

Now held close, Blaer's hand began to stroke and pet the powerful shoulders and chest, he grinned as he heard the sentinel purring in response and begin to nuzzle against the crook of his neck. Through the link, Blaer allowed his emotions to be freely broadcasted to his sentinel, seductively pulling the older man deeper into their bond; The Panther slowly pulling back and leaving only the man. With a yawn, he settled down into the Mellow feel of their bond, as he joined with his guide.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Jeme was aware of the whispering first, it came from a group of feayr clansmen, and he heard only fragments of words spat with hate. "Seducer. Slut... all over him, when he was gone into the void." Jeme could not get a fix on the whole sentence, puzzled he headed to where his young guide was grooming their horses.

But Jeme never got there, he found Saemund was blocking his way.

"Er, Jeme. We need to talk. Now." His tone was sombre. Almost reluctantly, Jim followed him, only to see Tia's father standing in front of Saemund's tent.

"About what happened last night, Blaer explained. My focus was lost and I zoned. I meant no disrespect to Tia...."

Her father, Clive shook his head. "Jeme, this is said with great respect to you my friend, but Tia has told us that your guide...." Clive kept his ground as he saw the look on Jeme's face-harden. "She said, and this does not reflect on you, that he took advantage of you during the zone out. My daughter…”

"I want to see her now." It was no request. It was a demand.

Saemund leaned in, "Jeme, keep calm. You know that it is a serious offence for a guide to... well... you know... a sentinel, while he is in the void."

Tia came forward, very shyly, looking down at the floor, lifting her eyes slowly to Saemund and Jim. Saemund asked her kindly. "Tell us what you saw."

"The guide was naked." She looked down, embarrassed. "He was touching himself. He was getting excited, and then he rubbed himself over Jeme's body." She noticed the look of horror on the sentinel's face and allowed herself a moment to gloat, // see, Jeme believes it //. Tia carried on with her story. "Then he was kissing him, forcing his tongue down his throat. Jeme was unable to protect himself; he threatened to kill me if I told anyone. I was so scared."

Her father pulled her to him then added. "What other evidence do you need, Jeme? He must be punished! We know the creed, a guide that…”

Jeme snapped. "I know the creed! A guide that forces himself on his sentinel… is whipped in front of the whole clan. If the crime is serious enough, he is castrated to prevent him from raping his sentinel." Then his attention fixed totally onto Tia, and his face became a hard mask, there was a rumbling deep in his throat. "So, what are you lying about Tia? I heard your heart beat increase. You were excited at the idea of Blaer being whipped and castrated.” "His voice had now dropped to a deadly purr "Why?"

Tia was scared. No longer was this the man she had seen and wanted, he reminded her of a dangerous animal that would tear her from limb to limb. "Because he was… She trailed off. "How dare he throw me out of that tent! I am not a whore, to be thrown out because he... *he* does not like me!" She screeched at them.

Clive spun her around and shook her hard. When that failed, he hit her across the face, and then gathered her close to him. Suddenly, he realised that his daughter's words where heavy with jealousy "She is use to having things her way. Now that someone has gotten in her way…” He met the angry look on the sentinel's face and said. "Jeme. I am…”

But the sentinel was already heading back to his guide. "Make sure the clan knows the truth. Blaer is innocent. Because the next one who says what she did, will die at my hands."

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

The young guide emerged from their tent; he looked around for his sentinel, and with a smile started forward. He was almost knocked over by two of the feayr clansmen, but what knocked him back on his heels were the emotions. The hate and loathing that washed over him, even with his barriers up, he had felt the blow to his mind. Blaer was puzzled when Jeme pulled him to one side and spoke quickly on where he'd been and why. The anger went straight through him like a flash fire. Jeme tightened his grip around his waist, linking, trying to calm the killing rage of the dark guide.

For a moment Jeme had to struggle with his guide, he could not allow him to break free; he tightened his grip and manhandled him back to their tent; all the time sending calming thoughts to the highly volatile, and angry guide.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

The tension in the clan was an almost physical presence.

Saemund looked around, the clan was split into sentinel and feayr lines. The story had gone around and the sentinels had taken affront to the slur on the dark guide, the most treasured and honoured of guides. The Clan leader was all too aware that something had to be done to heal the wound before it festered and broke open. This needed Caro's touch; she was the natural diplomat of the clan and had the ability to bring peace when all else failed.

Caro came back from talking to Clive, he had readily agreed to the public apology. He had seen the look in Jeme's eyes and knew that without it, he would have to leave the clan. This way he could salvage his position. The form it would take was a drink of friendship. He and Tia would share a bowl of wine with the dark guide, and then forgiveness would be asked for, and then given.

But Saemund was puzzled as he relayed in his mind his talk with Blair and Jim. He had walked into their tent; Blaer had turned on him, the anger vibrating from him. They were in mid- argument, his heated words had clearly come to Saemund's ears.

"That bitch wanted me castrated! And you're telling me that I can't…” Blaer spun on his heels. "Get out!" He snarled at Saemund. Jeme caught at his arm, only to have the smaller guide pull free of him, "This is our home, and he walks in as if this was his tent! We are not a freak show for his *pleasure*."

Saemund found he was colouring. "Jeme, do something."

Jeme started forward, only to have Blaer snap at him. “He's in the wrong and he knows it. Now he enters in friendship? How long before he enters in fear? He belived their story, he believes that I would rape you! Violate *my* sentinel."

Saemund threw up his hands. "Easy, Blaer. I meant no slur on you; you are a good and trusted guide to Jeme. The reason that I walk in without thinking is that when Jeme first came to us, he would fall into the void, overload." He paused and could see that Blaer was listening to him, "Then he could be lost for hours, if no one found him… So I took to checking up on him. After he was wounded, he became part of my family; there was no need for barriers between us. Blaer, how would you treat a first year grey guide that walked in on you?"

Blaer exhaled slowly, his mind turning over the question. "I would have yelled him out, and then explained that a sentinel and guide are one, and that there is a need for them to have their own sanctuary where no one comes unless they bid welcome."

Saemund asked, "Then would you treat me as you would a first year grey?" A smile twitched his lips, "Understanding that I am new to this sentinel, guide business."

Blaer's eyes lit up. "Yes."

"Good, because I bet there is a rule in there somewhere, that you are not allowed to run through a grey guide."

"Actually, Saemund. There is."

Saemund smiled. "Then treat me as a grey." //Now to business//. Saemund thought, "Blaer, Clive will tonight make an official apology to you in front of the clan, and you are to share a bowl of wine with them to show forgiveness. This... Blaer, it is for the good of the clan. Otherwise there is risk…"

"Of the clan splitting, I understand and will do as you ask."

Saemund was knocked back by Blaer's acceptance.

"The bowl and the wine, as my mother, Caro should supply them." Blaer's tone became mocking, "Some people seem to think that I might try to *poison* it." Jeme's hand dropped onto Blaer's shoulder.

"Caro will be more than happy to do that for you, Blaer." He carefully avoided commenting on the guide's words.

Once out of the tent Saemund was still thoughtful. Blaer's acceptance of the whole idea of the public apology had him puzzled, from the short time that he knew the dark guide it was not the reaction he expected. Blair met force with force. //Maybe he was finally mellowing//.

There was an air of expectance in the clan as they moved towards the point in the evening when the apologies would be asked for. Saemund was brought back to the present.

Blaer had moved to the centre of the gathering. Jeme stood inside the circle, sword in hand, the hilt was held at waist level, the sword blade resting against his chest. Saemund entered the circle with Clive, and his daughter.

Clive's voice rang out over the now silent gathering. "I am pained that my daughter should bring false witness against Blaer, Guide Prime of Jim. Be it known by all present, that he did not violate the most sacred vows of his calling, and we ask his forgiveness in this."

Tia was shaking as she knelt in front of Blaer; hands clasped in front of her, head low. "Guide Prime, my life is in your hands. My punishment is yours."

For a long moment, Blaer just looked down at her. One word from him, and Jeme would move forward, her head would be taken from her body by the bonding sword. Her blood; wiping away the dishonour. "Your apology has been given in good faith and it is accepted as such."

Clive released the breath he didn't know he was holding.

Caro then entered the ring, as mother of the clan, as well as Blaer's adopted mother, it was her place to bring the bowl. Its wood was stained by years of wine; it was only used for important occasions. She handed the bowl to Blaer, he handed it first to Clive, and the man took a drink of the sweet wine. Clive handed it back to Blaer; the dark guide looked straight at Tia, and then drank. He then handed it to her, for her to finish the wine. The bowl was then handed back to Caro, and then it was as if a weight had lifted from the clan, and the noise began to return too normal.

Tia was about to approach Jeme when her father tugged her away, now was not the time.
The Sentinel Prime was on edge, and he clearly would not forget what his daughter had tried anytime soon.

The evening wore on with Rulf, one of the elders, sitting down, and the clan drawing around him as he began to tell a story of the history of the clan and the first clan men. Saemund looked around and saw that Blaer was by Jeme's side, //Right where he should be//. The Clan Leader mused, //He now seemed so much part of the sentinel, that it was hard to imagine him anywhere but there//.

Tia leaned down and said something to her father. As she straightened up, her hand wrapped around her stomach and she was violently ill, and was rushed away to her tent. Caro and the women of the clan rushed forward to help her, and the call went up for the healer Wulfstein. Some of the clan looked towards Blaer, but the dark guide gave no indication that anything out of the ordinary had happened, just settled more comfortably by his sentinel's side.

Later that night, Saemund saw his old friend Wulfstein and waved him over to share his fire, "The girl Tia that was a quick illness wasn't it?."

"Poison induced illnesses usually are."

"Poison." Saemund looked uncomfortable as his thoughts were put into words. "What makes you think that?"

"The slight discolour on her throat, it is a poison taken from one of the herbs that I have in my tent. In different strengths it can heal, purge, or kill."

"Blaer…”

"An assassin. He knows the poisons of the Dark Arts." Wulfstein's usual cheerful face took a serious expression as he added. "Tia was lucky that he only punished and didn't kill."

"How did he do it? I mean Caro served the wine and she would never poison anyone."

"My guess is the poison could not have been in the cup, all drank from it. Only Tia was taken ill. But her father drank first, then Blaer. If Blaer had the poison in his mouth, then when he drank, it washed the poison into the wine. When she drank, she got the poison."

"Devious isn't he?" Saemund shook his head in disbelief then asked. "But how come he didn't succumb to the poison?"

Wulfstein shrugged. "He's a dark guide, Saemund. Never forget that my friend."

As the fires were dying down to a red glow, the clan slowly drifted away back to their tents, until only the watchmen remained alert to protect their Clan. Safe in that knowledge, the Clan slept.

Part Two

The next morning Tia emerged. She looked drained, a shadow of her former self, moving slowly like an old lady, an arm pressed against her stomach.

Clive approached Saemund as he broke his fast, he looked around carefully first, and instinctively Saemund knew it was to check for the Sentinel and Guide Prime. He seemed satisfied that both were absent, pitching his voice lower, he addressed his clan leader. "Tia's mother and I have spoken long into the night, and have decided to ask your permission for Tia to marry out of the clan. My wife's brother is with the Yellow Sun Clan; his cousin is a good man, and in need of a wife. With your permission they will marry at the great gathering." He paused, not sure how to put it into words, "My daughter has no future with this clan, allow her a new life."

Saemund's face softened. He had seen Tia grow from a baby to a headstrong young woman, the child of doting parents. But Clive was right; she was finished at the Panther Clan. Blaer had held his hand, but she would be a constant reminder of the slur, and while she was in the clan the rumours would remain alive. While she lived, better she leave now. "You have my permission, and may Tia be happy with her husband."

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

In their tent, Jeme lay on the bed, a warm weight resting against his chest and hip, a small curly head resting against his shoulder, warm breath against his throat. The sentinel swore as the warm bundle pushed itself up from its comfortable resting place. The dark guide picked up the vibes of the un-bonded, and immediately his hand groping for his sword, he was collected and pulled tightly back down again. For a second he struggled "Calm down, little one, there is no threat. Sssh that's it." Blaer's body relaxed with a soft sigh. Jeme pitched his voice low. "It's alright Blaer, it's just Terry. He's un-bonded; he wants permission to bond."

"Is he ready to bond?" Blaer's voice was sleepy

"That is ours to decide." He carefully wrapped his senses around his guide as the smaller man settled against him. This was the thing that Saemund could not really understand, the need for sentinel and guide to be in close physical contact with each other. Blaer, for all his empathic strength was like all young dark guides, vulnerable at night. His shielding gradually slid down, leaving him unshielded to the emotions of the people around him. The need to sleep close with his sentinel kept him sane, once awake his barriers were strong. As he grew older, his barriers would grow even stronger, but at the moment he could only sleep when basking in the arms of his sentinel, and Jeme would not deny him this.

Jeme frowned slightly. He could detect a slight increase in his guide's temperature, and as his hand moved over the smooth skin of his back, he was almost sure that he could detect a pricking through the skin. He dismissed it when Blaer moved against him. "Come on. We can't keep him waiting."

Blaer was pulled close again, "We have time, little one. When the dawn breaks, then we will judge his worth." With a yawn, Blaer settled back in his favourite sleeping position, his head on the broad shoulder, his arm around his sentinel's waist. "As you wish."

"As I wish, Blaer." Jeme pulled the blankets up around them.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Before the first ray of the new dawn, Sentinel Nat had came across to Saemund's tent to present his young apprentice to the Clan Leader, and ask his permission to approach the Sentinel Prime for his apprentice to be judged. It was well known among the sentinels that Saemund took his forays into the Sentinel World very seriously, treading carefully and treating it with great respect.

Saemund looked at Terry and saw a young man of only 20 summers old. He had been practicing his abilities and believed now he was ready for a guide, but he would only be allowed the chance to choose a guide if Jeme passed him. Then and only then, would he be able to go to a matchmaker at the Great Gathering. If he failed, he would have to wait another season's turn before he could try again.

The feayr leader spoke levelly. "Go and be judged. Be of pure heart, and truth of purpose, and if the gods be willing, you will pass into the adulthood of the sentinel." Saemund intoned solemnly.

Terry came to the tent of his Sentinel Prime, the young un-bonded sentinel shifted nervously. He glanced over his shoulder at his father and his Clan Leader, and then at Nat, the sentinel that was sponsoring his bonding.

Nat commanded him to kneel, then in front of him he placed Terry's sword, the point of the sword pointing towards the young sentinel, the hilt to the Sentinel Prime's tent where he would keep vigil. In the morning the Sentinel Prime would come out, for the first time flanked by the Dark Guide, to give their judgement on the worthiness of Terry to bond.

It was a hard time for the young man; other Sentinel Primes used it as a form of ritual only, there being no chance of a refusal. But with Jeme, there were enough un-bonded sentinels around to confirm the fact that he would not give permission lightly.

His father; Clan Leader and Sponsor, then retired to the fire to watch him. Now he would recite the sentinel creed. If successful, he would be able to choose his guide at the Great Gathering, once the guide had passed the Dark Guide' scrutiny.

By now the Sentinel Prime would know that he was there, all he could do was wait. His hearing was turned down, all his dials set to near zero. Until he was judged, he was neither un-bonded or soon to be bonded. He was nothing.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

The first rays of dawn has started to reflect into the tent through the open flap. Jeme remembered all too clearly how Blaer had made him change the position of the tent so that when he did his devotions he was bathed in the light of the rising sun. As he watched, Blaer knelt forward, his forearms resting on the floor, thumbs tucked under the palms, fingers held together, pointing forward. The bonding sword blade under his fingers, his head resting on his arms, as the first fingers of dawn light played across him, his dark hair seemed to come alight like fire as the rays brought out the red in it.

Saemund had approached Jeme soon after their bonding. Taking him to one side, and explained that some of the feayr had voiced their fear of his devotions. Jeme's face had clouded over, not liking the way this chat was going. "Saemund. Blaer has the right to worship how and when he likes, it does no harm to anyone."

His friend and Clan leader had shifted uncomfortable. "They fear that he is conjuring up demons with the dark arts."

"Blaer is my guide, he is no demon master. Next, they will be accusing him of virgin sacrifices. This must end now Saemund. First they do not protect him when the camp is attacked, putting more store with their horses, and now they accuse him of this. You are leader Saemund. Lead them."

There was a hint of a warning in Jeme's voice that Saemund had rarely heard voiced at him. "I will do my best Jeme. None of them understand what he is up to, they do know what a rare gift Blaer is, but they don't understand all that he is. They are still frightened of him; by the gods he still scares me sometimes. The Sentinel and guide families are all right, they see him for what he is, the feayr see him as an assassin, a bringer of death. Give them time Jeme, he will win them over." With a dry chuckle he added, "He won me over."

Now Jeme was brought back to the present, as he sat cross-legged sharpening his weapons. They had to understand that Blair was of the old religion, not the one of the feayr clans. Out of respect to the fact that he was a Shaman / Priest, Saemund had decreed that Blaer was able to perform his ceremonies without any interference.

The words rang through his head as he paused to watch Blaer as he straightened up, and then scatter the powder over the small fire, it snapped and crackled. Then his body relaxed and he stretched. Turning to look at his sentinel he smiled, happy and relaxed. Blaer was now getting to his feet, and reached a hand down. "Come on Sentinel."

Jeme tried to pull him back down, the dark sentinel needed to bond, and the un-bonded arrival interrupted it, but Blaer would not let him. "We will bond later. Now, Sentinel Prime you have a duty to perform."

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Terry breathed out a sigh of relief as the dark pair came out of their tent, as always the guide was behind his sentinel. Keeping his eyes on the ground now, he stated his claim.

"Sentinel Prime of the Panther Clan, Guide Prime of our Clan, I respectfully ask that I be allowed to bond. I vow to hold my guide in the utmost respect, to protect and care for him until death. And if I fail, my sword be my judge and executioner."

He waited.

Jeme slowly circled him, Blaer stood in front of the un-bonded sentinel, his hands resting on the pommel of his sword, the point in the ground as he cast his own sensory net over the un-bonded. He could feel the need to bond starting to burn through this ones veins, but when he had spoken, he had spoken from the heart; there were no false words.

"And how would you care for your guide?"

"Dark Guide Prime. I would make sure that I kept him close, that I shielded him from any emotions that would hurt him, and through the bond I would make sure that he was aware of my trust, and love for him as my brother, in bonding."

Jeme was watching Blaer's reaction. "You would treat your guide as an equal in all things?"

"In all things, Dark Guide Prime."

Blaer nodded. "His words are good and he has them in his heart as well."

Terry breathed a soft sigh; the dark guide appeared to have passed him, now all he had to do was wait for Jeme to give his verdict. But first he had to prove that he had control on his abilities, Jeme had failed many for that. Under the command of his Sentinel Prime, he sent out his senses. He faltered once, and nearly went into the void. He bit his lip, //Had he failed?//

Jeme seemed to take a lifetime to answer.

"You may bond Terry, at the Great Gathering. Look for the saffron robes of the bonding guides, and if the gods are willing you will find as I have, my mate. Bring them to Blaer, and if he is willing to accept the guide into our clan you will bond." Jeme picked Terry's sword up, and then turned it so that hilt was to Terry, "Go celebrate your right to bonding Terry, and our congratulations."

"Thank you. Thanks!" He scooped up his sword. Turned, and crossed quickly to his father and threw his arms round him.

The father returned the embrace and then crossed to the dark pair. "Our tent would be honoured by both of your presence tonight."

"We would be honoured to accept." Jeme's attention swung back to Blaer. His guide's hand had caught his sleeve for a moment, then Jeme had seen him falter. Quickly he slid an arm around Blaer's waist, his senses went over his guide, and he noted the slight increase in temperature and a faint shiver that passed through the smaller body held against his side. "Blair."

"I am alright." It was said quickly.

Jeme glanced around him, and didn't push any further, knowing that Blaer would not like to admit to any weakness in front of a third person.

0-0-0-0-0

As always, they broke their fast with Saemund and his family.

Caro watched the way that Jeme had Blaer pulled closer to him, not wanting him out of arms reach. She aimed a worried look at her husband, who shrugged and whispered softly. "Sentinel business."

She decided to let it go, but she would get answers later. For the moment the men would go off hunting, and they would have meat tonight.

Jeme saw Daryl watching them, the boy wanted to go hunting with them, but was frightened to ask. He had seen the displeasure the sentinel viewed him with ever since he had caused Blaer pain that time when jealousy had driven him to grab hold of Blaer's arms when his barriers were down.

Blaer mounted the white stallion, the present from Saemund, and leaned down. "Why don't you come with us, brother? You are welcome."

Daryl hesitated, seeing the look Jeme shot at his guide. Then almost reluctantly, the sentinel ground out. "Blaer bids you welcome, Daryl. Then you are welcome."

The young boy almost bounced as he accepted Jeme's hand, and was pulled up behind him onto the black warhorse. The spear was handed up to him by Caro, pleased to see that her sons were once again united. A hint of a smile touched her lips, //Her sons. A mercenary sentinel and a dark guide, but hers all the same.// She remembered all too well when Jeme had first come and stayed with them while he was recovering from the wound that had nearly killed him.

The women of the clan had talked behind their hands that she had given him her favours, that she serviced the sentinel. He was attentive to her, and they would talk long into the evening around the fire. But the talk had died, as they realised that Saemund was more than aware of the interplay between his woman and the sentinel.

Saemund knew what the others had yet to find out, that Jeme was a man of honour and that he would never take advantage of his position in their tent to take Caro. He treated her with the respect of an honoured sister, and to Saemund he gave total loyalty. And in Caro, Saemund had found his soul mate. He knew that she might talk and be with the handsome sentinel, but at night it was his bed and his arms that she went to.

Her second son by adoption. Blair, a lethal dark guide, a master assassin, and shaman. Yet she saw through that to the young man, who was clan-less and fragile. Her sons; So different, yet men of courage and humanity. Her son by birth could have no better brothers.

Daryl's arms held on tightly to Jeme. Blaer was riding parallel to them, talking a mile a minute as normal, yet Jeme was never angry with him. He always listened, and in fact commented on what he was telling him, often with a wry grin.

The hunt was progressing well. The wild boar had fled into an area of the forest, which was too dense for the horses, Jeme secured them, and they set off on foot, Daryl between the two men. Jeme suddenly stopped in his tracks, the stench was so bad, and he felt himself slipping into the void. Blaer immediately moved to his side, his attention fixed on his sentinel.

Daryl, remembering what he had done before, moved backward to allow Blaer more room. Then he heard the angry squeal of a boar, and spun around, it threw itself out of the darker forest and attacked. Blaer didn't have time to pull his weapon, just to be a human barricade between the wild animal and his sentinel; his yelled warning to the young boy was ignored.

Daryl threw himself forward, sliding between the sentinel and guide and the oncoming animal, the spear hilt imbedded into the ground, his whole weight braced against it as the boar ran onto the point, the impact driving the point deep into the boar's chest, the spear cracked and the boar's weight collapsed onto the young boy.

Blaer pulled Jeme from the void; the sentinel caught the carcass of the animal and pulled it off from Daryl as Blaer examined him for injuries. There was a lot of blood, but apart from a few scratches, it was all the boar's. He was caught up in a hug that threatened to break his ribs, as the sentinel showed in action, not words, his relief that he was all right. Then Jeme's hands were running over Daryl, checking for injuries, and Blaer joined in with his own, search logically Jeme would not have missed anything, but as a healer Blaer had to check.

It was with great pride that Daryl saw his boar thrown over the back of Blaer's horse; the family would eat well tonight

But Jeme, rather than turn back, had one more animal to hunt, and this was important.

The Stag was large and magnificent, its proud head turning, scenting the wind for a threat, the tang of the boar's blood caused it to skip onto its toes ready to fight or flee.

Jeme flanked around the animal, knowing it would be focused on Blaer and the blood. His spear was thrown with force and true to its target and the animal fell to its knees and then slumped forward. Immediately, Jeme was by its side, his hunting knife ending its life. Looking up at Daryl from where he knelt by the body of the animal, "Always kill straight, cleanly, never let the animal suffer, if you do it angers the gods of the hunt, and your next hunt will be barren". Straightening up he threw the carcass over his shoulder, and made his way back to the horse, and slung it over the big warhorses neck, it stamped its hoofs but at a firm pat by its master it settled.

The hunters where greeted with shouts of welcome as they returned, Daryl basking in the glow of the yells of approval from the other warriors.

After dropping off the wild boar and Daryl with a quick word of explanation, the sentinel and guide turned their horses to the tents of the elders, and dismounted. Jeme handed the reins of his horses to Todman, a feayr member of the clan, and they unloaded the stag, and then waited for Blaer to dismount. This was something they had to do together. "Elders of the Clan, I bring you a gift in honour of your wisdom."

Ralf came out, leaning on his walking stick, and looked critically at the dark guide, and then to the magnificent stag. He could publicly turn his back on the Dark Guide, refusing the gift would show his displeasure, but it would also split the clan along feayr and sentinel lines. Against everything he had thought earlier, he now knew that this was the future.

"Dark Guide Prime, Blaer." Jeme heard the intake of breath from some of the hard-line feayr at this use of his guide's given name, "We are pleased to accept this gift from your hunt, and in doing so we accept you into our Clan. We were remiss in not doing it earlier, old age, young man, is a curse. Or earlier, young man, old age is a curse. The mind can be willing but the body can not." Ralf was giving them a way out, ill health had prevented the official greeting by the elders.

"I am pleased that you are now well. Fathers / mothers of the clan, your welcome does me honour." Blaer answered back respectfully, //Two could play this game//.

Jeme carried the stag into the tent of the elders. Now that the elders of the clan had accepted his guide, it would be harder for the hardliners to ignore and plot against him.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

The fire was making patterns on the side of the tent as Blaer collected up his beloved scrolls again, and moved to sit near Jeme, his hand stroking the older man's knee as he sat down. Settling, he began to read them to Jeme. In particular Jeme liked the history of the temple, of the stories of the great sentinel and guide partnerships and their feats of valour.

When Jeme asked questions, Blaer's voice would change to that of the teacher, the sentinel found that he could listen to his guide for hours. Others thought he tuned Blaer out, but he never did, he always listened to him. He remembered fondly the look on Blaer's face when he had mentioned something Blaer had spoken about sometime earlier.

"You listened to me." Blaer was a little shocked.

"Always little one." It was then that he realised that Blaer was use to people not bothering and that it had touched the young guide greatly that his sentinel barbarian, uneducated, treasured him enough to actually listen to him.

Jeme put the weapons to one side, and move closer so that his guide could show him the letters. Jeme was progressing quickly in his reading; it was through it he was sure that he would learn more about his guide and his life.

When Blaer started to get up, Jeme caught his sleeve, "Saemund has said that the Great Gathering this summer will take us near the Temple of your mother, and we will be able to spend some time in the city. You will be able to reassure her that she has nothing to worry about."

"Thank you." Blaer's hand stroked his sentinel's face gently, "Let me show you my mother's last letter, it was written by the letter writer in the square." Jeme had lost count of the number of times this scroll had been taken out, each time, it was reverently undone, and smoothed out. Blaer hesitated.

"What did she say?" Jeme prompted. With a smile that lit his whole face up, Blaer began to read it again.

But Jeme was still concerned about his young guide's health. Blaer had pushed himself during the hunt, and now looked drained, even as he read the scrolls, the sentinel made a mental note to call Wulfstein over in the morrow to look at Blaer whether the guide liked it or not.

The next morning Jeme noticed the slight touch of colour on Blaer's face that seemed alien to his normally pale skin, his senses ran over his young guide and he noted the increase of temperature, and decided to keep his guide close.

Hender watched the pairing and came over and gave a grin to his friend Bryn, "I hear that Cleo is interested in finding out more about sentinels Jeme, perhaps you can show her." He threw an arm round the larger man's shoulders, "Now they do say that you can't beat a…”

Whatever Hender was about to say was forgotten as Hender was kicked hard behind the knee, bringing him crashing down onto the ground, Blaer was on top of him, the knife in his hand slashing down across the other man's throat. Jeme caught hold of him, and pulled Blaer off, the knife opening up Hender's sleeve. Blood dripping off his hand, the young warrior's face showed one of total shock.

Blaer was screaming at him, "Get you hands off him!" Unable to reach him with the knife, Blaer kicked out, just missing the fallen man. "Keep off him you pig f****** bastard."

"Blaer!" Jeme spun him around and shook him hard, and then his guide suddenly went limp as his eyes rolled up in his head. He gathered his small guide into his arms and hurried him back to their tent. Over his shoulder he snapped, "Get Wulfstein."

Once in the tent, he quickly laid his guide down, his skin was now hot to the touch and he could feel the pin pricks of spots under the skin. He opened up his tunic and found them across his belly and chest.

Caro came in, seeing the alarmed look on the sentinel's face, "It will be alright Jeme. This is the illness of the children; he will recover. Wulfstein is bringing a salva that will ease the itching."

"Children."

"Sophie and the others have come down with it, Blaer must have caught it from them."

Wulfstein pushed through the door covering, and knelt down by the stricken) guide.

"Sssh, it's alright Blaer. You'll feel better soon." Then to Jeme he added, "It has to run its course, he will be cranky and will need to be kept close, to sleep and rest."

"No problem. Caro…”

"I will speak to Saemund, he will not expect you to leave Blaer's side while he is like this. I am sure that Alfric can lead the hunt this time, your place is by your guide's side." As she stood up, she patted Jeme's arm to comfort him.

The dark guide curled up against his sentinel. Jeme had an arm around his waist, as he softly wiped the hair back from a sweat stained face. Blaer was still a little flushed, but the fever had started to break and come down, he moved slightly against his living pillow. Jeme snagged the blanket and brought it back over them, and as his hand grazed a naked shoulder, he could feel the spots.

His guide found that his very clothes seemed to inflame the itching, so Jeme had helped him shed them and then had used the thick liquid from Wulfstein to cool the itching down, but he had needed close contact with his sentinel when the illness had brought his barriers down. The cloth of the sentinel's clothing had distressed him, so Jeme had readily stripped, and then Blaer had settled against him more peacefully.

Caro came in with the food. "How is he, Jeme?".

"His fever is coming down now."

She reached a hand out, but Jeme caught her wrist. "His barriers are gone, Caro."

"The worse is now over Jeme. He will be alright."

Caro smiled and then returned with a bowl and cloth. She knelt and eased the blanket down, then rinsed out the cloth, and lightly, without touching his skin herself, she washed the back of his neck as Jeme lifted his long hair out of the way, then down his back and body. Soothing him. "Daryl had this when he was little, this is why he was so cranky the other day." Her lips twisted in a slight smile, "At least when Daryl had it, all he did was throw a bowl of soup. Blaer tried to kill Hender."

"Blaer never does anything by half." He turned his attention back to Blaer and gently cooed to him, calming down his fretful whimpering. The next few days the dark guide slowly recover from the illness, it pleased Jeme the number of members of the clan that came to pay their respects and enquire about his guide. It seemed at last that Blaer had been accepted by the feayr as their guide prime.

Part Three

Jeme's condition was gradually worsening due to the oncoming darkest bonding.

Blaer was in two minds about continuing the lessons for the young sentinel children given Jeme's condition, but he had promised them he would train them and he would not go back on his word. But he was going to have to watch Jeme carefully, and if at any time his sentinel was getting too aggressive, he would have to take him away from them.

Once his students had recovered from their illness, Blaer had decided on a hunting exercise for the young sentinels; they were to follow a scent they knew, his. Jeme was with them, guiding them, as Blaer had laid an easy trail for them. Casting out his eyesight Jeme spotted him, Blaer felt the surge across the link as they came closer, he turned back the way he came, his smile was laced with mischief, and something else.

"Catch me if you can, sentinel. The words drifted to keen ears?

Sophie and the others heard the challenge and knew who it was aimed at. Jeme seemed to bounce and then took off, leaving the youngsters in his wake. Blaer had gone through a patch of wild sage, leaving the youngsters coughing. Jeme stood perfectly still and isolated in the sage and cast round it, and found the scent of his guide. A smile twitched his lips, //Blaer would have to do better than that to lose him//.

The sentinel, in full hunting mode, closed in on his guide. Sophie caught the other young sentinels and pulled them back. She knew that Jeme would tolerate no interference. At this point in the hunt, he was at his most dangerous, focused on one thing only, his guide. They would let him finish this hunt alone, only he would claim his guide.

Jeme closed on Blaer; the guide stood still, breathing heavily. He was caught by the front of his jacket picked up and pressed against the tree behind him, he struggled and his hands were pinned by one larger one above his head. A knee pushed between his legs; holding him in place, enforced by the sentinel's large heaver body pushed against his stomach and hip. Blaer was breathing harder now, picking up and increasing his sentinel's emotions, turning them back on him through the link, it was like quick fire through his empathic pathways.

Jeme's voice was a husky growl, "Caught guide. Mine to mark and claim." The Dark Sentinel was in charge now, not Jeme.

Blaer's eyes flashed. "Mark and Claim sentinel." He lowered his head onto Jeme's chest in submission, the sentinel's nose twitched at the subtle change of his scent.

Suddenly Jeme started, and with a deep breath, the Dark Sentinel pulled back, leaving Jeme. Confused, and with a shudder, he pulled back from his guide, letting go of his hands. "What happened? Blaer, did I zone? Did I hurt you?"

Blaer had to steady himself. He raised a hand and placed it along his sentinel's face, "A kind of zone, Jeme. Just concentrate on me." He saw his sentinel follow his command, and visibly calm down. Then he was reached for, and pulled close. He stood still as Jeme's hands moved over his body, checking for any damage. Only then did the sentinel relax when he was sure his guide was unhurt.

As soon as Blaer was released, he returned to his students, his normally pale skin was slightly flushed, "You hunted well, but you must learn to isolate scent, just as Jeme did." He patted the older man's arm affectionately, "Now let's get back, your mothers will be waiting for us."

Together, they all walked back. The interplay between the two men had the children laughing out loud as the insults and banter flew back and forth. Blaer was pulled into a one-arm hug, the young sentinels were learning from watching them and other sentinels how to treat their guides. Jeme treated his with great respect, and cherished and treasured him.

Sophie vowed that when it was her time, she would do the same with her guide. Blaer had promised them guides, but he had exacting standards, not just any would do for his students. He had already stated he would prefer grey temple guides, even though he acknowledged the problem with them being female sentinels. She knew he would do right for them.

Blaer settled against Jeme as they walked back. Then through the link he felt the movement of something deep and primal, and Blaer's breath caught. It was still too soon for this, he had hoped that he would have longer to prepare, he needed to arrange a place of isolation for them. But at the same time his heart soared, this is what he had waited for, and had given prayers to the gods of the Guides' for; a chance for the Darkest Of Bonding. Few got called to it.

His mind was turning over; the other dark guides had spoken to him about the Darkest Of Bonds. They had gone through it with their own ordinary sentinels and it had been intense, but with a dark sentinel, it would be mind blowing. From them he had heard more useful information than the High Priest had ever given his students. The Temple was always reluctant to go into great detail; it was something that they, The Priesthood, shied away with, believing it to be too earthy for their high calling. He knew that if it were achieved over time then it would be a gentle process, but at the rate that his sentinel was approaching the climatic state; it was going to be explosive.

In the Temple he and Jeme would be put into isolation. A barred window separating them, so the sentinel could scent his guide, the need would grow until he was throwing himself against the door. Then and only then, would the Priest release the sentinel into the bonding pit, and under their eyes the final Darkest Bonding would take place. But in this barbarian camp, he would have to handle it himself. He could not even speak to any in the camp about it; none were of The Dark Order.

// I am going to have to handle it myself//. A shudder went through him, and he was gathered closer. Blaer linked with his sentinel; he could feel the aggression that had lain dormant start to build up again. This time aimed at the children and their un-bonded state, Blaer shooed his students away.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

"Jeme, about the great gathering. I need…”

The sentinel caught his guide's arm, pushing past Saemund, as he said, "NO NOT NOW!"

"Blaer?" Saemund looked to the dark guide for an explanation.

"Leave us, Saemund. It's going to be alright." Blaer knew that the logical side of his sentinel was lost for the moment; he had lost his fight to keep him calm now. The Panther was coming to the fore and needed release.

Blaer was tugged into the tent and pushed away from the entrance that Jeme blocked. The Panther needed proof, "Prove your mine, Guide."

Blaer kept eye contact with his sentinel as he took his sword off and placed that on the floor; then began to undress. When naked, he knelt at his sentinel's feet just as he had done in the Council building, he placed his palms on the floor and hung his head down between his shoulders, exposing the nap of his neck. Blaer's voice was shaking, "Sentinel, only yours. Claimed and Marked." His sentinel didn't reply, but Blaer knew that he had drawn closer; he could feel the power from their connection arch and crackle, becoming more intense. It was like a current running through his body. He was being circled; his sentinel was making a deep rumbling sound, "You and no other." Blaer intoned.

Jeme's reaction had not surprised him. He had been expecting this; The Dark Sentinel needed reassurance now that the Dark Animal Spirit Bonding was coming closer. Only through a submissive posture could he control his sentinel. Jeme needed to be the alpha male, believe that he was in total control.

Blaer bit his lip to try and stem the tremors that started to vibrate through him, still Jeme hadn't spoken or even touched him until the growled order "on your belly guide" was snapped near his ear. Blaer didn't raise his head, he crawled and then stretched out on the furs, his head resting on his hands, he didn't look at his sentinel.

The sentinel's face was a mask as he knelt down and ran a hard possessive hand down his guide from the nap of his neck to his knee, making sure that Blaer could feel the weight of his hand pressing him into the furs. His lips twisted into a smile as he felt Blaer tremble at his touch, and heard the soft moan from the younger man. The connection between them flared, hot, setting the guide's pathways alight.

Then Jeme's sense began to peak, the texture of his clothes became so rough that he had to tear them off, his skin was already red and inflamed in patches. Even the furs under his knees were uncomfortable, the soft threads felt like braid. Blaer turned onto his side, reaching up; he pulled Jeme down, "Focus on me, sentinel, and nothing else."

"I can't. "

"Do it, Sentinel!" The words were spoken with the deep- throated roar of a dark guide.

Jeme reached for Blaer. His face twisted with pain, then his focus fixed on Blaer, on the softness of his hair, the warmth of his body, and with a sigh he pulled Blaer top of him. His senses screamed for his guide to blanket him, now there was nothing in the world but his guide.

Blaer saw that Jeme was starting to zone out on him; he nuzzled his sentinel's throat and then bit down, hard. Jeme came back with a start, the man pushing through the more primitive persona.

"Little scamp, settle down" He rubbed his throat.

"It was not me that was zoning, Jeme. Stay with me alright?"

The sentinel was puzzled by the emotions that had started to burn through him, all his mind could fix on was two things, to possess his guide and make him his.

Blaer felt his face caught in Jeme's hands, then the link opened wide. As he looked into Jeme's eyes, it was like the petals of a flower were opening up while Jeme felt that Blaer was no longer able to hold back from him. He could feel the breath of his guide coming quicker, his heartbeat had increased, and the smell of pheromones started to leak from him.

Blaer was trying to move, he now needed the skin to skin contact as much as his sentinel, his actions governed by a need as old as time for a dark guide. He almost sobbed as Jeme held him tightly, the strong legs tucked through his to prevent him from moving.

The Sentinel cooed softly, calming him down. But Blaer was pushing against his mind harder, the need had taken control of him. Suddenly the sentinel's sense of smell was flood by a heavy wave of pheromones that Blaer's need to bond had ignited.

The Panther's nature took over, Jeme's eyes flashed bright as he flipped Blaer over, he pinned him down, nipping and licking at his throat. Then he tugged his guide over onto his stomach, the sentinel moved over him as the new link sensitised Dark Guide to Dark Sentinel. Blaer buried his face into the furs as he screamed as new; deeper pathways were torn open in his mind like red-hot irons.

Saemund came into the tent as he head the cry, "Jeme! What in the heavens…”

The Panther Sentinel spun, powering up, sword in hand as he stood over his mate. No human face Saemund had ever looked at had that expression, it was not that of a man but a wild animal, a giant predator.

Blaer twisted around as Jeme went forward. He grabbed his sentinel's legs tightly, clinging on for dear life, curling around the older man. Then ran his hands from hip to knee, his touch steadying the killing rage, "Jeme!"

The Sentinel was not listening, too locked onto the threat. He dropped a hand to rest on his guide's head, fingers flexed in the dark curls. Blaer tilted his head back to look up at his protector, he pressed closer against Jeme's lower leg, moulding his body to him. "Jeme, no! He's no threat to us!"

The Sentinel looked down at him now. Blaer kept eye contact as he released his hold and scooted back, his eyes never leaving the face of the older man. Then he slowly lowered himself backwards onto the furs, and raised a hand, "Sentinel. Claim your guide."

Saemund slowly backed away, knowing that he had looked death in the face.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Jeme embedded the sword into the floor and just looked at his guide while lifting and tilting his head as he isolated the scents, the musky ginger that was Blaer, then the pheromones, and then with a growl he recognised the other scent. His lips pulled back around his teeth, his mouth opening so that he could taste the scent in the air, linkage. Blaer was in the heat of bonding.

The young guide was fighting for control; aware that the pathways were opening up further by the second. New ones forming, still fledgling, but they would grow stronger in preparation for the Darkest Bonding.

Jeme moved forward with grace and speed, pouncing on his mate. Catching Blaer's ankle with one hand, the other pressing against the back of the knee, bending it gently back. He examined it, nipping the instep, and then feeling the calf muscles. Blaer exhaled, trying to keep calm, like all dark guides he knew the sentinel was in constant need to map, examine, and touch their guides. This would be just the start.

Jeme's hands moved on him, the breath caught in Blaer's throat, he concentrated on his temple mantra to centre him. At the temple he had been trained never to fear his sentinel, yet when they had first met he had feared his chosen one. A guide that feared his sentinel could never serve him. But he knew now, through their bonding, that he had touched the bigger man's very heart and soul and that he would never hurt him. That gave him the courage to continue, even into the very cauldron of the Dark Animal Bond.

He reached a hand up and stroked the Panther Sentinel's face, shoulders, chest, and any part of him that he could reach. The sentinel held himself above his guide, not touching him now. Blaer's hand tugged at him, and slowly he lowered himself down, careful not to squash the smaller guide. The growl changed to a purr as Blaer's hands sought him out, stroking and petting as the Panther drank in the touch of his guide, and needed more.

Blaer pulled him down harder, so that they were in skin to skin contact, he couldn't bear even the smallest gap between them. He needed to be close; to climb into Jeme's nervous system while his barriers were down. Even though the Panther was in control, the sentinel was all too aware of his greater size and strength. He could hurt his guide, crush him, but Blaer screeched as Jeme tried to raise himself and wrapped his legs around his waist, his arms round his neck. Using his greater strength, Jeme suddenly sat up, taking the younger man clinging to him, with him. To the sentinel he weighed nothing at that moment, for Blaer the world had suddenly snapped upright, leaving him almost dizzy.

Blaer now sat on his thighs. He buried his face against his sentinel's neck, heart pounding against Jeme's chest, his stomach fluttering as he tried to calm his rapid breath. One of the Panther Sentinel's hand held him in place at his waist, his fingers slick with the sweat that poured off his guide, his other hand was twisted into the long hair, pulling his head to one side as he inhaled the scent of Blaer, mixed with the salt tang of sweat and his tongue flicked out to taste it. Blaer shivered and tried to pull even closer.

Blaer was crashing and burning, the newer pathways cut deeper. Ignited and burning, they threatening to blast his mind apart, only by merging completely could he be saved. The sounds from his throat where no longer coherent. It was like a volcano building up ready to explode, but he could not break through the mind block to free one of the newer pathways, his whimpering became louder as the pressure increased, His nails dug deep into his sentinel's back. With a roar, Jeme bit hard against his guide's neck. The volcano exploded, and Blaer screamed the wailing of the Wolf.

Warmth flooded through them both curling up from their stomachs, like a crashing wave as the link came alive in a blaze of emotion. Blaer blacked out, his body crushed against that of his sentinel. The Panther licked and gentled the bite to the smaller man's neck; his mate was marked.

Mated for life. Only death would make him give up his ownership of this enigmatic, fiercely protective, compassionate, and loving man that he now cocooned safely in his arms.

Finally Jeme realised that they had to move to avoid getting stuck like this, already his back was protesting at the strain of holding his guide now that the adrenaline burst was over. He moved one hand up to cup the back of Blaer's head as the other was used to lower one limp guide back down to the furs. Only then did he allowed himself to follow his sated guide into sleep.

Time seemed to stand still, for the two of them, as they slept

Blaer yawned and cuddled up closer, safely shielded from the emotions of the people of the camp, he had not felt that drained since their first bonding, his body felt as if it had been stretched and twisted.

He tried to put his mind to what had happened, Jeme had taken on board the Panther persona, he had been strong, yet gentle. He smiled broadly; it had been everything that he had ever dreamed of. If that was the early stage of the Dark Bonding, he could not help but wonder if he would survive the full dark bonding, the intense nature of it. Then Jeme would lose total control, and that would be the chrysalis that would bring it forth.

Jeme would be feeling guilt about what had happened between them; he fingered the bites, and looking down at himself, the nips on his body. He would make him understand that it was a natural release, //His sentinel did guilt so well//. Blaer yawned. He had been woken from the catnap by a surge through the link, and Jeme appeared to be sleeping peacefully.

Carefully he crawled over to Jeme, his own needs over taking all others for once. He closed his eye, his hand running over the body under him, his head tilted forward, his long hair framing his face. Behind his eyelids a shape began to form as if through a mist, with a gasp he saw his own image, the long hair swinging back and forward as he moved. The sweat running down his chest and stomach, his usually chilled flesh was flushed, his eyes flew open as Jeme's finger tips stroked across his stomach wiping away the beads of sweat. Blaer felt the sensation amplified ten fold back at him, then pain spiked through his head as the newly formed pathways protested their use.

Blaer's mouth opened but his words were incoherent, he could not block the information running through them as each pathway burned deeper. His hearing went off the scale, he could hear their joint heart beats pounding as one, the very air was pressing against his skin, the sweat was like liquid ice as it ran down him, making him slick against his sentinel's body that seem dry, hot were his skin touched him. Firm hands held his hips, preventing him from moving even as the sensation moved toward pain; the incoherent words were now only whimpers. Blaer's eyes rolled up in his head, his mouth opened trying to pull in air he could not get. Then his body collapsed like a puppet with broken strings, and he slumped over his sentinel.

The Panther's hand now lightly pawed at his unresponsive guide, he could feel the smaller body cooling against him. Gently his arms wrapped around his guide, a hand supported the back of a curly head as he rolled him onto the furs, and Blaer's body sprawled bonelessly. The Panther's hand lightly stroked the sweat stained body, calming with his touch the aftershock tremors echoing through the smaller frame, from the overloaded new pathways. The Panther collected the blankets making a warm nest, and then with great care he pulled his guide to him, his lips brushed the top of Blaer's head. Without conscious thought, The Panther brought his guide back to safe ground, soothing the flashpoints of pain. With care he curled around the smaller man, his arms and legs cocooning him, one mind and one body. Blaer woke with a sigh to the panther snuffling his neck; he raised a shaking hand to pet his sentinel's proud head. He did not feel trapped in the embrace; he felt safe and protected.

He forced himself to concentrate on the bonding, he had felt Jeme's senses, the joy of that pulsed through him. At the moment he could not control it, but that control would come with the darkest bonding. They had a difficult road to travel to reach it, he knew that deep down in his very soul, and it was what was meant to be. He yawned, and settled down back to sleep, but not before, with a trembling hand caused by the emotions, he stroked Jeme's jaw, the sentinel's head turned into his hand as, even half asleep, he snuffled at his hand.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Simon took a deep breath, then read the note.

As of yet, Jim has only shown The Panther Sentinel Persona on two occasions I would suggest that when he nears the time, we go up to the mountains into isolation, to allow this darkest bonding to take place.

Simon was shocked to think of his control-governed friend descending into this primitive state, //Maybe Blair could do something to stop it from happening//. He pushed the thought back onto the back burner for later and continued to read.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

All hope that Jeme would have forgotten his guilt by the time he woke was soon shattered, Blaer tried to forestall it. The guide chilled as his sentinel started to zone, it was said with the kick ass roar of the dark guide, "NO JEME!"

Jeme started, "I could have hurt you."

"No, you could not, you are MY sentinel you WOULD NOT hurt me, but I will do some serious harm if you keep on like that, and believe me Sentinel," Blaer punctuated it with a hard finger poking Jeme in the chest, "I would do it."

Blaer caught Jeme's face and pulled him so they were nose-to-nose, "Believe me on that."

Then he got up and walked to his clothes, he made no attempt to hide or cover himself; the sentinel knew his body better than he did. He had examined it with all his senses, mapped him in this higher state. Blaer's body flushed as he felt the senses wrap around him like a warm caress, the link arched between them as Jeme felt the touch of Blaer's mind against his, this was only the tip of the new abilities they would experience on the way to the Dark Bonding. Only then did the sentinel settle back, reassured that all was right in his world.

Blaer sat down again cross-legged in his meditation posture, and looked thoughtfully at the older man, "It's alright Jeme. You were jealous of the children."

"Blaer I... They are children."

"No," he corrected, "they are un-bonded sentinels. I am your guide. They were hunting me, your reaction was to be expected. It was nothing Jeme. Rest awhile, I need to centre myself."

The next morning the sun had only just touched the sky while Jeme sat on the riverbank watching his guide. Jeme smiled, //Blaer and his temple ways//. His guide had waded into the river up to his thighs. He had a cloth and was using some coarse soap of animal fat and ash to wash himself.

Blaer glanced over his shoulder at Jeme, and smiled at him- a touch of mischief in the look. His personal watchdog was watching over him, he had no fear of being watched. Blaer turned and went back to his wash; he missed the warm hot water spring baths that they had in the temple, but this river would have to do, and after last night he needed a bath.

"Tell me about the Great gathering, Jeme."

Jeme sighed and began again, //Blaer was like a child with a favourite story//. "It happens once a year, all the Clans are called to gather together. Caro and everyone will come; we meet under the universal truce of the Peacemakers. We meet, drink, make alliances, guides and sentinels bond, marriages are arranged, and we trade. They even have scrolls for sale."

"Scrolls?" Blaer's head turned so fast he nearly lost his footing on the smooth stone he was standing on. His face had lit up, and then he remembered he had nothing to trade, and it fell.

"Blaer we," He made sure that his guide heard the word *we*, "we have pelts to trade. Enough for a warm coat for us both, gloves, warm boots for you, things for our home, and enough for scrolls."

"Are you sure?"

"More than enough.".

Blaer bent down and splashed a hand full of water over his sentinel.

Jeme warned, "Don't start something you can't finish, Guide."

Blaer's expression broadened and he did it again. "What are you going to do about it, Old Man?" He gloated.

Jeme powered up and forward, catching Blaer by surprise, he stepped back off the rock, and lost his footing, and went backward, head going under the water as he feet flew in the air. He surfaced spitting water; Jeme broke into laughter at his guide, his long hair plastered round his face. Blaer reached a hand out for Jeme and tried to pull him in, only Jeme was wise to it, and Blaer went under again, "They say third time is a charm, Blaer."

"Smartass”. Sentinel hearing caught the remark clearly.

"Payback is a bitch, Little One." Stepping back as one dripping wet guide emerged from the water. He reached down and picked up the cloth from the grass and wiped himself down, Jeme went and sat in a patch of sunlight basking in the warm like his sprit guide. "Come here, Blaer."

Blaer came over and sat down between the long legs. A hand on his waist, and fingers spread across his belly pulled him backwards against Jeme's chest. The hand then moved to push his head forward and the cloth was plucked out of his hand, and Jeme began to towel the long damp hair.

Wulfstein watched the dark pair from a distance, he knew that Jeme would have woven a web of his senses around his guide to protect him, and so didn't go too close. When he was fussing around his guide, Jeme would be at his most dangerous, the flame of which could be quickly fanned into a killing rage.

Blaer sighed, the warmth curled around him, not just of the body but also of the mind. Jeme dropped the towel to one side, and the firm fingers began to work themselves into the muscles of his neck and shoulder, he gave a heart felt sigh, "Yes, more."

A very masculine chuckle greeted these words.

Jeme's head suddenly snapped around as Wulfstein's foot stood on a twig, it was nothing more than a soft crack but the sentinel was immediately on guard, and on his feet, sword in his hand, naked blade reflecting the sun. Blaer was on his feet at his shoulder his hands on his arm channelling him, focusing his sentinel. Finally Jeme's eyesight fixed on Wulfstein, standing perfectly still.

"Wulfstein." The name seemed to vibrate deep in Jeme's throat, a warning note to it.

The healer moved forward slowly, "Sorry. I didn't mean to disturb you both." He kept his eyes on Jeme's face, not allowing them to fix on the naked guide.

"Get dressed, Blaer." The Sentinel placed his bulk between Wulfstein and the smaller man, masking him. "What did you want?"

"Todman's wife, she is still in labour and in great pain, Blaer she needs your help”. Wulfstein directed his question straight to Jeme.

But it was Blaer that answered.
“ An infusion of the roots. Come Jeme, we need to do this now." Blaer was firmly in his Shaman persona, he finished tugging his boots on, then slung his sword over his shoulder his mind fixed on the potion he would make. Hands moving animatedly as he walked back to the camp, talking to the healer as one professional to another, Jeme walking one step behind them.

Part Four

Jeme sat outside of Todman's tent, as the two healers worked to save the young woman's life it has been the worse type of birth a breech. Caro and Megan had managed to deliver the baby but the fever had come, and would take her if it could not be broken.

Blaer was grinding the herbs talking closely with Wulfstein, as they tried different infusions. The sentinel tuned them out, the sounds of pain coming from the young woman brought back too many memories of his mother for his liking. Only then there had been no Dark Guide to help save her. Just a healer too old to do her job, and his mothers life had been leeched away like the chill of the night with the coming of the morning sun.

Jeme woke with a start at the cold hand on his shoulder, Blaer looked drained, but at the same time there was a light in his eyes of joy.

“She will live Jeme”; he squeezed his sentinels shoulder.
“Come on lets tell Todman, he will be fearing the worse.

Once on his feet, Jeme reached out and pulled his guide close, feeling the smaller man lean into him, he could feel that Blaer was drained; he needed to rest. But first they had their duty to do.

Later back in their tent, Jem, with a tolerant smile, continued to sort through his pelts with Blaer's aid, his guide was speaking ten to the dozen, the sentinel already had his shopping list in his head for the gathering traders. Both needed new clothes, he reached across and ruffled his hair as Blaer returned to his now favourite subject, The Great Gathering.

The Temple had told how the Sentinel Primes would gather and then fight, the strongest becoming the Senior Sentinel Prime of the Clans, the position had been vacant since the last one had been badly injured in battle; no one would or could claim the title until the gathering. Blaer knew in his heart of hearts that Jeme could, no, would be Senior Sentinel Prime. But even though he had been told that sentinels rarely died in this battle, the weakest giving way to the strongest, he was still worried about Jeme. When the time came he would have Jeme focused and he would destroy all threats to his position, he would be Senior Sentinel Prime of The Clans.

Over the next few days the tension in the camp had increased, the interaction between the dark sentinel and his guide had gotten more intense, the air around them appeared to crack and snap, the other guides and sentinels gave them a wide berth.

The pure Dark Panther Sentinel was slowly replacing Jeme.

Part Five

The soon to be bonded sentinel Terry was nervous, the dark guide would meet any guides that he selected, or if he chose poorly, would select one for him. But Terry had already made his choice, Hender's sister Claire, she had been away visiting her mother's clan and had only just returned back to the Panther Clan. They had come together, she was a latent guide and female, but a guide. The one true love of his life, they both knew it was meant to be.

Blaer's attitude to female sentinels was well known, he had accepted them reluctantly, and Terry didn't think that he would accept a woman as his equal. They had spoken at length and decided to approach Jeme first and win him over, and then perhaps he could work his magic on his volatile guide. It was with relief that they saw that Jeme was alone, Terry put his arm around his beloved and kissed her, "Now or never darling. Jeme, may we speak to you?"

"What do you want?"

"Claire. To be my guide."

"A female guide?" Jeme threw up his hands. "That is impossible."

"She is my chosen one Jeme. With all me heart I chose her as my guide."

"A woman."

Claire cut in, "What was it like when you first saw Blaer?" The Sentinel Prime just looked at her for a moment then his face softened, //He was really good looking//.

"The night before I stood over-looking the temple, I knew my chosen one was there behind the walls. He was calling to me. The first time I saw him, I knew then that he was mine, and only I would claim him, mark him."

"Jeme, that is the way it is for us. Would you deny me a chance of that?" Terry put in steadily.

"I can't give permission, Terry. No sentinel can claim a guide without the permission of the guide prime."

"Jeme, Blaer he…” Claire trailed off nervously; she could feel his emotions start to build.

Terry took a deep breath, "He is upset at the moment, he might not…”

"Speak to him." Jeme said levelly. "Speak to Blaer."

Claire could not believe the sentinel was so blind. Didn't he understand that Blaer was still a figure of fear to some of them? Those that would have to go against him, for a guide or to fight for the position of Sentinel Prime of The Clans, were even more nervous.

The older sentinel began to turn his head, as he caught a flash of movement he senses peaked and he was tumbling down into the void, Claire moved quickly catching Jeme's arm as the man swayed, linking to pull him out of the zone. With a shuddering breath Jeme came out of it, his hand caught her arm; he was only just able to prevent himself from lashing out at the alien mind brushing him. But he was still groggy.

The scream went right across the camp, the enraged yell from a bonded guide issuing up a challenge. Hender turned and began to run, cutting across Blaer before he could get to his target, the young warrior pulled out his sword. The guide already had his sword fisted in his hand.

"Blaer, BLAIR! My sister was not challenging the ownership of your sentinel, she meant no harm."

The dark guide was beyond any reason, only the rival guide's blood would quench the anger that was ignited in him. "Jeme is *my* sentinel."

The blade lunged and Hender managed to parry it, backing up as the dark guide moved forward, Hender's throat went dry. The blades clashed again, Blaer was focused on getting to and removing the threat.

Claire pulled out of Terry's hold and dived between the two men. "Back off, Hender."

"Claire…”

"Do it!" She kept her eyes on Blaer and only him.

He rotated the sword round, swung the blade and stopped just touching her throat. To her the blade looked large, she could not help but think how many people's last sight in this life was that blade. She met Blaer's eyes and held them, "Your Dark Guide. Claimed and marked." She saw the hands flex on the hilt again, the weight change in his stance.

Time seemed to stand still.

Blaer stepped forward, the blade moved to rest on her shoulder as he stepped into her space, his voice a harsh whisper, "My mate, remember that." It was not a threat; it was a promise.

Saemund came flying around the corner and caught hold of Blaer to pull him away, all he saw was the threat to a young woman that he had dangled on his knees. The Clan leader found himself with a struggling wild cat; The Dark Guide was cursing all the gods out, his elbow lashing back to free himself.

Jeme snapped out of the fugue state he had gone into and he waded in, he tore Saemund off Blaer and then a fist shot out and put the Clan Leader down with one blow, "Keep your filthy hands off him, he's mine, and only mine."

Blaer's attention was now fixed only on one person, his sentinel. He caught Jeme's arm and dragged him away, the smaller man pushing him towards the tent, muttering under his breath, the language was as blue as the sky. Once the flap had closed Blaer stood their hands on his hip, the anger was pulsing off him, "You hit your clan leader."

"He laid hands on you. No one touches you."

Jeme was looking down, Blaer had to bite back on the smile that threatened to tug at his lips, the sentinel looked like a large kid called to his mother. Blaer gave a loud sigh; his own anger with Hender was now forgotten. It was ironic that it was to be him to plead the case of the feayr clan leader. "Saemund meant nothing by that."

"But he... he...." Jeme spluttered to a halt.

"Tell me what you sense now."

"No."

Blaer closed the space between them. "Explain it to me. NOW!"

Jeme coloured. "I could smell your scent. The linkage is so thick, it's like a red fog around you, when Saemund touched you it went over him."

"So he was marked by my scent...."

"Your mine and only mine." Jeme's head came up and the eyes flash with The Panther, and Blaer knew that it was now the time. He had to get Jeme away from everyone, isolate him.

Blaer moved into his personal space, and breathed up into his sentinel's face, he saw the pupils dilate and the nose flare. He spoke softly as he opened the link, it was like a river of fire through his pathways, he leaned in. "Claim your guide, Sentinel. Mark me, make me yours." When Jeme reached for him, he ducked under his arms; catching Jeme's leg, brought him down hard on his butt and onto the blankets, and then Blaer ran.

The final stage was on them.

Saemund, supported by Hender with Caro by his side, saw The Dark Guide come flying out of the tent, running as if the very hounds of the underworld were on his heels. Then they heard the roar, it was barely human, and everyone's head turned to the tent of The Sentinel Prime. Jeme came out; only it was no longer he, his senses locking on the fleeing figure of his guide.

As he ran, Blaer's mind was in a whirl, at this level his sentinel would be instinct driven by his needs, it was up to him to control and channel it. Blaer knew he had to control his emotions.

The roar had heralded the sentinel joining the chase.

Blaer pushed through the trees, skidding down an incline to the bank of the river. Guides; had been known to be killed during the darkest bonding, over powered by sentinels who had lost themselves in a bonding frenzy. Blaer kept moving quickly. He needed to get Jeme further away from the clan, like this, he would kill anyone who came across them during the height of the bonding. Better that they be totally alone. He ran parallel to the river.

With a grunt, Blaer was brought to the ground by a bone crunching tackle, The Panther landed on top of him. Blaer brought his elbow back hard, The Panther let go and Blaer tried to clamber to his feet, only to be caught by the hips and pulled back, he landed face first with an "umph" and snuffled up a mouthful of leaves.

The Panther gave a roar of triumph, //His guide, his mate.// The guide laid still and spat the leaves out, The Panther moved over him but because of the sword laid across his guide's back, he pulled back. But first he pulled the collar of his shirt down and bit him hard, a reminder of whom he belonged to. The Panther's weight shifted off his guide.

Blaer's hands were under him and he thrust up and back, the panther fell back onto its butt, Blaer rolling free and smoothly to his feet. His hand fisted over the sword hilt, he tugged it free and faced his sentinel, only then did he put a hand out and touch his neck, and "You will not maul me I am not a chew toy for you."

The Panther lunged forward, and then backed off with a snarl as the blade waved in front of his face. The spirit guide persona was feral and primitive; it had to mesh with The Dark Sentinel. Once they became one, it would give Jeme stability at a higher level, and his friend would be in control again, and Jeme needed control.

Blaer backed slightly to increase the distance between them. Now began the game of possession, a game started months ago in a room in the temple when his destined chosen one had first faced him. He kept perfectly balanced as his sword struck and sliced the panther's sleeve, nicking his wrist just to keep him interested.

The Panther pulled his own sword and the clash of metal on metal rang out, an alien harsh sound in the woods. //How dare his guide pull a sword on him! // The sentinel's eyes were locked on Blaer, he could see the red scent of linkage pouring off the smaller man, then the bright spark of energy as The Guide's muscles moved. He lifted his head and openly scented him, his mouth open and tasting the air. Growling his approval of what he found, a finer edge to the scent, but it made his body tense and vibrate like whipcord, his eyes glowing with need to bond.

The young guide dived under Jeme's blade, his shoulder hitting the ground he rolled his feet, thudding into Jeme's legs bring the older man down onto his front, then Blaer was on him, his blade at his throat. Blaer was clinging to his own control with his fingertips, he had to keep it or they both would be lost. He kicked The Panther's sword away, "You will have what you want my panther, but on my terms." Blaer brought the sword down so it buried point deep in the ground near The Panther's throat, "Now, claim your guide."

The Panther obediently got to his knees and reached up with both hands, but he didn't touch him, he was shaking with the effort not to seize his guide. Then one word broke from his lips, "Blaer”

"You can touch me."

The need was burning through the sentinel, arms wrapped around the younger man's lower body, his head resting against the stomach. Blaer's hands lightly petted and stroked his sentinel's head and shoulder, smiling as he heard the deep-throated purr; he linked and bathed in the emotions. Now was the time for the bonding. Suddenly the sentinel that was Jeme, crashed back into control, as his conscious mind rebelled at what The Panther Sentinel wanted, there was pure horror in his eyes, now.

" N N n n n o o o O!!!" He released Blaer and stumbled back, his senses were so heightened that he could not longer control them without the new connection that he was denying himself.

Everything was too loud, he threw his hands over his ears, trying to shut out the thumping of the heartbeat, and his eyes sight kept fading in and out. All he could smell was his guide, nothing more, it was his whole world. He tried to shut the lid down on The Panther and the darkest bonding. Then the lid was blown from the box in his mind, and The Panther roared its defiance, it knew what it needed and would not let it be stopped. Jeme staggered and fell onto his back, hands clamped to his ears, eyes closed as the fight was played out in his head. He slammed another barrier in place, he screamed and screamed.

Mercifully the void opened up for him, and he zoned.

It was a massive zone out, in the more primitive state. Blaer knew that in that state Jeme could control it, with the greater enhanced senses, but when Jeme had come back he had been lost. Once they had finish bonded on the new level, then could Jeme control them?

Through the link Blaer felt the barrier Jeme had thrown up in a last ditch attempt to hold back the dark bonding, which was threatening to engulf him and rob him of all conscious thought. He had to break through it and release the emotions. If he failed, Jeme would die and he would follow him into death, taking his life with his own hands.

There was a catch in his throat as he spoke to the unresponsive sentinel. "If you don't allow yourself to let go, it will kill you, and I can not live without you." He touched Jeme's face tenderly, "You are my reason for life, the breath in my body, the beat of my heart. We live together or perish together."

Something deep in Jeme's mind stirred, and started to struggle blindly to the surface of his consciousness, at some level he heard his guide's voice, //His mate could not die, he would not let him.// Slowly through the pain, he began to register the warm body that was now pressed against him, then the scent.

The Panther roared his approval; he wanted more.

Blaer reached a hand back and pulled the tie from his long hair and shook it out as he leaned over him, breathing his scent over his sentinel's face. Through their link he could feel the pressure building behind the barrier, he had to punch a hole through it before it killed his sentinel, //His repressed sentinel had to let go.// Blaer eased down further, working his way over each inch of his sentinel's body, all the time calling to him through the link and with his voice.

Suddenly a hand lashed down and caught him, pulling him down until they were level. Blue eyes met blue eyes that were burning with a need. This was the Panther Sentinel, he saw nothing of Jeme in the eyes, and a panther presented what it needed. Blaer bent his head down, resting it on the broad chest. The sentinel's hand tangled in his long hair, “Blaer”.

The sound of the voice was vibrating with primal need; the Guide lifted his face and met the glaze. He heard the gasp from The Panther as he allowed his own need to show in his eyes, then he rubbed his face against the older man's, then nuzzled against his throat, he breathed, "Please Jeme. Don't hate me for this. Forgive me". His tears splashed down onto his sentinel's neck. He had passed the point of no return; he bit down on Jeme's throat.

The Panther roared.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Jeme returned as if from a long distance, the first thing he registered was the warm weight laid across him, it was warm and soft. His hands moved over the limp, spent body, catching a handful of hair, his touch identifying the texture and scent of his guide, then his eyes opened and he looked up, slightly puzzled at the sky fringed by the leaves and branches of the trees and that he was laying on a warm rock. Then he frowned. With returning consciousness his mind was flooded with Blaer's fear and panic. He went from sleep to Blessed Protector in one leap.

Blaer tried to push away from him, but all he managed to do was a nosedive straight into his sentinel's stomach as his arms gave way. His entire body was protesting at the strains of the bonding, and still damp from the swim in the river.

Blaer smiled softly as he remembered his sentinel taking him down into the river water, swimming with him like a panther with its cub. He had always been frightened of water; always finding a place he could wade across since he could not swim.

But Jeme had taken him deep into the river, and he had clung onto him, his sentinel, his life line. Then Jeme had told him to take a deep breath, and he had been tugged under, instinct had made him struggle to reach the surface, but Jeme had held him down, calming his fears, and he had realised it had been a test of his trust in the bond, his trust in his sentinel. Each day Jeme put his life in his hands, now he wanted, in this heightened state, proof that Blaer trusted him.

Then he had brought him to the surface, letting him wrap his arms round him, and had said in a voice that had been heavy with emotion. "One soul, two hearts, one breath, two bodies". Then Jeme had coaxed him to lean back against him, as he had taken them to the rocks, then he had been lifted out onto the large sun kissed rocks to lie in the warmth, and held close.

Now everything was crashing down on him.

Jeme immediately reacted; he could not allow his mate to suffer like this. He reached down, caught his guide and pulled him back up so that they were nose to nose. Holding Blaer tightly to prevent him escaping, with one hand he held the smaller man's wrists, and with his other hand he began to gently pet him while using his mind, touch and voice to settle him down. He was distressed when the tears began to flow as if a river had overflowed.

Jeme was lost in his guide's emotions, the despair, and the loss. He released Blaer's hands, expecting the smaller man to blindly try and push him away again. But his guide just slumped down on his side, his knees pulled up to his chest, repeating over and over again. "Sorry, so sorry. I've spoilt everything. I... I...." Blaer shuddered, as a sob tore from his throat. When he saw Jeme start to sit up, he reached out to catch his arm, "Please, Jeme! Don't send me away."

With great strength Jeme straightened up, taking his guide with him, cradling him against him, "Ssshh. Blaer, it's alright, little one." Slowly he rocked his guide. Gradually the shudders faded and Blaer's hand, and almost timidly, clutched at Jeme's shoulder, his fingers grazed Jeme's neck.

Then through the link he felt his sentinel battering down his fear, he was a wide-open, his barrier gone in the firestorm of emotions. Then Jeme was in his mind, stronger than ever before. The sentinel; strong and powerful, yet in that moment tender, caring, and loving. Calming the points of anguish, leaving peace behind them.

The tension melted from Blaer's body as his mind found the peace he needed. He buried his face against Jeme's neck, and felt his hair and head petted with firm strokes. Hands that could snap him in two, held him as if he was a sacred vessel, the voice answered in his head, "You are Blaer. My life, my reason for living, my mate." Jeme moved his arm so Blaer could see the raised tattoo on his arm, "The sentinel is the strength and courage of the partnership. Feel your mark on my body."

With only slight hesitation, Blaer's hand ghosted over the tattoo that he had cut into his sentinel's arm when he had been reclaimed in front of the temple priest. "Mine."

"Yours." Then Blaer felt Jeme's warm hand gently slide over the tattoo on his chest above his heart. "My mark on you. My guide, *my mate*." The last two words said with the conviction of a life-mated sentinel.

Blaer's hand rested on Jeme's face. "Claimed and marked Sentinel. Mine to serve and protect."

Jeme's face split into a smile that made Blaer's heart soar, "Claimed and marked Guide. Mine to Protect and to serve.' The emotions had exhausted the already emotionally drained guide, and he closed his eyes, safe in the arms of his sentinel.

-0-0-0-0-0-0

Saemund watched them walk back. The smaller guide was held with an arm round his waist, he had never seen Jeme so happy and at peace. Blaer was bouncing, but at the same time the young man looked so much at peace.

Wulfstein's smile matched that of the other sentinels, as he said, "The Dark Guide and Sentinel are now one, the Clans prosperity is now assured. Saemund, you can rest your watch." He put a hand out to stop the man from heading towards the sentinel and guide's tent, "No Saemund. Let them gain their centre and rest. This evening will be soon enough for you to talk to them."

Jeme sensed Saemund outside their home, his guide was stretched across him, he ruffled the long hair affectionately, and with great care slipped out from under him, for a moment Blaer started to wake, until Jeme petted him, then the guide curled up around one of the pillows, and slide deeper into sleep. The Sentinel collected his things and slipped out. Contentment ran through the link to know that his guide was resting peacefully.

When Blaer awoke alone there was none of the panic because he knew by pushing across the link that Jeme was near by, but he quickly pulled on his clothes as he realised that the sentinel was aggravated, distress was pouring off him, and it was echoed in the other sentinels.

The Dark Guide came out of their tent and stretched, immediately his eyes sorted out his sentinel, and he smiled. Jeme came across to him, stretched a hand out, snagging him and pulling him close, he buried his face into the crook of Blaer's neck and inhaled deeply on his guide's scent, one that he could find anywhere. "It's alright. I am here. Jeme, what's wrong?"

"A dark guide murdered. Bryne found his body, he was unbounded."

It made sense. Jeme had seen the body, his mind had made the connection, and he had needed to reaffirm his connection with his guide, and there was only one-way for them to do that. He calmed Jeme, making him understand that he knew and would give all that was needed with an open heart.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Jeme walked close to his guide, his senses on alert to any threat. Blaer went to the body, knelt down and rolled him onto his back. The student was younger than Blaer, he picked up a sleeve and saw the grey strip on it, and "He was a first year Dark Guide but what was he doing here?"

He reached up a hand and tugged Jeme down by his side, and applied the sentinel's senses over the body, quite a lot of questions met with only a few answers as they build up a picture of the younger guide's last hours. Finally, the dead guide could tell them no more.

Jeme stood up, and drew his sword, standing behind his kneeling guide, hands resting on the hilt; his whole attitude was one of barely controlled aggression. His senses now wrapped around his own guide, and extended out looking for a threat, one wrong movement would have called down death on that person.

He was keeping watch now as his guide prayed. A Warrior Priest, Blaer knew what he had to do to send his brother guide on his journey to the next life. Blaer closed his eyes and extended his hands so they hovered over the body of the would be guide, then he turned them palm up as he chanted in the tongue of the ancient, calling on them to come and take the soul of his brother guide up to the place of plenty, where his spiritual sentinel would care for him. As he finished he turned his palms down, then brought both hands to his chest, crossing them at the wrists as he lowered his head in final prayer.

Saemund waited for Blaer to return to himself then asked, "Senior Dark Guide Prime. His body, what do you want done?"

Blaer pulled himself together. "His soul is now ready to journey to the spirit world. Tomorrow at dusk, he must complete his journey, riding on the tail of the sun to glory."

"Thank you."

Saemund saw Jeme's hand move onto Blaer's shoulder, and the look of thanks in the Sentinel Prime's eyes. He had without conscious thought, said and done the right thing.
"Why do you think he came here? Surely he would not willingly have come knowing you were here." The Clan leader had learned enough to know that a dark guide would *never* tolerate an un-bonded dark guide near his sentinel. The fierce protective streak flowed both ways.

Jeme felt enough through his link with his guide to know that Blaer had found something, but he kept his own council. "Perhaps he was travelling home, Saemund. Maybe raiders attacked him.”

Saemund knew he was lying, but for the moment he would not push. Jeme would tell him as soon as he had something to tell him.

Blaer moved around the camp, his sentinel shadow following him closely as he made his way to Wulfstein's tent. When Blaer came out of Wulfstein's tent with the purification herbs, only to find Sophie sitting there. Silently she and the other child sentinels got up and followed their teacher, keeping the watch for Jeme.

Jeme collected him, gave a nod to the child sentinels, and then an arm round his guide's waist escorted him to their tent, he watched him sit down, legs crossed as he mediated and found the peace he needed.

It was with relief that he saw the look of peace on Blaer's face reflected in his eyes when he returned to the earthly plain. But all the same, Jeme's hand stroked his guide's face, cupped his chin, then moving to ruffling his hair; a reminder to the guide of his belonging to this plane, not the other one.

Blaer dug a piece of parchment from his pocket, "I found this on the dead guide." He paused, "His name was Edger. He had been sent to me by Denis, my former teacher, he needs to talk to me when we go to the gathering; something that could affect the temple. The guide was to give me the rest of the message."

"So who ever killed him, wanted to prevent the message getting through to you? I like this gathering even less, Blaer."

"Only by attending will we find out why he was killed."

"Those poisoned scrolls came from the temple, now this?????????"

"But that was Lash."

"We assumed it was, but what if it wasn't? I don't like that idea of you being there, Blaer."

Blaer could feel the blessed protector coming through strongly. "Jeme, this way we will see it coming, and for the Clan not to have their Dark Sentinel Prime there would cause comment and loss of face to Saemund.'

"By the gods, I hate it when you're logical."

"One of has to be." Blaer ducked the blow aimed at his head with a laugh; he knew that Jeme would not hurt him. He sobered quickly. A Dark guide had been killed near his camp; he wanted revenge.

Through the link he heard Jeme's voice, raw and throbbing with emotion, "Your enemies are my enemies." It was said with the total conviction of the sentinel, protecting his guide.

The killer would be found, and would die for this crime.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Simon was closing the manuscript with a good natured growl, the kid was going to have to learn that it was not nice to leave your Captain with a cliff hanger, when he noticed the computer paging was wrong. He flipped the page back, sure enough it jumped, the ancient Blair was asking for forgiveness for something, then one whole page was gone. Now it was not like Sandburg to forget to put a page in. It was then he notice the envelope wedged in the back of the binder pocket.

Sandburg's writing:

Simon, in here is the page that no doubt you know is missing by now. As an anthropologist I had to record the visions in full, but as a friend and guide, I know that if Jim read this... well, he's just not ready to read it. Truth is told we might never reach this level of bonding, and I just don't want to freak him out. Also, if the GDP read It.... I don't even want to think of what might happen.

Keep it safe, and one day it might be relevant.

Blair

Simon's hand hovered over the seal. Blair had not told him he could not read it, but if it were something that Blair was scared would "freak", to use the kid's term, the ex-covert op Ranger, what would it do to him? He placed both envelope and manuscript into his safe; tomorrow they would join the others in his safe deposit box, away from prying eyes. His included.

The End
19th April 2001

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