The Storm, Chapter 14

Hurricane Blow

852 Prospect Ave, Apt 307, 19 November, 6:00 P.M.

"No, he's not here, yet. What's wrong?" Blair stared out the balcony doors, his attention focused on the phone and the Australian Inspector's words. "I'll be there in ten minutes. Don't do anything. And whatever you do, don't let her leave the room."

He quickly disconnected the line, dropping the phone onto the couch and racing for his room. There was no way he was leaving Incacha's box behind, and he had a feeling he'd need his notes. It only took him a minute to pack his backpack before he was pulling open the front door. He took one step and slammed into Jim.

"Whoa, Chief! Where's the fire?" The smile disappeared as the sentinel took in his guide's distress.

"Brian's late and AJ's dreaming." Blair forced himself to catch his breath. "Megan's not too happy, either."

"D***! I thought Rafe would finished by now!" The sentinel turned on his heel and headed for the exit, pulling out his cell phone as he did. "Brown, S.W.A.T. still got your partner? Tell him to meet me at AJ's. He can finish the paperwork later."

"S.W.A.T.?" Blair tossed his backpack into Jim's truck and clambered in after it. He barely had the seatbelt fastened before the truck was fishtailing out of the parking lot. "Right, I remember. Why is he working with them, anyway?"

"Hostage situation, they needed a sniper." The sentinel tossed his cell phone to his guide. "Call Connor and find out what's going on!"

Blair didn't argue, not at the speed Jim was taking the icy Cascade streets. He was not about to distract his friend, not right now. He punched in Megan's number but after several rings it switched over to voice mail. He dialed AJ's apartment. The phone rang until Jim's voice came on her answering machine, "There, you leave a message for the callers and then they can leave you one in return," followed by a snicker and the beep. Frustrated, he dialed AJ's cell phone, only to get her voice mail immediately. "No answer."

Jim frowned, pressing harder on the accelerator.

Rainier University Apartments.

Before Jim had the truck fully stopped, Blair was out and headed for the building. He ignored his friend's angry shout as he skidded across the parking lot. He noted the squeal of tires as Rafe's car came around the corner and slid into a parking space as he ran into the apartment building. He could chide the two detectives about their driving skills later.

He didn't understand Megan's panic and that bothered him. AJ's dreams were different, but they weren't scary. The fact that the Australian had lost her cool was enough to bother him. He thought the Inspector's avid curiosity would be aroused by AJ having a dream vision. Megan's strident demand for him to get his 'bloody arse' over to the apartment was not what he had expected. Not in the least.

He focused his attention on racing up the stairs, ignoring the sound of the men following him. He tuned out Jim's low growling order to slow down and Rafe's lighter demands to know what was going on. He even tuned out Henri's baritone gasp for answers.

Before the others could catch up to him, he had his copy of AJ's apartment key out and the door unlocked. One step inside the door and he saw what had made Megan panic. The sight of AJ, lying on the floor shaking, brought him to an abrupt stop. He stopped so fast his sentinel crashed into his back, knocking him to knees.

"Megan?" He was completely bewildered by the sight in front of him.

"****. This was not ****** supposed to happen." Rafe's abrupt curse as he scooted around them shocked Blair.

The young detective crouched at Megan's side, carefully turning the photographer onto her back. He wiped a trail of blood from AJ's lips, his eyes worried. "How long ago did it start?"

Blair accepted Jim's hand and let the bigger man pull him to his feet, eyes still on the scene before him.

"About twelve minutes ago," Megan's voice was hoarse. "She told me to call Blair and then hit the floor."

Rafe nodded and settled himself on the floor. Once he was comfortable, he pulled AJ into his lap and focused his attention on her. With one hand he gently tugged on her jaw, forcing her teeth to release her battered lip.

"Brian? Is she going to be okay?" Henri Brown's voice came from behind Blair. He had not heard the big detective enter nor had he noticed him moving further into the apartment. "What's wrong with her?"

"Yeah, she'll be fine. Nothing's wrong, she has epilepsy. That's why she doesn't drive." Brian did not look up, he kept his full attention on the woman in his arms. "She'll be fine."

"What about medication?" Megan asked, wide-eyed. "Shouldn't she be taking something?"

"When it's over," Jim spoke up.

Blair shot the sentinel a glare. He wished they would tell him these things before they happened. When had AJ told Jim she was epileptic? It made sense, though. One of the signs of a shaman in many cultures was the shaking spells that occurred when the shaman visited with the spirits. Even as his mind started contemplating the idea that AJ had epilepsy, he caught Jim's silent hand movement. The sentinel did not want him to say anything. From the quick glance his friend shot at the Australian, Blair realized Jim was trying to cover up something.

"Well, you should have told me," Megan scolded them.

Blair shrugged and obfuscated rapidly. "Haven't seen her have one. Forgot about it."

"It doesn't happen often," Brian agreed from the floor. Blair glanced at him and saw AJ's eyes watching them, slightly unfocused. "Can someone get a glass of water?"

Megan quickly turned to get the water, happy to have something to do.

"Hey, Bright Eyes," Jim whispered to the woman in Rafe's arms. "How're you feeling?"

A low groan came from her and she closed her eyes. She let her head drop back to rest on Brian's shoulder, her hand finding his, their fingers intertwining. She was pale, breathing shallowly, and faint tremors still racked her body.

"That good?" Jim winced at the scowl he received.

"Here you go," Megan offered the glass of water.

AJ's hand shook so badly she nearly dropped the glass before Brian steadied it. He held it as she gulped the water down. There was sly amusement in his voice as he told her, "Slow down. We won't take it away."

"Where are your medicines?" Megan asked. "I'll get them for you."

Wide eyes, more silver than green, glared up at her as AJ finished off the water. She let Brian take the glass away and tried to sit up. "I do not need any pills."

"Yes, you do. You need some rest, too. Jim, give me a hand?" Rafe growled at her before turning his attention to the sentinel. Ellison nodded his understanding and stood up.

Before she could protest their plan, Jim took AJ's forearm and pulled her into a standing position. Brian quickly set the glass on the coffee table and stood. The moment he was on his feet, Jim transferred AJ back to him and he carried her to the sofa. Once there, he quickly settled her comfortably, whispering questions and frowning at the quiet responses. A moment later, Blair appeared, handing him a blanket.

The sentinel turned his attention back to his co-workers.

"Thanks for calling us, Megan. She doesn't like anybody fussing over her - especially not doctors." Jim turned his attention back to the two Major Crimes people. He shook his head. "I thought she had everything under control, sorry."

Megan rolled her eyes and Henri shook his head. The Australian spoke first. "I take it she didn't tell you?" She chuckled at the glance Jim shot her. "You and Sandy looked completely surprised. We've been watching you and AJ and Rafe - she tells him stuff she doesn't tell you, and you don't like it."

Jim sighed and nodded. "She's a little reticent about stuff."

"Like you aren't?" Henri grinned wryly. "Man, nobody knew your dad and your brother lived in Cascade until they became part of a couple of cases. Looks like the girl is giving you some of your own medicine."

The sentinel glared at the grinning detective.

Megan laughed at them, chuckling to herself as she picked up her bag. "If you gentlemen have everything under control, I have got to get going. I have just enough time to get ready for my date."

"Everything's under control," Jim growled.

Megan just smiled and shook her head, her disbelief evident. "'Night Sandy, H. Tell the lovebirds I said goodbye." She grinned impishly at Jim, "Good luck, mate. With her as a sister you need it."

"One of these days," Jim sighed, making Henri grin.

"You sure everything's okay, Jim?" Henri caught Jim's eye, his relief still tempered by the worry in his eyes.

"Yeah, it's going to be fine." Jim replied quietly. He glanced over his shoulder to where Blair and Rafe were quietly talking to AJ. "She'll be worn out, but thanks to Megan, no harm was done."

Henri nodded, gazing around the room curiously. His eyes lingered for a moment on the bookshelves, staring at the titles. The expressionless mask that fell over his face made Jim wince. "I guess if Devereaux and his people ever show up without a warrant, I better not let them inside. One look at some of this stuff and they would think she was part of it."

Jim grinned ruthlessly. "If they don't have a warrant, you're off duty and you call me."

Henri nodded. "She's your source?"

The sentinel didn't answer, knowing Henri was a good enough detective to make his own judgment call.

"I better head home and tell Sherri everything's okay."

"Don't tell her too much, H. It could get dangerous and we want to keep her safe." Jim kept his voice low, not really wanting to say it, but he couldn't let the other man accidentally risk his wife.

"Yeah, I'll keep it quiet." Then he smiled, his eyes mischievous. "I'll tell her Rafe has a lady-friend and let her pick his brains clean. Or better yet, I'll tell her Rafe is dating your sister. I'll let you tell her why she can't meet Kyrie."

Jim shook his head. He liked Sherri Brown. The woman was not afraid of anything or anyone. Everyone in Major Crimes knew she had Jim wrapped around her little finger. Every time he tried to stonewall her, Sherri would arch her eyebrow and ask if it was part of a police case. If it were she would drop the subject. If it wasn't she would get Ellison to tell her. She would smile, keep it quiet if he asked her to, but she would get her information. Like Joel's wife, Lydia, Jim avoided her when possible, protected her fiercely whenever their husbands weren't there, and he put up with her quiet mothering when forced to do so. Ten minutes after Henri told Sherri Rafe was dating Ellison's sister, she would be on the phone to Jim - demanding information about the woman her other adopted brother was dating.

Henri was still chuckling as he left. Jim turned around as the door shut, shifting so he could see over Rafe's shoulder. He caught AJ's eyes and fought a smile at the sheepish but wistful expression on her face. "So, you're curious about Sherri? She'll want to meet you."

Brian looked up at him with a frown and then glanced at the door. He nodded, understanding. "Henri going to sic her on you?"

"Yep. Payback for not being able to bring her over to meet AJ." Jim shrugged fatalistically. It was done; he would handle the fallout later. Shoving the thought out of his mind, he turned his attention to the woman on the couch. He did not like the pallor or the slight trembling that racked her frame. He frowned thoughtfully.

"So, Kitten, why fight off the vision? You could have gotten hurt."

Blair stiffened and the sentinel noted the changes that occurred, as his guide understood the meaning behind the words. The younger man was smart enough to begin drawing his own conclusions about what had just happened, and as an anthropologist he would probably be right on target, too. Jim knew what AJ had pulled, but he only knew because he had seen Incacha go through the same thing back in Peru. Visions were not something to be messed with and the Chopec shaman had only forced himself to ignore the signs of an incipient vision at his own risk. From the signs, AJ had pushed herself hard until her body rebelled - causing the seizure that mimicked epilepsy.

Jim waited patiently, knowing she was not in good enough shape to stand up against his gaze. He could feel the incredulous gaze as it flickered between AJ and him but he refused to look away from the young woman in front of him. Blair's heart rate quickened and his breathing deepened as his agile mind began correlating the information he just been given. The slight scent of awe and satisfaction were quickly overwhelmed by fear and anger as the guide went from delight at Jim's deduction to anger at the ramification of her actions.

"I thought we agreed, no more secrets from us?" Blair's voice was a low growl. "What did Jim mean?"

AJ shot Jim a furious glare, her pale skin quickly turning rosy under the scrutiny of the three men. Before she could move, Brian's hand caught her chin and gently forced her to face him. He did not have to say anything; all three could read the defeat in her expression. "From you, I hide nothing. But from the others. that is different."

"You risked hurting yourself to keep Megan from seeing you have a vision?" Brian's voice was a touch confused. She nodded, her eyes shadowed.

"What caused the convulsion? Or do you really have epilepsy?" Blair's voice was no longer accusing, now it was simply curious.

"Fighting the vision too hard makes the body shake. If you let go, the vision comes on hard - that makes the shaking worse. No matter how long you fight them, no matter how hard you fight them - the visions always break through, eventually." Her face slowly became a calm mask, unreadable. The sentinel frowned as he noted the slowly calming heart rate that didn't match the fear -- no make that terror -- that still tinged the air around her. "Zel, he said it would be easier to tell the visiting Norteamericanos I had the dancing sickness. That way they did not wonder why I do not drive, they do not panic when I shake."

Brian moved without say a word. He went from kneeling in front of the sofa to sitting next to AJ, his arm around her, pulling her close. "You said you didn't SEE anything, but that wasn't the truth, was it?"

The bleak pain in the silver-green eyes that met Jim's told him exactly what she had SEEN - another death. Then she looked away, turning her eyes to stare at Rafe's hand on her arm. He was fingering a silver ID bracelet and Jim noted the epilepsy warning on it. It was so new it still gleamed.

"My tía, Tía Elena, went up on the altar today." AJ's voice was a bare whisper, breaking as she spoke. "I do not know how they got here her, but they did. I felt her die and now, now they prepare Tito." The plaintive tone in her voice made her pain clear as she growled, "I don't want to SEE anymore. I don't want know. I want it all to go away. I wish it would all just stop, that I'd never, ever seen anything at all."

Jim winced at the pain in her eyes and voice but he had to ask, "Do you know where?"

"No. I was fighting the vision too hard to see that kind of detail." She didn't look up but Jim could hear the hesitation. "It is not over, I can still feel it, on the edges of my sight. It hovers like a cloud on the edge of the valley rim. I am losing control of the visions - they are getting stronger and harder to fight. Soon I won't be able to do anything about them." She finally looked up and all three men were shocked by the desolation on her face.

"Kyrie, we'll -" Brian began but she suddenly paled and bolted for the bathroom. Jim motioned for him to stay put. "This hard on her, Jim. Too hard."

"I know, Brian, but she is our only chance at stopping them." The sentinel regretted the fact. He wanted to tell Brian to take the young woman and flee - get as far from Cascade as possible. But neither of them could do that.

"Man, this is not good, is it?" Blair asked, sinking into an empty chair, his eyes on the two older men.

Jim shook his head. During his time with the Chopec, he had seen Incacha suffer through several visions. The shaman would only induce a vision when he felt something was wrong, something that threatened the tribe. He remembered the way the visions had wracked his teacher, leaving him defenseless and ill from both the vision-inducing drugs and the vision itself. It had been the job of Incacha's family to care for the shaman once he had relayed the vision to chief. If the vision warned the tribe to leave the area, two warriors were given the honor of escorting the man, keeping him moving and safe on the journey. "I don't know much about the kind of vision she has, Chief. I know the visions Incacha had were always followed by him getting pretty sick."

"But those were induced, right? That could have been from the potion he used to induce the visions." Blair grabbed a journal from his backpack and began flipping through it. He grumbled under his breath, as he searched, "I wish this thing had an index."

"It does." AJ's voice made Jim look up from his perusal of the notes scattered on the coffee table. She was pale, leaning against the doorframe. Her left arm was swathed with bandages from her wrist to her elbow. His nostrils twitched at the faint scent of blood and he frowned thoughtfully, as she continued, "I think it's in my cubbyhole."

"Okay." The anthropologist frowned and glanced at his sentinel. Jim shook his head at the unspoken question; he was not about to let Blair go climbing through the exhibit now. The young man raised his eyebrows and tilted his head. Jim looked at his wristwatch and shrugged, maybe in the morning.

"Come on, sit down." Brian led her back to the sofa, sinking onto it with her. As soon as they were seated, she turned her back on the sentinel and guide, curling into the young detective's embrace. The dapper young man looked up at the older detective, his face worried as his hands gently stroked her back. When Jim silently handed him a couple of pills, he took them and gave them to AJ. Then he accepted the glass of water and held it to her lips until she drank. Once that was done, he gave the glass back to the sentinel, pulling her against his shoulder and resuming his gentle, calming movements.

Jim motioned Blair to silence, his attention focused on the young woman. He could hear the faint shudders in her chest as she calmed her breathing. Her heart rate was dropping, slowing as she slipped into a doze. The sense of pure exhaustion she exuded made him frown. The faint scent of fresh blood made his frown deepen. "Did she sleep at all last night?"

"Maybe three hours." The look on Brian's face suggested that he hadn't gotten much sleep either.

"D***." Jim rubbed the bridge of his nose. He wasn't too sure how to phrase this without being suggestive but they both needed some sleep. "Look, Brian. Neither of you slept much last night. H***, I'd bet neither of you have been sleeping much since Friday night. I think you should take AJ to bed - to sleep. Blair and I can camp out in the living room to make sure the cult stays away tonight."

The younger detective stared at his senior detective for a long moment before nodding slowly. "I doubt she'll sleep long, though."

"Actually, she might." Jim grinned wickedly. "She took the pain killers you handed her and she's drifting off now. If you're there with her, she can focus on your heartbeat. Between the pills and that, she'll sleep."

Brian frowned and shook his head. "I know her hearing is better than most but for her to use my heartbeat to sleep- " His voice trailed off, uncertainly.

"It really works, Brian," Blair spoke up quietly. His voice was carefully modulated in the tone Jim recognized as 'soothing guide'. The sentinel fought a grin, his partner was using his hard earned skills in an attempt to keep AJ resting, ignoring the conversation around her. "It's been proven that infants and children fall asleep faster, more soundly, and with less disturbance when they either have a recording of their mother's heartbeat or sleep with their head resting against her. In a similar study, adults who regularly share a bed with one partner sleep much better with a recording of their partner's heartbeat."

Rafe blushed at the innuendo and opened his mouth to protest. "We - um, I, ah h***."

AJ's head came up at his stumbling words. She turned a pair of bleary, angry silver-green eyes at the two men and growled defensively, "Leave him alone."

Jim chuckled. "Did you listen to what we were saying?"

She shook her head, letting herself collapse back onto Rafe's shoulder. Her words slurred as she murmured, "He's upset, I can feel it."

"Go to bed. Blair and I will keep watch." Jim watched in amusement as she looked from one man to the other and figured out what she had missed. She flushed and began to shake her head. The sentinel decided to up the ante. He spoke in Quechua, purposely leaving Brian and Blair out of the conversation. Take him and sleep, little sister. I know you need the sleep and so does he. Does he know you listen for him?

How did you know?

When he comes into the room, you tilt your head towards his heartbeat. At the precinct, I watched you focus on him and I could see you track him through the rooms without ever looking up.

AJ's eyes met his, worried about his knowledge. You do not disapprove?

Don't hurt him.

Never, Enqueri. He is my life, my soul. The serene smile caught Jim off guard. He didn't say anything as she stood. With an exhausted nod to the sentinel, she disappeared into the bedroom.

His eyes met Brian's and he nodded to the unspoken question in the younger detective's eyes. Relief quickly flickered through the gray hazel eyes. "Go on, Brian. We'll hold down the fort."

The South African detective nodded, stood, and followed his lady.

"Um, Jim," Blair's voice was hesitant. "Do you know what you're doing, man?"

The sentinel raised an eyebrow at his guide, curious about the question. He knew exactly what he had just done and was not sure Blair understood.

"I mean," Blair looked away for a moment, looking slightly embarrassed. "If the Walks Through People are anything like most of the tribes in the La Montaña region, young women need to have permission to, well, to date, to spend time with a man. That permission comes from their mothers. After that they have to get a separate permission to go beyond the simple dating stage. That permission has to come from their family - father, uncle, elder brother. The man has to be approved by the family. You just did that, man."

"I know what I'm doing, Chief." Jim stood and went over to the window. "She's scared. Actually, I'd say she's terrified by the cult. They have gotten to her and if we're not real careful, she will run right into their arms."

"What do you mean?" Shock laced the other man's voice.

Jim sighed. He did not want to explain but he knew he could not ignore the question. "She's on edge, Blair. And that edge is getting awfully fine. She's been led here - by her connections and the people she works for, the ones she won't admit to - and abandoned for the cult to pick up. Her backup has been removed and one by one, her family is vanishing, only to die here in Cascade. Rafe is the only one she really trusts, I'm not about to force her to confront the mores of her people over him. If they dislike my actions, they'll let me know but they won't say anything to her about it. Besides, I've been clear since the beginning that I had no problems with them dating. I just don't like them going around behind my back."

"So you just gave her blanket permission to give her some stability?" Blair was incredulous, his hands frozen in mid-move; the wooden box half out of his backpack.

"No, I gave her permission to have a reason to fight the cult." Jim turned his back on the window and moved over to the bookshelf, perusing the titles curiously. He wondered why Blair had missed the obvious. "I gave her a reason to stay alive. As long as she denies what's going on between them, she can't find a reason for staying clear of the cult. They've marked her, and the mark gets stronger in her mind with every vision, with every family member who dies. The cult literally can't touch Brian. The necklace she gave him marks him in a way that the cult will see and back away from. She even called in favors big enough that they are making my sources ask me to keep an eye on him."

Blair nodded, understanding darkening his eyes. "And since she has your permission to be with him, she's going to have a reason to stay safe."

"She's already fallen head-over-heals and she knows it." The sentinel shrugged, a wry grin on his face. "Between the way her spirit guide fawns all over him and the way she tracks his every move it's kind of obvious."

"Her spirit guide likes Rafe?"

"No, the thing curls at his feet, licking its chops." Jim shook his head in amusement at the memory. The little lynx was enamored of Brian and made no bones about it. Pure and total adoration seemed to ooze from the feline any time it was quiet enough to curl up near the young detective.

"Oh, man. You've got to be kidding!" Blair muffled his laughter as he finished pulling items out of his backpack and settled them on the table.

"Nope. But the drawback of that is when it gets antsy; it makes both of them jittery. As for the relationship thing - I've given them permission to date, nothing more. For anything else, they have to go to the tribal elders."

Blair blinked. "Tribal elders? Who are the tribal elders?"

"Simon and Joel." Ellison picked up the telephone and began dialing. "How does Chinese for dinner sound?"

"Simon? Joel? Oh, man, I want to be there if AJ actually goes and asks for their permission." Sandburg chuckled, his eyes dancing merrily. "Chinese is fine, just get my usual."

Jim ordered reflexively, not needing to see a menu. It took him a bit of concentration to change the delivery address, but not enough to look away from the box. The battered wood was so much darker than it had been when he had watched Incacha burn his symbols into it. He remembered the day the old Chopec shaman had explained the meaning of the box. It was to hold his guide's possessions and keep them safe. He had left it behind when the rescue team came for him. The thought that Incacha had kept adding to it unsettled him. The fact that he had sealed it and handed it over to AJ in 1995, before Jim met Blair, before Cyclops Oil's depredations in the La Montaña region, before Incacha's trip to Cascade, that made him more than unsettled. It was downright spooky.

"Jim? If you don't want me to open it, I won't," Blair's voice was soft, worried. Jim looked up, his confusion written on his face. "It's hard not to see how much this thing bothers you."

"That's not it, Chief." Jim shrugged half-heartedly. "I don't mind you opening it. I want to see what Incacha put in there after I left. It's just kind of - strange - knowing that he finished it and gave it to AJ after I left and before I met you. He had to have known he was going to die in Cascade."

"Oh." Blair looked at the wooden box, his fingers tracing over the symbols burned into the wooden lid. "I guess that is kind of creepy. Are you sure you're okay with me having it?"

"It was made for you, not for me. Go ahead and open it."

Blair nodded and began painstakingly peeling the wax seals off the box. Once the wax was gone, he hunted for AJ's tools before beginning the slow, careful process of prying the nails out of the wood. He never noticed when Jim stepped to the door and got the Chinese food from the delivery girl. It took him over an hour to remove the top of the box.

"Blair?" Jim's voice made the younger man look up. Jim motioned to the plate of food next to him. "Eat your dinner before you begin going through the stuff in there."

"Huh? Oh, yeah, sure." Blair grabbed the fork and took a bite, his eyes scanning the edges of the box. The wood was sanded smooth, only rough where it was marred by the mark of a crowbar from some attempt to open it. He let his free hand skim that edge. The gouge was weathered and old enough that it did not catch on his skin.

"Stop that. You need to eat," Jim interrupted him with an amused chuckle. "If you can't leave it alone while you eat, I'll have to take it away."

"You can't do that, you said it's mine, remember?" Blair tossed back, an embarrassed grin on his face. He couldn't help it if the thing seemed to call to him.

Jim shook his head, not quite understanding the motivations that seemed to be controlling his guide but he trusted Incacha had not put anything dangerous in the box. They ate in silence, Jim watching as Blair eyed the box, his eyes thoughtful, while he wolfed down his food. The sentinel fought a sigh, his guide was just too curious at times. But he did not argue when Blair finally set aside his plate and reached for the box again. Instead he concentrated on the spices in the moo-shoo beef and the subtle way they interacted with the rich plum sauce.

"Oh, man. I can't believe this!" Blair's stunned voice made Jim look up again. The entire inside of the box was taken up by a knotted package. The knots were so numerous, the threads so closely woven that nothing could be seen beyond the multiple shades of brown, green, and red that made up the macramé. "This is going to take forever to unravel."

Jim set his food aside and stared at the knots. "No it won't." He reached into the box and gently poked at one of the brown cords, and then he tugged at a green one. A red strand freed itself and he pulled it swiftly out of the mass of knots. Before Blair could protest, the unraveling thread raced around the edges of the package, freeing three sides of the knotted thread lid from the body of the container. "All unlocked."

"How did you do that?" Blair stared at the sentinel, eyes wide with amazement. "It looked solid."

"I know how Incacha used to make these things. He taught me how to open them without breaking the thing into pieces." Jim shrugged, eyeing the contents of the box curiously. "It's a way to know when someone has opened sacred objects. Once the seal has been broken you can't replace it."

"Okay." Blair frowned at the box. "Why would he go to that much trouble to seal it?"

"I don't know," Jim paused thoughtfully. "None of the things I saw him put in there were valuable."

"So, it wasn't sealed before you left?"

"No, I'd seen him seal other things, but he hadn't sealed this." The sentinel watched as his companion carefully began removing the tightly packed contents of the box. Small woven boxes, tiny, colorful pouches, a string of small precious and semi-precious stones, a fancily carved wooden pipe, and from the bottom of the box, an embellished medicine bag.

"Jim, this is. I mean it's marked with Chopec symbols, but I thought a shaman's medicine bag was buried with him."

"It is, Chief." He watched his guide finger one item after another, eyes lit with amazement and curiosity. The sentinel sat back, half watching the younger man's actions and half watching the two amused spirit guides. Panther was lying on the carpet near the coffee table, his long tail stretched out lazily behind him. Wolf sat next to Blair, ears pricked forward as he delicately sniffed one of the woven boxes. Neither seemed bothered by Incacha's gifts to his guide so Jim relaxed.

"But this is a shaman's bag - see these marking? They are the different spirit guides. And here, this one in the center would be the shaman's personal spirit guide. It's a wolf, Jim." Blair turned the bag over and froze. He looked up at Jim, tracing the embroidered symbols on the back of it. "There's a black panther on the other side, and it's sitting next to the wolf. Did Incacha know my spirit guide was going to be a wolf?"

"I'm not sure what he knew about you. Incacha helped me with my senses. He helped me survive after the crash." Jim's voice was soft as he remembered the frantic days after his arrival in the Chopec village. Incacha had accepted him from the moment the scouts brought the wounded soldier to the village. He had healed the grieving sentinel's wounds, both mental and physical, fought off his survival depression, and forcibly dragged him into village life. He remembered the cryptic words the older man had whispered to him, ones that only made sense in recent years. He could hear them now - Listen, sentinel, listen to the baying of the young one who seeks you even now. Find him and you will find your way again. "I didn't understand a lot of what he told me, but I think he knew."

Blair's eyes only grew wider and he nodded, accepting his sentinel's words. He carefully untied the threads lacing the bag shut and pulled out a thick notebook. He opened it and groaned. "This is in Latin. I really hate deciphering Latin."


"Yeah, Latin." Blair frowned at the tiny printed letters on the first page. "Okay, this says it belongs to Enqueri and Enqueri's watcher - I guess they mean guide. It's a treatise for leading the people safely?."

"What?" Jim's confusion only made Blair laugh.

"That's what it says - I think. I mean, I'm not the world's best Latin expert and this is a pretty obscure dialectal variant. Well, that or it's got an awful lot of slang in it." The anthropologist studied the words intently. "Yeah, that's what it seems to say." He turned the next few pages, still shaking his head in bewildered amusement. "Why would someone write a Latin treatise and then. oh, man."

Carefully attached to the next page with old-fashioned photo mounts was a piece of old, yellowed paper. The beautifully scrawled script flowed across the page with the distinctive flair of nineteenth century penmanship. Blair skimmed the words, his fingers not daring to touch the ancient paper. He gently turned the page and stared at the next yellowed set of notes. Then he reverently closed the notebook and set it down.

The sentinel did not understand the rapid heartbeat or the fine sheen of sweat on his guide's forehead. He watched as Blair closed his eyes and drew in several deep, cleansing breaths.

"Okay. I am definitely awake. I definitely saw those pages. They're real." Bright, exited blue eyes flicked to the notebook and then to his friend. "Jim, you saw them? Right?"

Jim nodded, not understanding why the pages bothered Blair so much.

"Did they look old to you?"

Still wondering what was going on, the detective picked up the notebook and opened it to one of the mounted pages. Letting his senses dial up so that they were focused completely on the old sheet of paper, he studied it. It smelled old - a combination of old paper, the dry, dusty smell that came from being stored in one of the religious caves Incacha had shown him, and the scent of faded India ink. The weave of the paper was odd to his eyes and it took him a moment to realize that there was linen mixed with the wood pulp that made up the paper. Against the linen, the watermark stood out - a fancy crest that he had seen in some museum somewhere - not something he had seen in any recently made paper. Under his fingertips, the paper was softer, older and less compressed than modern paper. It felt more like cloth than paper to his touch, with none of the harsh chemicals that left his skin feeling slightly abused when he turned up his sense of touch. And he decided that was the clincher, he had felt this paper before, in one of Blair old manuscripts.

"It's old. Real old." He looked at his guide. "What is it?"

"Well," Blair licked his lips, uncertainly. "According to the note on the previous page - if I translated it correctly, those are some of Sir Richard Burton's original notes."

Jim blinked and looked at the notebook. His Latin was ridiculously rusty - heck, he had not thought about Latin since high school, but he could still puzzle his way through most of the Latin words.

"With duress, Burton left Incacha's grandfather's grandfather's father the note he had made of the rites and," Jim slowly read the words, stumbling over some of them, "actions of the shaman's guardian. Guardian?"

"I think the writer means sentinel," Blair supplied quietly.

Jim nodded, continuing, "These words have been passed down from one shaman to his son for the generations. And each generation pledged to remember the words and pass them to the one to come." He stared at the notes, reading the carefully penned words. They had been written over 100 years earlier by Burton as he watched a sentinel and guide at work. He recognized the actions of the two men in the notes and swallowed thickly. The guide was bringing his sentinel out of a zone. These must have been part of Burton's original notes for his sentinel manuscript.

"If I can get these validated," the anthropologist began and then froze before shaking his head. "I can't do that. These were taken away from Burton for a reason." He gently took the notebook from Jim's hands and turned the pages until he came to the last set of notes. He read the words and bowed his head, closing the notebook. "No wonder they took this away from him."

"What happened, Chief?" Jim asked, noting the distress in his guide's eyes.

"One of Burton's men used his notes against the sentinel and guide. The sentinel died trying to rescue his guide. Burton wrote he was going to attempt to bargain for the lives of the rest of the party." The blue eyes were pain-filled at the failure of his long time hero. "That must be why there is so little about the role of the guide in his works, to protect both of them from unscrupulous men."

The sentinel nodded his understanding. He knew exactly how far he would go to protect his own guide; he understood how the ancient sentinel could easily lose his life in an attempt to save his guide. The fact that the tribe had let Burton leave alive was amazing in and of itself, and it made him wonder if there hadn't been a reason for that. The panther looked at him, its eyes blinking languidly at his raised eyebrow. Jim glanced around the room and noticed the clock with a frown. When had it gotten so late?

"Are you going to open the rest of this stuff?" He asked quietly.

"Huh? Oh, no. I need to think about this." Blair hugged the notebook to his chest, eyes still troubled.

"Why don't you sleep on it? You don't have to make any decisions about those notes right now. They'll keep," the sentinel kept his tone light as he stood and headed for the balcony door. He stared out at the snow, seeing the multitude of tracks as shadowy paths into the night. "It'll all keep until a better time."

Blair blinked wearily. He looked at the pile of sheets and blankets beside the couch and nodded thoughtfully. He was tired enough not to argue with the older man, knowing instinctively that it would not do any good. It only took him couple of minutes to spread out the blankets and fall asleep. As he did, his sentinel checked the locks on the doors and settled in to guard over the small apartment.

Rainier University Apartments, 20 November, 1:45 A.M.

The faint sound of movement warned the sentinel before the door to the bedroom opened. AJ came out a moment later; her eyes clear of the fear and pain that had darkened them earlier. She glanced over at the sleeping anthropologist and smiled as she shoved her loose hair back from her face. Her short sleeve shirt did nothing to hide the reddened bandage that wrapped her left arm from wrist to elbow. "Good morning, Enqueri."

"Hidalga," Jim kept his voice low to keep from waking his guide.

"You need sleep," she spoke just as softly, almost too soft for anyone but a sentinel to hear.

"We need to talk," he countered quietly.

She closed her eyes and nodded. "Sí."

He stood, stretching muscles that had been still too long, and went to the window. AJ followed, her movements as quiet as his.

"How is Tito?"

"Holding on, barely." The young woman looked at her toes, her hair hiding her face from the sentinel.

"What are you trying not to say?" Jim placed his fingers on AJ's jaw and gently tilted her face up so he could see her eyes. She looked at him, pupils fully dilated with the vision she was not about to admit to having. He read the message in her eyes and nodded. "Can we do anything to help him?"

She shook her head. "He is too far away. I'm not sure if he's within the city limits or just outside them, but he is north of us. It's cold where he is. The snow is deep. The trees are dark. The stars are hidden behind clouds. The wind is soft, gentle on his skin. He is not in pain anymore."

"How much longer?"

She did not try to ignore the question or its meaning but she shrugged. A tear ran from the corner of her eye and wet his fingertips. "Not too long."

Jim nodded and began to recite the ancient words Incacha had taught him. After a moment of wide-eyed astonishment, AJ joined him. They softly spoke the words for the passing of a guide's spirit. Neither of them noticed their lynx and panther watching them. Nearby, the silent wolf cuddled closer to Blair, its ears drooping mournfully.

Rainier University Apartments, 20 November, 7:00 A.M.

Brian Rafe fought off a grin at the sight before him. Blair, at least he thought the lump on the couch was Blair, was nothing but a mound of blankets. Resting her head on top of the mound was AJ, her feet tucked up under her like a human pretzel. Beyond them, Jim Ellison was asleep in the recliner, a blanket tossed over him, his feet propped up on the coffee table.

The moment he stepped into the room, two pair of eyes snapped open. Glacial blue eyes were more like lasers until Ellison came fully awake, and for that few moments Brian did not move. Silver-green eyes twinkled merrily as they flickered from one man to the other, watching as recognition speedily came to one and the other immediately relaxed.

"Coffee?" Brian asked, heading for the kitchen. He knew he needed it and he was pretty sure Jim drank it first thing in the morning, too. He barely heard the grunted response under AJ's laughter. He looked back to see Blair appear as AJ stole the blankets from him.

"If you want to live, you better make enough for all of us." The grumbling words came from a creature he wasn't sure he wanted to see this early in the morning. Blair's hair was standing on end, looking a lot like horns were poking from his scalp. The younger man's overnight beard growth was astonishingly rough looking.

AJ laughed at him again and then squealed as the anthropologist hit her with a pillow. Brian turned back to making the coffee, no longer hiding the grin on his face.

"D***, they're young," Jim's voice came from beside Brian as the older detective began setting out mugs.

"Young at heart," Brian replied quietly. He glanced at the other man. "Thanks."

Jim nodded. He shot a quick glance at the two wrestling for control of the pillow. "You both needed the rest."

"When did she get up?"

"Around 1:30. I don't know when she fell asleep again."

Brian pointed to the pile of new cassette tapes on the coffee table. "From that pile, I'd guess around five."

Jim nodded. He knew he had drifted off around 3 A.M. assured by the young woman that she would wake the sentinel if anything sounded out of the ordinary. Her quiet whisper into the tape recorder had not bothered him in the slightest; in fact, it had been like a lullaby, encouraging him to rest.

As soon as it finished perking, Jim poured the coffee into the four mugs. Brian grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator and handed Jim the creamer for Blair's coffee. A moment later and the two men headed back into the living room. As soon as Blair saw their approach, he straightened, his eyes latching onto the steaming mug in his sentinel's hand. AJ shook her head and sat back, not about to risk the men going without their morning coffee.

Brian handed her the water and settled on the arm of the couch. After fishing AJ's medication from his pocket, he set it on the table next to her coffee mug. Immediately, AJ wrapped her arm around him and rested her head on his ribs. His free arm curled around her, his hand resting on her waist. He caught the amused glance Jim sent their way as he handed Blair his coffee and shrugged. It felt natural for them to curl up together like this and Brian was not about change for the other man, no matter who he was. Jim seemed to sense his determination and nodded his acceptance of it.

"So, what's on the agenda for today?" Blair broke the silence after taking a long sip of his coffee. "I've got to stay at the museum and work on the clean up."

"I've got a meeting with the D.A. at noon," Jim spoke first.

"Paperwork," Brian replied as he deftly opened the pill bottle AJ was trying to ignore. He removed a pill and handed it to her. Both Jim and Brian glared at her, daring her to argue.

"Class from nine to noon." AJ quickly tossed the painkiller into her mouth and emptied the water bottle in a vain attempt to get rid of the taste. She set it aside and gulped down her coffee before standing and heading for the bedroom. "There are bagels and fruit and other stuff in the kitchen. I have to get ready to run."

"Slow down, Kitten," Jim grumbled. "You can't leave until we know who is going to be with you this morning."

"Megan said Anthony or Lance would be here at eight." She stopped at the door. Her words made all three men look up sharply. "I think the Irishman is coming though. I heard him."

"What does that mean?" Blair asked quickly.

"I don't know. I know his accent was Irish in the vision. But I don't know when it will come to pass." She shrugged and turned away. "He has a wife and child. He's a beautiful little boy who likes to play football and adores his father. I'm going to like meeting him."

"That is so - spooky." Blair looked over at Brian, who shrugged his agreement.

"AJ?" Jim's voice stopped her again. "What did you see?"

She bowed her head. "I saw the Irishman and his family at a funeral. I don't know whose. I don't know if it can be stopped or not. I know they are safe."

"Thank you."

She nodded and disappeared behind the door.

"You know, for a little while I was jealous of her visions," Blair mused quietly; not noticing the startled looks the two detectives gave him. "Now, I am like, SO glad I don't have them.

None of them were surprised when Anthony Baker arrived half an hour later. The tall Irishman greeted them with a bag filled with Danishes and his trademark grin. "So, where's the little lassie? I've heard a lot about her. Congratulations on being caught, Brian."

"Lassie?" AJ came into the living room, fastening her vest. "When did you bring a dog here?"

"Kyrie," Brian grinned, forcing himself not to laugh. "I'd like you to meet Anthony Baker. Tony, this is Kyrie Eleason Alessandre Jacobo Fortaleza y Trujillo, most people call her AJ."

"Now that, lassie, is a name bigger than you are." Tony grinned at her, taking her hand and bowing over it. "A lassie is a pretty girl in my homeland."

"Señor Baker." She smiled politely at him, pulling her hand away and stepping closer to Brian while eyeing him warily.

"He's safe, Kitten." Jim grinned, amused by the reaction. "Tony may kiss your hand and smile, but he's happily married to a beautiful lady."

"That I am. Would you like to see a picture?" Tony toned down his smile sheepishly. He pulled out his wallet and showed off pictures of his wife, Angela and their son. His accent thickened as he talked about them, showing the picture of his son in a football jersey.

"You are the Irishman?" She sounded slightly puzzled as she looked at the pictures.

"Aye, that I am." Tony looked up at her and then glanced at Jim curiously. "If yer kin to Ellison, then you are Irish, too."

"On my mother's side," she replied quietly, turning her odd green and silver eyes on him.

Tony stiffened as he noticed them for the first time. "You have silver in yer eyes."

"What's wrong with that?" Jim asked quietly, catching the unease in both Tony and AJ. He studied the blond Irishman curious as to the source of the quiet detective's tension. Since his arrival, Tony had quietly but steadily fit himself into the Major Crimes Unit like a missing ingredient in a complex recipe - unnoticed until the item was added to spice up the mix.

"Nothing." Tony forced himself to grin. He looked from one person to another and realized they did not believe him. "My grandmother, back in the old country, said you could always tell those who were touched by the fey - they have silver tracing through their eyes from seeing through the veil between worlds. A lot of the older generation in Ireland still believe in the fey."

AJ blinked at his almost embarrassed grimace. Brian rested his hand on her back, fighting to keep from laughing aloud at the calm, accepting tone Tony used. Beside him, he heard Blair choke on his own response. Only Jim didn't react.

"Do you believe in the fey?" AJ asked quietly.

"I've seen too much not to believe," Tony replied quietly, his shoulders stiffening as if expecting a blow in response.

"I knew I was going to like the Irishman," AJ smiled, her first real smile since Tony's arrival. She turned around and went on tiptoe to brush a quick kiss on Rafe's lips. Then she reached down, grabbed her camera bag and coat, and headed for the door. "So, are you ready to head to my class? We really should be heading that way. It's a beautiful walk and I don't like being late."

Tony glanced at Brian, "What was that about, boyo?"

"You're approved." Rafe grinned at the confused expression on the ex- undercover cop's face and shrugged. "She told us this morning she was going to like the man with the Irish accent. Call me if she gets to be too much to handle."

"She knew she was going to like me?" Tony looked over at Ellison and accepted the senior detective's nod. "She is fey, then?"

"Come on, we'll be late," AJ called from the door.

Tony turned on his heel and headed for the door, ignoring the smothered laughter coming from Sandburg.

"What's so funny, Chief?" Jim asked as the door shut behind the two.

"The look on Tony's face when he realized not only were we not laughing at him, but that AJ probably is what his grandmother warned him about." Blair was still chuckling. "H has been razzing him for months about his Irish superstitions and we just look at each other and shrug. Better yet, AJ 'knew' about him before he arrived. Oh, I wish I were going to be with them today. I want to hear their conversation."

"No you don't," Brian replied. "She's going to ignore every single question he throws at her."

"What makes you say that?"

"I know how her mind works, Blair." The young detective carried their mugs to the kitchen and set them in the sink. When he returned, he shrugged at the unspoken question. "She implied she is fey or psychic or whatever you want to call it. She won't admit it to him. It was all she could do to admit it to us."

"He's right." Jim grinned evilly. "She is going to drive him nuts by avoiding the subject and twisting the conversation away from it. And Tony is going to back down rather than be impolite to her. So he'll quietly stew and then he'll ask us."

Brian picked up the thought, "We, of course, will avoid the subject, deftly change subjects, answer questions with questions, etc."

Blair just shook his head, admitting defeat. He knew they could not say anything about AJ's dreams to the rest of the crew. It felt odd, keeping another secret from Major Crimes. Not even Simon knew about this. Only the three of them knew. For a moment he wondered if it was right or fair to keep it a secret but then he thought about what could happen. The FBI was already looking for her, albeit under a different name and a different persona. This would only make them find her faster. Still thinking about the whole situation, he followed the two detectives out the door.

Rainier University Lecture Hall B, 9:00 A.M.

AJ moved to the front of the hall as her escort settled himself against a wall. She ignored the curious eyes of her photography students. She was not going to explain the plainclothes detective's presence. To do that would expose her students to the cult and possibly entice them into hunting for things beyond their ability to handle. Right now they were safely unaware of the cult's existence and by virtue of being her students they were safe. By tradition, the cult was not allowed to touch the students of the sagrado chosen for sacrifice. After all, the teaching had to be passed down from one generation to the next. Instead of satisfying their curiosity, she was going to discuss field ethics. But first -

"Good morning, everyone." She paused in front of the blackboard, looking at the pictograph on it. "This is a pretty good representation of the words on the entrance to the exhibit hall. There's a slight error, but not too bad. So, which of you wants me to follow the straight path to the doorway?"

Chuckles broke out and AJ smiled. "Nobody? Okay, how about a pop quiz then? You are doing a walk through of Cascade. You take a bunch of photos and as you do so, a crime is committed. What do you do? You have ten minutes, please be comprehensive."

As her students began writing, she studied the words on the chalkboard, trying to figure out why they seemed out of place. Fidgeting, she picked up the chalk and began rewriting the words - in another dialect. They still didn't seem correct. She translated the phrase into hieroglyphs. Nope. She wrote it in another language - this one far older than the others. That was it. It fit. She stepped back to survey her handiwork and the hair on the back of her neck rose as she recognized it for what it was - a message from the cult.

"That looks like the stuff on the billboard on Cayman St by the wharf," Joshua commented quietly as he handed in his paper. AJ turned and noticed several students nodding their agreement.

"Are you up to an impromptu excursion?" She asked, startling the class. "Does everyone have his or her camera? Do you have bus fare? We're going sight seeing."

The class shifted restlessly.

"What about the quiz?" One brave student asked from the back of the room.

"I'll look over them and we'll discuss them next week. So, are you ready or not?" AJ turned her back on the class, grabbed her camera bag from the table, and strode toward the exit. Tony Baker was immediately at her side. "The route 47 bus will be at the stop in seven minutes. If you don't have your camera with you, you miss out on the trip."

Behind them, the class quickly jumped to their feet and began following. In the first class she had warned them never to forget their cameras or enough change for bus fare to and from the university. AJ had known there would be times when she needed to get out of the building, away from the congestion that was the campus. If they kept up, fine. If not, that would be even better.

"What's wrong?" Tony's slight Irish lilt sang over the sound of their footsteps and the chatter of the surprised students following them.

"Nothing," she replied shortly. The walk across campus was not very long, but she was afraid the bus might be running ahead of schedule and did not want to wait for the next one. This was one of the times she wished she had a license; having her own means of transportation would mean faster transit times. But the hassle was not quite worth the effort of learning to drive. Not yet, anyway.

Cayman Street and Fourth Avenue, twenty-seven minutes later.

AJ stared at the billboard through the telephoto lens. Reflexively, she took several frames of it, panning the camera around to make sure she had the whole thing. When the film was finished, she quickly and efficiently changed rolls. The students who had stayed with her took their own pictures of the billboard. She nodded to them and turned her attention back to the archaic writing, working her way through it. Once she was certain she had read it correctly, she pulled out her cell phone.

"Brian? Is Jim around? Bring him to Cayman and Fourth." AJ spoke into it, catching Tony's full attention as she did. "I found the instructions for getting your missing lady officer back."

"What do you mean?" Brian's voice was strained and she could hear Jim ask him what was wrong. "Where's Tony? Where are you?"

"We're at the corner of Cayman and Fourth, reading a billboard." AJ smiled at the muttered curse. "How long will it take for you to get here? I can help you find Señorita Welles if you hurry."

"Ten minutes, Kitten," Jim's voice sounded loud over the cell phone. Behind him, she heard Brian explaining to the others in the bullpen and then she heard the sound of a mass exit. Hanging up, she turned her attention to the group with her and smiled.

"Remember that scenario from earlier? It just came to life." AJ raised her voice over the sound of traffic. "Please pull your film, label it, and hand it over to the nice man at my side."

"What?" "Huh?" "What's going on?" The protests were immediate and loud, but they obeyed.

"Thank you." AJ scanned the street for a moment as Detective Baker placed the many rolls of film in his coat pockets. "I would suggest that anyone who does not wish to hang around for the arrival of the rest of the police department catch the next bus. Otherwise, you will most likely be detained to fill out the many forms, all in triplicate, the Cascade PD demands of those who are at, around, or simply close to, a crime scene."

The sound of sirens danced at the edge of her hearing and she wondered briefly who would arrive first. Jim, she decided, hearing the squeal of tires that heralded the turn onto Fourth Ave. A slightly softer squeal, accompanied by Henri Brown's unhappy murmur, indicated Brian coming a close second.

"Miss AJ?" The Irishman's lilt brought her attention back to the group. "What does the sign say?"

"It says Señorita Welles is in the middle of the labyrinth and to save her we must pass the trial." AJ looked up at the billboard. "It says that at dusk, she dies."

"Where's the labyrinth?"

AJ looked at him and shook her head. She knew he would only get hurt if she reminded him of the words on her blackboard this morning. "Follow the straight path to the doorway," the words had read. She looked across the street, down the arrow-straight path directly across from the sign. Even the name of the now defunct company fit the pattern.

She instinctively understood the meaning behind the messages. The cult wanted to test her and what better way to test her than by using one of their own ancient legends? Just as Theseus risked his life to save the sacrificial youths, the cult wanted her to risk her life to save Cassie Welles. She stared at the building across the way, her eyes distant as she though about the legend of the minotaur. She wondered how many people had died in this labyrinth. According to legend, in the one on Minos, every year seven young men and seven young women had been sacrificed to the minotaur before Theseus had killed the beast.

Trireme Transport was stenciled in fading red letters on the side of the building with a stylized black-sailed ship as its symbol. The beautifully stylized trireme, three pairs of oars aloft as it pulled into harbor, was her clue to the entrance of the labyrinth. The labyrinth of the Minotaur, a trireme with a black sail, an ancient legend of ritual sacrifice, and a missing woman, all of them interrelated and all of them ominous when studied and compared to what she knew. It all fit, especially with the fire tinged dreams of the previous night.


Jim fought the truck as it skidded around a corner, his eyes locking on the group of young people farther down the road. As he watched, AJ, quickly followed by Tony Baker, darted across the street and into the parking area of a deserted industrial building. He bit off a curse as he realized she was heading for the door to the leftmost business, Trireme Transport. Later he was going to have a discussion with her about obeying orders.

As he slammed the truck into park, he noticed that the stubborn woman had stopped to stare in through a window. He saw Tony grab her arm and try to lead her away from the building. Jim shook his head as he jumped from the truck. She did not look happy about that. Rafe and Brown flanked him, the three detectives jogging over to join the photojournalist and her escort.

"Kyrie Eleason!" Jim roared, ignoring the way it made the uniformed officers sealing off the area jump.

"See that billboard?" AJ grinned at him and pointed across the street. The detectives turned their attention to the odd sign. It was a picture of a wall covered with boxy symbols and a man wearing a colorful mask, advertising the dates of the coming exhibit at the museum. "That says your missing friend is in the labyrinth. According to legend, the trip to the labyrinth was made in a black-sailed trireme. That means she's in here."

Jim looked over the building skeptically. The storefronts were attached to a long, low building. It was more like a warehouse than a store. He tried to listen past the walls, but all he could hear was the canned music coming from the front office of Trireme Transportation. He shook his head at the pointed glance AJ gave him. She shrugged; obviously she had tried the same action earlier

"What did you think you were doing?" Jim growled and stepped closer to her. He caught himself fighting a grin as Brian automatically placed his hand on AJ's back. He caught Henri Brown's amused expression at the way she immediately curled closer to the young detective, trying to step away from the glare Jim was sending her way. "I thought I told you to wait for us."

"I did." There was absolutely no guile in her voice or face; she did not seem to understand his reaction. She pointed into the reception room. Jim focused his sight through the glass and saw the huge mural. A very detailed trireme was skirting a cliff, fighting its way through rough seas. One entire side of the mural was covered. "I was trying to read the next message."

"It's a possible crime scene. You have to stay out here with Tony and Brian," Jim explained impatiently.

She grimaced and shook her head. "You can't read this stuff, I can. How long until Blair arrives?"

The sentinel looked at the young woman and the two detectives flanking her. Behind them he could see the reflected image of the parking lot in the plate glass window. Police cars lined the road as officers began barricading the area, their faces grim. Everyone knew what they were up against. They weren't even certain Welles was still alive. He bowed his head and answered, "Twenty, maybe thirty minutes."

"I don't like Señorita Welles, but I will not be the cause of her death." AJ gestured at the reception area. "They want us to go inside, to pass the test, and see if we can, or will, save her."

"What do you mean?" Brian asked quietly.

"The legend of the Minotaur is that a hero faced the creature, defeated the maze, and rescued the seven sacrificial youths. I think they want that to be reenacted."

"And if we don't do it?" Henri asked softly.

AJ looked up and stared at the sentinel, her eyes haunted. "How do you think a Minotaur would kill? The legend says he was half-man, half bull, his hands and feet cloven like the beast. It tore them to pieces and ate them - alive."

"Good God." Tony Baker's quiet exclamation was answer enough for all of them.

"You can read the directions?" Jim asked cautiously. He really did not want her going inside this place. It was making him edgy, and he still had not even gone inside the building.

AJ shrugged, her eyes calm. Too calm. "I can get you to the center of the maze."

"Is that where Cassie is?" Jim tried to listen past the walls. A faint sound caught his attention and set his nerves even more on edge.

"Yes." She looked at ground, not at the detectives surrounding her. "If the cult is following tradition, your friend is in the center of the labyrinth. I can get you past the traps."

"Captain?" Jim deferred to Simon, who had just arrived. He shot AJ a glance, but she missed it as she turned around and began studying the symbols through the glass. He quickly explained the situation.

"I don't like sending a civilian inside," Simon Banks growled. He looked from one detective to another. None of them liked Cassie, but none of them wanted her dead either. "How long until Sandburg gets here?"

"At least twenty minutes, sir." Jim replied, watching as AJ shrugged out of her backpack and parka. The photojournalist knelt and quickly striped off her camera rig, thrusting it into a case and then dropping the case into the open pack. He frowned as he saw her remove a flat case and strap it to her waist.

"Señor Capítan?" The young woman's voice was soft as she turned her attention back to the group of detectives. "There isn't enough time to wait for Blair. If you want her alive, we need to go now. If we wait, the only one who will be needed is Dr. Wolfe."

"I want all of you wearing flack jackets!" Simon growled at her before turning his attention to his detectives. "Rafe, Brown, Conner, Baker, you're with Ellison and his sister. Grayson, get me a set of tac-coms." He pointed to a pair of uniformed officers. "Set up a barricade to keep those civilians out of the way. And someone, go find Sandburg! We're going to need him here."

The police officers scattered to do the big captain's bidding. Jim caught the flack jacket one of the police women tossed him and quickly helped Brian strap it on AJ.

"I don't like this," Henri muttered, putting on his own flack jacket.

"Neither do I," Jim responded, tightening a Velcro strap on his vest. He grinned watching Brian attach a com unit to AJ's ear and try to tuck the bulk of the unit into the vest without letting his hands become 'inappropriate'. The sentinel did not like the fact that the cult was leading them around by the nose. A sudden noise made him stiffen and AJ growled under her breath.

He turned around and stared through the window. A wavering image appeared on a large TV set in the reception area. A man appeared, wearing a bright golden mask to obscure his face, his voice distorted electronically. Jim frowned at the gold-edged, white robe the man wore. It looked like something out of a historical movie.

"What does it say?" He asked, his eyes on the image.

AJ stepped closer to him and peered at the glass. "The Gate to the Labyrinth is open. If you would enter, it must be now. Take only the true number of followers, or you will never make the center of the maze. Follow the true course without failing and make no false turns or all will be sacrificed."

"What is the true number of followers?" Brian asked.


"I thought there were seven." Tony frowned.

"Seven sacrificial victims of each sex. There were four true followers, Theseus, his two best friends who disguised themselves to free the women, and Ariadne." AJ looked at the detective with a reluctant smile. "Through trickery and guile they beat the labyrinth."

"So if we use trickery and guile?" He asked.

"We die." She stepped to the door. "If we break the rules, we are killed and so is the sacrifice. They will forcibly open all the sections of the labyrinth to whatever creature they have let loose."

"You've done this before." Jim found himself saying. Something about the calm way she was describing the whole thing set off alarms in his head. She knew too much about it.

"No. I was taught about it. It is not always used, only when the cult thinks their chosen one is not truly dedicated." She swallowed nervously. "This is a way of winnowing out the unworthy."

"Conner, Baker," Jim growled unhappily. "You stay here. Keep an eye on Sandburg for me. He is not going like this."

With that the sentinel strode for the door, hearing the others follow him. As he entered the reception room, the scene on the TV screen changed and the electronic voice began speaking again. AJ translated the words, her voice echoing through their communication units.

//The Gate to the Labyrinth is open. You must enter now or forfeit the blasphemer. // The words rumbled through the TV's speakers and Jim turned his attention to the man on the monitor. Cassie Welles could be seen, tied to an altar, her eyes wide as she stared at something they could not see. // The Minotaur will be released into the maze when the Gate closes. //

Brian stepped to AJ's side. "Do you know the maze? I remember hearing about the labyrinth in grade school. No one ever made it through the maze until Theseus used a ball of string to get back."

"I know the maze," AJ replied and stepped through the doorway. Jim motioned the other detectives to pace her, both with their weapons out and their attention flickering around the empty reception area. He stepped to the side and watched as she stepped up to the painted gate on the far wall. With a quick glance at Jim, she placed both her hands on the center of the gate and pushed.

The wall shuddered and began moving to the side on an oiled track. Behind them the door to the building swung shut on Simon's frustrated yell. Jim stepped between AJ and the open gateway. He scanned it, seeing nothing out of the ordinary in the darkness. As soon as the last of them stepped through the gate, it slid closed. Soundproofed walls kept out the sound of police officers and their radios, the rapidly gathering crowd on the street, and the noise of the steadily arriving media.

"Ellison?" The scratchy sound at his ear reminded Jim of the radio he had been given.

"We're okay, Simon. We've entered the maze," he reported. "Okay, Kitten. This box is just big enough for us. There are three doors. What now?"

"Kyrie?" Brian's voice echoed in the dark, gloomy hall.

"Left. Jim, where are you?"

"I've got point." The sentinel voiced his placement quietly. A faint light came from behind him as Henri Brown flicked on a penlight.

In front of them was a door. Jim opened it, struggling a bit with the heavy metal before it opened. A metal lined vestibule met their eyes. At one end was a steel walled cage, the heavy bars set ominously close. As one, the group approached the cage. The bars were set close enough that none of them could slide an arm between them. Inside the cage were a comfortable looking chair, a monitor and huge lever.

"We need to leave someone here - to hold the gateway." AJ ignored the murmured shock around her. "There are two gateways, one at the entrance to the labyrinth and one at the central core. At each gate there should be a cage with a lock on the inside. It is to protect the guard from the Minotaur. If we do not secure each gateway, we cannot get past the maze."

"How do you know that?" Henri Brown's voice was soft, angry.

"I was trained to do this. I can walk to the center and die with your friend." She forced herself to keep her voice calm, unemotional. "Or I can risk my life and that of others to circumnavigate the maze, deactivate it, kill the thing the cult is using as a Minotaur, and try to rescue her. Which do you prefer?"

There was no reply. Dimly she saw the big man shake his head ruefully as he stepped over to the heavy cage door. Without saying a word he stepped inside and shut the door. The loud clang of the metal lock pins falling into place was his only answer. A moment later, he pulled the lever. Immediately the door on the other side of the vestibule opened into a faintly lit corridor.

Ellison stepped into the corridor, letting his senses dial up. The faint musty scent of an animal made him frown thoughtfully. He looked down to see faint marks in the dust on the concrete floor. The two-toed marks were ominously big. "They had pigs in here."

"Pigs?" AJ knelt next to him, her fingers moving to the marks. "That's a pig? It's huge."

"Razorback or a wild boar?" Brian asked, stepping closer to them.

"Maybe." Jim grimaced, not liking the information he had at hand. He let his eyesight extend down the corridor. "Left or right at the 'T'?"

"Stop at the 'T'," AJ replied.

Jim headed for the end of the corridor, unhappy at the instruction. The oddly tinted walls bothered him with their tight, close proximity. The strange symbols drawn, carved, and then painted into the walls made him uneasy - they reminded him of exactly how much he did not know about the situation. The faint sound of air running through unseen vents and the old scent of the animals that had once run the maze did not help; they only made it harder for the sentinel to focus beyond his current location. He came to the 'T' and stopped.

"Simon? Where's Jim?" Sandburg's voice was tinny as it came over the com unit. Jim winced, knowing what was coming.

"He's inside, Sandburg," Simon's voice was calm as he tried placating the anthropologist.

Jim glanced over at AJ when he heard her chuckle. The photojournalist was grinning at Sandburg's outraged reaction to Simon's words while she carefully read the information written on the wall.

"Hey, Blair?' AJ spoke into the microphone, her hand tracing a word without touching the wall. "Do you know Linear B?"

"Huh?" The anthropologist paused mid-rant, turning his attention to the question. He had not expected any questions about the Minoan writing system. "Some. I'm not an expert."

"Do you know enough to read me the last two words from the billboard?"

There was a brief silence and the sentinel could hear his guide turn around to stare at the billboard. Then the young man began slowly reading the words.

"Thanks," AJ replied once he was done and placed her hand firmly on an unfinished section of the wall. The raised tile slowly receded and a lever appeared. She pulled it firmly. "Trap's disarmed. Go left again."

The sentinel did not even glance back at her before following the directions. He heard the low rumbling growl of the machinery activated by her actions and trusted that she had made the correct adjustments to their path. If she was wrong, there would be very little warning before the traps sprang.

***Ninety minutes later***

The floor to this section of the labyrinth tilted under the sentinel's feet. He paused and knelt cautiously examining the join of the floor and the wall. Behind him AJ and Brian came to a stop. He glanced at them, gauging their stamina. If they had gone in a straight line, Ellison doubted they would have covered more than a few hundred meters. With all the twists and turns of the labyrinth, though, they had covered over a mile of pathways and rooms. He wondered how much longer this was going to continue.

"Ellison?" Jim's name crackled through the radio eerily. He frowned and tapped his earpiece. Behind him, he heard Brian doing the same thing. "An- ng? Jim? F--antth" The line broke up completely.

"We're heading underground." AJ whispered pulling the radio from her ear and letting it rest on the cord around her neck.

He nodded and let his hearing reach for Henri. The other detective was trying to reassure Simon. He switched his radio's frequency, fine-tuning it as much as possible with the tiny transceiver.

"I would have heard something, sir." Henri Brown replied to the question Jim had missed.

"Henri?" Jim spoke, hoping the other detective received his radio transmission. "Can you still receive us?"

"I got you, Jim. Simon says the Fed's just arrived and they are not happy we're in here."

"Great. Can he keep them out?" Jim turned his attention to AJ, knowing she was listening to the conversation.

"No. Devereaux is raising a stink about procedure. Sounds like they'll be forcing the door soon," Henri reported softly.

The sudden flurry of curses that spilled from AJ's lips silenced all three detectives. Jim and Brian both turned their attention onto her in amazement.

"Tell him to delay them as much as he can, please!" She growled, pushing her way past the sentinel. "We're going to have to run the maze."

"Kyrie, what's wrong?" Brian placed a hand on her shoulder, but she only shrugged it off, her face worried.

"The moment they force the door, all the traps will become live. All the secured ones, and the inactive ones, and our path will be worse than hard." She looked up at Brian, her hand reaching up to briefly touch his cheek. "Ready to run, querido?"

"H, did you hear her?" Jim and Brian broke into a sprint on her heels.

"I'll pass it on, man," Henri's voice broke into static and only Jim's heightened hearing allowed him to hear the man as he turned his attention to passing the information on to Simon.

"Kyrie, can you do this?" Jim called out as he watched her dive into another hallway.

"If I remember my maze, yes,"she grumbled, slamming her hand into an alcove and pulling lever. A door slid open before them. "This way is faster, but it is harder. You have to keep up."

The musty scent of animals filled Jim's nostrils and he frowned. The passageway was narrow and dim. "What is this?"

"The obstacle course," her voice was flat. "I hate the obstacle course."

They ran and Jim could feel the spiraling path descend into the basement. The warm, fetid air seemed almost alive. The first obstacle gave no warning as it hurtled through the air at them.

"Drop!" Jim roared, feeling the air pressure change with the rushing weight of an object.

His heightened eyesight saw both AJ and Brian hit the floor. The two of them crawled forward until they were clear of the swinging object. Once he was clear, Jim looked at it. A solid looking bronze bull's head swung on an oiled chain, the horns sharpened into fine points at head level.

"Nice," Brian commented softly as a lone light illuminated the stern features.

"Stay against the left wall." AJ ignored them, carefully creeping forward, her lips moving as she silently paced off the wall.

Jim obeyed silently, wondering what this particular trap was, but not asking. From the brown stain on the floor he knew he did not want to see it.

A loud, shrill, metallic screech echoed through the passageway. Jim grabbed his ears as the sound reverberated and echoed around them. As he fell, he felt Brian slam into him, shoving him against the wall. The floors shuddered under the weight of the sound, sharing their agony with him.

"What the H*** was that?" Brian yelled over the echoes. Jim's eyes were watering with pain as he rapidly slammed his dials down to near zero. It took him a moment to focus on the sight of his two companions.

Brian was pinned to the floor, a spear thrust through his upper thigh. Beside him, AJ was rapidly tearing her shirtsleeves into bandages, eyeing the spear angrily. Before Brian could say anything else, she motioned Jim to hold the younger detective down. With a fast, clean move, she removed the leaf pointed spear and placed the bandages on the wound.

"How many more traps?" Brian whispered through thin, taut lips.

"Two. But they won't be active now." The cold tone of AJ's voice warned them both. "The main trap was sprung. The minotaur is loose."

"There is no such thing as a Minotaur, Kitten," Jim replied tersely as he helped her secure the bandage on Brian's wound.

"They let loose the boars?" Brian asked, going even paler than before.

AJ nodded. "We have to move fast. They will smell the blood and come for us."

Jim had heard the stories of wild pigs attacking humans and they had always bothered him. Feral pigs were not too common in the US, but in other countries he had read about the damage a regular sized pig could do. From the size of the tracks in the upper hallways, these animals were huge. And if they were wild boars or razorbacks, they would know how to use their tusks to fight.

He grabbed Brian's arm and pulled him into a fireman's carry. They needed to move fast and this, undignified though it might be, was the fastest way to get them out of the maze. "GO!" He yelled to AJ.

Without saying a word, she spun, leaping to her feet and racing away, the spear held in a white knuckled grip.


The first warning Jim had of the animals was the squeal of angry hunger that came from behind him. AJ spun, her eyes wide as she peered down the hall. She shrank against the wall to allow the sentinel to pass, yelling for him to hurry.

"Enqueri! Keep straight - there's a raised platform in the next room. High against the far wall is a niche. Safety." AJ's words were fast, as she settled herself into a corner and pulled open one of her many pockets. The thin metal tube she pulled from the pocket was unexpected.

He smelled the pungent scent of the potion she had brewed the day before as he passed her. His eyes caught the hurried motions of her hands as she coated the spear with the thick black liquid.

"Jim! We've got to help her," Brian's voice was harsh from the pressure of the sentinel's shoulder in his stomach.

Jim spun around a corner and sighted the room. The dim light did not slow him down as he raced for the far wall. He ignored the mosaic floor with its depiction of bull dancers and the murals that covered the walls.

"Get in!" He growled at Rafe, lifting the smaller man towards the niche carved high in the far wall. Brian ignored him. "D*****! She won't retreat unless she thinks you're safe. You can't keep up with us, so you've got to get in there."

At that, the younger detective pulled himself into the niche. Settling himself, he pulled his weapon from his holster and readied himself for a siege.

"Hidalga!" Jim yelled down the corridor.

"Voy!" "I'm going!" She replied and he could hear her footsteps followed closely by the animals.

"Go left!" Jim called as he heard her approach the room.

Immediately upon entering the room, AJ dodged to her left, clinging to the wall. The two huge boars ran straight into the center of the room. As the sentinel and the detective opened fire, AJ struck at the animals' sides with the spear. Ponderously the two creatures fell to the ground.

"You okay, kid?" Jim stared at the two beasts. They were massive, over 800 pounds of muscle each. He frowned as he replaced his clip. He had not expected them to fall quite so easily. Then he saw their labored breathing and saw the darts that covered their faces. They were already dead, but their bodies did not know it yet. If a single dart could kill a man, several dozen should take out a boar. He hoped.

"Brian?" AJ skirted the boars and stood under the niche.

"I'll live." He started to pull himself from the niche but she shook her head.

"Better stay there. We're at the final gate." AJ smiled sadly. "You can't make it to center."

"Kyrie, I can make it."

She looked over at Jim. The big man frowned, noting the thin trail of blood that ran down the wall from the niche. AJ turned to see what was making him frown and gasped.

Jim nearly laughed at the instantaneous response as AJ swarmed up the wall and leaned into the niche. Before Rafe could argue, she had him on his back and was rebandaging the wound. She then carefully checked him over until she found the one that had been missed earlier. The whole time, she whispered threats and warnings to the detective for not taking care of himself.

Moments later, she pushed off the wall and landed beside the sentinel. "How bad?"

"Not too good. He'll sleep for a little while, thirty minutes at most." The too calm expression told Jim he did not want to ask any more questions about Rafe's health. It also told him she was not about to explain what she had done to make Rafe sleep.

"Will he be safe here?" The detective did not like leaving a wounded officer behind. The sentinel actively hated leaving a wounded friend in such an open area.

The young woman glanced around the small room, her eyes skimming the bodies of the two boars, noting that they had finally stopped moving. She went to them and dipped her fingers in a pool of their blood before coming back to the wall. Her face was a mask as she carefully traced a series of symbols on the wall. "Yes."

Not looking at Jim, she wiped her hand on her pants leg and headed for a barred door. "Your lady friend awaits, Enqueri."

The sentinel ignored the comment and followed her through the doorway. He paused at the sight of the room before them.

A narrow walkway hugged the four sides of the chamber. Each wall was easily sixty feet long and in the center of each was a barred door. The center of the room was a vast pit and Jim could see Cassie Welles tied to an altar in the center of it.

Steep stairs led down into the pit. The rough concrete walls were covered in paintings. Graceful dancers soared and vaulted over the backs of white bulls. Less graceful dancers adorned the creatures' horns; bright red spots marred the white paint, looking as if the walls themselves were bleeding. Jim let his hand rest against one of the murals, shivering as the damp cold soaked into his hand.

"There is one last trap before we get to the center," AJ announced quietly, her boots sounding flat on the wooden landing. She glanced down into the pit, a trace of uncertainty on her face.

"What's that?"

She shrugged and began her descent. "Don't know. Never been in one before."

"Great, the expert doesn't know," Jim grumbled, pulling his pistol from his holster again. Reflexively he checked the clip.

"No one has ever gotten past the guardians before," she spoke so softly he almost missed it. "All the temple remains have this room destroyed so there are no clues."

Jim did not say a word. The fact that AJ had deliberately misled him about the situation did not make him happy, but he was not surprised either. The idea that no one had ever gotten this far into one of the labyrinths was unnerving. He studied the walls, looking for traps. When he shook his head, AJ began descending the stairs. He followed slowly, uneasily.

"Can you see anything?" AJ's whisper made him look at her.

The young woman stood at the base of the stairs, her eyes flitting from place to place but there was a vaguely unfocused look to her eyes. The sentinel looked around the pit, noting how dim it was. He checked his dials and realized he had not even noticed changing the settings. A faint odor to the misty air clued him in to the difficulty.

"Up!" He demanded, dragging AJ up the stairs.

Halfway up the stairs, the mist and the scent were gone. He leaned the woman against the wall and studied the pit. The altar stood on a raised dais, completely clear of the mist. Rubbing his hand against his forearm, he thought over the trap.

"Gas?" AJ breathed in deeply, her eyes a little clearer.

"Yes. How will we get to her without getting knocked out by the mist?" Jim asked, trying to see another pathway. Unconsciously, his hand kept moving.

AJ frowned at him and grabbed his hand. "Stop."

Jim looked down at his arm, noticing the stinging pain of his skin. His arms were inflamed -- raised, red welts covering them. He began reaching for the dials, fighting hard to turn them down to manageable levels. "Just great."

"So, you cannot go back into the mist." AJ stared at it thoughtfully. Then she grinned coldly. "Of course not. The final test is mine and mine alone. I usually have one of the guardians with me, so they prepared a trap for a guardian. How do I get past the mist. I go over or under it."

Still rubbing his arms, Jim studied the pit more carefully. Finally, he spotted a thin line crossing the air. "Over it."

She turned at his comment and followed him to the rope. It was a thin black cord attached to a metal plate in the wall of the pit. Jim frowned. They did not have the equipment for her to use the rope to descend into the pit itself. She could cross the pit but not enter it.

"It won't work. We need more ropes or other equipment," the sentinel said grimly.

"I promised to get her back for you, didn't I?" AJ replied, a crooked grin crossing her face.

Before Jim could stop her, AJ grabbed the rope and began swinging across, hand over hand. The rope dipped low as she neared the middle until she dangled only about ten feet from the altar's surface. Jim cursed as she released her hands, dropping onto the dais. He was going to have a long talk with her when she got back to safety. He nearly growled when he noticed how gingerly she moved when trying to stand up.

The minute AJ pulled herself upright and began cutting Cassie free, the intercom began crackling and roaring unintelligibly at them. AJ yelled a response, the knife in her hand waving at the ceiling and gleaming in the spotlight that illuminated the altar. The intercom responded and she turned away from it to cut the last rope holding the forensic technician to the stone block.

Once Cassie was free, a fine rain of water mixed with something Jim did not recognize began pouring from vents in the ceiling. The mist retreated under the onslaught. The two women leaned on each other as they headed for the edge of the dais. As they began descending the stone stairs, Jim raced down the wooden steps, ignoring the faint burn of the mist and the oddly clammy feel of the falling water. Meeting them halfway across the pit, Jim picked up Cassie, noting the bruises that decorated her pale skin.

A deep, hollow boom echoed through the chamber and Jim glanced at AJ. "What is it?"

"The maze is collapsing." She headed for the stairs. "We have thirty minutes to get to the main floor."

"It took us almost two hours to get here."

She limped up the stairs, ignoring him. The sentinel followed, noting the limp and the shaky movements. Unfortunately, AJ was going to have to keep herself moving. He did not say a word as she leaned on the barred door, waiting for him to pass. Behind them, the water still fell, slowly filling the pit. The clang of the door slamming behind him, echoed in the small room.

"Rafe?" Jim called.

"Ellison?" The groggy voice was a godsend. The sentinel knew there was no way he would be able to carry the detective and the barely conscious woman. AJ slipped past him and quickly helped Brian down from the niche in the wall. She draped his arm over her shoulders and met Jim at the exit. "Is she alive?"

"She's having trouble breathing. We've got to get her out of here." Jim replied tersely. He stepped through the door and paused. Cracked, broken pieces of plaster littered the floor. Even as he watched, metal walls retracted, leaving a clear path to the ramp leading up to the main floor.

"Run," AJ whispered, nudging his back. "There is not much time left."

A strange sound, hissing and whispering echoed through the walls and in that instant, Jim recognized it. The sprinklers on this level were arming themselves and preparing to release their funny smelling spray on them. He ran, knowing AJ and Rafe were at his heels. Moments later, the sprinklers went off, raining down that strange mixture of water and chemicals. Behind them, unseen, the water mixture crept over the edge of the pit and began edging towards the barred door.

At the bottom of the ramp, AJ paused and slammed her hand into a sealed control box. The box flew open. Brian reached in and quickly pulled a lever. Jim turned in time to watch a heavy metal door slowly begin descending. He could hear the two whispering encouragement to each other as they forced themselves to keep moving. They met him at the top of the ramp and all three stared at what had been a complicated maze.

Here, instead of all the walls disappearing, they had rearranged themselves, forming a straight corridor to the heavily barred door where they had left Henri Brown. Instead of seeing Brown, though, the flickering light of an acetylene torch flared and shimmered. Two men with torches were busy, trying to burn through the bars. Behind them stood a man with a fire extinguisher ready to cool the bars so the four behind him could rush through the opening as soon as possible once the torches were done.

Jim glanced at AJ and saw her face pale as she too realized what was going to happen.

"Stop!" They both yelled over their radios. Now that there were no metal lined walls between them, the reception was clear. The men with the torches paused, looking up as Henri repeated their words. The sprinklers above them spurted and stuttered.

"Gas in the sprinklers!" Jim called as the group began racing for the only exit.

With his enhanced sight, the sentinel saw the instant panic in the two torch men's faces. They reached for the cutoffs and switched them off just as the sprinklers turned on. The men backed away from the smoking metal bars as a third federal agent began spraying them with a fire extinguisher, hoping to keep the falling liquid from igniting.

Henri darted out of the chair in the control booth, yelling for the others to get clear. The big detective moved rapidly as he grabbed the control bar. The bar would not move until someone on the maze side of the room entered the barred area and shut the door to the maze. Then they had to unlock the bars. Then, and only then, Henri could swing the heavy bars out of the way.

Jim was the first into the barred area and he set his back to the control room, making sure he left enough room for the others to enter it. AJ and Brian, still leaning on each other, squeezed inside. The young woman turned around and threw the switch bringing down the barred grill. As it fell, they saw long metal claws sweep through the first ten feet of the hallway and Jim glanced at AJ seeing her watch them almost impassively. Only her eyes betrayed her surprise that this particular trap was still working.

He turned to the control room and saw Henri's surprised expression. They had not known about that part of the security measure. He glanced into the entranceway and saw the marks on the walls. Grimly he gestured for the feds to move back before he unlocked the gate. Henri pulled the lever and a set of claws swept through the entrance, barely missing the feds. Then the bars swung clear.

"Out. It's going to blow." Rafe called to Henri as AJ led him through the bars. Jim pushed his way into the feds, forcing them back through the narrow door.

"This place is rigged to blow." Jim let his voice carry over the com unit. "Get everybody clear."

Immediately, the federal agents and the police officers in the reception area turned and fled the building. Jim refused to relinquish his burden as he staggered out of the building. Suddenly his skin was burning and so were his lungs. Every mouthful of air seemed to sear as it went through his throat.

He barely felt the hands grabbing him as he fell to his knees.

"We need decontam now!" Someone was yelling, but the voice faded. "Get me a hose running!"

"Let Cassie go," Blair's voice echoed in his head and Jim let go. He felt her body being removed from his arms. The world was a bright colored blur and he heard Blair's voice begging him to breathe.

He felt ice-cold water being sprayed over him as someone stripped the flack jacket from him. A moment later, he realized he was naked under the spray. A strange plastic coated body was supporting him, holding him upright under the harsh water that was pouring over his skin. An oxygen mask clung to his face; occasionally it was lifted so the water could run down his cheeks. And he noticed that the burning in his skin was lessening. He opened his eyes.

"Detective Ellison?" The voice came a paramedic he knew only too well. Worried brown eyes peered at him, the worry dissipating at his nod. "Do you know where you are?"

Jim looked up at the sky above him and the hose dangling over the privacy wall of the emergency decontamination unit. He had heard that most of the fancier paramedic units in the city had them - with Cascade's record for disaster, the fire chief had been only too happy to order them - but he had never seen one before. "Cascade. The labyrinth was rigged. Burns."

"Another fifteen minutes under the water and we'll be able to transport you." The voice was soothing but Jim could hear the steel underneath it. This man was not going to let Jim out from under the water. At least not until he was certain there was no more of the contaminate that had caused Jim to collapse.

"What was in the sprinklers?"

"We have no idea what you originally encountered. The second sprinkler system contained a type of napalm. If it had ignited, you and your friends would have died." The man was calm as he answered the sentinel's question. "The building is a deathtrap. The fire department is trying to find a way to safely get the stuff out."

"Fire it," Jim growled. "Only way."

The paramedic nodded. "They'll wait until we get you and your friends out of here."


"Alive. They're all alive."

Jim nodded. They had survived the maze. Barely. He extended his hearing, finding and locking onto Blair's tirade to Simon. His guide did not appreciate the fact that he was not allowed into the tiny tent. He would apologize to Blair later, but he was glad the kid was not here. The icy water would have him sick in minutes. And something told the sentinel that he was going to need his guide at the top of his form very soon.