Megan padded quietly from the bedroom into the kitchen. Jim stood at the stove, stirring a pot of soup, a contemplative expression on his face. "Thinking about Sandy?" she asked, moving to stand beside him.
"Yeah, he's been through a hell of a lot today, and I wasn't there to protect him." Jim looked at her a little strangely.
Realizing he was wondering about her overly large sweats, she said, "They're Dee's. I just grabbed the first thing on top of the clean laundry... "
Jim gave her a grin. "Like Sandburg grabs my clean shirts."
Flushing, the Aussie turned away to search the cupboards for a couple mugs. "So were you able to get a hold of them?" she asked.
"Yeah, I talked to Blair. He said they were going to be late getting to the island." Jim poured the soup carefully into the mugs, and handed one to Megan. Taking the other one, he headed for the living room, and sat down on the sofa.
Megan followed him, sitting on the opposite end of the couch, propping her stocking feet on the coffee table and wiggling her toes in the warmth from the fireplace. "They're going to be late because of what happened? I mean, I gather that little episode in the truck was connected to Sandy, wasn't it?"
Jim took a small sip of the hot liquid before he answered, wondering how much to tell her. Megan wasn't stupid, and he knew she must have put a lot of what she had observed over the past week of living with Dee into some kind of theory. Besides, Blair had said she had the ability to be a guide, and most of this was stuff she needed to know. He sighed. He had hoped that Sandburg would be the one to tell her, though; he wasn't as good at teaching as his partner. "Yeah, something happened to Blair, and it was traumatic enough that it came through our connection." He glanced at her, pleased to find her hanging on his words, instead of silently laughing.
"Sandy's kind of explained the sentinel/guide bond to me. He said it's like a psychic link between the two of you, not telepathy, but empathy. When one is hurt or in trouble, the other can sense it, if he's listening."
Jim nodded. "I think that explains it pretty well."
"Sandy's okay, isn't he?" Megan asked.
"Yeah, he told me he was fine, but... there's something else going on, and I got the feeling it has to do with Diandra."
A very nasty thought crossed Megan's mind, and she gave voice to it. "You don't suppose Dee was the one that hurt Sandy, do you?"
The sentinel shook his head vehemently. "I can tell you for a fact that didn't happen. She would never harm him. I think it was just an accident; he was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Megan was silent for few minutes, trying to decide how to approach the next subject. Finally she said, "Did Blair ever tell you how they escaped the car bomb this afternoon?"
Jim took another drink, and wondered how much of Diandra's story was his to tell. If she hadn't confided in the other woman about her immortality, she must have had a reason, or maybe she thought it wasn't necessary. She hadn't told him or Blair about it until circumstances forced her to. Jim finally said, "Blair told me he was out of the car when it exploded."
"But Dee wasn't. She was hurt, wasn't she?"
Jim nodded, and the Aussie's eyes lit up triumphantly. "She healed herself, didn't she? I knew she could. If she could heal me, then by extension, she ought to be able to heal herself."
Ellison stared at her, a little in shock. "Just how much do you know about her... abilities?" he asked.
Megan set her mug down on the coffee table, and bounced excitedly on the sofa cushion, a move that reminded Jim of Sandburg. "I knew she could heal other people, because she healed me, after I was attacked. I figured out she could heal herself after we were shot at in the parking garage. When we went back to the loft, she took a shower right away and changed her clothes. I found her bloodstained shirt later in the trash, and I... sort of peeked when she got undressed for bed. There wasn't a mark on her." She sat back and crossed her arms over her chest, her expression one of smug satisfaction.
"That doesn't bother you?" he asked.
Megan shook her head. "Hey, I've already accepted the idea of people with heightened senses. What's a little psychic healing among friends? I know enough to keep my mouth shut, especially if she chooses me to be her partner."
Jim swallowed the last of his soup, then said, "What do you mean, chooses? I didn't choose Sandburg, he kind of forced himself on me."
The Aussie met his eyes for a moment, then suddenly became interested in her fingernails. Finally, she said, "Do you ever have visions, Jim?"
Sensing she was talking about spirit guide visions, he said, "Yes, many times. I've learned the hard way not to ignore them. That's what got Blair killed by Alex Barnes." He felt her hand grip his arm reassuringly as his voice stumbled over the evil sentinel's name. "I've taken them pretty seriously from that point on. You've been having visions?"
Megan nodded. "More like dreams really. I can't yet reach that state of complete relaxation and calm that will let me have them while awake. But I've dreamed of an osprey, a black mare, and a silver wolf. I've figured out that I'm the osprey, Dee's the mare, and Sandy is the wolf?" Jim nodded, and she continued. "But there's one I can't figure out. The only real person in my dreams is this red-haired woman... warrior, I guess is all I can call her. Her spirit guide is the red falcon. She's the only one who talks to me, and she's been teaching me how to be a guide, only she doesn't call herself that. She calls herself the Companion, and she told me that Dee has to choose me as her guide, but she's never really said how that's supposed to happen. Do you know who she is, Jim? Have you ever seen her?"
Ellison let the breath he was holding out slowly. "No, I've never seen her, but Sandburg has. He told me he had a dream in which she helped him make a choice to learn to fight, so he could protect my back. He also said she helped him find me when Kendall had me. He said she was the spirit of Dee's dead guide."
Megan's hand flew to cover her mouth as she gasped, her mind reeling. Dee's guide was teaching her how to take her place. In a way she had already been chosen... She felt Jim's arm going around her shaking shoulders, pulling her close.
"It's okay, Megan," he told her gently. "You are not going to go through this alone. I know how terrifying the idea of that kind of responsibility can be, but I'll help you as much as I can, and so will Blair. And I'm sure Dee will choose you; Blair says you have the talent to be a very good guide." He could hear her heart pounding, and felt warm tears on his neck. It had been a long day for both of them, and would probably be another long one tomorrow. "Come on, Connor," he said, getting them both to their feet. "Let's get you to bed."
Blair must have fallen asleep again, because the next thing he knew, Dee was shaking him gently. "Come on, L..Blair, we're here."
Yawning, he sat up slowly, every muscle screaming. "Oh, god, that was a mistake," he said.
"You hurt, huh?" He nodded. "Sorry, there's not much I can do for aches and pains. How's your knee, you need me to rewrap it?"
Blair flexed it a couple times, then shook his head. "I should be okay if I don't have to walk too far."
"Not too far," she said, giving him a grin, "just to the canoe."
Getting out of the van, he could see a canoe already packed with their gear halfway in the water of the lake. Snow was still falling lightly, and clouds hid the light of an almost full moon. He could barely make out the where the beach ended and the water began, let alone the island they were supposed to be heading for. He was very glad Dee knew where she was going.
"Go ahead and get in, I'll just be a minute." She turned to give Joe a hug and a kiss. "Thanks for all your help. I owe you several now."
Joe smiled at her. "I'll be thinking of ways to collect, and most of them have to do with you singing at the bar."
"That I can do," she replied. Turning her back on him, she walked over the to canoe, and pushed it the rest of the way into the water, leaping into the stern and picking up a paddle as it began to float.
They headed out onto the lake, and soon the shore was no longer visible to Blair. He had grabbed a paddle also, and did the best he could to help her, even though his muscles protested every stroke. Kneeling in the small aluminum canoe was making his injured knee throb, but soon it didn't matter; the cold temperature of the lake leeching through the metal quickly made both his legs numb. After about half an hour, Dee announced they were almost there, but Blair didn't see the island until the bow of the canoe stuck the beach.
"Stay put, Blair," she told him, jumping out of the boat into the thigh deep water, and dragging it ashore. Giving him a hand out of the canoe, she held onto him as he tried to work the pins and needles out of his legs. Grabbing as much of their stuff as she could carry, and still help Blair, she led him through the underbrush, and up a slight hill to a rough-hewn log cabin. Opening the door, she leaned him against the wall, and told him not to move.
He could hear her moving around in the room, then a match was struck, and a lamp lit, it's soft yellow glow illuminating the large room. Dee was already putting a second match to the wood laid in the fireplace. The dry tinder caught quickly, and the room began to warm up. She glanced up at him still standing next to the doorway, and smiled. "It's okay to move now. I just didn't want you walking into anything until I had a light lit. Get changed out of those wet clothes, and I'll be back in a minute with the rest of the supplies."
Blair nodded, and did as he was told, pulling some sweats out of the clothes she'd borrowed from Duncan's closet for him. He'd managed the sweatshirt okay, but was having trouble getting his jeans down over his reinjured knee when she returned. Seeing his predicament, she pushed him down on the couch and worked them slowly off. Unwrapping the Ace bandage she'd put on it earlier, she probed it gently as Blair bit his lip to keep from crying out. Shaking her head, she made a disgusted noise with her mouth.
"I take it that's not a good sign," he said.
"What did you do to it, L--Blair? It's worse than it was before. There's some muscle tearing and some cartilage damage now. Fortunately, it's nothing I can't fix." She waggled her fingers at him. "Hold on to something," she warned, "and feel free to scream as loud as you want."
He grabbed hold of the back of the couch, noting that was about the fourth time she'd started to call him "Lobo" and caught herself. He was going to ask her about it, when his world was reduced to the inferno raging inside his knee. He didn't quite scream, and he managed to stay seated on the sofa, but he did put forth a string of profanity that caused Dee to raise an eyebrow.
The pain slowly faded, and was replaced by the exquisite sensation of her hands tenderly massaging his thigh and calf. Opening his eyes, he watched her work, the trace of a smile on her lips. "I think you'll live, though that's the first time I've ever been called the bastard daughter of a three-legged demon dog in Sumatran," she finally said. Giving his thigh a light slap, she got to her feet from her kneeling position. "You hungry?"
When was the last time he'd ate? Lunch, maybe. He remembered a salad consumed in Rainier's student union a lifetime ago. "Yeah, I could eat."
"Good, because you're cooking." She headed into the kitchen, and began to lay wood in the wood-burning stove. Blair followed her, grumbling good-naturedly. He quickly found the pots and pans, and figured out how to use the hand pump on the sink to draw water. Grabbing a can of stew Joe had included in their provisions, he opened it, and dumped it into the pot, then set a kettle on a second burner to boil water for tea. Turning round to ask Dee a question, he found she'd disappeared. Sliding the food off the burner, he went to look for her.
There weren't too many places she could be. A quick check of the cabin turned up one bedroom, and what he optimistically labeled a washroom. A dull thunking noise drew him to the front door, and opening it, he found her standing in the snow, splitting logs with a long-handled ax. "Dee," he asked, "what are you doing? There's plenty of wood already inside."
She glanced up at him, but showed no sign of stopping her chore. "I need the exercise," she told him, and he suddenly remembered a conversation they'd had as they'd climbed a cliff in the dark.
"The Quickening," he said softly.
"Yes," she answered him, "paddling a canoe, hauling Hale's body around, and healing you weren't enough. I feel like I've had about 12 pots of coffee, and the caffeine is coming out of my pores." She set another log up on the tree stump and swung the ax, cleaving it neatly in two.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" he asked.
She sighed exasperatedly. "No, just go inside, eat something and go to bed. I'll be fine, Sandburg." Setting the ax down, she reached for another log.
Everything Blair had been through for the day, week, and months before exploded inside him at her Jim-like comment. He was off the porch like a shot, tackling her around the waist and dumping her on her back in the snow. Her startled blue eyes stared up at him as he hissed fiercely, "My name is not Sandburg, and it is not Blair! I'm Lobo! Your Lobo... " His voice trailed off as he raised his hand to touch her cheek, and watched her flinch away.
Blair remembered his actions in the warehouse after the explosion, and then again in the van after she'd killed Hale, when he had done the same thing, had refused her offer of comfort, of closeness. Suddenly her conversation with Joe became crystal clear to him. She thought he couldn't handle what she was, what she had to do to survive. "Oh, Dee," he whispered, "shit, Dee, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry... " He moved back, releasing her.
She sat up, the expression on her face unreadable. "Go inside, Blair," she said, her voice deadly quiet.
He shook his head, the loose strands of his hair flying. Grabbing her hand in both of his, he said, "No, damn it, I am not going to let this happen to us. I am not going to hurt you this way. I'm sorry I let you believe I was having doubts, that I was afraid of you, of what you are. That couldn't be any farther from the truth. I love you." Seeing she was not convinced, he tried again. "Look at me, Dee, -look- at me. You'll know I'm telling you the truth."
Dee closed her eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath. When she opened them, Blair could feel her power stripping him bare, peeling away the layers he'd created to protect himself from the sometimes cruel reality of his world, reading what was written in his heart, in his soul. A soft little "Oh" escaped her lips, then she flung herself at him, her arms wrapping tightly around him as she buried her face in his hair. "Oh, goddess," she breathed, "I don't deserve you, Lobo. Nothing I have ever done is worthy of this kind of reward... "
Lifting her head from his shoulder, Blair cupped her cheek in his hand, blue eyes meeting blue eyes. "You love me," he told her softly. "That's worthy enough." Leaning forward, he kissed her tenderly, almost chastely, unsure of how far she wanted to take it at this point in time. "Come on back inside," he coaxed, getting to his feet, pulling her up with him. "We're just getting cold and wet all over again out here." She followed him into the cabin, still holding his hand, waiting patiently while they detoured to the kitchen to take the screaming kettle off the stove.
"Dinner?" he asked.
"Later," she replied, leading him into the bedroom. She paused at the end of the bed, feeling his arms go around her waist. Tilting her head down, she kissed him, and he returned it eagerly, his nimble fingers pulling her flannel shirt out of her jeans, followed by her T-shirt. She wriggled against him as his hands slid up her sides, breaking the kiss long enough to mutter, "Your hands are like ice, Lobo."
"What do you expect?" he asked with a grin. "We've been out in the snow. I know just how to warm them up, though." His hands moved higher under her shirt, and Dee squealed, backing away from him, and falling onto the bed. His arms trapped, Blair was forced to follow, landing on top of her. He looked down at her, and found she was trying very hard not to laugh. A sly grin spread from one corner of his mouth to the other, and his fingers moved lightly over her soft skin. She giggled. Encouraged, he tickled her a little more.
"Ahhh, Lobo, don't... damn it, I'm very... " She couldn't finish the sentence, her giggles turning into moans as he pushed her shirt up and his mouth joined his hands. One of her hands buried itself in the curls at the back of his head, the other clutched at the quilt as she writhed under his expert attention.
His fingers stoked down her stomach and unfastened her jeans, easing them over her hips and down her legs. Blair then hit a snag. "Boots," he said, raising his head from planting kisses along her collarbone. Her hand in his hair dragged him back down, and he felt her squirming underneath him, followed by the sound of first one, then the other boot hitting the floor. She moved again, and he heard her jeans drop to the hardwood as well. "A woman of many talents," he murmured against her cheek, as she grabbed the bottom of his sweatshirt and yanked it over his head none too gently.
Raising himself up on his elbows, Blair felt her hands roaming his chest, sliding through his chest hair, her palms grazing his sensitive nipples. He groaned as her mouth followed in her hands' wake, kissing and nibbling. She pulled his head down for a kiss, her tongue tangling with his as she hooked a leg over his thigh, and brought her hips up to meet his. The rest of their clothes quickly vanished over the side of the bed.
Moving over her, Blair gazed into her eyes, imagining he could see her Quickening flaming in their electric blue depths. Her hands pulled him into her then, and all coherent thought was burned away in the heat of their passion.
Jim awoke slowly, aware that something was different. Not wrong exactly, but not the same as it used to be. He was still in Simon's cabin, and judging by how far the fire in the fireplace had burned down, he had been asleep on the couch for a couple hours. A quick check of the cabin reassured him that Megan was still in bed asleep, and the woods outside held no surprises. He glanced at his watch confirming it was a little after four in the morning. He wondered if Blair and Dee had reached their hideout yet. As that thought crossed his mind, he realized that was what was different. The tension and stress he'd felt since the moment Dee's Cherokee had exploded almost 12 hours earlier had disappeared. Had that actually been Blair's emotions he'd been feeling?
He'd been to Simon's cabin before, and knew where MacLeod's island was, about a mile away as the crow flies. Closing his eyes, he slipped into a light meditation state, filtering out one by one the sounds in the cabin, and nature outside, searching for the familiar voice of his guide. He gave himself a mental high five as he found it. Blair was talking to Dee, and for the first time in what seemed like weeks, he sounded relaxed and happy.
"So you feeling better now? Think you can get some rest?" his guide asked.
Dee's answer was slow in coming. "Mmm, not if you're going to keep doing that."
"What? This? It's supposed to be soothing." Jim could hear the sound of cloth rustling.
"More like arousing," was her teasing answer.
"Try turning your touch sense down a notch. There, that better?"
"Yeah... " Dee yawned loudly, and there was silence for a few moments.
When Blair spoke again, his voice was a soft whisper. "I love you, angel."
"I love you too, Lobo." More silence ensued, then bedsprings creaked, and Dee said, "Are you sure you're okay with this?"
"Why wouldn't I be, Dee?"
"Oh, in a word -- Jim."
The bed creaked again, and Jim pictured Blair raising up on one elbow to stare down at the immortal. His words, however, were somewhat of a surprise to the sentinel. "Jim has nothing to do with this. This has nothing to do with sentinels and guides, or champions and companions. This has to do with two people loving each other. And I do love you, Dee."
Nothing was said for almost a minute, then Dee spoke up again. "You know this can't last forever, Lobo. I can't stay in one place too long. Five, ten years is about my limit in any one city, and that's assuming I don't die in front of a bunch of witnesses."
"I don't care, Dee. Even if tonight is all we have, the memory of the love I feel right now will last me a lifetime." Blair's reply was earnest.
Dee's voice was quietly awestruck. "You have the soul of a poet, Lobo. Where in the world have you been all my life?"
"Waiting to be born," Blair quipped, and even to Jim's ears, Dee's laughter was delicious. Blair's chuckles soon joined hers. The laughter was quickly replaced with vocalizations of a more private kind, and Jim withdrew his hearing, pondering the repercussions of what he'd overheard.
It was obvious now, if it hadn't been before, that Blair's feelings for Dee were stronger than ever. Where did that leave Jim?
The sounds of the forest were low and hushed, most of its dwellers still asleep, though dawn was a scant hour or so away. The black and white osprey soared over the tops of the tall trees, unsure of the internal call that had pulled the day bird from its rest. A familiar piercing cry split the air, and the osprey wheeled in the sky, keen eyesight spotting the red falcon in spite of the darkness.
Alighting on a tree branch, the falcon shimmered, and changed into the Companion. A few moments later, the osprey followed suit, shifting from raptor to Australian Scot. Megan made herself comfortable on the broad tree limb, and turned toward the red-haired woman. "Why have you called me?" she asked.
"Patience, young one," the Companion replied, then pointed to the clearing below. "There."
The black mare entered the small glade first, ears pricked, nostrils flaring. The area having passed her scrutiny, she nickered softly, and the silver wolf appeared out of the shadowy underbrush, favoring one leg. The wolf sank to the soft bed of pine needles with a small whine. Lying down beside the wolf, the mare stretched her neck over him protectively, nuzzling his injured limb. A faint blue glow lit up the glen, then faded as the wolf whimpered. The mare lipped at the ruff of fur on the back of his neck, and the wolf relaxed against her side, his blue eyes sliding closed.
"Sandy's hurt," Megan said softly, more to herself than to the Companion, "and Dee healed him." She was about to ask the other woman her reason for bringing her here, when a low rumbling growl resonated through the woods. At first Megan didn't see the great cat, his coat blending with the shadows as he paced the perimeter of the clearing, his tail twitching in agitation. His glowing blue eyes finally caught her attention as he slunk closer to the resting pair. He snarled again, louder this time, a challenge to the mare. She snorted loudly, but didn't move from the wolf's side.
The jaguar circled the area again, his vocalization growing from a growl to a scream. The wolf's eyes opened, and he whined, getting slowly to his feet. He moved to stand between the cat and the mare, his hackles raising. With a roar, the jag leapt for the mare, who belatedly was scrambling to her feet. The silver wolf hit the cat in mid-leap, his teeth going for the black-furred throat.
"Jim, Sandy, no!" Megan screamed, as she dropped to the ground, helpless to stop the vicious battle.
Scooping up a rock from the ground, Megan hurled it at the fighting spirit guides, trying to turn their attention from each other to her. No such luck. There was never a fire hose around when you needed one. It dawned on her that the mare had not moved since she'd gotten to her feet; in fact, she seemed almost zoned. If anyone could stop the battle between wolf and jaguar, it would be her. All she would have to do was put her bigger bulk between them and it would be over.
Megan moved to the horse's side, laying a hand on her neck. "Come on, Dee," she pleaded, "come back to me." She felt the mare's skin twitch under her hand as she blinked her large blue eyes. Her head bobbed as she came back and Megan recognized the familiar post zone disorientation. "Dee, you have to stop them before they kill each other... "
The guide's words came too late. The wolf's sharp yelp was followed by a sickening snap. She turned to see the jag dropping the wolf's limp body to the ground. The black mare plunged past Megan, knocking her to the ground, a bone-chilling scream issuing from her throat. Sharp hooves flashed in the moonlight, bowling the cat over. She charged again, head low, teeth fastening at the nape of the jag's neck. The mare's whole body twisted to the side as she flung the cat across the clearing. Its body impacted with the trunk of a large tree, the sound of its back breaking echoing loudly in the guide's ears.
"Nooooo!" Megan screamed. "This is not supposed to happen. Jim would never hurt Sandy, never!" Kneeling in the middle of the glade, she watched the mare shamble slowly to the wolf's side, and drop to the ground beside him. Stretching her neck across his still body, she buried her muzzle in his ruff, closed her eyes, and simply... stopped existing.
Horrified, Megan stared at the three unmoving forms through tear blurred eyes, watching them slowly fade away until nothing remained but the ground, the bushes, and the trees. She felt warm hands on her shoulders, and the Companion knelt beside her. "I am sorry you find this vision so disturbing, little one. I did not mean to frighten you so." Her hand stroked the Aussie's hair gently. "It is a vision of the future, of what may come to pass. You must stop this from happening. You must not let the jaguar's fear blind him to the truth inside his own heart." She sighed, shaking her head. "Would that I could speak with him, for perhaps I could assuage his fears."
"How am I supposed to stop this?" Megan asked. "And how will I know when it will happen? What if I am not there?"
"You will be there, little one, just as you were tonight. And bear in mind that what you saw may not be exactly what happens in the real world. But there will be a falling out between the three who are one, and it will have dire and far-reaching consequences only you can prevent. The time is coming when only you can help the Champion, your soulmate."
Wrapping her arms around herself, Megan shivered. There was so much she didn't know, so much she had to learn. And Dee, what if Dee did not accept her as her companion? What would happen then?
The Companion must have felt her apprehension, for she said, "Diandra is afraid, little one. Afraid to allow anyone to become that deeply connected to her again. But she will have to make a decision soon, she will have to chose to take another Companion."
"And what if she chooses not to?" Megan asked.
The small woman sighed. "Then she will soon be joining me here. She will lose all semblance of control over her gifts, making her vulnerable to those who hunt her. She will not last long if she refuses your help."
"And what if I don't want to be her Companion?" Megan asked. "I mean, it's not like we've really bonded or actually even had a heart to heart talk... there are so many things about her I don't understand."
The Companion smiled at her. "Sometimes Diandra is still a mystery to me as well. Hers is an old soul, and it has known far more pain and sorrow than anyone should have to suffer, starting with my death."
Megan turned to face the red-haired woman, seeing an opening to ask the question she had not dared to ask Blair or Dee. "How did you die?"
"Oh, child, we broke the cardinal rule. We were not watching each other's backs." The Companion waved her hand, and the pre-dawn clearing became a battlefield at sunset.
Smoke rose from fading fires, and the smell of death was overwhelming. Bodies littered the ground, human and equine. The silence was pierced only by the screams of the dying. Megan looked down, and nearly gagged. A woman warrior dressed in garb similar to the Companion's lay at her feet, her torso cut open from shoulder to hip. Seeing her distress, the Companion took her gently by the elbow, and led her across the field, to where a small group of female fighters were gathered, listening to one of their number.
As they drew closer, Megan recognized the speaker as the Companion, though her armor was gouged and bloodstained, and her face covered in soot. Behind her, her arms crossed over her chest, stood Diandra. Megan let out an audible gasp at the imposing sight. Diandra stood almost a foot taller than the other warriors, and was dressed in bright red leather and brass armor, a sword sheathed at her back. Her shoulders were bare, to give her fuller range of movement, but gauntlets protected her upper arms and wrists, and leather and brass guards ran from her thighs to her ankles. Any part of her that was not covered by armor was coated in a mixture of blood and dirt. Her dark, sweat-soaked hair hung in a heavy braid down her back, escaping tendrils sticking out in every direction.
The Companion turned to Diandra. "What is the situation now, Champion?"
Diandra spoke, punctuating her words with her hands. "The slavers are finally on the retreat, my Queen. Request permission to take a party after them, to make sure they don't regroup."
The Queen surveyed the battlefield, watching the healers moving among the injured. "How far away?" she finally asked.
Diandra closed her eyes, taking a deep breath as the Queen laid a small hand on her Champion's shoulder. A few seconds passed, then Diandra opened her eyes and spoke. "Not more than a quarter league, heading toward the river. They probably have ships waiting there."
A runner approached the group, dropping to her knee before the Queen as she gasped for breath. "My Queen, three of our warriors have been captured."
The Companion turned to the Champion. "Go. I will remain with the healers to finish up here. Artemis speed you on your way." She clasped Diandra to her briefly, her lips brushing lightly against the taller woman's. Letting go of her, she watched as her soulmate trotted away from her, followed by ten warriors.
Turning to the rest of her people, she said, "Come, the healers need our help."
Megan turned to the Companion next to her, her eyes wide. "Diandra was... was an Amazon?"
The Companion nodded. "As was I, though neither of us were to the Nation born. Artemis chose us both to lead her followers."
Gesturing with her hand, the scene changed again, and Megan found herself in the middle of a battle between the slavers and Diandra's warriors. The Amazons were formidable fighters, Megan noted, but Diandra was incredible. No movement was wasted; each swing of her sword did damage. Even though she looked invincible, the Aussie noticed with alarm there was no one at her back, and it was from there the deadly blow came. One moment Diandra was running a raider through, the next she was on the ground, a spear piercing her back.
Her warriors were well trained, though. They did not stop to help her until all the slavers had been killed. They clustered round their fallen leader then, four of them holding the still conscious woman down, while a fifth pulled the spear out. Diandra's scream of pain would haunt Megan forever. The Companion slid an arm around her shaking shoulders, and as they watched, the Champion drew her last breath.
"No, no," Megan sobbed. "She's not supposed to die now, Sandy told me she survived her guide!"
"Watch, little one," the Companion said, and at her words, Diandra inhaled sharply and her eyes snapped open.
Immediately her senses turned inward, and she gave a stricken cry. "Goddess, no! LYDIA!" Scrambling to her feet, she headed back the way they'd come at a dead run, her warriors following close behind.
The scenery surrounding Megan and the Companion dissolved to the battlefield. Queen Lydia, several guards, and a healer were crossing the field slowly, searching for survivors. The Queen knelt by one of her fallen Amazons, checking for signs of life. Shaking her head, she moved on to where a slaver and an Amazon had fallen together. Both appeared dead. As the Companion leaned over to examine the woman, the raider came to life, plunging a knife deep into the Queen's chest. She fell back, a startled expression on her face. The guards made short work of her attacker, as the healer frantically tried to stop the Queen's bleeding.
Minutes passed slowly, as Megan wiped at the tears running down her face. A flash of color at the far side of the field caught her eye, Diandra's armor stained blood red by the fading light of the sun. She dropped to her knees beside her lover, strong arms lifting her to gently rest against her shoulder. "No, no, Lydia, it's too soon. You can't leave me!" Diandra pressed her cheek against the smaller woman's, their tears mingling.
"What's done is done, my love. Do not mourn for me, for you will carry me in your heart always." Her hand reached up to cup her soulmate's cheek, "I love you more than there are stars in the sky. I will be waiting for you on the other side." Her turquoise eyes slid shut, and her hand dropped across her chest. The Champion rocked her slowly in the deepening twilight, her sobs growing louder as the night approached.
Megan shuddered, her heart breaking for the grieving Champion. The Companion's hand on her arm got her attention. "Now you know, little one, why she is afraid to give her heart completely again, to fully bond with another companion. But she must, or give up living."
Swallowing hard, the Aussie wiped her face on her sleeve. "I will do my best to make her understand, to be the best guide I can to her."
The Companion took a step back, regarding her keenly. "I can see that you will. Remember what you have seen here tonight, and use that knowledge to save her, to save all of them." Putting her hands on Megan's shoulders, she stood on tiptoe, planting a kiss on her forehead. "Athena grant you wisdom, and Artemis give you strength." Stepping back, she shimmered, and the red falcon took to the air.
Megan stared after her until she could no longer see the raptor, then collapsed to the forest floor, the world going dark.