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The air was pierced with the sounds of five alarms going off simultaneously. Janet jumped to her feet, ran into the main room of the infirmary. Jill and two medics were already checking the equipment.
"What's going on?" Janet demanded, pulling her stethoscope from around her neck, heading for Colonel O'Neill's bed.
"Increased respiration," Jill reported. "They're breathing hard."
"They're running. Or fighting," Janet murmured. It seemed that the wait was just about over. "Oxygen masks on all of them. Stay alert. I want any and all bruises or wounds noted as soon as they appear."
Heads nodded around the room.
"Someone let General Hammond know," Janet tossed over her shoulder. Jack's heartbeat was hard, fast, but steady.
A A A A A A
First smiled. "It begins."
"They will prevail," Second predicted, the confidence in her voice buoying the spirits of her companions.
Third's smile matched that of First. "I do believe you're right."
"We observe," First said firmly. "Nothing more."
"Ferretti would bet," Second said, her eyes twinkling.
Third and First laughed out loud.
A A A A A A
The tiny, wrinkled woman pushed impatiently at a lock of white hair that had fallen over her shoulder. "It's about time," she grumbled.
"It will be over, soon," the taller, dark haired woman replied. She tried to mask the worry that she felt. The fate of an entire universe was hanging in the balance. A crushing weight of responsibility on the shoulders of one man. She watched, then nodded her head slowly. He did not bear the weight alone.
A A A A A A
He watched as the players in the game began to move, like dancers in an intricate ballet. Only two groups were aware of one another. The others...he smiled. What an interesting development. That they had been willing to...assist...had been a surprise. However, the battle that must be fought could only consist of the two. It was up to him to see that no rules regarding the conflict were broken. No matter the outcome.
A A A A A A
Daniel led the way into the city. Avoided the wide boulevard that would take them to the even wider, main avenue of the city. He hadn't wandered much, but enough to know that he could get to the Library by taking the more narrow side streets.
"Just where are we going?" Jack asked.
"Library. Hidden passages," Daniel replied.
Three men approached their position, which at that moment was flattened against the wall of one of the weaver's shops. The sashes across their bare chests identified them as the local equivalent of law enforcement.
"Crap!" Casey whispered, instinctively crouching low.
"What?" Jack asked, ducking down as well. Daniel, Sam, and Teal'c followed suit.
"Cops. Probably still looking for me." She felt more than saw that the eyes of her teammates were focused on her. Which left her to keep an eye on those men, who were getting closer with every breath she took.
"Radar, what did you do?"
"Well, as soon as I-" A finger against her lips gently stopped her explanation.
"Later," Daniel said. He had to stop that inevitable flow of words now, or they'd be discovered.
The team fell silent as the men drew closer. Waited...watched...willed the guards to continue walking. If not for the barking of a dog somewhere just behind the wall beside which they were hiding, huddled in the shadows, the men would have walked past the team. But the sound drew the attention of one of the men. His eyes moved over the wall. Took note of the irregularities. He called to his companions.
"Crap," Jack whispered.
The team waited, watching to see what the men would do. It seemed that the three hadn't noticed the entire team, only Daniel and Casey. Which was unfortunate. Because she was immediately recognized as the accomplice to the young thief who had escaped earlier in the day.
"Thief! You are commanded to step forward!"
Well, shit! Casey slowly rose to her feet. "I can explain...see, I was going to pay for that little boy's apples, but I dropped my earring, and that bastard merchant wouldn't give me a chance to find it-"
Daniel started. Thought of the earring he had discovered laying in the dust when he had gone looking for something to eat...how long after the confrontation had he arrived? Minutes? Hours? "I suppose you took off running?"
Casey glanced down at her husband. "Well, duh. These guys don't have Miranda Rights, or the concept of 'innocent until proven guilty'. I kinda need both hands, ya know!"
He couldn't help the snort of amusement that slipped out. He stood to his feet. "I am Suten Alu. Scribe of the Pharaoh. I'll pay this woman's fine."
The law enforcer looked Daniel over. Noted the gold rings on his kilt. "You must come with me. The merchant must be awakened. If he is willing to take payment from you, it will be done."
Jack remained in the shadows, rolling his eyes. They really didn't have time for this. Better to just knock those three out and get the hell out of town. Which, his brain reminded him, hadn't exactly worked out when they had tried to do just that.
It was then when their luck ran out completely. When the officer stepped forward, he saw Sam, Jack and Teal'c hiding as well. "You are Captain of the Guard!" he said, pointing at Teal'c. His hand went to the club that hung at his side. "You are Mdjai!"
"I am," Teal'c replied, rising to his feet.
The man's eyes narrowed with suspicion. "Why are you here? What business have you with the scribe, and the others?" he asked, motioning with his free hand toward Jack and Sam. Who were now standing as well.
"I see to the business of the Pharaoh," Teal'c said.
"What business of the Pharaoh would have you slinking about in the dark, with a known thief?" the second officer of the law asked, nodding at Casey.
"Who better to know where those who would move against the Pharaoh might hide themselves?" Teal'c asked nonchalantly.
The three men exchanged glances.
"If the Pharaoh can locate dissenters before they're able to stir up the people with their lies, life for all is more peaceful," Daniel added.
The third man looked at Daniel. "You are to record the names of those who are...discovered?"
"I am," Daniel replied, willing to play along with Teal'c's plan...whatever it was.
"We must be on our way, before those who conspire make good their escape," Teal'c said calmly.
"As keepers of the law, we should accompany you," the second man insisted.
"And then you would have to report all that you see and hear," Daniel argued. "Which would be counterproductive to the Pharaoh's plans."
"Ah, I understand," the third man nodded. He and his associates backed up a step. "We shall...forget...that this encounter took place."
It was obvious the first man wasn't as convinced as his partners. "What of the unpaid debt?"
Daniel tugged on two of the rings, found that they came loose rather easily. Pulled two more from the edge of the fabric. "One for the merchant, one for each of you. In restitution for the misunderstanding."
The man held out his hand.
"If I learn that the merchant has not been compensated, I will locate each of you," Teal'c said, his voice low.
"He will be paid," the third man promised. He took the rings from the first man, handed one back to him, gave one to the second man. "You have my word."
With a satisfied nod, Teal'c took Casey's arm, began to walk toward the main boulevard. Daniel immediately fell into step beside them. Jack tossed a look over his shoulder, Sam's hand in his, as they followed closely. The three men watched, then returned to their disrupted rounds.
"That was pleasant," Jack muttered, his tone of voice alerting his teammates that he thought the opposite.
"Could have been worse," Daniel replied. "They could have arrested us."
"Good point. Where are these 'hidden passages'?" Jack asked.
"Come on," Daniel said, leading the way. His arm went around Casey's shoulders. The guilt, the anger, the frustration of having missed finding her on the market street filling his heart and mind as he hurried her forward. When he looked over at her, saw the frown on her beautiful face, his heart lurched. Had she sensed that he'd arrived too late to save her...again? "Casey?"
"Doesn't 'Suten Alu' mean scribe?"
"Royal scribe, actually," he replied. His heart sighed with relief. Once again his shortcomings...the most unforgivable being his continued inability to keep her safe...seemed to be lost to her. His eyes moved to Teal'c. "Mdjai?"
Teal'c nodded. "I believe it means 'soldier'."
"It does," Daniel murmured. "Jack?"
"What did they call you?"
Daniel bit back his grin. "Rami...fisherman. Sam?"
"Um...my pronunciation is probably off, but it was 'Sm'n'khet'. He called me 'Sammy'."
"Interesting," Daniel mused. "Except for Sam, each of us was given a name that literally reflected the positions we had been put into. Sam is the only one whose new life was just far enough removed from what she was accustomed to that something more familiar was needed...and keeping her name, or the name used by her father, was the way to ease any of her doubts."
"Didn't work, though," Casey pointed out.
He smiled. "No, it didn't. Although we really don't know how long we've been here, how long before the doubts and the real memories started interfering with the mental blocks."
"I'm guessing that as soon as you woke up, you were doubting," Casey replied.
"Woke up?" Jack asked. Yep, that was exactly how he'd felt, sitting in that boat in the middle of the river. As if he'd just awakened.
"I know I was exhausted...fighting off Ba'al, trying to keep Dartal at bay until I could get Daniel off that damned ship-" Her voice caught, she lowered her head for a moment. Took a deep breath. "I woke up, and he started right in with the 'you've been so sick' routine. The minute I opened my eyes I knew something was wrong."
"So we've only been here for what...four days now?" Jack asked.
"Sounds like it," Daniel agreed. "Although how long it's been for the SGC is up for debate."
Jack frowned. Casey had told the team that for her, only a matter of two or three days had passed. Weeks had gone by for them as they searched for her. And she had been lying right beside that tree..."So...um...if we're here, are these our bodies, or are we laying passed out somewhere?"
Casey smiled over her shoulder at her CO. "With luck, General Hammond has already taken us home." She frowned. "That has to be the weirdest thing I've ever said!"
The teammates laughed quietly. Turning the corner onto the broad avenue that marched directly to the palace, the five moved like shadows, darting from tree to tree, until they were forced into the open to climb the steps of the library.
A A A A A A
The interior of the Library was pitch black. The eerie silence seemed to echo with a warning. "Wait here," Daniel instructed, hoping he could remember the exact location of the torch in the room where he had worked.
His hand on the wall, he followed it until it opened to the passageway that would lead to the room where he had worked. There should be a pillar about..."Ouch!"
"Danny?" Jack whispered loudly.
"I'm okay. Just banged my knee," he replied. The next pillar was...he put hand out...yep, there it was. Which meant the next doorway to the right was the room he wanted. He began to run his fingers up and down the wall in as much of a grid fashion as he could, not certain exactly how close to the door the torch had been. He let out a sigh of relief when he found it.
When he had the wooden post of the torch in his hand, his fingers confirming the presence of oil in the copper bowl, he realized he had absolutely no way of starting a flame. No matches, no flint...any such lighting tools would have been kept in the keeper's office somewhere, that man walking through the library and lighting each of the torches from his own.
His fingertips began to burn. Could he call up just enough of that blue flame to light the torch, without destroying it or the room around him? Only one way to find out, he thought. He took a deep breath. Tried to focus on just the tip of his right index finger. Felt the heat build...when it became painful, he released it. Watched the blue sparks dance over the surface of the oil. "Come on," he muttered. Grinned from ear to ear when the oil began to burn, and a bright flame flickered into existence.
Stepping into the hallway, he held the torch above his head. "This way."
Casey cocked her head to the side as soon as she was beside him. Smiled, took his hand, kissed the still cherry red tip of his finger. "You remembered."
"Remembered what?" he asked, slightly confused.
"That you're The One."
He grimaced. At the moment, that fact was a bit hard to ignore, no matter how much he'd prefer to do just that.
"I don't get it," Jack said, looking from one Jackson face to the other.
"Never mind," Daniel mumbled. "The passage is back here."
"What makes you think it will be safe?" Sam asked.
Daniel stopped midway through the room, turned to look at his teammate. He frowned. "I-I really don't know. I just...feel it."
Sam smiled, nodded. Moving closer, she wrapped one hand around his arm, squeezed gently, reassuringly. "Then we'd better get there."
Jack and Teal'c exchanged a look. "Radar, tell me about Sam."
Casey's eyes went wide. "Do what?"
"Tell me about Sam," Jack repeated. He didn't want to go into details. Not if Carter had been compromised. If the daemons were going to use her to track their movements, she was a liability. He'd just have to knock her out for the duration. Not something he wanted to do. But all five lives depended on him doing what had to be done.
For a moment Casey was speechless. What on earth was Jack going on about? Tell him what about Sam? That she had been taken prisoner by daemons? That she had managed to break the mental block down, only to be recaptured, and the block put back...oh. She looked at her best friend. Smiled brightly. "You know, the oddest thing just occurred to me."
"What?" Sam asked.
"I was just wondering if the Egyptians have leather boots."
Sam grinned from ear to ear, a knowing glint shining in her eyes. "How'd that work out, the whole 'leather experience'? We never had a chance to discuss it."
"She's fine," Casey declared.
Jack sighed. "Okay, want to explain it to me?"
"Not really. But, since you won't be satisfied until I do, Sam told me about the leather outfit she wore for you."
Even in the dim light of the torch it was possible to see the immediate flush on Jack's cheeks.
"She liked the idea," Sam said, grinning at Daniel. "Although Case made a few...modifications...to my idea. So, how did it work out?"
Daniel hissed a breath as memories of Casey, clad in nothing but a leather corset and leather boots rushed forward in his mind. His body responded to those memories in an instant. "It was great," he managed to say.
Casey giggled. "I'll tell you more later. Now, we hide."
Jack turned to Daniel. "Leather boots?"
"Little top and leather skirt?"
"And what else?"
Jack's eyes flickered to Casey. "Whoa."
"You're telling me? Damned near died," Daniel snorted.
"Uh, guys? Hide? Now? Daemons? Remember?" Casey said, both hands on her slender hips.
Daniel took a deep breath, pushed aside the tantalizing images of his Wife in that mind-blowing outfit, and led the way to the wall behind the table where he had sat working for two days. "There has to be a latch here somewhere," he murmured, running his fingers over the hieroglyphs.
Understanding what he was looking for, Teal'c moved closer, his hands moving over the wall as well.
"Found it," Daniel announced, his finger on the raised ankh in one of the pictographs. He pressed. Felt a slight 'click' more than heard it. Pushed against the wall, and watched it open just enough to slip through into a dank passageway. "Teal'c there's another torch over there, we should probably use it."
The Jaffa nodded, found the torch and hurried to retrieve it. The sound of footsteps had the entire team turning to look toward the front of the room, straining to see beyond the pillars and into the dark corridor. Moving with the stealth of a cat, Teal'c returned to where the team waited.
By the time the guard entered the room - certain that he'd seen the flickering of a torch in a chamber that should be dark and empty this time of night - the wall was firmly back in place.
Teal'c lit the torch he held from the one that burned in Daniel's hand. The two offered enough light to see that the hidden passage led down. That they hadn't fallen down the stairs upon exiting the room as quickly as they had was simple, dumb luck.
There was something about this place, Casey thought, following closely behind Daniel, his hand behind him, holding her fingers tightly. She tried to isolate just what it was that was bothering her about the narrow and steep stairwell. "No hum!"
"What?" Daniel stopped, turned to look at her. She'd explained to him, or rather, had tried to explain to him, the fact that she heard a constant 'hum' from the world around her, for her it was nothing more than 'white noise' that was always there. That the change in that sound was one of the first signals that something was wrong. He still didn't fully understand. But then, he realized that he never would fully comprehend the gift that his Wife possessed. "Blocked?"
"Nope. I could hear it...well, it's different for the astral plane, but it's there," she replied. "Here, there's...nothing." She stopped to 'listen'. Frowned deeply. "It's been a long time since I've heard nothing but silence," she whispered.
Jack cleared his throat. "So, what does all that mean?"
"Are we still on the astral plane?" Sam asked nervously. She had reached for Jack's hand automatically, felt the warmth of his fingers as they closed around hers.
"I think so," Daniel replied. There was something...if he could just focus on it... Snapped his fingers when the thought he'd struggled to isolate fell into place. "Case, could it be that this place is like the SGC...shielded from the outside?"
Sam nodded, understanding the analogy. "That's a good guess."
"Could be," Casey replied. She'd been blocked; totally, completely blocked from the time the mission had been approved right up to that very moment. Or at least, she thought she was still blocked. She closed her eyes. Reached out. Felt herself pulled forward, and then lifted into the air. The familiar feeling had been missing - or hindered - for so long that she was momentarily surprised. She looked around her, then down at the small dot of light beneath her feet. Moved closer to see what it was. The light became the city that the daemons had created. She could see the buildings shimmer. There were so many lights! No...those weren't lights! "Holy Hannah!" she breathed.
"What?" Daniel asked. He handed the torch to Sam, who stood behind Casey on the steps. He pulled his shaking Wife into his arms as much as possible, ran his hand slowly, gently up and down her back. "Tell me what you see," he commanded softly, tenderly.
"So many lights," she whispered. "Except, they're not lights."
"What are they?"
"Beings. Some of them are Ancients. Some are Ascended. There are a few others...from other levels...higher levels. Some are...dark...dark red lights. Evil."
Casey shook her head. "No. Different. Worse. Watching."
"Anyone else here?" Daniel asked.
"Yes. They're here. They're watching, waiting. This is...the battle you face...it's-" Her eyes flew open. "The final showdown. This is it. If you lose, there will be a battle for control that will rage on every level of existence. Chances are Earth won't survive. Don't know how many other planets and solar systems will be destroyed."
His heart nearly stopped beating. His blood seemed to run cold in his veins as the weight of what he faced began to push down on him. "Oh, god," he muttered. Nothing like a little pressure to add to the moment. Just the fate of the whole freaking universe...on every known damned level of existence!
Casey wreathed his face with her hands. Held his gaze with her own. "You can do this, Daniel. You're The One. You have the strength. We're here with you, you won't face this alone."
"Damned straight," Jack mumbled. He didn't fully understand all of this astro turf stuff. He did understand 'final showdown'. And that losing was not a good thing.
Daniel continued to watch Casey. Noted the change in her eyes, the way her gaze seemed just a bit unfocused. He'd seen that look once before. When she had begged him to fight against Anubis. If he was right, she was now his Guide, and would remain in the...trance?...state of being?...that she was in until whatever he had to face was over. He spared a glance at Jack. "Whatever she says, do it. No questions, no hesitation."
"Daniel?" Jack asked.
"She's my Guide, Jack," Daniel explained softly. "And right now she's...guiding."
The older man nodded his understanding.
Daniel's attention returned to his Wife. "What is this place?"
"Cal mah. Sanctuary. A place to gather your strength."
"How long can I remain here?"
"Only until you understand that which you must do," she said softly, in an almost monotone manner.
With a nod, still holding her hand, Daniel held out his hand for the torch. Took it from Sam, held it high enough so that they could see where they were going, and continued down the stairs.
The room at the bottom of the steps was small. Empty. Cold. The teammates looked around, Casey remained standing in the middle of the room where Daniel had led her. She looked around uncertainly.
"Okay, Angel, I need to know just exactly what to expect," Daniel said.
"The battle will be fought in the place of their choosing."
"That can be a disadvantage," Jack said immediately.
Daniel nodded his agreement. "Can I change that? Can I determine where the battle will be fought?"
"Destroy the city."
He barely refrained from rolling his eyes. Sure. Destroy the city. No problem. Just whip out a few blue fireballs, blow everything up and burn it down. Simple.
Daniel started. "The city is an illusion."
"I can destroy the illusion?"
"Just how am I supposed to do that?"
"See it for what it truly is."
Again with the damned Oma-esque mumbo jumbo! It was a good thing there wasn't a time limit on this deal, because if he had to understand what was going on before the battle began, at this rate he was going to take awhile!
"Don't look with your eyes. Look with your heart."
Daniel puffed out his cheeks, blew out a heavy sigh. "Okay. It's all an illusion. I get that. I just don't understand how I'm supposed to destroy an entire city, even if it is an illusion."
A A A A A A
Iteti looked around in frustration. "I cannot see them."
"Neither can I," Kawit admitted.
"We'll have to search street by street, building by building," Yuya sighed.
"I do not understand how they managed to break free," Tameri muttered, not for the first time.
"We are dealing with The One, and his Guide. And the Protectors," Kawit replied. "Mibi was wrong in believing the mortal humans too weak, unable to comprehend."
"If The One has the powers that myths and prophecies foretell, he will not be easy to defeat," Iteti said.
"He is but one. We are four. We will defeat him," Yuya replied easily. "We might as well start with this barn."
A A A A A A
He had been pacing. His teammates were sitting on the cold stone floor, watching him, tossing out ideas, trying to help him figure out the puzzle that lay before all of them. He stopped, looked at Casey. "What?"
"Use the illusion."
"That's not any more helpful than the other tidbits you've spouted off."
"Sorry, I just deliver the messages, I don't write them," she retorted. Responded to his apologetic grin with a bright smile.
His head was down, chin on his chest, eyes closed as he tried to recall any and all myths that dealt with fighting or defeating demons...and daemons.
"Too bad we can't just wear them out before you have to face them," Jack sighed.
Daniel's head came up. "What?"
"I said it's too bad we can't just wear them out."
"They have to exert power to keep this illusion intact," Daniel said slowly.
"Makes sense," Jack replied. As much as anything else here did, he thought.
"What if we make them hunt for us? Casey, can they just 'see' us wherever we are?"
"No. Without the mental blocks, they have no connection to us."
Daniel grinned. "Okay, so we go out there, make certain they catch sight of us, and then we play hide-and-go seek."
"Which accomplishes what, exactly? Besides putting us at risk of being recaptured and those metal block thingy's put back into our heads?" Jack asked.
"I know it's a risk. But it's the only way I can think of to destroy the city."
"How long will it take?"
"I have no idea," Daniel said, his eyes going to Casey.
"Don't know," she said, shrugging.
"I just want to go on record right now saying that I hate this idea," Jack said, pulling himself to his feet.
"I'm not so crazy about it myself," Daniel replied softly. "To be honest, I'd rather not be here at all. But..." he shrugged helplessly.
"We're here for you, Danny," Jack said quietly.
"We could split up, then meet back at that barn," Sam suggested.
Daniel and Jack shared uneasy glances.
"I propose that Daniel Jackson take Casey Jackson and go in one direction, O'Neill, you and Major Carter go in another, and I will return to the palace."
He was certain that he knew the reason for the return visit. "What happens if you can't get out again?" Daniel asked.
"Only the daemons know that this is all an illusion. Those inside the illusion are living what they believe to be reality," Teal'c said. "They will see only Mdjai, Captain of the Guard, most trusted of Pharaoh."
Daniel nodded his head. "Be careful."
Teal'c smiled. "Always."
"Be certain, Daniel. Once we leave here, sanctuary will not be available again," Casey warned.
"We have to face them sometime. Might as well get it over with," he said.
"Lead the way," Jack said. He took Sam's hand. "Stay close, Carter. Don't want to lose you a third time."
She smiled. "Like a burr on a wool sock."
The team shared a moment of silent determination, then began the long climb back to the Library. It was going to be a very...interesting...night.
It was a bit nerve wracking, opening the 'wall' and entering the room with absolutely no idea who or what might be waiting for them. Luck was with them, and the room was empty, other than the long table and its stacks of scrolls. Daniel wondered just what he might have found in them, what secrets might have been revealed to him, a simple scribe in an Egyptian city...illusion or not. "Casey and I will go to the house where I was...where I supposedly lived," Daniel whispered.
Jack nodded. "We'll check out the storage yards. Let's plan to meet at the barn in a couple of hours."
"Be careful," Casey said, taking Teal'c's hand, holding it gently between her own. "Not all souls can be saved. Decisions were made long ago and now the consequences must be faced."
She was still speaking as Daniel's Guide, he realized. That fact did not make what he heard any easier to accept. "I will join you soon," he replied.
"Teal'c...she's not Sha're," Daniel said quietly. "Don't risk your life for an illusion."
The Jaffa gave a small smile. "I will not put my life in danger, this I promise you."
"All right, campers," Jack said, making a note that he'd be asking for clarification on that little exchange just as soon as this was all over, "keep an eye on the moon. When it's dropped ten degrees, we head for the barn."
Three heads bobbed up and down in understanding.
"And we do not do anything that will result in getting our heads messed with again, got it?"
"Loud and clear, boss."
"Good. Move out." Nothing in all of the years he'd been working at the SGC could have prepared him for this. Standing on the brink of what sounded like the end of the universe if they screwed up. The bulk of the responsibility resting squarely on the broad shoulders of his best friend. He couldn't even conceive of how damned heavy that burden must be. He'd do whatever he could to help, even though he had no clue just what that might be. "Let's go, Carter."
They hurried back the way the team had come an hour or so earlier. "Colonel, just what did you see? At that villa, when you and Teal'c rescued me?" Sam asked softly.
"Not much. Teal'c-" He broke off. Grateful that his best friend had spared him that heartache. Now he understood exactly how thankful Daniel was that Teal'c had been the one to rescue Casey from Ba'al in that castle of horrors. "Teal'c was over the wall first."
"I was...I was half dressed," she murmured.
"You were mostly out your mind, too," he tossed back. Paused and frowned. "That didn't sound right."
Sam smiled. "I know what you mean."
Jack glanced around, then stopped. Turned her to face him, his hands on her shoulders. "Sam, this is nothing more than a very whacked out dream. Nothing that happens here is even real. So don't worry about it."
They continued up the street, watching the shadows, expecting to come face to face with the daemons at any moment.
"Ya know, I do have to admit, I would have liked to finish off my fishing poles. See what I could have caught."
"We'll get up to the cabin when the weather warms up," Sam said.
"Really? You'd go up there and fish with me?"
Sam grinned. "I'll go to the cabin with you."
Jack's smile lit his face. "Good enough."
The winding streets were dark and silent as Daniel led Casey toward the modest home where he was supposedly the son of a former scribe. He glanced at her, the shadows cast by the buildings that surrounded them hiding her face completely. He took a deep breath. "So, can you forgive me?"
"I wasn't there to help you...either time."
Casey stopped walking. "I have no clue what you're talking about."
"You were unconscious in that palace...at least I hope to god that's all that was going on. I tried to find you, got as far as the harem when Teal'c saw me."
"You risked sneaking into the palace to find me?"
"I had to," he said softly. Wasn't prepared when she threw her arms around his neck. He stumbled backward a step, his arms locking around her slender frame automatically.
"That is the most awesome thing you could ever had done," she whispered.
"Too bad I didn't succeed," he replied dryly.
"There you go again, not looking at what you did, and what you accomplished," she lovingly admonished. "And what did you mean...'either time'?"
"I found the earring you dropped. Bought a bowl of soup with it."
"That lentil soup, I think it had chicken in it?"
"That's the stuff."
"Delicious, wasn't it?"
"I've had better. I prefer your butter bean so-"
Her lips cut off his compliment. She tried desperately to pour her love, her thanks, her adoration, her appreciation...all of the emotions racing through her at that moment...into him through her kiss.
When he was finally able to force himself to break away, he grinned at her. "I guess I'm forgiven, huh?"
"Daniel, there was never anything to forgive," she said softly. "Hope you have some cash on hand. When we get home," she clarified, smiling up at him.
"I'm sure I can come up with a dollar or two," he teased, even as his heart soared and his body throbbed with anticipation.
"Until then, Stud Muffin, let's see if we can't find a daemon or two to tag 'it'."
Hand in hand, the two made their way deeper into the residential section of the city.
Teal'c slipped into the palace, hid behind one of the large pillars, taking note of which guards were on duty. Satisfied that his presence would be noted but not questioned, he strode toward two of the men.
"Mdjai! Where have you been? The Pharaoh has been calling for you!" one of the guards exclaimed.
"I had reason to believe there was a traitor among us. I was seeking confirmation," Teal'c replied calmly.
The two guards nodded. "Your orders?"
"Return to your positions. I shall speak with the Pharaoh at once."
Hands on their swords, the two marched down the corridor to stand sentry duty at door that led to the Pharaoh's wing of the palace. Teal'c hurried toward the Pharaoh's chambers. Entered slowly. "My Lord?"
The Pharaoh looked up from where he lay on the bed, two harem slaves flanking him. His eyes narrowed. "I have been searching for you."
Hardly, Teal'c thought, barely keeping his face from revealing his disgust. Others had been searching for him, no doubt. The Pharaoh had been...indulging, it would seem. "I beg your forgiveness, My Lord. I overheard a conversation between two priests that warranted my attention."
Mibi smiled. Yes, Tameri was correct. The Jaffa was so deeply enmeshed in the illusion that he was behaving exactly as the very loyal Captain of the Guard should. No doubt there had been a bit of whispering go on. From what he had been told, the intrigue that filled the Pharaoh's palace was a never-ending drama. Plots and subplots, schemes and double-crosses. Perhaps he would linger here, just for awhile, to enjoy the intrigue, and to watch as the former First Prime of Apophis served him just as faithfully. "You are indeed loyal, Mdjai."
"It is my honor to serve." He nearly choked on the words.
"I summoned you because there will be a delegation from Lebanon arriving within the next day or so. Accommodations will need to be arranged for, as well as protection for these dignitaries." The 'delegation' were actually Beings who had managed to slip past their 'keepers'. Mibi had hopes that they would vow their loyalty to him, giving him indirect access to an army of daemons, and actual demons, that would rip the Ascended to pieces.
"Will they not have their own bodyguards?" Teal'c asked.
"Oh, I'm certain they will. However, I want to make certain that those bodyguards, and servants, aren't wandering the palace at will, following whatever devious instructions given to them by their masters."
"Yes, My Lord. I'll see to it right away."
"Nonsense. It's been a long day. You've been busy protecting me and my family. Go, find comfort in the arms of your gift."
The smile that the Pharaoh bestowed upon him made his blood run cold. "Yes, My Lord."
"You may go," Mibi said, waving a hand dismissively. "Now, where were we?" he asked the young brunette at his side.
Teal'c backed out of the room. Hurried to his chambers. There had been something...odd...about the entire conversation. He had believed that the Pharaoh was a daemon. But he was behaving as if he didn't know that the members of SG-1 had broken down the mental walls that had held back their true memories. Was it possible that there was another who was the daemon? That the Pharaoh was merely a part of the illusion?
He opened the door. Stared at the woman in his bed.
Sheriti sat up on the bed, blinking sleepily. "Mdjai?"
"I apologize for disturbing you," he said quietly. Was this woman a daemon? It was possible, he supposed. But why appear to him in the form of Sha're, if not to trick him into taking Daniel Jackson's first wife from him a second time? There was no other explanation for her appearance.
She wasn't with him continually. However, the daemons who were tasked to watch Daniel Jackson and O'Neill had not been with them all the time. He couldn't stop the frown that moved across his face.
"Have I displeased you?" Sheriti asked, her voice soft.
"Do you play games with me? You know that I am no longer under your control," Teal'c said coldly.
Sheriti's eyes widened slightly. "Games? Control? Mdjai, what is wrong? Why do you ask such questions?"
"I returned to the palace with the intention of freeing you," Teal'c said.
"I would see you safely to the gate of the city, so that you might return to your people, your family."
Sheriti jumped from the bed, rushed forward and threw her arms around his waist, pressed her cheek against his chest. "Thank you! Whatever you wish from me..." She stepped back, dropped her robe, exposing her body. "The healing balm, and rest, have taken away the pain. I know that the marks remain, but if my body pleases you, even in its battered condition, take me as you will."
The frown deepened. Surely if Sheriti was the daemon, she would insist on remaining with him. "And when I have taken my pleasure?"
"Then I will leave here knowing that not all Egyptian soldiers are the cruel beasts that my people perceive them to be."
He cupped her cheek gently. His heart insisting that Sheriti was not a daemon. He wasn't entirely sure that she could ever leave the city; it hadn't been possible for him or his teammates. But he would make the attempt to free her. "Dress, and gather what you wish to take with you."
"You do not find me pleasing," she said softly...sadly.
"You are a beautiful woman, Sheriti. Your...charms...enough to light the fire in my body, and my heart. But it is not to be. Nor will I take what can never be mine," Teal'c said softly.
"How can you take, when I have offered? Speak the words and I'll stay with you."
Teal'c pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Hurry, there isn't much time. Be certain you have enough to buy food and water on your journey."
Sheriti tugged her robe back over her shoulders, then pulled her basket of belongings from beneath the bed. Opened a small leather bag, dumped it onto the bed. There were several necklaces, earrings, bracelets...all items she had worn for the Pharaoh. She didn't know if she had been expected to return the lovely pieces of jewelry. Now she was quite relieved that she hadn't. "I have enough," she said quietly, scooping it items back into the bag.
He gave a sharp nod of understanding. "We must not let anyone know we are leaving the palace."
"Then how are we to escape?"
Leading her to the window, he crawled through the opening, held his hand out to help her. "We must remain silent from this moment on. Once you are outside of the city, run until you can run no longer."
"I understand," she whispered. "Thank you, Mdjai. For all that you have done for me. Never will I forget your face, nor your name."
Teal'c smiled. Then led her toward the palace gate, staying low, noting with approval that she mimicked his every move. Even if she was nothing more than an illusion, knowing that he had helped this woman, who looked so like Daniel Jackson's Sha're, would give him a modicum of peace.
Dashing through the silent, empty streets, Teal'c led Sheriti up the wide boulevard, directly to the massive gate of the city. He put both hands on her shoulders. "Remember, run."
Sheriti nodded. Took two steps, then turned around. "You are an honorable man, Teal'c of Chulak. Your heart is true. Be at peace now."
Teal'c gasped as the woman began to glow slightly. She didn't just look like Daniel Jackson's Sha're. She was Daniel Jackson's Sha're! "How can I be at peace knowing what I have done, the anguish that my actions caused the man I call my friend?"
"You had no choice but to obey your master," Sha're said softly. "You did your best to atone for all that you were required to do as First Prime. Your heart broke when you were forced to kill Amaunet, to kill me, in order to save Dan'yel. Do not believe that all was in vain. What happened, was meant to happen. Dan'yel is with the woman who is his Destiny. He is happy. That is all that I can ask. Offering you peace is the least that I can do."
"I took you from your husband, your home, your family. I...I killed you!"
Sha're smiled. Stepped closer and put her hand against his cheek. "Again I say that you had no choice but to obey your master. You protected me as much as possible. Had I not been chosen, you would not have allowed Apophis to kill me as he did the Tau'ri woman. You would have secreted me home, just as you did the other women who had been taken. I owe you for that intention, as well as for taking care of my Dan'yel as he searched for me, then mourned for me. "
Teal'c didn't reply. He wanted to believe that redemption could be so easily obtained, feared that his guilt would never be so easily assuaged.
"My Dan'yel would have suffered more if I had not been taken, had I not been killed. He would have denied himself the chance to be with Ca'see. Because he is an honorable man. He would have been miserable, but he would have remained my faithful husband. And by not allowing Ca'see into his life, he never would have become The One. The battle he will fight, to protect all, would never occur. And all would be lost."
His head was spinning with the implications of what Sha're was telling him. Each of them...Daniel, Sam, Jack, Sha're, Apophis, himself...all had played a part in setting up the eventual meeting of Daniel and Casey. An event, it seemed, that was one of great importance. He shivered slightly.
"Go. You must help him."
"You are welcome, Teal'c."
He watched as she simply shimmered out of existence. He had no idea why the ghost of his friend's dead wife would choose now, in this place, to come to him. With her forgiveness, and that of Daniel Jackson, perhaps he could move forward. And deal with his guilt concerning his failures in protecting Casey Jackson.
He turned toward the voice. Saw Tameri walking toward him. Beside her was the man who had been fondling Major Carter. In an instant he realized that there had been two daemons in the palace. The Pharaoh, and this woman. He had no doubt that she hadn't known that the harem slave known as Sheriti had been, in fact, Sha're of Abydos. He glanced around, ran toward one of the narrow streets that led to the one of the poor sections of housing.
Tameri looked at Iteti. "Surely the fool doesn't believe he can escape us!"
"It would seem that he does," Iteti replied. "I suppose we could 'meet' him."
She gave a feral smile. "I suppose so." Frowned when she realized that she was unable to travel by thought. "What is happening?"
Iteti noted the look of panic in his companion's dark eyes. He closed his eyes. Opened them, felt fear shoot through his veins. "It would seem that something is affecting us."
Looking around fearfully, Tameri grasped his arm with both hands. "What are we to do?"
"Exactly what we set out to do. We will find The One, and destroy him. Forget the Jaffa. He can do nothing to us." Iteti paused, frowned, then grabbed the woman and pulled her along as he hurried up the street.
"Then why do we continue to follow him?" Tameri asked, panting as she struggled to keep up with Iteti's determined, long-legged strides.
"Because The One will not allow one of his Protectors to be killed. He'll give himself up to us to save the Jaffa's life."
Tameri shook her head. "The Jaffa is responsible for taking the first wife...that Abydonian woman. Then killed her. Why do you think Mibi searched for a slave who favored this Sha're?"
Iteti grimaced. If the Jaffa had taken the woman to bed, his own guilt would have broken him, had he managed to defeat the mental block. "He did not take her."
"Yes, he did," Tameri insisted.
"You witnessed the act?"
"Then he did not take her. If he had, the Jaffa would not run, but would welcome his death."
Tameri yanked her arm free of the vise-like grip. Stopped running, stood panting heavily. "This cannot be!"
"They were breaking free even before we had finished constructing their memories," Iteti said quietly.
"Mibi does not know how, or why The One was chosen. He only became aware of him after the destruction of Anubis."
"We do not need to know-"
"Yes, Tameri, we do. IF The Chosen was selected in the ancient way, then he, his Guide, and his Protectors are Immortal," Iteti explained patiently.
"Which would make our mental blocks useless," Tameri hissed. "It would explain how the Guide was able to so easily break free from Dartal."
"Yes, it would. It also means that killing The One will require all of us. We must work together. Or we will most certainly perish together."
Tameri shivered. For the first time in eons fear began to creep into her mind. "Mibi has been a fool."
"Are we not the more foolish, for following him?" Iteti asked softly.
Tameri frowned. She had been an Ascended Being long before Iteti's people had learned to sow the wheat that they depended upon, before they had learned to use clay and how to make symbols to communicate, to remember their past. She was well aware of the forces that vied for ultimate control of the universe. She couldn't help but glance around. When she reached out, she felt the 'shackles' that prevented her from fully utilizing her powers. But she was able to sense enough. Light, as well as darkness. She shivered again. "When did you learn of The One?"
Iteti shrugged. "When Mibi told us."
"Then how do you know about the ancient ceremony?"
It was Iteti's turn to frown. "I don't know. I just...it was just...it's just there," he replied.
The buxom brunette glanced around nervously. "We cannot fail," she whispered. "Let us find the Jaffa. If holding him in chains does not bring The One to us, we will use the others."
Iteti nodded. Knew that he was missing something...something important...
Teal'c peered out from where he hid, watching as the daemons stood discussing something. He played over every moment he had spent with Sheriti...Sha're. He had recognized her, even before he had access to his memories. His heart, the guilt that resided there, had known who she was. He had no doubt that it had been the intention of the daemons to use Sheriti...Sha're...to keep him as a prisoner in their illusion. That understanding made the daemons all the more reprehensible in his eyes. He shuddered when he thought of what might have happened had he given in to the illusion, to the momentary physical need in his body. Had his actions been less than honorable, his own heart and mind would have trapped him forever in this nightmare, rather than face the further betrayal of his best friend.
The soft sounds of conversation drifted to him. Whispers shared by those who lived within the meager shanty beside which he hid. He wondered what would happen to them when the battle between Daniel Jackson and the daemons was over. Once more his thoughts wandered to Sha're. Would she be free of this illusion when the daemons were defeated, or was she forever a prisoner to be used by those who would create such illusions seemingly at a whim, for their own purposes?
"Not all souls can be saved. Decisions were made long ago and now the consequences must be faced."
Casey Jackson's soft voice seemed to echo in his ears. Surely she had not been aware that Sheriti was actually Sha're. Had she been, there was no doubt that she would have said something. And surely Sha're's soul would...could...be saved.
"...Decisions were made long ago..."
Decisions that had nothing to do with a former First Prime of Apophis, or the Abydonian woman taken from her home, from her Tau'ri husband. Decisions that had been made by those who moved in different realms of existence. Made only to garner that which those beings sought. Power. Control. Far too many had suffered, and would continue to suffer, as a result of those decisions, regardless of their innocence. Perhaps Daniel Jackson's victory over the daemons would set right the many wrongs they had done. Would free the souls held prisoner by the daemons.
He watched as the two finished their conversation, and again began running in his direction. He moved back against the rough, mud brick wall, crouched behind a low table, using the shadows to hide his presence. As soon as they had passed, he would make his way to the barn to meet his teammates.
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