"They left the river here, and the ground becomes harder to read," Bra'tac said. "We should spread out, looking for any trace of the party's passage."
Teal'c glanced at O'Neill, who nodded.
"Daniel, Carter, far right flank, Teal'c, with me," O'Neill looked at Bra'tac, carefully not attempting to give Bra'tac any order.
"I will scout on this side," Bra'tac said, taking up the far left flank position. They slowed down and spread out through the lightly wooded area, moving forward in the general direction of travel that Apophis' troops had taken for several minutes.
From far off to their right there was crash of breaking brush and a yell from Major Carter, "Whoa!"
O'Neill called from between them. "Carter?"
She called back, sounding sheepish, "It's okay, sir, it's just a bird."
There was a murmur of voices, then she said, "Um, or maybe not. You'd better see this."
Teal'c and O'Neill joined Major Carter, and saw that they had found the remnants of two Jaffa. It was hard to tell from the charred condition of the remains, but Teal'c did not think he recognized him from his days as Apophis' first prime. Then he remembered that these Jaffa would have belonged to Sokar originally- Apophis' followers would have been among those attacked on Chulak. Teal'c looked around, seeing Daniel Jackson's dull green hat moving amongst the trees.
Major Carter prodded one with her foot, then moved to the other and said, "This is really weird. These bodies are burnt to a crisp, and yet nothing around them has even been touched. It's almost as if lightning struck."
Teal'c read O'Neill's expression easily, but he did not recall ever having seen a Goa'uld weapon with this effect.
"Or maybe some kind of…" the colonel began.
Teal'c interrupted him, "I have never before seen a weapon that could do such a thing."
"…weapon," O'Neill finished, looking chagrined.
A call from Bra'tac distracted them, "Over here!"
They jogged to rejoin him. He was kneeling beside a body of a woman, whom he had turned up to expose the wound in her back. Bra'tac pointed out the wound. "She was shot in the back as she fled."
This was a staff weapon blast, clearly.
A few steps behind the others, Daniel Jackson skidded to a stop beside O'Neill. "I count eight bodies," he paused as he saw the dead woman. "Total."
"So what happened here?" O'Neill asked.
Bra'tac replied readily, "The priestess was being escorted back to the Stargate by two of the Jaffa. When they met the others, she realized she was in danger. She attempted to flee. They chased her and shot her. Then someone or something attacked them."
Teal'c looked over the traces. Some extrapolation, perhaps, but Bra'tac was likely right.
Major Carter looked skeptical, "You can't know that for sure."
Bra'tac contradicted her readily, "I am quite certain."
"What about the child?" Daniel Jackson asked him.
"She carried the child," Bra'tac said.
Teal'c shared O'Neill's skepticism for a moment as his team leader objected, "Come on, how can you know that?"
Then Teal'c realized what Bra'tac had seen. "Her hands are not bound."
Bra'tac rolled the body over so the hands flopped, "Yes. And they shot low." He showed them the exit wound in the lower abdomen.
Unlike the two military officers, Daniel Jackson accepted Bra'tac's expertise without question and returned to the subject at hand. "What happened to the boy?" he asked.
Bra'tac shrugged, "That I cannot guess."
They resumed their trek. The faint traces of the trail led them through the trees. Before there there was the faint lightening that suggested a clearing ahead. Bra'tac said quietly, "The priestess died more than two days ago. When his Jaffa did not return the Harsesis, Apophis should have sent more."
Teal'c concurred. "Perhaps many more." He dropped back momentarily to advise O'Neill of their conclusion.
"Party crashers," O'Neill said. "Just peachy. Got any more good news?"
Teal'c easily grasped the idioms, but said only, "I do not." He lengthened his stride to rejoin Bra'tac in the lead.
The two Jaffa reached an area of thinner trees and paused involuntarily at the vista before them. O'Neill came up beside them and looked toward the structure just visible in the distance. "Kheb?" he asked.
In a rather stunned voice, Bra'tac agreed. "Kheb." He started forward again, and after a moment, said reverently to Teal'c, "I can scarcely believe we are here, Teal'c. This place is a legend."
Teal'c replied, "I did not know you felt so deeply on this matter, Tek ma te."
Bra'tac gave him a sidelong glance, and lowered his voice to the point where O'Neill and the others would not hear him. "When I was your age, Teal'c, I thought much as you. But I have considered it more seriously as I became older." He tramped ahead for several minutes in silence.
Teal'c paced at his side, waiting with the patience Bra'tac himself had taught him.
"I am old, Teal'c. I may not have much longer. And--now I have been led here, to this place where my brethren in ancient days came to seek passage to the next world. Perhaps there is meaning in this."
Teal'c had never before heard Bra'tac express a belief in fate. He said, "A wise man taught me that I must rely on my own strength, my own wits, and not put my faith in gods."
Bra'tac smiled a bit sadly. "I also taught you not to hold to a position past the point it became untenable, did I not?"
"Indeed." Teal'c allowed himself to fall a step behind, disturbed at his old teacher's malaise, and yet unsure what--if anything--he should say.
They walked through the peaceful forest. The sun shone brightly, with just enough of a breeze to be comfortable. It was beautifully quiet.
"It's too quiet," O'Neill grumbled under his breath.
"What do you mean, sir?" Major Carter took his quip seriously.
"You mean you aren't expecting some lightning-bolt-wielding alien to jump out at us at any minute, Major?" he asked.
Major Carter looked at him curiously and evidently decided he was joking. "Not until a moment ago, sir."
"Do you sense any presence, O'Neill?" Teal'c asked. This place felt…odd…to him as well.
When O'Neill did not answer he checked his pace to let the Tau'ri come alongside.
"I don't know, Teal'c," O'Neill said seriously. "There's just something about this place...."
"The temple," Bra'tac said, his eyes going eagerly to the gate just visible through the trees.
"Look at the circular arches," Daniel Jackson pointed out. "Don't they remind you of something?"
"Highway culverts?" O'Neill guessed.
"The gate," Major Carter answered him seriously.
Unusually, Daniel Jackson did not respond with a theory about the inhabitants of the temple venerating the Stargate. He fell silent as they approached the gate.
There was no one in evidence as they walked through.
"No welcoming party," Major Carter said, looking around.
O'Neill looked around at the neatly manicured grounds, "Well, someone's been reading Martha Stewart."
Bra'tac seemed to have decided to ignore O'Neill's frequent colloquisms, as Teal'c himself sometimes did. Though at least these days, his familiarity with Tau'ri popular culture was great enough that he could correctly interpret the comment as a reference to the obviously maintained state of the garden.
Daniel Jackson moved out ahead of the group, his expression abstracted. "They're probably inside." He shrugged off his pack.
O'Neill protested, "Daniel?"
"Jack?" He replied, giving O'Neill a confused look.
"Whatcha doing?" O'Neill asked.
Teal'c watched him closely, recognizing the clear signs that Daniel Jackson had perceived something the rest of them had missed, and knowing that O'Neill had seen it too. Daniel Jackson's confused look, he thought, had nothing to do with his understanding of the question, and everything to do with him struggling verbalize the train of thought that had led him far in advance of the others..
Daniel Jackson shrugged and tried to put his intuition into words. "Well, something about this place says we all shouldn't rush in there waving guns around."
Unexpectedly, it was Bra'tac who stepped forward to support him. "He is right. This is sacred ground."
O'Neill considered this for a moment, then sighed. "Oy." He began taking off his own pack, turning to tell the others, "Wait here." He retained his gun, however.
Bra'tac handed off his staff to Teal'c, saying to O'Neill, "I have dreamed of finding this place twice as long as you have been alive. I will accompany you." He passed Teal'c his zat and followed Daniel Jackson and O'Neill into the temple.
Major Carter watched them go. "That was unexpected," she said, glancing at Teal'c. "I'm surprised Bra'tac was so willing to disarm."
"As am I," Teal'c admitted.
"Do you feel as Bra'tac does?" She asked. "That this is holy ground?"
Teal'c frowned. "There is something about this place-" He stopped uneasily. "But I have never been a lover of mysticism, and until today, I would have said the same of Master Bra'tac."
Major Carter looked surprised. "You mean he never told you about Kheb?- well, of course not, or you would have mentioned it after Ammonet- " she broke off, then began again. "You didn't know about this legendary place where Jaffa go to die?"
"No," Teal'c said. "It was not until I met the Tau'ri that I understood legends could have a basis in fact." He looked ironically at Samantha Carter, flesh and blood daughter of a world he had long believed to be a myth.
She smiled, "I know what you mean, Teal'c." She looked around the garden. "I'm going to take a look around. I won't go out of sight."
Teal'c nodded at the indirect--and naturally unnecessary--suggestion that he should keep an eye on her, and looked down uneasily at the water trickling gently over the stones at his feet. There was something about this place, if he could just figure out what it was.
Major Carter wandered back, having thoroughly investigated the temple garden.
"Nothing," she said. "No sign of people, no other doors into the temple, no obvious hiding places. You?"
"I have seen nothing, Major Carter," Teal'c reported. His uneasiness had not abated. The garden was beautiful and very quiet. Teal'c could hear the faint lap of the water against the pool. He frowned. There was no wind. Even as he thought it, the wind returned, but Teal'c thought he saw something in the water. A flash of light? He tensed.
Major Carter turned to him, catching his watchful posture. "Everything okay?"
Teal'c shook his head. "It was nothing." He hesitated, at a loss to explain what he thought he had seen. He settled for, "I do not have a good feeling about this place."
O'Neill emerged alone from the temple and walked slowly down the steps, his posture betraying frustration. He unslung his gun and sat down grumpily on a wall.
"What of the Harsesis child, O'Neill?" Teal'c asked.
"I don't know," O'Neill replied flippantly, shrugging. He shook his head, "There's a monk guy in there; Daniel thinks he might know, so he's gonna play along for a while."
Teal'c and Major Carter exchanged a disturbed look. As Bra'tac had pointed out earlier, the disappearance of Apophis' men would only cause him to send more. Perhaps many more. Their time here was limited.
"Play along?" Major Carter asked.
O'Neill recognized the time pressure, Teal'c knew, but clearly he also thought there was still something to be gained here.
O'Neill's face was irritated and puzzled as he explained further. "Something about…enlightenment?"
Correction. O'Neill thought that Daniel Jackson thought there was something to be gained here. And Daniel Jackson was right far too often for his intuitions to be dismissed out of hand. Even if his team leader didn't understand them. No wonder O'Neill was uncomfortable. Not for the first time, Teal'c wondered what Bra'tac thought of the command style practiced on SG-1.
"Sir…" Major Carter protested.
O'Neill said, "I know. I know." He took off his hat and ran a hand through his short hair, making it stand on end, then put it back on.
"What of Master Bra'tac?" Teal'c asked.
O'Neill shrugged. "He seemed almost as fascinated as Daniel."
"What did the monk say?" Major Carter asked.
O'Neill stood and paced back and forth. "Oh, lots of things. Take off our shoes--not directly, you understand, but in riddle-speak. Daniel and Bra'tac went for that one, not me-"
"Master Bra'tac removed his boots?" Teal'c asked in surprise. Then wondered why- Bra'tac had already disarmed. Clearly he wasn't anticipating trouble.
"Oh, yeah. Then there was a lot of stuff about bulls and grass and snowflakes, and other weird shit that made no sense whatsoever." O'Neill paused to adjust his hat again. "And Daniel said they were speaking in cones, like Buddhists, which surprised me, since I didn't even know they had ice cream in Tibet."
Major Carter was frowning, as well she might, Teal'c thought, since O'Neill had clearly abandoned any real attempt to relate events and was making obscure jokes.
"Cones?" Major Carter puzzled. "And why Buddhists?"
"Perhaps he means 'koans'," Teal'c suggested.
They both turned to him and stared.
He continued, "They are paradoxical statements used by Zen Buddhists in meditation. Daniel Jackson thought I might be interested because of the similarity to Jaffa kel'no'reem."
"So what does it have to do with the child?" O'Neill asked. "And does it tell us how long Bra'tac and Daniel are likely to be in there?"
"I do not know, O'Neill," Teal'c replied.
O'Neill was on his fifty-third circuit of the temple garden, by Teal'c's count, when Bra'tac emerged from the temple, carrying his boots. Teal'c rose and picked up Bra'tac's staff from where he had laid it.
Bra'tac sat down and pulled on his boots, looking up at his former student with a lopsided smile. "I am not yet ready to give up."
Teal'c looked at him in surprise and relief.
Bra'tac continued, "I feel alive Teal'c, like a young man-" He stood. "-of eighty." He accepted his weapon and patted Teal'c's shoulder in passing. "We still have false gods to slay."
Involuntarily, Teal'c smiled. This was much more like his friend and teacher. "What of the monk?" he asked.
Bra'tac stopped and turned back to him thoughtfully. "I cannot strive for enlightenment while I carry a symbiote, Teal'c. That is what the monk said."
"If you remove the Goa'uld from within you, you will die," Teal'c pointed out.
"Indeed," Bra'tac said. "And I find I am not yet ready. Though I will return here someday." He looked at the temple almost wistfully.
"If Apophis' troops don't reduce it to rubble," O'Neill said sourly.
As the day wore on, they took it turn and turn about to patrol the vicinity of the temple.
"What the hell is taking so long?" O'Neill said fretfully.
"He seeks understanding," Bra'tac told him.
"He's seeking a kid," O'Neill said. "It's really not that complicated."
"Would you like me to check on Daniel, sir?" Major Carter offered.
Teal'c saw a glimpse of movement in the sky. "O'Neill," he said.
"What is it, Teal'c?" O'Neill seemed almost relieved, welcoming something to do after the long tedious day of waiting.
"I saw motion in the sky, there-" he pointed to the west. "A dark speck against the sky, occluding the stars behind it."
"Bird?" O'Neill asked, not doubtfully, but more as a matter of form, to eliminate any natural explanation.
"No, O'Neill. It fell too slowly for a natural object, and in a straight line, which is not the motion of a bird," Teal'c said.
Major Carter said, "Sir, if Daniel hasn't been able to find out anything in this amount of time-"
"Then the chances of him doing it now are getting pretty slim," O'Neill agreed. He stared out at the sky, and then looked at his watch. "Time's up." He unfolded from his perch on the wall and went into the temple.
He was gone longer than it should have taken to simply tell Daniel Jackson they were leaving. Teal'c met Major Carter's eyes in the dusk and she winced. "Daniel's arguing," she said. "I'd bet on it."
"I would not take such a wager," Teal'c replied calmly, and she laughed.
They tensed as they heard the far off sound of an aerial engine. Teal'c said, "That is an udajeet, not an alkesh."
Bra'tac replied, "Yes, they must have come in a ha'tak."
"There's nowhere to land a glider here," Major Carter pointed out. "And if they're fielding air support, it can only be to back up ground troops."
The sound came closer and they saw a pair of udajeets flying in close formation low over the temple. It seemed unlikely that the newcomers would wait for local daylight before coming to investigate the temple. The sound of the radio cracked in his ear. O'Neill.
He said, "Teal'c, Bra'tac, you want to check that out?"
Teal'c and Bra'tac set off into the woods in search of the ship. Best that they knew the enemy's location and strength. They could rendezvous with the others en route to the gate.
Teal'c listened to O'Neill's conversation with Major Coburn, which supported Teal'c's own belief that Apophis had sent forces by ship alone. With none returning from the prior scouting force, he must have suspected some sort of ambush set at the gate.
As they left the temple, Bra'tac said. "To land a ha'tak, they would need a large clearing, like the one we saw to the west." That was the direction where Teal'c had seen the object falling.
"There was a cliff overlooking that area," Teal'c agreed. "We should be able to get a good view."
Teal'c and Bra'tac ran as quickly uphill as was consistent with staying relatively quiet. If there were already Jaffa in these woods, they might be heard, but then few Jaffa were taught stealth. They quickly arrived at the vantage point they had scouted earlier.
Teal'c dropped down beside Bra'tac, concealed behind a bush, appreciating the light Tau'ri clothing which blended well with the undergrowth. He could feel the warmth in his muscles after the short run and welcomed it after the relative inactivity of the day.
The clearing was brightly lit, and there were already troops in large numbers assembling. They could hear amplified commands directing squads to assemble.
"He has sent a substantial force," observed Bra'tac unnecessarily.
Teal'c swiftly estimated the number of troops. "I count perhaps- eight hundred?"
"There are more unloading now," Bra'tac said quietly. He gestured ranks of torch-bearing troops marching out of the enormous ship. "He will have many more inside. Another eight hundred, perhaps more."
"It appears that they have sent a full complement of ground troops," Teal'c observed.
"Then our opponents number two thousand, give or take a few hundred," Bra'tac replied.
"We must withdraw through the gate, before Apophis' troops cut off our line of retreat," Teal'c said quietly.
"And the Harsesis?" Bra'tac asked.
"We must hope that the troops of Apophis have as little luck in this matter as has had Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said. "Let us return to the temple."
"Will not O'Neill have left?" Bra'tac crept quietly back from the brink, careful to allow no gleam from his armor to betray their position.
Teal'c's bad feeling was back. "They cannot have gone far."
They hadn't gone anywhere. As they neared the temple, Teal'c could see the dark shadow of Daniel Jackson's and O'Neill's packs still in the courtyard when they reached it.
There was no one outside. Teal'c led the way to the door. Inside, he found O'Neill and Major Carter talking with Daniel Jackson. He lost no time in giving them his information. "A Goa'uld mother ship has landed. As many as two thousand troops approach."
O'Neill's reaction was instant. "Love to stay and chat," he said to the monk, turning toward the door.
As Bra'tac and Teal'c returned to the door, the others followed. As they approached the gateway into the garden, they could hear the rhythmic stamp of booted Jaffa feet on the trail.
"D'oh," O'Neill said softly. They withdrew softly back into the temple garden.
"We must leave immediately and elude them through the forest," Bra'tac said.
O'Neill looked around, "Where's Daniel?"
Major Carter said, "Wasn't he right behind-"
Teal'c thought back and realized with some alarm that he had not been with them as they approached the gate the first time. "I do not believe he left the temple, O'Neill."
"Oh, for--" O'Neill bit off a curse and led the way back into the temple. "I'll get him." He pushed the door open and disappeared. Teal'c could hear him call, "Daniel? Daniel! We got to go."
He emerged a moment later. "I don't know where he is. He's not in there."
"What do we do?" Major Carter asked.
O'Neill reached for his radio, "Coburn. O'Neill."
Coburn's reply was tinny in the earphones. "Read you, sir."
O'Neill said, "Hightail it back through the Gate. Tell Hammond we're pinned down. Request backup."
Coburn acknowledged and signed off.
O'Neill looked over toward the increasing numbers of Jaffa closing in on the temple and said drily, "Lots of backup."
He turned back to the others. "All right, here they come. Defensive positions. Hold off on the claymores as long as we can. I don't want to get into this unless we absolutely have to. And if we happen to make it out of this in one piece?" he requested sardonically. "Remind me to harm Daniel severely."
Teal'c considered reminding O'Neill that he had acquiesced in the plan to stay longer, but now was not the time. Moreover, from his tone O'Neill was blaming himself no less than any other for their current predicament.
They found places of concealment in the gardens, and the weather cooperated by abruptly covering the bright moon with clouds. Teal'c frowned in the sudden blackness. He had not seen a cloud in the sky at sunset. But then, clouds did sometimes move quickly.
Apophis' troops marched in through the gate, their armor gleaming threateningly in the light of the torches. Teal'c heard the commander giving orders to arm weapons and search the temple. As the leader approached the temple, the monk stepped forward. Teal'c had to control a small jerk of surprise. He had not seen the monk appear- one moment he had not been there, the next he had.
The slight man seemed unaware of the looming threat of the warriors. His hands were folded peaceably at his breast. "You are not welcome here," he said.
The Jaffa leader growled, "In the name of the god Apophis, we've come for a young boy."
Why did not Apophis himself lead this expedition? Teal'c wondered. Possibly he was still consolidating his hold on Sokar's domain? Or—possibly he was afraid. Bra'tac had said the Goa'uld feared and despised Kheb.
The monk ignored this. "You will leave now."
Teal'c had to wonder if he even knew what a weapon was. He showed no awareness that the Jaffa troops could do him harm.
"We will not. Stand aside," the Jaffa ordered.
Thunder and lightning crackled against the sky.
The Jaffa opened fire with the staff weapon, and the monk fell, a smoking hole in his chest.
Behind him, Daniel Jackson yelled, "No!" and ran out of the temple toward the Jaffa.
O'Neill cursed under his breath as he jumped up out of concealment, aiming at the head Jaffa, and yelled, "Drop your weapons! Do it!"
Unimpressed, the Jaffa did not move. "Kree lo'tak," he demanded of Daniel Jackson.
Loosely translated, hands up or I shoot, Teal'c thought. Ironic that he was talking to the one Tau'ri who actually would understand him.
Daniel Jackson obediently put his hands up and walked forward. "Drop your weapons," he repeated urgently.
"You heard him," O'Neill said.
Daniel Jackson came down the steps, empty hands still held high. "I was talking to you, Jack," he said quietly.
He was talking to O'Neill? Teal'c was momentarily baffled.
O'Neill was startled into saying, "Wha…what?"
Daniel Jackson continued to walk toward his friends, "Do it now, all of you."
Teal'c's mind raced. Drop his weapons in the face of the enemy?
"Daniel?" protested O'Neill.
Daniel Jackson replied, still with that quiet urgency. "Jack, I was wrong, I was very wrong. One of those aliens I thought was long gone is still here."
Teal'c wished now that he had gone inside the temple with Daniel Jackson, had met the monk for himself. Daniel Jackson's gift for communication, for making friends, had saved them all before. But he could be wrong. He sometimes trusted too readily. But--it was true that Teal'c had felt they were not alone here….
Major Carter said, "Sir, we put our guns down and we're dead."
The Jaffa evidently agreed with Major Carter. "You are outnumbered and surrounded. You will die if you do not."
"Jack, if you're ever going to trust me on anything, now is the time," Daniel Jackson said tensely. "The alien is the one with all the powers, and she is not someone you want to fool with, if you get my drift."
Teal'c remembered eight Jaffa in the forest, burned to a crisp. A flash of light in the water, clouds suddenly closing in on the moon and lightning burning across the sky. If the aliens Daniel Jackson spoke of were truly here...they had already demonstrated their power.
The only remaining question was whether Daniel Jackson had truly communicated with them. But Daniel Jackson was unlikely to be mistaken in this way. He deactivated his staff and let it point down toward the ground. Beside him, Bra'tac evidently followed his train of thought and followed suit.
Uncharacteristically, O'Neill seemed frozen in indecision.
Bra'tac said, "We must do it."
Slowly, O'Neill lowered his weapon to the pavement. Samantha Carter was the last to disarm.
The head Jaffa didn't hesitate. "Kill them."
Four bolts lanced in quick succession and were intercepted by a streak of white light, feet from the bodies of Teal'c, Bra'tac and the others. Their eyes followed the streak of white as it bled into the sky.
Daniel Jackson had let his hands fall and stood unsurprised, watching the attack. Now he turned back to the Jaffa, raising one hand in casual salutation. "Bye." He stood in the middle of the path watching dispassionately as the lightning came down with crash like the end of the world, only flinching and stepping away at the noise.
Teal'c blinked as the world filled with light and sound, and the lightning arced through the ranks of Jaffa, who screamed for a mercifully short time before convulsing and falling. Barely audible above the din were the screams of gliders as they swooped in toward the temple and exploded in another streak of blinding fire.
The utter thoroughness of the destruction impressed Teal'c nearly as much as did Daniel Jackson's unshakeable confidence in its inevitability. Teal'c had long known Daniel Jackson hated the Goa'uld. That he could--and--would extend that hatred to Apophis' troops with such pitilessness made it even more astonishing that he had forgiven Teal'c.
The night seemed suddenly darker. Bright slashes still burned across Teal'c's vision in the wake of the lightning, and his ears rang with the sudden silence. The woods outside the temple were utterly still, as if afraid to breathe. The air was heavy with the smell of ozone and charred flesh. Steam rose from the corpses in the cool air.
O'Neill broke the spell with typical irreverence, "Well, that was cool." His voice sounded a bit tinny through the ringing in Teal'c's ears. O'Neill was probably still seeing spots himself from the way he peered at the body of the Jaffa that had threatened them. "Wow."
O'Neill was impressed, Teal'c saw, and Major Carter faintly repulsed. Daniel Jackson simply regarded the smoking corpses calmly. Then he turned his back on the dead Jaffa, and looked back toward the temple steps. Teal'c also turned and saw a tendril of light coalescing above the body of the monk, and then the clothes sinking to the floor as the body within transmuted to energy. The transformed being drifted away as from within the temple as a second of the creatures appeared.
This must be the creature who had saved them, one of the mysterious masters of Kheb. Hastily, Teal'c crossed his forearms and bowed in profound respect. At his side, Bra'tac was doing the same.
The light-being became more solid, becoming something vaguely person-sized. Floating about where the arms would have been in a Jaffa was a human baby.
Daniel Jackson took two paces forward, looking intently into the light. "You're leaving?"
He seemed to listen, though Teal'c couldn't hear anything.
"You know that more of them will come as long as they know the boy is here?"
The light being returned an indefinably positive motion.
Daniel Jackson's voice had a husky note that Teal'c could only remember having heard a few times before. When he'd found his wife on Abydos, pregnant and still host to Ammonet. When he'd forgiven Teal'c for killing her. When his heart was drenched in sorrow but he'd made up his mind to go on anyway. "I'll see both of you again someday, right?" he asked.
A glowing strand of light caressed his cheek and illuminated a suspicious shine of moisture in his eyes. The light diffused, somehow thickening around the child, and she rose into the air.
It flitted through the arch of the temple garden, briefly illuminating it as if it were the event horizon of a wormhole, then disappeared into the trees.
"I take it that was the Harsesis child she was holding?" Major Carter asked almost rhetorically.
"Yeah," Daniel Jackson confirmed softly, a world of regret in his tone.
O'Neill started to protest, "I thought we needed that kid? Just gonna let her…."
Even in the dimness, Daniel Jackson's incredulous look was unmistakable. Teal'c wondered how O'Neill thought they could have stopped her.
"….no choice, huh?" O'Neill finished.
The radio crackled. "This is Major Coburn, come in."
"Yeah, go ahead, Major," O'Neill said.
"Reinforcements are on the way, sir," he reported.
Take your time," O'Neill said. "We're secure."
"Good to hear, sir," came back in his earphones, with a hint of curiosity behind it.
Somehow Teal'c didn't doubt that any more than his team leader did. The force they'd seen would have made as short work of any Jaffa standing between them and the gate as it- she?- had of the ones surrounding the temple. He looked around at the charred forms smoking on the pavement and came near to shivering.
The radio crackled again. "Ah, sir, the Stargate just came on. There's a strange bright light headed this way."
O'Neill's voice rang with sudden urgency. "Do not engage; repeat, get out of the way and do not engage. In fact, I'm ordering you all to put down your weapons until that light is gone, do you read?"
Coburn's puzzled but obedient response came back, "Yes, sir."
They waited tensely until Coburn reported in again. "It's gone, sir."
Daniel Jackson turned to the gate, as if he could see through the intervening miles of forest to watch the alien leave.
"You all right?" O'Neill asked Daniel Jackson.
"Yeah," he replied.
Teal'c wasn't sure he believed that, and he didn't think O'Neill did either. Daniel Jackson had a blind look that spoke of force of will clamping down over strong emotion.
"Let's go home," O'Neill said, turning toward the arch that led out of the temple courtyard.
The others turned with him.
"Daniel," O'Neill said.
Teal'c paused and looked back.
"Yeah?" Daniel Jackson replied.
"Shoes," O'Neill said.
Teal'c glanced down and realized that Daniel Jackson was still barefoot. His friend was more distracted than he had realized.
Daniel Jackson turned back to the temple and vanished inside.
The others walked gingerly around the bodies of the dead Jaffa and paused outside the gate. Here and there, the charred claws of corpses clutched blasted staff-weapons or curled around the ashes of torches that had been reduced to dust. There were more bodies spread out through the trees. Though the bodies were still hot enough to steam gently in the moonlight, Teal'c could not see a single charred leaf. He wondered if the ha'tak and the troops there had been destroyed as well.
O'Neill had turned on the light fastened to the barrel of his weapon, and was looking over the corpses clinically. "Doesn't look like she missed any."
Bra'tac said, "They would not have regarded either the monk's or Daniel Jackson's instructions to lay down arms as a credible threat."
"Why did you?" O'Neill asked him bluntly.
Bra'tac gave him a thoughtful look. "The forces that rule Kheb seemed to have no trouble in disposing of the Jaffa that invaded this place earlier. And Dr. Jackson has never seemed to me to be rashly confident. Teal'c has told me much of his skill in communication. Indeed, I saw it myself in his words to Teal'c on his last visit to Chulak."
Teal'c took a moment to place the occasion but had no trouble remembering it when he did. His old friend and his wife had betrayed him. And Daniel Jackson had talked him out of killing the man.
"If I recall, last time we were here, you were pretty upset about your family being outcasts, barely surviving in a camp because of what you did. I mean it seems to me they have a better life now."
Bra'tac had agreed with him at the time, Teal'c remembered. He hadn't realized his friend's advice had made such an impression on Bra'tac. Drey'auc- he should go and see here, he knew. She'd gone reluctantly to the Land of Light and had stayed there only for Ry'ac's sake. He had stayed away more than he ought, out of reluctance to deal with the situation. And because he did not wish to remember how he had failed them, when he abandoned them on Chulak to go with the Tau'ri.
"Ah." O'Neill looked vaguely unsatisfied, but let the matter drop. The clouds had cleared from across the moon, which was glowing brightly enough that they should have no trouble hiking back to the gate. He turned, as Daniel Jackson picked his way between the bodies that littered the courtyard.
"You all set?" O'Neill asked.
"Fine," he replied.
O'Neill led the way back through the trees. Though Teal'c knew his own night vision to be more acute than that of the Tau'ri, O'Neill followed the faint trail easily.
They walked in silence, but it was nearly half an hour before the normal night noises of the woods could again be heard around them. When they arrived in the gate clearing, Coburn's men looked at them curiously.
"Are you all right, Colonel?" Coburn asked O'Neill.
"We're fine," O'Neill said. "Dial it up-"
One of Coburn's men dialed the gate while the others rose from their positions around the clearing. Coburn was still studying them with a puzzled expression. "How did you evade the Jaffa, sir?"
He was expecting them to be disheveled, Teal'c realized. Perhaps showing signs of having been in a fight.
"We didn't," O'Neill said curtly. "The alien you saw?"
O'Neill continued. "She took a dim view of the Jaffa trying to shoot us in her garden. They're all dead."
"All dead, sir?" Coburn was startled.
"As far as we can tell," Major Carter spoke up.
The gate opened, and O'Neill motioned Coburn's team forward. "Move out, folks."
SG-1 and Bra'tac were the last ones through, stepping out onto the ramp back at the SGC.
Hammond was waiting at the foot of the ramp, looking alert and crisply uniformed as ever, though according to Teal'c's SGC-issue wristwatch, it was past 3 am at the base.
His gaze flickered over the party, counting silently, and he relaxed fractionally at seeing them all upright and uninjured. "SG-1, SG-2, debrief will be at 1100 hours. Report to the infirmary. Colonel O'Neill--"
O'Neill stepped aside and started talking in a low tone as the others left the gate room.
Sergeant Harriman appeared at Teal'c's elbow. "Master Teal'c, General Hammond has reserved one of the VIP rooms for Master Bra'tac's use, should he wish it."
He told Teal'c the number, and Teal'c said, "I will see that he is comfortable once we have both been to the infirmary."
The medical check was performed swiftly, somewhat to Teal'c's relief. He had spent far too much time there recovering after having been temporarily blinded a few weeks before on Bedrosia. He picked up his jacket as he rose. Samantha Carter had already disappeared to the lockers, and O'Neill had not yet arrived. The nurses appeared to have finished with Daniel Jackson, but he sat slumped with his hands tucked under his elbows, as he did when he was cold.
"Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c said, and stopped, unusually at a loss for words. Clearly he was not feeling well, though uninjured.
Daniel Jackson focused on him, a bit vaguely. "Hey, Teal'c."
Teal'c rapidly sorted through his knowledge of Tau'ri custom, though he was fairly certain there was no specific instruction on consoling the friend on the loss of his dead wife's child, particularly when you were the one--What would O'Neill do? "Master Bra'tac and I go to kel'no-reem. You are welcome to join us." Teal'c had no idea what Bra'tac would think of that, but the offer of undemanding companionship was the best idea he could come up with.
Daniel Jackson glanced sideways up to him with a trace of surprise and irony animating his features. "Thanks, but I think I've had enough mediation for one day." He glanced around. "They done?"
"They are." Teal'c did not mention that the nurse had told them that several minutes ago.
"I think I'd better get some sleep before the debrief then," Daniel Jackson rose, and turned toward him. "Thanks, Teal'c. You're a good friend."
A good friend? Teal'c remembered--He looked down the staff weapon at the dark-haired woman in Goa'uld finery, who held Daniel Jackson in agony beneath her hand device--Speechlessly, Teal'c inclined his head. He did not often find his friends as baffling now as he had in his early days at the SGC, but the sharp dichotomy between Daniel Jackson's casual wave to the doomed Jaffa and his acceptance of the manner of Sha're's death made Teal'c doubt that he would ever fully understand him.
Daniel Jackson left the infirmary, though Teal'c would be surprised if he actually slept.
Bra'tac was watching them curiously. "He has forgiven you then, for his wife's kidnapping, which led to her death?"
With a start, Teal'c realized that Bra'tac did not know the whole story. He knew of Ammonet's death, of course, but not of his own part in it. "Daniel Jackson has taught me much of forgiveness," Teal'c agreed. He would tell Bra'tac of her death, he thought, but not here, in the infirmary.
The debriefing in the morning was routine. O'Neill did most of the talking, pausing only to let Daniel Jackson relate his communications with the monk and with the light-entity who had taken the boy. Perhaps Daniel Jackson had slept after all; he seemed alert enough. His expression betrayed his chagrin that he had mistaken the alien's powers for his own, but he did not spare his own dignity in relating the incident.
For his part, Teal'c related his own and Bra'tac's reconnaissance of Apophis' forces. Hammond was visibly concerned at the number of Jaffa they had confronted, but clearly O'Neill had given him a rundown of the events the night before, since he was not surprised. The destruction of the Jaffa was described in detail by O'Neill.
Daniel Jackson listened with the same dispassion he had shown at the time, and Teal'c was struck again by his unconcern. There were many who mistook Daniel Jackson's ability to forgive for weakness, even among the Tau'ri. Teal'c had come to think that he was fortunate not to have Daniel Jackson as an enemy. His friend had a rarely-seen streak of ruthlessness, a strength of purpose, that would make him a formidable adversary.
As the briefing concluded, Hammond turned to Bra'tac. "And what are your own plans, Master Bra'tac?"
"I would go to the Land of Light," Bra'tac said. He glanced at Teal'c, "And check on the youngest of my apprentices."
Ry'ac. Teal'c suddenly wondered how many had been lost at Chulak, if his son was one of only a few of Bra'tac's remaining trainees. "General Hammond," he said. "With your permission, I should like to accompany Master Bra'tac."
"Certainly," Hammond agreed graciously. "SG-1, you're on stand-down for forty-eight hours." He rose, and the others rose with him, Bra'tac following their example without hesitation. "Dismissed."
O'Neill paused long enough to say, "Don't worry about the report, T, do it when you get back."
Teal'c was not concerned about the written report that Tau'ri custom required, but recognized it as the formal permission to turn it in late that it was. For all O'Neill's seeming casualness, he was punctilious in matters of military form.
Bra'tac watched without understanding, and Teal'c resisted the urge to explain. He had mastered the minutiae of his new life so thoroughly that it was only when he saw it through the eyes of his old master that he recognized the extent of his knowledge. "We can leave now, if you are prepared," he told Bra'tac.
"I am," Bra'tac replied.
Teal'c glanced at the sergeant at the gate controls and saw Harriman's hands already dialing the sequence for the Land of Light. Teal'c blinked as he realized that Harriman must understand some Goa'uld, as that was the language that he and Bra'tac were speaking. Or perhaps he had read their body language.
"Dialing the Land of Light, sir," Harriman told Teal'c. "Sergeant Collins has your staff weapon and gear ready."
"Thank you," Teal'c told him, and led the way down to the SGC chappa'ai, collecting his weapon at the door to the gate room.
They walked up the ramp together and stepped into the rippling surface, the familiar feeling of falling and speed enveloping them until they stepped out again into the dimness of the gate on the other end. The chappa'ai illuminated the clearing with a pale blue light until it turned off.
"The Tau'ri are efficient," Bra'tac remarked, leading the way along the path toward the day side.
Teal'c caught up in a two long strides. "At first I was disappointed that their technology was so inferior to that of the Goa'uld," he confessed. "But their numbers are great, they learn quickly and they use well what they learn. Already false gods have fallen before them."
"They devote few warriors to the task, if their numbers are so large," Bra'tac observed.
"They assign only their best warriors to this task," Teal'c countered. "And wisely so. The Goa'uld think them small in number, and weak.
"The Goa'uld should have combined against them and crushed the Tau'ri when Apophis first discovered who had killed Ra. Now--now they have allies, they amass weapons and learn their enemies' tools, perhaps even better than the Goa'uld, for they seek to understand what they have stolen." He turned to his old master. "They shall rue the day Apophis failed to defeat the Tau'ri in battle, Master. With far less knowledge than they have now, they drove Ra from their world. The secrets of the Ancients will be discovered and the tools of the false gods shall be turned against them."
"May it be truly prophecy, and not merely desire," Bra'tac said. "Perhaps you will prove a better maker of legends, Teal'c, than a student of them."
"I would seek to be both," Teal'c said, smiling. "As I have belatedly come to appreciate the strategic significance of legend."
"Another lesson the Tau'ri have managed to convey, despite the thickness of your skull?" Bra'tac suggested.
Teal'c thought ruefully of some of his conversations with his teammates. "Some Tau'ri have more sure methods of making one's head hurt than beating it with a stick, Master."
The trees lightened to green as they approached the Light side. Teal'c remembered Samantha Carter trying to explain to him why the planet did not have day-night cycles as other worlds. That had been one of those head-hurting conversations, though he did recall that the world kept one face always to the light, and there was only a narrow band of habitable land where day and night met. Deep in the day side was waterless desert, hotter than the sands of Abydos, while the dark side was sheathed in ice, and the winds whistled chilly over the glaciers where only starlight fell.
"You have not visited here often," Bra'tac remarked in seeming idleness.
Teal'c returned his attention to his old master. "My duties allow little time."
The old Jaffa gave him the sort of look he remembered from when he'd made excuses for poor performance. "I believe Hammond of Texas is not a harsh lord."
"Drey'auc is not happy here," Teal'c admitted soberly. "But I do not have a better refuge. The SGC is no place for a boy. And I think Drey'auc would be even less happy there."
"She has spoken to me of joining one of the rebel Jaffa camps," Bra'tac said. "But I have encouraged her to remain here until Ry'ac is a little older. It is soon yet for him to train so intensively."
Drey'auc must be unhappy indeed, to wish to leave a place of relative safety for one of uncertainty with the open rebels. Teal'c wished there were a better solution for them all.
The landscape had been steadily lightening, and now they broke out of the trees with the city visible in the distance. A section of the field before the city had been scythed, and there were a group of children spread out across it in a pattern Teal'c recognized after a moment from Tau'ri television and occasional off-base excursions.
"What are they doing?" Bra'tac wondered in some puzzlement, as one figure cast aside his cudgel--no, bat--and raced for first base.
"It is a Tau'ri game, called baseball," Teal'c said. "I had not realized it had become so popular here." The Land of Light was a regular destination for new SG-teams to visit on training missions, Teal'c remembered. It seemed O'Neill's gift of a glove to Ry'ac was not the only influence. Several of the other young players had gloves of Tau'ri manufacture, though others were clearly locally made, as were the bat and ball.
As they approached the game, one of the slighter figures caught sight of them and abandoned the game, racing to meet them.
"Father!" Ry'ac said excitedly. "I did not know you would come."
Teal'c embraced him warmly. "The chance came unexpectedly," he said. Teal'c could have sworn Ry'ac had not been this tall the last time he had visited. The boy was growing so fast. Teal'c felt a pang of regret that he was missing so much of his childhood.
Ry'ac had turned to Bra'tac. "Tek ma te, Master Bra'tac," he said politely. Then he glanced slyly up at the Jaffa master. "Does this mean there is to be no lesson today, Master?" he asked.
"Not at all, my son," Teal'c answered him. "It means that today I am to join your lesson." He glanced at Bra'tac. "A warrior is never too old to learn new things."
"Indeed," Bra'tac smiled. "Today, then, we shall speak of Jaffa legends, such as were told to me by my father, and his father before him."
"Jaffa legends?" Ry'ac looked puzzled. "Why do we speak of these things?"
"Sometimes legends have much to teach," Teal'c told him, as they turned aside from the path toward the city to walk outside it's walls. "Be still, Ry'ac, and listen."
Chastened, Ry'ac fell into step with his father, and Bra'tac began to speak.
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