Summary: SG-1 go through the Stargate and find themselves emerging from an Illefarn song portal, north of Neverwinter, shortly after the Wailing Death plague. An encounter with a young ranger girl and her giant companion leads SG-1 into a nightmare world of magic, monsters, and sudden brutal death. This chapter is 8,300 words, rating R for scenes of torture and violence.
Debt Of Blood
Part 4: Load up on guns, bring your friends
“We’ve been looking at this all wrong,” Jack said. “We’re not being tortured.”
“We’re not?” Daniel’s eyebrows climbed above the rim of his glasses. “Funny, it feels remarkably like torture to me.”
“And to me, sir,” Sam agreed. She now wore white and blue robes, provided by Lady Cold Circle, to replace BDUs that had been shredded by a lash and soaked in her blood beyond all possibility of repair and cleaning.
“If it is not torture, O’Neill, then what?” asked Teal’c. He was suffering worse than any of the others; for some unknown reason Lady Cold Circle’s healing did not work on him. Once Vhonna had learned of the symbiote she had included it in her torture. After each session it took several hours, in which his pain was alleviated only by bandages and salves applied by Lady Cold Circle, before Junior had recovered enough for Teal’c to enter kelno’reem and be healed. This had greatly delayed his progress in sawing through the hasp of the cell door.
“It’s brainwashing,” Jack explained, “or you could call it conditioning. Every time Melmyrna patches us up we feel a little more grateful to her. A little more amenable to her suggestions. A little more willing to talk. Friendlier, even. Hell, I just showed that myself when I called her by her name instead of her title. Another week or two and when she says ‘jump’ we’ll say ‘how high?’ And then we’re screwed.”
“She’s not a bad person, Jack,” Daniel said.
“Hell, I know that,” Jack admitted. “Or, at least, she’s not as bad as the others, and I’m pretty sure she’s not faking it. She’s not enthusiastic about the torture, she works for Maugrim but she doesn’t like him, and she wouldn’t spit on Vhonna if the crazy bitch was on fire. And she really likes you.”
“You think so?” A smile played on Daniel’s lips.
“We’re not blind, Daniel,” Sam said.
“She brought you coffee,” Jack said. “She doesn’t do that for me.”
“She probably would if you asked,” Daniel said.
“Yeah, well, I don’t want to ask her for anything,” Jack said. “That’s not the point. The point is, she’s still the enemy. She wants to use us against Neverwinter.”
“Because they outlawed her church,” Daniel said. “I can sympathize.”
“She’s not the freakin’ Dalai Lama, Daniel,” Jack retorted. “Okay, yeah, religious oppression is a bad thing. That doesn’t mean she was right to team up with a bunch of psychos on the basis of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’. She’s getting to you already.”
Daniel sucked in his lips. “Perhaps a little,” he conceded.
“Well, don’t let it happen,” Jack said. “We have to get out of here. If the only way involves going through Lady Cold Circle we don’t hesitate.”
“I don’t want to kill her,” Daniel protested.
“It might not be necessary to kill her, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c said. “We may be able to neutralize her without using lethal force.”
Jack shook his head. “I wouldn’t count on it. Maybe if we can knock her out, and then tie her up and gag her, but otherwise she’d just heal herself as soon as she wakes up and she’ll come right after us. Killing her is the only way to be sure.” He spotted a pout on Daniel’s lips and sighed. “It might not come to that, Daniel. Just carry on reading your book. Have you found out anything useful yet?”
Daniel perked up immediately. “The gods definitely aren’t Goa’uld,” he reported. “They’re Ascended beings.”
“Interesting, I guess,” Jack conceded, “but not exactly what I’d call useful.” He narrowed his eyes. “Are you sure? They don’t sound much like Ascended beings to me. I can’t see a Goddess of Torture being part of the same set-up as Oma Desala.”
“Or Orlin,” Sam put in. “The Ascended have rules against interfering with the people of the material world. Either the gods here are just myths and legends or else they’re something completely different than the ones we’ve encountered before.”
“Myths and legends can’t grant their believers the power to heal wounds and diseases,” Daniel pointed out. “It’s not technology.”
“It’s not any technology we’re used to,” Sam said, “but that doesn’t mean it isn’t technology. The people with the powers here have amulets containing the translation devices. Their rings, their bracelets, I’m certain they all have gadgetry built in.”
“Well, yes,” Daniel conceded, “although they call it magic, but they can still do some amazing things without using any of those devices. They’re a bit like the Nox. Well, except for them being evil, of course.”
“I admit I don’t understand how the Nox do things,” Sam conceded, “but just because I don’t understand the principles behind it doesn’t make it magic.”
“If it’s gadgetry it’s way more multi-purpose than anything the Goa’uld have, even the ribbon devices,” Jack said. “On the other hand, what kind of Ascended being would dish out powers to a giggling psychopath whose idea of fun is to peel the skin off my hand and wear it as a glove? The things that Oma Desala said to Daniel sounded like Zen Buddhism to me. That doesn’t exactly match up with a goddess whose High Priestess makes Sokar look like freakin’ Gandhi. I don’t get it.”
“It doesn’t tie in with anything Orlin told me, either,” Sam said. “Pretty much the opposite.”
“It’s quite fascinating, actually,” Daniel said. “This world, Toril, has a whole pantheon of gods with very different practices and outlooks. Evil ones, like Loviatar – and Lady Cold Circle’s Auril – and Good ones, like Kenadi’s goddess Mielikki. They’re a little like the Ancient Greek gods in the way they meddle in this planet’s affairs.” He ran his tongue over his lips. “Apparently the most powerful of the Evil goddesses pretty much changed sides recently. Shar, Goddess of the Dark, is putting together a coalition of both Good and Evil gods and she’s making the Evil ones play nice. Well, not all of them, just a few who have some common interests, but they’re major players. She’s even recruited Mielikki into the alliance, and she was Kenadi’s goddess, so I guess that would put Shar more or less on our side. Unfortunately Auril isn’t on her team.”
“Okay,” Jack said, “this is all very… interesting, to use the term in its loosest sense, but how does it help us?”
“It never hurts to know the full situation, Jack,” Daniel said. “Melmyrna is supposed to do what her goddess wants. If I can convince her that Auril wouldn’t be happy with her helping Maugrim then we could get her to help us.”
“Daniel,” Jack said, rolling his eyes, “you did say that Auril is Evil, right? And that would be Evil with a capital E?”
“That’s because she’s the Goddess of Winter, and humans mostly prefer it warm,” Daniel responded. “Her religion is banned in Neverwinter. They have subterranean heat sources there, and warm ocean currents, and the weather is much milder than it should be this far North. Auril doesn’t like that and that’s why Melmyrna is on Maugrim’s side. It doesn’t mean Auril’s necessarily all on board with everything the other Evil gods do.” Daniel tapped his fingers against his lower lip. “I still think it’s worth a try. We need to find out just what Maugrim’s really up to. And who his boss, this ‘Morag’, is and what she’s after. Maybe it’ll give us something to work on.”
Jack sucked in a deep breath. “Okay, it’s not a bad idea. You see what you can get out of Lady Cold Circle. I’ll be sure and ask Vhonna a few questions, in between screams, next time she’s crushing my nipples with pliers.” He forced a smile onto his face. It was getting harder and harder to keep up the façade of levity as the torture sessions ate away at his resilience. “The snag is,” he went on, “I don’t think she even cares what Maugrim’s doing as long as she gets to hurt people. She’s going to tell me exactly… jack.”
Daniel groaned. “Please, Jack, I’m in no fit state to take punishment like that.” The stress that he put on the first syllable of ‘punishment’ caused Jack to groan in return.
“Would you two save it until I’m not around to get caught in the crossfire?” Sam pleaded.
“Sorry,” Jack said. “Back to business. Teal’c, how close are you to getting the door lock weakened enough to snap?”
“Not close enough, O’Neill,” Teal’c answered. “The saw is wearing smooth and is losing its efficacy. I fear that it will be several more hours at least, perhaps a full day, before I have made sufficient progress.”
“Crap,” Jack muttered. It wasn’t surprising; even the tungsten carbide coating on the saw couldn’t be expected to stand up indefinitely to the abuse they’d been putting it through. Unfortunately, or through good design, the door locks had no keyhole on the inside, and the external access was positioned so that they couldn’t be reached through the bars, making them impossible to pick. Sawing was the only viable approach.
“Okay, just press on as best you can,” Jack told Teal’c. “When you’ve cut through enough to make it breakable then pass the saw on to Carter.” He saw a frown on Daniel’s face. “She’s better at hand to hand than you, Daniel. When we make our break we need the most hitting power we can muster. We have to take them down fast and we’ll probably be facing Vhonna and a minotaur.”
“Wouldn’t Daelan be even better than Sam for that?” Daniel suggested.
Jack pondered the idea for a moment. “If we could talk to him, yes,” he decided, “but we can’t, except for you, and that could cause problems in a fight. If we can’t yell ‘behind you!’ or whatever… and don’t say you’ll do it from your cell because that just wouldn’t work.” He grinned suddenly. “But give him a heads-up. If we can shove the minotaur up against the bars of his cell…”
“That would indeed be a sound strategy, O’Neill,” Teal’c agreed. “Daelan’s strength is remarkable and I believe that he could neutralize the bovine-headed creature.”
“I’ll…” Daniel began to speak but chopped himself off short as the door to the cell block began to open.
Jack felt a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach. Dread. Vhonna strode in, a beaming smile on her face, a minotaur at her heels and a robed wizard bringing up the rear. The priestess came to Jack’s cell and stared in through the bars.
“We’ve worked out how to operate your weapons,” she told him, “through a combination of divination spells and duergar ingenuity.” She raised a Beretta, pointed it directly at Jack’s face, and took up the slack on the trigger. “Would you like a demonstration?”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Jack said. “So, I guess that means you don’t need us now. How about letting us go?” He didn’t expect a positive reply but hoped that, if he kept her talking, she might come closer. If he could get hold of the pistol…
“A young man can learn the rudiments of swordplay in an afternoon,” Vhonna said, “but if he then went up against Drizzt Do’Urden, or for that matter your late friend Kenadi, he would be dead in a heartbeat. I suspect that the same principle applies to your weapons. They have a limited supply of ammunition and we can therefore spare little for practice. You’re still useful to Maugrim. It’s a pity, because I’d enjoy torturing you to death, but breaking you is nearly as good. If you want out of here you will have to agree to a geas binding you to Maugrim’s service.”
“A geas? Isn’t that a fat flightless bird like a pink dodo?” Sam put in.
“In this world it’s a curse that’ll kill you if you don’t stick to the conditions,” Daniel warned. “Don’t agree to it, Jack.”
“I’ve got three words for you,” Jack told Vhonna. “Go fuck yourself.” He watched her finger tightening on the trigger, saw the hammer lift, and set his jaw to stop himself cringing.
“You’re not going to get off that lightly,” Vhonna said. She released the trigger, lowered the gun, and turned to the minotaur. “Take the woman,” she ordered. She ignored the curses that Jack spat out at her, watched as the creature dragged Sam from her cell, and then stepped over to the struggling Major. Vhonna spoke one word, laid her left hand almost gently against Sam’s cheek, and Sam screamed in agony.
“Bitch!” Jack growled. He wanted to ask Vhonna to take him instead but he knew, from past experience, that it would be a futile gesture. All he could do was watch helplessly as Sam was frog-marched away.
Before she was hustled out of sight Jack caught a glimpse of the hand-print on her cheek. White blisters, red flesh oozing blood, it was as if Vhonna had used one of her red-hot irons and yet her hand had plainly been empty. Jack had seen similar wounds on Daniel but, so far, hadn’t been the victim of that particular trick from Vhonna. It was something that would have to be taken into account when they made their move; her hands would be deadly weapons in a fight, as bad as facing a knife-fighter or a Shotokan Karate black belt.
Jack narrowed his eyes. Whenever Vhonna, or Lady Cold Circle or one of the guys with the pointy hats and the robes, did one of the things that they called ‘magic’ they always spoke one or more command words. Now, maybe it was micro-technology, or maybe it really was magic – hell, you could call it ‘voice-activated manipulation of natural energy fields’, except that life’s too short to use names that unwieldy and ‘VAMONEF’ is a lousy acronym – but it definitely wasn’t any kind of psionic power. Not when you needed to speak to use it. So, when the crunch came, Step One had to be to take out Vhonna’s voice.
Preferably by crushing her larynx.
Jack groaned, stirred on his bed of straw, and opened his eyes. It was impossible to tell what time it was, with no day and night cycle in the windowless cell block, but the state of his bladder indicated that he’d been asleep for a reasonably long time. He picked himself up, staggered to the rear of the cell, and relieved himself down the grating. Only then did it occur to him that he’d been woken by the sound of a bell, muffled by the stone walls, but still clearly audible.
Normally it would have registered on him much earlier but the repeated torture was wearing him down. Vhonna was gradually cranking up the pace, increasing the frequency of the sessions, coming up with ever more ingeniously sadistic methods of inflicting unbearable agony and degrading humiliation, stretching to the limit Lady Cold Circle’s ability to heal the victims and, as an unintended side-effect, cutting down the amount of time they were able to spend on sawing through the door locks. And it was, slowly but inexorably, breaking them all.
Except perhaps for Teal’c. “That is an alarm bell,” the Jaffa stated, his voice calm and steady. “I believe that this facility is under attack.”
Jack felt his lips curling into a feral smile, the first spontaneous one he had managed in days, and his hands curling equally spontaneously into fists. “We were due a break. Okay, this is it, people. Time to make our move.” He went to the cell door, grabbed the bars, and thrust hard. The door opened inward but there was enough play in the hinges to let him slam the lock hasp hard against its socket. It didn’t snap but he felt the sawn-through metal give slightly. “Carter, how far through the lock are you?”
“Only about quarter of the way,” Sam reported. “The saw’s worn away almost to nothing. It’s hardly cutting at all now.”
“Damn,” Jack said, although he wasn’t surprised. He pulled the door back with all his strength, feeling the hasp bending in the other direction, and then gave the door another forward shove. “Looks like it’s just you and me, Teal’c.”
“Indeed,” Teal’c replied. “We must retrieve…” He broke off mid-sentence as the cell block door swung open.
Jack felt a stab of fear as Vhonna entered. A conditioned reaction, probably inevitable after the amount of pain she’d put him through, but he hated to be responding like one of Pavlov’s dogs. So, turn it around. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to… an adrenalin surge that could be used. It was fight or flight time and flight wasn’t an option.
Usually Vhonna made her entrances at a leisurely pace, taking long strides and moving from the hips, relishing the impression she was making. Jack wasn’t sure what exactly constituted a ‘sashay’, except in the context of a dance, but it was the word that came to mind to describe her progress. Not this time. She was taking short, quick, steps, her lips were set in a tight line, and she looked somewhat disheveled. Her ever-present minotaur henchman, bodyguard, or whatever was at her side and he had…
…an erection that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Sequoia National Park. Had Vhonna actually been screwing the monster? Impossible for any normal woman, surely, but maybe not for the Queen of Pain.
“Listen to me, people of Earth,” she addressed them as she approached. A wizard and a dwarf came into view behind the minotaur’s bulk. The dwarf was carrying a P-90. “It seems that some enemy is assaulting this place. I doubt if they’ll get this far, although Kenadi did, but Maugrim wishes to take no chances. He has left standing orders that in these circumstances I’m to kill you. First, though, you get one last chance. Accept the geas binding you to Maugrim’s service or die.” She gestured in the direction of the dwarf. “You can provide us with some practice with your weapons in the process.”
Jack stared at the wizard. He was pretty sure that he’d seen the guy before, during the fight in which SG-1 had been captured, and he had put several bullets through the wizard’s chest. “Doesn’t anyone stay dead around here?” he complained.
“You will, stranger,” the wizard replied. “I shall make certain of it.” That meant he was wearing one of the translation amulets. Jack made a mental note to be sure to retrieve it after he killed the guy – again.
The minotaur uttered a series of guttural grunts that were meaningless to Jack. The creature’s attention seemed to be focused on Sam.
Vhonna laughed. “Very well,” she said, “as long as you hurry. And make sure that she doesn’t survive.” She looked at Jack. “You have ten seconds to agree to the geas otherwise your tall blonde friend is going to be raped to death.”
Jack felt his lips contorting into a snarl without his conscious mind being involved at all. “I’m going to kill you, bitch,” he growled.
“No,” Vhonna said, “I’m going to kill you. I take it your answer is no? Daniel Jackson, Teal’c, what about you? Samantha, you can spare yourself a very ugly death just by agreeing.”
“If it means I don’t have to listen to you any longer, then death will be a welcome release,” Sam said.
Vhonna shrugged. “It’s your fucking funeral. Did that pun work in translation, I wonder? Okay, Magluth, do it. And hurry up.” She tossed a key to the minotaur, who fumbled the catch and had to bend down to retrieve it from the floor, and turned her attention to the dwarf. “Wait until Magluth gets started before you kill them. Just in case they change their minds.”
Jack seized the bars of the cell door and tensed ready to move. He forced himself to wait until the minotaur had unlocked Sam’s cell, even though all his instincts screamed at him to act to protect her, and then he heaved with everything he had.
For one terrible instant he thought that he hadn’t cut deeply enough through the hasp, and that it wasn’t going to break, but then it gave way and the door came open. He dived through the opening and attacked.
The dwarf cursed and fumbled at his belt for an axe; presumably his ingrained combat reflexes made him go for the familiar weapon despite having a P-90 in his hands. Jack ignored him and launched himself at Vhonna.
His right hand found her throat and locked on. He hammered at her with his left, punching her in the mouth, smashing an elbow into her jaw, and then going for her eyes with his fingers as he drove her back across the corridor and slammed her into the door of Daniel’s cell. She clawed at his clutching hand trying to free herself from his choking grip, punched at his face, tried to knee him in the groin, and thrust her body forward in an attempt to impale him with the three-inch needle-sharp spikes that protruded from her breast armor. She was strong for a woman, and fighting for her life, but Jack was oblivious to her blows. All that mattered was that she didn’t get a chance to utter even a single syllable before she died – or to draw the Beretta that was tucked into her belt.
It took her far too long to think of the gun. By the time she began to grope for the weapon her face was already turning blue. Jack kept up the pressure on her throat, holding her up against the door, and used his other hand to grab her arm. Daniel seized Vhonna’s hair and jerked hard, bringing the back of her skull into violent contact with the iron cell bars, and then reached out through the bars and grabbed for her throat.
Vhonna was sagging in Jack’s grip now, no longer struggling, and the arm with which she had tried to draw the gun had slipped from its butt and was hanging limp. Jack kept up the pressure remorselessly. She was probably unconscious, and might even be dying, but he couldn’t afford to take any chances. Only when Daniel’s hand was also firmly clamped on her throat did Jack dare to release his grip. He snatched the Beretta from Vhonna’s belt and spun around.
At last he had a chance to see how the others had managed during his struggle with Vhonna. Teal’c had broken free of his cell, as Jack had expected, and had put both the dwarf and the wizard out of action. Jack was just in time to see Teal’c snapping the wizard’s neck.
The dwarf was on the ground, crawling on hands and knees, apparently dazed. His axe was nowhere in sight but the P-90 lay near at hand and he was heading right for it. Jack kicked him in the head, forgetting that his boots had been taken away during a torture session and not returned, and winced as the impact hurt him more than the dwarf.
“The hell with this,” Jack growled. He aimed the Beretta and pulled the trigger. The sound of the shot, in the windowless chamber, was shockingly loud. The dwarf jerked once and then collapsed face down. A pool of blood began to spread out from under his head.
Jack turned to face Sam’s cell. Now that the immediate threats of Vhonna’s lethal ‘spells’ and the dwarf’s P-90 had been removed he was free to feel fear on Sam’s behalf. How had she fared against the minotaur? She hadn’t screamed…
Actually if anyone was going to scream it probably would be the minotaur. Jack was just in time to see Sam, her hands pinioned in the grasp of the monster’s huge hands, lash up with her foot. Her aim was true. The minotaur uttered something between a bellow and a shriek and doubled over. Jack winced in involuntary male sympathy even as he raised the Beretta and looked for a clear shot.
Teal’c beat him to it. The big Jaffa, for once looking almost small compared with the immense bulk of the minotaur, hurtled to Sam’s aid and seized the beast from behind. He tugged it away from Sam, who used the distraction to free herself from its hold, and into the corridor. Teal’c swung the minotaur around and propelled it toward the cell holding Daelan. It crashed into the barred door, face first, with an impact that seemed to shake the whole prison.
Daelan was ready. His hands clamped on the minotaur’s horns. He pulled with all his strength, forcing the monster’s head down, and held it in place against the door. Teal’c took advantage of the free target and delivered an elbow strike to the minotaur’s spine that would probably have killed or paralyzed a human. The massive beast didn’t even seem to notice. It bellowed once more, now with a note of rage rather than pain, and reached for Daelan through the bars.
Jack couldn’t get a clear view of the action, obscured as it was by Teal’c and the minotaur’s own bulk, but it was immediately obvious that the minotaur had made a big mistake. The ‘crack’ as Daelan took his revenge for his broken arms, and the minotaur’s howl of agony, told the story as plainly as if Jack had a ringside seat.
Teal’c hit the minotaur twice more. He was hurting it, Jack could tell, but beating a creature that size to death with nothing but bare hands was going to be a long, laborious, process. The minotaur’s neck was thicker than a man’s thigh and breaking it would be a mighty task even for Teal’c. Jack began to raise the Beretta but then reconsidered, as it could well take several of their limited stock of pistol bullets to put the minotaur down permanently, and went to where the P-90 lay.
He decocked the pistol, stuck it in his waistband, and scooped up the P-90. He gave it a quick examination, making sure that it was loaded and that no-one had done anything dumb like blocking up the barrel while it was out of SG-1’s hands, and then raised it to the aim. Sam was one step ahead of him. She retrieved the dwarf’s axe from the floor and passed it to Teal’c.
“Thank you, Major Carter,” Teal’c said. “This will prove sufficiently lethal and conserve our ammunition.” He whirled the weapon and brought the blade down to bite deep into the back of the minotaur’s neck.
“Messy, but effective,” Jack commented as the minotaur slid down the door until it was held up only by Daelan’s grip on its broken arm. He turned back to Vhonna, who was hanging just as limply from Daniel’s strangling hands, and hammered the butt of the P-90 into her forehead. Her head snapped back and crashed into the steel bars. It felt to Jack as if her skull had cracked under the impact but he took no chances and hit her again. This time he was certain. The look on Daniel’s face was the clincher.
“Jack,” Daniel complained, pouting and wrinkling his nose, “did you have to do that?”
“Yes,” Jack said. “I won’t really be happy until I’ve seen her cremated, and her ashes scattered on the surface of Netu, but smashing her skull works for now.” He lowered the P-90. “I think you can let her go, Daniel.”
Daniel obeyed. Vhonna pitched forward and sprawled on the floor. There was a visible depression, oozing blood, in the back of her skull. “Get me out of here, Jack,” Daniel requested.
“Right away,” Jack promised. “Carter, the key’s in your door. Okay, people, let’s grab the translation devices and get out of this place.” As he was speaking a movement at the end of the corridor caught his eye. A face was looking in through the barred grille of the cell-block door. “Crap,” Jack growled. It was gone before he could bring the P-90 to his shoulder. The disappearance of the face was followed by a noise that sounded ominously like that of massive bolts being slammed home.
Jack raced along the corridor and tried the door. It didn’t move. “Crap,” he said again, and he took a quick peek through the grille. He saw a dwarf bringing a crossbow to the aim and snatched his head aside just in time to avoid the bolt. It whizzed past him and buried itself in the ceiling. Jack brought up the P-90 and fired a short burst. The dwarf dropped his crossbow, fell to his knees, and then slowly toppled over and lay face down on the floor.
Jack scanned for other targets. The dwarf couldn’t have been the owner of the face he’d glimpsed through the grille; it was positioned fairly high in the door and even on tip-toe the dwarf couldn’t have looked through it. It hadn’t been a minotaur, he was pretty sure Maugrim or the girl with the big sword – and the armor designed for a previously unknown medieval franchise of Hooters – would have done more than just bolt the door and run, and he would have recognized Lady Cold Circle, so there had to be someone else – probably another freakin’ wizard.
There was no-one in sight, at least as far as he could see through the grille’s restricted field of vision, but he saw a door closing on the far side of the room. He guessed it would be someone going for reinforcements, or to put on armor, or – maybe the worst case scenario – going to collect the other P-90s to use against SG-1. Sure, the cell walls would provide plenty of cover, and he had no doubt that SG-1 would win any firefight against primitives who’d figured out how to fire an automatic weapon by trial and error, but the opposition might get lucky. Also Jack didn’t know a whole lot about ‘Sword and Sorcery’ worlds but one thing he had learned, from various bad movies, was that any self-respecting wizard sooner or later ended up shooting honking great fireballs out of his hands.
“Stand aside, O’Neill,” Teal’c said from behind him. Jack turned his head and saw that Teal’c was holding the axe. Its blade was smeared with blood. “I shall endeavor to break open the door.”
Jack shook his head. “It’s three inches thick, T, and made of something like seasoned oak studded with iron,” he pointed out. “Chopping through it would take forever, even for you and the big guy. Luckily, though,” he went on, a grin coming to his lips, “I just happen to have some C4.” He ejected a round from the P-90, caught it, and held it up. “And now we have something to use as a detonator.”
“Did she have to use my watch?” Daniel complained, frowning at Sam and pouting slightly.
“It’s what we have,” Jack answered. “It’s just your bad luck that the late unlamented Queen of Pain chose your watch as the perfect accessory to go with her bondage outfit.”
“It’s a nice simple black,” Daniel said, “with a clear easy-to-read face.”
“I could either use your watch or MacGyver a fuse out of straw and the powder from the cartridge,” Sam pointed out. “I know which one I’d prefer.” She fell silent and touched her tongue to her top lip as she concentrated on her task.
“You can get yourself a new watch when we get home,” Jack said. “First we have to get past this door.”
“I know, I know,” Daniel said. “It’s just the tension getting to me.”
“Finished, sir,” Sam reported. “I’ve rigged it for twenty seconds delay. Just say the word.”
Jack looked at Daelan, who had been stripping the dead of jewelry and weapons, and raised an eyebrow. “You got everything you need, big guy?” he asked. It still seemed ghoulish to Jack but, now that he had experience of the gadgetry, or magic, contained in the rings and necklaces he could appreciate the practicality of the custom. The translation amulets alone would make their escape and trip back to the Stargate immeasurably easier.
“I have,” Daelan replied, perfectly understandably now that Jack was wearing a translation amulet. “Unfortunately identifying magic items is not a skill I possess. If Kenadi…” He broke off and swallowed hard. “At least we have an axe, some knives, and your weapons. Major Carter should wear the armor that belonged to that vile creature Vhonna. No High Priestess would wear leather armor that was not powerfully enchanted.”
Sam’s nose wrinkled up and her lips turned down. “It wouldn’t fit me,” she pointed out. “She’s a couple of inches shorter than me and a lot, well, curvier.”
“It will be enchanted to change its size to fit the wearer,” Daelan assured her. “Do you not have such enchantments in your world?”
There was a frown of concentration on Daniel’s face. They had recovered three translation amulets from the bodies and it had been logical for them to go to Jack, Sam, and Teal’c. Daniel could speak the local language, at least to some extent, and so he had been the one to go without. “That is tidy trick,” he said, “make many thing easy.”
Jack cocked his head to one side. “Are you feeling okay, Daniel?” he asked. “That didn’t sound like you at all.”
“I was speaking the local lingo, Jack,” Daniel said. “You must be hearing what I’m really saying and not what I think I’m saying. How bad was it?”
“Pretty bad,” Jack told him, “but understandable, I guess. So, shrink-to-fit armor? Cool.”
“I’m still not wearing it, sir,” Sam said. “If Maugrim’s enemies are attacking this place then dressing up like his pet torturer, when we’ll have to get out past them, wouldn’t be a good idea.”
“Yeah, it wouldn’t make friends and influence people,” Jack agreed. “Anyone who’s ever met Vhonna would try to kill you on sight. That’s a big drawback.”
“It’s bad enough that I’m wearing one of Lady Cold Circle’s gowns,” Sam continued, “but no way am I going to fight naked.”
“Uhh, yeah, right,” Jack said, his eyes losing focus for a moment. “Okay, I think we’re ready to go.”
“Not quite,” Daelan said. “The axe, please.”
Teal’c raised an eyebrow and handed the barbarian the dwarf’s axe. “What is your purpose?” he asked.
“I merely wish to ensure that this… filth… stays dead for all time,” Daelan replied. He lifted the axe over Vhonna’s neck and brought it down with all his strength.
Daniel’s face acquired a distinctly greenish tinge and he turned his head away. Sam winced.
Jack nodded slowly. “With what I’ve seen around here lately, I’d have to call that a sensible precaution,” he said. “Okay, back to where we were. Carter, get ready to start the countdown. Everybody take cover. In twenty seconds that door will be history.”
Daelan’s bushy brows descended low over his eyes. “History? I don’t understand. Is there perhaps something wrong with those amulets?”
“Hmm,” said Jack, as he ducked into one of the cells, “Maybe this time I won’t shout ‘Fire in the hole!’.”
“Okay,” Jack said, “I think we’ve cleared out the last of them.” He stepped over the body of a minotaur, dead with three bullets through its head, and went to the desk at which Maugrim had sat. “All we need to do now is find our other weapons and find a way out of here. We look to be pretty high up, from what I can see out of the windows, and I haven’t noticed any sign of any stairs.”
“We are on the seventh floor, Colonel O’Neill,” Daelan informed him. “Travel up and down is by a portal. It is activated by magical portal stones.”
“It sounds a little like a ring transporter, sir,” Sam commented.
“Right,” Jack said. “What do these portal stones look like?”
“Like this,” Daelan said, holding up a grayish object, about the size and shape of a computer mouse, with two green gemstones set in it as if they were on/off buttons. “I retrieved it from the body of the evil priestess.”
“That’s good,” Jack said. “Hmm. That reminds me. Something else we need to find is a GDO, or at least a radio, otherwise the trip home is going to have to go the long way round.”
“They’d be useless to Maugrim’s people,” Sam said. “They won’t even know what they are, so they should be around here somewhere, along with the rest of our gear.”
“This seems as good a place to start searching as any,” Jack said. He moved behind Maugrim’s desk and pulled out a drawer. A steel blade shot out from the desk and Jack avoided it only with a rapid leap sideways. “What the hell?” Jack exclaimed.
“The wealthy and the powerful often have traps on their possessions to deter thieves,” Daelan explained. “Is it not so in your land?”
“Not in such an up-close and personal fashion, no,” Jack said. “Mainly they just have alarms that send signals to the cops, uh, the City Watch I guess you’d call them. This kind of thing isn’t legal back home. It’s going to make looking for our gear a little more hazardous than I’d expected.”
“Alas, I am not skilled in detecting and disarming traps,” Daelan said. “Our colleague Tomi Undergallows dealt with such things, and he passed on his skills to Kenadi, but I am too big and lack the dexterity to master the art. I am, however, quite good at jumping out of the way.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” Jack said. “Carter, you’re not bad at detecting Goa’uld booby traps. Do you think your skills would be transferable to spotting the low-tech stuff?”
“I think so, sir,” Sam said. “I’ll be careful.” She went to the other side of the desk and began examining the drawer there.
Jack checked the contents of the draw he had pulled out. “Well, we’re part of the way there,” he said. “One GDO and one radio. All we need now is enough weaponry to fight our way back to the Gate, and someone who can help us figure out what those weird symbols mean.”
“We have swords and axes enough for us all now,” Daelan said, “and crossbows.”
Jack shook his head. “That’s fine for you, and Teal’c, but I’d just get my ass handed to me if I tried taking on the locals with a sword,” he said. “I’ve got twenty-seven rounds left for my P-90, and Daniel has eight in the Beretta, but when they’re gone the guns are just expensive clubs.”
“I can use a sword,” Daniel reminded him.
Jack rolled his eyes. “You collect swords, Daniel,” he said, “and play around with them. The people here use them for real every day. Have you ever seen anyone handle a sword the way Kenadi did? Or the girl who…” His voice trailed away as he saw Daelan’s expression.
“I guess you’re right,” Daniel said, “but I’ll take a sword anyway.”
“I shall use this staff,” Teal’c said, brandishing a quarterstaff, “until I can recover my own weapon.”
“I’ll stick to knives,” Sam said, “but I’ll feel better when we can – what was that?”
A noise had come from the next room. “Sounded like a ring transporter,” Jack said, “only without as many ‘whoomph’ sounds.” He brought his P-90 to the ready. “I guess it’s the… portal. We should have left a guard.” He was moving as he spoke.
“Our numbers are too few for us to split our forces,” Teal’c said, following at Jack’s heels. The conversation ended as they entered the room from which the sound had come.
It was a large hall paved with marble slabs, with a raised hexagonal stone platform in the centre, a golden circle patterned with a stylized star marked out in the middle of the hexagon. With hindsight it was obvious that was the location for the portal but, as Jack hadn’t even known there was such a thing until Daelan spoke up, he wasn’t going to kick himself for overlooking it.
Three people were on the platform, obviously having just entered through the portal, and they had weapons in their hands. One looked like an eight-year-old boy in fancy dress costume as a guy out of some Sword-and-Sorcery movie, brown leather and strips of fur and a camouflage-patterned cape, but the fifteen-inch dagger or short sword in his hand was definitely for real. Another was a strikingly good-looking woman with flame-red hair, clad in black pants and a black leather jerkin, and she was holding a staff tipped with a sword blade at each end and, incongruously, a guitar. The third was a tall woman with jet black skin and snow-white hair. Jack had seen her before.
“Cierre,” he said, aiming his P-90 at her face. “I thought you were dead.”
She was holding a bow, an arrow nocked to its string, but she lowered it and gave Jack a cold smile that did not reach her eyes. “I survived,” she said, “no thanks to Maugrim. I came to rescue you.”
Jack’s eyes widened. “That’s…” he began, but was interrupted.
“Liar! Murderer!” Daelan roared. He raised his axe and charged.
“Daelan! Wait!” Jack yelled. Daelan ignored him.
Cierre made no move to raise her bow, nor to draw the hand-axe hanging at her belt, or the twin swords whose hilts could be seen rising from behind her shoulders. She stood passively as the barbarian rushed toward her.
The red-head tossed aside her odd sword-bladed staff and lifted her guitar. She struck a note and began to sing. “Stop! In the name of love,” she commanded. Daelan’s charge halted as if he had struck an invisible brick wall. “Before you break my heart, think it over.”
Jack blinked. “What the hell?” he muttered.
“What are you doing, Sharwyn?” Daelan growled. “Do you defend her? Know you not that she killed Kenadi?”
“It’s not that simple,” the woman, presumably Sharwyn, said. “Hear her out, Daelan.”
“Yeah, big guy,” the apparent child said. He wasn’t a dwarf, as he was bare-faced, but his voice was that of an adult. And he had pointy ears. He reminded Jack of one of Santa’s elves; except, of course, for the dagger. “We wouldn’t have made it here if not for her.”
Daelan slowly lowered his axe and stood unmoving. “Speak, then, Drow,” he said, still in a low rage-filled growl.
“Yes, I killed your friend,” Cierre said, “but because I was tricked with lies. Maugrim told me that she, and you, were hunting down and slaying priestesses of Auril without cause. I believed him, for it is well known that the worshippers of my goddess are persecuted in Neverwinter, and only when she struck to render me unconscious and not to kill did I question what I had been told. Too late for me to stay my hand, alas, but it was enough to distract me so that she was able to strike back before she fell. Then Maugrim left me to die.” Her lips curled back in a snarl. “For that I will cut off his manhood and feed it to him until he chokes.”
Jack winced. “So, you’re here to rescue us?” he said. “How come?” He frowned. “And, for that matter, how come you’re not dead?”
“There were potions of healing in Kenadi Nefret’s belt pouch,” Cierre explained. “I was able to reach them, with the last of my strength, and they kept me alive.”
Jack heard Sam muttering behind him. “Heal… po…” she quoted. Jack vaguely remembered hearing those syllables coming from Kenadi’s mouth as she was dying and suddenly realized what she had been trying to say. “Oh, no,” Sam went on. “If I’d only known…” She stopped speaking and Jack heard her footsteps going away. He glanced back over his shoulder and saw Sam retreating into Maugrim’s office. Daniel was nowhere in sight, and Jack guessed that he, too, had gone back there, presumably to complete their search.
“I vowed, then,” Cierre continued, “that I would avenge the death of one who was never truly my enemy. I shall carry out her dying wishes, or die in the attempt, for I owe her a debt of blood.”
“Dying wishes?” Jack queried.
“Save Neverwinter,” Cierre quoted, “Kill Maugrim.” That half-smile, involving only her lips and failing to reach her eyes, returned. “Rescuing you was not mentioned but I felt it appropriate. If your weapons are truly as deadly as Kenadi claimed then you may be of great assistance in the remainder of my mission.”
“We’d be happy to help,” Jack said, “especially as we’ve spent the past ten days being tortured by his resident psycho-in-chief, but we’re a little short on the weaponry front. We’ve recovered two of our guns – these things,” he explained, holding up the P-90, “but Maugrim has the others and I think his people have figured out how to use them. Maybe they’re still somewhere in this place but, if they’re not, we have a problem.”
“We shall search for them before we leave, then,” said Sharwyn.
“We must not take too long,” Cierre said, “for the Luskans will come to retake this place soon.”
“I think that we must take the risk,” Sharwyn said.
“Agreed,” Cierre replied.
“I do not trust you, dark one,” Daelan rumbled. “No Drow can be trusted.”
Cierre raised an eyebrow. “Drizzt Do’Urden,” she said. “Viconia De’Vir. Qilué Veladorn. Liriel Baenre.” Jack frowned, pursed his lips, and tapped the amulet at his neck. For a moment he was convinced that the translation device was malfunctioning, or had a time-limited effect in the same way that the ‘spell’ cast by Kenadi had eventually expired, until he realized that Cierre was reciting a list of names.
“You class yourself with those heroes?” Daelan challenged.
Cierre shook her head. “No, I make no claim to being a hero of any kind. I am merely very good at killing people and I intend to kill Maugrim. Assist me or not, as you wish, but if you hinder me you aid the man who is truly responsible for the death of your friend.”
“She’s already recovered two of the Words of Power,” the miniature man said. “Bloody brilliant fighter she is, even better than Kenadi, and she doesn’t stop for anything. By all the gods, you should have seen her killing the bloody dragon!”
“Dragon?” Jack echoed. No-one took any notice and the discussion continued as if he hadn’t spoken.
“Kenadi was my best friend, you know that,” Sharwyn added, “but I do not hold her death against Cierre. Work with her to slay Maugrim. For my sake, Daelan, please.”
Daelan’s shoulders slumped. “Very well,” he agreed, sounding as if the words were being dragged from him against his will. “I will tolerate her – at least until Maugrim is slain.”
“I too once did evil deeds in the service of one who was false,” Teal’c put in, “until I took heed of the words of O’Neill and changed my allegiance. I will be happy to fight alongside this warrior maid who is in similar circumstances.” He inclined his head slightly toward Cierre.
“Thank you,” Cierre replied. Her smile, although brief, almost reached her eyes this time. “Let us waste no more time,” she said. “I had planned for us to leave immediately but it seems that we must search this place first. We came directly to this floor, for I knew this was the most likely place in which the prisoners could be found, but we will have to descend floor by floor searching as we go. There may well be foes yet unfought between us and the exit.”
“I have fought through this place before,” Daelan said, “and I will do so again. The floors shall run red with the blood of Maugrim’s minions.”
“We’ve found another Beretta,” Daniel said, re-entering the room from behind Jack, “and two full magazines.”
“Good news, sir, we found our boots,” Sam added. “Also another radio, a compass, and two tactical vests but that’s all. We checked out the office and the…” she hesitated and bit on her top lip, “torture chamber. There’s nothing more to find.”
“My staff weapon?” Teal’c asked.
“No sign of it, Teal’c,” Sam replied, “and no zat either. Sorry.”
“That’s a bloody small gun,” the diminutive man remarked. “Nothing like the ones the gnomes in Lantan use. Wouldn’t let any of the little buggers see that if I were you, mate, they’ll have it in bits, trying to work out how it’s made, before you can say ‘Gond’s titanium testicles’.”
“Guns,” Sharwyn mused. “Load up on guns, bring your friends. Now I understand.”
“Well, I don’t,” Jack said. “Just where did you hear Nirvana? And how the hell did you do that thing where you stopped Daelan in his tracks with an old Supremes’ song?”
“It’s a long story,” Sharwyn said, “and there is no time for it now.” She smiled, for the first time since she had arrived through the portal, and Jack was struck by her quite remarkable beauty. “If we leave this tower alive, and make it out of the city, then I shall tell you.” She scooped up her sword-staff weapon and pointed with it at the circle that marked out the portal. “For the moment,” she said, her smile growing broader, “come with me if you want to live.”