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Heaven Called While You Slept

 

Chapter 4

The woman sat cross-legged on a mat covered with silk. Stared at the round stone; the black and gray flecks seemed to mock her as she struggled to determine just exactly how to open the portal. The villagers with whom she resided insisted that only darshinah trained in the ways of the mahAlaya could do such a thing. While she had declared to them that she was their devatA, and had been able to contrive several situations that proved her abilities to the simple, uneducated people around her, she had dismissed their claims as nothing more than superstition. How often had the priests in her own temples use simple magic to maintain control over villages and towns similar to the one in which she sat? After almost five days of trying, however, with absolutely no success at all in controlling the stone, she was beginning to wonder if there wasn't a bit of truth to what she'd been told.

If what the villagers claimed was true, then she would use a bit of her own magic. She had no doubt of the mystical powers of the stone. Nor did she doubt that she would find a way to control those powers. It was nothing more than finding the right 'key' with which to unlock the power she sought.

She had learned of the stone while examining the ruins of a temple she'd believed had once belonged to Anubis. While he might have claimed the temple, it had not been built by him. Under the plaster that had covered rough stone walls, on which praises to the now dead System Lord had been painted, she'd discovered another story. Praises to mystical beings from 'other places', who had opened a 'doorway' between their world, and that of the mortals. There had been other stories...warnings...of the armies of demons who had been defeated by the 'glowing beings'. Demons who would serve any who would free them.

The smile that curled her lips was as malevolent as her thoughts. Who would be able to stop her if she commanded an army of demons? Who would dare to stand in her way? Let the others endeavor to learn all the secrets to cloning Kull Warriors, the biological creations of Anubis's twisted mind. Building such an army would take time, and resources - including symbiotes. And there was always the danger that the Kull warriors of one System Lord could be 'reprogrammed' by another. Her army, however, serve her alone, and all she had to do was open the doorway to reach them. She'd never again be forced to hide from others, to keep her experiments a secret. She would be able to work unfettered, access to what she needed unhindered; able to finally achieve her ultimate goal of the perfect human host.

All she had to do was discover the secret of controlling the portal. With a sigh of frustration, she rose to her feet. In the tall, wooden chest where she kept her most prized possessions was a small, animal skin bag. In it were the leaves of a very special plant. The smoke from the plant, when the leaves were tossed into open flames, were conducive to a more 'enlightened' state of mind. Given the mystical nature of the stone, it would be no surprise to learn that she needed to reach such levels of consciousness in order to control the powers hidden within what appeared to be a simple rock.

The brazier in the middle of the small hovel contained a brightly burning fire, the smoke rising out of the open center of the thatched roof. Pouch in hand, she settled herself once again on the mat where she had spent most of the day, contemplating the power of the stone now in her possession.

She frowned slightly, picked the rock up, not an easy feat for a woman of her small stature. Her own 'power' made the task somewhat easier. Once again she ran her fingers over the nine chevrons that had been carved into the face of the stone. Wondered again what the significance of the marks might be.

"Soon, I will know all of your secrets," she whispered. She opened the pouch, took a handful of dried leaves and scattered them over the fire. Immediately the flames flared up, burned blue and purple for just a moment, then settled back down, a thick cloud of smoke billowing toward the her.

She closed her eyes, breathed deeply, pulling as much of the smoke into her lungs as she could. Waited for the feeling of euphoria that always accompanied the inhalation of such vapors.

 

 

 

In a tree near the edge of the village, a slender blonde woman cocked her head to the side. Whoever the snake was, she was trying to figure out how to use the stone. And whoever the snake was, she had no idea of the power she was dealing with. If she succeeded...

Casey shivered. "Uh...boss? Heads up...the snake is trying to use the stone. If she opens that portal, only the gods know what could happen. All I know is it won't be good, and chances are, the villagers are going to suffer as a result."

Jack rested his forehead on the back of the hand that was wrapped around the top of his P90. Wasn't that always the way? Damned snakes were always screwing up his perfectly good plans! "Okay, Radar. Any other tidbits we should know about?"

"Sorry, boss, that's it," came the whispered response.

"O'Neill, if we move slowly, and keep to the shadows, it is possible that we could make it to the hut where the Goa'uld is hiding," Teal'c said quietly.

"Don't think we have any choice, Big Guy," Jack replied. "Carter, I need you to get up here. You're going to have to keep an eye on our six. Radar, you're going to have to help Danny keep watch on our flanks and rear...and let me know if we're running into trouble. Can you do that?"

"I think so," Casey whispered.

"Danny, anything that comes up from behind us, let us know."

"Right."

"Okay, let's get this done, so we can head home," Jack said.

Casey shivered. "Be careful, boss. I have a bad feeling about this."

"That figures," Jack snorted softly. "We don't have a choice, Radar. If you say that snake is trying to use that stone, and that it would be a bad thing if she does, then we have to stop her. One way or another. If Teal'c and I are caught, it'll be up to the three of you to spring us."

There was a moment of silence as the teammates contemplated the facts of the matter. And five hearts sighed with the knowledge that more than likely, things were about to go tits up on them.

"Situation normal," Casey whispered, with a sigh of resignation. The comment brought smiles to four faces.

"Let's do it," Jack said. He stayed as low to the ground as possible as he led the way toward the first of the huts.

Sam had shifted position, she could barely make out the brush where Jack and Teal'c were hiding. She glanced over her shoulder at Daniel.

He nodded, pointed toward the brush with his chin. Then slid his body to the center of the clearing, so that he was facing the forest behind them. He could watch both sides and their backs from this angle.

Reaching out to touch him, Sam squeezed his fingers when Daniel stretched his hand toward her. There was reassurance for both in the simple, fleeting contact. She slid forward, her intent to be hidden in the bushes as soon as possible, so that she could keep an eye on Jack and Teal'c.

Casey looked down, saw the barely visible form of her friend moving forward. When she looked toward the brush again, she could see that Jack and Teal'c had made it to the first hut, and were kneeling beside it. The owner of that particular hut was coming around the side...what he was doing, she had no clue. She did know that if her teammates weren't warned, they'd be seen. "Against the wall, T! Jack, slide back," she hissed into her radio. Relieved to see the men respond immediately to her nearly panicked instructions.

The dirt and low grass had been crushed by the bodies of the two men who had waited here for several hours; the ground was still warm, Sam noted, as she inched her way forward. She could see the hut that Jack, Teal'c, and Casey had been talking about. She could also see several groups of people milling about. Casey's comment had echoed in her ears, she'd been terrified that the two would be caught before they even made it into the village.

"There are a about a dozen people nearby," Sam whispered.

Jack glanced over his shoulder. Knew that Sam was hiding just behind him. Couldn't see her in the low bushes that had protected him and Teal'c. Gave a nod to let her know he'd heard.

With a glance over her shoulder, looking around quickly to make certain that group of hunters wasn't sneaking up on them, Casey turned her attention back to the village. "If you can go to the back of that hut on your left, you should be able to see them," she whispered.

Once again the men responded...moving slowly and carefully in the shadows. Jack gave a thumbs up, letting the watchers know that they could now see the few villagers who continued to mill around, mostly in front of their own homes.

When it looked as if the fires were being banked, Jack gave a silent sigh of relief. If the villagers would at least go into their huts, it would be much easier to sneak in and stop the snake.

 

 

 

The other occupants...and actual owners...of the small, well lit hut, huddled against the wall farthest from the doorway. They watched with wide, frightened eyes as the woman who claimed to be a devatA began to chant in a language they'd never heard before. All three, two women and a man, looked longingly toward the opening that led to escape. All three bore burn marks on their foreheads, the result of being punished by a woman more powerful than they could ever have imagined. It had been that power that had them declaring to their friends, neighbors, and family that the newcomer suddenly in their midst was to be obeyed. It was that power that prevented them from attempting escape now.

More of the leaves were scattered on the fire, once again the flames jumped and burned blue and purple, and more smoke filled the air. So much that the three captives began to cough slightly.

Running her fingers over the chevrons, trying to pull the meaning from the stone itself into her mind, the woman began to chant louder, unaware...and uncaring...that the gray cloud that filled the hut was affecting her prisoners.

Staring into the fire, the man began to have visions. He could see faces...he was certain of it. Faces that had no skin...eyes that glowed red from deep within. Faces that were grinning at him...laughing at him...rejoicing over his death...

 

 

 

Teal'c and Jack had made their way around the first hut, and were sidling up to the second, watching warily as they moved, always keeping in the shadows.

As long as no one decided to look out of the open doors, they'd be all right, Jack thought, following as Teal'c moved forward again. Darting to one of the other huts, closer to the Goa'uld infested hovel, Jack took lead. Glanced around to be certain no one was in sight, nor had a good view of them, was about to move again...

 

 

 

The faces had grown arms...long, hideous arms with hands that ended in black claws. Those hands were now reaching for him. The man screamed in terror.

Beside him, the two women began to shake. They had seen him staring at the flames, had noted the fear that had filled his eyes. The older of the two women had closed hers, unwilling to see whatever horrors he was beholding. The younger, however, had felt drawn by the flames. When she began to stare, she could see animals lurking in the flames...great beasts with open jaws and sharp, jagged teeth. One of the animals reared back on its legs, struck out at her...her scream echoed just moments after the man's broke the silence of the night.

Concerned for her companions, the older woman looked from their frightened faces into the fire. For a moment she saw only the flames. The flames twisted...changed. She had served as the healer for the village from the tender age of twelve, when she'd started her training at the side of her mother, the village bhiSaj. There were far too many times when her skills simply weren't enough to help those who were ill, or had been mortally wounded. The flames continued to grow taller...the faces of those she'd been unable to save stared coldly at her. She could feel their anger...Suddenly those dead were reaching for her, determined to drag her to the after-world...the scream that left her throat was as full of remorse as it was fear...

 

 

 

"Oh, shit," Casey whispered, watching as villagers appeared in the doorways of their homes. Stared helplessly as her two friends raced forward, oblivious to the danger they were putting themselves in. Protectors, she thought fleetingly. Doing what protectors always do...determined to rescue the innocent...

Daniel frowned. "What's wrong?"

"Jack and Teal'c are playing heroes," Casey replied.

"Shit," the archaeologist muttered. He rose to his feet, tried to see through the trees and the dark of the night that surrounded him.

Sam didn't see Jack or Teal'c until they ran through the middle of the village, toward the well-lit hut. Sighed mentally. Knew that neither man would have been willing...nor able...to simply stand by while those villagers were tortured. Of course, the outcome was now inevitable. At least two members of SG-1 were about to be captured.

 

 

 

The screams were filled with absolute terror. Knowing only that he wanted...needed...to stop the torture of innocent villagers, Jack raced toward the hut, Teal'c on his heels, neither man paying attention to the other villagers who were stumbling out of their own hovels.

Bursting through the open doorway of the hut, weapons ready to be fired, the two men were unprepared for what they found in the smoky interior. A woman, sitting cross-legged on a mat, her eyes closed, an almost feral smile on her lips. On the far side of the hovel were two women and a man, the features of their faces twisted into masks of abject terror, their eyes wide as they stared at the fire that burned in what looked like a brass fire-bowl. Screams continued to echo around them, as the three struggled against whatever horrors they were seeing. Movement behind them was the first alert that they weren't alone.

Jack felt the body heat of the villagers who began to press in behind him. Well, crap. Couldn't it be easy just once?

The eyes of the woman who had been sitting so calmly snapped open. Widened slightly as she looked at the two who had dared to interrupt her, then narrowed with the knowledge that while she was well aware of who the interlopers were, they were clueless to her identity. The gaze of her dark eyes focused on the Jaffa. No doubt he was aware that she was Goa'uld. Not that it mattered...he would be unable to recognize her.

"Let 'em go," Jack growled, nodding toward the three terrified people. They had finally stopped screaming, although what it was that had frightened them, he had no clue. The whimpers coming from what had to be raw throats were just as painful to hear, however.

"Take them!" the Goa'uld demanded as she pointed at the two men...the Tau'ri and the Jaffa...who dared intrude, her eyes flashing with eerie yellow light.

The struggle against the village men who surrounded them lasted for only a matter of moments. Teal'c and Jack found themselves disarmed, their packs tossed carelessly to the ground. One of the villagers tugged at the radio that was clipped to Jack's shoulder, dislodging the ear piece. Believing that the tiny black object had been part of Jack's ear, the man dropped it to the ground with the an expression of utter disgust.

"That went well," Jack muttered.

"Who are you?" the Goa'uld demanded to know. She had no intention of revealing that her time among the Tau'ri, as brief as it might have been, and aided by the recordings she had made, had given her a working command of their language.

While Teal'c was aware that Jack understood what was being said, and knew that he, like Sam, could speak far more of the Goa'uld language than he let on, he dutifully translated. It would be to their advantage if the false god believed that O'Neill had no idea what was being said. She might prove to be careless around him.

"Just the friendly neighborhood retrieval team," Jack said. He pointed toward the stone with his chin. "We came to take that back where it belongs."

Again, Teal'c translated.

"It is mine," the Goa'uld sneered.

"It is not," Teal'c replied. Just before translating for his teammate.

"Nope. Belongs to some nice folks up on the mountain. They were pretty upset to find out you and your people had taken it," Jack replied. He didn't miss the fact that the village men surrounding him shifted uneasily when Teal'c told the snake what he'd said. Hope flared when it felt as if they'd all taken a step backwards. If we can just prove that this snake is...well, a snake...these fellas just might switch sides, Jack thought, fanning that spark of hope.

The Goa'uld rose to her feet. Stood directly in front of the man who had let her walk away from the SGC that day. The brief conversation played through her memory...

 

"We've never dialed these coordinates before. I...sort of...hope you know what you're doing."

Even now, the fact that the Tau'ri had expressed even that slight bit of...concern?...was surprising.

"It is not my final destination. Without a sample of her blood, I will have to begin my experiment again." 

She was still in the process of doing just that, although the constant interference by other System Lords, who were determined to prevent her from breaking more of the Empire's rules, hindered her as much as the interference from the Tau'ri.

"Aw, nuts."

The smirk that had been on the man's face had told her that he was delighted to know she'd been foiled, even if the situation were only temporary. The cold look in his eyes had told her that he would have gladly ended her life, then and there.

"At least you have honored this much of our bargain. In your place, I doubt I would have done the same."

The only reason she had made a bargain with the Tau'ri was because she'd hoped to gather the sample of blood she needed. She'd had no fear that they would kill her, or even imprison her. Experience, as well as observation, had proven to her that if the Tau'ri promised her safe passage, they would keep that promise. A most useful trait, this Tau'ri sense honor. It made it so easy to manipulate them.

"I'll keep that thought alive."

 

She'd seen in his eyes that sense of superiority. That mere humans believed themselves more noble than Goa'uld...she shook her head mentally. It seemed that the foolish Tau'ri hadn't learned. They were still trying to save those who were too weak to stand for themselves. Determined to save those who didn't deserve to live.

The Goa'uld moved to stand in front of Teal'c. "Shol'va. Kneel before your god."

Teal'c's jaw tightened. "You are a false god. I do not kneel before false gods."

Once again the dark eyes of the Goa'uld moved to Jack. Narrowed further. If these two were together, then the other members of the infamous SG-1 were lurking somewhere nearby. The four individuals had garnered a reputation among the Goa'uld. That of being the most annoying group of humans who existed. They alone were responsible for half a dozen revolts among previously 'content' slaves. Far too many Goa'uld - System Lords and minor leaders - had met their deaths at the hands of SG-1. She, however, would be the one to put an end to their interference. Their deaths at her hand would eradicate her earlier 'sins', according to the laws of the Goa'uld Empire, as well as elevate her status among the other System Lords. "There are two others, a man and a woman. They are hiding nearby. Find them."

Four men remained, each holding the captives tightly. The others, most of whom were standing outside of the hovel, ran to gather their spears, bows and arrows. Torches were lit from the embers of banked cooking fires.

Teal'c's radio was still in place. Whether or not he'd had been able to activate it before his arms had been grabbed, Jack didn't know. He could only hope that Sam, Daniel, and Casey had been able to hear what was going on...

"Bind their arms and legs. Put them in the cage," the Goa'uld ordered. "Your deaths will allow me to finish my work unfettered," she purred, running a finger over Jack's jaw.

"Yeah, well don't count your chickens before they're hatched. Bigger snakes than you have threatened us," Jack smirked, as soon as Teal'c had finished translating her orders.

Her hand impacted on his cheek. "Insolence! You will pay for your disbelief!"

It was difficult to hide his surprise...Teal'c hadn't said a word...and Jack didn't think it was simply the tone of his voice that the snake was reacting to. This bitch understood English! "Yeah, we've heard that a time or two, haven't we, T?"

"Indeed," Teal'c replied. Whoever this false god was, she had known what O'Neill had said. A most disadvantageous situation.

"Take them!" she hissed, her eyes glowing steadily, not immediately realizing her 'slip' had just armed her prisoners with an important tidbit of information about her.

That tiny flame of hope was nearly snuffed out completely when Jack found himself being manhandled, ropes wrapped around his knees and ankles, his arms pull behind him and his wrists bound tightly. Shoved off balance, he started to fall, only to be caught by one of the men standing beside him. His legs were grabbed by another man, and he was being carried. He looked around...Teal'c was suffering the same indignities.

It wasn't until the two prisoners had been taken out that she turned to look at the three villagers who were curled up on the floor in the fetal position, their eyes glassy with terror. She frowned slightly. She'd ignored the screams...an ability honed after centuries of hearing the sounds of agony ripped from the throats of her victims as she conducted her experiments. Unsure of what had happened, her gaze moved to the stone. Had the three seen something...something so horrible that their feeble minds couldn't deal with what they'd witnessed?

The thought that the 'mind-enhancing' smoke, rather than the portal/stone, could have affected them didn't occur to her. She'd been in a trance of her own; hadn't noticed how thick the smoke had become in the small hut. Her arrogance wouldn't allow her to believe it possible that such simple creatures, as she viewed the villagers, were capable of reaching an elevated level of consciousness.

With little thought of what she was doing, other than ridding herself of unnecessary impediments, the Goa'uld wrapped her fingers around the zat'nik'tel that hung at her side. In just a matter of moments the three were gone...erased from existence.

Her attention returned to the newly captured prisoners. Just what was SG-1 doing on this planet? What interest did they have in the stone? Surely they weren't simply attempting to return it to the small group of superstitious fools on the mountain!

 

 

 

Casey watched as villagers began to move out from the village. "This is not good," she murmured. There was no doubt that Sam would be found...and rather quickly...while she was well hidden from sight, the bushes wouldn't prevent her from being located by those actively seeking for lurkers. Daniel was even more vulnerable.

"Don't move, Casey," Daniel whispered. "Stay out of sight."

"But-"

"He's right," Sam's voice said. "You're going to have to get us out."

"Right," Casey sighed. No clue how she was going to pull off that feat.

 

 

 

The ropes Jack and Teal'c found themselves bound with had been made of some plant, and were strong enough to withstand their struggles to break the bonds. They were unceremoniously shoved into a large 'cage', made of wooden poles which had been lashed together with rawhide strips. The strips had been wet when tied, and then allowed to dry. The leather strips had shrunk as the moisture within them evaporated, making them tighter than even nails could hold the wood.

The structure was tall enough to stand in, had they been able to stand, and large enough for several people at a time. No doubt the snake in the hut nearby had used this often as a means of controlling the villagers.

"Still have your radio, Teal'c?" Jack asked quietly. Since it seemed the snake understood good ol' American English, they were going to have to keep their voices as low as possible.

"I do not," Teal'c replied. "It was dislodged from my shoulder moments ago."

"Figures," Jack muttered.

When whoops of jubilation echoed on the still night air, there was no doubt that the rest of SG-1 had been captured.

"Teal'c, she said 'a man and a woman'," Jack mused.

"Indeed."

"She doesn't know about Casey."

"So it would seem."

"Let's hope Radar is still in that tree," Jack said. He frowned thoughtfully. "If the snake doesn't know about Radar, then she's a snake we met before Radar came to the SGC."

"Indeed," Teal'c nodded. "That would significantly lessen the list of possible Goa'uld."

Jack gave a shrug, as much as he was able. "Right now it doesn't matter who she is."

"Indeed."

A sharp yell pulled their attention back to the commotion within the village. The 'cage' was far enough to the side of the village that they didn't have a clear view, but they could see enough. The torches held over the heads of the villagers illuminated their path well enough to see that Daniel and Sam...minus their weapons and packs, which the two had managed to hide before being captured...were being pushed and prodded toward the still well-lit hut. Casey, however, was nowhere to be seen.

 

 

 

From where she was hidden in the tree, Casey could barely see where Teal'c and Jack were being held. Watched as Jack looked toward her. "Don't give me away, boss," she grumped, looking through her binoculars.

Knowing that she couldn't attempt anything until those villagers were asleep, she settled in to wait. Her heart was pounding, fear was humming through her veins. Hoping that there would be no further screams...especially any coming from her Husband and teammates, she tried to figure out just how she was going to free the rest of SG-1.

 

 

 

"Radar will bust us out," Jack said confidently.

"Undoubtedly. She will wait until there is no movement in the village,' Teal'c replied.

"True. Guess we might as well get comfortable, huh?"

The two men did their best to do just that, having been dropped onto the damp ground, arms and legs useless due to the bindings. Neither doubting for a moment that their imprisonment was temporary.

 

 

 

Daniel and Sam were forced to their knees in front of the woman who stood glaring at them.

"Well, well. Doctor Jackson and Major Carter." The Goa'uld frowned. She was aware that the major had been temporary host to a Tok'ra...she'd learned that fact when she had adjusted the DNA in the child...what had they called the girl?...But when had the archaeologist been host...and to whom? Just as it was possible to learn to differentiate between twins, if one spent enough time with them, Goa'uld could sense the identity of other Goa'uld they had been in close proximity to for a short period of time. Often an hour or so was long enough to be able to recognize individual differences. The frown deepened when she sensed a familiarity in the man...someone she recognized; but there wasn't enough of his essence to identify...

The two jerked slightly, exchanged surprised glances. "You know us?" Sam asked. Not bothering to disguise the fact that she'd learned the 'language of the gods'.

The 'mental itch' that he felt was about to drive him nuts. For a moment he wondered if the sensation was what Casey felt just before one of her 'info dumps'. Sam had told him that the presence of a Goa'uld would feel like 'tingles'. And, it had...at first. But now...there was something that his mind was trying to decipher...some hint it was trying to latch onto. He knew this woman...or at least the snake inside her. He had no idea how he knew that, but Daniel had never been more certain about anything in his life. "I know you," he said, staring at the Goa'uld as if doing so would bring the name forward in his memory. Images flashed through his mind. Odd, fuzzy memories that he didn't recognize, but a face that he did...his mind scrambling to identify the woman; his own memories of the time spent pacing the halls outside of the infirmary, wishing he could do something to help Janet, to help Cassie...

Mind fire.

"Nirrti!" he whispered hoarsely.

Sam's eyes went wide, then narrowed in hatred.

The Goa'uld jerked slightly. The only way for the handsome man to know her identity was if he'd been host to a Goa'uld who knew her...one who had spent time near her. While she could sense the naquadah that flowed through his veins, she didn't sense the presence of a symbiote. Two facts that could mean only one thing..."So, you were a host to one of my kind," Nirrti replied, her surprise evident in her eyes. She wondered who the Goa'uld had been...and just how the human had managed to escape. The Tok'ra, no doubt, with their drugs and the device that could rip an unwilling symbiote from the host.

"For a few hours," Daniel replied, haughty in the knowledge that his own body had destroyed the Goa'uld symbiote. "A very 'enlightening' four hours, as a matter of fact."

"And just what happened, that the god who had chosen you left so quickly?"

"He died," Daniel replied, with a smirk.

Again Nirrti was unable to hide her surprise. "Died?"

"Yeah. My body attacked the symbiote...just like it attacks any other invading virus or bacteria. It really was all over in about four hours. Pretty painful for the snake, too," Daniel said, gloating over the terror that flickered in the Goa'uld's dark eyes.

"Not possible!" Fear moved through her, leaving her shivering in its wake. If the humans had found a way to repel a symbiote, preventing themselves from becoming hosts...the implications were terrifying. And made her work all the more important. With this new information, she could rise to prominence among the System Lords. They would rally to her side, see that she had all that she needed to conduct her experiments, to complete her quest in finding...creating...the perfect host. One that she would have to make impervious to Tau'ri 'meddling'.

"Hey, you'd be surprised at what we can do. Always learning, that's us," Daniel taunted. "Making allies with societies who have very interesting scientific...advances."

Sam ducked her head for a moment, in order to hide the smile that she couldn't hold back.

"I do not believe you," Nirrti replied coldly, watching the major. Did the major hide her face because she would not be able to hide the truth? Surely the archaeologist spoke lies. Yes, she thought, calming herself. He was lying.

"I don't care whether you believe me or not," Daniel shot back. "Why don't you do yourself a favor. Leave before we kill you."

"You amuse me, Doctor Jackson. Have you not noticed that you are kneeling before me?"

"Just a minor detail."

"I admire your spirit," Nirrti smiled.

"Yeah, I'm just thrilled to know that," Daniel snorted. "Last chance, Nirrti. Walk away. Let us return the stone to the people who know how to use it."

 

 

 

Casey shifted slightly. Pulled her pack closer. Okay, what did she have in her little bag of tricks? Change of clothes. Extra socks...as per instructions from Jack. Water. Journal. MREs. Energy bar...hmm...that sounds like a good idea.

Doing her best to remain as quiet as possible, she opened the cellophane wrapper. Took a bite, then continued to examine the contents of her pack. Duct tape...that's not going to help much.

With a sigh, she closed the pack, shrugged the straps back onto her shoulders. She had her P90, and two extra magazines, plus a Beretta 9 millimeter with one extra magazine.

There was no way that she could hurt the villagers. While they were responsible for taking the stone from where it belonged, they hadn't been acting on their own prerogative. They were simply trying to prevent the snake in residence from killing them. Damned snakes anyway...causing so much pain and heartache wherever they go!

What she wanted to do was fire off a few rounds into the snake...She paused. Could she get close enough to do that? She shook her head. No way in hell. She wasn't a special ops trained soldier...or a Jaffa. She didn't have the skills; the training to slip close enough...unheard and unseen...to do the job. She'd made her weapons qualifications, and had the certificate to prove it, but a sniper she was not.

Another sigh. Her best bet was to free Jack and Teal'c. Then the three of them could get Daniel and Sam. Once the team was together, they could deal with the snake, grab the stone, and take it back to Hania's people, where it belonged.

She watched the village. There were still far too many of the villagers stirring about. The excitement of taking prisoners had enlivened them. Several groups, mostly men, stood talking animatedly about what was happening around them.

It would be too much to think that those villagers would help the team. They were too afraid of the Goa'uld who had taken control...she'd sensed that when she'd 'seen' the two who had stolen the stone.

What would happen if she freed Jack and Teal'c now? If she could remain unseen, would the villagers believe that her friends had 'powers' of their own? It might be enough of a distraction to prevent those men from interfering while the team did what they had to do.

Another bite of the energy bar. Raising the binoculars to her eyes, Casey scrutinized the area near the cage where Teal'c and Jack were lying. If she kept to the brush that surrounded the village, theoretically she should be able to spring the two men without the villagers being any the wiser. There were plenty of trees for her to climb. Keeping out of sight would keep anyone from knowing she was around. That could definitely be an advantage.

Stuffing the half eaten bar into her pack, Casey began to climb down from the tree. Hoped that no one would hear when she dropped from the lowest branch to the ground...

 

 

 

Nirrti paced around the prisoners. "I have already learned the secrets of the stone."

Daniel and Sam exchanged a glance.

"That's right. I know how to open the portal. How to control the demons who wait on the other side," the Goa'uld said, her voice full of bravado.

Another glance, their confusion...and the worry it brought with it...bright in both sets of blue eyes.

"No one will be able to stop me, not as long as I control a legion of demons who will do my bidding." Nirrti practically purred.

Demons? Daniel frowned. He supposed it was possible that demons could slip through the open portal, if there wasn't a 'guide' to prevent such a thing. Was that the danger that Casey had sensed? Would these demons possess the people of the village, or would they be like Mibi and his minions? Either way, it so wasn't a good thing!

Sam's thoughts mirrored her teammate's. If the stone opened a portal to the dream world, was it possible that all the dark things that lurked in the shadows of the night could be loosed? Or were those shadows only what hid in the minds, the subconscious, of the dreamer? Did they dare risk innocent villagers if Nirrti really was able to summon an army of demons?

"I see that you fear what I can do," Nirrti said, smiling at them. There was nothing benevolent in the action.

"I think you're crazy, myself," Daniel sneered.

"That stone doesn't do anything," Sam added, hoping to at least plant a seed of doubt.

It had been their experience that most of the time, the Goa'uld would boast of abilities they didn't actually have, often in an attempt to merely frighten their prisoners into believing they were far more powerful than they actually were. Daniel nodded his head. "Sam's right. It's symbolic at best."

"Lies! It is a portal to the world of darkness. And I control it!" Nirrti hissed.

"Yeah? So where is this army of yours? I don't see anything. Not hearing any screaming that would signify demons on the loose," Daniel said. Like Sam, he was hoping that if they could make Nirrti doubt enough she'd lose all interest in the stone.

The angry glow of her eyes told her prisoners far more than Nirrti realized. "Where the army awaits is no concern of yours," she replied easily.

"Because it doesn't exist," Daniel insisted.

"Silence!"

Daniel and Sam exchanged a quick glance. In that look they agreed...regardless of her bravado, Nirrti hadn't yet unlocked the secrets of the stone. That was a very good thing.

 

 

 

Casey took the time to grab the packs and P90's that Sam and Daniel had left behind. If Jack and Teal'c were suddenly free and armed again, that should give the villagers something to think about!

All attention seemed to be on the hut near the center of the village. Which meant she was able to circumvent the cluster of simple shelters, keeping within the shadows of the trees and brush, with little trouble. The second break came when she realized that no one was guarding the two men who were lying on the ground in that cage. Well, Casey thought, they were trussed up like Christmas turkeys. No need to keep an eye on someone who couldn't even move, right?

A glance at her watch told her that she'd been able to get to the cage in less than twenty minutes. Eyes darting back and forth, making certain she wouldn't be seen, she crept toward the wooden enclosure. Remaining in the shadows as much as possible, Casey crept closer. "Jack? Don't look over here! If they don't know about me, we can use that against them!"

"Good thinking, Radar," Jack replied. Best damned recruit he'd ever trained! She listened! Better still, she retained what he taught her.

"I'm going to cut you guys loose...then I'll need a boost into the nearest tree."

"Got this all figured out, do ya?"

"Yep, so don't screw up my plans," Casey retorted. Rolled her eyes at the soft chuckles she heard.

Both men managed to upright themselves into a sitting position, able to keep an eye on the villagers they could see milling about in the center of the village.

The door was easily opened...a single piece of thick wood was shoved into what looked like a carved lock. Knife in hand, Casey cut the ropes that bound their hands.

"Head on back," Jack ordered, as soon as his hands were free. He reached for one of the three P90 straps that the slender blonde had over her shoulder.

With a nod of understanding, Casey slipped out of the cage, and faded into the forest that surrounded the village. Watched as Teal'c and Jack untied their legs and ankles.

Within a matter of minutes Teal'c was lifting her toward the lower branch of one of the alder giants that graced the area.

"Stay put, unless we call for you," Jack said.

"Got it," Casey replied.

"T, we need to find your radio," the CO continued.

"I believe I know where it is," Teal'c replied.

Moving with the stealth of training and experience, the two men moved back the way they had come.

The radio was nearly buried in the dirt, having been trampled by calloused bare feet as the prisoners had been dragged to the pen. Teal'c's genetically enhanced vision was able to see one corner of the small device reflecting in the dim moonlight. He smiled when he realized that the transmitter and receiver were still connected via the thin, black wire that was in turn plugged into the radio. He brushed the dirt away, clipped the radio to his pocket, and adjusted the headset. "Casey Jackson, do you hear me?"

"Loud and clear," Casey responded.

Teal'c nodded at Jack.

"Follow my lead," Jack said. Then boldly strode toward the middle of the village. Muzzle of his weapon pointed upward, he pressed his finger against the trigger. The sound of the P90 being fired split the air.

Villagers whirled in panic, several screamed to see the two men who had been tied and locked in the cage stomping toward them. That the two once again held the same mysterious objects they had arrived with, which the darshinah had confiscated, caused another flurry of panic to move like a wave over the group.

Nirrti raced to the opening of the hut, as surprised as the villagers to see Jack and Teal'c walking toward her.

"I told you to leave while you had the chance," Daniel said, rising to his feet. He dove toward the side of the hut, where the packs and weapons taken from Jack and Teal'c were still lying. Tossed one of the weapons to Sam.

The 'guards' were backing away from the two prisoners as quickly as possible, would have raced from the hut in sheer terror had the 'darshinah' not been standing there.

"Danny?" Jack called out, stopping just a few feet from the hut.

"Yeah?"

"Grab that stone."

The stone was much heavier than its size suggested. He struggled for a moment. Put it into the middle of the silk cloth that had covered the mat the Goa'uld had been sitting on, and wrapped it carefully. "Got it," Daniel replied.

When Sam and Daniel emerged from the hut, pushing past Nirrti to do so, packs and weapons in hand, the villagers clamored together and began to back away. None missed the reverence with which the man with the light colored hair cradled the stone in his arms.

"Seize them!" Nirrti screeched, her eyes moving over the gathered villagers. Not one of whom moved to obey. "I order you to seize them!"

The reactions of the villagers had the hope that had flickered earlier burning brightly now. "Daniel, tell these good folks that they don't have to be afraid of this...woman...any longer," Jack said, his eyes cold as ice as they focused on the Goa'uld. His P90 was pointed directly at her.

With a nod, Daniel turned to face the frightened villagers. "This woman can no longer hurt you. We've destroyed her power over you."

"You realize who she is, right?" Sam asked, her voice raspy with pent-up emotion.

"She never did introduce herself," Jack admitted. Which, now that he thought about it, was rather odd. The snakes always liked to brag about who they were.

"Nirrti," Daniel said, his voice low.

Brown eyes narrowed. "Well, I'll be damned. Guess you won't be walking away this time," he said, his voice menacing.

Nirrti took one step back, was already raising her arm to activate her personal shield, her eyes as focused on Jack as his were on her. She must escape, and find a new hiding place. No doubt these meddlesome Tau'ri would gladly announce to the other System Lords that she was still alive and still conducting her experiments. That was a risk she couldn't take.

When the sharp staccato sound of the P90 filled the air, no one watching realized for a few moments which weapon had been fired.

The Goa'uld fell to the dirt, multiple puncture wounds bleeding profusely. One of the bullets had pierced the woman's throat...negating any need to worry that the symbiote had survived.

Sam stepped closer. "That's for Cassie," she ground out between gritted teeth.

The villagers dropped to their knees, lowered themselves until their heads were on the ground, more afraid of the newcomers than they had been of the woman who had suddenly appeared in their midst three months prior, arriving in a flash of bright light.

Daniel handed the stone to Teal'c, then leaned down to pull the closest man to his feet. "No, don't do that," he said gently. "We aren't here to harm you. Just to return the stone to its rightful place."

"We had no desire to bring the maNika here," the man said, glancing from one face to the other, before looking carefully at Daniel. "She...she told us that only by bringing the stone here would The People see that our ways were better...were right."

Jack snorted his disgust. "Yeah, nothing like using their own hopes against them."

"I believe that is typical of the Goa'uld," Teal'c replied.

From what she could see, the team was free, and none of the villagers seemed eager to 'recapture' them. Casey was eager to be with her teammates, she was feeling a bit vulnerable alone. "Uh...guys? Can I join the party?"

Teal'c smiled. "Casey Jackson wishes to join us."

"Come on in, Radar!" Jack called over his shoulder.

It took her ten minutes, by the time she climbed out of the tree, and made it to the center of the village, weighed down by two extra packs.

Several gasps of surprise went up when the slender blonde stepped up next to the obvious leader of the group of outsiders.

Casey had been witness to Sam's wrath. She took a moment to look at the downed Goa'uld. "Wow. Nice placement, Sam."

The major gave a grim smile. "I can't wait to tell Janet and Cassie that the bitch is dead."

"Which bitch?"

"Nirrti."

Information gleaned from mission reports as she worked on the database, detailing the hidden labs located by SG teams, flashed through her mind. Time spent on a frigid planet, coming face to face with the progeny of Nirrti's twisted experiments, poor souls doomed to live like the creatures they appeared to be, sent a shudder down her spine. The most damning of the thoughts about the Goa'uld however, centered on what Cassie had told her as they had trudged toward Cheyenne, during their escape from Kinsey. The teen's descriptions of being a living, breathing bomb, and then dealing with the 'mind fire' that Nirrti had created in her still left her shaking with horror...and anger. How many people had suffered because of Nirrti? How many children had died because of Nirrti? "That's Nirrti?" Casey asked.

"Yep," Daniel replied.

Each member of SG-1 harbored a dark hatred of the Goa'uld. No one, least of all her teammates, was prepared for Casey's reaction. The slender blonde walked toward the body. Pulled her Beretta from the holster on her thigh. And placed a single round between the dead woman's eyes.

"Uh...Radar?" Jack asked, clearing his throat to cover his unexpected...and certainly unwanted...emotional reaction to what had been an act of pure rancor. Not, he thought quickly, exonerating Casey's actions, that Nirrti hadn't deserved exactly what she got.

"There's evil, and then there's evil. This bitch went beyond that," Casey murmured. "What she did to Cassie was unforgivable."

One by one, the villagers were rising to their feet. That they were free of the harsh taskmaster that the devatA had been was obvious. It was just as clear to them that whatever...whoever...she had been, she had been the enemy of the people who had come for the stone. It was also apparent that these strangers would not hurt them...had risked capture in an attempt to still the screams that had come from the now empty hut. None of the villagers understood what had happened to the three who had lived happily in the hut prior to the devatA's arrival.

"Please...tell our-" The man speaking broke off, turned his head for a moment as he struggled with his own emotions. "Tell those on the mountain that we meant no harm...no disrespect."

"I'll tell them," Daniel replied kindly.

"Tell them...tell them that if they wish to visit, they will be welcome here."

Daniel smiled. "I think they'll be pleased to hear that."

"Are the people in there okay now?" Jack asked, nodding toward the hut.

Sam and Daniel exchanged a glance. "There wasn't anyone there," Daniel replied. "Just...her. And the villagers who were serving as guards."

Jack closed his eyes, swallowed hard. "She killed them."

"It is safe to assume that she utilized her zat'nik'tel," Teal'c said quietly.

Damn it! I was supposed to save them! I was trying to save them! Jack's jaw worked as he dealt with the facts of the matter.

Casey gently placed her hand on Jack's arm. "I don't know what went on in there...but whatever it was, it was bad. They're at peace now. If we couldn't save them from...whatever happened...at least our being here led to their...release. Nirrti wouldn't have bothered..." She paused, took a deep, shuddering breath. "If not for us, that bitch wouldn't have even acknowledged their presence. And they'd have been left...it would have been awful for them."

"You're sure?" Jack asked, his voice raspy with the swirling emotions that the past hour or so had stirred up.

Casey gave a soft smile. "I'm sure."

Giving her hand a pat, Jack tried to accept what the seer told him. Wrapped the offer of comfort around his battered heart. Took a deep breath, blew it out, and focused on what was left to do. "Let's go, campers. That group up there isn't going to budge from that ledge until we get this thing back to them."

Even though they were bone-tired, the team wouldn't rest until the stone was back on the 'altar' in that cavern. When their mission was completed, they'd sleep.


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