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General Hammond passed out copies of the communiqués that had been sent by SG-12 over the first five days the team had been on the planet, and the last report, which had arrived just an hour earlier. That communication had included a few hastily snapped photos of the newly arrived Goa'uld, and his Jaffa.
Jack glanced at the information, then looked over at Teal'c. "So, do you recognize him?"
"It is Ba'al," the Jaffa said simply.
They'd heard rumors about this particular Goa'uld. He was building up his holdings quickly, having moved in on most of what Apophis had controlled. Concern over the sudden reappearance of Anubis had kept attention focused on him, allowing several 'minor' System Lords to become major players in the game of universal domination. It seemed that they no more than rid the galaxy of one Goa'uld, than half a dozen more popped up in his...or her...place.
General Hammond turned to Daniel. "How quickly can you gather information on this Ba'al?"
"I can locate any historical or mythical references in just a few minutes," Daniel replied.
"Do it. We need to know what we're facing," the general replied. It wasn't the 'historical or mythical references' that he was interested it. It was the information that Dr. Jackson could extrapolate from those references. The young man had an uncanny knack for taking even the sketchiest facts and providing them with a basic, accurate idea of the enemy they were dealing with.
With a nod, the young archaeologist rose from his chair and hurried out the door, heading for his office. He'd find what he could, and return as quickly as possible.
A nod from the general, and Jack took command of the meeting. "With luck, the Jaffa are going to be focused on each other. Which means two things; one - it will be harder to move around, as they'll be on the look out for one another. Two - if we can remain...invisible...there's the chance that they'll knock each other down far enough for us to handle."
The military men around the table nodded their understanding and agreement.
"Right now, SG-12 has access to the 'gate; according to their reports the village is ten klicks from there. It seems that the new arrivals came by ship. Which is good news for us. What we don't know is whether or not the new arrivals will decide to take control of the 'gate." Jack again focused his attention on Teal'c. "Any ideas on that?"
"It is most likely that Ba'al will choose to establish control of the Chappa'ai as quickly as possible. If he discovers the presence of the MALP, without doubt he will send patrols out to seek the owners of the device," Teal'c replied.
"We should send it back as soon as we get there," Sam suggested, looking from Jack to General Hammond and back again.
"I agree," Hammond replied.
"We're going to have to take extra food, water and ammo with us. Which means humping that stuff over some rugged terrain. SG-12 will be there to help us, but it's still going to be difficult," Jack continued.
"Expected duration?" Major Evan Parker, asked, a frown on his handsome, coffee-colored face. He was career military, and had missed numerous holidays with his family. But this year, his daughter Kerry was lead in the school play for Thanksgiving, and he wanted to be there to see it.
"Unknown," Jack replied. "Realistically, the longer it takes, the lower the odds drop in our favor. So we hope it won't take long."
The man nodded. Shit happened. It had happened enough times during his tenure as the CO of SG-6. Probably would happen many more times, before he retired. And it would be a hell of a lot better to miss a play, and save his family from becoming Goa'uld slaves, than to be at the play and miss the chance to take the snake-headed bastards out once and for all.
"Any idea if the locals are looking to break free from Goa'uld occupancy?" asked Major Newsome, CO of the Marine unit SG-2.
General Hammond frowned. "SG-12 haven't interacted with the locals, they've been ordered to maintain a clandestine presence since their arrival. So we have no way of knowing which side they'd come down on in the heat of battle."
"They'd probably choose to hide away from the battle, and hope to just survive," Casey said softly.
"Indeed," Teal'c said. "They have been under Goa'uld rule for thousands of years, with a Jaffa presence for that entire time. No doubt by now many of the villagers are related by marriage and birth to these Jaffa."
"Where are they getting their Prim'ta? And what's happening to the mature symbiotes?" Sam asked.
"If there are Jaffa garrisoned on this planet, no doubt there is a temple nearby, with a seplica of young."
"But wouldn't it need to be...um...have new young...added?" Jack asked.
"No doubt the priests go forth to procure Prim'ta when it is necessary," Teal'c replied.
"What about the mature symbiotes?" General Hammond asked.
The large Jaffa frowned. "On Chulak, when the Prim'ta of Jaffa matured, and were ready to take a host, word was sent out among the Goa'uld. Raids would be conducted on worlds reached through the Chappa'ai, to provide the needed hosts. A feast would be given, and then each Jaffa who carried a mature symbiote would enter a room...usually a dungeon or prison cell, where the potential hosts would be kept. The mature symbiote would then take the host of his...or her...choosing."
Sam and Jack exchanged a look. They'd been on Chulak during such a...ceremony...on one of their first missions. They'd been in that dungeon, and it was on that particular 'Day of Choosing' that Teal'c had chosen to denounce Apophis as a false god, freed them and the other captives, and joined them in their battle. "So this place is basically like Chulak," Jack said quietly.
"So it would seem," Teal'c replied.
"Oy," Jack muttered, sitting back in his chair, tossing his pen onto the table.
Daniel hurried back into the room, several sheets of paper in his hand. He immediately took note of the faces of the people who surrounded the table. "What?" he asked.
"Teal'c seems to think this place is like Chulak," Jack said quietly.
Chulak. Oh, god. The first time he'd set foot on that planet, it had been in pursuit of Apophis, to get Sha're back. When he'd found her...he shuddered mentally. When he'd found her, she was the host to Amaunet. The way she'd looked at him...she hadn't known him, there'd been no recognition in those warm, brown eyes; he was nothing to her...to the symbiote, he thought, clarifying that distinction even if only to himself...just a man who'd come to worship Apophis, her Beloved...
Casey watched the pain flicker over his face, fill his blue eyes for just a few seconds. She shifted uncomfortably. His first wife was dead...but it didn't mean that her memory...her ghost, wasn't very present.
"Do you have something for us, Doctor?" General Hammond asked quietly, breaking the heavy silence that had fallen in the room.
Daniel shook himself mentally, nodded, held the pages up. "I just did a quick search, but this should give us an idea," he replied. All attention focused on the young man as he settled back into the chair he'd vacated only a short time earlier. "Ba'al was a minor Babylonian god, then became a major god for the Phoenicians and the Canaanites. The name 'Ba'al' was actually a word for master, or owner. So being known as Ba'al meant he was the 'Most High Prince' or 'Most High Master'. He was also known by the names Hadd, Haddad, Hadu, Adad, and Addu.
"He was worshipped by Phoenicians and Canaanites as the Storm God, source of the winter rain storms, spring mist, and summer dew which nourished the crops. Therefore he's considered responsible for fecundity, particularly of the Earth, for the growth of vegetation, and for the maintenance of life. In spite of this, he's not a god of vegetation."
"Yeah, don't want to confuse him with a tree god or something," Jack muttered. Chuckles filled the air.
Daniel glanced over the top of his glasses at his best friend, grinned, then continued to read from his notes. "Ba`al is an executive force - dynamic; and often depicted striding forward, wearing a horned helmet and short wrap kilt, carrying a mace and spear or lightning-bolt staff. Another of His names is Re`ammin, meaning Thunderer. He is also called ´Aleyin', meaning 'Most High', 'Mightiest', 'Most Powerful', or 'Supreme'; which some scholars have misinterpreted as the name of a son of Ba`al. As a weather god, His home is in the Heights of Tsaphon, Mount of the North. Remnants of His worship survive in the Jewish prayer book in late spring prayers for dew and late fall prayers for rain.
"Ba`al is the son of Dagan/Dagnu, himself a god of agriculture and storms, and not actually a son of ´El. Through a series of conflicts and competitions with other gods, Ba`al achieves a position subordinate only to ´El among gods. However, he defers to ´Asherah and often enlists her favors when he must approach ´El. He also relies upon his sister `Anat, who may be his mate, although not his wife. At times he transforms into a bull and she into a heifer, to stress their fertility; and together, according to the ancient texts, they 'bring forth seventy, even eighty calves,'..."
"I don't suppose he'd transform into a bull while we're there," Jack mused. "We could have an old-fashioned barbecue."
Laughter moved around the room.
"Don't count on it," Daniel retorted. Leave it to Jack to make smartass comments during his presentation! Taking a deep breath, he went on. "He is never called 'The Bull', that title is limited to ´El. Ba`al's assistants are Gapen and Ugar, whose names mean, respectively, 'Vineyard' and 'Grain Field', again stressing Ba`al's relationship with the fertile, life-giving earth."
"He's certainly closely related to the earth and fertility, for not being a god of agriculture," Casey mused.
"Doesn't like to get his hands dirty," Jack quipped.
"Well, Ba'al has also been associated with the Egyptian god Amon," Daniel said. "As in Amon Ra. Amon was the ram-headed god of fertility, agriculture, air, or breath of life; and eventually became the 'creator god', or the god above all gods'."
Jack snorted. "Yeah, that sounds about right. Ra was an arrogant bastard!"
Again the younger man grinned. "The only civilization older than the Egyptians is the Sumerians, and we actually know very little about them." He turned to Casey. "Is there anything in Sumerian mythology that might help?"
Her head jerked up, and she stared at him for several long seconds. She'd been studying ...well, he said she was devouring ...everything she could find on the mysterious ancient civilization. But she was in no way informed enough... She cleared her throat. "The Sumerian 'King List' goes back four hundred thousand years. Not everybody believes it's accurate, some believe it to be just myth; but every one of the early rulers were gods, or demi-gods, or Immortals, according to that list. Supposedly all depictions and descriptions of any gods who came...later, were based on these early rulers," she said softly.
"Is there any particular...god, that could be Ba'al?" General Hammond asked. He didn't miss, no one missed, the look of absolute pride on Daniel's face.
She frowned, frantically searched her memory, trying to recall all that she'd read...so far. "There is one...Enlil. He was the god of air and storms," she said slowly. "But according to what I've read so far, when the Babylonian civilization began to rise, Enlil's...attributes...were given to Marduk." She glanced around the table. Was stunned to see that her comments had been taken as seriously as the information Daniel had provided.
"Well, Marduk is history," Jack said. "So it can't be the same guy."
"In mythology, a lot of gods...transfer...from one civilization to the next, and often times the different names, but similar attributes, signify separate gods," Daniel pointed out. "Enlil might have actually been more than one god...or Goa'uld, but was...remembered...as one god."
"So that would explain how...and why, so many different gods have the same attributes in different civilizations," Casey said. "Because originally, they were different gods. Goa'uld," she corrected herself.
Jack was frowning. "So this helps us...how?"
Daniel grinned. "We know that Ba'al has been around for awhile...probably among the oldest Goa'uld. That he's brash and antagonistic, and opportunistic."
"Sounds like a typical snake to me," Jack replied.
"If he's this...bold, what are our chances of defeating him?" General Hammond asked.
"Probably the same as they are for defeating any other Goa'uld," Daniel answered candidly.
He glanced over at the young archaeologist. Daniel hated snakes. Probably hated them more than anyone in this room, and with damned good reason. There was no way that the young man would let one get away if he could help it. Knowing that, there was a damned good chance that no matter how iffy the odds were of taking this bastard out was, with Daniel along, all attempts would be made to succeed. And he wasn't about to deny his best friend the right to vindicate Sha're, and Skaara, and all of the of the other innocent people who'd been taken from their homes and families and had snakes crawl into them. Skaara had been saved. Sha're and nearly a dozen others from Abydos hadn't been. "We'll get him, sir," Jack vowed quietly.
"I'm sure you will, colonel," the general replied. "Gear up, teams. If Ba'al is likely to try and take control of the Stargate, you need to get planet-side as soon as possible."
"Yes, sir," Jack said.
The military personnel stood at attention until General Hammond had returned to his office. Daniel, Teal'c, and Casey had risen in respect as well.
"Let's go campers," Jack said quietly. "Gate room in less than twenty."
A A A A A A
She stood in front of Daniel, his vest on the table in front of her, numerous items beside it. She began stuffing the pockets of the vest with all of the necessities that he always carried on missions, while his fingers were working through her hair, braiding it with the efficiency born of habit. Both missed the smiles that their teammates cast at them. The members of the other teams watched, but said nothing. If Colonel O'Neill wasn't complaining about what was going on, they wouldn't either. Besides, Casey Jackson had saved every one of their butts at least once. The loyalty she'd earned from the SG teams in the mountain was fierce.
Sam and Sergeant Tony Sabotti of SG-6 were going over the inventory one last time. Extra food and water was being taken to the members of SG-12. By now their supplies were nearly depleted. When the plastic boxes were checked, and locked, each team member carried or dragged one to the 'gate room.
MALP images showed that no one seemed to be moving near the Stargate. Using the radio, SG-12 was alerted of the arrival of the three additional teams, and the extra supplies. Replies indicated that the men were on their way to the 'gate.
"SG-1, SG-2, SG-6, you have a go. Godspeed, people," General Hammond intoned, giving the 'blessing' that every team expected...and tacitly demanded...from their CO.
"That's the word, kids. Let's go. Move it out," Jack ordered quietly.
The techs in the control room watched as thirteen people disappeared into the event horizon. Everyone knew that this was one of 'those' missions. Where the lives of everyone on planet Earth depended on a handful of people succeeding in the job they'd been sent out to do. The best of the best were going on this one. SG-1 had a reputation for pulling off the impossible, and living to tell about it. Not one of the men and women in that room had any doubts that that special team would be able do so again.
A A A A A A
Jack looked around. Damned if this place didn't look a hell of a lot like the area in Washington where they'd learned about Tem. Plenty of places to hide; good if he and his people were hiding. Bad if it was the Jaffa who were hiding. "Major Parker, you and your boys take a look down the road, see if anyone is coming. Newsome, you and your Marines take a little look-see and determine if there's anything behind us we should be worried about."
"Yes, sir," Parker said. "You heard the colonel. Let's go."
"Move out, Marines," Major Newsome said quietly.
"Carter, get that MALP out of here." Jack turned toward Casey. "Talk to me, Radar." Daniel hurried to the DHD to dial Earth, while Sam took care of readying the vehicle for its return.
With a nod, she closed her eyes. Began to search around them. "SG-12 is just below that rise," she said softly, pointing to a low hill to their right. "There are Jaffa..." she frowned, glanced up at Teal'c, then knelt down, drew the symbol that she could see on tattooed foreheads of the armored squad that was approaching on the road that wandered up the hill to the 'gate. "They're getting close. With luck they didn't hear the 'gate open," she said softly.
"Ba'al," Teal'c said, his voice low, his eyes straining to see the approaching enemy.
Jack grabbed his radio. "SG-12, this is one-niner, come in."
"SG-1, this is twelve-niner. Welcome to the party, colonel," a male voice replied.
"Haul your asses, Deke. We have Jaffa on their way," Jack said. "Newsome, bring it back in, we gotta get out of here. Parker, back to the 'gate."
"On our way, colonel," the leader of SG-12 replied.
The Marines appeared within seconds. The men of SG-12 appeared over the hill, jogged toward the 'gate.
"Hope like hell you brought coffee," Deke Anderson grinned, grabbing one of the plastic boxes in his arms.
"Hot chocolate, too," Jack grinned. The grin faded when he caught sight of Casey's face. "Radar?"
"We have to move, colonel," she said, addressing him as her CO, a habit she'd picked up from Sam. Her nervous glances toward the road had all of the men on edge.
"You heard the lady, let's go," Jack said softly.
Major Parker trotted toward the group, nodded grimly. He and his men grabbed boxes as well. "They're close," he whispered.
Jack grabbed a box. "Lead the way, Deke."
As quietly, and as quickly, as possible, the Tau'ri of Earth disappeared into the forest, hoping that the darkness that clung to the lower branches of the trees would hide them from any prying eyes. They could only hope that the Jaffa wouldn't notice that the thick ground cover near the Stargate had been trampled. With luck, the bed of moss and twigs and leaves and grass wouldn't readily show any signs of recent activity.
A A A A A A
SG-12 had found a series of caves on a high ridge, near a river that led straight into the center of the village. They were able to follow the narrow waterway, remain hidden in the undergrowth, and watch the villagers as they went about their business. The locals were totally unaware of being observed.
Jack nodded approvingly as he looked around. The cave that the men had chosen to set up camp in was large, and higher than the others. It offered a perfect view of the valley and the river below it, and would be easily defendable. "What's on the backside?" he asked, lowering the box he'd been carrying, giving a groan of relief to be rid of the burden.
"Cliffs," Deke replied. "Unless he's Spiderman, no one can get to us from that side."
Again the gray haired man nodded. "Give me a sit-rep."
"After we sent the last report, we heard a couple of Jaffa scouts coming up the road. No intel on whether or not they heard 'gate activation," Deke said. "We hightailed it to a regular hiding spot. Have a place we've dug into. They walked right over us, then headed back into the village."
"I take it that they reported the Stargate," Jack said.
"I assume so, sir. We kept our heads down until we were certain it was clear. If they saw the 'gate, they saw the MALP. What they'll think when they find it missing, I haven't a clue."
"No doubt those Jaffa have the 'gate surrounded by now," Jack said quietly. "Hopefully they'll be otherwise engaged when the time comes for us to bug out. We managed to ID the snake. One known as Ba'al. Daniel seems to think he's going to be a pain-in-the-ass."
"They're all a pain-in-the-ass," Major Parker grunted. Soft chuckles of agreement filled the air.
"Orders, sir?" Deke asked.
"If Ba'al operates like the others, he's going to try and take over. How strongly Tem's Jaffa defend will be interesting to see. With luck they'll take each other down enough for us to come in and sweep up the mess. General Hammond wants that fleet to be history," Jack replied.
Deke shook his head. "If there's a fleet around here, we haven't found it yet."
"It is possible that the ships are in orbit," Teal'c said.
"Have you been able to get any idea of the villager's take on having the Jaffa garrisoned here?" Daniel asked.
Deke and his men shook their heads. "Sorry, Doc. None of us understand enough Goa'uld to be sure."
"But it is Goa'uld they're speaking?" Daniel pressed.
The dark haired man shrugged one shoulder. "I guess so."
Daniel sighed mentally. This was one of the main reasons he'd been insisting to General Hammond that everyone who worked for the SGC needed to learn at least the primary Goa'uld dialect. He forced his thoughts back to the matter at hand. The people on Chulak had been under Goa'uld rule for so long that they had no idea that they could be free of the oppression. No doubt it was the same here. They wouldn't be lucky enough to find a Jaffa who questioned the power of his 'god' - there was only one Teal'c, a Jaffa willing...anxious...to see his people free. "We can't depend on these people to help us. If anything, they'll turn us in if we're seen,"
Jack nodded. "So we keep hidden."
"If we could slip into the village, one or two of us," Daniel started, "just to find out for sure..."
"No, Daniel. I'm not risking anyone being captured," Jack replied.
"Jack, these people deserve a chance to be free from the Goa'uld," Daniel argued.
"And they will be, if we just keep our heads down."
Casey reached out and wrapped her fingers around his hand, sensing his frustration, his need to save those he considered to be innocent bystanders; simple folk caught up in a battle that they had no control over, probably wanted no part of.
"We might be able to learn more about Tem's Jaffa, and whether or not he's been in contact with them," Daniel insisted.
The idea of additional information, which could only be useful, had Jack wavering.
"I brought along my robes," Daniel continued. "Let me slip into the village."
The older man frowned. Knew that it wasn't unreasonable to think that Daniel might just take it into his head to visit that village even without permission. He looked over at Teal'c. "Can you keep an eye on him from the distance?"
"Indeed," the Jaffa replied.
She didn't say a word. But she hoped that Jack understood that she'd be at Teal'c's side, keeping an eye on the man she loved. Goddess help anyone who tried to hurt him!
"Only a couple of hours of daylight left," Deke said, glancing toward the opening that faced the valley.
"Okay, tomorrow, you and Teal'c go find out what you can. No heroics. Take a look around, then get the hell out," Jack said, looking at Daniel.
A triumphant smile on his face, Daniel nodded his agreement, sat back, squeezed the slender fingers wrapped around his own.
Jack tried to ignore the blatant 'I-won-the-argument-and-got-what-I-wanted' look on the younger man's face. Glanced at Casey. If she sensed anything, especially anything concerning Daniel, she'd speak up. "Let's get set up. We're going to be here for awhile."
Daniel set their tent up toward the back of the cave, next to the tent Jack had put up that he'd share with Sam. No one questioned the sleeping arrangements. Daniel and Casey were married. The colonel and the major had been in love as long as there had been an SGC. The rest of the men would sleep in the area that SG-12 had already designated as 'sleeping quarters'. The supplies were stacked at the back of the cave as well, where there was less of a chance that any animals could get to the boxes. The food and water that they had was all that there would be until they could regain control of the Stargate. And no one had any illusions of that being any time soon, nor would it be an easy task.
The fire that had been built toward the center of the cave was far enough from the opening that seeing the flames, or any light, would be difficult, if not impossible, for anyone below them. The smoke traveled up into a large crack in the rock ceiling overhead...and disappeared. Where it was emerging, the men on SG-12 weren't sure. They only knew that it wasn't anywhere near the caves.
Watch rotation was decided upon, and then the maps that SG-12 had managed to create of the area were studied.
"The village is small, not more than a hundred people, including kids," Deke said.
Teal'c frowned. "A village that has supported the Jaffa of Tem for thousands of years should be larger."
"I agree," Daniel nodded. He wouldn't admit out loud that if the village was that small, his chances of simply slipping in unnoticed had diminished drastically. "If the Jaffa are marrying the women of the village, families should be growing exponentially."
Deke shook his head. "From what we've seen, there isn't a lot of interaction between the villagers and the Jaffa. Those guys stay in that castle. We've only seen them come down into the village twice, when they came for food. There were only two, and when they showed up, everyone but the village leader, an old man with a long white beard, headed inside and stayed there."
Daniel was frowning now. His chances of meeting the villagers, trying to convince them to help the Tau'ri, to reach for freedom from the Goa'uld, were shrinking with every new bit of information he was given. "That's not...typical... behavior."
"It is not," Teal'c agreed.
"We know those guys have to be going through the 'gate to get Prim'ta, and to find humans to become hosts," Jack said. He was frowning as well.
"Well, we assume they've been going through the 'gate. It's possible that these Jaffa don't have symbiotes," Casey said softly. All eyes focused on her.
"Radar?" Jack asked.
She shook her blonde head. "I don't know. It's just a thought. Which might explain the Super Jaffa. Tem doesn't seem to need symbiotes for his Jaffa, any of them. We thought it was because of his forced...exile...on Earth. It could have been a choice made long before he was stranded."
"There's still the possibility that he uses symbiotes," Sam said. Goa'uld not using one another? It was just too difficult a concept to believe, considering what she...they...had seen over the past five, almost six years. She turned to the large man sitting beside her. "How loyal are Goa'uld to one another?"
"They will obey only as long as they must. And will scheme to overtake their Lord at the first opportunity," Teal'c replied.
"Then Tem can't have Goa'uld working with him, or for him. There'd have been a power struggle long before now," Daniel mused.
"Only if the Goa'uld serving him concluded that it was in their best interests to do so," Teal'c said. "If Tem convinced Seth and Hathor to join him in rebellion against Ra, it would not be difficult to maintain tight control over any symbiotes who did serve him."
"Is it possible to...break...a Goa'uld, like he's doing to the humans that work for him?" Casey asked. She shivered as she thought about what she'd seen Kinsey suffering, what the men on the board of Pyxis Enterprises had lived through.
"It is possible, if the...torture...is continued for a sufficient amount of time," Teal'c said.
"And if broken, would they serve their...master...faithfully?" Daniel asked.
"I do not know," the large man admitted. "I believe that such a symbiote would be dangerous. If the Goa'uld went insane-"
"They already are," Jack mumbled.
"If it was driven to madness, then it would be most unpredictable," the large man finished, a smile tugging at his full lips.
Jack squinted his eyes. It would certainly help to know if Tem had that sarcophagus...if he did, then he was using it. If not, he was hopping from host to host at will. Which made keeping an eye on him all the more difficult. It would help to know if his Giant Jaffa had symbiotes. All the information they had at this point seemed to indicate that he didn't, and they didn't. Which was a good thing. "Casey, can you take a look around, see if you can find out anything about those Jaffa, and that castle?"
"I can try," she said softly.
"Be careful. No crazy stunts, Radar," Jack warned firmly. He didn't know exactly what stunts she might try to pull, or if she even could, but he knew her well enough by now to know that the warning was necessary. She's too damned much like Daniel, he groused silently, even as he smiled to himself at the thought.
She nodded. Closed her eyes. Began to breathe deeply, slowly. Her teammates had witnessed her doing this type of search before. The men with them hadn't. All of them watched, fascinated, as Daniel settled behind her, holding her in his embrace. Her body relaxed, her back against his chest, her hands resting on the arms that encircled her.
She looked around her, trying to orient herself, to figure out just where she was. She could see a large structure in the distance. Now she understood why SG-12 had referred to it as a castle in their reports. It was a large keep, the walls had to be forty feet high. She could see two Jaffa patrolling the front of the edifice, walking the top of those thick walls; the wide, wooden gates were closed, and she presumed that they were locked as well.
The village was small, perhaps two dozen small cottages that surrounded a grassless, muddy area, not more than one hundred feet square; it appeared to be used for the day to day tasks that had to be performed. A small, thatched building, open on two sides, sat off in one corner of the square, and looked as if it was storage for baskets of food. She frowned. No, that didn't...feel...right. Allowances...no...offerings! Those were the offerings that the people made to the Jaffa, in return for being left in peace!
What in the world was that? She moved closer. It was beside the little hut. She'd seen pictures of the 'stocks' that had been used in the early American settlements, an idea brought from the Old World. The heavy timber frame that had an opening for...head...yep, the head went into the center, and the wrists were closed in on either side. It was used for punishment. She frowned. Why did it feel so different...sacrifice! Oh dear god! When the demand was made, a woman...a young woman, was placed there, so that she couldn't escape, her face pointed toward the ground so that her friends and family didn't have to see the terror on her face, in her eyes. Left there...until the Jaffa came for her. Her frown deepened. If they had women in that keep...were there children as well?
She slipped past the village. Closer to the gray stone walls of the castle that loomed over the village. What she found stunned her. There were very few Jaffa still alive in the citadel. Not more than fifty. All of the men had been there for a very long time. This was...this was the hiding place. Only the most trusted Jaffa knew of its existence. Those who served here did so because they'd earned the faith of their god. Or at least the priests...no...priest, who'd been ruling in Tem's name.
She paced outside of the wall. She needed to get inside. But how? Climb? Oh, yeah, she really wanted to do that...and considering that the stones didn't look to offer many finger or toe holds, it wouldn't be easy. She'd prefer to just walk through the door.
"Then do so," Miss Eloise said, appearing beside her.
Casey let out a yelp of surprise. She didn't realize that she'd been mumbling out loud, nor that her squeal had caused everyone in the cave watching her to jump as well. "Miss Eloise! Geez! You scared me to death!"
The old woman grinned. "You look alive to me."
She sighed. "You could have given me some sort of warning; a sound, a breeze, something!"
"I'll remember to announce myself the next time," the old woman retorted dryly. "Just walk through the door, Sunshine."
She stared at the wide, thick planks, the iron fittings that held the wood together, creating the huge, intimidating door. "Through it," she whispered. She closed her eyes. Took a step. Hesitated.
"It will be...odd...for a few seconds. But you'll be fine," Miss Eloise promised.
"I'll be able to get out again, right?"
"Same way you got in," the white haired woman said.
A deep breath, another step...she shuddered as she passed through the old, dried wood.
Daniel had been grinning as she mumbled, even though he couldn't understand what she was saying. He was certain that she was pissed about something. When she'd cried out, it had been a sound of shock...or surprise. He had no idea what had startled her, but something had. When she shivered, her entire body moving in his arms, he tightened his hold on her. Pressed his face against her hair. "Please, Angel, be careful," he whispered.
Jack, Sam, and Teal'c watched her intently. Casey had done this before, returning with so much information that the words had poured from her in her haste to explain what she had seen, what she had learned. But she hadn't cried out the last time she'd done a search like this. Jack frowned. Knowing that he...that Daniel...couldn't get her out of...whatever, or wherever...made him nervous. Maybe they should rethink allowing her to do this sort of thing. He smiled mentally. Somehow, he didn't think ordering Casey not to 'search' would do a damned bit of good. She'd be just like Daniel, doing what she thought was right, without thinking it through.
"What the hell is she doing?" Deke whispered.
"Beats the shit outa me," Major Newsome whispered in reply.
A soft, familiar voice whispered in her ear, admonishing her to be careful. She took comfort from the presence she knew was there, even if she couldn't exactly feel him.
She moved slowly across the outer courtyard. It was barren, no grass, nothing that indicated that anyone, or anything, was in residence. Through another massive door, although thankfully this one was open. The inner courtyard was just as bleak as the outer one had been. She slowly moved into the first of the rooms inside the main structure. There was something...not right...about this place. Cold. Dark. Twisted. She could feel it...evil surrounded her, blackness stained the walls and floors. She shivered, turned to find that once again Miss Eloise had been required to wait for her. She was alone. She moved slowly...examined the rooms, most of which were empty. It seemed that only a half dozen rooms were used, and they were all near a large kitchen.
There were no children. This was just too bizarre. These Jaffa were...old. Very old. She sensed no...duality...they weren't carrying symbiotes, nor did they have Goa'uld in their heads. How had they survived...stayed so...oh hell! She whirled around and ran back toward the gate. Could feel hands reaching for her, trying to stop her. Fingers clamped down on her shoulder. She struggled, pulled away, only to feel another hand wrap around her ankle. She kicked at the unseen hand with her free foot, barely managed to avoid being grabbed again by hands that reached for her arms, moving by sense rather than by sight. No time to make a graceful exit. She dove toward the wooden gate, reached for Miss Eloise. Felt gnarled hands wrap around hers. "Help me!" she screamed.
"Casey!" His heart stopped beating for what seemed an eternity, then began pounding against his ribs. She was shivering, struggling in his arms. "I have you, Angel, it's okay," he murmured.
Jack was on his feet now, pacing helplessly. Something was wrong. Casey had a look of absolute terror on her face. Her panicked scream had made them all jump. Had each and every one of them wanting to help her...desperate to help her.
Trembling, Casey clung to the old woman, tears running down her cheeks.
"It's all right, Sunshine. I know it was frightening. But they only wanted your help," Miss Eloise said softly.
"My help? Who?"
"The souls of those who have died so brutally within those walls," was the calm answer.
"And just how am I supposed to help them?"
"Just show them the way to the light," the old woman replied.
"Well, they're just going to have to wait. I...I'm so tired," she murmured.
"Sleep, Sunshine. When you're ready, I'll tell you what must be done."
She slumped in his arms. "Casey?" He looked up at Jack, who stared back helplessly. "Casey?"
"Tired..." she mumbled. She turned sideways, nestled her head against his shoulder. Put an arm around his waist. "Sleep."
Daniel smiled. "Sleep, Angel," he whispered, pressing a kiss to her forehead.
Jack heaved a sigh of relief. "When she wakes up, we'll find out what happened. Let's get watch rotation set up. We should all get some rest."
He struggled to get to his feet, holding her tightly against his chest.
Teal'c helped the young archaeologist to stand. "Do you require further assistance, Daniel Jackson?"
"No, thank you, I've got her," Daniel replied, smiling at his friend.
The large man inclined his head, then turned to gather his pack and sleeping bag.
Once inside the tent he carefully undressed her, managed to get her into the sleeping bags. He pulled his own clothes off, slipped in beside her, pulled her back into his arms. Her head went to his shoulder as she snuggled closer.
The men of the other teams stared at each other. "That was the freakiest thing I've ever seen," one of the young Marines of SG-2 muttered.
"I have the feeling it was pretty damned dangerous, too," Sergeant Murphy of SG-6 said softly. "Did you see their faces?"
His companions nodded. "I don't think they could have taken much more," Tony Sabotti said, glancing toward the two tents at the back of the cave.
"I couldn't have taken much more," young Staff Sergeant Rolly Baker shuddered.
"Wherever she was, whatever she was seeing, it wasn't good," Sergeant 'Texas' Yates said.
"Nope. Which means things are about to go to hell on us," Tony said.
"Situation, normal," Murphy grinned.
Jack listened quietly, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. The men and women of the SGC were the best of the best. And proved it time and again. He had the utmost faith in the men who'd be fighting this battle at his side. If sheer willpower alone could take the day, none of them would even break a sweat.
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