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Final Showdown

 

Chapter 6

Janet tugged her lip between her teeth. It had been forty-eight hours since the team had been returned to the SGC. In that time not one of them had moved. The slow, steady rhythm of their breathing the only sign that they were alive. Five monitors beeped in harmony as the IV's dripped precious fluids laced with vitamins and nutrients into their veins. The doctor in her was nearly frantic with need to make certain that the condition of the five teammates was exactly what they believed it to be. The Air Force officer in her understood that if she inadvertently disturbed them, woke just one of them and 'pulled' him or her from the astral plane, it could be a disaster for the others.

She paced the length of the room, stopping at the foot of each bed, searching each face for...for what? A sign of some sort...any kind of a sign. She'd just checked each of them, no bruises, no apparent trauma.

General Hammond entered the infirmary quietly. "I've come to make a request, Major."

The use of her military rank, rather than her title, alerted her to the fact that she was being addressed not as a doctor, but as an officer. "Sir?"

"Hold off on the tests."

She gave a wan smile. "I was just thinking about that myself. I'm terrified that I might do something that will harm them...or bring harm to them. But I'm also worried that they might be suffering from some affliction that has nothing to do with being on the astral plane...that they were struck down before the daemons...arrived, if you will. What if an alien parasite attacked them as soon as they walked through the gate?"

"Did you draw blood when you inserted the IV's?"

"Just a bit. There wasn't anything unusual in the tests I ran," she admitted.

"Then for the moment, we'll let them do what they have to do. Casey was adamant that the battle would be 'soon'. Give it another day. If they aren't awake by then, I'll support any decisions you make regarding their care," the general replied.

"It's not going to be easy for them...for us, is it, sir?"

"It does seem that things have changed, doesn't it?"

"Yes it does." Janet paused slightly, the looked up at her commanding officer. "General, did you ever think about this when you decided to accept...to become...to accept the gift?"

Hammond lowered his head, frowned slightly. "No, Doctor, I didn't. My motivation at the time was to protect Abby and the girls."

Janet nodded. "I understand...that's why I accepted...so that I could protect Cassie."

"I suppose I didn't fully understand the scope of the...responsibilities...that came with the gift."

"Makes you wonder how they deal with it all, doesn't it?" Janet said softly, her eyes moving once again over the five, still forms. "Not only are they in a physical battle against the Goa'uld, they've been pulled into a...well, I suppose you could call it a spiritual battle."

"I can't imagine how Doctor Jackson deals with the knowledge that he's the hope for all mankind."

Janet's smile widened. "I doubt very much that he considers himself that, sir."

"Probably not."

"If anything, his thoughts are focused on protecting Casey, and that's all he thinks about."

General Hammond smiled, glancing at the slender blonde where she lay. "I have no doubt of that. Because of that young woman, I believe we've finally met the real Daniel Jackson."

"She really has brought him back to life, hasn't she?"

"Yes, she has." The general took one last look at the team, then sighed. "Keep me informed of any changes."

"Yes, sir." Janet turned back to her patients. "It would help if you guys would just whip ass and come home, ya know," she grumped quietly.

 

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First crossed her arms over her full bosom. "I need a scorecard!" she muttered.

"I don't understand," Second said, frowning slightly with her confusion.

"Colonel O'Neill often complains that due to the number of Goa'uld, and their relationship to one another, he needs a 'scorecard' in order to keep them all straight," First explained. She ignored the loud chuckle from Third. "There are so many moving about now that I feel as if I need a scorecard!"

"This is a battle that has been coming for a very long time," Third pointed out.

"Hundreds of centuries," First murmured absently. "I do not understand why The Others have only just decided to become involved. Why did they wait so long?"

"Perhaps they had no other recourse," Second suggested. "They can argue that they are not violating the rules of non-interference, because The One, and his Guide, and the Protectors are in their realm of existence. And we know that they have been most displeased with the lack of control the Ascended, and their 'Committee', have shown in the situation."

"I find it appalling that those from the darkest levels have embroiled themselves in the situation," Third said disgustedly. "They have no business on any of these levels, yet they move as freely as if they have the right to do so."

"I agree," First said, nodding slightly. "That they dare to leave their places of imprisonment is a consequence of the lack of order that has resulted as Mibi has been allowed to do as he pleases for so long. They no longer fear reprisal; they no longer respect the Rules of the Nine Levels."

"There has been much damage done," Third acknowledged.

"And those to whom our Masters bend knee are not pleased," First replied.

"It is not often that They become involved," Third mused. "They will do so now?"

First sighed. "I do not know. I only know that if The One should fail, there will be a war that will rage on every level of existence, and the destruction will be incalculable."

"He will not fail," Second said confidently. "He is The One, after all."

First and Third exchanged indulgent smiles. But their own concerns filled their eyes.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

For a palace, the place sure seemed to be deserted, Casey thought, slipping past the second room she had encountered. It was unoccupied as well. Maybe having a full domestic staff wasn't necessary for the illusion, she thought idly.

She was about to dart from behind the pillar where she hid, to make her way toward the opening she could see...one that appeared to lead to a garden. And a garden meant outdoors...at least she hoped it did. One foot was already in motion when her arm was roughly grabbed. She whirled around. And came face to face with...Anderz! "Oh, shit," she muttered.

"You mustn't go there," he said quietly.

"Why not?"

"They'll find you."

She cocked her head sideways. Something was wrong here. The light green eyes that were focused on her held not one trace of recognition. The smirk that seemed to be a constant feature of his face was missing. "Anderz?"

He shook his head. "My name is Iabi. I work in the royal kitchen."

Well, how about that. It seemed that the asshole in charge must have tossed Anderz aside. Or maybe his current condition was a result of a disagreement, or disobedience, and she really didn't have time to worry about that now. She reached out slowly, not surprised to find that there was a dark blanket around her. Of course. Couldn't take the chance that if she did wake up, she'd be able to figure things out, right? "Where should I go?"

"Follow me."

"How do I know I can trust you?" she asked, not moving.

"Because it's important that you find The One."

She started. Was this an act? Had Daniel escaped, and now they were going to use her to find him? Maybe she hadn't managed to just wake up on her own...maybe she'd been allowed to awaken. She tugged her lip between her teeth.

"Please, Casey, come with me. If you are to stop him, then you must find The One."

There was a gentle poke at the back of her mind. It felt...familiar. Almost as if...she smiled up at the man who frowned with such genuine concern. "We'd probably better hurry."

A smile lit up the man's face, and he held a finger to his lips. Moving like shadows, keeping behind the columns that marched in two stately lines through the corridor, the two slipped away from the palace.

 

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Daniel frowned. How in the hell was he supposed to get in there, when the room was filled with at least a dozen women. Naked women. And it didn't look as if any of them had been spared a visit to that room of horrors. He nearly yelped out loud when a large hand closed over his shoulder.

"Daniel Jackson, why are you here?"

He looked up into the frowning face of his friend. "There's something really strange going on. I just had a little chat with a Jaffa. Well, he was a Jaffa. Seems the block in his mind is starting to disintegrate, too. He's covering for me."

Teal'c's frown deepened. "Why did you decide to come here?"

"My Wife is here," Daniel replied simply.

The Jaffa nodded. "I have been unable to ascertain any information regarding the rooms near the harem. Those I have been able to investigate are open to the corridor, and would not be suitable for hiding Casey Jackson."

"I'm betting that it's going to be a room that can only be accessed by from inside there," Daniel said, nodding toward the harem. "That cuts down even further the number of people who have access to it."

"There is one who might help us," Teal'c said slowly.

"Who? Where?"

Teal'c paused. "Her name is Sheriti. She closely resembles your dead wife. She was sent to me, a gift from the Pharaoh. I believe he...they...wanted to wound my soul further, by tricking me into once again stealing your wife from you."

Daniel stared at his friend. Took a few seconds to take in the rather startling bit of information. "Sha're?"

"Indeed."

"Um..." He bit back the question that was on the tip of his tongue, dropped his gaze to the floor.

"I did not," Teal'c said gently. "I could not even when I did not have access to my true memories. I have hurt you deeply, I could not live with compounding that pain."

Daniel shook his head. "Teal'c, what happened was Apophis' fault. You had no more choice in the matter than Sha're did. You tried to save her. I'll be eternally grateful for that. As for this," he waved his hand around, indicating the hallway around them, "it's not even real. So anything that happens here isn't any more real than a dream. And no one can be held responsible for dreams."

Teal'c inclined his head slightly, the only response he made. "I will speak to Sheriti as soon as I am able to do so. For now, I suggest that you leave here, it would not do to have one of the guards see you."

He glanced into the harem. Knew in his heart that she was nearby. To be so close...Shook his head mentally. Teal'c was right. If he were caught, the result might be her death. The sudden, intense pain that thought produced left him gasping mentally. He gave a slight nod. "I'll see you in the barn tonight."

Another bow of his head, and then Teal'c walked back down the corridor, back straight, looking for all the world as if he belonged in the palace of the Pharaoh.

It took a few minutes to find a room that opened onto one of the gardens. He ducked behind a heavy chest made of teak when he heard the sound of soft footsteps approaching. Held his breath, waiting for whoever it was to pass by.

 

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Iabi held tightly to the seer's hand. When they came to another lanai, Casey dared to glance inside as they passed, her heart pounding against her ribs, hoping against hope that this room would also be empty. The room held nothing more than a few chairs, a low table, and a large chest; she thought the wood might be teak...not that she was any expert on wood, but she had done a bit of research when looking for just the right curio cabinet for the dragons. None of the rooms seemed to be as opulently decorated as one would expect for a palace. Unless the Pharaoh was a closet minimalist; the thought bringing a smile to her lips.

Voices had the two ducking behind a low wall. Three guards passed by, not one of them paying attention to what was around them. They were talking animatedly, and it looked as if they were heading for the large gate that was just on the other side of a wide courtyard.

Getting off duty, Casey thought, recognizing the signs of military personnel who were finished with their shift, and eager for rest and relaxation, and probably a bit of entertainment as well.

Iabi pointed toward the gate. "You must get through there."

"Peachy," she grumbled.

"I can help," the man said, giving her a bright smile.

"How?"

"You stay here. I'll talk to the guards, and you can run away."

For a moment, Casey regretted the fact that Anderz' mind had been reduced to little more than that of a child. Then again, he was much easier to get along with this way. And, she thought fleetingly, maybe he'd be happier this way. No doubt he was much safer now that he was no longer any sort of threat...to anyone. "Be careful."

"I'm always careful," the man replied. He gave her another smile, squeezed her hand, then crawled into the room behind them. He stood up, walked out, and headed directly for the gate.

She watched as his tall frame cast a shadow on the ground. What the hell was that? It looked as if...her eyes went from the ground to his back, then returned to the ground. She didn't know who was with Anderz...but he wasn't alone. And damned if it didn't look as if whoever...whatever...was with him had wings! The 'shadow' of his...companion...was so faint that had she not been watching Anderz' shadow, she would have missed it. Couldn't help but wonder just whose side that Being was on. And just how in the hell had Anderz...Iabi, she corrected herself, known about her and Daniel, if his brain had been scrambled? The entire situation was just getting more complicated by the minute!

There was no time to worry about that now. She'd think about it when she had managed to get away from this palace. She watched as Iabi talked with the guards. Okay, now was her chance. She dashed across the courtyard, bent over as far as possible, holding onto the annoying scraps of linen gauze that threatened to trip her. She took a chance to catch her breath behind a group of small olive trees.

When the guards were looking down the street at something Iabi was pointing at, she slipped around the gate. The street was wide, and seemed fairly busy. No one seemed to be paying any heed to the oddly dressed woman suddenly in their midst. She had no idea if that was a good thing, or if it meant she was about to be handed over to her captors again.

The alley she ducked down was narrow, and led to another courtyard, this one shared by several houses. Hanging on a cord that stretched between two of the houses were several linen shifts and robes. Wishing she had something to leave as payment, the need to be dressed like those around her vital for her survival, she took one of the shifts, and a soft, cotton robe.

A small shed toward the back corner of the courtyard caught her attention. She opened the door, slid inside and hurriedly changed. She used the linen gauze that had been wrapped around her breasts as a sort of veil, covering her hair completely, tossing the ends over her shoulders to hang down her back. Two worn baskets had been left in the corner. Putting the smaller of the two inside the larger, she picked them up as well. If she looked like she was going to the market, chances were no one would bother her.

Peeking around the corner to make certain no one was watching, she stepped once again onto the plaza. Which opened to a wide avenue. Well, might as well see what's down the street. Behind her, a man with sandy blonde hair slipped past the gate of the palace, Iabi keeping the guards occupied as he did so.

 

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Teal'c returned to the harem. "Is Sheriti feeling better?"

Tameri smiled. She had been unable to determine just why the young slave had fainted, and her search had confirmed that the mental block in her mind was in place and solid. She thought perhaps it had been staged, a ploy on Sheriti's part to further place the Jaffa under her feminine spell. The thought had amused her, and she had laughingly shared it with Kawit. "She has returned to your quarters, anxious to please you."

He gave a regal nod of his head. "Thank you for caring for her."

"You are welcome, Mdjai. If you wish to check on her, I will tell the Pharaoh that you do so at my bidding."

"I would be most grateful."

Tameri looked the Jaffa over carefully. He was a handsome man, muscular and exactly what one would expect for a First Prime. She reached out with both hands, ran them over his bare shoulders. "You are a very strong man, Mdjai."

Teal'c stood still as a statue, uncomfortable as the woman continued to caress him. Was unable to hold back the gasp of surprise when her fingers moved lightly over his nipples. "You are the wife of the Pharaoh," he said, believing that the woman was a part of the illusion.

"Fifth wife," Tameri murmured softly.

"I serve the Pharaoh," Teal'c said, gritting his teeth when her hands moved lower on his body.

She almost crowed with delight at his responses. So deep into the illusion now that he would never escape, Tameri determined in that moment that the Jaffa would belong to her. She tried to put her arms around his shoulders, only to have him back away abruptly.

"I serve the Pharaoh," he repeated. Then turned and hurried up the corridor.

Tameri watched his hastily retreating figure. Laughed out loud. He was indeed a very loyal man. She would speak to Mibi. With no worry that the Jaffa would ever try to break away, she would alter his part of the illusion. Make him an adviser to the Pharaoh. And thus a worthy recipient of her affections.

 

 

 

Teal'c took a deep breath before entering his room. This illusion was far too real for his liking. He wanted to remain for as short a time as possible. What would happen to the people when he and his teammates defeated the daemons, he had no clue. A thought that brought a twinge to his heart when he saw Sheriti waiting for him on the bed. What would happen to the people who populated the city...who seemed to believe that all around them was real?

Another disturbing thought moved forward in his mind. If he asked Sheriti to carry out the favor he would ask of her, was he any different, any better, than the daemons who used her? Was she nothing more than an illusion, or was she a real being, here for a reason?

There were far to many questions to which he had no answers. The facts he had were bleak. If Daniel Jackson did not battle against the daemons, and win, SG-1 would never return to their own level of existence. Whether they remained prisoners in this illusion, or were destroyed completely was the only unknown. Casey Jackson was adamant that the conflict was unavoidable, and needed to be settled as soon as possible. She was also certain that the outcome of the battle would affect more than just the Ascended plane of existence.

His eyes moved back to the harem slave, who smiled warmly at him. Not coyly, not seductively. Warmly, as she would greet a friend. He relaxed slightly. Sheriti no longer viewed him as her Master, her owner...a man who could demand from her whatever he pleased, leaving her no choice but to comply. She viewed him as a friend. Someone who had protected her, cared for her. Offered her back the dignity of self.

"Tameri told me that I fell ill," she said quietly.

"You do not remember?" Teal'c asked.

She shook her dark head. "I don't even remember leaving this room. You told me to stay here, and I have...but..." she lowered her eyes.

"I am happy to see that you are better now." It would seem, he thought, that the slave had been used by someone other than the daemons. He thought about what she had said. Perhaps it had been an attempt to test him, to see if he was under their control. He could only hope that he had passed.

"Tameri said that you carried me to into the harem, asked her to care for me."

"I did."

"Thank you."

"You are welcome." Teal'c sat down on the chair beside the window. Was Sheriti nothing more than an illusion, used to control him? If so, did they already know that he had regained his memories? Certainly if they had suspicions of such, they would have put in another mental block, perhaps a stronger one, and he would not even realize that he had succumbed to them for a second time.

"Something troubles you."

His dark eyes studied her. Instinct honed over decades told him that he could trust Sheriti. He wasn't certain what had happened, but if she had no memory of the event, chances were she had merely been the means to deliver the message she had hissed at him, nothing more. "I have need to ask a favor of you."

Sheriti climbed off the bed, crossed the room and slid to her knees in front of the Jaffa. "You have offered me peace of mind, rest for my body. I owe you much, Mdjai. Please, if there is something that I can do, some way to repay your kindness-"

He gently placed a finger against her lips. "What I would ask of you is...dangerous."

Her dark eyes widened slightly, but she nodded.

"Is there a room within the harem where no one but the Pharaoh is allowed to enter?"

"Tameri enters there, once a day usually," Sheriti replied immediately.

"Do you know what is in the room?"

"It is a sacred shrine to Isis. It is in the harem because Isis was the mother of all, and she taught women how to bring life forth from their bodies, how to please a man with our bodies," the slave intoned solemnly.

"I would ask that you look into this room. Do nothing more. I need to know what you find."

"It is forbidden!" she whispered.

He thought for a moment. Using his experiences from the past, when dealing with the superstitious among those who served Apophis. "If it is a shrine to Isis, as a woman, do you not have the right...the obligation to the goddess, to worship her?"

She frowned slightly. "I suppose so."

"I do not want you to enter the room. Just...look."

With a deep breath, Sheriti nodded. "I will do it."

"I need for you to do so as soon as possible."

"I can return to the harem for my clothes," she said shyly.

He nodded. "Do so."

Sheriti rose to her feet. Leaned over and kissed his cheek. "I will return as quickly as I can."

Teal'c watched her leave the room, not certain what would happen. Would Sheriti bring him the information he sought, or would she betray him? Or was she a puppet of the daemons, who would know for certain that he was no longer under their control?

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Casey walked slowly, taking in the sights and sounds around her. No doubt this was exactly what a city in Ancient Egypt was like. Daniel would be in seventh heaven to see this. She shook her head. Daniel was somewhere in this city. And she'd bet a month's wages that he had a mental dam in his head, had no clue who he was, and was probably living a happy life as an Egyptian citizen.

That thought gave her pause, and tugged at her heart as well. Would the daemons give him a wife, children...the family she was certain that he wanted? Was he living with a dark haired beauty, loving her? Images of Sha're danced through her mind, she gasped in pain at the thought that the daemons might give Daniel a chance to live with his first wife again; that he was happily married to her, unaware that it was nothing more than a dream.

Her hands curled tightly around the basket, she gritted her teeth against the wave of heartache the thoughts had unleashed. It's just a goddamned illusion! If she'd been able to see through it from the moment she'd opened her eyes when Dartal had pulled her here, against her will, his brilliant mind would see through the ruse just as easily. Even if he was living with Sha're, or a make-believe version of her, he'd know...he'd know it wasn't real. He had to know it wasn't real!

She stopped in front of the largest building on the street. The hieroglyphs that decorated the outer walls gave her all the information she needed...this was a library. And, if Daniel remained true to form, she'd bet that he'd already found his way here.

As this was just an illusion, then no doubt the daemons had given the team the same kind of disjointed 'memories' that Dartal had planted in her mind. Dartal had set her up as the pampered daughter of the chieftain of the village, certainly a screw-up on the part of the daemon. If this group wanted the team to remain clueless, wouldn't it make sense to make their surroundings as familiar as possible? Certainly surrounding Daniel with scrolls would be something so routine that he'd never question what he was doing.

She was starting up the steps to the building before she realized it. Hesitated halfway up. Who was allowed inside? Would she be turned away, or given access to the rooms that held the scrolls that filled the library? And even if she could get inside, there was no guarantee that Daniel was there. What she needed to do was find a place where she could watch the entrance. If she saw him arriving, or leaving, she could approach him, and hope that seeing her would be enough to jog his memory. She had known that he was important to her, even when her memories had been blocked. Heart to heart. They were bound heart to heart. The connection had been there, she had felt it, even without access to her memories. Surely his heart would remember her, right?

At that moment her stomach began to growl. Great. An illusion where she was going to feel hunger and thirst. What a pain-in-the-ass. She went back down the steps to the street. Where did a woman without a penny to her name go for a meal? Did they have soup kitchens in Ancient Egypt?

Another cross street. She decided to follow it, found a dozen or so small shops. And several booths that offered a variety of foodstuffs. How damned unfair was it to have access to food, but nothing with which to purchase that food?

What was it that Daniel had said about Egypt? They hadn't had an actual monetary system. Instead, jewelry was used as a method of payment, if barter wasn't possible. Okay, she really had nothing to trade, two battered baskets weren't going to be enough to get her anything. She wearily pushed back a strand of hair that had worked itself free of her head covering.

"Ouch!"

Tugging strands free of the hoops she had not known were in her ears, she carefully removed the earrings. Gold. Simple gold hoops. Just as good as American Express, she thought gleefully. And she wouldn't even stop to consider the fact that the earrings had most certainly not been there when she'd put the veil over her hair. While she had no delusions that just thinking about something, or even wishing for it, would alter the illusion around her, it was obvious that someone, somewhere, was trying to at least level the playing field a bit.

"Thanks, Oma," she whispered. "Or Miss Eloise, whoever slipped me the cash."

With the earrings clutched in one hand, the worn baskets in the other, she walked toward the first of the booths. The smells coming from it had her stomach growling louder, and her mouth watering.

Inside a huge, copper kettle that was nestled directly on top of a bed of coals, simmered the most delicious looking soup she had ever seen. Even though it felt as if the temperature was well over one hundred degrees, the soup was very appealing.

She stood and watched for a moment. Two workmen ordered bowls of the soup. Which was ladled into heavy crockery bowls. They drank the soup from the bowls, handed them back to the proprietor, and paid for their meal. A young girl, maybe ten years old, hurried forward, took the bowls and dumped them into a bucket of water. When they were clean again, she put them back on the shelf in front of the old woman who moved a large, flat spoon back and forth, keeping the mixture from scorching, and becoming stuck to the bottom of the pot.

Good enough, Casey decided. She shyly stepped forward. Smiled, and pointed to the soup, and then one of the bowls. The old woman gave her a wide smile in return, revealing all four of her teeth.

In spite of the heat, the soup tasted wonderful. Casey offered the earrings. The old woman took one, examined it, then put it onto a small scale that sat off to one side of the shelf. With a nod, she handed a small gold ring to Casey in return.

How about that, she thought with a giggle. A good lunch and change to boot! The day was looking up.

Finding a quiet spot in the shade, Casey sat down and watched the people milling around her. Water carriers stopped at doorways where large, red pots waited. Filled them to the brim with water from the buckets that hung on either end of a long board that the men carried across their shoulders, and then moved on. When one of the men walked nearby, she stood up, reached out and offered the small ring, and pointed at the bucket on the end of the rope. The man took the ring, and allowed her to scoop a handful of the water into her mouth. She glanced up at him, he nodded, and she repeated the process.

If only Starbucks had 'coffee carriers', she thought, watching as the man walked on. Of course, even if they did, she doubted that they would carry the coffee all the way out to the Cheyenne Military Complex. Maybe they should just hire someone to wander the halls of the SGC with coffeepots. Better yet, just add a couple more pipes to the maze of tubes that crisscrossed the ceilings of each level. Hot and cold running coffee. The mental image brought a smile to her face.

Her hunger and thirst temporarily sated, she was on her way back to the wide avenue where she had seen the library when shouting voices behind her caught her attention.

"Stop! Thief! Thief! Stop him!"

A man wearing a loin cloth and a simple robe was chasing after a small boy. The child had a similar cloth around his bony hips, although it was grungy with dirt. In his hands he cradled two apples, and was running for all he was worth.

Casey had enough time to wonder if the laws were as brutal in the ancient world as they were in her modern one, figured she didn't have the luxury of waiting to find out. As soon as the boy dashed by her, she stepped into the path of the approaching man. Braced herself as he crashed into her.

"Woman, move!" the man shouted, trying to get back to his feet.

Casey managed to pull him back to the ground. "Let him go, I'll pay for the apples," she said calmly. She stood up, brushed herself off, picked up the dropped baskets. Realized that she had dropped the earring.

The man looked at her suspiciously. "What do you offer?"

"My earring, as soon as I find it," she muttered, searching the ground. She put a foot against the man, pushed slightly. "Move, it might be beneath you."

The man rose to his feet. "You let him get away!"

"I told you I'll pay for it," Casey replied. Starting to feel a bit panicked, she knelt down, ran her hands over the dusty ground. Let out a yelp of surprise when she was yanked to her feet.

"You will take the place of that little thief, since it is your fault he got away from me," the man sneered.

Oh, hell. She so didn't have time for this shit! She tried to pull away, felt his hand tighten around her arm like a vise. "Let me go! I haven't done anything wrong! If you'd just give me a minute, I could find-"

Two men who wore sashes of red and blue across their chests, frowns on their faces, were moving toward her. If she wasn't mistaken, those two were part of the local police force. Daniel had told her about them as well. Ancient Egypt, it seemed, had been a very efficient society, one that had a very recognizable urban infrastructure, comparable to the cities she knew. No, she most certainly didn't have time for this!

She was still holding the baskets. Summoning up all of her strength, she swung them as hard as she could, smashing them into the face of the man who continued to drag her toward those very stern figures of authority. He yelled with surprise, loosened his grip just enough for her to break free.

Not knowing where she was going, Casey began to run, wanting only to put as much distance between herself and those men as possible. People stepped out of stalls and from behind booths to watch as she ran by, the men shouting at her as they followed.

She turned a corner, found herself on a street filled with laborers. She had fleeting glimpses of storage yards and weavers huts, there was a pottery, and whatever was going on in that building stunk to high heaven. She charged past a small yard where lumber of various sorts was piled around, past a narrow alley, and four men who watched with surprise as the woman raced past them. Another turn, and she was in deep trouble. She stared at the wall in front of her, gasping for breath, knowing that her pursuers would arrive at any moment.

A ladder led up to a narrow opening, she almost missed seeing it, hidden by a protrusion in the wall as it was. There was no time to worry about what might be waiting inside that building. She began climbing, hoping to disappear before the men arrived. As soon as they saw the ladder they'd know where she was. With luck, however, she'd find a place to hide, and sneak back down before they were aware of her deception.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Sheriti tried not to call attention to herself as she walked into the harem. She scurried to the bed where she had slept, when she had not been servicing the Pharaoh. Before she had been given to Mdjai. Reached beneath the low, silk covered cot and pulled out a basket. She put it on top of the thick mattress, pushing aside the pillows to do so. Began to sort through the items of clothing inside it. She did her best to look around without seeming to do so. The girls who were in the room were asleep, and there was no sign of Tameri anywhere.

It was possible that the Pharaoh's wife was inside the forbidden room. She hesitated, her hands shaking as she folded the scarves and veils, the shifts and the long strips of silk that she had become adept at winding around her body.

Making no sound at all, she tiptoed to the wooden divider. The door was closed. If Tameri were inside, the door would be open. Tameri never closed the door when she was inside.

Trembling fingers reached for the handle that would open the door. She pulled her hand back, clenched her fingers in to a fist. No, she must look. For Mdjai. Even though he hadn't told her why it was important that she look, she knew instinctively that it was. He had been kind to her...gentle with her feelings. He could have taken her, demanded whatever he wanted from her, and she would have had no choice but to comply. Instead, he had treated her with kindness, helping her apply the healing balm to her wounds. She would do this for him.

Taking a deep breath, she grabbed the handle. Eased the door open. Stuck her head inside long enough to glance around. Felt a wave of bitter disappointment. It was not a shrine to Isis! There was nothing in the room to mark it as being a holy place where Isis would abide! The walls were devoid of markings of any sort. Just a simple lamp that flickered slightly from where it hung, a narrow cot, the satin coverlet draped half onto the floor. There was a lingering smell of perfume...something sweet, it reminded her of flowers. But the room was empty. With a sigh, she closed the door gently, peeked around the divider to make certain her actions had remained unnoticed, then hurried back to her bed. She took the basket under one arm, and nearly ran from the room.

One of the girls had raised her head just as Sheriti picked up the basket. She smiled. It seemed that her sister of the harem had found another room in which to live. The girl wished for a moment that she would be so lucky as to be given to one of the guards. Then she would need never live in dread of being called to serve the Pharaoh. She stretched slightly, wincing as her wounds protested, then closed her eyes once more. Sleep was her only refuge now.

Sheriti slipped into Mdjai's room, Put the basket beside the bed. "It is not a shrine to Isis," she said softly.

Teal'c jerked slightly. "What did you see?"

The slave shrugged. "Just a room. There were no wall paintings. A single lamp. An empty cot. That is all." She frowned.

"What is wrong?"

"There was...perfume...in the air. I have never before smelled anything like it. It was very...nice. It reminded me of flowers."

His heart began pounding. Although none of the women she worked with seemed to notice the sweet...and unique...scent that surrounded Casey, he knew that they believed it to be nothing more than the shampoo she used, or the perfume that she wore. His young friend had commented several times on the questions from female SG team members regarding the fragrances she preferred. If Sheriti had noticed the scent, he would wager that Casey had been in that room.

"Tameri goes into the room alone, but only for a moment or two. I don't understand, there is no reason to enter there for even such a short time," the slave continued, her frown deepening.

"There would be if she were checking on an occupant. I believe there was a woman kept there as a prisoner. Tameri was apparently making certain she still lived. If she is no longer there, she has been moved," Teal'c said, his heart in his throat. If the daemons were aware that at least he had full access to his memories, it was possible that they had moved Casey to prevent him from trying to free her. Or, his mind offered, she woke up, the mental block failing in her mind as those had in the minds of her teammates, and she had escaped. Either of those possibilities came with their own set of concerns. If she had been moved, they would waste valuable time, and possibly risk exposing themselves, by seeking to learn where she had been taken. If she had escaped...how were they to find her? It would be impossible!

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Daniel made his way back to the library, bitter disappointment his companion as he walked. The fact that Teal'c had been able to slip up on him was testament to his inability to be stealthy and work alone. He just wasn't like Teal'c, or Jack; who could work alone, with no one the wiser of their presence, and neither of them ever forgot to watch their back. He shuddered to think what might have happened had any other palace guard, or even a slave or servant, found him lurking outside of the harem.

His single-minded goal, to find Casey, had been his sole focus. And, he had failed. Miserably. To have been so damned close...he knew he had been. His gut told him he'd been within feet of her. Mere feet. Possibly nothing more than a wall between them, and he'd failed to find her, failed to save her. Again. Danny, you are a colossal incompetent when it comes to keeping your Wife safe. A thought that made his heartbreak all the worse.

Akhum had been watching carefully, preventing anyone from entering the room where Suten Alu supposedly worked. Declaring that the man must remain undisturbed in order to complete his task. When he saw Daniel slip back into the room, he hurried to speak with him, this man who was his enemy, but the only man he could trust. Not, Akhum thought, a situation to which he was accustomed.

Daniel dropped onto the stool beside the table, folded his arms on the polished surface and buried his face. So damned close! His heart cried out to her...for her. His fear now was that the daemons would move her, especially when...for he had no doubt that the Beings would soon realize that SG-1 was no longer under their control...the team began to search diligently for her. His greatest fear, however, was that the daemons would kill her...and do so in a very permanent way. He nearly jumped out of his skin when a hand touched his shoulder.

"What did you learn, Suten Alu?" Akhum asked quietly.

"Not much," he muttered. "All I know for certain is that there are Beings, my Wife believes they are daemons, who are holding us here. On the astral plane, where the Ascended reside."

"I do not know of these 'Ascended'," Akhum replied.

"There are those who, when they face their death, are offered the choice of ascension," Daniel explained. "Rather than going to...wherever it is that our spirits go when we die...one of the other levels of existence, I suppose...they choose to ascend."

Akhum frowned. "I think I understand. Is this what happened to me?"

Daniel's frown matched that of the man beside him. Somehow, he didn't think many Jaffa would be offered the chance to ascend. Which meant...

Like a light bulb coming on above his head, Daniel finally understood how there could be so many people in the city. They had been taken, possibly as their spirits moved from the level of mortals to that level where they would remain; whether it be heaven or hell, he thought, would probably depend on the perception of the individual. And somehow he knew, he understood, that they were trapped in this illusion. Prisoners just the same as he and his teammates. "I think, if my friends and I are successful, you'll leave here, and probably remember everything from your life," he said.

"This would be a good thing," Akhum replied.

"Maybe not," Daniel murmured. He knew the guilt that Teal'c carried for the deeds done while in service to Apophis, no more free to refuse than any other slave who served the Goa'uld.

"What will you do now?"

Daniel looked toward the passageway just outside of the room. Sunlight reflected on the marble floor. "For now, I'll write out what I saw at the festival."

"And later?" Akhum asked, understanding the insinuation.

"Later, I'll try again to find my Wife, and a way out of this place."

With a nod, the man turned to leave. "If I do not see you again, Suten Alu, I wish you well."

"Thank you, Akhum," Daniel said quietly. Returned the nod of acknowledgment that passed between him and the man who didn't belong here any more than he did. With a sigh, he pulled a sheet of papyrus toward him. Might as well do what he'd been tasked to do. Maybe another bout of enlightenment would come his way, and he could figure out how to find and save Casey.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Iteti whistled as he worked, hammering out a piece of copper that would soon be a lovely cooking pot. He'd always enjoyed working with his hands, creating things. An artist. That's what he'd wanted to be. But his father had had other plans for him. He was to follow the footsteps of his father, and his father's father, and his father before him. And serve in the army of the Sultan. He'd managed to find a position in a supply depot, and had spent the duration of his enlistment there. His father had been...disappointed. Then furious when he'd found similar work in the Sultan's household, rather than returning home to work for the family farm. He'd broken free of his father. But had never been able to fulfill his dream of being an artist.

He looked over at where Sammy knelt by a bed of hot coals, carefully heating the wood, pouring water on it to keep it from catching fire. Slowly bending it to the shape she wanted. Just as she was bending him. Changing his shape. Mibi still hadn't contacted him, he was still waiting to give his report. It wouldn't surprise him to learn that Mibi's prolonged silence was due to his preoccupation with the whores in the harem that had been created. That Being had a voracious appetite for women.

It had been centuries since he had truly felt anything other than frustration, anger; the seeming futility of his existence weighing down upon him like a millstone around his neck. Then Mibi had appeared to him. Spoken to him. Lured him with sweet words of freedom. Of taking what was rightfully his. He was, after all, an Ascended Being. Wasn't it only right that he receive that which he deserved?

How long had it taken before he realized that Mibi had no intention of sharing his power, of sharing the...worship...that would be demanded of the 'lesser beings'; that he had every intention of keeping his 'associates' submissive to him? A century? A millennia perhaps? How many times had he contemplated turning himself over to the Committee, just to end the damned agony of being nothing more than a lackey for a crazed Being? Was it possible for an Ascended Being to be insane? Mibi certainly was, Iteti had no doubt of that.

In the time he'd wandered the stars, learned the curves and angles and hiding places of the universe, Iteti had learned about the dark levels. Places where pure evil existed. Places where nothing that lived wanted to be...places where nothing that lived could survive. Places that were the basis for every story, every myth, every whispered warning of hell that existed. And he learned how those who occupied the dark levels had come to be there. And how a few had managed to escape.

There were stories of the Beings who had witnessed the very birth of the universe. And the great split that had occurred among them. There were those who believed their purpose was to observe. Others believed their purpose was to guide the lower life forms that were springing to life, and to do so gently...unobtrusively. Still others believed that their purpose was to be worshipped. That the power that flowed through them was strengthened through the faith the lower beings offered.

The struggle between these Beings rocked the entire universe. Planets, moons, entire solar systems were destroyed as the three factions warred between themselves. Finally the stronger two factions joined together. And defeated the third. That group was consigned to a small section of space...dark, cold, empty. Left alone to howl in the darkness at the loss of their power, stripped of all but the most basic of their abilities.

In a compromise, the two victorious groups agreed to remain apart. The most powerful became those who moved about on the highest levels of existence. Those Beings created that place where the souls of those who left the mortal plane of existence were welcomed, were safe. Which left The Others. They helped to create the level of the Ascended, bringing those they deemed worthy onto the plane, teaching them the Rules of the Nine Levels. All of them observing...always watching. But never interfering...a compromise that was more edict than actual agreement, handed down by the Highest of the Beings.

Who knew how long before the anger, the bitterness, the hatred of what had been done to them turned the once benevolent if a bit narcissistic Beings - those who had lost their bid for ultimate control - into the evil that now existed. Even though the Beings were closely watched, and their powers limited, they were able to move about, to a certain extent. Like those who wished to guide the mortal beings who were emerging on several planets across the galaxy...the result of the battle that had been fought, the scattering of the seeds of life, planted with the very essences of the Beings who were destroyed...the evil ones also appeared to individuals, even groups.

Free to respond to a summons by name, these Beings, with their twisted thoughts and drive for revenge, whispered into the ears of mortals; made certain that they were afforded the movement they needed. Stories of angels and demons were told among the mortal realm, more real than any of the simple humans would ever realize. And those of higher levels...watched...observed. When those who were punished began to sow the seeds of discontent among those they could reach, Beings from every level watched...observed. Waited for those whose very ranks were polluted by the touch of evil to reach out and scrub away that touch. Waited...watched...observed...while those in the mortal realm suffered and became slaves and died, all the result of that touch of evil. Watched...observed...as the ranks of that evil swelled with the souls of those who left the mortal plane.

Mibi had been a man once...a living, breathing soul who had walked on a tiny blue and white planet, one of the first to call it home. He had been among the first offered Ascension by those who already dwelt on that plane. He had joined the ranks of the Ascended shortly after another split, when those who sympathized, even agreed with the 'fallen' who had been cast out, were sent to the farthest reaches of the universe. Bitter lessons had been learned from the Fallen. This group was tightly controlled. This new group of 'wayward believers' were unable to move out of what was their prison. But Mibi embraced their ideas, their beliefs, in spite of the danger of being forced to join them in exile. He had moved carefully, slowly. Building his network of followers with precision. Growing ever stronger as those followers gave their allegiance, their...worship...to him.

Iteti wondered how long it would be before the group that had influenced Mibi with their beliefs broke free as well. Perhaps Mibi would free them, declare himself their 'god' as well as the 'god' for the mortals. He paused again in his work to study the blonde who struggled to wrap the wood around one of the chariot wheels. He looked around. Illusion or reality...for him, this would be heaven. If he could remain right here, with her, he would live out eternity completely happy. He didn't care what happened elsewhere. It no longer mattered to him.


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