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Strange Bedfellows

Chapter 6

So far, Thracia was nothing like Daniel had imagined it to be. Nor like the legends proclaimed it to be. Which was par for the course, he thought. The Goa'uld had never been big on the truth or facts. Those two things were just two minor inconveniences that often got in the way of their supreme dominance of the galaxy.

What they'd seen of the planet so far was arid and hot and dusty. The walled city resembled dozens of walled cities of the ancient civilizations of Earth, and those of the Middle East that still existed, thousands of years after being founded. It was a bit shabby around the edges. No doubt Ares' return would see improvements made...typically the home city of a Goa'uld was lavish; a tangible sign of his, or her, power...strength...wealth.

As he'd predicted, there were several scraps of papyrus nailed to the gate. Daniel carefully wrote down the directions of the four that sounded the most promising, hidden at his task by his teammates.

The number of abandoned buildings on three of the streets that they traveled was further proof that Ares' absence had rendered his home city damned near destitute. The condition of the city, and the demeanor of the citizens, left no doubt that the priests had ruled with iron fists, creating laws and demanding tribute that put a strain on an already impoverished people. Those who could escape through the Chappa'ai had done so. Those who remained were angry...bitter...weary. The Jaffa who had continued to protect the planet were as weary as their neighbors. Even more so after the numerous battles that had been waged. The captains of the bedraggled army of Ares understood that it wasn't the bravery of the Jaffa who fought so valiantly in the name of their god that sent the invaders away. It was the fact that there remained nothing on the planet worth taking. It had long ago been stripped of all naquadah. Without Ares to see to the upkeep, to provide the wealth that kept the city thriving, the desert oasis had dried up. Become nothing more than a scarce-remembered backwater planet.

The first inn that they came across wasn't much more than a few rooms over a barn. Daniel recognized the mastadges, the beasts had been used on Abydos for riding and for bearing loads as the tribe traveled to trade for food and water. The smell was overpowering, and Sam was quick to point out that any attempts to sneak into the palace smelling like...that...would be short lived indeed. On to the next name on the list. They were moving closer to the center of the city, which would be advantageous. The closer they were, the more time they could spend doing recon, and not trying to get to the palace.

The second inn was little better than the first. The third was nothing more than an empty building. Jack and Teal'c did a bit of looking around, and when no one objected, they opted to see if their presence would be noted and commented upon. MREs were carefully pulled out, and they sat in one of the inner rooms to eat, aware of every sound and movement around them. It would certainly be convenient to have a place to plan, and rest, without unwanted eyes and ears of which to be wary.

"There aren't enough people in the streets to become lost in the crowd," Jack groused.

"If Tem decides to show up here, he has information on SG-1; he'll recognize us immediately," Sam said.

The colonel nodded. "We need to get in and get the job done, then get the hell out. I don't want to be here when Balls shows up, either."

Casey's stomach turned over at the thought of seeing that particular Goa'uld again. "I'd prefer to avoid that as well," she said softly. She smiled when Daniel's hand closed around hers, gentle pressure offering his reassurance.

"I suggest that we scout out our surroundings. If we are to proceed with this mission quickly, we must first know what obstacles lay between us and our goal," Teal'c said.

Jack grinned at the Jaffa. Once again their thoughts had been running parallel, it seemed. "I agree. Daniel, you and Casey go see if you can't scare up a bit of intel. But be careful!"

The archaeologist nodded. "I brought along a couple of gold necklaces, they aren't much, something that a merchant might have. I can use them for trade, get a bit of food, and then find out what I need as an offering for the temple. If I can get in there, I might be able to overhear a bit of gossip, something to give us an idea of what's going on."

"Sounds good. Hide your radio inside your shirt. Don't use it unless you're in trouble."

"Right."

"Teal'c, you and I are going to see what's around here. Carter, get a perimeter set up, keep an eye on this place. We can't carry everything with us all the time, and I have the feeling leaving anything around here unguarded is a bad idea."

"I'll see if I can't locate a safe of some sort," Sam replied. Any sort of hole or hidden access would do. Especially when the hiding place wouldn't be needed for more than a few hours. She'd also run a few tests, just to see if there were any minerals nearby. If the planet had been stripped, as she suspected it had been, it wouldn't be a surprise to learn that Ares had plans to relocate his home city.

"Good," Jack nodded. "Okay, let's get busy. Everybody stay alert. Maintain radio silence, don't need to alert the natives that we're different. Carter, try and make this place as secure as possible."

"Yes, sir."

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Daniel very quietly instructed Casey to hold the scarf over her face as they wandered up the narrow, winding street. He found a jeweler, and stopped to show the man the pendants he'd brought. Both were artifacts from a dig that had been done three years ago by one of the SG teams, he couldn't remember which one. Neither were of any real value, scientifically. Nor monetarily, it seemed. He haggled for a bit, finally accepted what seemed a paltry sum for the two. Made inquiries about visiting the temple.

Brown eyes became guarded. "You are here for the celebration?"

"We are," Daniel replied. "We were...commanded...to come."

"So it has been with all those who have arrived in Thracia," the merchant sighed.

"There have been many? I thought the streets would be full of people to welcome Ares," the archaeologist said cautiously.

"And so did Ares." The man cast a sudden, nervous glance around him. "The ceremony itself is not to be held until late afternoon on the morrow. Most will wait until the last moment to arrive, then demand food and shelter. You were wise to get here early."

"So it seems."

The merchant made a show of examining one of the pendants. "I did not notice this before," he said motioning at the simple clasp. "Very precise workmanship. I would bring bad luck upon myself if I did not point it out, and offer a bit more in way of adequate compensation."

"You are a generous man," Daniel replied, accepting the few coins. "May you be judged by the goodness in your heart."

The merchant beamed. Patted the younger man's cheek. "There are stalls set up near the steps of the great temple. You will find a worthy offering to purchase. Take it to the priests, that they might bless you."

"I will, thank you," Daniel said. He bowed slightly, smiled at the man, and led Casey back onto the street. He watched the people who moved past them. No one seemed the least bit surprised to see strangers. Nor interested. Which was very odd. It was as if the very soul of the people had been sucked out of them, leaving nothing more than walking, breathing husks. He frowned as the words of one of the ancient warnings echoed through his head...

"Beware, ye who seek to know Ares, the god of thunder, of war, of chaos. Ask that which you will of Him. But know that with your very soul He will be repaid."

"What's wrong?" Casey asked softly.

"Nothing, why?"

"You just seem...tense."

"I don't think we've ever met a Goa'uld like Ares. Sokar took perverse delight in being Satan incarnate. But something tells me that Ares is much more dangerous."

She tugged on her lower lip. She still hadn't been able to 'see' anything pertaining to the mission. It was too easy to believe that things would go well. Nothing went as planned for SG-1. So why couldn't she sense what they were about to face? Even if things weren't going to go to hell on them, she should be able to pick that up! She sighed with frustration.

Daniel glanced at her. "Don't force it, Angel. If it's not there, it's not there."

"Now who's psychic?"

He grinned. "I know you," he said softly.

"Yes, you do," she replied. Sometimes, she thought, Daniel knew her better than she knew herself. That 'something' began to poke at her. Not yet strong enough to be recognized. Especially when her attention was focused on her inability to 'see'.

 

 

 

Jack and Teal'c were standing within the shadow of an second story walkway, the arched stone not far above their heads. "I count six," Jack said quietly.

"I concur," Teal'c replied. "This seems to be an entrance to the market square. It would be probable that each entrance is thus guarded."

They watched the Jaffa for a few minutes. The six warriors stood three per side of a wide, arched entry. They appeared to be relaxed, bored even. The people milling about between the open stalls where merchants hawked their goods in sing-song voices weren't paying a bit of attention to them.

Time to see just how well their disguises worked. The two men wandered past the stalls, walked deliberately toward the arched opening. And through it, to a quiet side street. When they turned a corner that would lead them back around the market square, they stopped. "Okay, that was easy. Let's see if we can locate that palace," Jack said.

"Casey Jackson indicated that it was in the center of the city," Teal'c said.

"Yes, she did. Now, let's see if we can find out where that is," Jack replied.

The twisting and turning of the streets was an ancient design, meant to confuse any invaders who might make it through the massive gates that protected the citizens within the walls from the threats without. Enemy troops would be easily contained, and eliminated, in the narrow confines. Years of combined experience had both men carefully marking easily recognized landmarks, making certain that they'd be able to find their way back to the abandoned inn that was, for the moment, home.

When they stepped onto the wide boulevard, it was impossible not to be impressed. The white stone of the palace reflected the sunlight. The palace itself could be seen, or at least the upper stories were visible, above the high wall that protected it. There were tall, intricately forged iron gates centered in three walls.

On what appeared to be the 'back' of the palace was a narrow alley. The gate there was open, and the two SG-1 members were able to get a quick peek inside as they walked past. "I believe this is where deliveries of food and goods are made," Teal'c said quietly. "It would be expected that servants would be coming and going throughout the day."

"So this is the door we use," Jack said, nodding with approval. "Daniel knows the language and the customs and all that stuff. He'll have a better chance of getting in, dropping off the crystals and getting out."

"I agree."

"Think you can find a place to hide in there?"

"I have no doubt that such a place would present itself."

"Good, you'll be his backup. I'll keep watch from over there," Jack said, pointing to two large, wooden carts. Both were piled high with fragrant, yellow hay. "Sam and Casey can keep an eye at each corner, let us know if anyone decides to come down the alley."

Teal'c nodded. The plan was simple, but those were always the best kind. Too many details tended to bog a mission down, and allowed the chance for too many things to go wrong. "When shall we do this?"

Jack squinted up at the sky. The mission was a simple one. Plant two data crystals that had just enough information about Tem and Ba'al to focus Ares' attention on them. Casey had insisted that Tem and Ares needed to 'hook up'. Sam and Daniel had done their best to make certain Ares would be interested in doing exactly that, carefully wording each snippet of intel they put on those crystals. "Just past noon. If we can get this done before dark, we can have dinner at home."

Teal'c gave one sharp nod of understanding. Without changing the length or speed of their stride, the palace was circumvented, and they walked back the way they'd come. Passing the Jaffa at the entry to the market square was no more eventful than it had been the first time through. Whether or not the guards would notice the two men coming through again in a short period of time was one of the unknown factors. Jack carefully assumed that they would, so did his best to appear as harmless as possible.

 

 

 

Sam examined the building she was in. The upper floors were littered with forgotten furniture, broken pottery, and scraps of rough cloth. The layers of dust told her that no one had been in the rooms for some time. Which was a relief. No chance of any homeless returning to their 'safe haven' for the night.

The lower level had a door at the back which opened onto a shared courtyard. It was easy enough to find a scrap of wood that fit across the door, sliding into bars on either side apparently put there for just such a purpose.

In what had once been the kitchen, if the raised, centrally located hearth was anything to judge by, she located what must have been a storage pantry. She put all of the packs into the cubby hole, used a black zip-tie as a lock to hold the wooden door closed.

Scanner in hand, she moved around the lower rooms. Absolutely no readings to indicate naquadah anywhere near her vicinity. She found a place in the shadows to sit and watch as people walked by the entry and the paneless windows. No one ever bothered to even look in the direction of the abandoned building.

She'd been on enough missions to know that if something were about to go wrong, she'd feel it. She didn't have that sick feeling in her stomach. So, all was good. For the moment. It did make her nervous to know that Casey wasn't 'seeing' anything for the mission. It could simply mean that there was nothing to see. That things were going to go as planned. Sam barely managed to keep from snorting out loud. When had any mission ever gone as planned for SG-1? Even with Casey's advanced warnings, the team often found themselves hiding, running, or fighting. But they always made it. Always. That SG-1 magic.

Settled in for the time being, she remained alert, ears tuned to hear if any noises came from the back of the building. Her eyes remained focused on the openings in the wall that faced the street. Watching people who didn't seem to know...or care...that anyone was inside the old, abandoned inn.

 

 

 

The temple was in good shape, compared to the rest of the buildings in the city. The gardens that surrounded it were little more than patches of dirt and weeds, however. Smoke rose from an inner court yard, the acrid smell of burning hide filled the air. Merchants with cages of dogs and pens of goats called to them as they approached, bragging of the best of offerings to be made to Ares.

Casey stopped near one of the tables. Inside a cage was a dog, she had no idea of the breed. And a dozen puppies.

"A wise choice," the merchant said, watching those wide, green eyes. "Offer one of these fine pups to Ares, and your womb will never be empty!"

With a gasp, she turned to Daniel. "Oh, god, how can he be so cruel?"

"It's the way it is, Casey," Daniel said softly. "Ares is the only Olympian god to ever demand a live sacrifice. Molok and Sokar were the only 'gods' who demanded human sacrifices. Although I have heard that there were sects that worshipped Ares who'd offer a young warrior in an attempt to garner his favor in battle."

She shook her head, tears filled her eyes. "Damned snaky bastards!" she hissed.

"To get inside, we have to have an offering," Daniel pointed out.

"You are not buying one of those poor puppies!"

"No, I'm not. Come on." He took her by the arm, nodded at the merchant, and led her closer to the steps.

There were two merchants who sold wine to be offered to their god. It was at the first of these stalls that Daniel stopped. He haggled for a few minutes, then accepted a plain jug filled with rich, red wine.

Casting another look at the hapless animals that awaited their cruel fate, Casey followed her Husband up the steps of the temple.

Once inside, it took a few moments for their vision to adjust to the dimness. A group of women were sitting quietly off to one side. Daniel listened for a moment, then pointed with his chin. "Wait there, Angel. Women not priestesses aren't allowed any farther. You might be able to pick up a bit of gossip about what's going on."

She glanced at the group, shivered slightly. The thought of being away from him worried her. "Don't you dare get yourself into trouble! And don't take too long!"

His smile was meant to offer comfort. "I promise I won't. Now, be a good, dutiful little wife and get your fanny over there."

Her eyes narrowed. "Don't lose yourself in the part, Doctor."

Daniel's smile turned to a grin, his blue eyes danced. "Me?"

The absolute delight that flashed through his eyes made her giggle. "Yes, you. Go on, let's get this over with!"

As much as he wanted to, Daniel resisted kissing her. He gave her fingers a tight squeeze, watched until she'd settled herself at the edge of the group of women, then walked deeper into the temple.

As he expected, a young neophyte...his head shaven as a sign of his recent arrival into temple service...met him as he moved closer to the altar. 

"You have come to worship your god Ares?"

Yeah, that was going to happen! Of course, admitting that he was just there to look around and maybe pick up a bit of intel, while being the truth, wasn't something he should, or would, ever say. Even if it was tempting to do so. "Yes."

"What gift have you brought as offering to your god?"

"I am but a poor man. I can offer only a bit of wine."

The young priest looked annoyed. Spending his time dealing with the poor was not what he'd had in mind when he'd dedicated himself to the great god. He had visions of working with the High Priest, helping to make the decisions that would influence how the people lived and worked, being one of the few responsible for bringing down the favor of Ares on those who proved their worthiness with their obedience...and their gold. "This way," he snapped.

Daniel looked around eagerly, certain that most of the peasants who came inside did the same. He'd love to get film of those walls! The novice priest was moving too quickly for him to have a chance to look closely at the glyphs.

The main chamber was for the most impressive of sacrifices, of course, set aflame in front of a statue of Ares that towered twenty feet high. The columns were decorated, and told the stories of the battles Ares had fought and won. The truth according to the Goa'uld, no doubt, Daniel thought. The inner chambers of the temple itself were small, each room serving a different purpose. The least impressive of sacrifices were made in one such room.

The altar was small, and unadorned. No need to impress the poor, right? Daniel thought irritably. An old priest, his hands raised in prayer, was giving a blessing to another man.

"Wait here," the young man hissed. "You will be called forward when it is your turn."

Before Daniel could reply, the young man whirled and walked away, the pleats of his short toga skirt flaring out behind him. He turned his attention to what was happening in the center of the room. In the dim light given off by the sconces that flickered on the walls, he could see three other men standing and waiting, each of them holding plain wine jugs as well. The only sound was that of the incantation of the priest. He listened carefully, realized it was as much an admonishment for not bringing a more 'suitable' offering as it was a blessing. Yeah, don't want the poor to feed themselves, or clothe their children before buying a goat to sacrifice. It would be worth it if the meat was given back to the believer. But it wasn't. The animal's throat was slit, and the entire carcass thrown onto the altar and set aflame. It was all he could do to keep his disgust from registering on his face.

 

 

 

Casey sat quietly. Several of the women smiled at her, each of them wearing ragged dresses and robes. They were scrubbed clean, their hair carefully combed. Sitting apart were two older women, and a young woman in her late teens. Their robes were silk, and while the cuffs of the sleeves were showing a bit of wear, they were obviously of better means than the others. The three refused to acknowledge the presence of any of those around them. Snobs, Casey thought. What have you got to be so proud of? You look every bit as hungry!

"Your husband makes a sacrifice?" the woman beside her asked, her voice a soft whisper.

She nodded. "Yours?"

"Yes. Although we had money only for wine," the woman said sadly.

"That is all we were able to buy as well," Casey replied.

The answer brought a smile and a nod. "You have come through the Chappa'ai for the ceremony?"

"Yes. Do you live here?"

The tired features of the woman's face fell slightly. "It is obvious, is it not? Only those too poor to pay the priests for safe passage have remained. Or those who would be the masters of those of us left behind," she added, throwing a look of contempt at the three better dressed women. "Times are hard where you are from?"

Casey hesitated, looked down at her simple cotton dress and robe. "They are."

"Our god Ares has returned, in our greatest hour of need. Soon our bellies will be full, we will wear the finest linen, and our homes will be the envy of all," another woman said, the faith in her voice enough to bring tears to Casey's eyes.

If only that were true, she thought sadly. More than likely Ares had no idea how difficult life had become for his people. Nor would he care. He was a Goa'uld. And they were all predictably self-centered.

"You little bastard!"

The angry voice drifted toward them. The women rose to their feet, hurried to the columns that marked the beginning of the inner temple, stood and watched in fascination as a man chased a small boy around the other merchant stalls, a club in his hand. The pen that had held the dog and her puppies was open, and that little mother had taken the opportunity to dash out, snapping and growling at anyone who came near, her brood tumbling at her feet.

Casey put a hand over her mouth to hold back her laughter when two other boys snuck from behind the stalls, and began to coax the dog toward them. It seemed that the dog could sense that the children wished to help her. She allowed them to scoop the puppies into a worn bag.

"Those little thieves!" one of the silk clad women exclaimed. When she started to call out, Casey fixed her with a stare.

"Let's just leave those boys to their task, shall we?" Her voice was as cold as the ice in her eyes. The woman shuddered, and stepped back two paces.

"Someone will have puppy stew tonight," another woman said.

She felt her stomach churning. "Stew?"

The woman with whom she'd been speaking patted her arm. "Do not fear. Those boys will find a way to hide those pups."

Casey nodded, and wished the boys the best of luck in protecting those little puppies and their mother. Ares was a twisted bastard. His priests were every bit as bad, it seemed. Getting rid of his snake ass would be the best thing that happened to the universe!

 

 

 

The 'blessing' took five minutes. Tops. Daniel watched as the three men before him received theirs. Stepped forward when the priest motioned to him.

The old man glanced up at the next in line. Waved him forward. So many poor. Far too many. What would Ares do to relieve their burden? He shook his head mentally. Nothing. Ares was a god of war, of chaos. The welfare of the people meant nothing to him. Without the tempering of the other gods...Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Athena, Aphrodite, Dionysus...Ares destroyed, he didn't build. Had his sect been able to wrest control from those who were as cruel as Ares, the city beyond the temple walls would still be thriving. And it might have been possible to repel the return of their so-called god. Rumors persisted that gods were falling at the hands of those known as Tau'ri...powerful warriors from a place known as the First World...who came forth to avenge those who suffered, whose gods had turned their backs on the people. He fought down the hope that the Tau'ri would sweep into Thracia, and protect the people from a god, and priests, not worthy of respect, let alone worship.

Daniel offered the jug of wine, just as he had seen the others do. Watched as it was poured ceremoniously over the stones of the altar. Smiled nervously when the priest looked at him.

It was difficult not to stare. Blue eyes and light colored hair were a rarity among the people. There was something about those eyes. When he saw the flash of Power in the cerulean depths, he nearly fell to his knees. There were those in the universe who had been given true gifts. He was among those. While he was unable to see events, past or future, Alkaios was able to see the true spirit of a man. His eye could discern the colors that hovered around every living thing. He had to concentrate, having learned to 'ignore' the sometimes blinding colors that flashed constantly. He closed his eyes for a moment, centered his thoughts, his very being. Opened his eyes and gasped out loud. The aura of this man was white. And the blue of deep power, ancient power, tinged the very edges. He'd never seen an all white aura before! Truly this man was a good man! Perhaps even a god!

"Are you ill?" Daniel asked, when the old man seemed to be on the verge of collapse. "Should I call for help?"

The priest grabbed the man's arm, half expecting to be burned by the brightness. "Tell me, are you a god?"

"What? No! I'm just a man," Daniel replied. He frowned. Having been around Casey as long as he had, he recognized the 'signs' of someone who was seeing something that very few eyes could see. Was this priest a seer?

It was possible that he did not yet know of his...strength, the priest thought. This man had a Destiny of which he could only imagine. "No, my son, you are much more than a man. You must go from here, flee from those who would taint you. Leave Thracia, and never return. Your path is that of the righteous. There are those who would attempt to stop you-" When the young neophyte who'd been chosen to bring the worshippers to him reappeared, another poor man walking hesitantly behind him, Alkaios cleared his throat. Glanced around to make certain no one had overheard him. He rushed through the incantation. "Leave, now!" he whispered, before Daniel stepped away from the wine soaked altar.

Not sure what to make of what had happened, Daniel nodded, backed away from the altar. He turned and followed the path he'd taken to arrive. When he came to the main chamber of the temple, and those amazing walls, he stopped to examine them. Wished again for his camcorder. His eye was caught by symbols immediately recognizable. Egyptian hieroglyphs! In the temple of a Greek god? The section of text was almost hidden among the bas-relief of a scene depicting war...and rape, from the looks of it. He studied the glyphs. It seemed to be a warning...that those who followed Ares would lose their souls. He frowned. A lot of warnings like that. Something bothered him about those very specific warnings. None of the other god myths had such strong exhortations to avoid the god. Nor were there the threats of losing one's soul.

"You! What are you doing here?"

He turned to see the young priest glaring at him. "Just looking," he replied calmly.

"You have made your sacrifice, such as it was. Go!"

With a short nod, Daniel turned and walked toward the entrance. That kid would be a power-hungry bastard priest in a couple of years.

Casey saw him step from behind one of the columns. She rose to her feet, whispered a good-bye to the women she'd been talking with, and hurried toward him. Smiled when she saw the look of love that filled his eyes when he watched her approach.

"Let's get out of here," he said softly.

"What happened?"

"Not quite sure," he admitted. "Did you hear anything?"

"Just that these people are suffering. Watched a group of boys free those puppies."

He grinned. "I suppose you cheered them on."

"Well, in my heart I was. Didn't want the bastard selling them to see the two who were getting the dogs while their friend was leading him on a merry goose chase."

"Entertaining, was it?"

"Very."

"Let's go find out if Jack and Teal'c located that palace." He led her down the steps of the temple. Resisted the urge to yank her forward when she paused to make eye contact with the man who'd been selling puppies. "Casey!"

His voice was hard, she jerked slightly. Okay, so she wasn't supposed to smirk at the bastard. But that heartless son of a bitch deserved more than a smirk from a mere woman!

The merchant glared. He could see that the woman was delighted that his wares had been stolen. Her husband would be remiss if she wasn't beaten for her behavior. The hard tone of his voice as he called to her, what must have been her name, was an indication that she would indeed be punished. Bitch! If he found out she'd anything to do with those lousy brats, he'd beat her himself!

"I'm sorry," she whispered, as soon as they were clear of the stalls.

"You have to be careful, babe. Thracia had a reputation of being a rough place, with very barbarous people. We don't need to break some local custom or law, and wind up in the local version of prison," Daniel warned.

"I know."

"I'm glad those kids freed the puppies, too," he whispered.

She smiled. "Maybe getting rid of Ares will bring a few changes."

"Don't hold your breath on that happening. He's been gone a very long time. The priests in charge of running things in his absence have brought the city to this point. I doubt the death of their god is going to bother them."

It was difficult at times to accept what was...and would be. Until the people involved were willing to force a change, there would be men who ruled in the name of the false gods, men every bit as arrogant and brutal.

Following the streets they'd taken to find the temple, the two made their way back to the abandoned inn, stopping long enough at a food stall to buy two loaves of round bread, and a basket of peaches. Or what looked and smelled like peaches.

 

 

 

Jack and Teal'c had arrived first, telling Sam what they'd learned, both relieved to hear that no one seemed to even notice that anyone had entered the old building. When Casey and Daniel walked into the room a bit later, the group opted to eat once again in what Daniel insisted had once been a dining room. It was well secluded, if a bit gloomy. Flashlights offered the only illumination to eat by.

When the plan that Jack and Teal'c had devised was laid out, the team agreed that it was the best way to get the job done. The colonel reiterated that he wanted the crystals planted, and the team back through the 'gate before sundown.

"We might run into trouble at the 'gate," Daniel said.

"How?" Jack asked.

"Apparently the priests guard it, using Jaffa, of course. And they charge those who wish to use it."

"I don't suppose you managed to get enough money from those trinkets to get us out?"

"No. I had to buy an offering to get into the temple. There was a warning on one of the walls, in Egyptian hieroglyphs," Daniel mused. "I need to do a bit more research when we get back to the SGC."

"What was the warning, Daniel?" Jack asked with exaggerated patience, when it appeared that the archaeologist wasn't going to explain further.

"What? Oh, a warning to those who follow Ares...that they'll lose their souls." Once again that nagging feeling that he was missing something poked at him.

"Probably just a way to keep the followers in line," the colonel replied.

"No, I don't think so," Daniel murmured.

"We'll worry about it later. Let's finish up and get going. We'll leave separately. Teal'c, you know the way, you take Daniel. Ladies, you're with me. As soon as you're in position, signal. If we're ready, we'll let you know. Put the crystals where the snake'll find them, then get the hell out," Jack instructed.

"Right."

The men stuffed weapons and radios inside the front of their shirts, using the 'pocket' created by the leather belts that wrapped around their waists. Daniel would take a zat, it created less noise than the Beretta. Jack and Teal'c carried the 9 mills. As long as no one bumped into them, the weapons and communication devices wouldn't be noticed. Sam and Casey had pockets in the robes they wore over their dresses, their Berettas were tucked into one, the radios into the other. Again, a bump from a stranger could expose the entire team.

"Good thing the place isn't crowded," Daniel observed as he and Teal'c prepared to leave.

"Yeah, I know," Jack agreed. "Okay. Head out. Stay out of trouble."

Daniel rolled his eyes, followed the Jaffa into the street.

"Okay ladies. Eyes open." Jack waited until he could no longer see the other two before leading Sam and Casey into the open. He was thrilled that no one seemed to pay them any heed. It also worried the hell out of him. It just wasn't...normal...to be so damned inattentive. Very few people even bothered to acknowledge them. Those who did, displayed not even the slightest curiosity. Damned strange, he thought nervously.

Forty minutes later, everyone was in place, Teal'c reporting that they'd found a small gardener's shed to hide in. He would remain there while Daniel went into the palace. Casey and Sam both reported finding doorways from which to watch the streets that paralleled the palace. Everyone was in place.

"Let's do it," Jack's voice said softly, calmly.

Sometimes during missions, or the implementation of plans for a mission, everything seemed to go to hell in a matter of seconds. And then was over just minutes later, the team racing through the 'gate to the safety of the SGC. Those missions, they agreed, while nerve-wracking, were the most successful. This, thankfully, would be one of those missions. In spite of the wishes of...others.


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