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Casey had been quiet during the briefing. Daniel looked over at her. So far, she hadn't had the nightmare, for which he was thankful. He was sure that the last time he had gone into that particular nightmare, he had finally changed it enough to make it stop haunting her. She still wasn't 'seeing' anything specific, or so she claimed.
"Casey? Talk to us," Daniel said softly.
She looked up at him, her eyes haunted. "There's nothing…just bad feelings. I can't…I can't seem to focus on anything particular."
Was that what had her so spooked, so uneasy? Her inability to 'see' details? He raised her hand to his lips. "It's okay, Angel. If it's not there, it's not there."
"That's right, Casey," Duncan said. "It's happened before, and the team did okay."
She forced a smile. "I just hate it when I can't offer more than just an indistinct 'bad feeling'."
"Hey, that alone tells us we need to keep on our toes," Jack said.
"That's right, Case," Sam said. "It keeps us from walking into a situation completely blind."
"I concur, Casey Jackson," Teal'c said.
Her smile was genuine now. "Thanks, guys. I still wish I had more to give you."
"When you have it, you'll tell us," Daniel said.
"Okay, gear up. Embark in twenty," Duncan said, standing up. He glanced at Casey. "Do you want me to send Marine Two with you?"
She closed her eyes, felt Daniel's gentle approach. She looked around, tried to see something, anything. Shook her head. "No, I don't think that would be a good idea. It would be…too many."
The Highlander nodded. "Okay. See you in the 'gate room in twenty then."
A A A A A A
The rings on the 'gate began to spin, each locking into place with a loud metallic clang. The event horizon opened with its customary splendor. Casey stopped just before she walked through, her fingers lightly touching what looked like water. For just a second she wished that she didn't have to go on this mission, wanted to turn around and run back into the safety of the mountain. She didn't see Duncan's frown as he watched her, wondering what was wrong, what she was feeling…sensing. With a sigh, she took a step forward. Felt herself hurled through space, watched the bright lights of stars as she passed them.
The team was waiting for her, had been for several seconds. She ignored the curious…worried glances that they tossed in her direction. Refused to meet Daniel's eyes as he looked at her. The feeling was getting stronger…worse. Something bad was about to happen, and she didn't have a clue what it was. That more than anything bothered her. She took a deep breath. "Bad, Jack," she said softly. "Really bad."
The older man nodded. "Teal'c, take point. Daniel, with me on the six. Ladies, stay alert."
They fell into place, and began to cautiously move away from the Stargate. The area around them was dense forest. Trees that had to be hundreds of years old, with trunks so large that not even Teal'c's arms could encompass them, stretched up toward a sky filled with heavy gray clouds. Bushes and vines filled in between the massive trees. There was no discernable path to follow, so Teal'c began to forge ahead. Sam was directly behind him, Casey following closely.
She reached out, felt Daniel's gentle touch. She 'tugged' at him, felt him approach slowly, gently, hold her tightly. She searched. Darkness. Cold. Pain. Evil. She pulled back, caressed him softly, sighed as he moved away.
"Case?" he asked quietly.
"Just…bad," she replied. Very bad. And now the feeling that what was about to happen was not only beyond their control, but had been designed to happen, washed over her. Test! This was another damned test! She nearly moaned out loud. This time it wasn't just her, or Daniel, being tested. The entire team was about to be subjected to a trial of sorts. She felt around her, to see if she could sense them. Yep. They were there. Watching. Anger flared through her veins. "T, hold up," she called softly. In an instant her teammates surrounded her.
"I have no idea what is about to happen. I do know that it's going to be bad. Really bad. I also know it's some sort of test… for all of us," she whispered. "We're being watched right now."
Jack cast a glance over his shoulder. "Why?"
Casey shook her head. "I don't know. All I know is that we're being tested. And I think that if one of us fails, we all…fail. And failing would be very…bad."
Nervous glances were exchanged. "So what do we do?" Sam asked.
"Our best. Follow your heart. It won't lead you wrong," Casey replied softly. She cocked her head sideways. "Trust yourself to know what's real, and what isn't."
The information was just enough to have all of them feeling anxious. The team moved as quietly as they could. Each of them tried to understand why they were being tested. None of them could come up with a reason.
Daniel glanced around him. He couldn't sense them, but knew that Casey did. 'Is the Triad here?'
'Are you all right?'
'Yes…well…I think so…no, not really.'
He couldn't help but smile. 'Well, that covers all the bases.'
Casey giggled out loud. 'I guess it does. I'm terrified, Daniel. What if I fail? I'll doom all of you, the entire team, maybe even to death!'
'You won't fail, Angel. You've already survived two of the most grueling tests that any person could endure. You'll do fine. Just follow your heart.'
She smiled. 'It always leads me to you.'
'And mine leads me to you.'
They climbed up the side of a ravine. And stared down into a narrow valley. Settled within it, mountains surrounding it on all sides, was a small village. The air above the rough timbered-buildings was hazy from the smoke that poured from multiple chimneys. It almost obscured the hideous stone building that sat alone near the south end of the valley. It appeared to be some sort of castle, with high towers on each corner. That would be where the Goa'uld was, they knew.
"Okay, campers, here's the plan," Jack said softly. "We're going to walk into that village. Nice, easy, slow. We're going to let those people know that we're here to free them from Goa'uld oppression."
"What about the 'test'?" Sam asked.
Jack shook his head. "This mission goes on the way we planned. We'll deal with…whatever it is we have to deal with…when the time comes," he replied. "Daniel, I’m counting on you to figure out who we're dealing with as quickly as possible. Case, anything you can tell me?"
She shook her head. "Nothing. I don't know if I'm being blocked or not," she admitted.
"Okay, let's go. Eyes open, stay alert," the general said.
A A A A A A
They found a road that led directly into the village and followed it, their hands on their weapons. As they neared the first of the structures, small houses from the appearance, the first villagers noticed them.
The people were dressed simply, wearing cotton and wool garments made from homespun thread. Tasks were halted mid-movement as the simple folk stopped to stare as the strangers approached.
The team made it all the way to the center of the village before three men stepped into the street, blocking them from moving farther. Daniel was already looking around, but could see nothing that would give him any hints about the villagers, or the Goa'uld in the castle that loomed just outside of the enclave of buildings. The structures appeared to be European in style, from the mid-to-late 1100s.
"Who are you, and why do you come to Eurnaut?" one of the men asked gruffly.
The young archaeologist smiled. An early form of German, it seemed. "We are explorers, we come in peace. I'm Daniel. My friends and I offer freedom from false gods, and those who terrorize the innocent."
Those who had gathered around the strangers were murmuring, their eyes wide, and full of fear. "You would bring down the wrath Rheda!" the man hissed.
Daniel glanced at his teammates. "Norse…well, actually Norman mythology. Rheda is only mentioned in passing, there was one month named after her, but never a reason why," he said quietly. "There hasn't been much of anything found about her."
"Okay, correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't the Norse gods all Asgard?" Jack asked.
"Yeah, so we thought. It's possible that there were Goa'uld who moved in and took over some of the less well known identities when the Asgard left Earth," Daniel replied.
"Okay, find out about this Rheda," Jack instructed.
"Would you like to be free of the false god Rheda and her wrath?" Daniel asked, almost nonchalantly.
The man became more agitated. "Rheda is a great and powerful goddess. She can strike men dead with the touch of her hand. She can bring them back from death with a touch of her hand. How could be we free of such a goddess, how could such a goddess be false?"
"I think we're in for trouble," Sam said softly. "I just saw three young women running toward that castle."
Jack shook his head. "Typical. Okay, Danny, tell them that we can help them, if they want our help."
Daniel nodded, then turned back to the man with whom he had been speaking. "Rheda is not as powerful as you have been made to believe. She rules here by keeping you in fear, does she not?"
The man glanced at his companions, two men who were looking more afraid by the minute. "She knows our thoughts, knows when we begin to doubt her. When our faith wavers, she moves among us, and finds the disbelievers, then takes them to her castle. She boils their bodies in oil, then grinds their bones for her potions."
"You have witnessed this happening?" Daniel asked. He shuddered mentally. Casey was right. Evil.
Once again the man glance at those around him. "We have seen the cauldrons full of oil, have felt the heat from them. We have heard the screams of those tossed into the cauldrons."
"But you've never actually seen anyone put into these…uh…cauldrons?"
"I would not wish to see such a sight," the man huffed indignantly.
"Neither would I," Daniel admitted. "I ask again, would you be free of her?"
"Yes!" a voice from one side of them called. A young man with fiery red hair approached them. "Yes we would be free of Rheda, and her vengeful ways. We would be free of her cruel tax upon us, leaving us to half starve every winter, while she sits in her grand castle, warm and well dressed, her belly full of food that we toiled for!"
"Be quiet!" the older man demanded angrily.
The young man glared at the older man, then turned to Daniel. "I am Ingeram. Many of us weary of the heavy hand of Rheda. But those who call themselves our leaders fear her, grovel before her in an attempt to curry her favor." He turned and spat on the ground in front of the three men who still stood in front of the team.
"I am Daniel. We've defeated others like Rheda. We can defeat her as well," Daniel said, smiling at the young man.
"Lies! These are but demons sent to test us!" the first man cried out, his face red with anger.
"Uh, I think we're about to have company," Casey said softly.
The team shifted, until they were standing shoulder to shoulder to shoulder. "Ingeram, take your people, those who wish freedom, to safety. Hurry!" Daniel said. The young man watched for just a moment as at least a dozen Jaffa marched into the village. "Go, now!"
With a nod, the young man ran back into the crowd of gathered villagers. Nearly two dozen followed him as he ran down the road towards the forest that was visible just above the rise that the team had climbed earlier.
The Jaffa quickly surrounded the team. It would be easy enough to take them down, but the chances of innocent villagers being struck by stray gunfire was too high. Those odds were unacceptable. When the order came, the team put their weapons down. The guns and their gear were taken from them.
"This is part of the test, right?" Jack asked, as his hands were roughly tied behind him.
"I'm not sure, Jack. I think so," Casey replied. Her hands were being tied as well. She sighed softly as they were pushed toward up the narrow road, heading toward that ugly, depressing… frightening looking castle. She jerked slightly, her eyes went wide as she 'saw' the 'deception' that they were about to endure. "Make sure it's real before you react," she whispered fiercely. "Make sure it's real!"
Daniel shuddered. The warning had an ominous sound to it. 'Love you, Angel. Always you, only you. Forever. Don't you dare forget that!'
She smiled. 'Love you, Daniel. Always you, only you, forever. Don't you forget either.'
Jack had managed to move close enough to Sam to whisper his love to her, and to hear her whispered reply.
"Teal'c, we love you, you know that, right?" Casey asked.
"Indeed, Casey Jackson. As I am very fond of each of you," the huge man replied.
"Yeah yeah, bite me, tinman," Casey muttered. She received a hand across the face for her trouble.
Daniel tried to push his way between the Jaffa who had hit her and his wife. He was yanked back, a staff weapon brought down across his back. He grunted from the blow, but did not drop.
"Easy, Daniel," Jack said softly. "Let's not get too hasty. Let's just take a look around before we kill the bitch and make our escape."
Smiles flickered over every face. "Right," Daniel replied.
They were led into the castle, through a large courtyard that was eerily empty of life…there was no activity anywhere. If there were servants in the rooms hidden behind the narrow windows, they did not show themselves. The team was led down a flight of stone steps. Casey thought they looked familiar. She shook her head. "Reminiscent of Framone," she said softly.
"I was just thinking the same thing," Daniel replied. "Although your accommodations were better than mine."
"I would rather have been hanging in that dungeon with you," she whispered.
"Well, looks like you get the substandard room this time," he said.
The dungeon was filled with several straw filled 'cells', iron bars separating them and closing them off from the cobblestone pathway. Their hands were untied, Casey and Sam were tossed into one together, Jack, Daniel, and Teal'c were put into separate cells. Jack was on one side of the women, Daniel on the other. The Jaffa was directly across from them.
"At least we can see and talk to each other," Sam said.
"For now," Jack replied. He looked at Casey. "Anything new?"
She shook her head. "Just remember to follow your heart, and make sure that what you're experiencing is real before you…act."
The older man nodded. "That's enough," he said quietly.
Casey sat down, leaned against the bars that separated her from Daniel. "I hope so," she replied softly. Her slender hand moved between the bars to rest on her Husband's thigh. His fingers closed around hers.
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