Disclaimer: What a pity I don't own them, but I enjoy playing with them anyway.

Staggering into Sanctuary, Dar barely alerted Tao before collapsing to the ground. Tao raced to his fallen friend, paling when he saw a broken Terron arrow clutched tightly in Dar's right hand and a gaping, bleeding shoulder wound. Tao pried open his friend's fingers to remove the arrow from his grasp. Dar's body began thrashing and the Eiron almost couldn't carry him to his pallet. The wound had begun to pulse and ooze. On a hunch, Tao gingerly picked up the discarded shaft and sniffed the arrowhead. 'Poison,' his stomach lurched at his discovery. Tao recognized the scent of this slow-acting poison from an outbreak in his village years ago. The tribe's healer had saved the victims with a tea brewed in…'Oh, what was the name of that flower?' Tao's mind feverishly concentrated.

"Xanthia!" he yelled out in triumph.

"Dar, Dar. You have to help me here." The Beastmaster's eyes flickered open and seemed to rest on Tao's face briefly. "Dar I need to know where to find a Xanthia bloom. A tea made from it is the only antidote to this poison."

Dar grabbed Tao's arms in panic when he discovered he couldn't speak. He weakly reached for Kodo and Podo. After communicating with them, he tugged on Tao's sleeve indicating that he should follow them.

Tao flew into action, brewing tea, making a poultice to draw out the poison, and sponging water to cool Dar's fevered skin. Feeling helpless for all his knowledge and healing skill, he propped the Beastmaster up and spooned in several swallows of tea.

This done, Tao gathered up some supplies in his carry sack. Clasping arms, Tao promised, "I'll be back as soon as I can." Dar nodded once, knowing in his heart that no obstacle would prevent him from keeping it.

Tao's eyes locked on Dar's. Hoping beyond hope as he left Sanctuary that this would not be the last time he ever saw his friend alive. Little did he know that Dar was experiencing the same emotion, fearful of sending Tao out of Sanctuary unprotected.

In her lair, the Sorceress smiled as through her amethyst basin, she watched Tao follow Kodo and Podo. She saw Dar struggle, but finally succumb to unconsciousness. Ruh lay by his side and Sharak took to the sky as a link between Tao and Dar.

"Causing trouble again, my dear?" the Ancient One questioned as he magically appeared behind her.

"Just a little test," the Sorceress answered mysteriously.

"Your fascination with human emotions and especially the Beastmaster puzzles me. You should be so far above this thing, as I am," his eyebrows lifting.

"This time," she responded coolly, "I'm not testing Dar."

Crashing and stumbling through the underbrush, Tao followed the ferrets into a clearing. They had only been traveling about an hour and Tao was relieved to see Sharak flying overhead, knowing the eagle would contact him if Dar worsened.

Although the field was filled with many species of flowers and rare plants, Kodo and Podo led the Eiron straight to a bush with but one purple bloom. At the ferrets chattering insistence, he plucked it and carefully stored in his bag. Suddenly the sun was hidden by clouds and lightening flashed across the skies. The wind picked up and howled as Tao struggled to stay on his feet. He was alarmed as he looked to the darkening sky in the west.

"Let's get out of here," he called to the animals. He picked them up and placed them in the carry sack, hoping to speed up their return.

The torrential rains began as they reentered the forest, drenching him. Uncaring, he pushed along the path home. He became bruised as large hail stones dropped from the sky. His only concern was the safety of the precious flower he carried.

Silence. Tao looked skyward nervously. Sharak screeched a warning from above. Tao turned west in time to see a dark funnel cloud approaching. As it passed through the clearing he had just left, he saw bushes and full grown trees uprooted and pulled into the sky.

Scrambling, Tao clawed his way forward, often making paths where none were available. Nipping at his heels, the funnel dogged him at every step, twisting and turning, destroying everything in its path. Tao watched in horror as a young deer was sucked from the ground and disappeared in the sky.

If Tao didn't know better, he would've sworn it was following him. Even when he doubled back and headed in a different direction, he couldn't lose it and it was gaining ground on him. 'Sorcery,' his mind whispered to him.

In horror, he realized if he returned to Sanctuary, he would be leading the funnel right to Dar. He doubted he would have enough time to move himself and his sick friend to safety.

Making his decision, Tao slung the carry sack off his shoulder and dumped the ferrets on the ground. "I know you don't understand my words, but we are in big trouble. I can't lead this thing to Dar, but this flower is the only antidote to the poison. I'm trusting you two to get it to him." He gingerly placed the bloom in Kodo's mouth and they scrambled off for Sanctuary. With heavy heart, Tao turned south, deeper into the forest.

The Sorceress watched the turn of events with interest. Luckily for Dar the poison was slow-acting and his animals should reach him with the antidote in time to save him. The Eiron's safety though, that was another matter.

Dar awoke to nibbling on his fingers and a warm breath tickling his ear. Protected by a proud pair of ferrets, the Xanthia bloom he needed lay on the ground by him. His chills and fever had abated some, due to Tao's herbal tea. The fire Tao had started still smoldered and Dar was able to coax it back into life. Heating some water, he steeped the bloom in it, producing a greenish tea with a bitter flavor. Holding his nose, he gulped it down. Concerned about Tao, he gathered up the ferrets and stared into their eyes. Just then, Sharak returned from his flight and between the three animals, Dar realized Tao's peril and the sacrifice he was making. Trying to get up, with his body still racked with pain, Ruh pushed him back into a seated position and stood guard, refusing to let him move.

Although the animals were worried about Tao, they were more concerned about Dar's possible relapse if he left Sanctuary before benefiting from the full effects of the antidote. Then Tao's sacrifice would've been for nothing. Devastated, Dar sank back down to the ground. Even Sharak couldn't fly near the twister. He had no way of checking on his friend.

The deeper into the forest Tao ran, the more he stumbled. He didn't feel the stings of the numerous brambles or the scratches and scrapes he had collected.

Exhausted, Tao fell face down after tripping over a downed tree stump. The funnel closing in on him, he lacked the strength to get up. With the last coherent thought, Tao hoped the ferrets had been in time.

As the wind around Sanctuary abated, Dar was able to release Sharak to the sky. Flying cautiously, the eagle zoomed in on the downed Eiron's location. Contacted, Dar was horrified to see Tao's unmoving form and the funnel closing in on him. "Tao!" he screamed, as if his friend could hear him through the Beastmaster's link to Sharak. The bird wisely broke the contact, as it became apparent that there would be no rescue for Tao. Dar was both too weak and too far away to save him. Sharak, afraid of a relapse, refused to subject him to the horrible sight of his friend's sacrificial death.

The animals surrounded Dar in sympathy and comfort as his initial shock wore off. Looking around the camp in a daze, he saw Tao's presence everywhere. He had infused himself into every facet of the Beastmaster's life and without him, Dar was a cold empty shell of a man. In one year, he had bonded to the Eiron in a way he had never bonded to another human, save Kyra, and now they were both gone. His emotions on overload, his body shut down and he returned to a thankfully dreamless sleep.

The Ancient One turned to the Sorceress as they watched the drama conclude, "Well my dear, I hope you learned how fortunate you are not to have human emotions. You see how dangerous they can be, making you care about others, even sacrificing yourself for them."

She was pensive as she replied, "Yes, I agree some human emotions can be considered as a weakness." 'But,' she added to herself silently, 'not all of them.'

Satisfied with the answer he heard, the sorcerer vanished from her lair. She waited only a moment before casting a spell, turning the path of the funnel back towards Sanctuary. A human body floated in the currents, buoyed by the awesome strength of the winds.

The animals immediately sensed the change in the weather. They woke Dar from his healing sleep. Standing, he watched in awe as the funnel approached Sanctuary, the great winds not disturbing even a leaf on the forest's floor. All around, the sun show brightly. He released a shuddering breath as he noticed a human body being slowly lowered through the swirling currents. As his stretching arms received the limp form of his best friend, the twister disappeared as mysteriously as it had appeared.

'Magic,' Sharak's voice resounded in Dar's head.

Dar held Tao close as he sank to his knees, not knowing whether to cry for his loss or feel relief as knowing for certain, his friend's ultimate fate. Slowly he rocked back and forth, grief filling his mind and heart. Silent tears tracked down his cheeks. None of the animals could break through his self-constructed wall to comfort him.

Wrapped up in his own despair, Dar failed to notice that the body he clutched so tightly, was breathing. Eyes closed and head bowed, his immense sorrow turned to complete joy when he felt a hand softly brush away a tear. His vision blurry, he could still see Tao's radiant smile, reflecting his own happiness. Not understanding for a moment how Tao could have survived, but only caring that he did, Dar whispered a quiet, "Thank you," under his breath. Tao, still groggy and confused, answered back, "You're welcome."

Back in her lair, the Sorceress answered, "You're both welcome."