Following the Wolf: Part 5

No, dammit! He was not going down like this. Blair flailed blindly. His fingers connected with plastic. He snatched it up, bent his arm at the elbow and squeezed.

The guy who had him screamed and let go, falling back. Blair lunged away from him, still clutching the squeeze bottle. He swiveled to see which one had attacked him, Bryce or Carreno.

Jim Ellison writhed on the ground, hands covering his eyes.

"Jim! Oh my God, Jim!" Blair dropped the squeeze bottle and grabbed the other one, scrambled to Jim's side and tried to pull his hands away from his eyes. "Dial it down, Jim. It's okay, it’s only soap, you'll be okay. Come on, man, put your hands down so I can wash your eyes out. Do it, Jim, come on!"

Jim flung his hands down. His fingers dug into whatever they came into contact with first--the ground on one side, Blair's leg on the other--and hung on. Tears streamed from his tightly shut eyes.

"Ow! Take it easy, Jim. Now come on, dial it down and open your eyes. You can do it."

Slowly, Jim forced his eyes open, visibly fighting the urge to shut them again.

"Good. Now hold still, man."

Blair held Jim's head with one hand and poured water into his eyes with the other, flushing out the worst of the soap's sting. Whether it was the water or the dialing down, Blair couldn't tell, but Jim sighed and lay still, his grip relaxing. His eyes were red, the lids swollen almost shut.

"I'm sorry, man," Blair said quietly. "I thought you were someone else."

"They're coming," Jim said, struggling to sit up. "They'll be here any second. Get out of here, Chief."

"No way, Jim. You can't take these guys on, you can't even see."

"I can see just fine."

"Oh, yeah?" Blair crossed his arms. "How many fingers am I holding up?"

"I'll give you a finger," Jim muttered. "Three."

"Wrong. I'm staying."

"Sandburg, these guys are armed."

"Don't worry about it, Jim, I've got it covered."

"You what?"

"Shh! Get down, man, they're coming."

Miraculously, Jim did as he was told. Blair got back into position and picked up one of the rocks he'd stashed. A minute later, he heard them. It would have been hard not to, they weren't even trying to be quiet. Bryce was complaining about all the trouble they were having to go through to get rid of one puny anthropologist, and Carreno was trying to persuade the American to think of it as a hunting trip with unusual quarry. Great. These guys thought he was Bambi.

Bryce and Carreno came into view. Bryce was wearing the same dayglo clothes he'd had on two days ago, but Carreno had changed to an open-weave white shirt. Bryce was filthy; Carreno didn't even seem to sweat. But both were definitely armed, and their idea of hunting appeared to be spraying as many bullets over as wide an area as possible, then seeing what fell down.

Bryce walked a few steps ahead of Carreno. His eyes darted around, but didn't see Blair or Jim. They did, however, spot Blair's shirt in the bush. Bryce opened fire. The shirt danced and jerked, and Bryce advanced, still firing. Blair shifted his gaze to Bryce's feet. Come on, man, just a little farther. A few steps, and--

Bryce tripped. As he fell, a branch sprang free and slammed into his stomach. He screamed and collapsed, taking the branch with him. The gun flew from his hands to land somewhere in the undergrowth.

Carreno froze. He didn't go to his partner's aid; he just stood, looking around wildly. Blair stood up.

"Over here."

Carreno whirled, swinging the gun toward Blair. At the same time, Blair threw the first rock. His fastball was as good as ever: the rock beaned Carreno in the forehead. But not before Carreno pulled the trigger.

The Ellison freight train hurtled into Blair, tackling him. Bullets whistled over their heads, shredding trees and plants indiscriminately. Jim lay on top of Blair, keeping him down, and wouldn't let him up until a full ten seconds after the last bullet was fired.

Rock in one hand, squeeze bottle in the other, Blair approached Carreno. The man was unconscious, a huge, bloody gash in his forehead. Blair set the rock and bottle down, and unwound a length of vine from around his waist. He removed the gun from Carreno's lax grasp and turned the Sierra Verdean onto his stomach. A few twists of the vine around Carreno's wrists, and Blair began to knot it.

"Sandburg!"

At Jim's shout, Blair automatically twisted and rolled. Gripped in Bryce's bloody hands, the broken branch whizzed through the space where his head had just been. Blair had rolled onto the bottle. He groped for it, brought it up in both hands, and squeezed. A stream of soapy water flooded Bryce's eyes. He shrieked and dropped the branch; clutched his eyes and staggered back still screaming.

"You little bastard! I'll--"

A tiny, feathered dart sprouted from Bryce's neck, cutting him off in mid-threat. He toppled to the ground and lay unmoving. Jim lowered the blowgun to his side. His eyes were open a little more, and weren't quite as red.

"Some guys just don't know when they're beaten."

Blair grinned at him. "Where'd you get that?"

"I went to the temple first. I thought you'd be there."

"Curare?"

"Something like that. He'll be out for a while, but you should tie him up anyway."

Blair treated Bryce as he had Carreno, then turned him onto his back. "Hey, Jim? Now that we've got them, what do we do with them?"

"We wait."

Alarm shivered through him. "I hope you didn't tell the new captain what you were doing, man. I think he's in this with them."

"I know he is. Don't worry, Chief, the cavalry's coming."

"You sure, Jim?"

"Pretty sure."

Jim crouched beside Carreno, made sure he was alive, then did the same with Bryce. The dayglo shirt was covered with blood.

Blair swallowed nausea. "They gonna be okay?"

"They’ll be fine."

"Good."

Jim lifted the shirt to expose three neat holes in Bryce's abdomen. "What the hell?"

"It was this." Blair grabbed the broken branch and held it up for Jim's inspection. Three ballpoint pens were lodged in the wood, points out and bloody. Jim stared, and shook his head.

"Only you, Chief."

"Hey, you know what they say, Jim: The pen is mightier than the AK-47."

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"What did you say this was again, Senor Sandburg?"

Aurelio held out the length of wire that had tripped up Bryce. Blair gave him a quick grin.

"That's the spiral binding from my notebook."

"And this?" A piece of white elastic, narrowly striped with red and blue.

"Uh." Blair actually blushed. "That's the--uh--it's from the waistband of my boxers."

"And Bryce's wounds were made by pens?"

"Yeah."

Jim clapped a hand to Blair's shoulder. "Just call him MacGyver."

The kid looked puzzled for a moment; then a smile broke across his face. "From the American television."

"Right."

Aurelio's new capitan called him, and he went running. Both Bryce and Carreno had regained consciousness, though neither was exactly steady on his feet. The Sierra Verdean cops started to lead them away. Jim looked around for his partner, and found him stuffing what he hadn't destroyed into his backpack.

"Let's go, Chief."

Blair stood up and shouldered his backpack. "You go ahead, Jim. I'm not ready."

"What are you talking about?"

Blue eyes met his. "Jim, why do you think I came here?"

"You tell me, Chief."

Blair shook his head. "I thought you'd understand."

"I'm trying to."

"No, you're not. You think this was some kind of stunt, that I just wanted you to come after me."

"I don't think that."

"Then why are you here?"

"I thought you might need me."

"For what?"

Jim shrugged. "Just to be here."

Blair sighed. "I appreciate that, Jim, I really do. But I have to do this alone."

"Do what?"

"Don’t be deliberately obtuse, man."

"I'm not, Sandburg. I'm asking why you came. What did you think you'd find here? The Temple of Light is a place for sentinels."

"And I'm not a sentinel. I know that, Jim."

"Then why are you here?"

"To find my own place! A place for shamans. There is one, Jim. There has to be."

So that was it. Blair was looking for a place to belong. He should have known. Hell, maybe he had known and just hadn’t wanted to admit it. That wouldn’t be anything new. Fine, then. Blair wanted to find this place for shamans. He could live with that, as long as there was some chance of actually finding it. If there wasn’t, he was going to have to talk Blair out of this. Somehow.

"Do you feel it?"

Blair's gaze was suspicious, as if he thought Jim might be making fun of him. But he answered. "I don't know. I think so. I thought I was being drawn to the temple, but that wasn't it. Now I feel--I think it's here somewhere. Close to the Temple of Light, but not a part of it."

Blair did feel it. He couldn’t argue; he’d acted on his own feelings too many times. "Then we'll find it."

"Not we, Jim: me. I'll find it." Blair charged on before he could protest. "You remember when you were looking for the Temple of Light? Incacha told you that you had to find it alone. It's the same for me. You can't do this for me, man."

"You followed me. I can follow you."

"I don't know if that's a good idea."

"Why don't we try it and see? If we don't hear from Incacha, we'll figure we're on the right track. Okay?"

Blair studied him closely, still looking for mockery. "You're serious."

"Yeah. I am."

"What about your leg?"

"I'm fine."

"You sure?"

"I'm fine, Sandburg."

Blair nodded. "Okay, man. Let's go."

They reached the temple in about fifteen minutes. Blair had led the way in complete silence, glancing back once in a while to confirm Jim's presence, but never speaking to him. Now he stood at the bottom of the stairs, gazing up, making no move to climb. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, almost meditating on his feet. Jim hung back and kept quiet. He was in no position to question anything Blair did here; not after Alex.

Blair opened his eyes and turned his head to the left. Without hesitation, he set off into the trees. Jim followed about fifty feet behind. The backpack slipped from Blair's shoulders and thumped to the ground, forgotten. Jim picked it up without comment.

Blair's path led them around the temple. The walls of the pyramid were visible through the trees, but Blair never once looked at them or gave any indication that he realized the temple was so close. He threaded his way through trees and undergrowth without ever slowing his pace, and he had stopped looking back to check on Jim. Jim doubted that Blair even remembered he was there.

Gradually, Blair veered farther left, away from the temple. He continued on, never slowing or looking around, intent on his eventual goal. Jim dialed down the persistent ache in his knee and kept following, trying not to limp. Not that Blair would have noticed.

A faint rushing reached Jim's ears. He tuned in on it, trying to identify the sound: running water. Blair was headed directly toward it. In minutes, Blair stopped. The ground before him sloped down to a pond fed by a small waterfall. A profusion of blossoming trees and bushes perfumed the air. Hidden among them were statues, each about three feet high, carved in the shapes of different animals and birds. Blair's voice was hushed.

"This is it, Jim. This is where I'm supposed to be."

Thank God. "That's great, Chief."

A quick smile, and Blair started down the slope. He paused, looking back. "Wait for me here, okay? I might--be a while."

"I'll wait."

Jim watched his descent. When Blair reached the bottom, he turned away and set about making camp. That done, he took up sentry position on the perimeter, watching and listening for any possible intruders. He didn't think about what he was doing, or why. He just knew it had to be done. The shaman was in the place of his choosing. It was the sentinel's task to stand guard, to be watchman for his shaman's peace.

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End Part 5

Part 6