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Heaven Called While You Slept
He had gone to the cave to offer the morning prayers to the mahAlaya. When his eyes had stopped on the altar, his heart had nearly stopped beating as well. The maNika was not there! He looked around frantically, not certain how it could have fallen from its place, determined nonetheless to return it to the alter. He was already muttering prayers, begging for forgiveness. It was nowhere near the altar...was nowhere in the cave.
Gone...the maNika was gone! The very reason for the existence of The People was to protect the precious stone...and they had failed!
He had gathered the Elders...haltingly explained his heart-wrenching discovery. The Elders had stared helplessly at the altar, tears running down their cheeks, moans of despair resounding around them as they gave voice to their grief.
The first hours after learning of the disappearance of the maNika had been bitter. The emotional pain of the theft had nearly done in the Elders of the clan. No one had been able to accomplish anything that day, nor the following day, as the sorrow caused by the missing stone continued to weigh so heavily on their hearts.
It had certainly been the hand of the gods when, two days later, one of the young women wandered down a seldom used path to fetch water from the clear, mountain river that flowed near the village. On that path she had discovered a scrap of material, woven from one of the common plants nearby. There were designs in the cloth...different enough from their own style of weaving to be obvious. The scrap was from cloth woven by The Others.
At one time, The People had been one, and many more than now lived on the mountain. No one could remember just exactly what had happened, only that a rift had formed. Where there had been one group, The People, the clash of opinions created two groups. One group proclaimed that their very existence was to serve the gods and protect the maNika. The others had declared that all the land around them waited to be discovered, and used by The People to fulfill their needs. The schism between the two groups deepened, until one day The Others had simply packed up what belonged to them and left. They had settled in a nearby valley. There hadn't been more than a handful who remained on the mountain, faithful to the ways of the mahAlaya.
When the discovery which revealed the identity of the thieves had been made, tempers flared in righteous indignation. At first, heated words of anger had filled the air. Even though their number was only a fraction of what The Others boasted, they would storm the village, and take back what belonged in the belly of the mahAlaya. When the younger men had begun to plan their attack, they realized that any attempts to retrieve the stone would certainly end badly for the People.
In desperation, needing to understand why it had been taken as much as to know how to retrieve the stone and return it to its rightful place, the Elders had turned to their darshinah. He had retreated to the small corner of the cavern into his grha, and had begun meditating. For three days he'd barely moved, taking only the tea and fruit that his acolyte left for him.
When he had emerged from the dimly lit hut, he had gathered the Elders. "The gods will send the help we need," he told them. "We must pray for their safe arrival."
The Elders had seated themselves on the wide ledge of the cave that housed The People, and had begun to pray. They would not move until those whose arrival had been promised by the mahAlaya had done so.
A A A A A A
The village was situated on the side of the mountain, almost completely hidden by the tall trees that surrounded it. Wooden frames - covered with thick, bark shingles - were clustered near the entrance to what appeared to be a large cave. The cave itself was used for dwelling; although the team didn't realize that fact at that moment. They would soon learn of the adaptations made by the people who lived in such a forbidding place.
As usual, their arrival had been noted before they were close enough to speak, to assure the residents of the village that they meant no harm. A dozen or so men and women were sitting in a circle on a wide ledge in front of the cave, hands clasped tightly, faces upturned in spite of the drizzle of rain that continued to fall. The few bystanders had alerted the band to the arrival of strangers. Only one man from the group...who seemed, for all intents and purposes, to be praying...stood to his feet.
"You’re on, Danny," Jack said softly.
The man who moved toward them was tall and lean; with two thick, black braids that hung nearly to his waist. Deep lines on his face were discernable evidence of his sorrow, his anguish was obvious in the slump of his shoulders. His dark eyes were focused on the slender blonde.
"Hello," Daniel said. "My name is Daniel Jackson. We’re peaceful explorers. We’re-"
The man studied Casey, approval shining in his eyes when she didn’t flinch beneath his scrutiny. Her green eyes...an oddity to him...remained locked with his. "You are darshinah."
Daniel jerked slightly. The man was speaking Goa’uld! Which, he thought with a fleeting bit of amusement, he really needed to start thinking of as a ‘Galactic Universal Language’. It seemed that just about everyone they encountered either spoke it as their first language, or at least knew enough to be able to communicate. The word ‘darshinah’, however, wasn’t Goa’uld. He closed his eyes, searched his memory in order to identify the sounds. There was something familiar about the word... Sanskrit! The enunciation was a bit different, probably due to the differences in the evolution of the language over time, but the vowel sounds had remained the same. And, if he was remembering correctly, the word had something to do with seeing. No, not seeing...seer!
"Uh, Danny?" Jack asked. He thought he understood part of what the man had said.
"It seems that they've incorporated Sanskrit words into their language. They speak Goa'uld, but have kept certain words from the dialect," Daniel replied calmly. "'Darshinah' is Sanskrit for seer."
Casey nodded. "I am," she replied.
"ThemahAlaya told me you would come."
Her eyes went to Daniel...she understood Goa'uld well enough, but the words in Sanskrit left her clueless.
"Um...mahAlaya...Great Spirit...no, more specific than that," Daniel muttered. "Great Universal Spirit."
"They told you I would come?"She felt a moment of irritation. It seemed that once again Fate had intervened to put the team right where She wanted them. Probably for Her own purposes, Casey grumped silently.
The man gave a small smile; the action didn't reach his troubled eyes. "Perhaps not you...but I was promised that one who could help The People would arrive soon."
"We’ve come to help you," Casey confirmed, smiling in return.
Jack stepped forward, placed himself slightly in front of Casey. While he could understand Goa’uld...for the most part, speaking it was another matter. "Daniel, wanna explain that I’m the one in charge of our little group of explorers?"
He couldn’t help but smile a bit. It wasn’t ego that had Jack making the ‘request’, but the need to protect Casey. Daniel pointed at Jack. "This man is our leader."
The man standing in front of them barely glanced at the team CO. Continued to totally ignore Daniel, Sam, and Teal’c. His attention remained focused on Casey. "We have suffered a great loss."
"Yes, the stone," Casey said, her voice soft. Tears filled her eyes, spilled onto her cheeks. "That loss brings you much sadness."
The distress the woman exhibited had the man visibly relaxing. This stranger...this seer, understood the gravity of the situation. He could sense her gentleness...realized, with a bit of surprise...that her heart was aching as much as his own. "Tal’mac Hania...sphurita zUra. I am darshinah."
"Danny, any clue what he just said?" Jack asked quietly.
It took a few frustrating minutes to search his memory for the correct meanings. "His name is Hania-"
"Got that part," Jack interrupted.
"And he's their um...sphurita, that's spirit, and zUra is warrior. He's a 'spiritual warrior' of sorts," Daniel finished.
Casey reached out a bit timidly, not comfortable with mentally touching anyone she didn’t know well; barely brushed the man...could feel the strength of his gift. Felt as if a soft breeze was moving over her; no doubt this ‘spirit warrior’ was checking her out as well. "Those who have taken the stone...they don’t know what they’ve done, do they?"
Hania shook his head sadly. "Too much time has passed since they left us...they have forgotten the sacredness of the maNika. They do not understand - do not remember - its power."
Daniel frowned again. "MaNika? Um...stone...precious stone, if I'm remembering correctly," he murmured. "I'm guessing they use the word as meaning 'sacred stone'. Apparently those who took the stone don't remember how powerful it is."
Jack cleared his throat...loudly. Held the gaze of the man when he looked over. "Daniel, tell this guy-"
Casey put a hand on Jack’s arm. "Boss, he knows who you are. He knows you’re the leader of our group."
Daniel was digging for his notebook and a pen. "I’d like to find out just how this group came to have Sanskrit words in their language," he murmured. Turned to Hania. "I would like to know about your people-" he began.
"This is a time for doing, not talking,"Hania replied firmly. "You have come to bring the maNika back to us."
"Why can’t your people go after it?" Jack asked, waiting patiently while Daniel translated.
Hania shook his head once again. "Look around you. We are few in number. Our warriors can be counted on three hands. Those who took the maNika have many times that number."
"Which is why they were brazen enough to sneak into your village to steal it in the first place," Casey said, ‘seeing’ bits and pieces of what had happened. "Is there someone among those people who thinks he...or she...can control the stone?"
"If they do not understand the power of the maNika, how could they believe they could control it?" Hania asked.
"Someone in that village knows about the stone," Casey said, a frown tugging at her eyebrows.
"Another seer maybe?" Daniel asked.
Casey blinked, looked up at her husband. "Huh?"
He couldn’t help but grin when she rolled her eyes. "So, whoever knows about that stone is keeping the facts to himself."
"Herself," Casey said absently, sorting through the images that had been dumped into her mind in the middle of the night, searching for the clues she needed.
"So, some bimbo wants the stone," Jack grinned. "Why?"
"Because she thinks she can control it," Casey shrugged.
Hania listened, although he couldn’t understand the words the strangers spoke. He understood by the tones of their voices that they were discussing the situation. Watched the young blonde seer carefully. He could sense her confusion...as well as her desire to see the stone back in its rightful place. "Come."
The teammates exchanged glances. Casey was already following the tall man through what appeared to be the center of this particular village...such as it was. Daniel was immediately behind her. Not so much because he was eager to follow the darshinah, although he was as curious as his Wife, but because he wasn’t about to let Casey get away from him. No way in hell was he letting her out of his sight!
Jack heaved a sigh, motioned with the muzzle of his P90. Just as impulsive as Danny. One day, she's gonna get into trouble being so trusting! The thought that he'd be right there to help her, protect her, just as he always was...and had...for Daniel, made a smile tug at the corners of his mouth.
Sam and Teal’c fell into step, following behind the archaeologist; Jack glancing around as he brought up the rear, the three moving quickly in order to keep up with their teammates.
The path Hania took, which led down the mountain, was narrow and steep. They were forced to reach toward rough rock walls beside the trail to steady themselves numerous times. The path ended in a narrow box canyon...which had Jack immediately on edge. Lousy place to be in an ambush, he thought, his eyes carefully scanning the high ridges around them.
There were marks on the rock walls that rose up on two sides of them: blue and red and black circles and spirals, squares and squiggles. No doubt every symbol has a specific meaning, Daniel thought, taking a moment to examine a particularly complex design of circles inside a square.
Bending at the waist to walk through a small opening in the canyon wall that the team would have passed without even noticing, Hania entered the Saridubhaya, the Sacred Place; waited until the strangers had followed him. His heart began to pound in his chest when they created light with the clubs they carried, and did so without the benefit of fire-stones! Truly these strangers had been sent by the mahAlaya...their powers were very impressive.
"Oh, wow," Casey whispered, panning her scope light over one of the walls, revealing rock faces that had been polished until they were smooth. Those smoothed surfaces were painted from the dirt floor to the sharp rocks and white crusted stalactites covering the ceiling.
"Incredible," Daniel breathed, his eyes wide and full of excitement. He dropped his pack long enough to find the camcorder, snapped on the small flood light, and immediately began to film the amazing drawings.
"Here,"Hania said, speaking for the first time since his terse, one-word order to follow him.
All eyes swung toward him. He was standing beside what looked like a rock column that had been broken off.
"Stalagmite," Sam murmured.
The rock pillar was four feet tall, and the top looked like polished glass. Bits of quartz sparkled in the light from the P90 scopes. It took a moment for their eyes to see the nine raised chevrons that had been carved. The wide, 'V'-shaped marks were in the exact center of the column, spaced evenly on the surface.
Casey stepped forward, put her hand on the side of the pillar. Images began to assail her...she whimpered softly.
Daniel immediately reached for her. "It’s all right, Casey," he whispered in her ear, wrapping his arms around her. Pulled her back to lean against him. "Deep breaths. Slow and easy. Don’t fight it, don’t try to sort it. Just let it flow. Nice and easy and relaxed," he said, his voice soft and low.
The entrance was difficult to locate, even with the light of the full moon. Once inside the cave...it was so dark! The darkness seemed to weigh on them...accused them. They were outsiders, and the spirits of the cavern knew that. The sound of stones being scraped together...a spark...then a small torch was burning. The stone was on the Altar. Hurried prayers to the mahAlaya were whispered...prayers of contrition, prayers for forgiveness. Muttered blessings to protect them from vengeful spirits...
Grooves had been cut on one face of the stone...nine chevrons that ran from one end to the other. Neither of the men had been aware that the stone had such markings...any stories of the stone had contained few details about the stone itself.
Shaking hands reached for it, put it into an animal hide bag...hurry...hurry...She wants it. She says it will reunite The People...We’ll be punished if we take too long...We must obey Her...hurry...hurry...
A shiver moved over her slender frame...she pulled Daniel’s arms tighter around her waist as she sifted through the images...the feelings...that had been dumped into her mind. "They were terrified. Not so much of getting caught...nor of the stone itself. But of her...whoever ‘she’ is," Casey said softly.
Daniel noted the puzzled expression on Hania’s face. "Casey just ‘saw’ what happened," he explained.
"You knows the identity of the thieves?"Hania asked her hopefully.
"No,"Casey said, shaking her head, "I didn’t see faces. But those men were more afraid of returning without the stone than of facing you and your people."
Hania frowned. "There is someone who wishes to have the maNika?"
"So it would seem,"Daniel replied.
"The journey to the village of The Others is long. You will rest now. Start early in the morning,"Hania said.
Jack bristled slightly. "I suppose just asking if we’d mind staying the night and heading out tomorrow never occurred to him?"
"As the spiritual leader of these people, it probably wouldn’t occur to him to ask," Daniel said. "If he sees us as being sent by the gods, he probably believes he has authority over us."
"Besides, it is logical," Casey added.
"Still would have been nice to be asked," Jack grumped.
"Don’t worry, boss. We know you’re in charge," Casey said, patting Jack’s shoulder as she walked passed him.
"That’s right, sir. You’re in control," Sam said, biting back her grin.
"Won’t make a move without your approval or permission," Daniel grinned.
"Indeed," Teal’c murmured.
"It’s not about that!" Jack objected.
"Then what is it about, Jack?" Daniel asked, his expression full of innocence.
‘It’s about...manners. Being polite," Jack said.
"Right. You want the locals to be more courteous. Makes sense, even if their ways are totally different from our own," Daniel retorted.
"Well...it’s just..." Jack heaved a sigh. "You’re a pain-in-the-ass."
"So you keep telling me," Daniel chuckled.
"To be honest, sir, I’d prefer to be asked as well," Sam admitted.
"We all would," Casey said. "But think about it this way - when you’re upset...grieving...isn’t it considered normal to be a bit short tempered and ill-mannered?"
"I suppose so," Jack admitted. He looked over at the pillar that the stone had been sitting on. "This rock-"
"Stone," Casey interjected.
"Rock, stone, whatever," Jack said, rolling his eyes.
"It’s a very special stone, Jack," Casey insisted.
"Okay. Fine. This ‘stone’ is really that important to these people?"
"Probably as important as many of our own ‘sacred’ items."
"We don’t have sacred items," Jack scoffed.
"There have been dozens of sacred items throughout history," Daniel contradicted. "The stones that the Ten Commandments were written on...the Ark of the Covenant...the earliest texts of the Torah, or the Bible, or the Koran. The original copy of the Declaration of Independence, or the Magna Carta. Then there are symbols; carved and created in various mediums, that we carry...the cross that Christians revere, the Star of David, the star and crescent of Islam, statues of Buddha-"
"Got it," Jack said quietly. "I guess I just never viewed them that way."
"We might not hold the same items in the same regard as others, but each of us have something that we believe is...special."
"Like that pendant that Catherine gave you...on that first mission."
"Exactly," Daniel nodded. "Or your ‘lucky penny’."
Jack took a moment to digest what he'd just learned. Understanding the value of the stone put a new dimension on the mission for him. With a silent sigh, he realized that Casey's determination to right this particular wrong wasn't anything that he wouldn't insist on doing himself. He might not understand all of the 'mystical' aspects of the situation, but that wasn't necessary. They were the good guys. These people needed help. And that was enough for him.
Daniel watched his best friend's face. Could practically see the thoughts that moved behind brown eyes. Jack was a soldier...military through-and-through. And that wasn't a bad thing. It just made the world a bit more 'black-and-white' for him than it often really was. The thing about Jack, Daniel thought almost amusedly, was that once he understood a situation, when he'd been able to fit the facts with his perceptions, he was always hell bent to do the right thing. He'd seen it time and again, on mission after mission. As soon as he'd been able to convince Jack of the human aspect, the emotional facts of the matter, there had never been disagreement about helping. The form that help should take, however, that was always up for debate. Or argument. With Jack, it was usually the latter.
Daniel's attention moved to his Wife. She was watching Jack carefully as well, waiting for that moment of acceptance, knowing as well as he did that it would happen.
Examining his team, taking in the looks of determination on each face, Jack gave a slight nod. "We have a stone to find, campers. Let’s see if we can get some intel about the hike we’re going to be making at first light."
Casey bounced toward him, gave him a tight hug. "You’re a good man, Jack O’Neill."
"Yes, I am," Jack grinned. "I didn’t actually put your name on the list for latrine duty."
Casey giggled, linked her arm with his. Sam, Teal'c, and Daniel smiled their approval.
"Let’s get that intel, shall we?" Jack said, leading the way out of the cavern. Was pleased to note that it had finally stopped raining. That was certainly a good sign.
Hania led the team back into the village. He spoke briefly with those who were still sitting in a circle. "Just as my vision predicted, the mahAlaya has sent sphurita zUra to return the maNika, so that it may once again rest in Her belly. Make them welcome."
"He told them that the Great Spirit...the Great Universal Spirit," Daniel corrected himself, speaking softly to his teammates, "sent spirit warriors to return the 'precious stone'."
All eyes turned toward the team. Rather than the clandestine glances that they'd received before, the small group of people stared openly. Smiles of relief flittered over faces, pushed away the looks of such deep sadness that had been present only minutes earlier.
They understood the importance of what Hania had said...they weren't about to be attacked or taken as prisoners. Their presence was being heralded as a good thing. Still, the members of SG-1 shifted self-consciously under the scrutiny of the villagers.
One by one, the Elders rose from where they sat, approached the team, and touched their cheeks to those of their visitors.
Teal'c barely bit back a smile when the first Elder, a woman of great age, grabbed his BDU shirt and pulled him forward, in order to 'greet' him according to the customs of her people.
Everyone's attention was pulled toward Casey when the eldest of the Elders pressed her cheek against the smooth skin of the blonde. Green eyes had once again filled with tears, and the old woman was gently wiping them away, making quiet shushing sounds; an obvious attempt to offer comfort to the tender heart that shared the grief of The People.
Daniel smiled at each of the Elders who approached. Accepted their version of a greeting. Noted with pride that Casey was reaching out and touching the faces of those who welcomed them as often as they touched her. She continued to belittle herself and her abilities based on the sole fact that she'd never finished college. Yet, she was as well trained as any of the degreed archaeologists he worked with. She was intuitive when it came to others...and that was a skill that couldn't be taught in any classroom.
He glanced over at Jack. His best friend wasn't always the most comfortable with open displays of affection...at least not if the life of one of his teammates wasn't hanging in the balance. Every time he'd been thought dead, or managed to return from the dead, Jack was quick enough to hug him, no matter where they were, or who might be watching. Of course, Sam and Teal'c had always been right there hugging him as well. But hugging strangers, or the pressing of cheeks, as this seemed to be, wasn't something that Jack would be comfortable with. The situation they were in was emotionally charged; there was enough tension in the air - regardless of the warm welcome they were receiving - that tossing a stubborn colonel into the mix could be a recipe for disaster. It was important that these people be allowed to follow their traditions fully...no telling what could happen if they felt insulted. He hoped the look he gave his friend would convey that very important message.
It was always nice to be welcome, Jack thought, shifting uncomfortably when yet another man pressed a cold cheek against his own, but this was ridiculous! He'd seen the look Daniel had tossed his way. One that plainly spelled out trouble if they didn't observe the customary greetings. Whether the trouble would be from the people who surrounded them, or from a pissed off archaeologist, upset because he'd dared to offend the natives, he couldn't be certain. Doctor Daniel Jackson, when pissed off, could be a bigger pain-in-the-ass than angry natives could be dangerous. He'd play nice for now, but Danny so owed him!
Sam kept her eyes on Daniel as much as possible; his knowledge of cultures and customs would keep the team from committing any serious breach of etiquette. Knowing that the team's presence was being seen as a good thing kept her from being overly nervous as she was greeted by the Elders.
It had taken time, nearly twenty minutes, for all greetings to be exchanged. Hania waited patiently until the last of the Elders stepped away from the strangers. The tall seer of The People walked toward the wide opening to what turned out to be a very deep, large cave. Surrounded by smiling natives, the team followed him, not fearing for their lives, but still apprehensive of the unknown.
"Wow," Daniel said, looking around with obvious interest. He was already reaching for his camera. The cavern was large...nearly as large as the cave where they'd shared a meal with the Navajo Indians who spoke ancient Egyptian, and had an interesting mix of the two cultures present in their society. It seemed these people were another such 'mix' of cultures, 'true' Indians, from India, and Native Americans; although he wouldn't even hazard a guess as to which tribe was represented.
There were eleven individual 'shelters', created by bark walls, tall enough to reach nearly to the rock ceiling of the cave. Outside of each of the wide openings that served as doorways were highly decorated clay pots and intricately woven baskets. From what they could see, the interiors of the 'shelters' were small; probably used only for sleeping. Soot marks on the rock ceiling above each 'shelter' indicated that hearths existed in the personal dwellings, however. Several of the shelters had colorful lengths of cloth that covered the openings, offering privacy.
The rough stone walls of the cave had been smoothed in numerous places...and where they had been smoothed, paintings in red and black and blue offered glimpses of the everyday life of the people who dwelt within the cave. One area seemed to be dedicated to the maNika...Daniel suspected that the likeness that had been drawn was a very accurate. Surrounding the stone were images that were impossible to identify. He wondered if the drawings depicted the mystical aspects of the stone, and if so, what those marks might symbolize.
The very center of the cave was obviously a communal area, where a large fire burned brightly. Surrounding the area around the firepit were numerous work areas, each one distinguishable from the others. The work areas were far enough from the fire to leave plenty of room for people to sit near the warmth of the flames. For all of the size of the cavern, however, it was just as clear that the cave was at capacity for occupants, if they were to have enough room to move about and to work on whatever tasks they had undertaken.
Putting a new memory card into the camera, Daniel's mind continued to catalogue everything he was seeing, comparing it to other cultures he'd learned about. If the winters were harsh, this cavern would protect the villagers completely, and was no doubt warm enough to carry out their daily routines in relative comfort. It never ceased to amaze him that people could adapt so well to whatever environment in which they found themselves. Humans were, he thought, a most impressive species.
Jack cleared his throat, pointed with his chin toward what could only be an anvil, and the tools that lay beside it. The 'anvil' was made from a large rock, onto which molten ore had been poured. When that ore had cooled, it left a casing of metal, creating a place to hammer out hot metal, without fear of the rock itself breaking. Two pots of some undetermined metal were black on the bottom, no doubt from sitting in a fire. "Metal working?"
"That's what it looks like," Daniel agreed. He was trying to take as many photos as unobtrusively as possible. "I'm not sure, but they might be smelting ore for the metal they use."
"They make pottery as well," Sam said quietly, nodding toward a potter's wheel. Beside it were several clay pots and bowls, none of them decorated. Smaller bowls stained in blue, red, yellow, and black were obviously used to hold the paint that was used.
"And weave cloth," Casey added softly. "It looks like they have small looms, almost lap size, as well as that big one." The loom was empty, but several piles of what looked like lambs wool lay nearby. Where, or from what animal, that wool had come was a mystery.
"Sit,"Hania said, from where he stood beside the large fire.
The team followed suit when the tall man settled his lanky frame on a carefully woven mat. Daniel ran his fingers over the mat he lowered himself onto, trying to determine what it had been woven from. His instincts told him that some sort of grass had been used.
"I will tell you the story of The People,"Hania said, looking directly at Daniel. "So that you know just whom the gods have sent you to help."
Daniel nodded. Grabbed the small notebook from his pocket, slipping the rubber band used to hold the pen in place around his wrist. Reached for his small recorder, made certain a memory disk was in place, and turned it on. He laid it on his knee, then waited expectantly.
Although Hania wasn't exactly sure what the man was doing, he waited until the eyes that were as blue as the summer sky met his own. "When the mahAlaya was still young, She brought The People to this sacred mountain," he began. "Life was difficult, but The People were strong, and their desire to please the mahAlaya stronger. They lived in harmony with all of Her creatures, taking only what was needed for survival, offering prayers of thanksgiving for what was given them. The mahAlaya gave The People laws to follow, to prove themselves to Her. When they had proven their worthiness, She whispered into the ear of the first darshinah, and led her to the Saridubhaya. There the mahAlaya touched the maNika, and taught the darshinah the magic that it contained. The People were to guard the manNika, and when Seekers came to dream, the darshinah would determine if the Seeker was worthy. If the Seeker was worthy, the darshinah led him...or her...into the dream world."
"Portal," Casey whispered hoarsely, her eyes wide. The word had bounced around in her head from the first moment she'd read the file about the planet. "The stone is a portal! It's a portal to the dream world!"
"Dream world?" Jack asked, one eyebrow cocked in skepticism.
"Don't be so cynical, boss. After all you've seen, you should know it exists," Casey retorted softly.
Teal'c and Sam barely hid their smiles.
"I'm betting it's an astral plane," Casey added.
If he had heard the whispered comments, Hania made no indication. "For many years," he continued, "The People lived quietly, doing as the mahAlaya had instructed. After awhile, fewer Seekers came through the Mouth of the mahAlaya. Months upon months passed, and no Seekers arrived. One day, those among the young hunters began to complain about life on the mountain. They wished to explore the valleys beyond the Dark Forest. They declared that our rituals for mating were too restrictive, and that they would take wives, and find a new place to live, a place where many people would be comfortable. The darshinah tried to dissuade them of leaving, but they would not listen."
"They became The Others," Daniel surmised.
Hania nodded. "For many years we have lived in peace. They leave us alone, and we do not bother them."
"You've not communicated with each other?" Daniel asked.
"Soon after The Others had left us, the darshinah sent messages, but our runners were told to leave, and never return. Our hearts were heavy, that they would deny the bonds between us. But we could do nothing more than honor their wishes,"Hania said sadly.
"So...when the stone was taken, that's the first time any of The Others have been back to the mountain?"
"As far as we know, yes."
"Do you know if The Others have a darshinah?"Daniel inquired.
"Those of darshinah blood remained on the mountain. Whether or not the mahAlaya has blessed others with Her gift, I do not know,"Hania replied.
Daniel gave a slight nod, writing hastily in his notebook. "You mentioned 'restrictive mating rituals'...is that to maintain the number of the People...so that you don't outgrow this cave?"
Again the man nodded, his long braids swinging as he did so. "The mahAlaya is wise in all things. We follow the laws that She gave to our ancestors."
"That explains the small number of people," Daniel murmured.
"It makes sense," Sam said. "I doubt this area could support more than are here."
"Depends on how far they're willing to go to hunt and search for food," Jack countered.
"I'm guessing they don't leave the mountain," Daniel said. "And if there aren't other caves, or caverns of this size nearby, there wouldn't be anywhere for them to live if their numbers grew."
Apparently not offended by the quiet side-conversation between the visitors, Hania waited patiently. When Daniel's blue eyes focused on him once again, he waved a hand, indicating those who sat or stood nearby, watching and listening. "We live as our ancestors did."
"That would mean that the skills they have, came with them, from wherever they were brought from," Daniel said, frowning slightly.
"Kinda advanced for any of the snakes to have brought them here, don'tcha think?" Jack asked.
"Not really," Daniel replied. "All of the ancient civilizations had the rudimentary skills that we see evidence of here. That's a result, we believe, of the Ancients interfacing with the indigenous peoples of Earth."
"You said that 'darshinah' is a Sanskrit word," Sam said. "That's Indian, isn't it?"
"Yep. Realistically, Kali or Nirrti could have brought them here."
"I don't think there's been Goa'uld influence here in a long time," Casey said.
"What makes you think that?" Jack asked.
"No reaction at all to Teal'c, or his cool tat," was the smiling response.
Daniel frowned, one of the comments that Hania had made tickled at his brain. When he was able to recognize the question, he was quick to voice it. "You said that the mahAlaya taught the darshinah about the maNika, so that when those who came to dream arrived, she would know how to help them?"
"Do people...strangers...still visit here?"
"There have not been those who would dream in many years. None who sit with us remember any such visitors,"Hania replied.
The archaeologist's frown deepened. "It doesn't make sense..." He glanced at his Wife. "Casey, can you 'see' anything?"
The seer closed her eyes. Shook her head after several moments of waiting...listening. "Sorry, Stud Muffin."
"What doesn't make sense, Daniel?" Sam asked.
"Well, obviously these people were brought here by the Goa'uld," he replied. "But this whole business with the maNika...that seems to have happened much later. Possibly after the Goa'uld, whoever he or she was, had already abandoned or forgot about these people."
"You really think there's a Great Spirit out there, who gave them a stone that...does whatever it's supposed to do?" Jack asked.
"I don't know, Jack," Daniel sighed. "It almost sounds as if someone really did come here to teach these people. Maybe it was simply how to interpret dreams."
"No, that's not what he said," Casey pointed out. "He said if a 'seeker' was found worthy, the darshinah would 'lead them' to the dream world. That stone is a portal...I know that...I sensed that the first time I looked at the MALP report. It's a portal to the dream world," she said, repeating her earlier revelation.
"More mumbo jumbo," Jack muttered.
"It's okay, Jack, I speak mumbo jumbo," Casey replied jauntily.
"Good. We'll probably need an interpreter," he shot back. His words were softened by the twinkle in his brown eyes, and the crooked grin he tossed at the seer.
"We could be looking at a situation similar to the Salish that we met," Daniel theorized.
"You think these people could have been influenced by Beings similar to the 'spirit' aliens who protected Tonane and his people?" Sam asked.
"Exactly like that," Daniel replied. "Well, maybe not exactly...not if this 'Great Spirit' taught them about a portal to the dream world."
"Why would anyone need a portal to the dream world?" Jack asked.
"Dreams have always been important to people," Daniel replied. "The Sumerians had priests whose only task was to listen to the dreams of those who came to seek help, and offer interpretations of what the dreams meant. Egyptians believed dreams were how the gods spoke to them. Egyptian people would take offerings to the temples to have those priests interpret their dreams. Roman emperors placed great faith in dreams...sometimes too much so. Our own Native American myths and legends are full of stories of dreams, and dreaming."
"At some point in the past, this stone, and what it was capable of, was known by others...people who traveled through the Stargate in order to...dream, and to have their dreams interpreted," Casey mused. "Best guess is that the snakes didn't know about it."
Jack looked over at Teal'c. As the First Prime of Apophis, he would have heard probably every rumor, myth, and story in the Goa'uld Empire. "So, Big Guy, have you ever heard of it?" Jack asked.
"I have not, O'Neill. However, I believe we are in a sector of space that was rarely visited by Goa'uld," Teal'c replied. "Apophis would not have been interested in any such myths. There would have been nothing for him to gain by taking the stone."
"If the Goa'uld avoided this part of space," Daniel mused, "it's possible that whoever this...Being...was who taught The People about the portal, also protected them."
"Indeed," Teal'c said, nodding in agreement.
"Okay, so there's a special stone, and chances are, some alien had something to do with the whole thing, right?" Jack asked.
"Right, Jack," Daniel replied, hiding his smile when he ducked his head to add comments to his notes.
"Or an Ascended Being...or maybe even a Being from one of the higher levels of existence," Casey added.
Jack rolled his eyes. "Alien or glowy Being then," he muttered. "Either way, somebody from somewhere has done a bit of messing around with the kiddies."
Daniel and Casey both grinned.
Again, Hania didn't seem to mind that his comment had resulted in another quiet conversation. He waited until the strangers were all looking at him once again. "We will eat, and then you will sleep. When the sun rises over the breast of the mahAlaya, you will begin your journey to the village of the Others."
"We have...shelters...um...temporary shelters...is there a place where we can put them?" Daniel asked.
Hania pointed at the opening of the cave. The large area was used for preparing food for the winter, particularly during times of hunting or harvesting. "There is enough room for you to build your shelters there?"
Daniel scrutinized the area. It was large enough that the tents could be put just inside of the opening, which would be great if it decided to start raining again. "Yes, that will be fine. If you don't mind, we can do that now."
"While you see to your shelters, we will prepare the meal," Hania said.
Daniel nodded his agreement, then turned to his teammates. "We can pitch the tents over there."
Jack gave the area a cursory glance. "Good enough."
Nodding and smiling at their hosts, the team members rose to their feet, grabbed the packs that had been dropped to the dirt when they'd sat down.
Most of the villagers watched with open curiosity as the tents were removed from the bottom of the pack frames. Murmurs of surprise filled the air when the small bundles were unrolled, and then what looked to them to be long 'sticks', were put through 'invisible' holes. It seemed to be magic when the odd-colored material was suddenly upright, two of the shelters large enough to stand upright in.
"I guess they don't have anything like tents," Casey mused.
"Probably not. If they never leave the mountain, there wouldn't be a need for temporary shelters," Daniel replied.
"Yeah, imagine what they'd do if we whipped out Carter's gizmo's," Jack grinned. He looked toward the fire. Half a dozen women seemed to be busy cooking...something. The antics of the morning had brought back memories of another mission. "So, Radar, think they'll have frogs legs?"
"If they do, you can have mine," she quipped immediately.
"Thanks. Ya know, that soup-" he started.
"Jack, don't make me pissy," Casey warned. Ignored the snickers coming from her Husband, best friend, and best buddy.
"Would I do that?" Jack asked, eyes wide with feigned innocence.
"In a New York minute," she countered.
"Remember, colonel...Care Bears," Sam said quietly, not even attempting to hide her grin.
Jack jerked slightly. Yeah, pissing Radar off now would mean she'd retaliate somehow... "Maybe they'll have venison. Ever had venison, Radar?"
"I don't think so. It can't be any worse than that armadillo chicken I had on Abydos."
Daniel snorted loudly. "You get used to it."
"No, you got used to it. I could never get used to that stuff!" Casey countered.
"Then you wouldn't like wild venison," Daniel said, knowing his Wife.
"Wild venison is better than frogs. Which taste like chicken, by the way," Jack tossed in, grinning broadly.
"No, they don't," Casey said, shuddering slightly. Which made Jack chuckle out loud.
Sleeping bags were unrolled, the packs left inside the now erect tents, and the team made their way back to the large fire.
The meal had consisted of small, rodent-sized animals, the team agreeing that the meat tasted similar to rabbit, which they'd all had during their Earth-side training exercises. And which Casey had agreed really did taste similar to chicken. There were tubers that resembled sweet potatoes in size, texture, and flavor - and covered with honey were absolutely delicious; and a sort of pudding filled with berries.
As soon as the meal had been declared finished, the people began to drift toward their individual shelters. Whether or not it was a common occurrence, or because of them, the team had no idea.
"Guess they want us to get some sleep," Jack said.
"So it would seem," Daniel agreed.
"Well, it is a good idea. Especially if they're going to get us up at first light. Let's draw for watch."
"Do you really think that's necessary, Jack?" Daniel asked quietly.
The soldier in him looked around, evaluating the setting in one sweep of his eyes. Took silent stock of the situation. Thought about the fact that the people who lived in the cavern just might be protected by some higher being. If SG-1 really was on the planet at the behest of some Glowy Jellyfish, (which was always how he'd imagined beings of Higher Levels to look, after seeing Oma Desala in that form on Kheb) that particular Glowy Jellyfish wouldn't want them messed with in any way. And there were always Daniel's 'Protectors', who hovered nearby, according to Radar.
Still, while the Glowy Jellyfish might be responsible for their being on the planet; he was responsible for his team. Even the most innocuous of settings could harbor a multitude of threats. And experience had proven to him that Glowy Jellyfish weren't always so quick to jump in to help mere mortals. Besides, if there were natives sneaking around in the dark stealing stones, who knew if they'd decide to creep in and help themselves to some other mystical relic that might be laying around?
Daniel couldn't see a need to keep watch, Jack couldn't find a good enough reason not to. There wasn't a doubt in his mind that Daniel would spend the entire night debating the subject, using lots of big words and more logic than he wanted to deal with. So, he'd agree, wait until the archaeologist was in his tent, and he'd just make himself comfortable right next to that big rock that was sticking out of the wall. It would be the perfect place to keep an eye his 'kids'. What Daniel didn't know, wouldn't spin him up. If I get too tired, I can wake Teal'c. He understands the need to keep on our toes, Jack thought.
"Jack?" Daniel asked, after a moment of silence.
"I guess not," Jack muttered, not looking at his friend's face.
With a nod and a smile, Daniel patted his best friend on the shoulder. It was just Jack's nature to be protective; part of his training to be always on guard. Even when it wasn't necessary. Which is why I'm around to point out the obvious, Daniel thought. He followed Casey into their tent.
When Sam poked her head out of their tent, Jack gave her a cocky smile. "I'm just gonna sit here for a bit," he said softly. Not sure whether she knew what he was really doing or not. She just smiled in return, and zipped the tent closed.
Getting as comfortable as possible, leaning on the rock that hid him from the view of anyone walking up that trail, Jack settled in for the night. Smiled when he heard the unmistakable sounds of sleep coming from three tents...deep even breathing, and the occasional snore. Considering the middle-of-the-night calls, the early arrival on the base, then the hike down the mountain from the Stargate, he wasn't surprised that they all fell asleep so quickly.
The sky darkened as the night wore on. The clouds that had filled the sky dissipated, revealing thousands of twinkling stars. One in particular seemed to wink at Jack.
"I don't care how powerful a Glowy Jellyfish you are," he whispered stubbornly. "I'm not going to leave my team unprotected."
The star seemed to flash brightly, then faded.
"That's right. You can get just as pissy as you want. I'm not budging from here. I've stayed awake for fifty-two hours before. This won't be any different. And I know my kids will be okay."
Another bright flash, and the star began to twinkle merrily.
For a moment, Jack felt as if it were laughing at him. And had picked up the gauntlet he'd thrown down.
Second and Third looked around nervously. First had been summoned...the call arriving so suddenly that she'd had little time to prepare any report of what had been observed. When she reappeared beside them, the smile on her face had them exchanging confused looks.
"The 'Glowy Jellyfish' has determined that Colonel O'Neill needs rest as much as his teammates. We are to induce that sleep," First said, her cheek twitching.
Third barely held back his laughter. Years of observation had made him more than aware of the colonel's determination. "This should be interesting."
Second moved forward, gently caressed the colonel's forehead. "Sleep, Jack O'Neill of SG-1," she whispered softly.
Jack yawned. Shook his head slightly. Rested his P90 on the other leg. Rotated his shoulders, stretching the muscles slightly. Rolled his eyes to keep them open.
Second felt her mouth drop open. She looked helplessly at her companions. She'd never before had difficulty lulling any of their charges to sleep when the need arose.
Third snorted, tried to look contrite when First looked over at him.
The Elder of the Triad approached the man who sat staring into the darkness. Her hand went to the top of the mortal's head. She bent over and put her lips near his ear. "You must rest, Colonel. How can you protect your team when your fatigue will impair your judgment?" she whispered softly. She continued to stroke his hair gently, waiting for him to drift to sleep.
Jack rose to his feet. Walked the width of the ledge and back, his footsteps so light that there was barely any sound of his boots against the rock. He rubbed the back of his neck with one hand, adjusted his weapon in the other.
The star was still twinkling.
"Yeah, I'm still here. Still awake," he said, glaring at the point of light.
"Of all the stubborn, headstrong, hardheaded men!" First hissed, her eyes blazing. "Sleep, you pigheaded fool!"
Third lost his battle to remain silent, and guffawed loudly, grateful that the mortals around him were oblivious to his presence, and that of his companions.
"If we are to lull him to sleep-" Second started, shaken to see her Elder fail just as miserably as she had.
"I'll lull him to sleep," First grumbled. "A rock upside his head will knock him out!"
Third continued to chortle. "She wants him to sleep, not be knocked unconscious," he pointed out.
First crossed her arms over her chest. "Please, be my guest," she said, nodding toward the infuriating mortal.
Third waited until Jack had settled back against the rock. Sat down beside him. Began to quietly recite the names and locations of the constellations that twinkled in the night sky above Earth.
His eyes were pulled back to the stars. That group looked like the Big Dipper. Which was made up of the Ursa Major constellation. That was also known as the Great Bear. He tried to fight back another yawn...was unsuccessful. There was one that resembled Orion's Belt...Orion was referred to as 'The Hunter'. It bordered Gemini and Taurus... Another yawn, one that nearly split his face. Eridanus was there, too. Orion's Belt was in the NQ1 quadrant...
Jack wasn't aware of the fact that his eyes had fluttered closed. His arms crossed over his chest in an almost reflexive way, and he began to snore softly.
First smiled. "You know him well," she said softly.
"It was the only way he could fall asleep when The One had been declared dead," Third shrugged.
"You are a credit to the Triad," First acknowledged. She looked down at the sleeping form of the colonel, torn between the desire to once again caress his hair, or give him a swift kick.
Third could sense her thoughts, and chuckled loudly.
A A A A A A
Hania watched the strangers disappear into their odd shelters, then entered his small dwelling at the back of the cave. Barely wide enough for him to lie down, and the depth wasn't much more. There was room for a small fire pit, however, in the corner near the stone wall. Knowing where every item he owned was placed, his hands searched in the darkness for moss kindling, then the 'fire stones' that would cause a spark to set the dried moss aflame. He added small sticks, not needing a roaring fire, nor one large enough to cook on. He only needed enough to release the spirits of the sacred plants.
Hanging in bundles, tied neatly to the bark walls of his shelter, were various species of plants...each of them offering specific characteristics that were useful to a healer and mystic. Most had multiple uses...from adding flavor and seasoning to food to medicinal to 'spiritual'.
One particular plant, however, he used only for calling the spirits to talk to him. Putting the purple flowers of the 'dreamer's bush' on the large flat stone he used when crushing or grinding dried plants into powder, he thought about the strangers. His hands familiar with the work, his mind continued to puzzle over the five 'visitors'. He was able to 'see' the bonds that connected the individuals. Very unusual, he thought, that those so different from one another would be so close. Differences that were visible to his eyes, even more revealed to his 'third eye' ...
The man with the gray hair was a warrior. A leader of men. He'd suffered great heartache. But had found happiness with those he called his friends. A man of few words, a man for whom honor was more important than his own life.
The huge man with the dark skin, the peculiar mark on his forehead...also a warrior. One who had been a slave, yet had never been broken. He was also a man for whom honor was as important as breathing. The two men had once been enemies...
Just as the large dark-skinned man had been an enemy to the man with the gray hair, he'd also been the enemy of the man with the light hair. Had greatly hurt the blue-eyed man. Had stolen something precious... In spite of whatever had transpired, the blue-eyed man had forgiven him. The two had become good friends.
What Hania had sensed about the blue-eyed and the gray-haired man was even more confusing. There was the touch of death between them...one had died for the other...yet both were alive. It was most confusing...
The blue-eyed man was very wise. He had much learning, and knew many things. His companions turned to him often for guidance. In spite of his abilities, he often felt inadequate...
The tall woman with short hair was a warrior as well. But as wise as the blue-eyed man. She knew about...Hania frowned. What he saw was strange to him...this woman found those strange things as easy to recognize and use as plants were for him. She also struggled with feelings of inadequacy. Often only the faith of her friends kept her from giving up.
It was impossible not to smile when thoughts of the slender darshinah filled his mind. So full of compassion. And, he sensed, passion as well. Her very soul had been wounded, yet she never let those hurts defeat her.
So different, each of these people. Yet so much alike...they had all suffered greatly, had all overcome deep adversity, had endured painful loss. They relied on one another in a way that was impossible for him to completely understand. Without a doubt these people would die for one another. They were just as willing to risk their lives for those they believed deserved their help. Still, he found himself wary of the strangers...
When the petals had been reduced to fine pieces, Hania carefully scattered those pieces over the fire. The resulting smoke was thick and slightly sweet smelling. He closed his eyes, waited until he could feel the presence of The Teacher...
She was sitting beside the fire, holding her hands toward its warmth. "They have arrived," she said softly.
"Yes," Hania replied.
"What does your heart tell you?"
"I am confused," the darshinah admitted. He had been well aware of the fact that the odd 'clubs' that the strangers carried were weapons. He didn't know exactly how the weapons were used, but his gift had alerted him to the fact that they were deadly. That the strangers carried such things... "What I see, I have never witnessed before. I am not sure if I see goodness, or if evil lurks in their thoughts."
The woman shook her head, her long, dark braids moving across her shoulders. "What does your heart tell you?"
Hania sighed. Closed his eyes. Examined the memories of each moment spent with those who had come to save his people...the words spoken, the questions asked. "They are good...very good."
"Look," the woman said, waving her hand over the flames of the fire.
Staring into the embers, watching as flames jumped and danced, Hania saw the strangers individually. Then, a blue haze surrounded each of them. It hovered around them, seemed to pull them together. When they were standing shoulder to shoulder to shoulder, in a circle, facing outward, the blue haze flared...and turned to white so bright that it hurt his eyes...he lifted a hand to shield his face from the glare.
If that weren't enough, he could make out figures...three figures...standing protectively around the man with the light-colored hair, their outstretched arms offering safety to those with him as well.
"What you see is a rare thing," the woman said softly. "Rarely do five hearts become so deeply entwined."
"They are...blessed?" Hania continued to watch the five, noting that the blue haze never seemed to disappear completely, even when they were not standing close to one another.
"They have been granted a great blessing," the woman replied. "Do you see him?"
The seer watched carefully. Once again his eyes were pulled toward the man with the light hair. His blue eyes seemed to burn with white light. Hania blinked, and the man was holding a sword made of flames.
"He is a Great Protector," the woman said.
The vision continued. Hania nearly cried out...from fear, from despair, in a vain attempt to warn the man when a dark fog seemed to envelope the him, and the woman with the beautiful green eyes, the darshinah. He could see the special bonds between the two...had seen with his own eyes the love that they had for one another...it had been impossible to miss in the glances the two shared, the smiles that they gave one another. When he was afraid the fog would consume the man and his wife, the sword of flames cut through the darkness. The other three ripped the darkness apart, the man and his wife stepped away from the lingering fog, and the five embraced.
"He suffers much because of who he is," the woman continued. "And she, more so."
"I believe he will always defeat the darkness," Hania whispered.
The woman smiled. "I believe so, too."
"And the gods have sent these blessed souls to help us?"
The woman smiled. "So it would seem."
The flames flared up one final time, and Hania was alone once more. He was shaking from what he had learned. Wondered briefly if those who had arrived were gods, demigods at the very least. Never had he witnessed such bright light around a 'mere' human before! Whoever they were, they were most certainly worthy. And they would save his people, as well as those of the other tribe. There wasn't a single doubt in his mind.
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