Debt Of Blood
Part 9: Here Be Dragons
Jack fired a short burst, more as a test than as an attack, but the bullets bounced off the wall of shields without effect. “Crap,” he said. “Looks like they’ve come up with a counter-tactic that works.” The mass of sarrukh warriors marched on; slowly, but inexorably.
“A testudo,” Daniel said. “They’re protected on all sides and from above too. We can’t even lob grenades into the middle of the formation.”
“It does look like a tortoise,” Sir Nevalle agreed. The translation amulets must have turned the Latin name into its equivalent in everyday language. “We use that formation for attacking archery units and castle entrances with murder holes above. With enchanted tower shields, or highly polished normal ones, even many spells will be reflected.”
“Probably best if we don’t try Teal’c’s staff weapon or zat on them, then,” Jack said.
“We could roll grenades up to their feet,” Sam suggested, “and they’d step over them before the grenades went off.”
“It would only work once,” Jack said. “I’d like to do something more… final.”
“Their shields will not stop Cloudkill,” the lady wizard put in. “I could kill at least a dozen of them and force the rest to break up their formation. You should get ready to take advantage.”
Jack dredged up her name from his memory again. Elora Danan – no, that was the baby in the movie ‘Willow’. Eltoora… something or other. “No, don’t do that, Eltoora,” he said. “The column fills the corridor and goes back around the bend out of sight. There must be more than a hundred of them. I’ve been waiting for the chance to kill a whole lot of them in one go and I think it’s here. Fall back to the last big chamber. Teal’c, it’s time to use my little toy.”
“I do not think this is an occasion for recreation, O’Neill.”
“I’m talking about the bomb… wait a minute, was that a joke?”
The corner of Teal’c’s mouth lifted fractionally. “Indeed it was, O’Neill.”
“Oh. Well, at least it was better than the one about the Setesh guard’s dripping nose.”
Sam’s eyes were fixed on the computer screen. “They’re starting to enter the cavern now, sir,” she reported. The Weeble was tucked away at one edge of the large chamber, protected from the forthcoming blast as much as was possible while still giving the cameras a good field of view, and the bomb was right in the middle.
“Good,” Jack said. “As soon as they’re all within the – crap!” He broke off as the sound of an explosion, much smaller than the one that would be produced by his home-made pipe bomb and in the opposite direction, reached his ears. “Uh-oh,” he said. “We have company.”
They had passed several side tunnels branching off from the route they had to take to reach Morag’s HQ. They didn’t have the manpower, or the time, to explore them for possible threats and so Jack had set Tomi and the demon girl to work rigging them with booby-traps. Partly to inflict damage on any approaching enemy force, but mainly to give a warning; grenades attached to tripwires were ideal for both purposes. Tomi and – Neeshka? Yes, that was right – had caught on to how to use grenades in mere seconds and had, enthusiastically and efficiently, done exactly what Jack had wanted. Some unsuspecting sarrukh warrior had just found out, probably terminally, just how efficiently.
Unfortunately it was at exactly the wrong time. “Crap,” Jack said again. “We could be boxed in.” The sounds of close combat, coming from back along the corridor, confirmed that the incursion hadn’t been just a single sarrukh walking unaware into the grenade trap and getting his head blown off. “We can’t risk getting pushed back nearer the bomb,” Jack decided. He handed the detonator to Sam. “Time it to get as many of them as possible.” She rolled her eyes, probably annoyed at him telling her something so blatantly obvious, but he didn’t take time to apologize. “Daniel, Cierre, watch over Carter. Everyone else, with me.”
The sarrukh was seven feet tall, had steel blades strapped to its wrists that projected out like artificial claws two feet long, and attacked with berserk fury. Sharwyn blocked its slashes with her staff-sword but was driven back and had no chance to counter-attack. Her opponent opened its jaws to bite and lunged at her head. Jack put three bullets through the sarrukh’s torso and dropped it in its tracks. Another one took its place immediately, swinging a dire mace at Sharwyn’s head, and, before Jack could switch to the new target, yet another blade-wielding reptilian sent Sir Damon sprawling and leapt past him straight at Jack.
The muzzle of the P-90 was pointing in the wrong direction. If Jack had tried to swing it around the sarrukh warrior would have gutted him like a fish before the gun was aimed. Instead Jack used the weapon to block the steel claw that drove at his belly. He twisted aside as the creature lashed out with its other claw, used a bayonet-fighting stroke to parry the second blow as well, and then smashed the butt of the P-90 into the sarrukh’s elbow. He followed through with the move, knocked the reptile’s arm aside, and finished with the muzzle of the gun pointing directly at its abdomen. He would have been perfectly positioned for a bayonet thrust, if the P-90 had had such a thing; as it didn’t, he simply pulled the trigger.
The sound of the shots was drowned out by a boom of cataclysmic proportions. Jack saw the sarrukh fall, three bullets through its chest, and spun back to face Sharwyn and the sarrukh that had been battering away at her. She didn’t need his help. The reptilian was half-turned away from Sharwyn, its mouth hanging open in what was presumably an expression of surprise or alarm, and it was wide open to the thrust she delivered into its abdomen. She rammed the blade of the staff-sword home up to the wooden shaft and ripped it free. The sarrukh fell; killed by the distraction of the bomb.
It was the same story everywhere. The moment of distraction proved fatal to several of the sarrukh. Teal’c, as unflappable as a machine, slew one reptilian with a staff blast and crushed the rib-cage of a second with the butt of the weapon. Daelan took the legs out from under one, clove through another’s skull, and then chopped down to finish off the one on the ground. Tomi slipped under the guard of a startled sarrukh and ripped open its belly from groin to… where its navel would have been if it had been a mammal.
The other Neverwinter natives weren’t quite as prepared for the explosion as Sharwyn’s crew, who had seen Earth weapons in operation several times before, but Jack’s prior warning – “There’s going to be a honking big bang” – did at least seem to have given them an advantage in their recovery time. Swords bit into reptilian flesh, High Priestess Sumia killed a sarrukh with a mere touch from her bare hand, and the wizard Durvur sent a stream of flaming darts from his fingers to impale two of the sarrukh. One died on the spot and the Neverwinter guardsmen fell on the other and hacked it to bits. Sir Damon, still prone from being knocked to the ground by a charging sarrukh, swung his sword and chopped through a sarrukh’s leg at the ankle. Young Neeshka leapt on its back, as it fell, and cut its throat.
After another fifteen seconds of furious action all the sarrukh were down and motionless. Jack riddled the last two with bullets as they tried to flee. He felt no remorse; Maugrim had been obeying the sarrukh when he had SG-1 locked up and tortured, and the sarrukh had started their campaign against Neverwinter by unleashing a plague on the unsuspecting humans, and as far as Jack was concerned that put them in the same category as the Goa’uld. And dead sarrukh couldn’t tell their comrades about SG-1’s weapons and tactics and come back with better-prepared friends.
The humans had taken casualties. There were several minor injuries, one of the Neverwinter guardsmen was down and obviously dead, and another had lost a limb. One of the sarrukh wrist-blades had sheared through his forearm half-way between wrist and elbow.
The two priestesses made for the casualties; Sumia went to the dead man, Linu to the one who had lost his arm. “This one first,” Linu said. “The dead won’t get any worse.”
“Indeed,” Sumia agreed. She joined the other woman and picked up the severed forearm from the floor.
“You’ll have to do the re-attaching,” Linu told Sumia. “I’m too… clumsy to get it into the right place.”
“I’ve noticed,” Sumia replied. She took hold of the man’s elbow with one hand and held the detached part of the arm against the bleeding wound. “Your mace is more of a hazard to your comrades than to your enemies. Although if you could knock this man unconscious, so that he stops moving around and moaning, this would be much easier.”
Linu put her hand on the wounded man’s forehead. “Be still,” she commanded. He froze rigidly in place. The two women began to chant, not in unison but each uttering separate invocations, making it almost impossible for Jack to make out what they were saying.
Sumia released her grip on the guard’s arm. The severed portion didn’t fall off. “That should do it,” she said. “Okay, take off the Hold.”
“Let your power of movement be restored,” Linu said. “Now, wiggle your fingers. Check that everything works.”
“I heard of a priestess who put an arm back the wrong way up once,” Sumia remarked.
Linu blushed. “That was me,” she confessed. “That’s why I asked you to do the reattachment.”
The guardsman, looking somewhat horrified, held his hand up in front of his face and flexed his fingers. His expression relaxed into one of relief. “Thank you, my Ladies,” he said. “It’s as good as new. I shall wield my sword once more in the service of Neverwinter.”
“Next time you wield it you should disengage from the thrust with more speed,” Sumia advised. She turned her attention to the other priestess. “Do you want to Raise the dead one, or shall I?”
“I’ll do it,” Linu said. “I don’t need co-ordination for that.” She waved a hand in the direction of the fallen guardsman. “Come back to life,” she said. The corpse stirred and sat up.
Jack’s jaw dropped. He made a conscious effort to close his mouth so that he wasn’t standing around looking like Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel. He’d just witnessed an astounding medical miracle and now he’d seen someone raised from the dead. Yes, he’d known they had that ability, and he’d encountered someone who’d come back from being killed; in fact he had a strong suspicion that Vhonna had killed him at least once during the torture sessions and brought him back to life, but he hadn’t seen the act before and he was amazed at how easily, almost casually, it was performed. It made the Nox’s resurrection ritual seem laborious by comparison and the Goa’uld sarcophagi look like something out of a cargo cult.
“O…kay,” Jack said. “As soon as everyone is patched up we’re out of here. Link up with Carter and move on again. And watch your feet when we get back to the big chamber. It’ll be pretty… messy.”
He was right. It was a scene of total carnage. He couldn’t even estimate the number of the dead. Even the ceiling was dripping blood.
“They marched right over the bomb,” Sam told him. “I detonated it inside their shield-wall. They didn’t stand a chance.”
“Better them than us,” Jack said.
“Indeed,” Teal’c said. “We have scored a great victory, O’Neill.”
“Yeah, well, we still have a war to win, people,” Jack said. His gaze fell on a sarrukh that had been sliced in half at the waist by a flying shield. He felt the meal that he’d eaten a couple of hours before, at the Moonstone Mask brothel, making an attempt to rise up and escape. He choked it back down. “Carter, did your Weeble make it?”
“It did, which was something of a surprise to me,” Sam said. “It’s a little dented, and one of the cameras has died, but it’s still usable.”
“Good. We might need it again. Are all these definitely dead?”
“A few of them, who must have been at the edges, came out of it alive,” Sam said. “Cierre made sure they were dead.”
“Bang bang Maxwell’s silver hammer made sure that they were dead,” Sharwyn sang to herself. “Jack,” she went on, “next time we see one of their wizards, don’t shoot it, okay? Leave it to me.”
Jack had found that the best tactics against sarrukh wizards was to start shooting at them as soon as they came into sight. They either died, which was mission accomplished, or else they went intangible in the same way as Maugrim had. They couldn’t stay intangible for long, however, and their offensive spells didn’t have the range of the P-90s. By the time the wizards could close to attacking range their protections were wearing off, and they could be shot, or else, if their protective infantry had been taken out, the Neverwinter sword-fighters could get to them and hack them to pieces.
“Why?” Jack asked. “The way we’re doing it works.”
“I need to recharge my spells,” Sharwyn said. “If I cast Spell Trap then anything they throw at me will get converted into energy I can use. You keep killing them too quickly.”
“That’s not a complaint I’m used to hearing,” Jack said. “Usually killing dangerous enemies as fast as possible is a good thing. But, yeah, it would be nice to have you back at full power. I’ll take it into consideration.” He turned to the group as a whole. “Okay, people, time to move on. Try not to step in any blood or… worse things.”
The door that blocked their path was twenty feet high and built out of solid balks of timber that looked as if they would resist cannon shot. “Haedraline said there was going to be some kind of guardian here, watching over the entrance to Morag’s chambers,” Daniel said, “but it wasn’t in residence the last time she came this way, so she couldn’t tell me anything more.”
“I think it’s in position now,” Jack said, “and I’ll bet the guardian isn’t just some guy with a clip-board checking visitor IDs. Let’s not walk through Door Number One until we know a little more. Carter, will the Weeble fit under that door?”
Sam opened up her lap-top, established the link to the cameras, and held the device down to the gap beneath the timbers. “I can’t make anything out from this angle, sir,” she said. “I’ll have to push it through and hope that it ends up facing the right way. There’s a blind spot now that one of the cameras is dead.”
“Do it, Carter,” Jack said.
Sam tilted the Weeble over on its side and gave it a hard shove. It slid under the door and skittered away. The image windows on her screen became a dizzying blur and then eventually stabilized. “That’s better,” Sam said. “Ah, good. No sign of the door in the picture so it looks as if we’ve lucked out. The dead lens must be facing this way. So, let’s….” Her voice tailed away.
“What the Hell is that?” Jack asked. One of the windows showed a huge clawed foot, and above it a mighty leg covered in scales, and then something else came into view. A section of a wing.
“A dragon,” Sharwyn said. “This is… not good.”
“A dragon? Really? Fascinating.” Daniel sounded almost pleased.
“No, not a dragon,” Sharwyn said, as a second moving object appeared in the screen’s other window. “Two dragons.”
“So how tough is it going to be?” Jack asked. “You killed a dragon before, Cierre, right?”
“Two, in fact, although not at the same time,” Cierre confirmed, “but one was young and weak. When I fought the ancient red dragon, Klauth, I had an edge. Klauth was draining the life force from other dragons to increase his own strength. Tomi switched his Ritual Sphere for one holding the essence of a dead dragon. It drained his life energy, instead of replenishing it, and he was badly hurt before I even struck a blow.”
“Damn. So, not something we can do here.”
“I know a song that can wrap a dragon up in chains,” Sharwyn said. “I’ve never done it myself but Giles used it several times. Unfortunately I don’t think I can amend it to deal with two dragons. Not when I’m down below full strength, anyway.”
“I should have asked General Hammond for more rocket launchers,” Jack said. “Teal’c, how effective do you think your staff weapon will be against something that big?”
“It is difficult to gauge their size from those images, O’Neill,” Teal’c said. “There is nothing in view against which to judge the scale.”
“Klauth was almost a hundred feet long, but he was extremely large for his kind,” Cierre said. “Those two look like a silver and a copper to me. They are smaller than red dragons. Silver dragons are perhaps seventy-five feet long at most, copper dragons rarely more than sixty.”
“Hard to tell, from the pictures, but I’d say the two of them look to be about the same size,” Sam said.
“Copper and silver dragons are Good,” Sir Nevalle put in. “They would not work with the evil Old Ones. They must be prisoners. We should release them rather than fighting them.”
“That doesn’t sound right,” Jack said. “They keep dangerous prisoners here, right on the route to the leader’s HQ, with no way in that doesn’t pass through this place? I don’t buy it.”
“This simple lock would never hold them,” Sharwyn said, indicating the latch, “unless they are here willingly or their minds have been dulled by dark magics.”
“All dragons were the enemies of the Old Ones,” Sumia said, “whether Good or Evil. I suspect that these ones are slaves, bent to their will, either by magic or by torture.”
“Like Maugrim was trying to do to us,” Jack said. “Any chance you could break the conditioning?”
Sharwyn, Sumia, Linu, and Eltoora all exchanged glances. “I fear not,” Eltoora said. “Dragons are highly resistant to magic. Anything that has overcome that resistance will not be dispelled easily.”
“So it looks as if we’ll have to do it the hard way,” Jack said. “T, buddy, take it that they’re, say, fifty-five, maybe sixty, feet long. What do you think?”
“I fear that the staff weapon will inflict only superficial wounds upon beasts of such size, O’Neill,” Teal’c said, “especially if the metallic appearance of the scales is an accurate representation of their composition. Part of the energy could be reflected from the surface and be wasted.”
“The scales are indeed metallic and they can reflect some spells,” Eltoora confirmed.
“Then my staff weapon will not suffice,” Teal’c said. “I suspect that my zat’nik’tel will be similarly impotent against these… dragons.”
“The P-90s aren’t exactly designed for taking out something the size of a bus,” Jack said, “so it looks like we’ll have to use grenades. Probably quite a few to take down those big mothers. We don’t have all that many left and I’d intended holding some back in case we need them against Morag.”
“Could we, uh, sneak past them invisibly?” Daniel suggested.
“Dragons can detect invisible creatures,” Eltoora told him.
“I could get myself past them,” Sharwyn said. “I can make myself not only invisible but completely undetectable. Alas, I cannot extend that screen to cover others and, alone, I could achieve nothing against Morag. Unless…” Her forehead creased. “Our mission is not common knowledge, and therefore secret,” she mused. “You are military, Jack, and I am in your service, at least for the time being, am I not?”
“Yeah,” Jack agreed. “And your point is?”
“If I am working secretly for the military then I can kill Morag and all with her,” Sharwyn said. “A sound that could kill someone at a distance… Unfortunately it would kill everything in this cavern complex including us. We won’t be there to be blamed… Very much something to use only as a last resort.”
Jack swallowed. “I don’t think we’re anywhere near that point yet,” he said. “Save it for if we’re surrounded, out of ammunition, and just about to die. There are plenty of other things we can try first. Like, maybe you could call that angel, Egeria, again?”
“She could kill one dragon, certainly, but perhaps not two at once,” Sharwyn said. “Also she might be angered by Linu’s presence. I’d rather not risk it.”
“I could poison a couple of the Old One corpses,” Sumia suggested. “We throw them in, the dragons eat them, and then they die.”
“Dragons do not easily succumb to poison,” Eloora said.
“Mine is no common poison,” Sumia said. “It is probable, however, that they have been forbidden to molest the Old Ones. That prohibition may extend to dead bodies also. The only way to find out is to try.”
“Poison, poison,” Sharwyn muttered. “Your cruel device – no, wait, Church of the Poison Mind. That’s it! We could poison their minds against each other. Make them fight. Whichever one won would be badly injured and vulnerable.”
“Sounds good,” Jack said. “Can you do it?”
Sharwyn half-closed her eyes and her forehead wrinkled up. She pursed her lips. “I think so,” she said, after a moment. “It will take me a while to think of a suitable song, I’m afraid. Nothing immediately comes to mind. ‘Love is a battlefield’, perhaps? No, not quite right. Also, dragons are surrounded by an aura of primal fear. I will need to sing a song that will counter it or our men may break and flee. Our priestesses will not be able to shield such a large number without my help.”
“I think that I and Durvur, working together, can achieve the desired end and turn the dragons against each other,” Eltoora said. “We need not affect both to be successful. If we can get one to attack the other its victim will fight back even if we have not reached its mind.”
“Great,” Jack said. “Go for it.”
“It’s like Jurassic Park III,” Jack commented. “The part with the big one with the sail on its back versus the T-Rex.”
“That wasn’t an accurate portrayal,” Daniel said. “Spinosaurus aegyptiacus was probably a fish-eater and it didn’t have a powerful enough bite to kill a Tyrannosaurus.”
Jack ignored Daniel’s quibbles. “The copper-colored one’s going down,” he said. “Time for us to make our move.”
Teal’c and Daelan threw open the heavy doors. The group advanced through them, Jack in the lead, and faced the dragons. The silver one, slightly the larger of the two, was engaged in tearing out the throat of the fallen copper. It noticed the newcomers, let go of the other dragon, and opened its jaws to utter a bellowing roar. White vapor, a super-cooled gas according to what the locals had said, billowed from its nose and mouth and poured slowly down to the ground.
Jack had taken the M79 back from Teal’c. It was loaded with a HE-DP grenade. The open mouth was an irresistible target and Jack raised the weapon, took aim, and fired.
The grenade flew true. It struck the gaping maw, went in, and exploded. The dragon’s skull split apart and the colossal creature toppled to the ground.
“Magnificent!” Sir Nevalle exclaimed. “You are an excellent marksman, Colonel O’Neill.”
“That was more luck than judgment,” Jack confessed, as he lowered the M79. “This weapon isn’t the most accurate in the world. I was aiming at the mouth, yeah, but I’d have been happy hitting it anywhere around the head. A one-shot kill is way better than I expected.”
“And I won’t back down.” Sharwyn brought her song to an end, placed her guitar on the ground, and turned to face Jack. “You’re too modest, Jack. It was a superb shot and you deserve a reward.” She came right up to Jack, threw her arms around him, and hugged him close.
It wasn’t exactly unpleasant. He could smell blood, smoke, and sweat, Sharwyn hadn’t had any chances to bathe lately, but also the scent of a warm woman. Her firm but yielding breasts pressed against his chest and he could feel the heat of her body all the way down to his… groin. It took about three-fifths of a second for his body to react.
And then Sharwyn reached up to his head, pulled it down to hers, and kissed him.
It would have been so easy to return the kiss. Sharwyn was beautiful, charming, intelligent, courageous, and downright sexy. There was only one down side.
She wasn’t Carter.
Jack didn’t respond to her lips or her probing tongue. He stood rock-still. After a couple of seconds Sharwyn released her grip, stopped the kiss, and stepped back. Her smile faded away. She turned her head, looking toward where Sam was watching with her face set in an absolute lack of any expression, and then turned back to Jack.
“It seems I have made a mistake, Colonel O’Neill,” Sharwyn said. “Forgive me.” Her tone was neutral, devoid of emotion, but Jack was sure she was a long, long, way from being happy. She spun around, went over and retrieved her guitar, and slung it over her shoulder. “We waste time. The way is clear. We can now strike at Morag.” She strode off without looking back.
Jack let out a long breath and followed.
“Handcarts,” Jack said. He used a foot to shove a sarrukh corpse out of the way and bent to stare more closely at the vehicle. “What the Hell are they moving around on handcarts?”
“It’s a little late to ask them, Jack,” Daniel pointed out.
“I could Speak With Dead if you believe it to be important,” Sumia offered.
Jack shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. Whatever they were going to collect is just going to stay where it is.”
“The sleepers, I’ll bet,” Sam said. “There are sixteen carts and they wake sixteen every half-hour. These guys were going to bring a batch from out of those stone columns, take them to Morag, and she’d have woken them up.”
“Not a very efficient way of doing it,” Jack said. “It would be a lot quicker if she went to them.”
Daniel touched an index finger to his lips. “It’s a status thing, Jack,” he said. “She’s a semi-divine queen. She’d lose face if she went running around doing her own errands.”
“Maybe there’s some fixed installation that does the actual awakening,” Sam said. “If there is, and we wreck it, then that takes them out of the game for good. Neverwinter will be safe.”
There was a murmur of approving words from the Neverwinter soldiers. “Let us, then, attack at once,” Sir Nevalle said.
Jack nodded. “If they were expecting us they wouldn’t have sent a bunch of lackeys out with these carts and not much in the way of weapons. Either Morag hasn’t heard that we’re here or else she thought we couldn’t get past the dragons. We’d better hit her before she catches on that she’s wrong.”
“Remember that Egeria warned us that we must leave Morag until last,” Sharwyn said.
“I’d interpret that as meaning that we won’t be able to kill her until her retinue is dead,” Daniel said. “I don’t think that putting a few bullets through her beforehand will do any harm.”
“If we can even recognize her,” Sam said. “All these… things look alike to me.”
“She’s an evil queen, Carter,” Jack said. “Think of the Goa’uld. You can always spot the one in charge. Gold, jewels, silks, all the best weapons and technology.”
“Good point, sir,” Sam said.
“I have seen her projected image,” Daelan said. “She is taller than most Old Ones and wears a crown tipped with many long spikes. More spikes project from her armor, rising high from her back and her shoulders, and sticking out from her wrists and arms.”
“Great,” Jack said. “Half lizard, half porcupine. She should be pretty recognizable.”
“According to Haedraline’s map Morag will be just past that door,” Daniel said. “Through the archway tastefully styled to represent the mouth of a fanged serpent.”
“Damn, it’s flush to the ground and the walls,” Jack said. “No room to get the Weeble through. Sharwyn, would you do that thing where you can see into the next room?”
“I could, Colonel O’Neill,” Sharwyn said, “but I’m still a little low on power. I’d rather use what I have for something else. I’m sure Eltoora or Durvur will have Clairvoyance prepared.”
Jack frowned. He didn’t think Sharwyn was the kind of person who would stop giving her all to the mission because she was pissed that he’d turned her down, but he could be wrong; her sudden change from calling him ‘Jack’ to using ‘Colonel O’Neill’ might be an indication that she saw herself as a woman scorned.
“Clairvoyance, you say? Certainly,” Durvur offered. “I will inform you of what I see.”
“Thanks,” Jack said.
Gandalf Lite went through some kind of ritual, waving his arms around like a character in a bad kung fu movie, and then he held a glass eye up to his face and peered into it. “Ah,” he said. “It seems that the room beyond the door is not, in fact, Morag’s chamber. It is a small room, almost bare, empty apart from… six, seven… eight Old One warriors. There is a further door on the far side. Beyond it is a small, empty, room and then a set of double doors. I cannot see beyond those doors. I suspect that they are warded against scrying.”
“Haedraline must have skimped on the details,” Daniel said. “A guardroom, I presume.”
Durvur nodded. “The warriors seem to be impressive physical specimens, taller and broader than the ones we have fought thus far, and they wear partial armor of chain mail,” he said. “No doubt they are Morag’s elite guards.”
“Eight of them,” Jack mused. “I’d like to keep the advantage of surprise when we hit Morag. Think you can take them without our guns?” He raised an eyebrow and looked at the close combat experts.
“Of course,” Sir Nevalle stated.
“We can but try,” said Daelan.
“I do not know their capabilities and so can make no firm promise,” Cierre said. “I would be surprised if we cannot defeat them, however.” A half-smile flickered across her lips. “Possibly fatally surprised.”
“Wise words, lassie,” Callum said. “I think we can do it, Colonel O’Neill. You can always use your… effective but noisy… weapons to tip the odds if we are outmatched.”
“Luckily there’s an intermediate stage,” Jack said. “Teal’c’s zat.”
“Indeed, O’Neill,” Teal’c said. “I shall use my zat’nik’tel upon those we cannot immediately engage in mêlée combat or upon any who gain the upper hand.”
“Right,” Jack said. “The lead element will be Cierre, Daelan, Sir Nevalle, Sir Damon, Callum, and Teal’c. Tomi, Neeshka, you follow them in and try to get behind the lizards. I’ll go next with Carter, Sharwyn, Sumia, and Linu. Everyone else, wait here.”
Swords slid from scabbards. Teal’c drew his zat and turned it on. The barrel rose into firing position, the active zat resembling a snake poised to strike, and Jack noticed Eltoora staring intently at the alien weapon. Studying it. He couldn’t imagine that she could work out the principles behind a zat just from looking at it but, even so, something about her expression made him uncomfortable.
“Ready?” A chorus of assent came in response to Jack’s question. “Okay, go!”
Daelan threw the door open. Cierre was first through, with the Neverwinter knights only a step behind, followed by Daelan and Teal’c. Jack heard the sound of swords meeting steel and biting into flesh, Daelan shouting his battle-cry “Rage of the Red Tiger!”, and then the ‘zap’ of Teal’c’s zat. Not quite as silent as Jack had intended but at least it was a lot quieter than gunshots.
The two thieves slipped through the doorway and moved out of sight. Jack advanced until he could see inside the other room and find out what was going on.
Three of the sarrukh lay still on the floor. One was unmarked, presumably a victim of Teal’c’s zat, and the other two were obvious corpses bearing gaping wounds from sword or axe blows. Four of the remaining five were engaged in combat, swinging double-headed maces or wrist blades against their human opponents. The final sarrukh was unarmed. Its skin was a mottled grey instead of green, like the magical protective shielding some of Maugrim’s wizards had used, and Sir Damon’s sword strokes were bouncing off it with no visible effect.
“Rise, Morag’s fallen,” it said, “and kill your slayers in her name.”
The corpses arose. The wounds healed, even as they climbed to their feet, and they returned to the fray immediately. The zat victim, however, stayed down. Unconscious, not dead, and therefore unaffected.
“Rats,” Jack said. He advanced into the room but held his fire. “Somebody kill that… turbulent priest.”
Sir Damon was doing his best to obey but was achieving nothing more than blocking Teal’c’s line of fire with the zat. Behind the reptilian priest Tomi and Neeshka appeared and began to stab it in the back. Tomi’s dagger and Neeshka’s short-sword struck home again and again.
“This is so exciting,” Neeshka squealed as she stabbed. “I’m fighting alongside genuine heroes.” The grey skin of the sarrukh priest suddenly turned green. Jack saw Neeshka pulling her sword back from a thrust with its blade red to the hilt. The priest sagged at the knees. Tomi’s blade glinted between the reptilian’s legs, slashing at an artery, and blood gushed out onto the floor. Sir Damon brought his sword down on its head and split its skull open.
“Victory!” Cierre cried. The head of her opponent rolled on the ground and its truncated body toppled. Daelan smashed a sarrukh warrior to the ground and Callum rammed his sword into its chest. Sir Nevalle ran one through, Teal’c swung his staff weapon one-handed and knocked a sarrukh to the ground, and with his other hand Teal’c zatted one of the newly-risen former corpses. Ten seconds later all of the sarrukh guards were down and, this time, they weren’t going to be getting up again.
“Nice work, people,” Jack praised. He trained his P-90 on the far door of the chamber. If the sounds of the conflict had reached Morag and her retinue, and guards came to investigate, he was going to welcome them with hot lead.
“You have earned the sword, child,” Cierre said to Neeshka. “You may keep it.”
“Wow, thanks,” Neeshka said, grinning widely. “This is great! A magic sword, with an actual name, and it’s mine.”
“Magic…” Sharwyn mused. “Of course. These,” she gestured at where Teal’c was delivering second zat blasts to his victims to turn their unconsciousness into death, “were not Morag’s elite guards. I detect nothing stronger than basic enchantments from their weapons. No greater than plus one on the Xander Scale. Her personal guard would be better-equipped. Significantly so.”
“And they’re behind that door,” Jack said. “We’d better get ready for a tough fight.” He tilted his head to one side and stared at Sharwyn. “The Xander Scale?”
“I shall cast Heroism on us all before we go in, Colonel O’Neill,” Sharwyn said. “It will have no great effect on those who are already highly skilled warriors, such as you or me, but the soldiers from the castle, and young Neeshka, will be brought almost up to our level.”
“Sounds good,” Jack said. “We could use all the edge we can get.”
“There are similar benefits that Durvur and I could bestow upon all of us,” Eltoora said. Sumia and Linu chimed in with their own offers.
“Mine will take longer, but also last longer,” Sharwyn said. “Delay your buffing spells until I have cast mine.” She brought her guitar into playing position, as the wizards and priestesses signified their agreement, but then paused with her fingers over their strings. “If I could think of the right words I would make it Super-Heroism, bringing all of us up to the standard of some of the mightiest heroes of Faerûn, but I’ve been wracking my brains since we came through the portal and I haven’t got it right yet. Is there a… collective noun for your team, Colonel O’Neill?”
“There is,” Jack said. “SG-1.”
Sharwyn grimaced. “I was hoping for something with only one syllable,” she said, “but at least it’s shorter than listing your names. One, shone, gone… no, no usable rhymes there… ah, wait, friends, mends, bends – sends! I have it. One moment… yes, that will do.” She smiled as she trailed her fingers lightly over the guitar strings. “There will be a reaction afterward,” she warned. “When it wears off we will be exhausted. Too weak, perhaps, to fight effectively.”
“How long does it last?”
“No,” Jack said, shaking his head. “The being a superhero part.”
“Oh.” Sharwyn pursed her lips. “With this many… an hour and a half, maybe two hours.”
“That should be plenty long enough,” Jack said. “Go for it.”
Sharwyn struck a chord and began her tune. It wasn’t a rock number, as Jack was expecting, but a march that he’d heard played by military bands; especially British ones, but never with these lyrics.
“Some talk of Sorkatani,” Sharwyn sang,
“And some of Azoun IV,
Of Drizzt and Elminster
And the Knights of Myth Drannor,
But of all the world’s great heroes
There are none who can outshine
SG-1 and friends,
Those who Nasher sends,
And the Neverwinter Nine.”
“I feel no different,” Durvur said. “It seems your spell has failed.”
“I haven’t cast it yet,” Sharwyn responded. “That was merely… setting the parameters.” Her fingers began to dance again, using only the bass strings, pounding out a rhythm that Jack thought he recognized. After a couple of bars she switched to using her thumb on the bass strings and flicked out her fingers to strike the treble strings. Her left hand seemed almost to blur as she kept up the bass line while simultaneously playing a melody; high notes that went on and on, stretching out to an extent that should have been impossible from an acoustic instrument.
Jack nodded to himself. Yes, he had recognized the tune, and he remembered seeing it performed on TV at the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert, with Mick Ronson of the Spiders From Mars, visibly showing signs of the illness that would kill him a year later, playing those same sustained notes. And Bowie singing.
“I,” Sharwyn began, “I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be heroes
Just for one day…”
Jack felt a surge of energy flooding through him. He was… fired up. Ready for anything. His vision was sharper, his hearing more acute, and the weaponry he was carrying was suddenly virtually weightless. He couldn’t resist tossing out a movie quote. “I can see things no-one else can see, do things no-one else can do.”
“It’s all in the reflexes, Jack,” Daniel chimed in. He took off his glasses and stowed them away in a pocket.
Jack raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t think ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ was your type of movie, Daniel.”
“Are you kidding? I love that movie,” Daniel replied.
“Next time we have a movie night, it’s on the list,” Jack said. “Here’s to the Army and the Navy, the battles they have won; here’s to America’s colors, the colors that never run. May the wings of liberty never lose a feather.”
Daniel grinned. “You ready, Jack?”
Jack brought his P-90 to the high port position and grinned back. “I was born ready.”
The final door guarded its secrets well. Some kind of shield on it blocked the wizards’ Clairvoyance spells, the keyhole didn’t go all the way through, and there was no gap through which Sam’s Weeble could be inserted. The only way to find out what lay beyond the door was to open it.
It turned out that what lay behind Door Number One was… Morag. Or at least an image of her.
“You are powerful, for human slaves,” the projection said.
Jack replied by shooting Morag twice in the face, just in case his assessment of it as a hologram was incorrect, and met with exactly the reaction he expected. No effect whatsoever except that the holographic image wavered slightly around the points of impact. He walked straight through the hologram, ignoring the speech it was delivering in typical Evil Overlord style, and went full auto on the sarrukh warriors beyond. Beside him Sam and Daniel did the same, Teal’c opened fire with his staff weapon, and the locals fired crossbow bolts and arrows.
The real Morag was fifty yards away, across a stone courtyard, standing behind her soldiers. Some of the missiles hit her, as the warriors in front of her fell dead, but they simply bounced off. She raised her hands and sent bolts of electricity streaking toward the human intruders.
Eltoora and Durvur retaliated in kind. Morag’s bolts fizzled out as they hit the shields, force fields or whatever, that the mages had put up; the bolts aimed at Morag hit, and seemed to sink into her, but had no effect.
Beyond Morag there was an enclosure, fairly large, divided off from the main chamber by a ten-foot high stone wall. There was a gap in the wall, maybe twenty feet across, with a stone statue just in front of the middle of the opening. The statue looked as if it could be meant to be a primitive ancestor of the sarrukh, crouching on all fours, with a crest rising from the middle of its back like something out of a Discovery Channel show about the reptiles that came just before the dinosaurs. One ugly mother. On the far side of the statue, through the gap, Jack could see a whole bunch of sarrukh kneeling in a circle. Colored lights played around their heads. Jack couldn’t hear much over the noise of gunfire but he’d be prepared to bet that they were chanting.
A lightning bolt shot upward from one of the kneeling reptilians. It coincided exactly with a bolt hitting Morag.
“They’re protecting her,” Daniel deduced, as the rest of the Neverwinter party entered the chamber and fanned out. “It’s some kind of ritual. We have to kill them to take down her shields.”
“Ya think?” Jack said. The wall would give them protection from P-90 fire but he’d kept hold of the grenade launcher after taking down the dragon. He started to change over his weapons, to lob a grenade into the enclosure, but before he could get the M79 into firing position there was movement in the gap. Not new enemies, or the praying sarrukh getting up, but a barrier of slashing swords that were wielded by no living hands.
Morag began to stride toward the humans. She was big, about eight feet tall even not counting her helmet spikes, and she came on like a T-Rex chasing Jeff Goldblum.
One of the wizards, Jack didn’t see which one, threw a Fireball at the circle of kneeling reptilians. The wall of swords obscured his view too much to see if it had caused any casualties.
Tomi popped up, seemingly from nowhere, at Jack’s side. “Blast the statue, boss,” he said. “Bet it’s where the Blade Barrier is coming from.”
“That seems logical,” Jack said, and he aimed the M79 and fired. He scored a direct hit but the fragmentation grenade didn’t shatter the statue. The stone chipped and cracked but remained intact. The swords kept on stabbing and slashing away.
Morag broke her stride, still ten yards short of Jack and the others, and waved her arms. “Come forth, my Hands,” she called, in tones of command.
Jack felt a fleeting urge to point out that they were on the ends of her arms. He suppressed the urge and carried on reloading the grenade launcher. Suddenly a clawed hand lashed out of nowhere and knocked it from his hands.
“Holy crap!” Jack jumped back as the hand struck again. There was a huge sarrukh warrior right in front of him. It held a massive double-bladed axe in its other hand. Flames licked up from the steel blade. The sarrukh pulled back the hand with which it had grabbed at Jack and took a two-handed grip on the axe haft. It raised the axe and took a swing.
Jack had no idea how the creature had gotten so close without warning. It hadn’t approached invisibly; Tomi had been scanning the area ahead through his little gem and couldn’t have missed it. He dodged away from the axe blow and, as he moved, saw that there were more of the sarrukh warriors all along the line. Some axe-wielders and some using pairs of short-swords. Getting up close and personal with the wizards and the other members of SG-1. Exactly what he’d wanted to avoid.
Well, Jack knew, like the German general said, no battle plan ever survives first contact with the enemy. Everybody knew what they were supposed to do. Jack would just have to leave them to get on with it and concentrate on staying alive.
Tomi was fighting the sarrukh, pitting his dagger against the huge axe, and he was holding his own. Dodging as the axe swept down, stepping in and stabbing, and then dodging again as his knife glanced harmlessly from the reptilian’s armored torso and the axe swung once more.
Jack swung up his P-90 on its sling, pointed the muzzle at the axe-wielder, and fired. Holes appeared in the armor but that was all. Damn protective magic. He gave it another burst, letting the recoil walk the fire up the body to the head, and was rewarded by a slight change in the creature’s skin color and a blossom of blood on the side of its jaw.
Tomi stabbed it again, driving his blade through one of its forearms, and the sarrukh lost its grip on the axe with that hand and the blow it was delivering went wide.
Jack brought the gun barrel down and fired again. He shot it directly in one of its eyes and it went down like a felled tree.
Jack looked around to size up the situation. The sarrukh warriors had done some damage. Durvur the wizard was a headless corpse on the floor. Two of the Neverwinter guardsmen were down too. He saw Callum the dwarf and Sir Nevalle working together to knock a sarrukh down and hack it to pieces, saw Daelan battering away at one and driving it back, and then he saw Daniel, his P-90 nowhere to be seen, grappling with one of the reptilians.
Jack sidestepped, trying to get a clear line for a shot, and then he saw Daniel’s hand come up holding his Beretta. He shoved the barrel into the sarrukh’s gaping mouth and pulled the trigger repeatedly. The back of its head burst open, blood and brains splattered the floor behind it, and it toppled.
Cierre was fighting two opponents; one of the few survivors of the original sarrukh infantry to have made it through the hail of fire and reached the human line, and one of the elite warriors who had been teleported, or whatever, to them by Morag. She killed the ordinary sarrukh but, simultaneously, the big one stabbed her in the stomach. Cierre wobbled on her feet but struck back. Her hand-axe glanced from the sarrukh’s neck. It gave a fanged grin and ripped its sword free in a welter of blood. Cierre staggered back and her sword and axe fell from her hands. The triumphant sarrukh turned away to deal with an attack from Sir Damon.
Jack couldn’t fire without risking hitting his own side. Before he could decide what to do he saw Cierre’s left hand go up to her back, pull free her spare sword, and then bring it down in a savage strike to the back of the sarrukh’s head. Her previous axe stroke must have broken the sarrukh’s protections and the sword cleaved through bone and split the reptile’s skull apart.
“Victory!” Cierre cried, and then dropped to her knees in a pool of blood.
Jack returned to sizing up the situation. He saw that Morag was now fighting hand-to-hand with a stranger; a tall man in black, wearing a cape but no armor, who seemed to be trying to bite her. Jack had no idea where the guy had come from but any help was welcome. If Morag was really unkillable right now she could do an awful lot of damage. Keeping her busy, while they worked on getting rid of her protections so they could blow the prehistoric bitch’s head off, was definitely a good idea.
Sumia had gone to Cierre’s aid. The rest of the human force was getting the upper hand now and the sarrukh warriors were going down. Jack retrieved his grenade launcher from the floor and picked up where he had left off.
He loaded the M79 with a HE-DP round. It would be better suited to blowing the statue apart than a normal fragmentation grenade. Of course he could go over there and use what was left of his C4 to destroy it but he had a feeling Morag would take violent exception to that and, if she was invulnerable, the others wouldn’t really be able to protect him. Better to do it at a distance.
As he closed the breech of the M79 he saw Morag punch her hand through the chest of the man in black and rip out his heart. He didn’t drop dead; he seemed to disintegrate and turn into a small cloud of white mist.
In his place, as the mist drifted away, there appeared… an angel. Another winged girl, like Egeria, but this one wasn’t dressed as a biker chick. Blue and white flowing robes, a golden circlet at her brow, and wings of pure white. Much more the traditional angel; although definitely a warrior, as she bore a shield and held a mace.
She ignored Morag. Instead she headed directly for… Sharwyn. She lashed out with her mace and Sharwyn was forced to defend herself with her staff-sword.
“No!” Linu yelled. “What are you doing? She’s my friend. Attack Morag, you idiot!”
Morag, now free to act, began to wave her arms again. She took no notice of a hail of gunfire from Daniel that bounced off her armored body. “Come forth, servants of the Old Ones,” she called.
“Crap,” Jack said. “This can’t be good.” He held his fire; destroying the statue, and opening the way to the priests or whatever they were who were protecting Morag, could wait until he saw what she was summoning up this time. It might well be something that would make a better target for the grenade.
It was, or rather they were; two huge creatures rose up seemingly from out of the floor, forty yards away, and advanced. One of them was about ten feet tall, grey-skinned, and built like a gorilla on steroids. It had a wide mouth, filled with teeth like those of the rubber shark in the crappy Jaws sequels, and six eyes arranged in vertical lines down the sides of its face.
The other creature looked even more like an arch-enemy of Spider-Man. Not quite as tall but even broader, bipedal but with a carapace like a beetle, and with huge mandibles like a soldier ant’s jaws.
“Jack!” Sharwyn yelled. “Kill the Umber Hulk! Quickly!”
She was still engaged in a desperate struggle against the angel, only barely holding her own, and if she gave priority to warning about something else then Jack was damn well going to take her seriously. The only snag was that he didn’t know which one of the two monsters she meant. “Which…?” he began, and then he saw the angel hit Sharwyn so hard that, even though she parried the blow, she was knocked to her knees. It didn’t look as if she would be able to answer any time soon. Jack decided that the grey monster was the one that looked most like the Incredible Hulk and he chose that as his target.
The HE-DP grenade struck the creature squarely in the middle of the chest and went off. It blasted a foot-wide hole through the massive body and killed it instantly.
“Wrong one!” Sharwyn screamed.
Almost at the same time Linu shouted at the angel again. “You’re attacking the wrong one! Stop it!” The winged girl ignored her and kicked Sharwyn in the face. Daelan came up behind the angel and swung his axe. She whirled around, blocked with her shield, and then bludgeoned Daelan to the ground.
Jack let the M79 drop and grabbed his P-90 again. That was quicker than reloading the grenade launcher. He brought it up to his shoulder and then realized that Morag was pointing something that looked disturbingly like a staff weapon straight at him. He dived aside just as she fired. A bolt of blue energy shot from the staff, missed him by inches, and hit Neeshka. She screamed and collapsed.
“Angel came…” Sharwyn gasped out. Linu gave up on trying to convince the angel that she was attacking the wrong side and charged with her mace. The angel back-handed her so hard that Linu flew twenty feet through the air, crashed to the ground, and lay motionless.
Morag fired again and felled Sir Damon. Teal’c fired his staff weapon and hit the giant insectoid thing. It reeled, obviously badly hurt, and then began to charge at Teal’c with a fast loping gait.
“…down from heaven…” Sharwyn sang. The angel attacked her again and forced her to break off her song.
Jack rolled, avoiding yet another blast from Morag, and took cover behind the corpse of a sarrukh warrior. He lined the P-90 and opened fire at the big humanoid insect. It halted its charge, reared up, and faced him. Teal’c fired again and hit it between the mandibles. It staggered away with smoke coming out of its mouth.
There was a ‘pop’ of displaced air. Jack whirled around to face whatever had made the sound. His eyebrows shot up and his jaw dropped.
It was seven feet of naked girl. She was dripping wet, had a towel wrapped turban-fashion around her hair, and held a sword in one hand and a second towel in the other. Wings sprouted from her back, covered in dove-grey feathers, and only then did Jack recognize her.
“I was in the bath,” Egeria complained, and then she fixed her gaze on the other angel. “Get away from her, Deione, or I’ll hurt you.”
“Rise, my children, and slay your slayers,” Morag commanded. Behind her the sarrukh infantry, mown down by gunfire in the first attack, rose to their feet. Three of her elite guardsmen arose as well; the ones shot through the head, the one killed by Cierre’s sword cleaving its skull, and a couple who had been hacked apart by axes and swords until there was little left of them, stayed down. The hand-to-hand fighting began again.
“Traitor,” the angel Deione growled. “I shall slay you.”
“You call me a traitor? You were summoned here to fight the Queen of the Old Ones, were you not? What do you think you’re playing at?”
Sam riddled the wounded Umber Hulk with bullets and put it down. Teal’c fired his staff weapon again; this time his target was the statue, already damaged by Jack’s grenade, and his blast blew off one of the stone legs. The statue rocked on its base.
Two of the resurrected sarrukh soldiers reached Daelan just as he was regaining his feet. He punched one, head-butted the other, and then snatched up his double-axe and finished them off.
Daniel fired a long burst that killed half a dozen of the oncoming reptilians. Morag fired her weapon again and Daniel fell.
Teal’c hit the statue with another staff blast and this time it shattered into chunks of stone. The barrier of slicing swords vanished and the way to the sarrukh priests lay open.
Jack killed one of the elite sarrukh guards with a bullet through the back of its head. He saw Cierre, now seemingly healed of her stomach wound, kill another. Sumia was kneeling over the fallen Daniel, obviously healing him, and the three members of the Neverwinter Nine had the last of Morag’s personal guard boxed in between them and they were cutting the reptilian to pieces.
The angel Deione launched herself at Egeria. The naked angel dodged a mace blow with ease and then, much to Jack’s amazement, threw her sword away. Jack couldn’t understand why she’d done it until he saw that a sarrukh had been about to attack the unconscious Linu. Egeria’s sword hit the sarrukh just under the rib-cage and went in up to the hilt. Jack turned in that direction and fired at the oncoming sarrukh soldiers until they were all dead and his magazine was empty.
He watched the fight between Egeria and Deione as he reloaded. It was very much one-sided. Hardly a chick-fight; Egeria took Deione apart with martial arts moves that could have come from a Bruce Lee movie or perhaps, with the way she used the towel, an early Steven Segal film from the days when he could perform convincingly in action movies.
Sharwyn left her savior to it and made for Morag. The Queen of the Old Ones paid no attention to the attack, no doubt feeling secure in her invulnerability, but Sharwyn didn’t waste her blows on someone who couldn’t be hurt. Instead she smashed her blade down on Morag’s staff.
The weapon blew up. The blast knocked both Morag and Sharwyn to the ground. Morag was first to rise. She snarled at Sharwyn but before she could take any offensive action Teal’c zatted her.
It didn’t work. It did, however, distract Morag and she turned away from Sharwyn and headed for Teal’c.
Jack saw Egeria holding the other angel pinned and helpless, in an arm-lock and choke-hold, and an idea struck him. Morag couldn’t be killed or hurt, apparently, but perhaps she could be immobilized. “Teal’c, Daelan, Cierre,” he shouted, naming the strongest members of the group. “Grab Morag! Get her arms, get her legs, pick her up and hold her. Keep her restrained.”
“I will, O’Neill,” Teal’c replied. He met Morag’s charge with a mastaba move, caught her arm as she struck at him, and twisted it around into a lock.
Before Morag could free herself Cierre arrived. She seized Morag’s other arm and held it tight. Daelan joined them a few seconds later, bent to grab one of Morag’s legs, and lifted it high. Morag kicked out with her free leg but a sergeant of the Neverwinter guard, a man both tall and broad, caught the leg and pulled it straight. Held up in the air, with no leverage and no way of bracing herself, Morag could only thrash around in futile struggle and spit out curses at the ‘inferior slaves’ profaning her divine body with their touch.
Jack wiped his brow with the back of his hand. It came away streaked with blood; something had cut him during the fighting and he hadn’t even noticed. “Keep her like that,” he said, “while we kill the kneeling chorus. Then we can kill her and go home.”
“You have done well, Colonel O’Neill,” Egeria remarked.
“Thanks, uh, Lady Egeria,” Jack replied. Her naked body was partially hidden by her captive but he still thought it would be advisable not to stare at her too directly. “Sorry we interrupted your bath.”
Linu, swaying slightly on her feet, approached the angels. “You saved my life,” she said to Egeria, “and the servitor of my own goddess nearly killed me.”
“She’s not a servitor of your goddess, Linu La’Neral,” Egeria said. “She is a Shard of Selûne.”
Jack tuned out at that point. The affairs of the gods and goddesses of this planet were nothing to do with him, although Daniel was probably listening entranced, and he had a mission to complete. “Thanks,” he said again to the angel, and moved off. He collected Sam, Tomi, Callum and Sir Nevalle, Eltoora, and a couple of guardsmen, and headed for the circle of kneeling sarrukh.
Shooting unarmed sentient beings when they were just kneeling and chanting, even if they were about as human as the Creature from the Black Lagoon, didn’t sit well with Jack at all. It had to be done, unless they were going to wait around here until Morag died of starvation, and so Jack reminded himself that they were taking hostile action in a way. Pretty much the same as the Jaffa operating the shields on a System Lord’s ha’tak. He aimed his P-90 and fired.
The bullets bounced off. So did Cierre’s axe; her flaming sword, however, sliced into the sarrukh’s flesh.
It took a few minutes of experimentation to work out that each of the eight priests was immune to everything except one form of damage. The first one was vulnerable to fire; the next couldn’t be harmed by any physical attack but was killed by Eltoora’s spells; the one after that died when Sir Nevalle aimed a decapitating stroke at its neck; the next fell under blows from a war-hammer; the fifth resisted everything they tried until Neeshka, who had been healed by Sumia, joined them, stabbed it with her ‘Breath of the Maiden’ sword, and killed it instantly; then came one that was vulnerable to the icy cold of Cierre’s hand-axe ‘Frostreaver’; the next died when Jack shot it in the head; and the last one perished when Eltoora fried it with a lightning bolt.
The angels had gone when they returned to where Morag was held captive. She was still struggling but Sir Damon was holding her mouth shut and muffling her curses. Sumia was standing between Teal’c and the tall guardsman. She was resting one hand on Morag’s skin.
“I take it we can kill her now?” Sharwyn asked.
“All her protectors are dead,” Jack said. “There’s nothing to stop us now.”
“Good,” Sumia said. Her tone changed, becoming harsh and commanding. “Necrotizing fasciitis!”
Morag screamed, so loudly that Sir Damon’s attempts to silence her were useless, and her struggles redoubled.
“What the Hell?” Jack exclaimed.
“I’ve just killed her,” Sumia said, taking her hand away and stepping back. “A suitable death for the one responsible for the Wailing Death. I suggest that your friends put her down. She’s not going to be pleasant to touch in a few minutes.”
Jack felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Sumia was seriously creepy. “I’m not waiting around for her to die, and I’m not leaving with her not positively dead,” he said. He let his P-90 hang loose on its sling and drew his sidearm. “Sir Damon, let go of her mouth and stand clear.”
Jack put the Beretta against Morag’s head, wincing as her screams assaulted his eardrums, and pulled the trigger three times. “Now we can go.”
“You have spoiled my revenge, Colonel O’Neill,” Sumia complained, as the others let Morag’s body fall to the ground, “but I forgive you.”
Before Jack could reply the floor shuddered. Pieces of rock fell from the ceiling. “What the Hell?” Jack exclaimed again.
“I suspect that this pocket plane was tied to Morag’s life force,” Eltoora said. “Now that she is dead it is collapsing.” Another quake came even as she spoke.
“Uh, Jack, I think we’d better get out of here,” Daniel said, “and fast.”
“Damn right,” Jack agreed. “Okay, everybody, pick up our dead and let’s move! The Gate out of here should be that way,” he said, pointing in the direction indicated by Haedraline’s map. “Evacuate! Move it! Let’s go home.”
Song lyrics quoted come from ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’, Lennon/McCartney; Experiment IV, Kate Bush; ‘Poison’, Alice Cooper; ‘I Won’t Back Down’, Tom Petty; and ‘Heroes’, David Bowie.