"Where are we going?" Damali called out, trying to keep up with the agile little old man.

"Hey, hold up. Why can't we do whatever we gotta do with the team?" Carlos called out, also finding it difficult to follow the Naksong.

"You ask many questions," Zang Ho said in an irate tone, while stomping on rocks as he climbed higher. "But you ask the wrong ones. You forget true wisdom, but remember what should be forgotten. You fight about nonsense, instead of picking wise battles. You have tested my patience, but you have not tested your own!"

He grunted and slipped over a frigid peak, and Damali and Carlos practically fell over it behind him, sliding down a steep, gravelly incline until they landed with a thud within another grassy knoll.

Thoroughly agitated, they stood, dusting themselves off. Zang Ho folded his arms over his chest and motioned with his chin toward a blanket and two swords lying on the ground near the edge of a cliff.

"Now, we begin," he said.

Carlos and Damali perked up and followed him toward the weapons.

"Observe," the Naksong master said, pointing toward wild sheep grazing in the crags. "It is rutting season, and the males will lock horns, but will not fall to their deaths - most times."

The moment Carlos looked up, Zang Ho rabbit-slapped his face so quickly that his nose began to bleed.

"Yo, man!" Carlos shouted, blotting his nose with the back of his hand. "What was that for?"

"Suck it up and taste the blood. Salty, yes?"

Carlos's eyes narrowed on the old man as Damali chuckled, but a swift pop to the back of her head made her hand go to the place where she'd been struck.

"Ow! What was that for?"

"Pick a weapon," Zang Ho, said, motioning to the swords, "if you can."

Carlos began walking toward the thick, yak-hair blanket that held two long blades. The moment he stepped forward, his feet went out from under him, and he was flat on his face on the ground. Fury roiled within him as he immediately jumped up and made a quick dash toward the blanket, but the blanket moved to the other side of the glen.

"Have I made my point?" Zang Ho asked, studying the sun as he pet his beard. "If you are not the weapon, an external one can always be taken away."

Carlos held up both hands. "All right, all right. Point made."

"You are still not asking me the right questions," Zang Ho said, popping Carlos in the back of his head, without ever nearing him, and making him lurch forward.

"Cut it out, old man. I'm not playing."

"Ah. You have temper. Good. Use it, but use it well." The old man crouched low in a fighter's stance.

"I'm not falling for that," Carlos muttered. "Besides, if we connected, I'd - "

"Hurt me?" Zang Ho shook his head. "Because of appearances, you have made dangerous assumptions." Zang Ho walked away, and turned his back to Damali and Carlos. When he turned around, he became a svelte woman, his robes filling out to assume his new form. "If I were her," he said, making them both squint as his voice remained crotchety, but so different from his body, "you might have other designs on this form than warfare." He turned around slowly and became a snow lion, causing Damali and Carlos to jump back. "Or this might make you feel that victory would be impossible." He returned to his original form.

"That is the smoothest shape-shift I've ever seen," Carlos murmured. "In daylight, too?"

"Now we are making progress," Zang Ho, said.

"You work with energies," Damali said stepping forward. "You use the energy from the Light, like Neterus do."

"That is how I acquired your small dagger," the master said. "Now, when I tell you to fetch a weapon, do not waste time. Materialize it in your hand."

Damali stared at the blanket, focusing hard. They'd tried to teach them this before, but it had been so hard to focus like that lately.

"No. Stop!" Zang Ho ordered. "That is kinetic energy. It requires you to move mass through the air, lift it, bring it to you, but during a battle, you must be one with the blade." He stared at Carlos. "When you were in the shadow lands, did you have to will your teeth to become the dragon's, or was that a reflex response to a sudden threat?"

"It was all reflex," Carlos said, his voice containing more reverence. "That is profound."

Zang Ho offered the couple a slight bow. "Before, they taught you to move objects. If a threat occurs, just like his dragon's teeth would appear, a blade should be an extension of your hand, should grow from it. Whatever element is in the universe can fuse with your energy to become your energy. Take it, embrace it, be it." He clapped his hands twice. "Again!"

Damali stood by Carlos's side. Both closed their eyes and opened their hands, but no sword was in it when they opened their eyes.

"Now. What question should you ask me?" Zang Ho folded his arms over his chest.

"Why the sword didn't - "

"No," he snapped, swishing away. "You should ask what stillness must I achieve to obtain this reflex." He walked in a wide circle, first staring at Carlos and then Damali. "They gave you, the male, a shield. Clap your hands, and the shield appears - in an arc. Your line of vision can cut like laser, when provoked. These happen just like the dragon's teeth appear, yes?"

Carlos looked away and shook his head no. "Not lately."

"Ho? What is this travesty?" The Naksong bowed low and walked around Carlos peering up. "Why not? This is old lesson."

"My energy has been a little off center, and... uh..."

"Hmmm," Zang Ho placed a finger to his lips. "Yes. Something corrupted your energy fields. You need realignment."

"Is it still there?" Damali asked in a worried voice. "Whatever got into his system?"

"The first wise question I have heard this afternoon." He looked at Carlos. "No. It is gone. It fled."

"Did it get into her, somehow?" Carlos glanced at Damali nervously.

The Naksong rubbed his beard. "No. It tricked you, but it was never in her. It blanketed her, covered her, but never had permission to enter her. Hmmm..." The Naksong smiled. "Very interesting, indeed."

"But I saw - " Carlos attempted to say, summarily getting cut off.

"Your eyes see what you fear, not what is. Your greatest fear is yourself. That keeps you from accepting all elements of yourself. You will need you to fight you. Success in fighting you will allow success in fighting what is not you, but was you."

Carlos scratched his head and nodded in agreement, even though the Naksong had just confused the hell out of him.

"There was something really dark in him, sir, I think," Damali said. "It scared me, too."

"Quite right," Zang Ho said, unfazed as he effortlessly materialized a sword in each hand and leisurely began swinging them at nothing. "It should have frightened you. You should have fought it. Good that you never granted it permission to enter you. But your greatest fear is not what was within him, but what was within you. This is what you also fight. If you did not fear being lost to him, then whatever was there to try to take your freedom and vanquish you could not."

"Okay, now that's deep," Damali said, walking away.

"Look around," the aged master said. "Does the wind seem afraid of the mountains, or the earth afraid of the sun? The elements of the universe do not fear being taken over by the other. They coexist. They know that even if the water overruns the land, the land is not gone, its minerals are within the water... and sooner or later the sun will dry the waters, and the minerals will be deposited back upon the earth, perhaps changed into salt. But they never stop existing. So the water never struggles against the sun as it evaporates. Such struggle is all a waste of energy."

Damali and Carlos looked at each other and then at the Naksong.

"I used to be a vampire. That old life - "

"Now you hunt the darkness, correct?" the Naksong swung a blade and merrily leaped from side to side.

"Yeah," Carlos said slowly.

"So, you need a little cunning. You need a little illusion. You need a little blood lust, perhaps a sprinkle of larceny to search for what is in the shadows. If you are not afraid of it still being a part of your nature, it cannot consume you. You control that in the way you use the weapon, the weapon should never control you." Zang Ho nipped a sword to Carlos, who caught it by the handle. "It was there as a part of you, now use it."

The two combatants bowed. Damali stood back to watch Carlos's lesson unfold and to learn from it as well. Zang Ho made the first lunge. Carlos spun away and caught the master's blade against blade, causing steel to collide in hard strikes that drew sparks. Carlos swung harder, and Zang Ho disappeared, then came out of a fold of nothingness in the glen, just behind Carlos, to try to catch him unaware. But Carlos sensed the old teacher coming before he even materialized and spun in time to avoid being gored. Carlos swung again, and Master Ho balanced on the end of his blade, stepped backward onto the air, and gently floated down.

The master smiled and bowed. "You are still fighting me like a man, though there has been a vast improvement. In your earlier incarnation in the shadows, you owned the air, disappearance and reappearance, and you would have had my head rolling along the grass by now."

Zang Ho tossed a blade to Damali, and she caught it with her right hand. "Your lesson is different. You have been taught to shape-shift. You are already a master with a blade. But you hold back. It takes time for you to decide what to become and then make the shift, because it frightens you... the power of uncorking true rage."

He smiled and swiped the blade at her. She easily met his swipe as metal made contact with metal. Suddenly the blade fell from his hand and a huge black snake reared up from what had been his sword. Damali jumped back and brandished her blade as the serpent hissed and struck at her. She refused to let go of the sword for a moment, until the thing before her sprouted wings and began to evolve into a dragon.

Still clinging to the sword, she nipped out of harm's way, finally dropped her blade, and became an eagle to fly high above it. Zang Ho sighed and returned to his natural form.

"If this were a night aerial attack, and I turned into a monster, then what?"

"I'd lower a shoulder cannon at you and blow your head off," Damali said, as soon as she touched down and put both feet on the ground.

"That is a good option out here, but in tight confines, you must overcome your fear to use that natural weapon." The master wagged his finger. "You two must be in sync, have complete trust, and be able to match each other's moves, blindly. If he swings in one direction, you must avoid his swing. If she shape-shifts, you must be able to match her new shape with a complimentary choice. Two dragons, an adder and a lion, and so forth. If he arcs a shield, you must be able to use your blade as though one of his arms, and the converse is true." The old master pursed his lips. "Most important, you must be able to know each other by all indicators, not just the eyes. In the heat of battle, you could kill your partner - take the wrong head - and the enemy would laugh at your loss."

"Now that's a fact," Carlos said, picking up the abandoned swords and handing them to Zang Ho. "Done all the time. If a vamp gets in a corner, it will cast an illusion to look like someone you know, to make you hesitate, or send a body-double illusion so you don't know which one to stake."

Damali dabbed at the perspiration on her brow. "We just witnessed that back in Lhasa. For a moment, I wasn't sure, then I was."

Zang Ho put his hands behind his back. "There should have been instant recognition or close to it. Sense his energy field. His scent. His eyes. His gestures. Tone of voice. Words. Mood. All these facets should be calculated by your brain in an instant." He looked at Carlos. "You, too. You must know her, or one night in battle, you might accidentally kill her."

Damali absently rubbed the side of her face where Carlos had slapped her. Carlos looked away.

"Imposters should stand out without a second guess." Zang Ho walked around Carlos and Damali, making them spin as he circled them. "Why don't you know each other's energy fields? You are newly mated Neterus, soul mates. What has happened here? I am confused. He is about to apex and you two do not know each other? Why not? There is a riddle. There is a block that I do not understand."

"We're not exactly sure, either, sir," Damali said.

Carlos looked away at the cliffs. "I don't, either. It's not her fault, though. I mean..."

"There is no fault," Zang Ho said, and fussed, rubbing his bearded chin. "This cannot be. Foul play is at hand. Something more has happened than is apparent. Your quest is to become still and remember what you know." He stared at Carlos hard and squinted farther, then turned, bobbing his head from side to side, studying Damali. "Nothing inside you from the shadows, either. Humph. Interesting puzzle. Come."

The Naksong reached out his hand, the yak-hair blanket appeared in it, and then the swords encased in scabbards slid under his arms. "Any day now. Any day. You could go into apex, which will lure the she-demon, which will draw the male, and you are not ready. Neither of you are. This is bad. She will bring the most feared vampire," he said, then stared at them, halting abruptly. "Dante. The Serpent of the Garden. He is not to be challenged without complete alignment and balance. Your attempt to go after them before you were ready was foolish. Luck and favorable auspices were on your side, but one should not prevail through luck alone. Skill and preparation are the best weapons." He glanced around still seeming distracted, and began walking again.

Zang Ho climbed over a large boulder, nodded, and waved Damali and Carlos forward. He inched his way down a steep incline that gave way to a milder slope, stooped, looked around, and flung open the blanket. "Sit," he commanded.

Carlos gave Damali a sidelong glance. She discreetly shrugged, and they sat down beside each other. Zang Ho slapped his forehead in frustration.

"No! That's not the way two warriors fight, sitting side by side like boyfriend and girlfriend - sit back-to-back." He leveled a blade at them and dropped a sword on each of their laps. "Keep your eyes on the horizon. From the flowers that cover the mountainside in new color, to the sheep that graze and mate lower in the fields, to the birds that circle the cliffs, to the winds that shift the clouds, to the earth's tonal vibrations - hold the sword and feel it all through the sword to become one 'with the weapon."

He walked around the pair, making their necks crane as they strained to keep eye contact with their teacher. "When you are ready and can feel your partner's energy vibrate through you, through the steel, stand. Remain back-to-back and begin the movements of fighters, slow, controlled, steady, until you can anticipate each other's moves. Keep your eyes closed once you stand. If one of you is not ready, whisper it in your mind; the other must wait. Make your fight pace quicken, until you can move like thought-lightning without injuring each other; then gradually slow your rhythm until you are still enough to again go back-to-back, sit, and breathe as one. That is your exercise for today to align your energies."

"How will we get back to - "

Zang Ho snapped twice and frowned at Carlos, silencing him with a glare. "Still the wrong question. I will go teach the others what I can today. They need weapons and whatever else you've brought along, but their generals should not. They require years of training, but we are out of time. I will do the best I can under the circumstances." He clicked his tongue. "So it is." He folded his arms and frowned. "I will collect you just before sunset and rejoin you with your team, and then we shall camp with nomad protectors until you are ready to flush the hunted from the shadows."

Carlos and Damali stared at the Naksong's back, watching him gradually fade away in the mist.

"That was live, D," Carlos whispered, not sure their teacher was gone.

"Shush," she said in a nervous whisper. "What if the old boy is still around? Chill. Do what he said."

Carlos unsheathed his blade and held it at a ninety-degree angle to his heart before him, listening to Damali unsheathe her weapon. After a bit, the blade began to feel heavy, and he shifted position and crossed his legs Indian style, then lowered the blade so that the handle rested on the ground and the tip was skyward. They sat that way, back-to-back, for what seemed like a long time. He watched the horizon and then allowed his gaze to soak in the profusion of subtle colors that carpeted the slope. Damali's natural scent wafted over her shoulders and flowed over him. Soon he could pick out the various wildflower fragrances, discerning grasses from flowers, soil from animal musk, just like he'd been able to before.

The awareness was startling. It was as though something had wiped his mental slate clean, taking away not only the best of his old vampire skills, but all his newly acquired Neteru gifts with it. For months he'd felt like he was living a half-life, where everything was muted, sensations were dulled, his emotions were contained. Shabazz had told him many of the things the Naksong said, but for some reason those truths didn't resonate before. He'd heard them, could intellectually process them, but could never translate them into innate understanding. He'd wondered why that was, what had kept him so separated from what was clearly logical? Now, in the pristine air and sitting quietly, bits of his old self began to slide back into place.

Initially, he'd been so bored that he was ready to just give up, but soon he felt a sense of comfort and listened to Damali's slow, calm breathing. Her back expanded against his, warming it as she breathed in, leaving cool places along his shoulder blades when she exhaled. Her spine nestled against his and there was heat where their vertebrae met. Slowly he became aware that if he listened hard enough, he could feel her heartbeat through her back.

He kept his eyes closed, remembering her heartbeat, how it sounded when he'd laid his head against her chest... remembered what it felt like beneath his palm. He remembered her breaths, the gentle expulsion of air when she laughed, or sighed, or her hot breaths of sudden rage... or passion. The heat felt good against his neck and face, it was moist heat, similar to, but unlike the sun's. But there was also a breeze, a shifting of air and air pressure, of air temperature. Her breaths made him feel light, and as the wind caressed the mountainside, he imagined the wind to be her whispers. He made a game of listening to it, imagining it as her laughter, or fussing, or crying, or sighing. Was she telling him a secret or calling out his name? He chuckled as he thought about it.

"What?" Damali whispered.

He smiled and kept his eyes closed. "I like your voice."

She smiled. "That's one of the things I love most about you�your voice."


"Yeah," she murmured. "Concentrate."

He opened his eyes using the sense of sight, and stared at the awe-inspiring landscape. There was so much about Damali that was more spectacular than the mountains and contained just as much mystery. She'd healed another family, had healed theirs, too; the angels had given her their tears. He could still feel her gentle rhythm behind him. The wind still seemed to be her voice. The colors now added a new level of awareness, and he definitely wondered how he'd been so blind? For all the ugliness in the world, the world was still going on. Here, sitting at the edge of heaven, never did he dream that both he and Damali would be alive in the same time and space, sharing a yak blanket on the cliffs of nowhere, with stainless steel blades on their laps, watching sheep mate.

"You think the shepherds used to do this?" she murmured.

"Do what?"

She laughed softly. "Sit and try to feel all the elements of the universe while watching rams fight over flocks?"

"I supposed there's not much else to do up here, other than that," he said with a deep chuckle.

She liked the way his laughter rumbled through his body into hers. "We're not supposed to be talking," she said laughing.

"Shush, we're not talking," he said quietly, "we're whispering and laughing. Don't have Zang Ho come back up here and pop you in the head again."

He felt her body shake with giggles and knew she'd covered her mouth with her hand. He could see it without even seeing it, just like he could mentally envision her megawatt smile. Here he was supposed to be a Neteru, and all his senses had been so dull... How did that happen?

"You have to go back to making music," he said softly as her giggles abated. "Writing poetry, singing, jamming with the band in the studio, or on the steps. Music is energy, harmonic chords that create positive vibrations. You know?"

"All right, Naksong," she murmured, a giggle in her voice, but with a deep tone of appreciation threaded through it. "I sorta got away from it, because it can be so all-consuming and I didn't want to shut you out."

"Baby, don't give up anything like that for me - music is part of your soul."

He felt her nod and closed his eyes and sighed.

"So are you," she said quietly.

"Same here," he murmured. "You know I would never, ever hit you," he said in the barest of whispers.

"I know you didn't hit me," she said, and then laughed softly, "but you slapped the shit out of her."

He laughed. "I'm sorry. It scared me."

"You know that's only the second time in our lives you've admitted that?"

"You've never told me that," he said, his tone becoming mellow. "I wasn't sure how you'd react, if I ever told you something like that."

"Deep," she murmured. "Then I owe you an apology, because I've been scared as shit for a long time."

"Get out of here, D."

"I'm serious."

He didn't answer for a while, but continued to feel and listen to her breathe.

"The Naksong was right," he finally said in a gentle murmur. "There's no reason we haven't been in sync. No matter come what may, nothing should ever get between me and you. Not even old flames... especially not that."

Again he felt her nod, but she said nothing. However, he did notice that her breathing hitched slightly and was no longer deep and even.

"You getting tired?" he asked, wondering if her legs were starting to fall asleep. Discomfort would be the perfect reason for her to tense; at least he hoped that's what it was and not 'what he'd said. He'd meant every word.

She slowly shook her head no, then took in a deep breath and held it for a second; he could hear her release it through her nose. Then she leaned her head back, slowly, carefully, as though she were falling, and inhaled deeply again as the back of her skull fit against the curve of his neck. Either she was getting sleepy and didn't feel like keeping the rigid meditation posture, or she wanted to stand and move, like he did. He wasn't quite sure, so he gently tested by straightening his legs and then pushing his spine against hers.

Force met force, and there was enough trust that they wouldn't drop each other by pulling up in a sudden move. His knees bent and his feet pushed against the ground; so did hers, until they stood back-to-back, and turned at the same time. He went to the left, she cut her blade to the right, slow motions, moving clockwise and counterclockwise to each other's controlled moves, eyes closed, sensing the motion before it happened, knowing where the other would be, mirror images, moving faster.

He could feel dampness coat his skin, tasted salt as he licked his lips and kept pace with her. The air was cool flowing through his hair; it had dampened, too. She smelled good; he knew where she was at every moment till time stopped, sound abated, nothing existed except the sound of her breaths.

He'd glimpsed her expression from the corner of his eye as they passed each other in a blur of motion. His back slammed against hers. She froze and didn't move. Enough. Time to slow it down, slide back to the ground, and regain their breathing. He was so turned on that for a moment he couldn't will his knees to bend.

She waited, had caught the look on his face. Gooseflesh covered her arms beneath her sleeves. His eyes burned with pure silver light. His Neteru marking on his jugular glowed white hot. He was majestic swinging a blade under the sun. They had to sit down, they had to sit down, they had to sit down. All she had to do was simply bend her knees.

She did, and they buckled, causing him to almost plummet, then pause, wait for her, and continue the slow descent to the blanket, adding pressure to pick up the slack when her weight shifted. He was trailing pure male Neteru; she sucked in a huge breath and allowed the scent to coat her tongue and her insides. It was all in his sweat, mixing with rarified air, and flowers, and grasses, and rich, dark earth. She hit the blanket with a thud. He'd stopped breathing for a second. Her blade trembled in her hand, not from fatigue. She was one with the blade, she was one with the blade, she was one with the blade... She dropped it. She heard another one thud as it hit the dirt.

"Listen, D - "

"I know."

"You think he's coming back anytime soon?"

"That old dude pops out of thin air," she said after a moment.

He nodded, and took in a huge breath of air. "Yeah, I know."

"I think we're synced up."

He nodded and swallowed hard. "Yeah."

She closed her eyes and opened her hand. His filled it, not the sword. He nuzzled her shoulder with his chin, slightly turning. She breathed him in with a shudder.

"You smell so good it doesn't make any sense." She opened her other hand and his filled it.

"I can feel your Sankofa, like it's burning right through your coat."

She squeezed her lids shut tighter. "It's climbing up my back, like you," she said hoarse. She turned her arms inward, but didn't turn to face him as he wrapped them around his waist. She dropped her head back to touch his and pressed her knees together. "You're apexing."

He nodded. "I know. I can barely breathe."

A shudder claimed him as her pulse quickened in his palms. Suddenly he could feel the gooseflesh on her arms. His mouth craved hers like a dying man craves water. It was beyond a thirst, it had become a necessity.

Every pulse point she owned lit within him, fusing his to hers, until he dropped her hands, spun, and took her mouth. His fingers found her hair, a sensation so missed that they trembled in the lush texture. Her skin, her gorgeous, rich cinnamon skin was alive, even the color of it was living heat beneath his palm as it caressed her cheek, and the sound she sent into his mouth made him cover her on the ground.

His opened coat became one with hers, creating a double, moving, writhing blanket of hair and animal skin and bits of crushed flowers. Her voice muffled his as he moved against her, fabric creating friction, heat, resonance on the wind. Sound echoes clashed with the distant, steady, rhythm of rams horns locking in to-the-death imperatives established at the dawn of time.

She looked up into solid silver irises, a safety net catching her before she fell, yet she was one with the elements; yes, free from fear and worry, a hand touched her face in gentle surrender. Hers was covering where a misguided blow had landed, echoing truth from the soul, I'm ready. Just say it. Her spirit understood the slap was for another. Truth permeated it all.

"I love you."

She closed her eyes and felt the brand on his jugular, the heat seal that said he was on her side and in the Light. "I love you, too," she whispered. "But with no intent to carry."

Just say it, her mind called out to him again. She looked into eyes that told her no matter what his mouth said, there was a fifty-fifty chance she'd get up from the encounter planted with life. "Just say it."

"I can't lie to you." His voice was hot and ragged against her ear. "My intent is shaky."

She squeezed her eyes shut. "You're apexing, you know what that means."

He nodded and covered her mouth again, his tongue tangling with hers until she gasped and broke the kiss. "Don't make me make promises I can't keep."

Truth vibrated within his words, truth resonated within her soft moan. Layers of wool now seemed a divide as vast as the mountains surrounding them. Each peeled-away, pushed-up bit of cloth sent shivers. Touched torsos burned skin-to-skin, quaked backbones in jagged shudders. Hands worked fastenings to open hidden caverns and close gaps within the fabric of the universe, still held within the fabric of wool and jeans. Legs shackled to the knees in pants that stopped at boot tops contributed to a blackout-level frustration to connect. Blinding pleasure, wet slide hard arching one with lightning arcs; unsettling nesting birds now taking flight due to the cosmic, disturbance.

If he had only known what it would have been like to apex in her arms, he would have never wasted time taking a walk on the dark side. Every touch she landed exploded pure white-light pleasure beneath her smooth caress till it went down to his marrow and resurfaced on his skin. She hunted sensations, trapped them, and knew just where to send them to climb up his shaft.

Oh, God, yes, this woman knew... Her hands knew him; she siphoned truth in unintelligible groans of consent. Yes, she could suck pleasure from every pore, making rain with his sweat, hard thunder from his voice, then evaporate it all in a hot-steam bath�she knew how; she knew all. It was her right to open up the heavens and transform stone into pliable clay. She could take his rib and create whatever she wanted, just so long as she didn't stop taking him into her... and she knew that.

The old man was wrong; he knew the questions to ask. He just couldn't get them out between sobs. Oh, damn... She was an element, hot wax, fire, oil. You didn't ask the elements, you begged them... paid homage, made sacrifices, lit butter lamps, left gifts, and prayed hard. Yes, she was one with the universe; he was one with her. Elements fused with known hysteria, because his woman knew him so well... shit. She felt so good; he knew everything but his name. She knew the hidden mysteries within, and had opened the door to transformation when she'd opened her warm thighs, and allowed him to pour himself into her.

The moment he entered her, she knew. She couldn't breathe. Her hands molded the curve of his ass; she knew the muscle cords under his skin like she knew her name. She knew his rhythm, his pulse, knew so fully that the tips of her breasts stung with remembrance. She knew the thick sinew that created leverage within his thighs, pushed his knees against the earth, sent his hot, staccato pant through her system, chasing deep, subsonic moans up from his diaphragm.

Oh, God, yes, she knew those slightly rough hands splayed wide across her back and behind, a mouth harsh and tender, butter tea sweetened with salt, yet never bitter. Yes, she knew this man from all imposters, knew him before he stuttered her name, knew how he fused Spanish and English when he was near the edge... and knew this time he couldn't thread together a sentence to save his life.

His energy was wrapped around her like his earthy, fabulous, aphrodisiac scent. That's how she knew how to move with him, against him; knew that this apex was making him sob, fight a losing battle with control; it had stolen hers, made her careless, even though they both knew the consequences. There was never any question when her voice rent the air. They both knew a bite was coming that wouldn't break the skin, but would send ribbons of colors to spiral behind shut lids.

Rites of passage, rites of spring... seasons blurred. Too much time had gone by, yet not enough time remained in the world. This man, her man, had synced up with every element in the universe. He brought pure thunder to her valley, sudden lightning strikes of pleasure, then rained hard within her, and made her want to be mother earth. For him she would be whatever - she didn't care. Everything within her converged on their sacred central joining... his touch, his voice, his ragged breaths, his scent and sweat, until her internal heaven opened and poured forth all she had with her tears.

Yeah, she knew quite clearly that they were both infected... infected with each other... That's what had them amid the cliffs losing their minds.

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