"Blair! How are you?"
Blair looked up from the bottom of the steps in front of the Sentinel Guide Institute, seeing Cassie Welles just exiting the building. He gave her a quick appraisal. She was wearing a light, gauzy blouse and matching pants in shades of blue. She'd grown her hair longer and it had thin braids woven throughout, with ceramic and glass beads on the ends. It reminded him of pictures he'd seen of his mom and her friends during her "wild child" days. All she needs is a headband he smirked to himself. "Hey, Cassie. It's been forever," he greeted as he climbed the stairs to meet her. "How are you? What are you doing here?"
"I just stopped by to see Eli," she replied. "How are things with you? Are you still with Jim?"
Blair gave her a broad smile that provided the answer to her unasked question. Blair and Jim were together. They'd bonded. "Things couldn't be better. What about with you? I haven't seen you at any crime scenes lately."
Cassie's eyes widened. "Oh, you haven't heard? Usually the grapevine works better than that. I've left the Forensics unit. In fact, I've left the PD altogether."
Blair looked at her in shock. "Is everything all right? You loved that job. What happened?"
Cassie shook her head, holding up her hands to stop the flow of questions. "Don't worry, everything's fine." She gave him a reassuring smile. "I've just had a few changes in my life that take precedent." She looked at her watch. "Do you have time for a cup of coffee?"
Blair nodded. "Let's go to Kate's bakery. They've got a great selection of coffee and tea, and their almond croissants are to die for."
"So," Blair said as he stirred his café au lait, "what's the skinny?"
"Well," Cassie began, "remember when Deb had those visions of the sentinel temple in Malta?" Blair nodded. "We decided to take that trip out there, to see if there was any more to learn from being in closer proximity."
"Yeah. It's so weird, because both of us are so grounded--neither of us thought we'd ever go on some spiritual quest. But her visions kept getting stronger. We just couldn't ignore it."
Blair nodded in agreement. "Sometimes you just have to follow your instincts instead of your head."
Cassie let out a breath. "A lot of people would think we were crazy to do it, but we know so little about sentinel and guide mythos. I just figured there had to be a reason why those temples were built all over the world. Unless there was an alien species flying around and planting them, these cultures built them independently of each other, so there had to be a reason, right?" Blair nodded.
"But, before we went back, we met again with Alex. She's the sentinel who gave Deb the herbal concoction she used that started the visions. They've continued to communicate with each other. I… I was a little jealous at first that they were spending so much time together. But I kept quiet and just waited. Then Alex asked us both to come over to her place." Cassie leaned forward, looking intense. "Blair, she has all kinds of artwork depicting visions, including temples, but not the one in Malta that you found. These look more like the Olmec ones you were showing me.
"Deb told me she and Alex wanted to take the herbs together to see if they could share a vision. They wanted me to be there to guide them." Cassie looked down at her tea. "I was shocked and worried. I've never done anything like that and they were 'but you’re the guide'." She sighed. "So, I just agreed."
Blair was alarmed but kept it to himself. "And… what happened?"
"Well, we set up a time to do it… three days from then. I went to the Rainier library to find out as much as I could about the nuts and bolts of how vision quests worked. I borrowed a friend's cabin and set up a site in a copse of trees in the back. We went up the day before, so we could fast. In the morning we all took showers. I asked them to wear loose clothing and no jewelry. I brought smudge sticks and a tape of drumming." She smiled slightly. "And that was as much as I could do to prepare. We went out to the grove and sat in a circle and they drank the potion. I turned on the drumming, very softly, and just walked them through a guided meditation. Once they were both under, I just centered myself, trying to hold them both in my mind." Her eyes lost focus as she remembered.
"So," Blair asked anxiously, "what happened?"
"Blair, it was the most extraordinary thing. I had a vision. I didn't take any drugs, I've never had a psychic bone in my body, yet I had a vision.
"I was in a meadow during the day and the sun was shining, flowers all around--I could hear the bees humming. I looked up and saw three birds--they were all white, but they were not all the same; I couldn't tell what kind of birds they were. They seem to be playing with each other--circling and diving, but not fighting. Then suddenly I was in the air--I was one of the birds! I felt so light and free, like I hadn't a trouble in the world and I could just fly and play for as long as I liked. I didn't communicate to the others, just continued to play. And then I just took off, flying until I got to the top of a tree. I had a nest there and I settled in to rest. The other two must have followed me, because they sat down in the nest without any hesitation. I felt this sense of peace, even though I was a bird.
"And then I woke up, or whatever you call it when you come out of a vision. Alex and Deb were looking at me and they had such loving smiles. They came over to me and just enveloped me in a big, warm hug that seemed to last forever."
"Wow. That's wild…" He hesitated at the little frown she gave him. "I mean amazing wild."
Her frown smoothed out. "The most amazing thing was that they both had the same vision. The three of us had a shared vision."
"Whoa, that's incredible. Is that why you left the PD?"
Cassie nodded. "Yes, but not right away. We had to figure out what it meant, you know?"
"So, I did some research on the 'net about bird symbolism, but it was so confusing. It depends on what culture you're part of or sometimes it's whether you see them at a certain time of day or year--so many variables. Then I asked Dan Wolf if he could suggest someone to consult with. Did you know his cousin is a shaman? Well, anyway, I talked to him and he was helpful in pointing out why our spirit animals were what they were."
Blair nodded. "Yes, I can see where getting it right would be important."
Cassie shook her head. "But it's not, really. It doesn't matter whether we know that a crane totem portends this, or a hawk spirit animal means that. What matters is that we know we have spirit animals, we know there's a higher plane and that we should be paying attention to it. What we found--what matters to us--is that the three of us have a bond. We're on the same path to wherever it leads. After that, decisions got easier."
"So, quitting your job was the answer?" Blair asked, not able to keep the doubt from his voice.
Cassie smiled. "I know it seems weird, since I was always so focused on the job. But I can be focused on anything. It doesn't have to be Forensics. Although for now, anyway, it does." At Blair's confused look, she continued. "We've started our own business." She pulled out a card and handed it to him.
Blair looked at the card. The logo was a complicated triangle shape. The top line read "Troika, Inc. - We provide hope." Underneath were their three names, phone numbers and business address. "We provide hope?" Blair asked.
Cassie nodded. "We actually have two businesses. The first one is in development. We're building a sentinel/guide network that explores the mystical aspects of the phenomena. Visions, enhanced senses other than the obvious five, that sort of thing. With the SGI having virtually no information in that area, we saw the need to help ourselves and others.
"The other piece of our business pays the bills. Alex, Deb and I work on cases that the PD can't get to; either cold cases or ones where there's not enough evidence for the police to proceed. We've gotten commissions from both the department and private citizens. With two sentinels, we've got a head start in trying to provide answers for loved ones."
Blair shook his head in wonder. "That's amazing, Cas. I'm so happy for you. So, what were you doing at the Institute?"
"Consulting with Eli. I needed to find out the legalities of marriage between sentinels and guide."
"Sentinels and guide?"
Cassie nodded, giving him a shy smile. "Yeah. We want to become a threesome, officially."
"Wow. I don't know what to say… except congratulations. Are there any impediments?"
"Apparently not. Sentinels and guides are usually bound by the same laws as everyone else, so polygamy would normally be out, at least in this country. But the unusual nature of bonding, which results sometimes in a guide or sentinel living with the other's spouse allows for a fair amount of leeway. Even though our situation is uncommon, we can have either a bonding ceremony or an official marriage. But if we do get married, we'd be bound by traditional marriage conventions."
"So, how will you know when it's right? When will it happen?"
"Well, first we're going to go the Sierra Verde to the Temple of the Sentinels there. More about it is known than the one in Malta. We're hoping to have a vision in the pools Deb still wants to expand her abilities and taking the potion while immersed has been rumored to enhance the senses."
"I've heard that, too although I don't have any direct knowledge that it works."
"When we get down there, we'll see. Dan's cousin contacted the shaman of a local tribe. We'll consult with her. If we like what we hear, and she gives her blessing, we'll try it. In the meantime…" she noticed the clock on the wall, "Ay, I've got to get going. It was so nice to see you Blair."
He rose at the same time she did. "Same here. Listen, if you're looking for a place to have the wedding, you might want to give my mom a call. She's doing Jim's and my wedding, and the place has great vibes." He opened his wallet and pulled out one of his cards, scribbling Naomi's name and number on it. "She's the most open and welcoming person I know." He handed her the card and gave her a hug. "Let me know when you get back from Mexico. I'd love to know your experiences, if it's alright with your partners."
Cassie smiled. "I can't believe what a different turn my life has taken. Give my best to Jim and let him know how happy I am for you two--and for us." They hugged and Cassie left.
Blair sat down to finish his croissant and coffee. As he chewed, he thought of everything Cassie had told him, as well as all the things that had happened, starting with her guide/sentinel mismatch with Jim, to her hooking up with Debra, to Debra taking Alex's potion to help develop her senses, to winding up with the three women coming together, having strange visions, starting a business and falling in love. Cassie might have been a little offended by the term, but he couldn't think of a better word to describe it than "wild".
He took a last swallow of his coffee, stood and left a tip on the table. On impulse, Blair bought a couple more almond croissants. He was sure Jim would love them. He pulled out his cell phone and speed-dialed #1. "Hey, you busy? … Yeah, I got held up a little at Rainier, but I'm on my way. … You're not going to believe who I ran into just now."