By the Gods, A Lone Wolf Cries - Part Three

They headed out under cover of night, with Blair riding the horse and Jim at his side on the ground.

An hour into their journey, Ellison pulled the horse to a stop and looked up at his partner. "Okay, Chief," he began, reaching up to place his hand on Blair's arm. "Where are they?"

Blair leaned back in the saddle and took a deep breath, closing his eyes as he stretched his hearing outward. He heard the three heartbeats of the men next to him, as well as his own, and the myriad sounds associated with the wilderness. He stretched his hearing a little further, but still could not pick up any sign of Xena, Gabrielle, or Sirus.

Blair shook his head and opened his eyes. "Sorry, Jim. I can't hear them."

Jim sighed, patting Blair's back. "It's okay, Sandburg. I figured we'd be too far out. We'll head in the general direction, and see if you can pick something up when we're a bit closer."

"You have no idea whatsoever where Sirus and his men were heading?" Hercules asked.

"That's not exactly true," Jim said. "Sandburg honed in on their position right before we left, and they were heading southwest."

They walked for about thirty minutes, stopping at regular intervals to allow Sandburg to use his Sentinel hearing.

"I hear them," Sandburg finally announced, his eyes bright with victory. "They're about a mile and a half ahead."

Jim looked mildly impressed. "That's good range, Chief."

Blair nodded. "It's relatively quiet here. No city noise. When you were in Peru, did your senses seem to reach farther?"

Jim shrugged. "I don't know -- didn't think about it."

"How do things sound?" Iolaus asked, glancing up at Blair.

"Pretty quiet. Xena and Gabrielle are discussing strategies, and they sound real close to Sirus' group, so I assume they're spying on them." He cocked his head, pausing for a moment, and Jim increased the pressure on Blair's arm to keep the younger man anchored. "It sounds like Sirus' group has stopped to eat... and I think they're getting ready to sleep."

"The eating part sounds like a good idea," Jim said. "You need to get some food and water in you, and I'm kinda hungry myself. How's your stomach?"

Blair shrugged. "Better, I guess. I don't really feel nauseous anymore."

Jim slid his backpack off his shoulder as Blair dismounted. He rifled through the pack and handed his partner a bottle of water and a granola bar.

"Try this," Jim said, "and eat slowly. It won't do you any good--"

"-- if it comes back up," Blair sighed, snatching the items out of his friend's hands. "Thanks, Mom."

Jim ignored the comment and pulled two more granola bars out of the pack. "You two want these?" he asked Hercules and Iolaus.

The two men studied the wrapped bars curiously, seeming hesitant to take them from his hands. Blair tore off the wrapper of his granola bar, and Hercules and Iolaus shifted their gaze to look at what was inside the wrapper.

"What is it?" Iolaus asked, pointing to Blair's bar.

Sandburg slid the bar out of its wrapper and handed it to Iolaus. "It's a granola bar," he said, smiling in amusement as the blond man reached out a tentative hand to take the offering. "Go on, try it," he urged.

Iolaus glanced at Hercules, then bit into the bar with a loud crunch. He tilted his head as though analyzing the taste, then his eyes lit up and he chewed more vigorously, swallowing the mouthful and breaking into a large grin. "Hey, that's pretty good. What's it made from?"

"Granola." Jim replied flatly. "Hence the name."

Blair slapped the Detective on the arm and snatched up one of the unwrapped bars. Hercules took the second bar and tore open the wrapper. He took a bite of the hard snack and nodded.

"It's good," the large man mumbled, his mouth full.

Jim gestured to the bar Blair held in his hands. "Go on, Sandburg. No stalling."

Blair rolled his eyes. "I'm not stalling," he said, tearing off the wrapper and stuffing the two crumpled papers into the pack.

"And it's time for another dose," Jim remarked, retrieving the bottle of medicine from the backpack.

Blair groaned. "Oh man, I KNEW you were gonna say that."

Jim grinned. "Cheer up, Chief. Two more sips, and the stuff'll be gone."

They reached Xena and Gabrielle surprisingly quickly, leaving the horse behind as they approached so as not to alert the camp. They found the two women crouched in the middle of a group of bushes a few yards from Sirus' camp.

Hercules crouched next to Xena, his voice low. "So what do you say? A surprise attack?"

Xena grinned, raising her eyebrows. "There are two guys on watch, but the rest are asleep."

"This is almost too easy," Iolaus whispered.

"On the count of three," Hercules said, gesturing for Jim and Blair to stay put.

Ellison opened his mouth to protest, but a glance at Blair's anxious face stopped him short. Based on what he'd seen, Xena and Gabrielle were perfectly capable of handling themselves, and, if Hercules really was a half-god, he shouldn't have a problem taking care of himself. If it looked like they needed help, he'd jump in, but, until then, he'd stay with Sandburg. It wouldn't be very smart to get himself killed and leave Blair to fend for himself in a strange world with his new senses.

Ellison nodded an acknowledgment and crouched lower behind the bush, keeping a hand on Blair's shoulder.

"One... two... three!" Hercules counted, and the four warriors launched their attack.

The battle ended relatively quickly, and, when it was all over, only one man lay dead. Jim showed the others how to tie an escape-proof knot, and the soldiers were bound together in groups of two around nearby trees. The plan was for Xena and Gabrielle to deliver the men to Corrins to answer for their crimes, and Hercules and Iolaus would help Jim and Blair find their way back home.

However, first they had to get some sleep, and then they had to find a way to reverse Ares' handiwork to put Sentinel and Guide back the way they belonged.

They decided to spend the night in Sirus' camp, since it already had a campfire burning. Jim and Blair took positions on one side of the small fire. Xena and Gabrielle slept together a few feet away, and Iolaus rested nearby under an animal fur taken from Sirus while Hercules remained on watch. Sirus and his men remained bound to the trees, obviously unable to find a comfortable position in which to spend the night.

Blair lay on his back, listening to the steady beat of Jim's heart as he gazed up into the moonless night sky. He'd never seen so many stars in the sky, not even when he and Jim had braved the jungles of Peru to rescue Simon.

He scanned the horizon, searching for the planets. As a child he'd gone through an astronomy phase, and had spent many nights star-gazing, searching for the planets during the months they were most visible. He almost wished there were a full moon out so he could test his Sentinel sight on the celestial object. Just how far could he see? Would he be able to distinguish the details of each crater on the lunar surface?

He gave into a small, wistful smile. No, probably not. He'd probably be able to see the same detail he'd get out of a small telescope, though he didn't exactly know what level of magnification his Sentinel eyesight would translate into.

He yawned and closed his eyes, finally giving in to the exhaustion seeping from his bones. It had been a very long day, and all the traveling had taken its toll on him. His butt and legs hurt, and he knew he'd be sore as hell in the morning.

The night was quiet, punctuated only by the subtle sounds of nocturnal creatures. One-by-one, other sounds infiltrated his consciousness. To his right, Iolaus snored softly. To Blair, however, the man's breathing sounded like a freight train passing. His ears also picked up a distant, angry hissing that he guessed to be two small animals fighting.

He inhaled a deep breath and rolled on his side, trying to block out the sounds. Where the hell are the dials? He took several more deep breaths and pictured the dials in his head. Slowly, he turned the dials down, but the sounds refused to diminish in volume.

And then Jim started snoring.

Damnit! He jack-knifed into a sitting position, his body exhausted but his mind frustrated by its lack of ability to sleep. Jim shifted beside him, and Blair heard the tell-tale jump in the man's heart that indicated he was waking up. Blair focused on taking another long, deep breath, then sank back against the animal skin covering the ground.

"Can't sleep?"

Blair turned his head to look at Jim and released a frustrated sigh. "No. It's like I'm so tired, I can't sleep... and all the noises are so loud."

"Turn do-- "

"I tried the dials, Jim," Blair snapped. "Don't you think I know that much by now?"

Jim sat up and turned to face his partner. "Then we'll work on the exercises," Jim said.

Blair complied, his eyes offering an apology. "Thanks, Jim. Sorry, I didn't mean to snap at you."

Jim flashed a lop-sided smile. "At least now you know why I always harped on you about your midnight antics."

Blair raised his eyebrows. "I know, but it's not like I could type any quieter... and, by the way, you snore."

"I do not."

"I just heard you, Jim. Like a Boeing jet."

Jim threw him a deadly look. "Shut up and close your eyes, Chief."

Blair grinned, but closed his eyes, automatically adjusting his breathing for a meditative state.

"Okay, Sandburg," Jim began, placing a hand on Blair's shoulder. "Listen to my voice. Filter out all the other sounds and just focus on the sound of my voice." He paused for a moment, thinking back over the thing that most calmed him during such stressful times. "Now tune into my heartbeat, Blair. Focus just on the beat, all the other sounds fade away, and there's only my heartbeat. Now picture the dials..."

His voice trailed off when he realized that Blair had already fallen asleep.

The next morning, Xena and Gabrielle left with their charges, but Jim decided it would be best for them to stay another day at the small camp while Hercules tried to get Ares to make an appearance. Blair looked and acted like he felt better, but it had only been a day since he'd come back from Death's door, and Jim could make out the heavy lines of exhaustion that marred his friend's face even after a full night's sleep. To top it off, Blair wasn't in much of a condition to be walking.

"Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow," Blair grunted as he waddled out of the shrubs after doing his morning business.

Jim suppressed a grin. "Problems, Chief?"

The young man grimaced. "If I never see another horse again, it'll be too soon. Man, I actually have blisters on my thighs."

Jim winced in sympathy as he added sticks to the fire. "Come on over here and let me take a look at them, Sandburg."

"No way, man!" Blair protested. "I drop my drawers only for legitimate practitioners of the medical profession and certain members of the opposite sex . You, my friend, are neither."

Jim chuckled, a sound that was mirrored by someone behind him. He looked over his shoulder to see Hercules grinning. Iolaus laid next him, still asleep in front of campfire.

"Your friend's a late sleeper, I take it?" Jim asked, jerking his chin toward Iolaus.

"Well, I didn't get all that much sleep last night because SOMEBODY was snoring," a voice mumbled from beneath the fur.

Blair chuckled as he wobbled over to the campfire. "Hey man, you do NOT have room to talk."

A mass of blonde curls emerged from beneath the fur, and blue eyes peered out at Sandburg. "I don't snore."

Hercules grunted.

Iolaus shifted his gaze to glare at his friend. "You got something to say?"

Hercules shook his head. "Nope. Not a thing."

Blair sank down by the campfire and picked up a stick, fiddling with the burning embers on the ground.

Jim watched his friend for a few moments, noting the slight grimace of pain in his forehead and the dark circles under his eyes. Finally, he pulled his gaze away and looked at Hercules. "So, do you think you'll be able to contact Ares?"

Hercules nodded. "He'll see me."

"Will he reverse whatever the hell he and that other God did to us?"

Hercules sighed. "I'm not sure, but I'll do my best to convince him."

Blair looked up from the campfire. "Aren't there other Gods here? Can't we get help from some of them? What about your father? Isn't he Zeus?"

"My father and I aren't on the best of terms," Hercules informed the young man.

"Yeah, well, this is kinda important here, man," Blair replied. "Maybe you could put aside your differences for awhile to help us out?"

Jim raised his eyebrows in surprise at the sarcastic tone in his friend's voice, but Hercules appeared uninsulted. "It's not like that. I'll talk to him, see what I can do, but he doesn't tend to listen to me."

Jim nodded, satisfied. "We appreciate it," he said.

Herc managed a tiny smile and rose to his feet, and Jim got the impression the half-god was searching for something by the way his eyes scanned the perimeter of the camp. A moment later, Blair cocked his head, his brow furrowed.

"Hey, little brother."

Jim shot to his feet and spun around toward the newcomer.

"Ares," Hercules greeted, his tone neutral.

"You have a favor to ask?"

Hercules stepped closer to his brother until the two were chest-to-chest. "Been up to your usual antics, I see?"

Ares shrugged and chuckled. "Not me. My nephew. He's such a wild card." He released a sigh. "I just can't control him."

"I'm sure," Hercules replied flatly, then gestured to Jim and Blair. "Just put them back."

"No can do, bro," Ares replied, stepping away from his brother to walk toward Blair.

Jim quickly slid in front of the man, blocking his path. "What do you want?"

Ares chuckled. "You mortals are so two-dimensional," he replied, glancing over Jim's shoulder to look at Blair.

Sandburg gazed anxiously up at the two men, obviously realizing a confrontation was likely and knowing who'd come out the winner. Quickly, he rose to his feet and placed a hand on Jim's shoulder.

"Come on, Jim, let Hercules handle this," Blair suggested.

"Yeah, Jim, let Hercules handle this," the God of War mimicked condescendingly.

Hercules stepped in between Jim and Ares. "Really, Ares, I would have thought this beneath you. Don't you have anything better to do? Start wars, or something... oh yeah, but you tried. Too bad Sirus wasn't very smart."

Ares chuckled. "True, but there are ALWAYS more." He leaned forward in a conspiratorial gesture, his voice low. "You gotta love that about humanity... there's so much BAD all around. It makes me all warm and tingly inside just thinking about it."

Hercules looked entirely unimpressed. "So what's the game this time, Ares?"

The God shrugged. "No game, just a little amusement. Like I said, this one wasn't my doing. Far be it for me to tamper with another God's work. That just wouldn't be right, you know," he said, his voice taking on a note of mock-seriousness.

"Amusement?!" A deep voice asked, and Blair stepped forward, his angry glare directed at Ares. "You think this is funny, man? What kind of a sick--"

Jim slapped a hand down on Blair's shoulder and pulled him back, simultaneously taking a protective step in front of the younger man.

"Hercules is right, Chief. He has nothing better to do. It's pathetic, really... especially for someone who's supposed to be a God." Jim said quickly, hoping to direct Ares' attention away from Sandburg.

Ares' eyes flashed with anger and he took a threatening step toward Ellison, but Hercules stopped the God with a hand on his chest. "Don't Ares. You'll have to go through me first, and you DON'T want to try that."

Ares turned his dark gaze onto his brother, and his lips twisted in a chilling smile. "You really are a boyscout, brother... a character-flaw I'm sure you get from your mother. I really don't know what Zeus saw in her, other than a good set of--"

Hercules' fist connected squarely with Ares' jaw, sending the God flying several meters in the air before gravity took over and yanked him back down. He landed hard on his back.

"I think it's time for you to go, bro," Hercules said, his voice low and his eyes blazing.

Ares rose to his feet, his nostrils flaring in anger. He looked furious, on the verge of launching a retaliatory attack. Instead, he straightened and glared at Hercules. "You may have Zeus' protection, but I WON'T forget about this," he said, then, in a flash, disappeared.

"Well, looks like you ticked him off, Hercules," Iolaus said, moving up behind the larger man. "What's the count?"

"I don't know," Hercules said, glancing at his partner. "I lost count."

Iolaus shrugged. "Five hundred and thirty-four," Iolaus recited, flashing a smile. "See, aren't you glad you have me around to keep track of these things?"

The anger in Hercules' eyes melted, and he smiled, stringing an affectionate arm around his partner's shoulder. "Yeah, Iolaus, what would I do without you?"

"Excuse me," Blair interrupted, maneuvering around Jim to stand in front of the two men. "I hate to interrupt this Hallmark moment, but we've got a bit of a problem here. I mean, you made pretty damn sure Ares won't help us, so now what the hell are we supposed to do?" he asked, gesturing to Jim and himself. "This might be all fun and games for you, but it's NOT for us, and--"

"Easy, Chief," Jim said, surprised by the sudden venom in his partner's voice. "He's doing the best he can. Ares wouldn't have helped us no matter what."

Blair turned to look at the Detective, his eyes blazing. "I know," he muttered. "We're pretty much screwed. It's not like we have all that much chance of finding our way back home, and, even if we do, how the hell are we gonna deal with this thing? It's not like I'm gonna become a cop, and you... well, without these senses you don't exactly have much need for me."

"Whoa. Hold up, Chief," Jim said, placing a hand on Blair's shoulder. "I think you're getting a bit ahead of yourself here. Let's just take it one step at a time, okay?"

Blair shrugged off Jim's touch. "Yeah, whatever," he mumbled, then turned away and plopped down in front of the embers of the dying campfire.

Jim furrowed his brow, wondering what exactly was going on in his partner's head. "Sandburg--"

Blair's head snapped up, and his eyes locked on something in the distant brush. Jim followed his partner's gaze, but saw only trees and bushes.

"What is it?" he asked.

Blair shot to his feet, pointing a finger in the same direction. "Don't you see it?"

Jim shook his head. "See what?"

Blair's eyes suddenly went wide, and he slammed into Jim, knocking him to the ground.

"What is it?" Iolaus asked, but Blair was off of Jim before anybody could react.

"Jesus!" Blair exclaimed, scampering away, his eyes locked on an empty spot of air in front of him. He was stopped by a large tree trunk, and he raised his hands in front of his face, turning his head away.

"What? What is it?" This time it was Hercules who asked the question as he helped Jim to his feet.

Blair was shaking visibly, but he slowly lowered his hands to peer at the invisible thing in front of him. "You don't see anything?"

"No, nothing," Iolaus answered.

Realization slammed into Jim, and he walked slowly toward Blair. "A panther?"

Blair glanced quickly at Jim, nodding. "Yeah, man, right in front of me. It does not look happy, Jim. It's got really big teeth, and it's, like, roaring at me."

"It's okay, Sandburg. It's not gonna hurt you," Jim reassured the younger man.

"This is your spirit guide, I take it?" Blair asked.

Jim hesitated slightly. "Uh... Yours now, Chief, I guess."

That got Blair's attention, and he tore his gaze away from the feline to look at Jim. "You mean...?"

Jim nodded. "Looks like it."

Blair's face fell. "Oh man, Jim. I'm sorry. I--"

"It's okay, Blair. That's not important now. What IS important is that you pay attention to the cat."

Blair swallowed. "Oh yeah. It doesn't appear for no reason, right?"

"So I've been told," Jim replied, a slight smile playing on his lips.

"So what do I do?"

"Stand up," Jim instructed. "Maybe it's trying to lead you somewhere."

"You think?"

Jim smiled tolerantly. "You'll never know if you don't get off your ass."

"Right," Blair replied, and pushed himself slowly to his feet, using the tree trunk for support.

He kept his gaze locked on the large black cat, apparently unconvinced that it wasn't going to rip his throat out. After a brief hesitation, he looked at Jim and smiled. "I guess you're right, man." Then he took off at run into the woods.

"Sandburg! Wait up!" Jim ran after Blair, followed closely by Hercules and Iolaus.

Blair's heart thundered in his chest, and his legs burned with exhaustion. The sleek cat moved swiftly ahead, and Blair pushed himself hard, barely keeping up with the spirit animal.


He heard Jim's voice behind him, but didn't dare slow down. The jaguar's tail lashed through the brush ahead, then disappeared. Seconds later, Blair barreled through the spot he'd last seen the cat, and skidded to a halt in front of a large temple.

The rectangular structure rose to the height of the tree tops, and two stone statues stood guard on either side of the entrance. Steps led up to a large stone door. The warrior statues each held long spears, and their eyes seemed to bore a hole right through Blair's chest.

Footsteps crashed through the underbrush, and the three men almost slammed into Blair, altering their course and coming to an abrupt halt just in time.

"Sandburg," Jim panted, leaning forward with his hands on his knees, "next time wait for me. Got it?"

Blair nodded absently, his gaze fixed on the temple. He extended his hearing, listening for signs of life inside the temple. The myriad sounds of the wilderness assaulted him, flooding his ears with the roar of life. Hundreds of heartbeats pressed in on him, accompanied by the mixed sounds of the wildlife, but the three heartbeats around him rang louder than all the rest.

He clenched his jaw and closed his eyes, focusing on the dials. He'd told Jim how to do it a thousand times -- focus on one sound and tune out all the others, so why couldn't he do it now?

A light touch on his shoulder jarred him out of the chaos. "Just focus on the temple and tune out the rest of the sounds."

I'm trying, he was about to say, but stopped short when the roar in his ears faded suddenly. The silence of the temple sounded clear, and he focused on the respite it provided. It was odd, he thought, how the silence came alive like an entity, drowning out the roar that had nearly overwhelmed him moments before.

"It's clear," he told the three men.

"What was that all about?" Iolaus asked.

Blair finally tore his eyes away from the temple to look at the man. "Every Sentinel has an animal spirit guide," he explained. "The symbol of the Sentinel is the jaguar, and--"

"What's a jaguar?" Iolaus asked.

"Oh right," Blair muttered, realizing that the people of this ancient civilization may not have even encountered large felines, or, at least, might have a different name for such an animal. "Well, it'd be easier for me to draw one than try to explain it."

"Later," Jim said, pointing to the temple. "Right now I think we should go inside."

Blair looked at Jim and nodded. "I guess so," he said, turning his gaze back to the temple.

The four men headed up the steps to the temple, with Hercules in the lead. Even though Blair's senses told him the structure was void of life, one could never be too cautious. Hercules pushed the thick stone door open easily, and the group stepped into the temple.

Four stone walls surrounded them, covered with carvings. The ceiling rose high above, but there were no openings or windows, so the only light came from the doorway.

"Wow." The anthropologist in Blair took over, and the young man moved closer to the walls, using his sensitive eyesight to pierce the dim light as he scanned the carvings.

A mixture of writing and pictures adorned the stone walls, but he couldn't read the language. He would have guessed the writing to be ancient Greek, but he was supposedly in ancient Greece and yet everyone spoke English, so he couldn't say for sure what language was etched on the walls.

He focused instead on the pictures, universal forms of communication which were much more easily deciphered. His eyes scanned the pictures, and one group of carvings caught his attention.

"Jim, look at this."

The Detective walked up behind him and peered over his shoulder. "What is it? I can't quite make it out."

"It's a map. It shows us our position here, and, if I'm reading it correctly, it shows the path to the clearing you and I... uh... landed in, or whatever." He pointed to the upper right portion of the drawing, even though he knew Jim couldn't clearly see the pictures. "But, this here looks like the cave. You remember at the top of the mountain -- back in Mexico -- the rock formations looked kinda like a pear?"

Jim nodded.

"Well, that's what's drawn here," Blair explained. "Only it's kinda drawn so that it overlaps the clearing."

"That would make sense considering how we arrived," Jim commented.

"Yeah, but there's more." He moved his hand to the left. "Here there's another temple. I'm not quite sure how it fits in, but another drawing of the rock formations overlaps it, so, if I had to guess, I'd say that this other temple leads the way home."

Jim slapped his partner on the shoulder. "I hope it's that easy, Sandburg." He looked back at Iolaus and Hercules. "Either of you know about this other temple?"

"Where is it?" Hercules asked.

"North-west," Blair replied. "If the map is drawn to scale, I'd say it's about ten miles away."

Both men shook their heads. "Nope. I've traveled through that region, but I've never seen a temple," Hercules said.

"How extensively do you know that region?" Blair asked.

Hercules shrugged one shoulder. "Iolaus and I have been through it twice, and both times we were just passing through."

"So if there is a temple, there's a good chance you wouldn't have seen it," Jim said.

"Then I guess we should head there," Blair offered. "The jaguar led us here for a reason, after all."

Jim nodded. "Agreed. We'll go back and get the horses, then head for the temple."

"Uh, but, Jim," Blair began, running his fingers nervously through his hair, "what about us? We need to find a way to get your senses back before heading home."

Jim frowned. "We'll just have to hope the answer's there."

They traveled back to the camp and scarfed down some breakfast. Then they rounded up the horses taken from Sirus' men, and filled the saddlebags with supplies. There were enough horses for all of them, but Blair protested, saying he'd had enough horseback riding to last a decade.

"Well, Chief, you seemed fine during that little sprint of yours through the woods," Jim countered.

Blair grimaced. "Come on, man, that was pure adrenaline."

Jim patted the horse's saddle. "Just shut up and get in the saddle, Chief. If you walk, you'll just slow us down."

Blair sighed and caved in, hopping into the saddle. "Fine, but don't expect me to be able to walk once we arrive."

They took off at a light trot, hoping to cover the ten or so miles well before sunset.

After about two hours, they arrived at an impasse. Jim scanned the large canyon, realizing it was far too wide for them to go around and still hope to make the temple by sunset. A narrow bridge hung between the canyon walls, and Jim eyed the structure warily.

"We'll have to go the rest of the way by foot," Hercules commented, voicing Jim's thoughts.

Jim looked at his partner, noting the thin sheen of perspiration on the young man's forehead. Sandburg's eyes were fixed on the canyon ahead, and his face looked much too pale. Blair's fear of heights was an obstacle they'd have to overcome.

"Sandburg, look at me," Jim instructed.

Blair either didn't hear him, or ignored the order, because his gaze remained locked on the canyon.

Jim maneuvered his horse closer to Blair's and placed a hand on his partner's shoulder, giving him a firm shake. "Sandburg!"

Blair blinked and looked over at Jim. "Huh?"

"Time to get off the horses," Jim told his partner. "We'll have to cross this on foot. You up to it?"

Blair swallowed and shook his head. "No way, man. Let's just go around."

"It'll take us days to go around this thing," Iolaus said. "Don't worry, I've crossed this bridge before. It'll hold up."

Blair backed his horse away from the canyon. "Look, it's not like we're in a rush, right?"

"Sandburg, the faster we get there, the better," Jim replied. "We may be on a time-table and not even know it. What if there's some window to this time-space anomaly?"

Blair swallowed hard again, but nodded. "Okay, you're right. We'll cross here."

Sandburg dismounted in one swift motion, and the three men followed suit. They retrieved the essential supplies from the saddlepacks, and Jim swung the backpack over his shoulders. Hercules led the way onto the bridge, followed by Iolaus, Sandburg, and Jim.

Ellison took up the rear so he could keep an eye on his partner. The bridge looked to be at least a hundred feet long, and Jim knew that it would be hell for Blair to cross.

The wood planks creaked as Hercules ventured onto the bridge, and Blair took a slow, deep breath. Iolaus followed a few feet behind Hercules. Blair was next, and he kept his eyes straight ahead, focusing on the back of Iolaus' head.

"Go on, Chief. You can do it. Just put one foot in front of the other," Jim reassured him.

Blair nodded, taking a slow step onto the bridge. The wood groaned as he set his weight down on it, and his hands tightened around the ropes.

His blood thundered in his ears, and he forced his leg to move as he took another step.

Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. The temptation to look down nearly overwhelmed him, but he resisted. Just look straight ahead, he told himself. You're just walking across a street. You're not really suspended hundreds of feet in the air by a tiny bridge... Oh God...

"You're doing good, Sandburg. Just keep it up," Jim instructed from behind.

Each time a foot came down on one of the wooden planks, it creaked under the weight, and each creak roared in Blair's ears. He kept telling himself to turn down the dials, but he couldn't seem to focus on anything more than putting one foot in front of the other.


Blair looked to his left and saw Ares suspended in mid-air above the canyon. The God of War smiled, his eyes dark with mischief.

"Ares," Jim growled.

"What do you want now?" Hercules asked.

"Just thought I'd pop in and see how things are going," Ares replied. "From the looks of it, they're not going all that well."

"They're just fine, thanks," Hercules answered. "Now leave."

"Oh, they don't look so good to me, especially not with you on that bridge and this terrible wind," Ares said.

Oh God, please no... Blair pleaded, but his silent prayer went unanswered. Seconds later, a strong wind arose, and the bridge swung precariously under the assault.

"Hold on!" Jim yelled.

NO shit. Blair closed his eyes and tightened his grip on the ropes. His stomach seemed to roll with each sway of the bridge, and the structure protested each motion. The boards and ropes groaned dangerously, amplified by Blair's sentinel hearing. Behind him, one of the boards seemed to creak louder than the others, and a spike of fear pierced Blair's heart.

He spun around, forgetting about the large drop beneath him. "Jim--"

The plank gave way, and Blair lunged forward as Jim plummeted. His hands wrapped around Jim's wrist as the Detective's feet dangled uselessly below.

"Help us!" Blair yelled, feeling the tug of Jim's weight. His arms hung below the plank as gravity struggled to pull Jim down.

Jim wrapped his free hand around Blair's arm, but the large Detective outweighed Blair by a good forty pounds, and the younger man felt himself being pulled forward off the plank. He kept his eyes focused on Jim, resisting the temptation to peer into the nauseating void below.

"Sandburg--" Jim yelled.

"Damnit, just hold on, Jim!" Blair knew what Jim was about to say, and he had no intention of complying.

Strong arms appeared, and a hand wrapped around Jim's arm, pulling the Detective up in one easy motion.

Jim panted heavily, struggling to gain control of his breathing as he rolled onto his back on the bridge. Hercules peered down at him, concern lining his forehead.

"You okay?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine."

"There's something wrong with Blair," Iolaus said.

Jim looked up to see his partner's head and shoulders hanging over the plank. The young man lay rigid, peering down into the drop.

Jim rolled onto his knees and moved carefully over to Blair. "Sandburg."

Blair remained frozen, unresponsive.

"Come on, Blair." Jim grabbed Sandburg's arm, his grip tight. He suspected that Blair was zoned on something at the bottom of the canyon, probably as a defense against his fear. "Snap out of it. Listen to my voice."

"We've gotta get him away from the edge," Hercules said, grabbing Blair's other arm. "That plank's not very stable."

Jim nodded, helping Hercules pull Sandburg away from the edge. He propped the young man against his chest, keeping a firm grip on his arm in case Blair snapped out of it too suddenly.

"Sandburg, come on," he gave his partner a firm shake. "Listen to me. Follow my voice back."

Blair relaxed beneath his grip, taking a sharp breath of air.


"Yeah, buddy. Right here. You okay?"

Blair nodded slowly. "Yeah," he replied, his voice shaky. "What happened?" He stiffened suddenly, then turned around to look at Jim. "Oh man. Are you okay?"

Jim managed a reassuring smile. "Yeah, fine. Thanks." He patted Blair on the shoulder and pulled him to his feet. "Now we've still got a bridge to cross."

"Oh man," Blair groaned, keeping a tight hold on Jim's arm. "You had to remind me."

"It'll be okay. The faster you get started, the faster it'll be over," Jim said.

"But what about Ares? What if he makes another appearance?"

"Don't worry about him," Hercules said. "I think he's had his fun for now."

"Great. That's reassuring to know," Blair muttered.

Hercules moved around the two men, resuming his trek toward the other side. He glanced over his shoulder and flashed an encouraging smile. "You coming?"

Blair took a deep breath. "Yeah, right behind you."

Jim waited for Blair to take a step, and when the young man showed no sign of moving, he decided to help him along. Keeping a firm hold on Blair's shoulder, he took a step forward, giving his partner a gentle push.

Blair grabbed the ropes and inched his way forward.

"See, that's not so hard," Jim said.

"Easy for you to say," Blair muttered, his knuckles white.

"Just keep your eyes straight ahead, Sandburg. Remember back on the rig when I told you about my fear of deep water? You told me to zone on the other ship so I could overcome my fear. Try the same thing here. Keep your eyes focused on some point ahead, and just keep walking."

Blair nodded. "It really worked for you?"

"I got to the other ship, didn't I?"

"Yeah. Yeah, you did."

"So give it a try," Jim urged. "Focus on something on the other side."

"Okay," Blair replied, continuing to inch his way forward. "Got it."

It seemed to take forever, but the two men finally reached the edge. Iolaus was right behind them, and, as Blair took the first step onto solid rock, he lunged forward, falling to the ground and releasing a violent burst of air.

"Thank you. Thank you," he mumbled, looking like he would kiss the ground at any moment.

Jim knelt down beside him. "You planning on proposing, Chief, or shall we get a move on?"

Blair raised his head to look at Jim. "Funny, man, but I'm telling you right now -- there's no way I'm crossing that again. If we have to come back from the temple, we're going around the canyon."

After several more hours of walking, they reached a group of rock formations that had been shown on the map as markers for the temple, but there were no signs of any artificial structures.

Hercules peered up at the towering mountains, then lowered his gaze and scanned the area. "Well, we're here, but there's no sign of it."

"From the map, it looked like it was in some kind of a valley, or maybe even somehow set into the mountains," Blair commented.

"A cave," Jim said. "That would make sense. That's how we got here in the first place."

"Okay, so let's look for a cave," Iolaus remarked.

The four men started their long trek around the base of the mountain, and found a promising entrance only twenty minutes later. Blair peered into the dark narrow cleft, and his sentinel vision took in the details of the interior. While the entrance was narrow, the interior looked surprisingly wide and spacious, and it seemed to curve deeper into the mountain.

"It's pretty big," he said, pulling his head out and looking at his companions, "but I don't see a temple. It goes back pretty deep, though, so there could be something back there."

Jim nodded. "Well, let's go," he said, maneuvering past Blair to enter the cave.

Blair grabbed Jim's elbow, stopping the larger man, who turned to look down at him quizzically.

"Jim, it's pretty dark in there, and none of us has a torch," Blair said. "I'll go in first, and the rest of you can follow. You keep your hand on my shoulder, and Iolaus will keep his hand on yours, and so on. How does that sound?"

Jim looked uncertain. "It's empty in there? You didn't see or hear anything?"

Blair shook his head. "Nothing. It should be safe, big guy. Don't worry."

After a brief hesitation, Jim sighed and stepped aside, allowing Blair to enter before him. Jim grabbed his partner's shoulder, and Iolaus grabbed his. Hercules took up the rear, his hand on Iolaus' shoulder. The four men entered in single-file formation, leaving the daylight outside for the nearly impenetrable darkness in the cave.

Blair followed the curvature of the cave into a wide tunnel with smooth walls that looked like it might be artificial. After several minutes, a soft light became visible up ahead, and Blair quickened his pace. The tunnel curved sharply to the right, and Blair led the three men around the turn and into a large, round room apparently carved into the mountain itself. Stone walls covered with the same type of markings found in the first temple rose about twelve feet high, melting into the rough surface of the untouched mountain interior at the top.

In the center of the room stood a small slab with a pit of fire in the middle. The three men fanned out, each scanning the writing on the walls, but Blair drifted forward, eyeing the fire skeptically. He couldn't tell what source was keeping the fire alive, and, although the room looked well-kept, like it had a caretaker, he wondered how long the fire could burn on its own. Surely someone had to come at least once a day to add fuel to the flame.

"Take a look at this," Hercules said.

Blair pulled his attention away from the fire to walk over to Hercules. The half-god pointed out carvings depicting a man bound in chains with an eagle picking at his liver.

"The story of Prometheus," Blair commented. "The God who defied Zeus and gave man fire. He was punished by being chained and tormented, but was later released by... uh..."

Hercules smiled. "Xena and myself," he said, glancing at the flame in the center of the temple. "I think this temple is kept by Prometheus, and--"

"Hello Hercules," a voice echoed.

Hercules and Blair turned around to see a thin man with a dark beard standing in the center of the flame.

Hercules tilted his head. "Prometheus. It's good to see you."

The God smiled and stepped out of the fire. "You too. I take it you're here looking for something?"

Hercules nodded. "Yes. My friends here--" he gestured to Blair and Jim, "-- come from a different place, a different time. Are you familiar with Sentinels and Guides?"

Prometheus nodded, gazing at Blair and Jim critically. "Yes, though such a pair is quite rare."

"Jim was the Sentinel and Blair his Guide. Ares' nephew switched the two. We're trying to get them back home, but first we need to put them back the way they were."

Prometheus smiled. "And you need my help?"

Hercules nodded. "I'd be grateful."

"And I owe you one," Prometheus replied.

Hercules shook his head. "No, you don't. Xena and I did what we did for the sake of humanity. You're one of the few Gods who has a genuine concern for mortals."

Prometheus bowed his head respectfully. "Since you're here, you obviously know this temple exists as a portal to another dimension, but there is only one way the portal can be opened."

"And that would be?" Jim prompted.

Prometheus turned his gaze to the Detective. "How did you get here?"

Blair spoke up. "I was exploring an archeological site in a cave located... uh... far away from here. I fell through some kind of a hole, and ended up here."

"Same thing happened to me," Jim said, "but later."

"If there is only one way the portal can be opened, how did we get here?" Blair asked.

Prometheus looked at the young anthropologist and shrugged. "I'm not exactly sure, but you are -- or were -- a Shaman, correct?"

Blair glanced uncertainly at Jim, then managed a hesitant nod. "Well... uh... sort of, yeah."

Prometheus raised his eyebrows. "Guides have always been Shamans. They possess an inner strength and purity of heart that allows them to Guide the Sentinel. What were you doing in the cave?"

Blair shrugged. "Just visiting an archeological site... uh... I was on vacation, needed some time alone," he said.

Prometheus gazed silently at Blair for several long seconds. Finally, he cocked his head and asked, "You were trying to get away from something?"

Blair swallowed. "Kind of."

"And I'd say you succeeded," the God replied.

Blair furrowed his eyebrows. "Are you saying I opened the portal myself?"

"Perhaps. As a Shaman, you have certain abilities. On the other hand, who knows? Maybe it was just a freak occurrence."

"So how do we get back?"

Prometheus sighed. "I'll switch you two back, but to open the portal on this side, you must retrieve the stone in the center of the fire and place it in the keyhole."

"What keyhole?" Jim asked.

Prometheus gestured to the walls. "The task can only be performed by a God," he said, glancing between the two men, "or by those with special abilities. As a Shaman-Sentinel pair, you can complete the task, but only by utilizing your respective talents."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Blair asked, but before he'd completed the sentence, Prometheus disappeared.

Jim looked at Hercules. "How are we going to--?" He stopped mid-sentence and cocked his head, turning his gaze to Blair.

The young man looked uncomfortable under the intense scrutiny, fidgeting from one foot to the other. "Uh, Jim, what is it? Something wrong?"

A slow smile formed on Jim's lips. "I can hear your heartbeat."

It took Blair a second to register the statement, and he broke out into a large grin. "Really? Your senses are back? That's great!" He cocked his head, listening for a few seconds, then shook his head, his smile faltering slightly. "We're back. I can't hear anything beyond my normal range."

Jim patted the younger man on the cheek. "Sorry they're gone?"

Blair raised one eyebrow. "What?"

"The senses," Jim explained. "You liked having them, didn't you?"

Blair blushed, lowering his head. "Well... uh... it was kind of, uh, interesting, I guess. I've studied Sentinels for as long as I can remember, and I always wondered what it was like." He raised his eyes to look at Jim and smiled. "But I'm glad they're back where they belong."

Jim nodded. "Well, at least that's one obstacle overcome. Now how to we get that stone?"

"Prometheus said that we'd have to use our respective talents," Blair said. "That means your sentinel senses, but I have no idea what I'm supposed to do. It's not like I have special talents."

Jim raised his eyebrows. "You're the 'Shaman of the Great City,' aren't you?"

Blair cocked his head skeptically. "I was joking when I said that, Jim. I don't know how to be a Shaman."

Jim shook his head. "Incacha saw something in you. So think, Chief, what would a Shaman be able to do that would help us get that stone and place it in the keyhole?"

Blair pursed his lips, considering the question. Finally, he sighed and said, "Well, Shamans have been known to control their bodies -- you know, lower their heartbeats and even walk on fire. So, am I, like, suppose to go in some trance and retrieve the rock from the fire?" He ran his fingers through his hair. "I've never done that, Jim. Hell, I don't even know how to do that."

"Well, if you want to get home, I suggest you give it a try," Hercules said.

Blair raised his hands in defeat. "Yeah, well, I guess I don't have much of a choice," he said. "But if our way home rests on my being able to stick my arm in a pit of fire, I'm afraid we're going to be stuck here, man."

Jim frowned. "I can tell you one thing, Chief, you're not going to succeed with that kind of an attitude."

Blair's eyes flashed with annoyance. "You wanna give it a try, man? I'm just an anthropologist, not a Shaman. It's not like I've read the How to be a Shaman book, you know; and, Incacha didn't really stick around long enough to explain what I'm supposed to do."

"You've studied other cultures, Sandburg -- observed their rituals. You've gotta know something about it," Jim commented. He placed his hands on Blair's shoulders and pushed down, urging the young man to sit. "I know this is a risk, and I'm not too crazy about the idea myself, but I don't see that we have much choice, Sandburg. Now sit down and try it, unless you want to spend the rest of your life without television, peeing outdoors and killing your dinner."

Blair sighed, sinking into the lotus position on the ground. "Okay. I'll try it, but if I end up getting my arm burned, you're going to have to cook dinner for the next month."

Jim smiled. "Deal."

Blair flashed one more skeptical look at his partner, then took a deep breath and closed his eyes.

Okay, find the center. Just focus and find the center. He took slow, regular breaths, feeling himself slip into the familiar meditative state. He had no idea how he was supposed to convince his body that fire wouldn't burn, but he hoped that something would present itself to him.

He focused on his breathing, letting each lungful of air pull him into a more relaxed state. A soft growl rumbled through the air, and he felt warm breath on his face. He opened his eyes...

... and gasped, flinching backward. A large grey wolf stood in front of him, its hazel-blue eyes glowing with an almost incandescent light. The wolf stared at him, sitting calmly on its haunches. Blair gave his heart a moment to drop back into his chest, then scooted a few inches away from the beast.

That's when he noticed he was no longer in the cave. The jungle surrounded him, but it was unnaturally silent. No birds squawked, no creatures skittered in the underbrush, and even the air remained still and quiet. Only the thundering of his heart and the breathing of the wolf touched his ears.

He looked around, but Jim and the others were nowhere to be seen. Finally, he turned his gaze back to the wolf, which hadn't moved from its spot.

"Well?" he asked. "What now? Are you supposed to be my spirit guide, or something?"

The canine shifted before his eyes, morphing into a humanoid figure that solidified into a terrifyingly familiar image.

David Lash.

He wore the dark wig and brown jacket he'd dressed in the night he'd kidnapped Blair, and his dark eyes peered down at the young man. Blair's heart kicked into overdrive in his chest, and he felt the blood drain from his face.

"Well, well, well," he said, a slight smile on his lips. "Hairy Blairy."

Blair swallowed. The last person he expected to see in such a vision was David Lash. "What are you doing here?" he croaked.

Lash knelt down, his face inches from Blair's, his breath hot on the younger man's face. Blair cringed backward, trying to get his legs to move, but they remained rigidly in place.

"You're afraid of me," Lash stated. "You're afraid of a lot of things, aren't you?"

Blair shook his head. "You're a freak! A dead freak! I'm not afraid of you."

Lash chuckled, straightening to his full height, but his eyes became hard. "Poor little Blair doesn't get it," he sing-songed. "I'm your fear... the fear you have to face before you can begin your journey as a Shaman."

Blair took a deep breath, forcing himself to meet those dark eyes. He told himself that he was only seeing an image of David Lash, a nightmare conjured up by his subconscious. The real David Lash had died over three years ago in Cascade.

"What am I supposed to do?" Blair asked.

Lash smiled, raising his eyes. "Follow me."

He turned and headed into the jungle. Blair scrambled to his feet, thankful that his limbs now worked, and jogged after the man. They traveled for only a few minutes before Lash stopped at the edge of a large cliff. His arm swept over the view, and his black eyes peered at Blair.

"This is one of your greatest fears. Face it now, and you may find the strength within yourself to overcome the next challenge. Make no mistake, though, this is not a sure-thing. The drop is real, and, if you allow the fear to control you, it will destroy you. If you succeed, the fear will still be with you, but it will not control you."

Blair raised his chin, his eyes bright as he gazed at Lash. "My fear of heights has never controlled me," he said.

Lash smiled. "And that is why you stand a good chance of succeeding," he replied.

Blair glanced over the edge, his stomach clenching in a knot as he gauged the distance at well over five hundred feet. "So, I'm, like, just supposed to jump?"

He looked up, but Lash was gone, and the jungle silence became once again noticeable. He closed his eyes, taking three deep breaths, and focused on getting his frantic heart back under control. He met with marginal success, and opened his eyes, staring over the cliff's edge at the enormous drop.

"You're sure I'm supposed to jump?" he yelled, hoping the spirit guide was still listening. "And how do I know you're really my spirit guide and not, say, Ares?" Hell, for all he knew, this could all be another one of Ares' attempts to amuse himself.

Silence answered him, and he clenched his jaw, peering back over the cliff. Okay, Sandburg, this is just a vision. You're really back in the cave on solid ground, so just jump already.

He closed his eyes and took another deep breath, holding the air in his lungs. It's okay if I close my eyes, right? That's not cheating? The spirit had said that if he allowed the fear to control him, it would destroy him, and, on that note, he decided to play it safe. He'd be falling either way, but he really wanted to avoid plummeting to his death, if possible. He opened his eyes, released the breath, and with a wild yell, jumped off the edge and into the abyss.

Jim was on the verge of panic. Sandburg's heartbeat had gone from an alarmingly slow rhythm to a frantic pounding in less than a second, and all his attempts to rouse the young man from the trance met with failure. He gave his partner another violent shake, but Blair's eyes remained closed, and he showed no sign of waking.

"Sandburg, damnit, snap out of it!"

Blair released a violent breath of air, and his eyes snapped open. His body went rigid and he fell back against the Detective, deep tremors wracking his body.

"Blair... Chief, you okay, buddy?" Jim asked, one arm snaking around the smaller man's chest.

Blair nodded, breathing heavily. After a brief hesitation, he said, "Yeah, I think so."

"What happened?" Jim asked.

"I'm not sure, but I'll tell you about it later," he told the Sentinel. "Right now, I think I'd better try to get that stone."

Sandburg pushed himself to his feet, and Jim helped him up. He looked at the younger man critically. "You think you're ready to just stick your hand in and get the stone?"

Blair shrugged. "No, but I passed some kind of a test, I think, so I guess now's a good time to try."

Jim's brow creased with confusion, but he decided to leave the questions to later. Blair glanced at Hercules and Iolaus, slipped out of his shirt, then looked at the fire. He squared his shoulders and approached the slab. Jim could feel the heat from the fire against his face and hands, and he suppressed the urge to reach out and yank his Guide away from the flames.

A drop of sweat coursed its way down the side of Blair's face as the heat from the fire pressed against him. The flames shifted and pulsed, and, between one heartbeat and the next, a form emerged out of the fire. Blair took a step back as the figure approached him. It wore a vaguely human shape, but its body was made out of ash and fire. Flame red eyes peered at him, and it raised one arm, reaching toward him.

Blair blinked, but forced himself to take a step toward the figure. He suspected... hoped... that this was just another test, another fear he had to overcome. The Fire People. He didn't remember much from his Golden experience, but the image of the fire people was burned in his mind.

You're not real, he silently told the figure. Taking a deep breath, he walked right through the fire person and reached into the heart of the flame. He winced involuntarily, expecting the flame to scorch his arm, but, remarkably, he felt no pain. The fire seemed to dance around his skin, leaving it untouched. He took another step forward, walking deeper into the fire, and saw the stone in the center. His hand wrapped around the object, and it felt cool against his skin, almost like ice.

Yanking his hand back, he scampered out of the fire, and suddenly everything went back to normal. The alter of fire burned bright, but there were no humanoid manifestations emerging from its depths. He looked down at his hand, seeing the cool stone clutched within his grip.

"You did it," Jim whispered, his voice tinged with disbelief.

Blair looked up into the awed blue eyes of the Sentinel and smiled. "I guess I did," he said, tilting his head a fraction. "Piece of cake."

"How?" Iolaus asked.

Blair looked over at the man and shrugged. "I'm not sure, actually, but I did it." He looked back at Jim. "Now it's your turn. I think you need to use your senses to find the keyhole this fits." He raised the stone in the air, turning it around so Jim could inspect its shape.

The Sentinel reached out to take the stone, but the moment his fingers touched it, he yanked his hand back. "Damnit, that's hot!" he snapped. "How are you holding onto it?"

Blair furrowed his brow. "It feels cool to me."

Jim shook his head. "I can feel the heat from here."

"Then why'd you touch it?" Blair asked.

"Because you're holding it, Sandburg," Jim replied irritably. "I figured my senses were just amplifying the heat, or something."

Blair raised his eyebrows. "I just put my arm in a pit of fire, Jim," he said. "Don't use me as the model at the moment."

Jim managed a sheepish grin. "I'll remember that, young Jedi."

Blair chuckled. "Funny. Now can you please find the keyhole?"

Jim nodded. "What am I supposed to do?"

Blair shrugged. "Scan the walls for something that matches this?" he waved the stone in the air.

"Okay, I'll try," Jim muttered.

His turned his gaze to the wall, scanning the images with slow precision.

"Just focus on this shape. Don't try to see all the individual carvings, but just let this shape jump out of you," Blair instructed.

Jim acknowledged the instruction with a slight nod. His eyes drifted over the first wall, but nothing popped out at him. Next, he turned his attention to the second wall, but met with failure once again. Finally, on the third wall, the shape became clear, almost jumping out of the stone in the lower left portion.

"Here, Sandburg," he said, walking up to the carving. The shape was etched into the stone, but the carving was flat, laying flush with the rest of the stone.

Blair peered over Jim's shoulder to look at the carving, a slow smile forming on his face. "Way to go, Jim. You found it." He glanced up at the Sentinel. "So we just put this stone there and somehow go home?"

Jim shrugged. "You know as much as I do, Chief."

"Well, if that's the case," Hercules said from behind the two men, "I guess we should say our goodbyes now."

Blair and Jim turned around to look at the two men, and the Detective took a step forward, extending his hand. "It was nice working with you two. I'd like to thank you for all your help."

Hercules smiled and wrapped a firm hand around Jim's outstretched arm. "You're welcome. It was quite an adventure."

"Yeah," Iolaus said, "and I never got to ask you what the future was like... well, your future, anyway. I'm still not clear about this alternate dimension stuff."

Blair chuckled. "Neither am I. As for the future," he shrugged, "it's kind of smelly and noisy, but indoor plumbing and central heating make it all worth while."

Iolaus looked confused. "What?"

Blair shook his head, his eyes glittering with amusement. "Never mind." He looked at Hercules and nodded, then glanced back at Iolaus. "Thanks for everything. It was nice getting to know you two."

"Okay, Chief, time to get a move on," Jim prodded.

Blair nodded, taking a deep breath as he turned back around to face the wall. He looked briefly at Jim, then laid the stone against the carving. At first, nothing happened, and he glanced uncertainly at Jim, then pressed a little harder. The carving gave way, sliding back into the wall until the stone was set firmly in the pocket. The fire died suddenly, leaving the room bathed in darkness.

"What now?" Jim asked.

"Uh, I guess maybe we go the alter," Blair suggested.

"Okay, follow me, Chief," Jim said, grabbing Blair's arm and navigating through the darkness. As he approached the slab, he took a hesitant step up, pulling Blair with him. As soon as both men were stationed on the platform, the fire sprung up violently, surrounding the pair.

Jim flinched in surprise, almost jumping off the alter, but a bright flash erupted around him, searing his eyes and sending his senses haywire.

Blair awoke to darkness, and an intense, throbbing pain in his head. Cautiously, he lifted his head, but the blackness remained impenetrable.


A groan reverberated through the darkness, and he raised his arm, reaching out toward the sound. His hand contacted a solid, warm mass of flesh, and he wrapped his fingers around an arm.

"Jim? You okay?"

Another groan. "Yeah, Chief," the Sentinel mumbled. "Think so."

"Can you see anything?"

"A little. You okay?"

"My head hurts," Blair replied.

"Mine too."

"Where are we?"

"Looks like we're back in the cave," Jim answered. "In Mexico."

Blair released a relieved sigh. "Thank God. I hope my backpack is still here."

The Sentinel released a sharp chuckle. "I don't think there's much traffic through here, Chief, and, even if someone had managed to come along, you probably couldn't pay them to take your backpack. The thing's ready to fall apart."

"Hey, man, that backpack's been with me a long time. I just don't throw things away because they're old and worn. If I did, where would you be today?"

A quick hand smacked him on the head. "Watch it, Junior, or you'll be finding your own way out of this cave."

Thank the Gods! I get to write these two glorious words:
The End J

It took me approximately four weeks to write this story,
it'll take you about 1 minute to send an e-mail with your comments.
(Is that enough of a guilt trip for ya?) *grin*