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Daniel tapped the handle of the flashlight. The beam was dim at first, then brightened to its full intensity. Whatever was in this place, it was affecting everything, including batteries. So far neither Casey nor Sam had responded to his worried calls over the radio. He was left to assume that something was interfering with it as well.
He was not going to panic, he told himself. Sam and Casey were together. They were capable women. This was not going to become a repeat of the two and a half months he'd just survived.
The convergence of five passageways surprised him. Now that had not been there when they'd come in! "Casey?...Sam?...Jack?...Teal'c?"
Carefully covering each passageway in turn with his light, his heart fell to his feet. This was not good! There were MALP tracks in every one of them...and that was just not possible!
Okay, Danny boy. Take a deep breath. Stay calm. This could be a simple optical illusion. Which would mean that only one path was 'real'. Two paths led off to the right and to the left at ninety-degree angles. The other two seemed to be at forty-five degree angles, left and right. Which, logically, would indicate that the center passage was the correct one. They hadn't actually made any turns...he'd found the cuneiform on those stones...in fact, as far as he'd already come, he should be at the opening to the ziggurat by now!
He ran his hand over his jaw. He'd stick with the center passage. It was possible that he couldn't see the open door because night had fallen. If it was dark, that meant that the meteor storm had ended...
With a shake of his head, he adjusted the straps of the pack on his shoulders, and started out again, walking with more confidence than he was feeling. He had the sudden, inexplicable urge to whistle, a means to ward of the fear that was creeping slowly into his mind. It had never bothered him to be alone while the rest of the team attended to their own tasks. He'd been alone inside temples and tombs many times, doing the work he loved, the work that was required of him, and had never been afraid. This was not one of those times.
He checked his watch. Frowned when he realized that it wasn't working. Maybe the battery had taken a hit, like that of the MALP. So far, the passageway had remained the same...plain, unadorned stone walls, dirt floor with MALP tracks and what appeared to be five different sets of boot prints. All going the opposite direction.
There was no way they'd traveled this far into the structure, absolutely no way! Even without his watch he knew that he'd been walking for at least twenty minutes. It had only take ten minutes or so to find that first junction, and that...warning. This was getting creepy, he decided. Totally creepy.
Jack looked around. Okay, this was more than just annoying. Knowing that Teal'c never would have just 'wandered off', he tightened his grip on the P90 in his hands. It didn't help that he was now staring at four different passageways. All of them complete with MALP tread marks and five sets of boot prints...all heading in the direction from which he'd just come.
The tiny hairs on the back of his neck were standing out...a sure sign that he was nervous...and that he was being observed...from somewhere. He wiped a hand over his face. Keyed his radio...again. "Talk to me, campers!" he ordered gruffly. And received the same static in reply that he'd been getting for...he looked at his watch again. Still not working.
What would happen if he just sat down on the floor and refused to take another step? If he blatantly resisted all attempts by...whoever...to screw with his head? Often, such defiance resulted in some not so nice things happening. Maybe this time, it'd be proof that he and his kids weren't game pieces to play with.
He made himself comfortable, leaning against the wall, stretching his long legs out in front of him. He shivered a bit, pulled his jacket around his frame just a bit tighter. Damn, he hated the cold.
For a few moments he debated on whether or not to leave his flashlight on. So far, it seemed that he was the only living thing in the area. If the rest of the team happened upon him...well now, that was a comforting thought. He frowned. Unless they were experiencing the same damned thing. He could always take a nap, he supposed.
"What the hell is going on?" he muttered.
Teal'c stared at the spot where O'Neill had been standing. The Jaffa had turned his head only for a moment, to determine how far back they must walk to return to their teammates. When he looked back at where his best friend had been standing, there were four passageways...and no O'Neill.
He keyed his radio. "O'Neill?"
Static was the only response. It was the same when he attempted to contact Sam, Daniel, and Casey as well.
He frowned. This was highly...unusual. No doubt a test of some type, to determine how he'd react to the situation. His teammates were probably enduring the same frustrating conditions.
To wander aimlessly could precipitate becoming hopelessly lost in the maze inside the structure. With passageways appearing and disappearing at random, there was no way to remain on a specific course.
The frown deepened. Casey Jackson had sensed no danger. She did admit, however, that her 'sight' was being blocked. She could only sense 'curiosity'. Apparently his unseen captor was inquisitive about him and his friends. They would have to find a means of satisfying that curiosity other than at his expense. He would not cooperate until he knew that his friends...the people who had become family to him...were safe.
He pulled himself to his full six foot-six inch height. "I will not perform like a trained animal," he growled. "Where are my companions?"
He would meditate. Often the answers to his problems came to him when he cleared his mind, and allowed the training, and the experience that he had, to move forward of its own volition.
The large Jaffa made himself comfortable in the middle of the passageway. He turned off his flashlight; after all, his eyes would be closed, negating any need for the illumination. His eyes drifted shut, and he began to clear his mind.
When the two women had reached the junction, and counted seven different passageways, they'd looked at each other with silent shock. The most unnerving thing about the situation was that each of the tunnels had tread marks made by the MALP, and five distinct sets of boot prints...all heading in the opposite direction of where they were going.
Sam had turned to get a closer look at the passageway to her left, and when she looked back at Casey, she found herself alone. She frowned slightly. She knew that the seer wouldn't have just wandered off, especially without saying something. Blue eyes widened with the thought that someone had come up behind them, and had managed to spirit Casey away. She knew for a fact it could happen.
It was difficult to not give in to the panic that she could feel rising in her chest. The fastest, surest way to make the situation worse, to get herself killed, was to panic. It didn't help when all attempts to use the radio netted only the loud hiss of static. It was as if she were totally alone in this mammoth structure. That was a totally terrifying thought!
If she continued to take the tunnels furthest to the left...she shook her head. That would only work if the maze remained the same. It seemed that passageways were appearing...and disappearing...randomly.
During training, she'd been taught that if she became separated from her companions, and had no idea where she was, no way to make that determination, finding a safe place to 'settle in' would allow teammates to conduct a search and more easily locate her. A person wandering lost could actually work his or her way farther away from help.
She shuddered slightly when she looked around. This place gave her the heebie-jeebies. Too much like the ziggurat where they'd gone on a joint mission with the Russians. Only one Russian had survived, and she'd been seriously injured. That SG-1 had managed to get out alive and unscathed was testimony to their experience and that mythical, magical good luck.
By now, Jack and Teal'c and Daniel were probably looking for her and Casey. She couldn't complicate that task for them...
With a sigh, she sat down, pressed her back against the wall. Part of her brain insisted that she conserve the batteries in her flashlight. She glanced around again. She could feel...whoever...could sense she was being watched. No way. The light stayed on.
Casey bit back the scream of terror that tried to force its way out of her throat. She'd turned to look behind her when that feeling of being watched became too strong to ignore. When she was about to call Sam's attention to the disquiet she was feeling, to see if her best friend was sensing the same thing, she found herself face to face with five separate passageways. And Sam was nowhere to be seen. When she realized that each of the tunnels had MALP tracks and five sets of boot prints...she took a deep breath.
"Sam? Sam? Come on, this isn't funny! I know you guys have done this ziggurat thing before...but there's no need to scare the bejeezus out of the newbie!"
She shivered when the only answer was the continued silence around her. "Daniel? Something is going on..." She moaned softly when rather than the calming, sexy voice of her Husband, she heard only the hiss of static from the radio. This was not happening!
Looking around her, she tried to decide if backtracking would be her best option. Now there were two passageways behind her!
"This is so not funny!" she grumped. She tried reaching out again, only to 'bump' into that dark wall. She still wasn't sensing anything dangerous...but then again, she wasn't sensing anything at all!
With a sigh, Casey decided to walk back down the path she and Sam had been on. She was pretty sure it was the same one. Okay, she thought irritably, ziggurats are on the list of things to avoid!
Very interesting. Only three of the five have been trained as warriors. The other male...very intelligent. Something about him...familiar. The female's gift of sight is strong. What will their deepest fears reveal about them?
A A A A A A
General Hammond frowned. Five hours and counting. The past hour had been spent trying to dial to the planet. The seventh chevron refused to lock. Multiple diagnostic tests, and dialing to the Alpha site and three other Stargates had left them with only one conclusion. Something had happened to the 'gate on P6Y 107. And that meant that SG-1 was stranded there. By now, the team was most probably dead. Oxygen levels were too low for them to survive without the air tanks. And those had been depleted well over an hour ago.
"Contact General Carter," Hammond said quietly. He was going to take advantage of the debt owed to his premier team by the Tok'ra. They had ships, and right now, the SGC didn't. They could think of a cover story later...if Jacob could just get to the team, they'd be all right.
"Yes, sir," Walter Harriman replied. Using the new device that Selmak had given the Tau'ri, a means of communicating without the use of the Stargate, he sent a message requesting that General Jacob Carter contact the SGC immediately. The code he encrypted the few words with was the emergency code. With luck, the Tok'ra would respond within an hour or so.
Gracie Williams caught the General's attention. "Sir, there's a phone call for you. Someone named Gary Franklin. He said you're expecting to hear from him."
It was all Hammond could do to keep from moaning out loud. He understood that this man, and his company, could be instrumental in keeping tabs on the NID...something that was necessary for the safety of the SGC in general, and SG-1 in particular. He also knew that Mr. Franklin would more than likely inquire about his daughter. "Thank you, Gracie. I'll take it in my office. Let me know as soon as Jacob replies."
"Yes, sir," Walter said.
He hurried up the stairs to the twenty-seventh level and into his office. Dropped down into his chair. Took a deep breath. Picked up the receiver. "General Hammond."
"General, I'm Gary Franklin. Jack O'Neill said he'd have a conversation with you about giving me a tour of your facility."
"Yes, he did, Mr. Franklin."
"I understand that you have a...pest problem...that my company might be able to assist you with."
Hammond couldn't help but smile. Jack had informed him that he'd been on several black ops with this man. Franklin understood the need for secrecy. And how to say exactly what he needed to, without giving one thing away. "So Colonel O'Neill tells me. When would be a convenient time for you?"
Sitting in his office in Kansas City, Gary bit back a smile. Jack must have laid it on thick! "I can be there in a matter of hours."
Oh, hell! He did not want this man taking 'the tour' while his daughter and the rest of SG-1 were missing! He studied the pictures of Abby and the girls that sat proudly on his desk. Simmons' arrest had only sent that group deeper into the shadows, it wouldn't stop them. Keeping an eye on the NID was nearly as important as gathering information on and fighting the Goa'uld. "I'll arrange for a temporary visitor's pass to be waiting for you at the main gate. I'll meet you in the visitor's lounge at thirteen hundred tomorrow."
"I'll be there," Gary replied.
"Thank you for calling, Mr. Franklin."
"Yes, sir. Goodbye."
The general gently laid the receiver in the cradle. Hopefully by then SG-1 would be on the Tok'ra base. Where they'd revive in three days...or so.
A A A A A A
Casey stopped. Put her hands on her hips. This was just ridiculous! "I am so not amused!" she shouted. "I'm getting rather pissy, as a matter of fact!"
She hadn't expected a response. But the silence only served to irritate her further. If whoever was watching her...and probably the rest of the team as well...wanted a show, well, they could just find their entertainment elsewhere!
She dropped to the floor. "I'm not playing your game," she grumped.
Daniel heaved a sigh. Okay, he was getting nowhere fast. No telling how much further into the maze he'd managed to get. He was still getting only static on his radio, although that could be due to the fact that he'd gone deeper into the structure, and it was possible that he was out of range.
He frowned as something Jack had told him flittered through his mind. There was a distress signal that could be sent using the radio. Taking it from his shoulder, he located the tiny red button. Pressed it, then snapped the radio back to his vest. Sam would be able to locate him now.
He dropped down to the dirt floor. Might as well work more on that translation...
Moving like shadows through the passageways, figures covered with dark, hooded robes dragged the unconscious people into a large room. Each body was strapped to a waiting table, monitoring devices secured into place.
Diodes were attached to the temples of each face. Memories could be accessed, manipulated, creating any number of scenarios. These humans would be tested. If they were found...unworthy...they would be terminated.
Silently black glove covered hands adjusted controls.
A A A A A A
Daniel jerked awake. He hadn't even been aware of falling asleep! He looked around. The MALP was still sitting in front of him.
"Looks like Jack and Teal'c are checking out the exterior of this place," Casey's voice said.
"Okay," he replied into the radio. "Meteor storm is over then?"
"How's that translation coming?" Jack's voice inquired.
"Slowly. There are several lines of cuneiform that don't make sense. I'm going to have to recheck the first part of the translation...I must have missed something," Daniel admitted.
"Okay. Keep on it."
"Right." With a grin, he went back to work, concentrating on the odd lines and shapes that made up the writing of the ancient Assyrians. How had the Assyrians come to be here? Or had someone from here traveled to Earth, and been influential in the growth of the group of people who'd become the Assyrians? Yes, that seemed more likely. And there was enough proof of other 'outside' influences in the development of the indigenous people of Planet Earth to justify that theory.
A slight rumble in the floor beneath him had him jumping to his feet. Okay, that couldn't be good! Dirt sifted toward the floor from between the stones of the walls, fell on top of him and the MALP as the entire structure shifted around him.
His heart began to hammer against his ribs. Cave in! Oh, god! He tried to press down the panic rose up in his chest. "Uh...guys?"
"Daniel, get the hell out of there!" Jack's voice commanded. "Seems to be an earthquake or something."
He took enough time to shove the book and the journal he'd been working on into his pack. He was running down the passageway when another rumble tossed him unceremoniously to his knees.
He could hear the fear in her voice. "I'm on my way. Get clear of this thing. I'll meet you all at the 'gate."
The constant movement of the floor beneath him made it difficult to stand. He was being tossed from one wall to the other as he struggled to make his way through the tunnel, toward the door where the team had entered the ziggurat.
When the first stone block fell from the ceiling just in front of him, he nearly cried out with panic. Oh, god, he didn't want to die like this! Not like this!
Renewing his efforts, his forward momentum driven by sheer terror, Daniel continued to race for the opening. There! He could see his teammates, waiting anxiously for him. They hadn't left...he had to get out of here, they could be hurt as well...
Casey's scream echoed in his ears as more of the stones that made up the walls and ceiling continued to drop at random around him. Almost there... He was reaching for her...green eyes full of panic filled his field of vision..."Casey!" A loud groan above him made him pause and look up. Just in time to see the entire ceiling give way. No! No! I don't want to die like this! Casey! I love you!
A A A A A A
Casey looked up from where she'd been working on her poetry. Daniel was no longer sitting beside her. Nor was the MALP in front of her. What the hell? She often 'zoned' when she was writing...especially if the poem was long, and emotional. The one she'd been working on had been both. Dealing with the terrors she'd endured as Ba'al's captive, and then as Dartal's.
She frowned. There was no way that Daniel would have left her. Absolutely no way. She inhaled deeply, blew the breath out slowly. Chances were they were just down the passageway a bit...where they could still see her...
That would mean she should be able to see them as well, her brain pointed out. She keyed her radio. "I am so not amused, you guys!"
Her heart began to pound. This really wasn't funny. Nor was this the type of prank her teammates would pull on her. Messing with her pack, sure. Hiding all of her MREs...well, that had happened. Sneaking up behind her and scaring the bejeezus out of her...one of Jack's all time favorites. But this...no, this wasn't something they'd do.
She stood to her feet, brushed her pants off. She glanced around. Deciding to follow the MALP tread prints that were plainly visible in the dirt, she aimed her flashlight down the passageway.
This was the way Jack, Sam, and Teal'c had come earlier, before Daniel'd found that warning. And why in the hell had they just left her there?
That dark, black feeling of fear knotted itself around her heart. When they'd been confronted by General Hammond in his office, in front of the president, they'd insisted that she was an important part of the team.
The dark fears in the deepest recesses of her mind uncurled, hissed and moaned. Of course they did, those dark fears spat. What else were they supposed to say? And when it was apparent that the general had no intention of taking her off of the team...
Oh, god! The only way to get rid of her...to free themselves from her unwanted 'company'...was to leave her here! To go back and tell everyone that something tragic and permanent had happened. They wouldn't miss her...not even Daniel! He'd said he loved her...but all he wanted was access to her gift...for SG-1, for the SGC. Never her! Apparently they were willing to give up that 'gift' if it was the only way to get her off of the team!
She raced back the way she'd come, tears rolling down her cheeks. Through the opening that Daniel and Sam had found...
Oh, fuck! No way to misinterpret that! A nice wide chunk of the bridge that led from the ziggurat to the platform where the Stargate waited had been blown away. There was no way to make it across, no way to jump.
"Why?" she asked softly. "What did I do wrong?"
The breeze that moved the wisps of hair that had come free from her braid had no reply.
She took a deep, shuddering breath. Well, she could starve to death. Or die of thirst. She had enough for a couple of days, three or four if she were really lucky. She stared at the Stargate. Her attention caught by the DHD. The very smashed DHD. Oh, fuck!
Dropping to her knees as wails of pain were torn from her chest, breaking the silence around her, Casey sobbed out her pain, her grief. When finally she was in control once again, she sat huddled in the center of that stone pathway. She remained motionless; for how long, she didn't know. She did know that she'd die on this planet. She understood that there was no escape this time...no one would be looking for her...no one would come to rescue her. How she died was the only unknown. There had been so little she'd ever had control over in her life. By god she'd at least have a say in the way she died!
She peered over the edge of the bridge, down on jagged rocks that stared up at her; huge maws of death, waiting for her. Left her pack on the stone pathway. Began running toward that empty space between her and the other side. Jumped...felt herself falling. "I love you, Daniel...even if you don't love me," she said softly, the words lost in the wind that was blowing now. Beautiful blue eyes and a warm, sexy smile were the last things she saw before she crashed to the rocks below.
A A A A A A
Jack opened his eyes slowly. Oh, man, what a headache. He sat up, took note of his surroundings. Well, wasn't this just peachy! He wracked his brain for the memory of just how he came to be in this predicament. And in this very lovely, very cramped cell. Six feet by six feet, barely. Nope, nothing.
He pulled himself to his feet. There was a small window in the steel door that took up the center of one wall He pressed his face to the grill, trying to see as much as possible. He could make out two other doors across from him.
"Sam? Teal'c? Daniel? Casey?"
"We're here, Jack," Daniel's voice replied.
"Case and I are together."
"Samantha Carter and I are sharing a cell as well."
His heart lurched in his chest. He did his best to force back the fears. The memories. "That's good," he managed to say. Hoped his raspy voice sounded more normal to them than it sounded to himself. "How's it looking for getting out of here?"
"Not good," Sam's voice told him.
"Well, we've been in situations like this before."
"When?" Daniel asked.
"Give me a minute, if you want details." He could hear Daniel's snort, Teal'c's chuckle, the soft giggles of Casey and Sam. Yep, keep the sense of humor. Only way to get through this.
The sound of Jaffa armor clinking and clanking filled the air. Now why didn't he remember being taken prisoner by Jaffa? That was usually a memorable event. His face still pressed against the small window, he watched as his teammates were taken out of the cells...manhandled...cuffed...and then led away. "Hey! Hey! Leave them alone! You need somebody to beat on, you pick on me!"
His heart began to pound when the silence closed in on him; heavy...oppressive...suffocating. Jack had spent weeks alone in an Iraqi prison cell, after weeks of being beaten and tortured. He had no desire to repeat the experience. He'd damned near lost his mind. Had the Marines not found him when they had, he'd have been little more than a gibbering idiot. Oh, god, I don't want to do this!
Always a man of action, Jack paced the cell, walking along the walls, counting each step until he'd reached a mile, then starting again. At the end of ten miles, he was too weary to continue. He dropped to the dirt floor.
He hadn't even been aware of falling asleep until he heard the heavy clank of a key in the lock that held the door to the cell in closed. He was on his feet, running toward freedom before he took the time to assess the risk. Was fairly certain that the Jaffa behind him had told him to halt. Wasn't going to happen. He was getting the hell out, and now!
The staff blast to his back shouldn't have been a surprise. But it was. Even as he stumbled, fell, felt his life force draining away, he was still reeling from that surprise. "Sam," he whispered, before he closed his eyes forever.
A A A A A A
Sam had no idea what had happened. One minute she and Casey were looking for Jack and Teal'c. The next, she was opening her eyes...here. Wherever here was. The sound of water rushing somewhere beneath her was confusing. The planet had been desert, no sign of water anywhere. Perhaps the ziggurat went down far enough into the bedrock to be above any deep ground water than was present. Which meant that the structure was even larger than it looked.
She shivered, pulled her jacket tighter. She hated the cold as much as Jack did. And for the same reason. She'd been certain that they were going to die in that frozen cavern in Antarctica. Only Daniel's brilliant mind and quick thinking had saved them. Had she ever thanked him for that? She was certain that she had...chocolate walnut cookies, she thought.
Pulling herself to her feet, she tried to determine how large her cell was. She'd called out until she was hoarse. There'd never been a reply. The only sound was that of the water. She began to pace the small room.
It was the third trip around when she felt her foot sink through the dirt floor. Heart pounding, she grabbed at the rough stone walls, scraping her fingers, breaking at least two nails back to the quick as she tried to pull free. She fell backwards, landed hard on her ass, panting from exertion and fear.
She rolled to her stomach, inched as slowly toward the hole as she could. Closed her eyes when she saw the black water swirling below, lit by something near the water's edge, a shoreline she couldn't see. Memories, horrible and crystal clear, came crashing back into her mind. Of struggling to breathe...the current of the water...a rip tide, pulling at her...carrying her farther away from safety...
Shaking her head slightly...trying to push the memory into the back of her mind where it belonged, as far as she was concerned...she eased away from the hole. Gasped when more of the floor seemed to give way and drop down into the rushing water beneath her.
How old had she been? Eight? Maybe nine. It had happened in Hawaii. A family vacation. One of the rare times her father had been with them. She'd watched Mark and some of the local boys he'd made friends with swimming off the beach near a point made up of huge, rough boulders and rocks. Too young to understand about undertow and rip tides and how quickly both could move, and how difficult they were to fight, she'd followed just far enough behind him that he couldn't complain to their parents.
The water had looked so warm and inviting. She'd splashed in, and with the confidence of youth, and the swimming lessons she'd received in the city pool before they'd left on vacation, she had dove in. She'd already learned how beautiful the coral and the small fish who lived near the shore could be. She moved down, not at all concerned. Until she needed a breath of air.
Unable to fight the strong current that was sweeping her farther away from the shore, one that seemed to pull and tug at her, she panicked, clawing her way toward the sunlight she could see above her. Even now she could remember the burning in her lungs as her body began to suffer oxygen deprivation.
She closed her eyes. Had Mark not been paying attention...she shook her head. She'd never been particularly fond of swimming after that. She'd lay on the beach all day. Rarely did she get into the water. A pool...well, that was a little easier to deal with. There weren't currents and tides to contend with in a lovely, cement pool.
When more of the floor fell away, she whimpered softly. She was completely cut off from the door now. Even if her teammates could find her, could get the door open, there was no way to get to them...or for them to get to her. She took a deep breath. Held it. Blew it out slowly. All she had to do was stay on top of the water. She could do that. Sure she could. She could build naquadah generators, for Pete's sake! She was a grown woman. An Air Force officer. She could do this.
The dirt began to shift beneath her. She took a quick breath, blew it out. Inhaled deeply as she began to fall.
She was pulled straight down, the water icy cold as it swirled around her. Within seconds her limbs were too cold to function properly. There was no light, no way to know which way was up, and would lead her to the surface and life giving oxygen...and which way was down, and would seal her doom. So cold...the water was moving so fast...so tired now...Jack, she whispered in her mind, as she gave in to the darkness.
A A A A A A
Teal'c remained unmoving until he was able to determine what threat might be lurking near him. He opened his eyes slowly, taking in as much of the room as he could from the narrow slits between his eyelids. Sensing no movement, hearing nothing that would indicate there was anyone, or anything, nearby, he sat up.
The cell he was in was nothing more than a small room with a door centered in one wall. There were no windows, no ventilation shafts, no other ways in or out. Very much like a Goa'uld prison cell, he thought. He frowned slightly. The planet, and the interior of the ziggurat had been cool. Not uncomfortably so, just...cool. Now however...he shrugged out of his jacket. The temperature was quite warm. And if he wasn't mistaken, growing warmer.
Pulling himself to his feet, he moved toward the cell door. There was one small window in the upper half. He looked out, but could see nothing in the darkness. His frown deepened, and he scanned the ceiling above him for the source of the dim light that filled the cell. He couldn't see anything, but that didn't surprise him at all.
When he took a deep breath, he paused. Did so again. Smoke! That was smoke! As a Jaffa, Teal'c had faced many dangers in his long life. Had faced death so many times he'd lost count. But those perils could never make his heart pound with fear the way it had when he'd been just a boy, not yet the age of Prata. Enemies of Apophis had snuck into Chulak, and set fire to the palace, and the houses nearby. Black smoke, thick and heavy, filled the air. He'd never forget the sounds of the screams as those who were trapped inside their homes tried desperately to escape. He'd lost his best friend that night, as well as two uncles, an aunt, and four cousins. He'd struggled to bring buckets of water to the Jaffa who were fighting the blaze. That night was the first time Master Bra'tac had truly noticed him.
The smell was getting stronger. He looked through the window in the door. Silence was the only answer as he called again and again to his teammates. He could see the red-yellow glow of fire. It was moving toward the corridor.
He threw his bulk against the door again and again and again in an attempt to break it down. The heavy wood held fast.
Watching as the flames drew closer, he knew that he was trapped. The smoke was making breathing difficult now. He'd always thought he'd die in battle, fighting against the false gods. That was not to be, it seemed.
Settling himself on the floor of the cell, he closed his eyes. Began to meditate. Thoughts of his son filled his mind. "I die free," he whispered, just before losing consciousness.
Commendable. The fears had been deeply buried. Tightly controlled. They had suffered. Pain. Heartbreak. Terror. Anger. But each of them had died well. Would these humans understand the sanctity of the Great Chamber? Many who had walked the hallowed pathway had not survived.
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