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Casey was awake before the sun was up, her dreams full of what she'd seen and felt in that castle. As often happened, she'd been able to 'sort through' the images and feelings, to translate the information she had into useable intel.
She kissed Daniel's chin, slipped from the sleeping bags and pulled on her clothes. She'd ask about bathing in the river later. No doubt it was pretty damned cold right now. Tossing open the flap of the tent, she crawled out, headed straight for the fire and the pot of coffee she could smell.
"'Mornin', Mrs. J," Texas smiled, already pouring a cup of coffee for her.
"Good morning, Texas," she smiled in return. She gratefully accepted the tin cup with its steamy contents, blew gently, then took a sip. "Sanity in a cup," she murmured.
"Yes, ma'am," Texas agreed softly.
"You're up early, Radar," Jack said joining the two, dropping down beside his best friend's wife.
"So are you."
"Yeah, well, I've always been an early riser," Jack replied.
She bit back her comment. But her grin, and the flush of her cheeks, let her companions know that she hadn't missed the double entendre.
He bit back his own smile as he watched her from the corner of his eye. No doubt if it had been just the two of them, the smartass comment lurking behind those green eyes would have been tossed at him with gusto. "Unlike certain archaeologists I could name."
Casey giggled. "That's one of the things we have in common."
"Which leads me back to my original observation. You're up early," Jack grinned.
"Something is totally screwy about this whole situation," she said simply. "I couldn't sense more than about fifty Jaffa in that castle. And they have a sarcophagus. That's how they've managed to live so long. I'd guess they're all several hundred years old. And the group that stays there and...guards..." she cocked her head to the side, "guards the secrets, are hand chosen. There's a priest who has been running things...well, he and his predecessors, have been running things in Tem's absence. I don't think they...he...will be too happy to learn that his absent god is alive and well and planning a comeback," she reported.
"What about those villagers?"
She shuddered. "The villagers provide food for them, in exchange for being left alone. But...occasionally...I haven't worked out how often...a...uh...a sacrifice...is required."
"Oh, I do not like the sound of that," Jack muttered.
"There's a stock beside the hut where the food is put. A young woman is put into it. The village elder, and his assistant... the elder's son I think, watch to make certain that she's not freed by her family, and that the Jaffa take her and the food and return to the castle," Casey continued.
The look on her face was enough to tell the two men sitting with her that what she was about to say would not be easy to hear.
"They...well, they...you know..." she said, her hand moving in a weak circle, her cheeks paling. "They...take her...have her. Then...then they let her free...except, she's not really free. She can run and hide...but it's a game to them. Sometimes when they find her, they wound her, sometimes they just rape her again. When they get...tired...of the game, they kill her."
"Oy!" Jack groaned.
"It's the sarcophagus," she said softly. "They're all...demented...soulless. Because of it."
The older man nodded. SG-1 had learned about the dangers of the sarcophagus when Daniel had become addicted to it, thanks to a princess by the name of Shyla. They'd damned near lost him because of that freaking Goa'uld coffin! "Okay, so how are they going to be at defending against Ba'al's Jaffa?"
"Pretty damned good," came the instant reply. "They know every inch of that keep, and they can trap his men and take them out easily. Even if Ba'al rings down into the middle of the place, he won't be able to take control." She frowned. "At least...not easily."
Jack frowned. "Any idea if he'll keep trying?"
Slender shoulders moved up and down. "I don't know. He's not going to be willing to lose many Jaffa, especially if he can't quickly find what he's looking for." She stared down into her coffee. "I have to go back," she said softly.
He choked on the coffee he'd just swallowed. "You what?"
"I have to go back. I have to help them."
"The women...well, the spirits of the women who are trapped there."
He rolled his eyes. "I don't know, Radar-"
"I have to Jack," she said, cutting of his protest.
Brown eyes locked with green. Saw the determination. He nodded slowly. "As soon as Daniel wakes up-"
"Daniel is awake," a voice said softly. He'd awakened when he'd realized that the warmth he had been cuddled around was missing. And he'd heard everything she'd told Jack.
She looked up and smiled. "Good morning."
He ran his hand over her hair as he sat down. "'Morning," he replied. "Let me have a cup of coffee. Do you think I could go down into that village, and talk to the people there?"
Casey shook her head. "I don't think so. There aren't any visitors to that village. By taking young women, the Jaffa have managed to keep the number of villagers under control. There are enough to farm, to provide food. They don't want any more than that."
"Too difficult to maintain control over larger groups," Jack nodded.
"As long as Ba'al and his Jaffa are wandering around, you'd be captured almost immediately," Casey said.
Daniel frowned. He wanted to let those people know that they could be free of the Jaffa...and of the threat of Goa'uld. Knowing what they suffered, that desire was stronger than ever. He understood, however, that as much as he wanted to help them, getting himself caught wouldn't be the best way to go about procuring their freedom. He sipped at the coffee Texas has poured for him, smiling his thanks at the young man.
"Okay, Radar, I'll sign off on this. But you do what you need to do and then get back here. No messing around," Jack warned.
She smiled. "I promise."
The other men were beginning to stir. Sam and Teal'c joined their teammates at the fire. Watched as Casey scooted to sit within Daniel's loving, protective embrace.
With a sigh, her heart racing with fear at the thought of returning to that castle, Casey closed her eyes...felt herself pulled toward the massive stone keep.
"I'm right here, Sunshine."
She smiled. "Okay, now just exactly how do I keep them from yanking me into eternity with them?"
The old woman cackled. "You've been thinking about this, I see."
"Well, dreaming about it actually," Casey confessed.
"Find the room where they have gathered."
"And I do this...how?"
"Let them guide you."
She raised an eyebrow. "You do know I hate all of this cryptic shit, right?"
Again the old woman laughed. "Yes, Sunshine. I know. But you must learn as much as you can on your own. I can only...guide you. To give you the answers would be to rob you of the opportunity to learn."
"It would make me a hell of a lot less cranky," she muttered. She looked at the gate she'd to 'walk through'. Took a deep breath. "I suppose if I run into trouble in there, I'm on my own."
The smile on the old woman's face faded. "I'm afraid so, Sunshine. Listen to all that you hear. Let Him protect you if need be."
Casey frowned. "Daniel? How can he help me?"
"Trust your heart. And His," was the evasive reply.
"Right. Got it." She took another deep breath. Glanced at Miss Eloise, smiled at the wink she received. Without hesitation this time around, she stepped through the gate, the sensation as unnerving as it had been the first time.
She glanced around. Two Jaffa were taking the place of the two who'd been walking the wall. The men barely acknowledged one another. That was...unusual. Teal'c had told her that the Jaffa were a tightly-knit group of warriors, and that friendships were deep and strong, and usually lasted a lifetime. She cocked her head sideways. The Jaffa in this keep worked in pairs, and trusted none other than their partner. Which certainly made for a stressful life, she thought absently. The stress, along with the overuse of the sarcophagus could explain the...madness...that she sensed. And behind the entire twisted mess was a Goa'uld. Batshit crazy snakes, as Jack called them. He was absolutely right!
She could hear them. Crying...moaning...wailing in pain...in grief. She ran toward the sound, goose bumps rising on her flesh at the noise that filled the air. The room was in a far corner of the keep. Cold. Empty. Well, maybe not so empty, she amended, when nearly one hundred young women seemed to appear from nowhere.
When arms reached out, hands tried to grasp at her, she backed up against the stone wall. "Please...I'm here to help you," she pleaded, terrified that she'd be overrun, and dragged away to wherever it was that these tortured souls existed.
The sudden silence made her ears ring. She glanced around. Smiled when she saw it. In the far corner. "Look. Over there," she pointed. "Do you see it? That small speck of light?"
All eyes were watching now, as the light began to grow larger, brighter.
"That's where you need to go...where you belong. Where you deserve to be. Just step into the light. It's okay. You'll be safe there. Warm, and safe," she said softly.
Timidly one of the women reached toward the brightness. Smiled at her companions, and stepped into the shaft, a flash of bright white and a soft laugh leaving no doubt as to where she'd gone. One by one each of the women stepped forward, into the light, which continued to grow ever brighter, until it seemed to engulf the entire room.
She put her hand up to shield her face, unable to even see as the last of the women disappeared. One last brilliant flash, and the room was plunged into darkness once again. It took a few minutes for her eyes to readjust to the dimness. She rubbed her hands up and down her arms. It was cold here. Cold...empty...evil.
She was running through the rooms, back the way she came, when she slid to a halt in one of the large, empty chambers. She shivered violently. Something very...unpleasant...was going to happen in this room. Violent. Cruel. Painful. She tried to focus, to see what exactly was going to take place, but the details eluded her. She sighed. When the time was right, she'd get details. Until then, it was no use to try and force anything to 'come through'.
Another trip through the wooden gate, and she was back outside the keep. Miss Eloise was smiling. "You did a wonderful thing, Casey."
"Yes, you did. You freed those women. They've suffered, reliving their torture, their deaths, again, and again, and again."
"Oh, god," she whispered. The...desperation...she'd felt suddenly made sense. "They're all right? All of them?"
"They're fine now. All of them," Miss Eloise replied.
"Okay. Anything else you can tell me?"
The smile faded. "Remember what I told you. You're strong, Casey. Stronger than you realize. No matter what happens, you will survive. And no matter what happens, He will always love you."
Just as it had the first time she heard the words, her heart clenched in her chest. "I'll remember," she whispered hoarsely.
Miss Eloise disappeared. She glanced around, shivered, and returned to the cave where Daniel waited for her.
She opened her eyes. "It's okay," she said softly.
"What happened?" Sam asked softly, reaching forward to take a slightly trembling slender hand into her own.
"I...the women who were taken...they...they were trapped there. Their spirits anyway. I sort of helped them find their way out." Her cheeks flushed slightly, she dropped her eyes.
Daniel hugged her tightly. "That's amazing, Angel," he said softly.
He had no clue how she did what she did. Or why she'd been needed to help a bunch of ghosts. It was enough for him to know that she could do whatever it was that she did, and that she'd been able to help. Casey was much like Daniel in that respect. She wanted to help anyone who needed it. Even when they didn't always deserve the effort. Or when they were ghosts. "You did a good thing, Radar," Jack said, smiling at the young woman.
"Indeed," Teal'c said softly.
Jack looked around. The men of the other teams had gathered, had been watching. "Let's have some breakfast, and then do what we came here to do. We need to find those ships before Ba'al does. We should have somebody keep an eye on that village. As long as Ba'al has Jaffa running around here, we're going to be taking a risk every time we step out of this cave."
"We have a nice lookout set up," Deke Anderson smiled. He looked over at his men. "Larry, you and Dobson head on over there."
The two men nodded, grabbed their packs and radios.
"What about breakfast?" Casey asked softly.
"Ma'am, if the major is cookin' this morin', I reckon I'd rather just chew on a chunk o' tree bark," Dobson replied in a deep southern accent.
She giggled. "I have instant oatmeal."
Larry dropped his pack. "We can have breakfast, can't we major?"
Deke grinned. "I dunno. Complaints about my cooking have been lodged, and you know how I feel about complaints."
"You heatin' the water, sir?" Dobson asked, a wide grin on his face.
"Nope. It's already taken care of."
Dobson dropped his pack. "Reckon I could stay for oatmeal then."
Jack began to laugh. "Deke, I think your men are trying to tell you that you'd burn water!"
"Let a pan boil dry just once, and the ingrates never let you forget it," Deke muttered. His eyes were laughing, however.
In spite of the playful banter, everyone in the cave was on edge. There were two groups of Jaffa, one belonging to Ba'al, the other loyal to Tem. There was no telling what might occur between the two contingents. They had to locate the hidden Goa'uld ships, and make certain that neither group became aware of the fact that there were Tau'ri on the planet as well.
When the last remnants of breakfast had been cleaned up, each of the individual 'camping bowls' rinsed and dried and put away, the maps of the area were brought out again. The men of SG-12 insisted that Tem's Jaffa did not venture outside of the keep, except to send two into the village for food. So far, it seemed to be on a schedule, every four days. Which meant that today the villagers would be receiving a visit.
Dobson and Larry, who'd left the cave as soon as they'd finished eating, both of them thanking Casey profusely for the oatmeal, radioed that they were in position. And that there were no Jaffa in sight, neither Tem's nor Ba'al's.
Jack studied Casey. "Radar, you said that there were only about fifty Jaffa in that keep, right?"
"Well, I didn't do a headcount, but that was the number I...felt. And there weren't any others there at all," she replied.
"Deke, did Ba'al's Jaffa come from that castle?" the colonel asked.
"Well, sir, I guess we just sort of assumed that they had," the major replied.
Daniel frowned. "You're thinking that Ba'al hasn't tried to take the castle yet."
"Makes sense. As big as that thing is, he's going to be convinced that there are a hell of a lot of men in there," Jack said.
"What about the villagers? They must know how many Jaffa are there, or they at least have a good idea," Sam said. "If Ba'al's Jaffa were in the village, they know what the villagers know."
Jack was frowning. "We know that there are very few of Tem's Jaffa in the keep. And that there isn't enough interaction between them and the villagers to take note of."
"Well, there is the issue of taking a young woman and torturing and killing her," Casey mumbled.
Something had been poking at Daniel since he'd heard what Casey had told Jack. "Case, you said that those Jaffa know that keep well, and that they can trap Ba'al's Jaffa, right?"
"That's what I picked up," she said.
"So if Tem's Jaffa never leave the keep, any battle between them will be inside that thing," Daniel continued.
Jack nodded. "Is there anywhere nearby that would offer cover? If we can keep an eye on what's going on inside those walls, it might help us know what to expect."
"No where high enough to see over the walls," Deke reported. "I have no idea what the place looks like inside."
All eyes moved to Casey. "Radar?"
Using the handle of her spoon, Casey began to draw in the dirt. "I didn't see all of it, by any means," she said. "But just inside the gates is a large courtyard area. It looked like it went around the...building...structure...whatever you want to call it. Huge freaking doors to go into it. There's another courtyard, surrounded on all four sides by rooms. But the rooms aren't...the hallways are crooked...no two rooms seem to be side by side."
"That just doesn't make sense," Major Newsome frowned.
"I know," she said softly. "That place...it's evil."
"Evil?" Jack said, cocking an eyebrow.
The young blonde nodded. "Evil. I know that you don't believe in magic, and spells, and witchcraft, but that place has been cursed."
Every body in the cave shivered involuntarily. "Could that be why the passageways seem...crooked?" Daniel asked softly.
"It has to be," she replied. "Except for the few rooms that the Jaffa use, the place is empty. Well, what I saw of it was empty," she added.
"So they're basically living in one corner of the damned thing," Jack said.
"The Jaffa work in pairs," Casey said. "And they trust no one, but the man they are partnered with."
"That is highly unusual," Teal'c said, a frown on his handsome face. "To have been garrisoned here as long as they have, for hundreds of years-"
"Tem has been on Earth for several thousand years," Sam pointed out.
"His priest took control when he failed to return," Daniel said softly. "The priest probably hand picks his predecessor. And if the Jaffa have a sarcophagus..."
"The Jaffa in charge sends for re-enforcements as they're needed. And the leader is determined in battle," Casey said, her head cocked to one side.
"Joma secu," Teal'c said quietly. "It is a ritual battle to the death."
Jack ran a hand over his face. Nothing that they'd found about Tem fit within the 'normal' behavior patterns of a Goa'uld. Now they found that his 'most trusted' were a handful of Jaffa kept alive with a sarcophagus, who seemed to be every bit as batshit crazy as their boss..."Radar, did you see any...writing...or anything in that castle?"
Daniel's eyes brightened "If I could get in there..."
"No way in hell, Daniel," Jack replied firmly. "But if she could see anything, she could show you, and you could translate it."
"That would be too difficult, take too much time," Daniel argued. "If there is anything-"
"There wasn't," Casey said, effectively stopping the argument cold. "Stone walls. Stone floors. No writing, no furnishings, nothing that could be considered decoration of any kind."
Sam had a frown that mirrored those of her teammates. "This just gets stranger all the time," she said.
"Tell me about it!" Jack said. He heaved a sigh. "Okay, let's go scout out the area. See if we can't locate those damned ships."
Casey's head went to the side again.
"Incoming," Sam said softly, sounding suspiciously like Jack.
"The battle has started," the young woman said softly. "I have no idea how long it will last."
Jack was on his feet. "Let's go, kids. We won't get another opportunity like this. We stay clear of the 'gate, we know Ba'al has men there. Move out."
Each team was staying together, Jack had learned the hard way that bad things happened when SG-1 was separated. Teal'c was on point, he was on the six, and his three 'kids' were in the middle, their eyes moving over the terrain.
"Goa'uld ships aren't small," Casey said.
"Not usually, no," Daniel replied.
"Several of them would be pretty...big. I mean, they'd take up a lot of room," she clarified.
"Then why can't we find them?"
"I have no idea, Angel."
She tightened her fingers around his. That cold feeling was still tickling the edges of her mind, trying to grab hold of her heart. Something bad was going to happen. She'd already looked around Daniel - there was nothing there. Nor could she see anything around Jack, or Sam, or Teal'c. But that nagging feeling, as well as Miss Eloise's cryptic warning, continued to poke at her.
A A A A A A
The late afternoon sun spread more shadows than light through the dense forest. They'd been on the move since soon after sun up; searching, looking for anything that might be a sign that would lead them to a fleet of hidden Goa'uld ships.
Jack was beginning to believe the damned things didn't even exist. Unless they were hidden on the other side of this planet; they damned sure weren't anywhere near here! On the up side, not one team had reported seeing any Jaffa. The two men keeping an eye on the village reported that no one had shown up for the scheduled food pick up. If the villagers were concerned, they weren't showing it, Larry had said.
Daniel was still eager to meet with the people who lived in the small village. Keeping him away from the place was going to be damned near impossible. The older man sighed. "Let's head back," Jack said softly into his radio.
Teal'c began to swing back around, taking the team in a circle, back toward the river and the cave that offered safety.
"How close to that castle are we?" Jack asked quietly.
"I believe it is just over the rise," Teal'c responded.
The need to see the place for himself, to decide if, and when they'd try to move inside urged him on. "Let's take look, shall we?" the older man asked.
Twenty minutes later, laying on their bellies, hidden by the thick underbrush, SG-1 was looking at the structure SG-12 had dubbed 'the castle'. The stones of the high outer walls were old, and nearly black. What unnerved each of them was that the sunlight that was shining down on it seemed to be absorbed, rather than reflected.
"There could be some sort of energy field around it," Sam hypothesized.
"I'm certain I'd have felt it," Casey said.
Daniel stared at it. Casey was right. The place looked evil. "Are they still fighting in there?"
"I don't know," the young seer admitted. "I could look-"
"Not here," Jack said hastily. "I don't want to take a chance of getting caught. Let's head back to camp." He took one last look, shivered, and moved carefully to his feet.
A A A A A A
Ba'al frowned as the report from his First Prime came through. He'd returned to the ship, having determined that scans of the planet's surface would be more conducive to finding Tem's 'missing' fleet than more time spent having his Jaffa scouring the areas around that disgusting edifice. Every room he'd seen had been empty. The very air seemed to be oppressive, as if...he shook his head mentally. He didn't believe in spirits of good and evil. His Jaffa had reported that after three hours of battle throughout a maze of passageways and rooms, Tem's Jaffa had...disappeared. He'd left orders that every inch of the keep was to be searched. And when the enemy Jaffa were found, they were to be brought to him.
"My Lord, a message has arrived from Lord Yu," one of the Jaffa said, bowing low as he approached.
"And what would it be?" Ba'al sighed. He didn't have time to spare for the old fool.
"He wishes to meet with you immediately. To discuss what the System Lords have agreed upon."
The Goa'uld smirked. As if he gave a damn about what they thought, or said. As soon as he had the ships that were hidden on the planet below him, there would be none as powerful as he, none could stand against him. He would rule supreme, and death would visit those who dared defy him! But...for the moment, he didn't dare allow the others to know he'd discovered the location of the missing fleet. It was damned inconvenient, though! "Where does he wish to meet?"
The Jaffa repeated the coordinates.
"Very well. We shall return as soon as we have finished with Yu. By then my Jaffa will control the planet." Not that there was much to control. That castle. A handful of Jaffa, and a village so small as to be worthless to him.
"Yes, My Lord."
He continued to study the planet. Those ships would make him invincible. He had to find them!
A A A A A A
"That valley on the other side of that village would be the perfect place for them," Major Newsome was saying, as the teams gathered around the fire.
"It would be. But they aren't there," Jack said flatly.
"They might be cloaked," Sam pointed out. "Tem did have a cloaking device."
"Yeah, on the ship Ra destroyed," Jack argued.
"Not necessarily," Daniel said. "It's possible that all of his ships were cloaked."
"That would certainly be reason enough for Seth and Hathor to be so eager to side with Tem," Casey pointed out.
"Indeed," Teal'c mused. "If it was technology that Ra did not hold, it was their chance to overthrow him and become more powerful within the Empire."
"So how do we find cloaked ships?" Deke Anderson asked.
"Smack your face on them when you walk into them," Casey replied dryly, bringing a round of laughter. She felt a cold breeze move over her; she shivered, shifted closer to Daniel's side.
"Case?" he asked softly.
"I don't know," she replied.
He frowned. "Bad?"
"I think so. I just can't see anything."
Jack said nothing, as he listened to the quiet conversation. But his anxiety over the mission rose significantly. And when Casey did have details, she'd tell him. He took a sip of coffee. His gut was telling him that he needed to be careful. It was tempting to tell the teams to load up, head for the 'gate, take out the Jaffa guarding it, and get the hell home. For the first time in years he pushed the feelings aside. And would spend months regretting the decision.
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