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 and monsters, torture, and sudden, brutal, death. This chapter is 10,165 words, rating R.
Debt Of Blood
Part 5: Promises I Cannot Keep
“What are we doing up here?” Jack asked. “I thought we’d be heading for the way out.” They had emerged from the transporter portal into the open air at the top of the tower. An extremely high tower; not Sears Tower tall but, Jack would judge from the size of objects on the ground far below, around the height of the Chicago Temple Building or maybe even the Chicago Board of Trade Building. Something not far short of six hundred feet. He could see four lesser towers to the sides, a hundred feet or so lower, that seemed to be part of the same central building as the tower on which he stood.
“This is where Maugrim’s personal chambers are,” Sharwyn explained, “and it may be that your stolen weapons are within. Probably not, as he’s likely to have taken them to the battlefront by now, but I think we have to check.”
“Yeah, good thinking, seeing as how we’re in the neighborhood,” Jack agreed. His lips curled back. “And if Maugrim happens to be home then I’ll toss him over the edge.”
Daelan shook his head. “That would be futile, Colonel O’Neill,” he said. “The wizard will be able to fly, or to fall gently like a feather, and you would merely be helping him escape.” The massive barbarian hefted his axe. “I shall cut off his head.”
Jack nodded. “Yeah, I can go with that.”
“He is no wizard,” Cierre put in, almost spitting the words out. “That is just another of his lies.”
“He looks like a wizard,” Jack said, “and he acts like a wizard, and isn’t this place the headquarters of the wizards round here? If he isn’t a wizard how come he got to be in charge?”
“He may well have been a wizard once,” Sharwyn said, “and I suspect that he retains some arcane ability, but really he’s a priest. He fakes it with rings, wands, and clerical magic.”
“His gear must be worth a fortune,” the diminutive Tomi put in. “If we can kill him and nick the lot we’ll be set up for life.” He moved off, ahead of the others, walking on silent feet. His dagger gleamed in his hand. Cierre followed him.
“How do you know the others aren’t faking it too?” Sam asked. “I mean… wizards, magic… it’s all a little… unbelievable.”
Sharwyn’s eyebrows rose. “You don’t believe in arcane magic? Giles said it was rare in his world, and that many don’t know about it, but Willow’s one of the most powerful mages I know; perhaps on a par with Khelben Blackstaff. Surely skilled warriors like you, who travel between worlds, cannot be unaware of the Art?”
“In my experience it’s all done with technology,” Sam said. “When someone talks about magic it usually means they’re pulling a scam to fool the unsophisticated populace.”
Sharwyn shrugged. “Well, I could strip naked, set aside my guitar, remove my rings, and turn you into a frog,” she said, “but it’s too cold, Daelan would probably die of embarrassment, and I don’t have Polymorph Other memorized anyway. Just take my word for it. Thinking it’s all trickery might get you killed.”
Jack’s train of thought was totally derailed by the mention of Sharwyn stripping naked. He forced himself to concentrate on the down side, which was Sam being turned into a frog, and managed to get himself back on track.
“Those people you mentioned, Giles and, uh, Willow,” he said, “they’re from Earth, right?”
“That is correct,” Sharwyn said. “They were transported to Faerûn, by some unknown means, more than two years ago and they never managed to get back home.”
Jack pursed his lips. “I could do with talking to them,” he said.
“I doubt if that will be possible,” Sharwyn said. “I last saw them in Waterdeep, some three hundred miles south of here, and I don’t know where they’ll be now. I could ask a few travelling bards to circulate a message, I suppose, but it could be months before they get it.”
“I guess it’s not important,” Jack said. “I wanted to find out how they got here but, if they don’t know, there isn’t really much point. Have you been to Earth yourself? You seem to know a whole lot about it. Like, The Supremes, and Nirvana, and the Terminator quote…”
“No, I’ve never been there,” Sharwyn replied. “Giles taught me many of your songs – I was the second guitarist and backing vocalist in The Rupert Giles Experience for a while – and I have listened to the tales he, and his comrades, told of their homeland. That’s all.”
Tomi rejoined the group. “Doesn’t look like Maugrim’s home,” he reported.
“A stone golem guarded the chambers when Kenadi and I were here before,” Daelan warned. “We smashed it but it may have been replaced.”
“Nah, there’s a couple of human guards in there now,” Tomi said. “Blokes in full plate, I reckon, but they shouldn’t be too much trouble.”
Jack raised his P-90. “No shit,” he said.
“Stay your hand,” Sharwyn said. “If your guns are at all like those of the Lantanese then they require smoke-powder and bullets. I suspect that you do not have an unlimited supply.”
“That’s right,” Jack confirmed. “I’m hoping we’ll find the other ammo packs but, right now, we’re a little short.”
“Then conserve your stocks for when they are most needed,” Sharwyn advised. “Maugrim’s forces are not so strong that he could afford to allocate to mere guard duty two warriors who could stand against Cierre.”
“That is logical,” Teal’c agreed. “She is undoubtedly a formidable warrior.”
“Okay,” Jack said, “I’ll save my ammo for something tougher.” He lowered the P-90 but kept it in a position from which it could be quickly brought to the aim.
Cierre was waiting for them, at the bottom of a short flight of steps, facing a closed wooden door. She had put away her bow and now held a sword in her right hand and a hand-axe in her left. She had killed Kenadi with a sword that glowed green; the one she now wielded gave off a flickering red light that resembled flames. The blade of her hand-axe shone pale blue.
She stood aside from the door to make way for Tomi. The tiny man threw open the door for her and Cierre went through in a blur of motion. Jack couldn’t see the action but he heard the clash of steel on steel, a couple of thudding noises that sounded horribly reminiscent of the sound Vhonna’s skull had made when he smashed it against the cell bars, and then a scream that quickly died away into a gurgle.
Cierre emerged from the door a moment later and sheathed her weapons. “Clear,” she announced, and went back into the room with Tomi at her heels. The rest of the group followed.
Jack could smell burnt flesh. It reminded him of when he left meat on the barbeque a little too long. Sometimes you’d get the same smell, although less noticeably, from a victim of a staff blast. It was coming from one of the two corpses that lay on the floor.
They had been wearing plate armor, as Tomi had predicted, looking like the kind of thing you’d see in an English museum. It hadn’t done them any good at all. One of them had obviously taken an axe blow full in the face. The nasal guard on the man’s helmet had failed to resist the blow and had been bent and driven deep into the ghastly wound. There was no visible injury on the other, the one who smelled of burnt meat, but what little blood could be seen was in the area below where the corpse’s arm joined his body. It wasn’t hard for Jack to work out what had happened. The guard had raised his weapon to strike and Cierre had thrust her sword into the vulnerable region under his uplifted arm. There should have been more blood from a wound like that, even though the guy’s heart must have stopped almost instantly, and Jack put that together with the burnt meat smell and came to a conclusion.
“Hey, Cierre, is that an actual flaming sword?” he asked.
Cierre gave him another one of those tight little smiles that didn’t reach her amber eyes. “It is,” she confirmed. “Angurvadal, the Flametongue. I took it from the hoard of the red dragon Klauth.”
“Sounds neat,” Jack commented. “You killed an actual dragon? With wings, and breathing fire, and everything?”
“I did,” Cierre said. Her trace of smile disappeared altogether and an edge came into her voice. “Do you doubt me?”
“They don’t have dragons on their world, Cierre,” Sharwyn put in.
“Oh?” Cierre’s eyebrows, startlingly white against her jet-black skin, climbed high. “How strange.”
“Books,” Daniel announced, in a reverential tone.
Jack looked around and saw that the walls of the room were lined with bookshelves. “We don’t have time for books, Daniel,” he said. “We’re looking for guns, ammo, detonators, our other gear, right?”
Daniel pouted. “There could be useful information in these books,” he said.
Jack rolled his eyes. “Daniel…”
“Jack…” Daniel responded.
Teal’c brought the monosyllabic argument to an end. “I believe that I see some of our equipment,” he announced, pointing at a desk on the far side of the room. The SG-1 members immediately headed that way only to be halted by Tomi.
“Hold it, mates,” the little man cautioned them, “don’t be so bloody eager to get yourselves killed. Wait until I’ve finished checking the place out for traps.”
“Traps?” Jack raised his eyebrows. “As well as guards?”
“Of course,” Tomi said. “The berk wouldn’t trust minions like those blokes,” he gestured toward the corpses, “not to nick his good stuff and bugger off to live like princes in Waterdeep. Now stand still and let me work. And leave the books alone,” he added, as Daniel made for the shelves, “or, ten to one, something nasty will happen when you pull one out. Right?”
Daniel pouted but acquiesced.
“You are in better shape than I had feared,” Sharwyn commented, as Tomi checked out the room. “I expected that we would find you half-starved, shackled, and bearing the scars of lash and hot irons.”
“Oh, we had all those,” Jack said, “but they put us back together again after every session of taking us apart.” He heard Sam wince at his words.
“It was a most unpleasant experience,” Teal’c agreed, “but we are, I believe, fully recovered.”
“I regret that we could not get here earlier,” Cierre said. “We could not make our move until the Luskan army moved out to attack Neverwinter.”
“We did not expect anyone to come at all,” Teal’c said, inclining his head in Cierre’s direction, “and your arrival gave us the opportunity to make our escape. Thank you.”
Tomi stepped away from the desk, a long slim metal probe in his hand, and nodded to Sharwyn. “That’s all the mechanical traps out of the way,” he reported, “but there’s a Glyph of Warding still to do. Be a love and cast a Dispel, would you?”
“Sure thing.” Sharwyn swung her guitar into position and her fingers glided over the strings. “Now that the magic has gone,” she sang, very much in a Blues style, “There’s no sense in holding on, baby, now that the magic has gone.”
Tomi held a transparent crystal to his eye, stared at the desk through it, and nodded. “That’s it sorted,” he said. He pocketed the crystal and addressed the SG-1 members. “All clear over here. Help yourselves to your stuff but I get a share of any gold you find, right? I’ll see to the bookshelves now.”
Jack shot a glance at Sam and, as he had expected, saw that her brow was furrowed and her lips pursed in a dead giveaway that she was distinctly skeptical about Sharwyn’s musical ‘magic’. It hadn’t been a very convincing display, with a magical trap that nobody could see being removed by a snatch of song, but Jack was prepared to give Sharwyn the benefit of the doubt. An invisible trap wasn’t much of a stretch, after some of the other things they’d seen on this world, and whether the ‘magic’ was the real thing or voice-activated nano-technology wasn’t important right now. What mattered was staying alive, getting back to the SGC, and, preferably, making sure that the guy who’d had them locked up and tortured ended up dead before they left. Sam didn’t say anything, however, and Jack turned his attention to Maugrim’s desk.
No P-90s, alas, and the only 5.7mm ammunition was the empty case of one round that obviously had been taken apart for study. Jack pocketed it anyway. Still no zat and no staff weapon. The detonators were there, and Jack still had enough C4 left to blow a few doors or make one fair-sized explosion, but there was no sign of the grenades. The good news was that the last of the missing Berettas was there, plus another two magazines, and that meant they could have a firearm each.
A pair of binoculars, which might come in handy. Sam’s laptop. Their shavers; Jack didn’t regard getting rid of his stubble as a priority but Teal’c seized a shaver and immediately began to remove the fuzz of hair from his head.
“I swore I would not grow my hair before the Jaffa are free,” he said, noticing Jack’s raised eyebrows. “This stubble, neither one thing the other, displeases me and I will tolerate it no longer.”
“Hey, that gives me an idea,” Sharwyn remarked. “Can you use a two-handed sword?” She used her foot to indicate such a sword, nearly six feet in length, dropped by one of the guards slain by Cierre.
Teal’c paused with the shaver at the crown of his head. “I am skilled with many weapons, but my proficiency with a sword is not as great as with a staff,” he told her. “Why?”
“You bear a strong resemblance to the Rashemi warrior Minsc,” Sharwyn replied. “He also keeps his head shaven. If you allowed me to draw a circle upon your face in the style of his tattoo, and wielded a greatsword, anyone who has heard the tales of Minsc would take you for him.”
“And this would be to our advantage?”
“Oh, definitely,” Sharwyn assured him. “I doubt if there are a dozen fighters in all of Faerûn who could stand before Minsc with a sword and hope to live – precious few, even, who could hope to prevail if they were ten to his one. You’d scare the shit out of the locals. If you yell his war-cry, ‘Evil, meet my sword! Sword, meet Evil!’, then most Luskan guards would take off running and not stop short of Icewind Dale.”
“That would be an advantageous strategy,” Teal’c agreed. “Very well, I shall perform this impersonation.” He resumed his shaving.
Daniel spotted a box full of the translation amulets and grabbed one. “At last,” he said, slipping it over his head. “Now I can talk properly instead of stumbling along in a kind of pidgin.”
“Aw, I thought it was pretty amusing,” Jack said.
“My apologies,” Cierre said. “I have one in my pack and I did not think to offer it.”
“It’s okay,” Daniel said, “I was getting by.”
Jack directed a slightly puzzled glance at the girl. She wasn’t wearing any kind of pack. Only the two swords, and her bow, hung at her back. She did, however, have a couple of pouches attached to her belt, and presumably that was what she meant. They were, just about, big enough to hold one of the amulets.
“Uh, Cierre,” Sam said, “when we get to where you left your pack, would you have a spare pair of pants I could borrow? And maybe a shirt?” She put a hand to the skirts of the gown she wore. “This… garment isn’t practical for fighting.”
“It looks good on you, though, Carter,” Jack put in, giving her a smile.
Sam responded with an eye-roll. “It’s about two sizes too big around the… top, if you hadn’t noticed, and the material is bunched up under my tactical vest. The important thing is that it hampers my legs. I nearly didn’t manage to pull off that kick against the minotaur.”
As Sam was speaking Cierre opened one of the pouches at her belt and took out what, at first sight, appeared to be a piece of thick sackcloth. She unfolded it, unfolded it again, and then a third time. It could now be seen to be a bag, flattened down, and obviously empty. She opened it up, reached inside, rummaged around for a moment and then pulled out a pair of black breeches. “I think these will fit you well,” she said. “We are much the same size.”
Sam’s jaw dropped. Her mouth gaped so wide open that Jack wouldn’t have bet against a Death Glider being able to fly into it. “How did you do that?”
Cierre’s eyebrows rose slightly. “You do not have Bags of Holding on your world?”
“Bags of… Holding?” Sam managed to get her mouth closed, after speaking, but her eyebrows had climbed to an altitude that would be a challenge for anything short of an X-301.
“They contain a pocket of inter-dimensional space,” Cierre explained, “so that the contents take up no space in this world. It is strange, when your devices are crafted with a skill that puts even the Drow to shame, that such a useful item is unfamiliar to you.”
“Uh, yes,” Sam said. “I guess our worlds have, uh, developed in different ways.” She took the pants from Cierre, who delved into the bag again and produced first a black shirt, which she also handed to Sam, and then a pair of black leather forearm guards like those used by Medieval English longbowmen.
“These may be of use to you,” Cierre said. “Bracers of Dexterity.” She tapped one of the similar guards on her own forearms. “They were mine but I now possess superior ones.”
“Bracers of… Dexterity?” Sam’s eyebrows left the stratosphere far behind and soared into the mesosphere.
“They give the wearer greater dexterity and agility,” Cierre explained. “Do you not have those either?”
“We had something similar,” Sam said, her eyebrows descending. “The Atoniek armbands increased our speed and strength dramatically and heightened our senses. It all went horribly wrong.” She omitted to mention, presumably out of planetary pride, that the armbands in question were the product of an extinct alien race, not of Earth, and they had been discovered and reactivated by the Tok’ra.
“It sounds as if your people tried to do too much in one step,” Cierre said. “Boosting strength, speed, and sensory acuity, all in one device, would be a mighty task even for an Archmage. Better to wear Boots of Speed, a Girdle of Giant Strength, and a Thieves’ Hood or a Watchman’s Helm.”
“I guess,” Sam said. She accepted the shirt and, slightly hesitantly, the armbands. “Now I have to find somewhere to change.”
“Change here, Carter,” Jack said. “We’ll go back outside for a while. We’re finished here… aren’t we, Daniel?”
Daniel was examining the books. “This is amazing,” he said. “This translation amulet works for the written word as well as for speech. I can read these as if they were in English.”
“Leave the books alone, Daniel,” Jack said. “We just don’t have time.”
“But Jack…” Daniel protested.
“Leave them,” Jack ordered. “Come on. Outside.”
The city didn’t look medieval. Jack had been unconscious on arrival and had seen nothing of it before waking up in the prison cell. When they had first arrived on the tower pinnacle the city below had been too far away to make out details with the naked eye. His mental picture, however, had been of thatched roofs, crude walls made of ‘wattle and daub’ – whatever that was – with crooked beams, streets that were nothing but mud and open sewers, the whole Middle Ages thing that went with swords and bows and arrows. Now he scanned the area with his binoculars and saw a very different reality.
Houses of brick and stone, roofs clad with tiles, laid out in orderly rows along streets and sidewalks paved with rectangular stone slabs. Mansions standing in walled gardens. Elegant bridges, their roadways clear and open instead of cluttered with shops in the Medieval fashion, stretching across the river. A civic building, either a temple or a government office of some kind, with its entrance flanked by tall pillars in a style that reminded Jack of New York Public Library or the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Except for the total absence of motor vehicles, and the presence of horses both as riding animals and as haulage for carts, it could have been a small European city in the early Nineties.
As long as that city was Sarajevo.
At least ten per cent of the buildings were burned-out shells. Several of the streets were blocked by barricades of furniture, sandbags, and overturned carts. Many of the surviving buildings had walls pock-marked with holes; caused by arrows, crossbow bolts, and the like, presumably, rather than by bullets, but the effect was the same. Every so often, as Jack scanned the city, he made out dead bodies lying in the streets or in the ruins of destroyed buildings. The few passers-by were all either heavily armed or in groups accompanied by armed men, no doubt escorts for the civilians, and no-one paid any attention to the corpses.
“I don’t get it,” Jack observed. “There’s a freakin’ civil war going on here. How come they’re attacking Neverwinter at the same time? That doesn’t make any kind of sense.”
“The Arcane Brotherhood mages used to keep the five High Captains in check and prevent their rivalry escalating into conflict,” Sharwyn explained. “Maugrim isn’t interested in the city and when he took over he let the High Captains do what they liked. It didn’t take long for open warfare to break out. Three of the Captains died or fled – nobody seems to know for sure – and Kurth and Baram battled for control. Kenadi killed both of them, and things apparently calmed down for a while, but when Maugrim ordered the army out to attack Neverwinter it all flared up again. Everyone who can muster a few henchmen is trying to grab a place as a new High Captain.”
“And we have to get through that?”
“It shouldn’t be too hard,” Sharwyn said. “I can get us past any Umberlee worshippers without a fight. Most of the others should be scared off by Daelan, Cierre, and Teal’c impersonating Minsc. We’ll only have problems if we bump into what’s left of the City Guard. Cierre’s pretty recognizable and, now that the Lords’ Alliance has declared war on Luskan, she’s an enemy combatant.”
“But aren’t you an enemy combatant too?”
Sharwyn shrugged. “Of course, but I’m not the only pretty redhead around. There’s only one five foot nine drow.” She turned away from Jack and looked out over the city. “Being up here makes me want to play,” she commented. “Giles told me about bards in his world who played on rooftops…” She swung her guitar into position and strummed out a series of jangling chords. “I want to run, I want to hide, I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside…” she sang, and then stopped. “Hmm. I have an idea.”
“More of this ‘magic’ using songs? Like, destroying the city walls by the power of U2?”
“Not exactly.” Sharwyn sucked in her lips and half-closed her eyes. “I’ve thought of a song that might be able to get you and your companions back to your own world from here. It’s not a great chance, as I know Giles tried the same thing and it didn’t work, but theoretically it’s possible.” She bit on her bottom lip. “Although there’s a possibility it would turn Major Carter into a man in the process…”
“Ah. That wouldn’t be good.” Jack swallowed hard. “Hey, are you talking about ‘Get Back’?”
Sharwyn’s face lit up in a smile. “I am. You know it?”
“I think pretty much everybody my age, back on Earth, knows it,” Jack said. “I think we’ll give it a miss. Even if you were sure it would work, well, I wouldn’t be happy about leaving two P-90s, some grenades, and a staff weapon behind in the hands of a psycho. Our guns, our responsibility. Then there’s the whole ‘Sweet Samantha Carter thought she was a woman, but she was another man’ thing. No, I think not.”
“What was that you just said?” Sam’s voice came from behind Jack and he turned. “Did you just call me ‘sweet’, sir?”
“I was quoting from a song,” Jack explained. “Not that you aren’t, uh, but, anything I say is going to be wrong, isn’t it?”
“Probably, sir,” Sam answered. ‘Sweet’ was definitely the wrong way to describe her right now. In the black shirt and pants, with her black tactical vest and the black leather wrist protectors, she somehow looked very much like a movie version of a Wild West gunfighter. “Are we ready to go now?”
“I’d like another look at those books,” Daniel pleaded.
“Neverwinter has lots of books, too, right?” Jack said, shooting a glance at Sharwyn, who nodded. “And probably a lot fewer people who want to kill or torture us. Let’s just get the hell out of here.”
Of course it wasn’t that simple.
“Did you search the other floors on the way up to the prison?” Daelan asked Sharwyn.
The girl shook her head. “I felt that we could not take the time,” she said. “We would have been too late, even without that delay, had you not freed yourselves.”
“Then we should take a look at the fourth floor on our way out,” Daelan said. “That was where the mages who dealt with mechanical things dwelt, when Kenadi and I were here before, and if Colonel O’Neill’s weapons are still within this tower that is where they will be.”
“What think you, Colonel O’Neill?” Sharwyn asked.
Jack shrugged. “Ten to one the guns will be with the army right now,” he said. “It was a couple of days ago when the crazy priestess said they’d figured out how to use them. Still, I guess it can’t hurt to take a look. She didn’t mention Teal’c’s staff weapon so there’s a chance they’re still tinkering with it. Getting that back would be a big plus.”
“Indeed,” Teal’c agreed.
“Very well,” said Sharwyn, “we shall pause at the fourth floor.” She held out a hand and Cierre passed her a ‘wardstone’. “Inside the portal boundary, everyone!”
Jack noticed that Sharwyn seemed to have mislaid her weapon. “Hey,” he pointed out, “you’ve left your staff-sword thing somewhere.”
“No,” Sharwyn replied, with a shake of her head that set her long braid of red hair swinging, “it’s in my pocket.”
Jack’s jaw dropped so far and so fast that it probably reached the fourth floor before his feet.
They materialized on a hexagonal platform, in a tiled room unfurnished except for chandeliers, just like the one on the prison level. It was occupied and the natives weren’t friendly.
Presumably they had been alerted by the alarm bells when Sharwyn and her colleagues broke into the tower. That had been a little over half an hour ago, Jack estimated, and it was pretty much impossible for guards to stay at instant readiness for that long when nothing was happening. Back at the SGC that was a problem, a vulnerability that could be exploited if aliens came in slow and quiet instead of with weapons blazing, but it had saved his life a few times on Goa’uld worlds and it looked like it might work out the same way here.
Four armor-clad warriors were leaning against the wall, swords and axes propped up beside them, and they hastily came erect and snatched up their weapons. Several other guys, wearing leather or chain-mail, grabbed for bows and arrows. A pair of dwarves slipped their arms through the straps of shields and took up their axes. A wizard was puffing on a pipe; he dropped it, coughed out a cloud of smoke, and started to chant.
Sam’s right hand blurred and came up holding a Beretta. She brought it to the aim and gave the wizard a nine-millimeter double-tap in the face before Jack could get his P-90 pointed in the right direction. He raised an eyebrow – Sam had moved fast, as if her resemblance to a Wild West gunfighter went beyond the black clothes – and started to swing his gun to aim at one of the bowmen. Cierre took off from the platform in a flying leap, drawing sword and hand-axe in mid-air, and killed a man as she landed. Jack no longer had a clear shot and held his fire.
Daelan charged at a mail-clad warrior who had just taken hold of a double-ended axe, like the one Daelan had carried before his capture, and reached the man before he could get it into position. Daelan struck out with his axe, brushing aside a clumsy parry, and split the guard’s skull. He left the axe stuck in his victim’s head and seized the double-axe. He roared out his battle-cry “Rage of the Red Tiger!” as he whirled the weapon in a deadly arc and struck another foe dead.
Cierre chopped through a bowman’s arm with her hand-axe, thrust her sword into his throat, and spun to face the dwarves. They were concentrating on Tomi, who was trying to dodge past them so that he could get behind the bowmen, and Cierre slew them in two swift strokes.
“Evil, meet my sword!” Teal’c declaimed, as instructed by Sharwyn, but his delivery was remarkably unconvincing. Hayden Christensen – even Steven Segal – couldn’t have put it over with less feeling. The stroke he delivered with the two-handed sword, however, carried a conviction all of its own. Teal’c’s blow dashed the sword from his opponent’s hands and descended on the man’s body with undiminished force. The chain mail gave way as if it had been knitted string sprayed with silver paint. Blood sprayed across the room as Teal’c pulled the blade free, splattering the floor just behind where Cierre was engaged in killing the dwarves, and Jack’s eyes narrowed as he noticed something not right. Not all the blood reached the floor. Something had stopped it…
Jack aimed his P-90 and fired a short burst, apparently at nothing, but a cry of pain and a spray of blood confirmed that he’d hit his invisible target. Cierre started to spin round but she cried out and stumbled with the move incomplete. For a horrible second Jack thought that he’d caught her with one of the bullets but then the invisible man popped into sight. His left arm was a bloody mess, shattered and hanging limp, but his right arm held a short sword and it had blood on its blade. Then Cierre’s sword blurred and swept up, under the man’s armpit, and took the arm off at the shoulder. Simultaneously Jack fired one more shot and this time drilled the injured man straight through the temple. The severed arm landed on top of the corpse.
Daelan held his double-axe across his chest and used it to sweep two archers from their feet and send them crashing back into the wall. Before they could recover from the impacts the mighty barbarian delivered two quick blows with the blades and killed them both.
Teal’c clove open the head of a man-at-arms. The sword blade stuck for a moment and another soldier came at Teal’c with a broadsword. Teal’c delivered a stamping side-kick that felled his attacker, tugged his sword free, and brought it down on his fallen foe with lethal effect.
A couple of the archers managed to get clear of the fray and began to draw back their bows. Daniel shot one of them in the chest, twice, and put him down. The other archer cried out in agony as Tomi stabbed him in the lower back. The diminutive man might look like a child but letting him get behind you with that fifteen-inch dagger was obviously a fatal mistake.
Cierre slashed her sword across the throat of the last enemy still standing, looked around for more foes, and found none. She lowered her sword and axe, swayed, and then dropped to her knees. She fumbled her axe into its belt loop and reached behind her to her wound. “Fuck, it burns,” she said. Her eyes rolled up and she fell on her face.
“Breath of the Maiden,” Sharwyn said. She held the sword that had inflicted the wound upon Cierre and frowned. “The venom is rarely fatal but is debilitating in the extreme. I am sorry, Cierre, it was my fault. I did not think to use True Seeing.”
Cierre gulped down a liquid from a glass vial and then tossed the empty vessel across the room. “Do not blame yourself, friend Sharwyn,” she said. “Tomi has the gem, after all, and it would have seemed to me also that the spell would be a waste. The potions have healed me.”
“You should have brought Linu,” Daelan said to Sharwyn. “Her healing powers would have been far better than mere potions.”
“She wouldn’t work with Cierre,” Sharwyn replied, “and that meant she was out.”
“You chose this drow, the slayer of Kenadi, over our comrade Linu?” Daelan’s incredulity was obvious.
“Well, duh,” Sharwyn said, rolling her eyes. She’d obviously picked up mannerisms and expressions, as well as rock songs and movie quotes, from the Earth people she’d met. “Linu’s a nice person, pleasant and kind, but she’s a priestess of the Wicked Stepmother. I was never happy about working with her and I only did so because of Kenadi.”
“The Wicked Stepmother?” Daniel queried. “I’ve been reading about your gods and that isn’t one I’ve come across.”
“Sehanine Moonbow, elven goddess of the moon,” Sharwyn clarified. “Stepmother of Shar’s fiancé Vhaeraun and her best friend Eilistraee. More importantly she is a close friend and ally of Selûne, the Betrayer, Shar’s sworn foe.” She continued at some length but Jack tuned her out. That sort of thing, gods and goddesses and all that myths and legends crap, was Daniel’s field.
Instead Jack turned to Cierre. “You okay?” he asked.
“I am,” Cierre replied, “thanks to you. Had you not spotted that rogue he would have wounded me far worse, perhaps fatally, and I owe you a debt.” She smiled, a wide and genuine smile that involved her whole face, and stood up. “It is clear that your skill at arms does not merely depend upon your unusual weaponry. You are true warriors and I am proud to stand at your side.”
“The torturer Vhonna was not the first to learn, to her cost, that O’Neill is by no means helpless without his weapons,” Teal’c put in.
“I’ve had a lot of practice,” Jack said. “You’re pretty impressive yourself, Cierre.”
“I, too, have had much…” Cierre began, but she broke off, her eyes widened, and she drew her spare sword as she saw something behind Jack.
Jack spun around, his gun coming up, and he saw a monster entering the room. About eight feet tall, looking a bit like a guy in a Godzilla suit but with the head of a vulture, and it had wings sprouting from its shoulders. Following close behind it came a beautiful girl, clad in a diaphanous baby-doll style garment, who also had wings.
“Vrock!” Sharwyn hissed. “And a succubus. Your guns might not harm them, Colonel, leave them to me.” Instead of pulling out her sword-staff weapon she swung her guitar into position and played a very familiar riff. “Get back,” she sang, “Get back, get back to where you once belonged.”
The monster and the girl vanished. Jack shot a quick glance at Sam and saw that her eyebrows had climbed so high that they would need an oxygen mask and pressure suit. “Now that’s something you don’t see every day,” he commented.
“There must be a wizard alive on this level still,” Cierre said. She sheathed her green-bladed sword and picked up the one with the flaming blade, which she had dropped on the floor when she passed out, in its place. “I shall locate him and slay him.”
“Not alone,” Sharwyn said. “A couple of us should stay and guard the portal and the rest search this level.”
“Sensible,” Jack agreed.
“I shall stay,” Daelan volunteered. A smile flickered briefly on his face. “I am well pleased, for this,” he brandished the double-axe that he had taken from one of the fallen guards, “is my own axe, taken from me when we were captured.”
“Thanks, Daelan. I’ll keep an eye out for any of your other gear,” Sharwyn promised. “One other of us should stand guard with you.”
Teal’c, who was now wearing a steel cuirass taken from a dead guard who had almost matched him for size, spoke up. “I also shall guard this… portal against foes coming through to take us in the rear.”
Jack heard Sam make an odd ‘Mmmph’ noise, glanced at her, and saw that her lips were clamped tight, her cheeks were puffed out, and she had gone cross-eyed. Sharwyn was looking at Sam, her eyebrows were raised, and she was grinning widely. Cierre, too, was grinning. After a couple of seconds all three girls’ expressions went back to normal. ‘Hmm,’ Jack thought, ‘women can be weird sometimes.’
The workbench top was scarred, pitted, and blackened. The stone floor beside it was chipped in places and stained in a pattern that looked to Jack like bloodstains that hadn’t been completely scrubbed away. He saw a piece of metal on the floor in a corner of the room, went to it, and picked it up. “The lever from an M-67,” he said, grinning slightly. “It looks as if they found out how not to handle a grenade.”
“Not something you do twice,” Sam agreed. She looked into a drawer, guaranteed free of traps by Tomi, and smiled. “Ammo,” she said. “A whole load of 5.7-mil cartridges. I think they must have taken a mag apart and not been able to get it back together.”
“Useful,” Jack said. He slipped the sling of his P-90 from his shoulder. “I’ll top this up. What else is there?”
Cierre tugged a ring from a dead wizard’s finger, looked at it briefly, and passed it to Sharwyn. She released the corpse’s hand and stood up. “I am going to change my torn cloak and shirt,” she said, and left the room. Sharwyn followed.
“If you blokes can manage here,” Tomi said, “there’s some stuff in the next room that I want to check out.”
“Sure thing,” Jack said, and the little man departed. “If he’s going to sneak a look at Cierre getting changed,” Jack remarked, once Tomi had gone, “then he’s a braver man that I am.”
Sam ignored the comment. “Sir,” she said, her voice lower than normal, “when I was alone with Cierre, when she lent me her clothes, I sensed naqadah. Just a little tingle. Not enough to be from a Goa’uld, not even as much as from Teal’c, but it was definitely there.”
“Perhaps she’s a former host,” Daniel suggested, “like you.”
“That’s possible,” Sam said, “but, in that case, how did she get to be ‘former’? I don’t think the Tok’ra have ever been here and no Goa’uld would give up a host like her voluntarily.” She shook her head. “This place is weird. Half really primitive, half incredibly advanced. Bows and arrows, and swords and shields, on one hand, and on the other matter transmitters as elevators, and pocket dimensions as storage spaces.” She paused in the middle of passing a handful of cartridges over to Jack. “I wonder… maybe they’re the Furlings?”
“Now what makes you say that? Just because they have a few similarities to the Nox, along with a whole load of differences…” Jack grabbed the cartridges from Sam and began topping up his magazine.
“It makes sense, sir,” Sam insisted. “Their civilization might have fallen thousands of years ago. Some of them Ascended, and are the gods now, and the others forgot about the basis for their technology and regard it as magic.”
“A lot of things make sense but aren’t actually true,” Jack said, “such as the Earth being flat and the sun going around it.”
“Actually a lot of easily observable phenomena can’t be explained by a flat Earth,” Daniel said, “and the Ancient Greeks knew the Earth was round. Eratosthenes of Cyrene calculated the circumference of the Earth fairly accurately in 270 BC…”
Jack gritted his teeth. “Daniel,” he said.
“Oh. Anyway, it’s a valid hypothesis,” Daniel said. “It’s possible that this is the planet of the Furlings. Although Loviatar and Mielikki were Earth gods, from the Finnish pantheon, and that might imply that they’re Goa’uld, or Asgard…”
“You can theorize all you like when we’re back at the SGC,” Jack said, “and it might be worth talking to Cierre some more, but for now let’s just concentrate on retrieving our weapons and getting the Hell out of here.”
They emerged from the portal on the first floor into a big empty room. Really empty, this time, entirely devoid of enemies. Tomi put his little gem to his eye, scanned the area, and announced it to be clear of invisible ambushers.
“That’s a really neat gadget,” Jack commented. “A lot more convenient than a TER.”
“I’m not parting with it, mate,” Tomi said. “Too bloody useful in my job. Of course,” he added, as they entered the short corridor leading out of the room and the large entrance hall of the Host Tower came into view, “there are times when it’s a bit pointless.”
The hall contained a welcoming committee. Thirty or so people and a… honking big… robot. About twelve feet tall, roughly humanoid in shape, with forearms like concrete blocks flanked by enormous built-in shields. Its Robocop-style head rotated to face the new arrivals. “I don’t believe this,” Jack exclaimed. “It’s a freakin’ Transformer.”
Most of the humans were standard man-at-arms types, clad in chain-mail or plate armor and wielding swords or halberds, but there were a couple of wizards and a trio of the women in white and blue who Jack now knew to be priestesses of Auril. There were also two people who Jack recognized.
One was the huge barbarian Jaevgrim, now wearing animal-hide armor instead of a chain-mail jerkin, grinning and brandishing his axe above his head. The other was Lady Cold Circle.
“Colonel O’Neill,” she greeted. “Daniel.”
“Hey, Melmyrna,” Jack replied. “Good to see you. I’d like to hang around and talk but I have places to go, people to kill, you know how it is.”
“Sorry, I can’t let you do that,” Lady Cold Circle said. She fixed her gaze on another of the group. “I am pleased to see that you are alive, Cierre.”
“No thanks to you,” Cierre responded.
“I have no wish to slay a valued servant of my goddess,” Lady Cold Circle went on. “You may depart without hindrance.”
“Fuck that,” Cierre spat out. “I have a debt of blood to repay and I will not turn aside from my course. It is you who should depart. Return to the Winter Palace, and pray for Auril’s forgiveness, for in serving Maugrim you are betraying the Frostmaiden.”
Lady Cold Circle’s helmet obscured her facial expressions but her surprise was evident in her voice. “What do you mean?”
“Lies!” Jaevgrim roared. “She seeks to sow dissension. Shut your vile mouth, freak.”
“You waste your insults, male,” Cierre said. “I’ve been called a freak for over a century and I’m used to it.” Jack raised his eyebrows. He didn’t understand what the barbarian meant by calling her a freak, as his impression was that Cierre’s black skin and pointed ears were normal for her race, but it was the ‘century’ that really caught his attention. She looked to be in her early twenties and yet she might be even older than Teal’c. “I’m going to kill you anyway, for abandoning me to die when we were supposed to be partners,” Cierre went on. “Insult me, or not, it makes no difference.”
“He is mine,” Daelan growled. “I was cheated of his head at our first meeting. I will not be cheated again.”
“Hah! No, I will take your head, Red Tiger weakling,” Jaevgrim taunted. “This time I wear your belt of strength and your enchanted armor. It is I who will prevail.”
“I have the right to kill him,” Cierre insisted.
“Oh, for cryin’ out loud,” Jack said, “we don’t have time for this.” He squeezed off a single shot and drilled Jaevgrim between the eyes.
Daelan glowered at Jack. “Now you have cheated me,” he complained.
Cierre laughed. “A neat way to solve our dispute, Colonel O’Neill. I approve.”
The reception committee had been thrown into confusion. One of the priestesses, who looked to be not much more than a teenager, had been splattered with Jaevgrim’s blood and brains and she was screaming hysterically. Some of the men-at-arms had started to shuffle backward. None of them looked enthusiastic about the prospect of a battle. Jaevgrim’s instant death, before he could even begin to raise his shield, had obviously shaken them even though they’d been prepared to face the mighty Daelan and the lethal Cierre.
“Shar, guide my hand,” Sharwyn said softly, and she began to pick out a tune on her guitar, starting very quietly but growing louder. Jack felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. He didn’t recognize the song but it held a distinct note of menace and dread. The light in the room, emanating from glowing torches in brackets on the walls, gradually began to dim.
“Fear of the dark, fear of the dark,” Sharwyn sang.
“You have a constant fear that something’s always near
Fear of the dark, fear of the dark
You have a phobia that someone’s always there.”
Suddenly she accelerated the tempo, striking the strings hard and blasting out an astonishing amount of sound for an acoustic instrument, and her voice rose to match.
“Have you run your fingers down the wall
And have you felt your neck skin crawl
When you’re searching for the light?
Sometimes when you're scared to take a look
At the corner of the room
You’ve sensed that something’s watching you.”
Several of the men-at-arms turned, a couple of them throwing away their weapons, and fled in blind panic. One of the wizards began to back away, the staff in his hand trembling, looking as if he was on the edge of flight. Lady Cold Circle spoke a phrase and gestured with her hand, almost causing Jack to shoot her, but he held back. Whatever ‘spell’ she cast didn’t bring skeletons climbing up out of the floor, or paralyze anyone, but it seemed to bring new heart to those in her immediate vicinity. The closest soldiers stood firm, the priestesses too, and the girl who was screaming stopped and began to wipe her face.
Cierre stepped forward ahead of the rest of the group. Around her the light dimmed even further until she was almost hidden by darkness.
“Naqadah,” Sam muttered. “Definitely. I can feel it.”
“Fear of the dark, fear of the dark,
You have a constant fear that something’s always near
Fear of the dark, fear of the dark
You have a phobia that someone’s always there.”
“Darkness take you!” Cierre shouted. She drew sword and axe and the weapons flashed red and blue in the dim light.
“Rage of the Red Tiger!” Daelan roared, not to be outdone.
Teal’c raised his great-sword and joined in. “Evil, meet my sword!” he bellowed, much more passionately than he had managed in the room above. Either the music was inspiring him or Daelan had been giving him lessons. “Sword, meet Evil!”
That was the final straw. The opposing force broke and fled en masse. Even those men-at-arms beside Lady Cold Circle turned and ran for their lives. She had countered the ‘magical’ fear inspired by Sharwyn’s song but obviously couldn’t do anything about the perfectly natural desire not to be decapitated by Daelan, Cierre, or the dreaded warrior Teal’c was impersonating.
Only Lady Cold Circle, her three priestesses, and one wizard, plus the motionless robot, remained. Lady Cold Circle folded her arms and stood unmoving.
Sharwyn continued to play her guitar for another few bars, as if caught up in the music, but then played a series of crashing chords and stopped. The lights brightened again, the darkness around Cierre dispersed, and Sharwyn walked out into the hall to join Cierre. The rest of the group followed.
The wizard looked at them and stroked his beard. “To fight you now would be futile,” he said. “I have no wish to throw my life away for no purpose. I trust you will not hinder me if I leave in peace?”
“If you agree to take no action against us on our way out of Luskan then, certainly, you may leave without hindrance,” Sharwyn said.
“Wait,” Cierre put in. “From the trim of your robes I see that you are an Aurilian.” The wizard nodded. “You should hear this also.”
“You say that in serving Maugrim I am betraying our goddess,” Lady Cold Circle said. “What do you mean by that? Neverwinter is opposed to our faith.”
“So is Maugrim,” Cierre said. “What do you know of his liege Morag?”
Lady Cold Circle shrugged. “She is some warlord or other. What do I care? She intends to sack Neverwinter and that is all I need to know.”
“Wrong,” Cierre stated. “She is a sarrukh.”
Lady Cold Circle’s head jerked back. “Impossible! The sarrukh vanished from the North more than thirty thousand years ago.”
“She has been hibernating in a pocket plane beneath Neverwinter,” Sharwyn said, “and now she plans to break free.”
“What’s a sarrukh?” Jack asked, simultaneously with Daniel asking the same question.
“The sarrukh were a race of reptile men who ruled this world tens of thousands of years ago,” Sharwyn explained. “They were cruel tyrants who enslaved all other races. They created the lizard-folk and the yuan-ti to be their servants and warriors. They were mighty mages. Among other things they created the translation amulets that you wear. Only a change in the climate of Toril brought an end to their reign. It grew too cold for them and their civilization fell.”
“And it is still too cold,” Lady Cold Circle said, “and any return they made would be brief.”
“Not so,” said Cierre. “They plan to use the heat of the molten rocks under Neverwinter, and Neverwinter Wood, to melt the great glaciers. The heat of the sun will not be reflected back from the ice and temperatures will rise.”
“The albedo of the planet would decrease,” Sam commented. “That would certainly have an impact on global temperatures.”
“There are gases frozen beneath the sea,” Cierre continued, “and if they were melted, and released into the air, they too would trap the sun’s heat. This is not something that I understand but I have penetrated their councils and overheard their plans. They believe that it will work.”
“It will,” Sam confirmed. “They must mean frozen methane deposits. One of the most powerful greenhouse gases. It’s something we’re starting to worry about on Earth. Runaway global warming. Temperatures would soar.”
“And Auril’s power would be broken forever,” Lady Cold Circle gasped. “What have I done?”
“Join with us and help destroy Maugrim,” Cierre said, “and thus atone for your error.”
Lady Cold Circle pulled off her helm. Her eyes were wide and her skin seemed even paler than usual. “I cannot,” she said. “I have made a terrible mistake.”
“Oh, crap,” Sharwyn said. “Don’t tell me you agreed to a geas?”
“I did,” Lady Cold Circle admitted. “It seemed harmless. The vow I took was to aid Maugrim against Neverwinter and I am a sworn foe of Neverwinter anyway.”
“I take it this is bad?” Jack asked.
“It’s what I warned you about when Vhonna tried to get us to agree to a geas,” Daniel said. “If she breaks her word the geas will kill her.”
“Slowly, and in agony,” Lady Cold Circle confirmed. “I have doomed myself.”
Sharwyn heaved a sigh. “All the times I have told the tale of Yoshimo and still people fall into the same trap.”
“Can nothing be done?” asked one of the junior priestesses. “Can the magic be dispelled?”
Lady Cold Circle shook her head. “The only way to preserve my life would be for me to continue to serve Maugrim. If I do that I am betraying my goddess and everything that I stand for. I will not do that.” The moment the words left her lips she doubled up, clutching her stomach, and her face went as white as a sheet. “It begins,” she gasped out. “Kill me.”
“What?” Jack shook his head. “You have to be kidding.”
“There has to be another way,” Sam said.
“There isn’t, not if she agreed to the geas,” Sharwyn said. “Well, she could abandon her goddess and keep on working for Maugrim, but that could send her to the Wall of the Faithless, and we’d have to kill her anyway.” She looked at the wizard. “What about you?”
“If you mean did I consent to a geas, the answer is no,” the wizard replied. “My loyalty is to the Arcane Brotherhood. I followed Maugrim because he had defeated Arklem Geeth, and was thus leader of the Brotherhood, and that is all. I am, however, also a Frost Wizard of Auril and I will not act contrary to the interests of my goddess. I shall depart from Luskan, until such time as a legitimate Archmage returns, and take no further part in this war.” After exchanging a few more words with Sharwyn, and with Cierre who urged him to spread the word of Maugrim’s true aims, the wizard departed.
“Suppose we took you back with us to our world?” Daniel suggested to Lady Cold Circle. “You’d be out of range of the, uh, magic.”
“Alas, it would not work,” Lady Cold Circle replied. “It’s in me. I can’t outrun it. I have heard of people who fled to other Planes to escape the effects of a geas but achieved naught except to hasten their deaths.”
“There has to be a better way out of it than killing you,” Jack said.
“I do not fear death, not if it is for my goddess,” she said. “If I die willingly for her that will be sufficient atonement and I will be well received.” A smile appeared briefly on her face. “I will be reunited with my mother.” Her smile faded and a grimace took its place. Her priestesses clustered around her and tried to ease her pain.
Jack ushered Daniel aside. “I don’t believe this,” he said. “She says she’s not going to work for Maugrim any longer and suddenly she’s dying? It has to be in her mind. What do they call it, psychosomatic?”
Daniel shook his head. “It fits exactly with what I read,” he said. “The idea isn’t to kill the victim; it’s to get them to do what the wizard wants. The pain starts up straight away, and gets worse and worse, but it could be a month before it’s fatal. If Melmyrna gave in and got back on side with Maugrim, which would probably mean her trying to kill us, she’d be cured instantly.”
“And I thought being turned into a za’tarc was bad,” Jack muttered. “There are a lot of really nasty things about this world.” He turned his attention back to Lady Cold Circle.
“If you must die,” Cierre was saying, “it is my duty to be the one to kill you. Unless…?” She directed her gaze at the lesser priestesses.
“Kill our High Priestess?” The one who spoke sounded horrified. “We could not do such a thing.”
“It would be to save me from agony and torment, Hlorna,” Lady Cold Circle pointed out.
“I could not,” the girl repeated. “Do not ask it of me.” Her fellow priestesses chorused agreement.
“Then I must,” Cierre said, “although it grieves me.”
“I’ll do it,” Tomi said. “Doesn’t bother me one bit.”
Cierre turned cold eyes on him. “No. You will not. This must be out of compassion and not out of enmity. It must be me.” She put her hand to the hilt of her sword.
“Wait,” Sharwyn said. “When you strike the Shield Guardian will activate and attack us.”
“She is right,” Lady Cold Circle said. “I had overlooked that.”
“We destroyed two of them on our way in,” Sharwyn went on, “but they were not easy fights. I would prefer to avoid the necessity if possible.”
“If it’s harmless now, I could rig a C4 charge to blow its head off,” Jack offered.
“Or you could take me somewhere out of its sight – or whatever it has instead of sight,” Lady Cold Circle suggested.
Cierre nodded. “I do not know if the next room would be far enough,” she said. “Perhaps the fourth floor? We know that is free from foes.”
“Unless someone has gone there from one of the others,” Sharwyn said. “I believe it is an acceptable risk, however.”
“Then so shall it be,” Lady Cold Circle said, and then her face contorted and her mouth clamped shut with an intensity that suggested she was choking back a scream. After a few moments she relaxed slightly. “Hurry,” she implored, in a gasp, and then closed her mouth tightly shut again.
Cierre led her back to the portal room, supporting her as Lady Cold Circle now had trouble walking unaided, and the others heard the sound of the portal activating.
“I’m surprised at how quickly Lady Cold Circle was convinced,” Jack remarked.
“Cierre spoke with conviction,” Teal’c said, “and she had already seen evidence that Maugrim was not to be trusted.”
“Yeah,” Jack said, “leaving Cierre to die, after she killed Kenadi for him, was probably about the worst move Maugrim could have made.” He turned to Sam. “So, you sensed Naqadah when Cierre did that thing with the darkness?”
“I did,” Sam said. “I can’t work it out. I don’t think it’s anything to do with the Goa’uld at all. Maybe we’ll learn more later.”
“I think your theory about the Furlings just got disproved,” Jack went on. “Those prehistoric reptile people don’t fit in.”
“They could have caused the collapse of the Furling civilization, and then fallen in their turn,” Sam said. “The answer’s probably in those books we wouldn’t let Daniel look at.”
Daniel didn’t respond to what Jack would have thought was an irresistible opening. He was staring in the direction of the portal room, a frown on his face, his thoughts obviously miles away – or on the fourth floor. Jack left him to it.
A minute later they heard the sound of the transporter once more and then Cierre re-entered the hall. She went to the priestess Hlorna and, with trembling hands, passed her the portal activation stone. “Here,” she said. “Collect her body and give her a proper burial.” She turned to Sharwyn. “We should go.”
Sharwyn looked into Cierre’s face. Jack did the same and saw a couple of tears trickling down the black girl’s cheeks. “Are you alright?” Sharwyn asked.
“No,” Cierre confessed. The flow of tears accelerated. “I feel… unclean. I have killed more times than I can count, thousands no doubt, but never like this.” She clenched her fists. “I had thought that it was impossible for me to hate Maugrim more than I did when he left me to die. I was wrong.”
Sam went to Cierre and tried to put an arm around her shoulders but the two sword scabbards, and the longbow, slung at Cierre’s back made the gesture impossible. Instead she took hold of Cierre’s left shoulder and gave it a squeeze. Cierre put her right hand over Sam’s and squeezed in return.
“Thank you,” Cierre said. She dabbed at her eyes with a piece of cloth and then disengaged herself from Sam’s hand. “I feel better now,” she said, although Jack doubted if she was being truthful. “Let us leave this tower now and go out into the city. I wish to kill someone who actually deserves it.”
Teal’c swung his sword up and rested it on his shoulder. “Indeed.”
Songs performed by Sharwyn are ‘Now that the magic has gone’ by John Miles, ‘Where the streets have no name’ by U2, ‘Get Back’ by The Beatles, and (with an ‘I’ turned into a ‘you’) ‘Fear of the Dark’ by Iron Maiden. Lyrics are used without permission and with no intent to profit. The chapter title comes from the Pink Floyd song ‘Take It Back’.