John woke when the mattress shifted under him. He whined a complaint and dragged the pillow off his head and gazed around the room, bleary eyed. It was still dark outside. Cool sapphire moonlight filtered in through the gap in the drapes covering the window. He leaned on one arm and arched a quizzical brow when he found her.
Elizabeth froze, caught, her underwear dangling off one finger as she bent down to collect the rest of her discarded clothing. John thought he saw a flash of guilt before she schooled her features, concealing the barest hint of fang.
"Come back to bed," John drawled.
"I didn't mean to wake you," Elizabeth apologized as she drew her panties up her legs. She bent down to collect the rest of her discarded clothing.
John sighed as he flopped back onto the mattress. He scrubbed a hand across his face, wiping sleep out of his eyes as he realized every morning spent in his quarters was like this. She'd get up, redress and head back to her own rooms. John always stayed the whole night when he was in her room, so she'd started to insist that they spend the night in his room to avoid such "lapses in judgment". Every night he tried to show her he wanted her to stay, but every morning she still left. Well, he'd known courting her wouldn't be easy. He'd be damned if he was just going to give up.
As Elizabeth tugged on her pants, John threw back the covers and decided maybe he'd have to try to keep her around in the morning by other means. He wrapped his arms around her waist from behind. The touch of her skin tingled against his senses and at the base of his spine. He breathed in sharply, feeling that mystical yet connection between them. John wondered if there was an addictive quality to the bond, and found he didn't care in the slightest.
"What are you doing?" she asked. John kissed her neck in answer, hugging her to him. His hands slid up her sides to cup her breasts. "John I need to leave."
John slid one hand down her stomach and into her unbuckled pants. He was usually half-hard in the mornings. The feel of her soft skin under his fingers and the way her breath hitched as he fondled her only made him harder. He rubbed against her rear. His fingers withdrew from her pants and he smiled at her soft groan of protest.
"Come back to bed," he whispered into her ear as he began to push her pants and underwear down.
"John," she protested weakly as he fingers teased her entrance and fondled her breasts.
"I don't want you to go," John pouted. "I keep asking you to stay."
"Yes," John kissed her neck. "You should."
"Stay with me," John asked, his hands now still. He held her tightly. She turned in his embrace, her eyes falling shut briefly when his erection pressed against her stomach. His hand cupped her cheek. " How many times do you I have to say it for you to understand?"
"I do, I just-"
John kissed her, stopping the weak protests. He'd known pursuing a relationship would be hard, but he'd had no idea how hard. She was fighting him at every turn, but he was gaining ground. She melted bit by bit into his kisses and slowly he pushed her back towards the bed. He couldn't help the grin when she fell back onto the bed with a look of surprise. Her brown hair formed a halo of soft curls around her head on the pillow. She smiled back at him, her reasons for leaving apparently forgotten for the moment. John crawled on top of her, determined to banish those reasons altogether.
John held down one feminine hand against the mattress as he settled above her. Her supernatural strength was far superior to his, she could easily escape from his grip if she so desired. He made her forget she could easily overpower him by rubbing his fingers between her legs. He let go of her hand and slipped his arm under her shoulders, cradling her while his lips greedily took over her own.
He slipped one finger then another into her body while his thumb rubbed small circles on her clit. Elizabeth's voice caught as she came under him, her back arching, green eyes flying wide.
She collapsed back on the bed, eyes closed, panting slightly. John kissed her while she recovered, enjoying each little tremble as the aftershocks subsided. She opened her eyes again and John stole another kiss as he entered her. His lips swallowed her gasp of pleasure.
John settled on his arms above her as he began to move slowly, in and out. He dipped his head forward to kiss her lightly.
"John," his name was a cry and a prayer on her lips.
"Is it so hard to stay?" he whispered into her ear. She made a small noise of confused protest and pleasure as he worked in and out of her body again. He judged her to be at the edge of patience with him. She'd left him in the middle of sex over this issue, but John was learning where the limits were.
John kissed the shell of her ear as he slid out slowly then pushed back in lazily. She kissed the side of his neck then down to his shoulder then back again. John could feel the hard points of her teeth press into his skin on the return trip. He tilted his head further to the side, allowing her better access.
Her lips glided across his skin as she whispered quietly. John didn't understand everything she said, but he'd begun learning the language of the Ancients. Her tone was encouraging, her hands on his shoulders and her legs on his hips urging him faster. John leaned back to look at her.
Elizabeth's pale green eyes were wide, her lips parted, the pale points of her teeth just visible in the low light. She drew him down for a kiss then began to whisper into his ear. John let her take him, let her power rush over him like a comforting blanket. He moved faster as her words grew more urgent and intense. John kissed down the side of her neck. nipping playfully as he moved faster at her urging.
Elizabeth's long fangs scraped against his skin, sending little electric shockwaves down his spine.
John groaned. A year ago this wouldn't have been erotic. Her fangs were extended and she pressed them against his skin gently, so gently. John was nearing the edge. Elizabeth bit into the juncture of his neck and shoulder and John came hard, her spell turning the pain into intense pleasure that exploded behind his closed eyes.
John rocked into her unevenly as she lapped at the wound she'd created. Sated, John settled over her. The first time they'd lain together like this, he'd been worried about being too heavy, but then he'd seen her easily bend solid brass bars. John wrapped his arms around her languidly, still in a state of euphoria as she continued to draw blood.
Distantly, John knew his shoulder probably looked like a ragged mess at the moment; Vampire bites were not neat things. But John trusted Elizabeth not to kill him. She was a creature of absolute control. Which was part of the problem.
She licked over the shallow gashes then murmured a healing spell. John felt the touch of her power, so unlike human magic, as his flesh knit back together. She nuzzled the side of his neck, placing light kisses on the newly healed skin and muscle. John slid out of her and fell to the side, keeping her in the embrace of his arms.
He kissed her lips, deliberately tasting his own blood on them. She tried to hide her more feral nature, but he needed to embrace it. The only other option was running far away and he wasn't going to do that.
This was something he'd never have done a year ago, or even six months ago. He still hadn't even mentioned it to anyone else, knowing most of them wouldn't understand. He wasn't sure exactly what it was that Elizabeth did, but it felt so damn good. It made their connection stronger and bit by bit, Elizabeth was trusting him more.
John didn't know the details of her previous relationship, but he knew than not all of her lovers had let her feed off them. It was a powerful show of trust in vampire society where feral bloodlust ran strong and silent just under placid exteriors. John thanked Peter Grodin for that hint.
John glanced at the clock. It was still very early. Elizabeth's breath had evened out and they both succumbed to sleep within seconds.
John woke hours later when his alarm went off.
He aimed a smack at the device but it sprouted legs and skittered away out of his reach. John grabbed a pillow and lobbed it at the damn thing. The pillow connected and the shrill alarm shut off. He left it where it had fallen. He'd wind it before he went to bed that evening.
John reached over and wasn't surprised to find the other side of his bed empty. The sheets were still warm though, so Elizabeth hadn't left all that long ago. John sighed. It was progress. Muttering to himself, John dragged himself out of bed, taking the bedclothes with him. He dumped his bedding into the laundry chute, cursing then padded off to his bathroom for a shower.
Sunlight poured in through the many panes of the windows. The rooms John had chosen had once belonged to someone who'd liked stained glass. The windows had an extra layer of colored glass affixed to the underside. Since John's rooms were above the waterline, the bathroom was a cacophony of color when the sun shone. John washed quickly and returned to his bedroom to dress, checking the time as he went. It was still early. John would get commentary and gossip if he arrived early, but he got more if he arrived late. He didn't care so much if people teased him, but he preferred that Elizabeth not be brought into the discussion.
Her rank left Elizabeth in the spotlight. In a city occupied by Union States Marshals, Union Army, Canadian Military, a mixed scientific team and a handful of Vampires, Elizabeth was the sole figure on top. She'd been searching for Atlantis for longer than John had been alive and her position here was extremely important to her. John was in no way going to jeopardize her standing with the Vampire High Council. But he also wasn't going to let her hide behind that all-important job. He'd checked with Chuck Campbell, her apprentice. Sumner was between the two of them in the City's chain of command and John fell into some interesting loopholes even ignoring the fact that he wasn't her direct subordinate. Sumner grumbled, but it was perfectly acceptable by Vampire standards for John to court her. In fact, he'd gathered that some of her people would even encourage it.
John stifled a yawn as he entered the room they'd designated as a gym. He stayed to the edge of the room near the few mats, and well away from the combatants at the center. The walls and ceiling were made of rich red wood paneling. The fourth wall was made of stained glass windows from floor to ceiling. The panels folded away completely opening the room to a small dirt courtyard. The flooring was the hard-not-quite stone that much of the city was made off, which was why they'd had some mats brought into the city. They were still rough, but it was better than being thrown into the ground in a rough fight; like the one happening now.
Sumner was sparring with Teyla. A tall man with piercing blue eyes and close-cropped blond hair, Sumner was the head of the small Union military contingent in Atlantis. John and the other Union Marshals O'Neill had transferred to the city were assigned under him. The man had a reputation for being stubborn and straight-laced, though he'd seemed to loosen up a little, at least where John was concerned. But he was still a military man, which meant everyone under his command kept a strict training regimen, including himself.
Yesterday had been practice with weapons. This morning was hand-to-hand combat.
Steel flashed in the early morning sunlight, glinting off Sumner's left arm. He'd lost it and a leg years before in a Confederate attack and now had mechanical replacements. The inner gears and pistons whirred as he moved to block her blow, claws meeting steel.
Most people considered his opponent a bit on the small side, especially for a werewolf. But in the months since this Athosian warrior had joined their expedition John had learned never to underestimate Teyla. What she lacked in size, she made up for in agility and speed. She was currently in her werewolf form - sporting a dark grey overcoat and cream colored underbelly. A blaze of cinnamon covered her nose and between her eyes. The same color ran in a line between the grey and pale colored fur, stretching out across her long limbs to her claws. She used that longer reach and faster reflex to her advantage.
"A bit early this morning," Sumner called out when he caught sight of John in the entryway.
"Yes, sir," John said, shrugging off his jacket and reaching for one of the lightly padded leather vests in the cupboard wall.
Sumner smirked and deflected Teyla's next blow, letting her claws connect with his metal arm and followed through with a grappling move. Teyla dodged away, ducking out of his grasp and twisting, tail tucked so he couldn't gab it. She dove to the side, landed on all fours then leapt for a pounce. Sumner dropped down at the last moment and used Teyla's momentum to fling her over his head as he hit the floor.
Teyla twisted and landed on her feet and one hand. She launched herself at Sumner again, tucking her head and ramming into him with her shoulder. Sumner stumbled a step back as they began to exchange blows. Teyla dug her claws into the leather cover on his shoulder and Sumner's arm came away with a hiss of pressure and a click.
Teyla stepped back, holding his arm aloft, her left ear canted to one side, tail swishing playfully. Her lower jaw dropped into a lazy lupine smile as she turned her wrist side to side, letting Sumner's arm flop.
"And I appear to have been disarmed," Sumner joked, sketching a bow to his sparring partner.
Teyla chuckled and tossed the arm back to its owner. "Good morning, John."
Teyla wore a simple top of dyed leather and a split skirt which allowed for easy movement as well as her tail. Adjustable straps enabled her to wear the outfit as a human and in her wolf form. She shifted back now, the fur falling away and turning into red-gold sparks that dissolved on the Aether while bones broke and muscle tore and re-knit together. She adjusted her skirt and tossed her hair back over her shoulder when she was done.
"Morning," John said easily as he strapped on some leather bracers. He wanted coffee but early morning exercise would keep him awake until he could get some. Breakfast always came after a possible beating. He'd learned that lesson the hard way when he'd been in the Union Army.
"So," Sumner said as he snapped the artificial arm back into place. "You're up early. She get bored of you already?" He smirked and twisted the metal wrist, wincing as the connection completed. He flexed his fingers and worked the arm around in a circle.
"Sir?" John asked, feigning ignorance.
Sumner rolled his eyes. "So where's your other partner?"
"Right here." Ronon stalked into the room. His feet were bare and he wore loose canvas pants. His shirt and long leather coat were tossed over one shoulder. His long had was braided into thick locks which were adorned with beads of bone and gold. He'd bound some slim feathers into his hair as well with thin leather cords. "We shifting for this?" he asked Teyla.
"Only if you want," Sumner answered instead, casually reminding Ronon where he stood in the hierarchy on Atlantis.
Sumner was the superior officer of the Union Army, John was the ranking Marshal and Teyla was the lead of the Canadian forces. The city held a collection of Union Marshals, three platoons of Union Army regular infantry, a platoon of Canadian Warriors, and a combined Canadian-Union platoon of battle mages. All of them answered to Sumner, including the werewolves like Ronon.
"Whatever." Ronon tossed his coat and shirt aside.
He squared off against John and brought up his fists in a fighting stance. John looked at him for a moment then assumed his own stance. They began to spar, Ronon pointedly ignoring the presence of the others.
Sumner hadn't quite earned the respect of Ronon and other werewolves who weren't already under his command. It was a wolf thing to push that boundary constantly until they felt the person in charge had earned the right to be there. Asking Teyla was an openly defiant act, but John was impressed Sumner recognized that and dealt with it appropriately. When they'd first met, John had been sure Sumner was one of the hardline career army officers who only thought from a human perspective. A certain ordeal in the Yellowstone Caldera had changed John's opinion of the man.
Ronon came at John with an aggressive flurry of fists. John blocked with his arms and took the wicked impacts on the leather bracers.
"Hey," John protested.
John scowled. "I am."
Ronon was not happy with John's choice of bedroom partners. He could deal with Vampires on a professional level with no issue, but he was against John bedding one. He'd taken to using the morning sessions to physically make his opinions known. John grit his teeth and sparred with the other man. He knew Ronon would get over it eventually.
The door slid open and Bates walked in. A battle mage by training, he lazily twirled a dark wooden staff carved with runes and capped with electrum. Bates was Sumner's second among the Union Regular army, but ranked below John on Atlantis.
"Hand to hand today," Sumner told him.
Bates nodded and carefully set the quarterstaff on a rack by the door. The rest of the morning crew wandered in closely behind him. Evan Lorne, John's own second among the Union marshals, yawned loudly as he entered. John nodded a greeting. Evan's look of surprise made John suddenly aware that he'd turned his back on Ronon. John ducked and the Satedan went sailing over his head.
Ronon landed on all fours, long hair swinging free of the bindings he normally used to keep it held back. John crouched into a more balanced stance, pleased he hadn't been caught by the tactic, but annoyed.
"You need to focus on the here and now," Ronon growled, "not on everything else."
He sprang at John once more, shifting his form swiftly as he moved. Bones crunched audibly and pushed against his skin, the facial structures lengthening as the lupine muzzle forced its way outwards. The arm reaching for John lengthened as it cracked and grew. Wicked claws no natural wolf had ever possessed extruded from Ronon's fingertips.
John ducked out of the way, grabbed Ronon's wrist and tried to haul him to the side. The skin under his hands exploded in clear liquid, split membrane and brown fur which made John lose his grip. The long locks of dreaded hair fell away with the sloughed off skin, dissolving into a fine red-gold dust before swirling away on the Aether.
"I hate it when you do that," John complained, shaking the goop off his hand.
"I know," Ronon replied with a feral grin.
John couldn't blame him for wanting to practice. Shifting mid-battle was a skill that had taken years to learn and which needed to be exercised or Ronon would become slower at it. Still John wasn't oblivious to the fact that Ronon had chosen him to practice against.
Ronon adjusted his pants for his bushy tail then crossed furry arms over his broad chest. Ronon's dense fur was a brindle pattern of dark brown on brown with only the tip of his tail solid in the darker shade. He gained nearly a foot in height after transformation and now looked down at John with impatience.
"Why does that happen, anyway?" John complained as he wiped the remaining goop off on his pants. "The… whatever it is on you just goes away but anyone else who's been slimed in the process stays that way."
John rolled his eyes. "Cute."
"You done talking?" Ronon asked
John had the sudden insight to duck again, and barely missed being tackled. John spun and the two fought, exchanging blows which stung but didn't do more than bruising damage. Ronon wasn't using his claws to rip John to shreds, which he could easily have done, but he wasn't holding back either. John finally zigged when he should have zagged and Ronon sent him sprawling to the mats. The rough leather provided some cushion against the hard floor, but not much. John recovered and got to his feet, meeting Ronon's next blow with a block.
After an hour's practice, Ronon clapped his partner on the shoulder as he left. John winced under the friendly blow. Ronon seemed to be in a much less surly mood, but John on the other hand was sporting some bruises which would probably be a cornucopia of colorful pain by day's end.
Some days it hurt to be him.
Elizabeth breathed out, letting the soft sound of the water cascading over the rocks soothe her psyche. She sat in a little balcony garden off her chosen rooms in the shade, facing the vast ocean. She'd left John before dawn again. She part of her hadn't wanted to, but the greater part decided she'd needed to. Perhaps she was kidding herself into thinking that not everyone in the city knew she'd taken John Sheppard as a lover, but she still felt the need to maintain some level of professionalism. Besides she knew if she stayed they'd both be late for their respective duties.
She focused on her early morning meditation and tried to put thoughts of her lover out of her head. As usual she was hard pressed to do so, which only made her more irritated and resolved to maintain control over her life. Finding she was making little headway into achieving a meditative state, she tried reason, pulling out her thoughts and feelings on John and examining them.
Her attraction was a simple matter of biology. When her race had been made, their saviors had interfered with the dark magic. Vampires had been intended to be a race that propagated by death and the Ancients had only been able to partially fix the damage done to her ancestors before they'd disappeared. Vampires were precariously few in number and plagued by low fertility. To combat this, Vampire females had been given the ability to sense compatible males.
John was one of only three men she'd met in her entire lifetime that she'd experienced that instant recognition with. Her attraction was borne of biology and perhaps novelty. Three was an exceptionally low number, though she had to admit she hadn't been looking. Elizabeth reconciled that he'd caught her interest because of some deep instinct too promote her race. She examined that feeling and set it aside.
John was alluring. He had a good heart. He was occasionally irritating, especially when he bickered with Rodney McKay, but it wasn't mean spirited. He understood duty in a way that resonated with her own deeply held values. He'd begun to court her in a manner that showed he cared about her feelings on her position here. He was physically attractive as well and, truth be told, it felt good to feed her more primal appetites with him in bed. He trusted her. She examined each trait like a shiny bauble then set them too aside.
He was too good to be true if her last disastrous relationship was anything to judge by. Perhaps she was still rebounding from that rejection and thus disinclined to think rationally. Elizabeth set all these thoughts and feelings aside, mentally setting them down and out of her line of sight so they could not bother her. She could feel reason returning and with it calm.
The last image she saw before she let her eyes close was the sunlight dancing on the surface of the sea. It was an image very few born to her race had ever seen. An incomprehensible fusion of magic and technology filled the city, and one such miraculous aspect was the glass which kept her safe from the sun's lethal rays.
Elizabeth had been on the trail of Atlantis for years before enough pieces had fallen together than she'd been able to locate the fabled Heart of Atlantis, the key to the city. She'd followed the trail to the North American continent. The Union had had minimal contact with her government, but had been willing to assist, provided they could reap some of the benefit. President O'Neill had suggested sending some of his best men for the job. These men included John Sheppard, Marshall Sumner and Ronon Dex. O'Neill was especially adamant about John's inclusion. Sheppard, he promised, was an exemplary soldier as well as one of the rare humans who had the special touch with Ancient artifacts.
She'd gained further allies in Canada. Jeannie Miller, Empress of Canada was a friend of both the Union and of one of Elizabeth's own friends, a woman named Charin. Through those connections Elizabeth's party had grown to including Charin's granddaughter Teyla, a skilled doctor named Carson Beckett, and Jeannie's own brother, Rodney McKay.
The journey had been perilous and filled with unexpected dangers. They'd nearly been killed by Wraith, had almost killed one another, had saved a young healer named Jennifer Keller, had snuck into Wraith territory undetected and then assaulted a Wraith Hive, stealing back the Heart of Atlantis from the demonic Wraith and fleeing through an unexpected Gateway into Atlantis.
Once though the Gateway, the bittersweet joy she'd felt at surviving and finally finding the city was abruptly curtailed when the Guardians, spirits of long dead Ancients, Dragons, had manifested and demanded the intruders identify themselves. Fortunately the expedition had avoided annihilation at the hands of two irate spirits because they possessed the Heart and because of John Sheppard's natural affinity for the Ancients' technology.
Five months on and they had barely scratched the surface of Atlantis' secrets. Her new home was as wondrous as she envisioned as a child, even filled with all the dangers and challengers she'd been wary of as an adult.
A small chime roused her from her inner thoughts, reminding her of the first appointment this morning. With great gain had also come great loss and responsibility. They'd very nearly not survived the death of the hive they'd taken the Heart from. The Wraith in question had worked it into their own magic somehow and the hive had begun to collapse. Peter Grodin had been her partner for many years and had been a friend. He'd chosen to remain behind and save everyone else from certain death. Elizabeth had promised him she'd continue his apprentice's training and now it was up to her to be a mentor to Chuck Campbell.
Elizabeth paused in the shade of the courtyard doorway. The sun still unnerved her even after months in Atlantis. The great domes of the city were made of the same precious glass her people used in masks. Exceptionally hard, it had been treated in a forgotten process which allowed in light, but somehow prevented a Vampire from being burned by the sun. Good eyepieces were highly prized. Elizabeth was lucky enough to have acquired three masks with such glass. Some in the High Council wanted to dismantle some of the panels so that more eyepieces or even windows could be made.
She'd fight the High Council if they wanted to dismantle this place. Aside from loving the city on behalf of her father and even putting aside her interest in it as a historical location, Elizabeth very much doubted that most Vampires could ever get used to so much sun. They'd seen a small but steady stream of Vampires in and out of the city since she'd taken command. Only a few were present even now, but only herself and her apprentice had taken permanent residence. The sun and the diurnal schedule they kept was unnerving for practically every Vampire who set foot in the city, herself included.
Chuck, it seemed, was determined to become a singular exception.
Her apprentice was practicing his sword forms in the courtyard she'd designated as a training space. Months ago it had been a dusty lot. Now that the city was on the surface, the Atlantis's automatic systems watered and cut the green lawns. Chuck was bare-chested except for a shoulder guard and bracers. He was also wearing a kilt. Elizabeth lifted a slim eyebrow as she watched Chuck finish the form.
"Good morning!" he said when he caught sight of her in the shadow of the central building. "Just finishing."
"I can see that," Elizabeth mused. "Where did you get a kilt?"
"Dr. Beckett," Chuck replied as he completed The Tiger form and seamlessly transitioned into The Swooping Crane, balancing for a moment before he began the long, elegant movements which shared much with Tai chi. "He let me try one of his then got his family to send another in his last package from home. I believe this is his family tartan."
Elizabeth followed his progress as the single sword cut through the air, drawing patterns and throwing reflections on the surrounding grass as it flashed in the sunlight. Elizabeth idly noted where Chuck's form was improving and where she'd like to see him tighten a bit, or center his stance more. The amount of skin on display was distracting. Not because she was attracted to Chuck, though he wasn't ugly, far from it, but because he was practicing in broad daylight.
Elizabeth had practiced in far less. In fact, her Mentor had had her run the thousand steps from the monastery to the high shrine in nothing more than her undergarments. When she'd complained, Ganos Lal, the head monk at the time, had made her do it twice more. Naked. Early spring on the Tibetan plateau was not warm. But that had been in the middle of the night. She'd had to hurry to complete her task before the sun rose. She was fairly certain her teachers wouldn't have let her come to harm when the dawn arrived, but she hadn't wanted to push her luck.
"You seem to be getting over your aversion to sunlight," Elizabeth commented as she stepped out into the courtyard.
If her apprentice could withstand it, she could. At least for awhile. She didn't know how John could walk around without squinting all the time.
"Well," Chuck was breathy heavily at the end of his workout. The crane stances as they'd been taught included a series of poses that required the practitioner to hold for up to several minutes, right when their muscles had already begun to scream for mercy. "I figured the best way to get over it was to embrace it."
He wobbled slightly as he shifted position. The sword dropped slightly and Elizabeth lifted it back up with a finger.
"Short of going around nude, or in a loin-cloth or something silly, this is the best I could come up with," he admitted, wincing in pain as he fought to keep the blade up. "It's actually delightfully breezy."
Elizabeth smirked as she paced behind him. She wasn't sure that a pair of cut off pants or even a loin cloth would have been more silly. Though she supposed Chuck had the complexion to be a Scotsman. He finished the form and heaved a sigh as he went for a towel and mopped his brow.
"It's hot under the sun, but not as bad as doing those forms in full gear," he admitted between heaving breaths.
Elizabeth nodded mutely as she completed her circuit around the courtyard. She paused as Chuck wandered over, undoing the buckles on his right bracer.
"Look at this," he said, amusement plain in his voice. "I've got the beginnings of something called a "tan line". I noticed it yesterday and asked Carson. He also warned me about something called "sunburn". What is that?"
"A burn caused by the sun," Elizabeth replied. Chuck gave her an exasperated look and she laughed quietly. "Humans, and werewolves in their human form, can burn in the sun. Not as we do obviously, but their skin can become red and painful from too much exposure."
"Never knew that," Chuck stated as he reattached the bracer. "What are we doing this morning?"
"I'm not sure," Elizabeth mused, tapping a finger against her lower lip. "Perhaps some of the defensive techniques? Maybe more levitation? We could see how deep the earth in their courtyards goes," she wondered aloud as she continued to walk around "You could dig the hole without your hands until we found the bottom and then fill it in again."
Chuck's face fell momentarily but he quickly masked his disappointment. Elizabeth laughed lightly. She turned so the sun was at her back and not so much of an annoyance. She'd had Chuck move huge boulders through the Gateway and into this space weeks ago in preparation, allowing him to exercise other skills. Now it was time to use them as targets.
"I'm kidding. Rntati!" she said, feeding the word power and flicking her wrist to direct the flow of energy.
The pure power, the essence of the word, slammed into the boulder. Gravel and dust fell away from the thin gash she'd rent in the stone with a single utterance. The bolder stood as it was for a moment before the top half of it slid to one side then toppled to the ground. Chuckle whistled in appreciation.
Chuck's last lesson had been in healing, knitting bone back together. Now it was time to learn another lesson in destruction. Balance was an important part of life and the philosophies central to their order. There was chaos of destruction and chaos of creation. Words could harm as well as heal and one did not need to use any special power to create or destroy with them. Knowing both sides of a thing allowed for control and clear mindedness which permitted one to know when it was time to use which skill.
Vampires were a truly terrible race and none knew this better than their most powerful members. It was why the monks of Shangri-la had taken the very first of their order and trained them to respect their power and the responsibility they to use that power wisely. Elizabeth shuddered to think what would have happened if the calm and control the monks taught had not permeated her people's culture. At worst they'd be the demons they'd intended to be. At best they'd be…like Genii.
Chuck squared off against the boulder and repeated the word. A small chunk of marble sailed off into the grass. He shrugged and tried again. Elizabeth stopped him after a few minutes.
"Think less of the word. Your pronunciation is fine. Think more of what the word truly is. It is from the Ancient tongue, so think of the concept that it embodies. You remember what Peter told you about iron and steel when you made your swords?"
Chuck nodded. "The Ancient tongue is as close to the true name of a thing as has been discovered. Naming something gives access to it."
"Access. Not power over it. Correct. What verb is this?"
"Rntati means to cut. It embodies cleaving something cleanly, quickly and efficiently," Chuck replied as he slashed the word against the rock again. A thin line appeared in the marble. He nodded in satisfaction as he wiped his brow.
"Closer. Why do we practice martial arts?"
"Uh," Chuck faltered, not following her train of thought for a moment before something clicked in the back of his mind. "Because it teaches the skills we need to work more effectively?"
"Textbook answer," Elizabeth smiled as she perched on another marble slab, out of his range of fire. "Care to elaborate?"
"I know this," Chuck said as he rubbed a hand though his hair. He turned around and looked at her. "I'm supposed to visualize, huh?"
Elizabeth smiled and gestured at the rock in answer. He was getting it, even if he needed to be reminded on occasion. Chuck squared off once more against the rock and Elizabeth could practically see him approaching the problem differently. This time a small section of the rock slid away. Chuck wiped his forehead again. Doing it correctly always took more effort the first few hundred times, but he'd gain more stamina and better control. Currently he was pouring everything into each blow, which wasn't exactly correct, but not uncommon for someone who hadn't had centuries of experience.
There was a whisper of a movement off to one side and Elizabeth caught their growing audience out of her peripheral vision. She didn't mind as long as they didn't distract the lesson. She was aware that demonstrations of power were unnerving to some of the humans. She sighed and slid off the rock, thinking about what she wanted to say while Chuck caught his breath.
"This is clearly a destructive spell," she stated.
Chuck sank to the ground then belatedly forgot he was wearing a kilt and shifted so he wasn't indecent. "Is it?" he asked.
Elizabeth arched a brow and continued her slow circle of the immediate area. The sun really was annoying. She glared obliquely at it and moved so she stood in the thin band of shade cats by the structural supports of the massive dome. She made a mental note to ask John where he got his broad-rimmed hats.
"Well, it's a smooth cut. Surgical." Chuck wiped the back of his neck. "Uhm, it could quarry rock, harvest grain. Uh, against someone it'd be a quick death, but…if you controlled the depth you could cut skin neatly for example." He froze then grinned and she could see he got it.
"The healing spell could be over-used and actually kill someone. This one could possibly save someone," he decided.
She nodded once. "Exactly. Your task is to turn this boulder into fine dust using only small, controlled cuts." She rested her hand on the smaller of the two stones she'd had him practice levitation on.
"What?" Chuck asked, eyeing the waist high stone with a pole-axed expression.
"Death by a thousand little cuts," Elizabeth quoted her mentor. "By sundown." She repressed an evil smile. "I'll even excuse you from your other tasks today and allow you to have lunch."
Chuck made a small sound of dismay and Elizabeth patted him on the shoulder as she walked by. Her mentor, Negotiator Mal Doran, had been right. It was far more fun to give that assignment than it was to do it. She glided across the ground toward the cool sanctuary of the shadows.
John leaned against the door, obviously just having come from his own workout given the sheen of sweat at his temple. "Kind of harsh," he commented, offering his arm.
Elizabeth hesitated for a second, aware of the audience watching her apprentice slowly demolish his target. She placed a hand on his arm to decline the offer, but stood close by his side. John didn't quite cover the flash of disappointment, but accepted her close presence. They began walking in the direction of the kitchens. Elizabeth had already eaten, but John still needed breakfast. She could hear his stomach rumbling.
"I did it when I was his age," she said, reflecting on how much she'd hated that boulder by the end of that night. "But there are valuable lessons there." She could also remember the satisfaction when she'd stumbled across the solution and had reduced the last third quickly and efficiently.
"He's trying to use brute force too much. The task goes much faster if he doesn't try to overpower it. He'll be tired but he won't be completed wretched. He could even be done by lunch if he figures it out."
"Work smarter not harder. Think he'll be done by noon?"
"Doubtful. That particular lesson is for those of us who need it. I do have a question for you, however."
"The Sun is very bright."
John chuckled. "You noticed that, huh?" He grinned at her playful smack. "So what's your question?"
"Where do you get your hats?"
John laughed as he escorted her down the hall.
"Here they come," Jeannie Miller, Empress of Canada, murmured under her breath.
The explosion was sudden and deafening. The stone wall exploded into dust and bits of flying masonry. The barest suggestion of a ragged hole could be seen through the thick dust which began to shimmer unnaturally rather than clear in the breeze. One of the battle mages erupted with a jet of flame, firing blindly into the shimmering air. The fireball sailed into the middle of the hole in the three story high wall and illuminated a grotesque figure.
The demon-cast illusion fell apart with the intrusion of the mage's fire. The fireball landed on the lower abdomen of the Wraith drone, searing it. The demon reared up, flailing at the fire with its forelimbs, and screeching behind the blank chitin mask. With the concealing illusion gone, the battle mage and two Athosian warriors focused their fire onto the drone, sending crossbow bolts, bullets and fireballs into the creature's humanoid upper torso and spider-like lower abdomen. It bled black ichor as it died.
Cannon fire landed in the middle of the rubble, blasting the Illusion away entirely as the Wraith mage supporting it died. The Wraith covered the wall, clinging to the top and sides like the spiders they resembled. The Wraith flowing through the breach paused for just a fraction as the Illusion shattered around them, like insects startled by sudden sunlight. Then they began to move boldly. The warriors began to engage the faceless drones who dropped down to the ground now that their cover was blown.
Jeannie tightened her hands on the railing of her airship and watched the new breach in the wall she looked through her binoculars past the breach. Now that the air was clear she could what lay behind. What she saw made her blood run cold. More Wraith were pressed against one another, waiting to come in, a seething black mass that shifted under a stronger magical shield that turned the air above them a sickly green.
The bulk of her war mechs were still a half mile away, being carefully piloted by remote control. The few mech present were mostly driven by operators but there were one or two remote controls. Huge mechanical creations with as many designs as there were pilots, ranging from the sleek to the awkward, from the dirty and scuffed to the highly polished and accented with gold and gemstones, they stood in a rough approximation of a line. They waited just beyond the treeline where they had more cover, waiting for the signal from Jeannie's airship which hovered just over the forest canopy. The land immediately around the Barrier had always been kept clear of trees taller than a man. The wild grass between the huge stone wall and the trees waved in the slight breeze.
"Ma'am," one of her generals said nervously.
"There are at least three hundred of them on the other side," Jeannie answered his unspoken question. "Wait on the mechs."
The man sighed and repeated her order.
Jeannie lowered her binoculars and watched the breach with her own eyes for a moment, taking in more of the battle than the binoculars would allow. It was really a pain. She should invent wider lenses to allow for more peripheral vision. Which she could do if she just- No. She had to focus.
The Barrier was thirty feet tall, twelve feet thick at the base and nearly eight at the top. It was reinforced with heavy ironwork and steel and had only been built in the last decade, meant to withstand heavy punishment. Never before had the Wraith attacked the wall with such success.
The Wraith were pouring out of the breach in greater numbers now and the ground forces began to withdraw under their numbers. Jeannie looked through the binoculars again and spotted another mage. The demon had a distinctive red pattern on his chest. By that marking Jeannie noted it was yet another hive, bringing the total up to five different ones in Canada alone. The Union was dealing with a similar crisis and had noted the same phenomenon.
Neither Jeannie nor President O'Neill could think of a reason why the Wraith were attacking now. Wraith were savage creatures who took advantage of weakness and rarely entertained ideas of revenge. The Barrier was strong and well maintained- not a weak target to be preyed upon. Nothing about these attacks made any sense.
"Send in the mechs," Jeannie ordered.
The order was repeated and the retreat was sounded for the non-armored forces. The heavy mechanical suits or remote controlled war-clanks lumbered forward. They sported an impressive array of destructive implements; claws, war hammers, flails, heavy caliber guns, cannons and even flame throwers. They moved forward and crashed against the onslaught of Wraith, literally cutting some down before them with automatic saws and spinning scythes. Someone with a mounted a flame thrower was pouring fire into the breach in the barrier. The Wraith walked over their own dead and continued to cross through the hole in the massive wall. The grass around the area caught fire, black smoke and flickering firelight to the hellish engagement.
"Estimated time until we have reinforcements?" Jeannie asked without taking her eyes off the battle.
She'd used her status as Empress to press the local Mad Scientists to bring their war mechs to the front when they'd received word that the Wraith were close to a breach here. The bulk of her personal army had been hours away, having just finished dealing with another breach further North. That was something else that puzzled her – the locations of the attacks didn't seem to have any sort of pattern.
"Another ten minutes Empress," her general responded after a clear hesitation.
Jeannie set her jaw and forced herself not to think about how she could make her mechs faster. She'd have time left for experimentation later. First she needed to help her people survive this. Ten minutes and her personal mechs would be here to bolster the local forces. They needed to survive just ten minutes.
There was a flash of light and a muffled explosion and one of the remote mechs went down under the press of spider-like bodies. What she assumed was the controlling aircraft backed off out of range. The Wraith mage once again unleashed what looked suspiciously like a lightning bolt. The blue-white streak shot into another one of the suits, instantly frying the circuitry. This one was piloted and didn't have the telltale antennae or unwieldy umbilical cables the previous one had.
Jeannie wasn't the only person who swore as the huge device shut down with a series of small explosions. The top half collapsed to one side like a puppet with the strings cut. Smoke curled up out of the joints and the Wraith fell upon the person inside. Jeannie cringed as their claws cut into the metal and tore it apart. The heavy steel squealed as the drones ripped and pulled. Their claws came back red and Jeannie prayed the man inside had already been killed by the lightning.
The airship she was in had been fast but ill equipped to be much of a force on its own. It wasn't a warship. It had had the speed she'd needed to deliver her army's battle mages to assist the local forces.
"Time!" she called out.
"Damn," she swore.
The battle was not going well and this was the third in the past few days. She'd have to contact the Union and see if things were escalating equally there. The Athosian and regular Army battle mages had collected together and were focusing fire on a second Wraith mage when a Seneschal appeared.
The upper torso of the Seneschal looked nearly human, but his skin was a sickly, mottled green where visible. He wore chitin armor and carried a bone spear. Larger than the drones and more powerful than the mages, the Seneschal could easily cut through their small emergency force. Everyone on the air ship knew this and terrified chatter broke out among the crew, only to be silenced by a few barked orders from superior officers.
The drones and mages pressed their attack when the Seneschal joined them on the field. They too knew of the advantage they now had in both numbers and power The Seneschal's spear lit up with black fire as he raced for the group of human mages and their Athosian warrior guard, his white mane trailing out behind him. He easily knocked aside a mech twice his size and opened his mandible-like jaws, ruining the illusion of humanity.
For a horrified moment Jeannie watched helplessly as death ran down on her countrymen, only the Wraith was suddenly knocked back. More than one person stood in surprise.
Then there was a blinding explosion. Jeannie threw an arm across her eyes to shield them. After the flash there was utter silence then a deep rumble. The airship shuddered and dipped in the aftermath of the explosion hit them with a charged wind. It dropped slightly in the sky, but stabilized after a heart-stopping second.
Jeannie rubbed at her eyes.
"Who ordered a Nova?" one of her generals demanded.
"Who had one?" Jeannie asked, blinking in the brightness.
Explosions of that force and magnitude were expensive and unusual. All of the Nova-class explosive devices the Army had, had already been used against the Wraith. It was of concern that someone apparently had one in their personal stash that they hadn't turned over when they'd been instructed to.
When her vision cleared, Jeannie scanned the breach. Mercifully the charge had been shaped, directing most of the blast at the stone wall. The battle mages and warriors had been knocked back and most were staggering around, dazed but unharmed. Where the messy breach had been there was now a neat oval hole. Bits of masonry crumbled down from the overhanging sides into the voice where the heavy stone had been obliterated.
"Not that I'm entirely displeased but who did that?" Jeannie asked. As she waited for the response, she calculated how much time and how many resources it would take to repair the new, larger hole.
The Wraith were so many charred carapaces. A few injured specimens were limping away in retreat, but most were dead. The corpses at the edge of the blast were the most intact, the arachnoid legs of the lower torso were bent and pulled in death. Beyond the breach, the bulk of the Wraith army was retreating.
"One of the mech operators. We're bringing her up now," her general replied. He looked at the strip of paper from the repeater machine. "She says her name is Laura Cadman. She's claiming she made the Nova herself."
"Reckless, but useful," Jeannie commented. She'd heard the name Cadman before, but not specifically Laura.
"She's not in the registry," her general added, frowning at the tape as he fed it through his fingers, reading the text written on it.
"New to Canada, or young?" Jeannie wondered aloud.
Unlike in the United States or the Confederate States, the Scientists in Canada all had to be registered and conform to the formal Articles of War and Science. Most Scientists in Canada were immigrants and refugees from the Mad Science wars in Europe, driven to flee their former countries because of a desire to be their own masters and conduct experiments they, and not some local prince, wanted. So many egos in a single country had necessitated the creation of a code of proper procedure for conduct. Additionally, it made things like organizing formal rivalries and identifying bodies after experiments gone awry, easier.
"Young, I think," The general said, nodding to the young woman who was currently bring escorted their way.
Laura stopped in front of them and looked from Jeannie to her general and back again.
"I know I'm not supposed to make stuff like that but I wanted to see if I could, and I always make them shaped and the Wraith was," she trailed off and shook herself. "He had to go," she stated resolutely.
"You don't have a mentor," Jeannie stated.
"No," Laura replied. "I just got out of the University a month ago."
Jeannie smiled. This girl had promise, and while she needed brilliant people helping her on the front lines, Laura Cadman was on the reckless side still. She needed some training beyond her formal schooling.
"I think I might be able to help you there." Jeannie smiled brightly. "Tell me, Laura, do you like the sea?"
Elizabeth Weir idly rubbed her thumb against the smoothed surface of her father's silver watch. She touched a small key and the runes which appeared to be suspected in glass moved upwards. She'd been thrilled to find the deep mahogany and brass desk in her office had one of the curious "sprit computers" as Rodney McKay called them, built into it.
Elizabeth had managed to navigate into the history files of the city. She'd started at the beginning and was reading forward, avidly absorbing everything she could. Currently she was reading about the formation of their governments in the very earliest of times. Elizabeth was a student of history and found it utterly fascinating reading.
Movement just out of her peripheral vision caught her eye. She looked up as Marshall Sumner sauntered into her office. She glanced at the clock on her desk and realized that it was time for their meeting. Elizabeth depressed a small stud on the desk's surface and the words within the crystalline glass faded from view. The pane slid back into the desk as Sumner sank into one of the chairs. She noticed with amusement he seemed to settle into the same one every time.
"Mack," she smiled a genuine greeting.
Sumner grunted. "The science types are chomping at the bit to explore the middle ring," he said, launching into discussion without preamble.
That, she was learning, was typical for him. It had been rough going at first, but they, and the whole expedition were learning to live with one another. Sumner was in charge of the Military forces in the city and was effectively her second in command. He didn't spare words or dance around topics. It was oddly refreshing to deal with his to-the-point bluntness. Elizabeth stifled a small smile and pulled a paper into the center of her desk with one finger. She spun the document around so Marshall could see, and pushed it across toward him.
"Dr. McKay has been quite adamant about being allowed to extend his investigations beyond the inner ring," she said.
Sumner leaned forward and read the lengthy note quickly. He snorted. "I can't let him go barging into something nasty." Sumner rolled his eyes. "He almost got himself killed when he woke up those short range craft."
Elizabeth nodded. That had been an…unusual encounter. "I know," she assured him. She didn't think anyone would forget that particular incident. "I told him we'd follow your protocols."
Sumner grinned. "Good! I knew you'd see it my way."
"But," Elizabeth added, holding up a forestalling hand "I also told him we'd increase the speed at which we determined the safety of an area."
Sumner frowned. "Now hold on. I only have so many people, and this is a big city with a lot of things waiting to kill them."
"We are supposed to be reinforced as we move outward and secure more areas," Elizabeth countered. "Our security forces shouldn't be unduly stretched."
She understood the need for caution; the sentient short range craft and the spirit guardians they'd met the first day had been proof enough of that. However, she also believed Sumner was being a bit too cautious. Every room in the city seemed to bring new discoveries and revelations. Every new fact she learned made her feel closer to her father.
"The security of this operation is my purview," Sumner said, balling a fist and slamming it on the arm of his chair. The wood cracked slightly under the metal. The chair would be in pieces before the year was over, if he continued to pound on it. "Not yours, Ma'am."
"I understand that," Elizabeth assured him calmly.
"Don't even try the mind tricks," Sumner scowled. "I know you're just as eager to see what else is out there, but I don't want another sea monster incident."
"You know I wasn't trying to overpower you," Elizabeth said mildly.
It was still a point of annoyance for her that he brought that topic up. She'd learned his reactions in matters that were not life-and-death were instant and defensive. Sumner would be reasonable eventually. He needed some time to turn the problem over with his mind. She'd never swayed anyone under her command with magic, though occasionally in the case of Dr. McKay it was tempting.
It was an extreme breach of protocol for a Negotiator trained in the use of Sekhm Power, the difficult Vampire magic of spoken word, to use their skills to bend another to their will. She knew Sumner knew this; she'd told him herself. Repeatedly. Elizabeth wasn't entirely sure if he brought it up now because he was still uncertain of his feelings for her kind, or if he was deliberately trying to bait her. Either option was possible.
Sumner waved her off and threw the arm over the back of his chair. "Maybe I can accelerate the schedule a little. If!" He held up a finger. "If you can accelerate the timetable General Landry set."
"I might not be able to do that," Elizabeth told him seriously.
Landry was the Union general currently in charge of the Gateway operation in the Cheyenne mountain complex close to the Union Capitol. The Ancient subterranean settlement was where their Gateway was housed, deep in the mountain. She'd been making an outline for a plan to convince Landry of their need to accelerate their timetable of personnel and supplies, the previous evening. She wasn't yet satisfied with it and she wouldn't promise Sumner something she wasn't sure she could deliver. At least he'd moved out of the instantly dismissive phase quickly. She'd learned this meant he was in his demanding phase now, but at least here they could negotiate.
"Well," Sumner scowled, "What ab-" He paused in midsentence as the Gateway activated. "The hell is that?" he asked, rising to his feet.
Elizabeth frowned and joined him at the glass window of her office. "I wasn't expecting anyone."
She had a view of the Gateway room and could clearly see the gems set into the etched stone glowing. They both strode out into the upper observation deck as Sumner's people sprang into action and took up defensive positions in front of the Gateway. Sumner loosened the heavy revolver he had holstered to his mechanical leg. Elizabeth silently recited a calming mantra. Her office was next to the Gateway room for more than one reason.
The Gateways had been constructed by the Ancient Technomages and fused Science and Magic together in a way that no one had been able to reproduce since. They connected to the planetary ley lines and allowed for near-instant travel across the world and even across other realms of existence. They could be locked, requiring a person attune themselves to a specific touchstone and would only activate if a specific set of glyphs were entered into the dialing device. Thy had been forgotten for centuries by most of the world and only rediscovered in North America within the last decade.
The magical energies coalesced in the heart of the device and sprang outwards before snapping back into place. The circle of inscribed stone was filled with a shimmering blue light. The guards tensed as a shadow appeared near the surface. Four people stepped out of the Gateway's terminus and Elizabeth smiled as she recognized the ghostly white Werewolf and two of her three travelling companions.
"Stand down," she called out to Sergeant Bates who was currently in charge of the guard detail.
Sumner secured his revolver again and leaned on the brass railing. Elizabeth hurried down the spiral staircase to greet the travelers. This was an unexpected surprise. Elizabeth had been corresponding on an infrequent but regular basis with the Union, and had only managed to send one note to her old friend further north.
Elizabeth had spent almost two decades running around the world with the werewolf after a chance encounter in England had thrust them together. After fighting a mortal lifetime's worth of zombie armies, mad scientists, minor gods with halitosis, warlord litch kings, berserk war clanks and rogue Vampires with god complexes, she'd retired to a quieter life. Though she was originally from the Satedan tribe in the American West, she'd settled down with a charming Canadian from the Athosian lands.
"Charin!" she embraced the old werewolf with an affectionate hug. "I didn't expect to see you," she said.
Charin's pelt was threaded liberally with the silver of old age. When Elizabeth had seen her again after decades of only letters, the subtle shift in color had been a shock. After a certain age, if they survived to be that old, Werewolves became stuck in their half-human, half-wolf form. Charin had been stuck for a number of years now. Another sign that Elizabeth would soon have another mortal friend to say a final goodbye to.
"I think she's here to drag me home when our business is concluded," Dr. Samantha O'Neill joked, pulling Elizabeth's thoughts away from the solemn turn they'd taken.
"Sam," Elizabeth smiled at the Scientist and gave her a greeting hug as well. "You, I expected," she said. "I'm actually surprised you've managed to stay away for so long." Sam had become an unexpected friend and ally during her stay in Washington City while Ambassador Woolsey had set up formal contact between their two governments.
"Daniel is practically sick with envy," Sam replied with a devious grin. Elizabeth shared a chuckle. Dr. Jackson had been most adamant about joining the initial expedition, but had been unable to do so. He'd protested eloquently and frequently.
Sam grew serious. "I wish I could say I am here to see in person all the things I've been reading reports on."
"Oh?" Elizabeth prompted as she looked from Sam back to an equally serious Charin and back again.
"We're actually here on a couple official matters," Samantha told her. "Rodney's sister decided he gets a new apprentice. This is Laura Cadman."
The young woman Elizabeth wasn't familiar with said hello distractedly. She was busy taking in the huge central dome's architecture. Elizabeth couldn't blame her as she'd done much of the same thing the first time she'd stepped through the Gateway.
Elizabeth chuckled and motioned one of the guards over. "Could you find Dr. McKay and have him come to my office?" she asked. The guard nodded and went off into the city. Elizabeth tucked Charin's arm into her own. "Shall we go to my office?"
"Good idea," Sam said. She waved to Mack who was watching them from a level above. "I think Mack should join us for this as well. The other matter concerns him."
They climbed the staircase into the second level which served as a control for the Gateway.
"Mack," Samantha smiled a greeting for the colonel.
"What trouble have you brought now?" Sumner growled back. The smirk and the hug ruined the fierce effect.
Sam snorted with the tolerance of one long acquainted with Sumner's grouch then yanked on his arm, shoving back his shirt sleeve and examining the metal device. She bent it at the elbow then moved his wrist, fingers and thumb.
"The usual," Sam shot back. "I'll fix that slight imbalance in the wrist before I go," she said, patting his shoulder. Elizabeth wouldn't have been surprised if she'd been the one who'd designed the arm originally.
Sam was one of the most intelligent Scientists currently living, matched only by a select few such as the current Canadian monarch and her brother, Rodney. Mad Science, as it was known in less complementary circles, was the reason Human society had hauled itself into what some called an "Industrial Age", leaping ahead technologically with near reckless abandon. The Vampires were still ahead of the Humans, but the Humans were catching up at what some considered a frightening pace.
Scientists were easily distracted, flitting from one idea to the next and often falling into trance-like states where they simply created things or drew designs and equations as if guided by higher powers. They were all quirky and had sizeable egos though some were better at suppressing them than others. Jeannie Miller was an exemplary case of the latter. She ruled an entire country yet asked that everyone call her by her first name or "Dr. Miller" if they insisted on being formal. Samantha saved her ego for other Scientists and the occasional irritating politician and Rodney was very nearly the opposite of his sister.
They were rare, more so than magic users, and anyone could use what they created. And they created a great deal; anything and everything from a better way to irrigate a field to a huge war machine that could level a city in an afternoon, and everything in between. In Europe they were treated like prized pets and, other than their freedom, given whatever they wanted so long as they created bigger and better war machines and weapons for their patrons. Canada was filled with Scientists who'd devised ways out of their gilded cages.
Sumner trailed after the women with a scowl. "The usual trouble?'" he asked as he fixed his shirtsleeve. "I have enough problems with this crew. I don't need any more headaches," he groused.
"What's happened?" Elizabeth asked.
Mack seated Charin and sat down when he saw Sam didn't seem inclined to sit.
At Sam's prompting, Hailey opened the case she'd been carrying and withdrew a crystal disk. She looked over Elizabeth's desk, searching for something then at the wall. Finding what she was looking for she slid the disk into a slot Elizabeth hadn't noticed before. Hailey felt along the side of the wood and Elizabeth heard a click. The wood slid away revealing a crystal pane.
"We didn't know that was there," Elizabeth commented.
"There are a few in the Cheyenne complex," Hailey said over her shoulder as she opened a drawer revealing one of the complex keyboards that were frequently found around the city.
"I wondered what the keyboard was attached to," Elizabeth mused.
Even in the central areas of the city they'd been living in for months, people were still discovering new things daily. Sometimes in her long life she'd thought she'd seen it all. Those moments had been coming more frequently in the last couple decades, except for the last few months here. Every day brought several new things to discover and explore. It was renewing.
"I hate this city," Sumner grumped.
The image coalesced into a map of the North American continent. Sumner he sat forward in his seat. The Barrier was lined with red Xs from near the gulf into Canada. "Wraith?" Sumner asked.
Sam nodded. "They're breaching the barrier at these points," she said pointing to the Xs.
"They are extremely agitated," Charin added. "We barely fought them back in Athosian territory.
"You'd like us to look into it," Elizabeth stated. She couldn't think of a reason why they'd have this attention brought to her small expedition force otherwise.
"Jeannie and President O'Neill both ask it of you," Charin confirmed with a short nod.
Sumner grunted. He stood and examined the map. "This has to be over a dozen different hives. What got 'em all stirred up?" He looked over at Sam. "Or is that what we're supposed to find out?"
"All our Gateway teams are tied up trying to hold the border," Sam told him, her expression grim. She gestured and Hailey pulled out the official orders from the case then passed them along. Sumner opened the portfolio and read quickly.
"Usual trouble my metal-" he bit off the rest of the comment and glared at the paper.
"You've never encountered something like this, have you?" Charin asked Elizabeth. "I have never seen them act in such a way."
Elizabeth had been considering the map. There didn't seem to be any pattern that she could see, but these demons weren't her field of expertise. She'd dealt more with zombies and the South American, elder god worshipping litches as well as European politicians, who were nearly as bad.
"I haven't dealt with the Wraith aside from when we recovered the Heart," Elizabeth admitted. "Can my government help?"
"According to Ambassador Woolsey, The Vampire Council does not 'currently consider the Wraith to be a significant threat'." Sam and Elizabeth shared a look of annoyance.
"The situation in Canada?" Elizabeth asked Charin, drawing her thoughts away from the brooding areas they were tempted to wander into.
"Jeannie has drafted the war-mechs of our countrymen," Charin added, "And is bolstering the army of her own designs. There was some grumbling and some resistance from the usual parties, but when the Wraith started to cross that wall and attack villages, they finally fell into line. Even Kavanagh, which says much about the severity of the issue."
"Marshall, who do you want to send?" Elizabeth asked as she focused her attention back on the matter at hand.
Sumner leaned against her desk as he glared at the map. "Dex has an axe to grind. Can't blame the boy. Sheppard can keep him in line. Teyla can rein them both in and hold her own besides. I'll send Bates along for magical backup. If you think they'll have anything mechanical I'll send in McKay."
"That sounds like an excellent idea," Elizabeth agreed.
"Bates needs to stop thinking like a cog," Sumner commented. "This'll be good for him."
The sound of shouting coming closer drew everyone's attention. Charin, whose hearing was most keen, laughed softly.
"Dr. McKay is on his way up," she said.
"And he doesn't sound happy," Elizabeth commented wryly.
"What is going on that is so important that I need to take time out of my very busy schedule to come up here where I have explored everything already. There are two other rings to this city that demand my time and attention and- You!"
The last word was accompanied by a shout and a rather dramatic finger pointing. Rodney glared at Sam. Elizabeth arched a brow and looked at Sumner, wondering if she should be concerned. Her military advisor was rolling his eyes, so she guessed this wasn't something she needed to worry about.
"What are you doing here?" Rodney demanded.
"Nice to see you too, McKay." Sam replied wryly. She plucked the decree from Elizabeth's desk and held it out to him. Rodney eyed it with equal suspicion.
"What is that?" he asked.
"A decree from your sister," Sam explained.
Rodney's eyes grew wide. "She's not content taking away my country she has to take away my city too?" Rodney threw his hands in the air in disgust.
Elizabeth suspected Rodney was actually happier not being the ruler of a country, but his ego would never allow him to admit it. She also had the sneaking suspicion he wasn't sure if it was better or worse that he'd been toppled by his sister. The Canadian method of choosing the person in charge involved creating the most lethal remote-controlled mech team a mind could devise then dueling the person currently in charge.
"That's not what it's about," Sam told him.
"She's giving the city to you? You know I've always suspected you helped her win. That quad mech with the greek fire cannons and those buzz-saws had you written all over it! I bet you were behind that acid-bomb as well," Rodney accused.
"I did not get involved," Sam denied.
"It all makes sense. My nemesis and my greatest rival! Collaborating against me!"
Sam was holding on to her anger well, but her eyes had begun to narrow dangerously. The last thing Elizabeth wanted was a battle of Mad Science in her office. They'd destroy the city and everyone in it. Gods help them all if they found any Ancient weapons systems along the way. There were elaborate rules and codes of conduct the Scientists followed for a good reason. Two highly intelligent people with single-minded focus could do extreme collateral damage and had in the past.
"Rodney!" Elizabeth interjected, before McKay could say something they would all regret.
"Yes?" Rodney asked, sounding a little surprised.
"Read the decree," Elizabeth ordered. It was tempting to put power behind those words, to force him to read it, but she refrained. Rodney snatched the paper from Sam's hand and broke the seal.
"Empress Jeannie, blah, blah, blah" Rodney read aloud. "Apprentice? What- Who- I- I don't need an apprentice! I don't want an apprentice."
"Too bad," Sam said. "Jeannie says you have one, you have one. That's how it works."
Elizabeth wasn't clear on the details but some of the perks of being in charge were the ability to order one's peers around and assign more experienced Scientsts to have apprentices. The latter was actually a vital function since few took an apprentice on without any pressure at all. The Canadian community was the single largest in the world and had unique rules and were…boisterous.
"I know how it works," Rodney snapped back. "It's my country! I know my own laws!" Rodney pinched the bridge of his nose. "When do I get stuck with the fumbling idiot my dear sister has seen fit to foist upon me and my valuable time?"
Sam grinned deviously. "Right now. He's all yours, Laura. Gods help you."
"They're here?" Rodney asked, eyes flying wide in alarm.
"Hello," Laura spoke up. She'd set her hands on her hips and was eyeing McKay critically.
Rodney froze in surprise before he too eyed Laura with equal criticism. "And you are?" he asked, pouring on the distain.
"Laura Cadman," she replied loftily. Rodney grunted and waved dismissively.
"Never heard of you." He snapped his fingers, attitude changing in an instant. "Wait, are you related to Asher Cadman?"
"My father," Laura stated proudly.
"Huh," Rodney reflected. "He wasn't a total waste. Last I heard, he was trying to harness the power in those northern light cascade things," Rodney waved a hand vaguely. "What happened with that?" he asked.
"Turns out they're electro-magnetic sky spirits," Laura said.
"Really?" Rodney asked, interested.
"They broke his gyrocopter and told him never to come back," Laura shrugged.
"Oh. What's he doing now?"
"Dead," Laura shrugged. "He over-mixed his 'copter fuel and boom!" she said, spreading her fingers wide to emphasize the point.
"Ah," Rodney said, nodding in understanding. "Good way to go, if you have to go early."
"I think so," Laura agreed.
Rodney eyed her again then shrugged. "You'll do. So, what's your area?"
"Explosions and combustion."
"Jeannie sent me a fire-bug?" Rodney asked, turning now pleading eyes on Sam. She shrugged. Rodney winced. "Okay. So you want to see the city?" he asked. Laura nodded.
"Come on then. You two as well, I guess," Rodney said, waving at Sam and Jennifer.
"I'm done with official things here," Sam commented. "We'll catch up later?" she directed this to Elizabeth who nodded. She was already losing focus on the conversation and turning her attention to the technology of the city.
The three women followed McKay out of the room, chatting animatedly as he began to explain the discoveries he'd made. When they were out of earshot Sumner sank into his chair laughing. Charin shook her head in wry amusement. Elizabeth let out a long breath and thanked the gods that Rodney and Sam were so mercurial, and that she didn't have to deal with the two of them on a regular basis if this was typical.
Sumner wiped a tear from his eye. "If she and McKay don't kill one another first, I think the Jack is going to have to send in a full battalion to haul her out of the city's machinery," Sumner commented lightly. He'd known both of them for years as part of the Gateway program and since Sumner wasn't one for hyperbole, Elizabeth didn't doubt him. He got to his feet. "I'll round up my people and debrief them," he told Elizabeth. Looking at Charin he added, "Would you mind terribly telling Teyla she'll be going as well? I'll debrief her later and no doubt you'd like to spend some time while you're here."
"I will do that," Charin assured.
Nodding, Sumner left.
Charin turned to her friend and rested her chin on one hand. "So tell me Elizabeth, how is John?"
"You don't want to see Teyla?"
Charin sighed dramatically. "Yes. But don't think you're getting out of this conversation."
John settled his guns in their holsters and checked his ammo a second time. He was nearly ready to head out. He'd put on the sturdy brown pants with leather reinforced knees and durable which button down shirt. He had holsters strapped to both thighs and a small emergency knife in one boot. He swung the long brown leather coat over his head and put that one next. The door chimed.
"It's open!" John called out. He picked up his shotgun and hefted it, considering if he wanted to take it or not. He smiled as he recognized the soft steps. "Think I should take the shot gun?" John asked his visitor. "It's not as fancy as the swords you've got, but it'll make big holes in nasty things."
John finally turned around as he asked the last. He noticed she was standing in a thick shadow and smiled. Even with the city to protect her, she was still uneasy about standing direct sunlight. It was…cute.
"It would probably be a good idea," Elizabeth said.
John nodded and grabbed the shotgun holster and slung it over his back then added the gun. He put some extra shells into his ammo pouch and looked around his room for anything he might be forgetting. Anything else he needed would be waiting for them by the gate.
Elizabeth watched him with a closed expression. He wondered what she'd been thinking, why she was here.
"Something wrong?" John asked. "Well, other than the Wraith acting up," John amended, trying to make a joke.
He was rewarded with a small smile. John joined her in the shade and set his hands on her waist. He rubbed his thumbs against the heavy, lightfast cotton she wore. Elizabeth rested her hands on his shoulders, not quite holding him but not pushing him away either.
"You okay?" John asked.
Elizabeth's expression changed to the one he'd come to note as the diplomatic face she wore when she was considering her words. He wondered what she was thinking.
"I want you to be safe," she told him.
There was genuine warmth, however tentative, in her words.
John smiled, the soft one he he'd discovered since he'd started a more intimate relationship with the woman standing before him. "I've got a lot to come home to," John said, pulling her forward so he could leave a small kiss on her lips.
Elizabeth wound her fingers into the hair at the nape of his neck and brought him down for a deeper kiss. John's hands slid around her waist and up across her back, pulling her toward him. She relaxed against him, the tension leaving her body. They broke for air and John wondered if she'd worked through whatever had been bothering her or not.
John reached up let his is fingertips glide over her cheek with feather-light touch and once again wondered at fate's choices. Somehow, someone somewhere thought he was worthy of her.
"I'll miss you," he told her.
"You're only going to be gone a day at most," Elizabeth reminded him lightly.
"I'll still miss you," John replied with a mock growl as he began to kiss her.
Elizabeth pulled back. "John!" she protested with a laugh. John kissed her deeply in reply.
"Awww. That's just so sweet."
Elizabeth jumped back as if she'd been burned. She landed in a bright patch of light and quickly stepped back into the shadow, smoothing her long skirt and schooling her face into a carefully neutral expression.
John glared at Marshall Sumner who was lazily leaning against the still open doorway. Ronon arched a brow at John over Sumner's shoulder. Sumner smirked at John's discomfort.
"Time to go, lover boy," Sumner drawled as he pushed himself away from the door and clunked down the hallway, whistling merrily off key. Ronon was slower to follow and John knew he'd probably hear something from the Satedan on this trip.
When John turned back to Elizabeth she was completely professional again. "Marshal Sheppard, I believe he is right. Time to go." She turned on her heel and strode from the room.
John swore and followed after. He'd been making progress, and now it was all undone. And what was worse, he was going to be out of the city and unable to fix the damage. John ran a hand through his hair and muttered under his breath as he made his way toward the collection of air-ships that had been left in the city.
"This is amazing!"
"Yes, yes. You've said that at least half a dozen times. It will not cease to be amazing if you cease repeating yourself, Cadman!" Rodney glared at his new apprentice as he settled into the pilot's seat in the Gateway ship.
Laura Cadman glared back as Rodney made a big production of twisting dials and hauling levers and cranking the seat and controls so it was just perfect. Teyla chuckled softly as she stowed her gear. Rodney would fly them close to a hive then stay around the ship with Laura. Teyla gently moved Laura to one side as she reached around to secure her weapons in a compartment. The younger woman hardly even noticed, she was so fascinated by the display she was examining.
"Move it, McKay," John said as he trooped into the small craft. There were two seats in the front, and Rodney was sitting in the wrong one.
"Since I am being dragged away from my highly valuable research to play chauffeur, I get to fly the ship," Rodney argued as he adjusted the seat yet again. "I haven't had a chance to really let one loose and I want to see how the thruster and maneuvering engines play together with the power differential system and-"
"Move Rodney," John said, giving McKay a look that brooked no argument.
"I can fly this thing just as well as you can. Better in fact. I've flown Flying machines before this! I've built flying machines before!"
"Where are they now?" Ronon asked from the back of the ship.
"Well, Jeannie blew most of them up," Rodney admitted. Ronon and John exchanged a look with one another. "Oh come on! We were at war! I blew up some of hers as well!"
"Obviously not enough 'cause she's the Empress," Cadman observed wryly.
Rodney had held the position of Emperor for a full two months before Jeannie got fed up with his shoddy management on a national level and toppled him. That had been close to three years ago and it had barely made the news. Before that if they had one new monarch in a year that person had been doing well. It wasn't unusual for them to have more than one ruler in a single year and sometimes the title bounced between individuals more than once in a month.
"Okay that is enough out of you. I can leave you here, you know," McKay said, twisting in the seat to glare at her.
Laura smirked, though her eyes never left the display. "Leave me alone in a city filled with ancient mechanical wonders? Oh, the shame of it."
"Why- You- I-" John let Rodney bluster for a few seconds before he clapped a hand on his shoulder.
"Why?" Rodney demanded.
"Because the ship won't fly for you," John reasoned matter-of-factly.
"Is everything okay in there?" Sumner's gruff voice called over the internal communication system.
John's hand hovered over the complex controls before he found the communication button. Like everything about Atlantis, he somehow muddled through on a strange combination of instinct and subtle magical pushes. John depressed the button and spoke to Sumner. "Just fine. Rodney grabbed the wrong seat."
"Let Sheppard fly the damn ship, McKay," Sumner growled.
McKay smacked John's hand away from the comm. "I can fly this!"
"Try it," John said.
Rodney blinked at him then grasped the controls with a focused expression. "Okay then." Rodney pulled on the levers and nothing happened. The lever refused to move. McKay jerked back on the handle then used two hands to try and pull it into position. The lever lurched forward, jolting him in his seat.
"Told you," John said. "It doesn't want you to fly it."
"That's the silliest thing I have ever heard!" McKay protested. The chair moved of it's own accord, resetting itself and undoing all of Rodney's careful adjusting.
"Come on, the faster we get done, the faster you get back to your research," John reasoned.
Rodney grumbled but unsecured himself from the seat and stood up. Bates looked placidly at him from the co-pilot seat. Rodney's shoulders sagged as he trooped back to sit on the bench next to Laura. John sat in the seat and it automatically adjusted to him. It was weird, but he caught a faint sense of amusement from the craft. John secured himself and reached out, the intricate controls rose to meet his hands.
"How'd you do that!" Rodney wanted to know.
"It likes me," John smirked over his shoulder.
Rodney scowled. "If you're flying then why am I here?"
"Because we if have mechanical problems, you'd be best able to fix them," Teyla replied as John coaxed the ship into powering up its engines. "Besides, this is a valuable learning opportunity for Laura."
John smirked to himself. It was far more likely that Rodney had been driving Colonel Sumner insane and this was his way of getting a few hours peace for him and Elizabeth to tackle some other issues in the city. He also wouldn't have put it past Sumner to dump Rodney in his lap as well. The man was brilliant but he was a handful to deal with.
Laura grinned. "Maybe I should be John's apprentice," she wondered aloud.
Rodney huffed and the two began to bicker. Teyla shook her head and settled back into her seat.
Ronon leaned forward over John's shoulder. "We going yet?" he asked. Ronon had never liked flying and he didn't trust these Ancient built ships.
"Getting there," John said as he pulled the lever that Rodney had been fighting with.
The ship lurched slightly as the hovering mechanics activated. The coils in the underbelly of the ship cast a faint blue glow in the cavernous room that housed the city's small fleet. No one knew quite what those coils were or what they were made off, and Elizabeth had forbidden Rodney from taking any of them apart to find out.
The smallest of the craft could fly through the Gateway if a steady hand was at the helm. Or if the ships liked the pilot. The smaller craft were undoubtedly intelligent which had proven to have interesting and nearly fatal results.
John moved the controls and the small ship shot forward, leaving the docking bay and entering the bright sunlight over the ocean. The ship unfurled the fin-like extensions normally swept to the sides and energy crackled between the blades of steel, brass and electrum. Once again John got the distinct sensation that the ship wanted to fly. They rocked in the sky and John knew it wasn't the wind off the water so much as the mechanical construct's…joy at being let out.
Lorne approached the ships like skittish colts, and the machines had warmed up to him though not as quickly as they had John. Sumner ordered them around like soldiers and amazingly they responded, but he didn't seem to feel them as John and Evan could. The ships didn't seem to be able to sense Elizabeth or Chuck at all and the Vampires had stopped trying to fly them. Rodney had apparently woken them up rudely and all refused to fly for him.
"While some people think these machines are intelligent, you'd be wise not to listen to them," Rodney was lecturing. "They don't have any idea what they're talking about. The Ancients were premiere Scientists first and foremost…"
John tuned Rodney out again and concentrated on the joy of flight. The small ships were constructed of the same steel, brass and crystal glass like the city and the protective domes were. They were sleek and elegant, reminding John of drawings of exotic fish he'd seen in school. The fanned blades which extended from either side only made the metaphor stronger.
John had always wanted to fly and truthfully he had been a little jealous that Elizabeth could. She'd taken him along on occasion, easily holding him aloft. John had been pleased to be able to return the favor and took any opportunity to fly her around, even if it earned more ribbing from Sumner or silent disapproval from Ronon. He gave in to the subtle pull and looped them around the dome of the city.
"We're wasting my valuable time!" Rodney complained.
"Laura hasn't seen Atlantis from the air yet," John called back.
"Yeah, I haven't seen Atlantis from the air yet," Laura agreed cheekily.
Three rings, each broader than a city block, surrounded a domed area in the center. The glass was as strong as the steel girders which held up the many smaller domes in the rings as well as the massive central one. The Ancients had laid in brass and electrum ornamentation and some of the glass was tinted brilliant colors. It sparkled in the mid-morning light like a clockwork diamond.
Laura had pressed her face against the glass, taking in the view, and mostly ignoring Rodney's lecture on everything they'd explored thus far. John looked over at Bates in the co-pilot's seat and the taciturn battle mage lifted an eyebrow, looking back at Laura then to John. Sheppard smirked back at him then gripped the controls.
It was as if the ship knew what he was going to do before he did it. He pulled the controls and they dove for the water. In the back Laura shrieked in momentary terror before John leveled the craft out above the waves. Their wake kicked up salty spray for a few hundred feet before John drew them into a lazy spiral up around the central dome.
"If you're done being a show off," Sumner's voice drawled, "We can all get on with our lives."
"Yes, sir," John agreed, trying to keep the hint of smile out of his voice.
"The portal is open," Elizabeth's voice filtered in over the communications channel.
"Thanks," John said, "We'll be there in a few seconds," he told her even as he cajoled the ship to pull in the fin-like appendages.
John maneuvered the ship around and though the open portal. The heavy steel entrance was irised open, awaiting their arrival. The little ship passed though into the lock and the door behind them closed before the one in front of them opened again. Mindful of the people and architecture in the huge central space, John carefully directed the ship to line up with the Gateway. The glowing crystals were igniting with inner fire as the inner ring spun.
"Good luck," Elizabeth said over the comm.
She stood on the balcony which overlooked the Gateway, the metal communication device in her hand. John's eyes met hers and he nodded slightly. Her smile was brief but it conveyed her desire for them to succeed and come home safely; for him to come home to her whole.
John focused on his objective and directed the ship through the Gateway.
The Gateway deposited John's ship about half a day's flight from where they suspected the nearest hive was. John took them up into the sky, well out of the range of any spells or projectiles and set a course for their target. The presence of the Wraith left the land desolate and wasted. The trees were withered, stunted things which had had the life sucked out of them. The grass was brown with death.
"If I didn't know it was early summer I'd think it was fall," Laura commented, her face was pressed against the glass window as she watched the ground pass below them.
"The Gateways can't enable time travel," Rodney scoffed.
"Why not? They can take you to other places on the planet. Hailey said they sometimes get demons in the one in the Cheyenne base."
"Some toad-man-thing. It had tentacles."
"That didn't happen!"
"Sure did. Said his name was Urgo. Hailey said he had punch and pie with Dr. Jackson before he left."
"You're just making that up!"
"I am not! Ask Dr. Jackson if you want."
"You expect me to believe that some frog demon came by for tea?"
"Is it that hard to believe, Rodney?" Teyla asked, her voice calm yet hinting at amusement. "After all, is that not that what the Gateway teams do? Travel to other places as explorers?"
"Sheppard, did that happen?"
"Hey, I'm new to all this," John replied. "Sounds like it could have happened," he added, just to tweak McKay.
Rodney grumbled and shifted in his seat. He leaned forward. "Bates! Tell me that's not true."
"That's not true," Bates deadpanned.
John smirked. Definitely hope for Bates. "Hey, settle down back there. We're coming up on our target."
Roughly where they expected it to be, they found the hive. It was a huge twisted structure that hurt the eyes to gaze upon too long. The angles were all wrong and the lines wove together in grotesque, obscene patterns that suggested the observer was staring at the mouth of madness.
What really caught everyone's attention was the way there seemed to be no movement going on at all. Normally there would be drones working to expand the foul thing with the occasional mage or Seneschal overseeing. The ground below seemed to be as dead as the trees and ground around the hive. All conversation in the small craft stopped, replaced with uneasy glances.
They chose a landing sight a bit away from the main hive, at the edge of a small field. John deftly settled the small craft under the trees just at the edge of the treeline. Rodney was unusually silent as he and Laura watched the others head off into the woods toward their target.
John was carefully picking his way through the forest when he felt Ronon loom behind him. John slowed his pace a fraction and ended up beside the other man. Ronon continued to warily scan his sector, ignoring John's presence. A few paces ahead Bates strode forward, his runed quarter-staff serving as a stout walking stick. Behind them, John could just barely make out the sound of Teyla expertly finding her way though the woods.
"Just say it," John finally commented.
"Whatever has your tail in a knot. Just say it."
Ronon growled and shot John a look out of the corner of his eye but remained silent. John agreed that the man was entitled to his opinion, but the surly attitude was, frankly, annoying and he'd rather not have Ronon stewing about John's choice of companion when they could be attacked. It probably wasn't the smart thing to do, but John forced the issue.
"Say it. You don't like Elizabeth."
"I like her just fine."
"Except she's not good enough to court. Or maybe I'm not good enough for her?"
This earned a non-committal snort from the werewolf. They continued to walk forward. John could tell Bates was listening in and he didn't doubt Teyla was as well. He didn't really care.
"She's not natural."
"And a man who can turn himself into an overgrown dog is?"
John had been waiting to use that comeback. Ronon growled low in his throat, but John continued on. If Ronon had been serious about ripping out his throat, he'd have done it years ago.
"How about a man who can talk to Ancient machines? Is that natural? Or a guy who can toss fireballs? Who said the world was a natural place?"
"She drinks blood."
"And you take out a deer once a month and eat rabbits raw on the weekends. I like a good steak. If you want an unnatural food, you should try Beckett's haggis. That is not natural."
"There is a difference."
"Show me where?"
Ronon grimaced and John was fairly sure, even without looking, that he'd managed to provoke Ronon enough his eyes were probably lupine gold. That was probably pushing him too far this close to their mission objective and he mentally slapped himself.
"They're like the Wraith. They feed on people. I eat animals. How do you know she doesn't see us the same way."
Teyla cleared her throat and John bit back a comment about not sleeping with animals. There was no good direction that comment could go. John reconsidered his tactics.
"Look. I know magic, right? Doesn't feel anything like a Wraith."
"If you say so," Ronon grunted, unconvinced.
John heard Teyla's soft exhalation of exasperation and quickly shot her an apologetic look over his shoulder. She shot him a look that clearly said "You knew you were putting your foot in your mouth when this began," and resumed watching the woods.
The trees here were gnarled and broken, grey lifeless things that didn't know they were dead. A smattering of sickly leaves clung to their branches. The thick red-brown vines that might even be part of the hive itself strangled the bushes and trees, dragging them down to the ground.
"Back me up on this, Bates," John asked ahead.
The other man paused, letting the others catch up with him. The quarter staff was slung over one shoulder as Bates scanned his sector. Ronon dropped back a few paces. Teyla fell into step beside him. John waited for him to respond. If he'd respond. Bates was a by-the-book officer and, earlier joking aside, John was fairly sure this conversation wasn't something he was used to or even liked.
"So. Vampire magic and Wraith magic," John prompted.
"It's different," Bates finally agreed. The quarter staff shifted from one shoulder to the other. "I've seen her teaching Chuck. Not like what I do. Not really."
"You are an elementalist, correct?" Teyla asked.
"Yep. Earth, but I have a strong connection to Fire as well. Their stuff doesn't fall into any category I know."
"Damned suspicious if you ask me," Ronon muttered.
"No spirits so it's not Shamanism or Necromancy. Beckett said it wasn't Thaumaturgy, and I know it's not Elementalism. But it's not Wraith. Nothing demonic." Bates agreed with John. He frowned. "It's weird."
"Weird?" Ronon asked, always looking for a potential threat.
"They talk too much for it to be Elementalism,"
"Feels a little like it, but different," John added.
John was one of the few individuals who could feel magical forces and not only resist but repel them to a limited extent. Unlike Beckett, who still had some magical skill to supplement his practical skills as a doctor, John was utterly incapable of casting any kind of magic himself. It just didn't work. The upside was that most magic didn't work well on him either. John and others with the same ability didn't talk about it much for that reason. He certainly had no desire to be a human shield against some magic user and held no illusions that someone in charge would think it was a fine idea to have him do just that.
The other side effect was an affinity for things the Ancients left behind. Ancient things liked him. This was the primary reason he believed he'd been sent with the expeditionary group in the first place. It was another two edged sword. He was useful, but it also meant Rodney and his cohort had hauled him more than once out of bed in the predawn hours to turn something on for them.
John could feel the magic like wind on his skin. The various schools each had a different sensation and whatever Elizabeth did was distinct from anything else he'd encountered. He'd compared notes with President O'Neill, the only person he knew who had this gift as strongly as he did, and with Evan Lorne who, while not quite as strong as John, had experienced much in the way of offensive magic. Ronon usually trusted John's word on the subject. Just as John trusted Ronon's sense of smell and superior hearing. John figured he was just being difficult for the sake of being difficult. Still, it was good to have another outside opinion.
"They talk too much," Ronon deadpanned.
Bates shrugged, uncaring what Ronon thought. "They say a word and things happen. They're channeling something but it isn't elemental magic or regular spell casting."
John opened his mouth to speak, but then closed it. The tree ahead was bent in half, the heavy vines which covered the ground near a Hive, nearly as thick as an arm, pulled it down. The ground has ceased to be more than a few patches of scrubby grass clinging to the soil here and there. Even the air felt devoid of life.
John motioned and his team immediately dropped the conversation and fanned out into their line again. They approached the hive cautiously, keeping a look out for patrols, but they couldn't see anything. They grouped together behind a large rock. The land immediately around the monstrosity was barren. The hive itself was small, only rising a handful of levels above ground. There were no corpses to indicate some kind of lost battle, and even so, the victorious hive would have immediately claimed the space. They would have found more Wraith in that case.
John eased back down behind the rock. "Ideas?"
[Might be too much?] [No – it's good action, good moving along of the plot]
"So tell me about John,"
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "Charin."
"I am an old woman and my husband is gone. I must live vicariously through my children, grandchildren, and immortal friends. He looks like he'd be good in bed."
"Oh, so he is. Details!"
"Have I ever given you details?" Elizabeth asked.
Charin sighed dramatically, "No, you haven't and it is a shame. You won't tell me anything?"
The Gateway flared to life, interrupting their conversation. John's team had been gone for a few hours, but not long enough in her estimation for them to get into any significant trouble. She checked the time and figured it was more likely this was a party come to collect Samantha and Jennifer. Both she and Charin rose to see who was coming through.
A long figure walked out of the shimmery surface of the Gateway. He had short brown hair, pale eyes and wore the uniform of a Union officer. His left arm was in a sling. He looked familiar to Elizabeth but she couldn't place his name. She spied the Gateway Program patch on his shoulder, the one they only wore on their bases and assumed he was an officer on one of the teams.
Sumner rolled out of own office and joined Elizabeth on the balcony. His lips quirked as he recognized the man being greeted by the guards.
"Lt. Colonel Cameron Mitchell." He nodded at the officer.
Elizabeth, nodded, recalling him now that she had a name to put to a face. He'd been on a mission during most of her time in Washington City and she knew him better by reputation than by sight. She followed Sumner down the spiral steps.
Sumner clasped hands with Mitchell. "I thought Jack would send a full battalion."
"He thought about it, but things have turned so all you get is me," Mitchell replied. He removed his hat when Elizabeth and Charin joined them, greeting them with a polite, "Ma'am."
"Things are not going well?" Charin asked.
"Well, more so for us than for you, Ma'am," Mitchell told her as he put his hands behind his back. "We were just able to confirm some early intelligence reports. Kinsey has his people moving and we're fairly certain he's going to break the ceasefire in the next day or so. You're welcome to stay here or come back with me, Ma'am."
"He wants Sam and her minion to come back though," Sumner finished.
Mitchell nodded. "Yes, sir."
"Well, let's go find them," Sumner invited, indicating with a sweep of his arm that Mitchell should follow him.
Elizabeth and Charin silently decided to follow along as well.
"What in the name of my sweet grannie's apple pie is that?"
It was huge and it was made of steel. The center of it glowed with a blue-white light. Beyond that, Elizabeth had no idea what the contraption was either. They'd tracked Sam and Jennifer to large room, several stories tall, down the hall from his designated labs. The machinery included heavy piping which extended into other parts of the city and into the floor. They were below the waterline here and muted sunlight mixed with warm artificial light cast from many spotlights. Despite advanced age, the machinery gleamed.
Sumner rapped the metal framework with his artificial hand. The metal clanged against metal. "Sam! Playtime's over!"
A hatch halfway up the device opened revealing Samantha. "What?"
"Jack says its time to come home."
The hatch slammed shut and there were a few minutes of muffled voices and more clanks and clatters. Finally a door opened on one of the "legs". Jennifer and Sam walked out. They'd pulled back their hair and each had a few smudges of dirt and grease. They were talking animatedly with one another.
"Cam!" Sam stopped short, cheerful smile instantly replaced by a look of concern. "What happened to your arm?"
The officer shrugged. "Got into a bit of an argument with a demon. Nothing serious," the officer drawled. "Doc Fraiser says I should be good as new in a day or so."
"Well, if Janet says you're fine. This is really amazing!" she gestured to the machine.
"What is it?" Cam asked.
"We have no idea!" Sam grinned then regarded the huge device thoughtfully. "We think it might be an engine."
"That is an engine?" Cam pointed with his good hand.
Sam nodded. "Before he left, Rodney and I were surmising that if the city had more of those stones, like the Heart? The city could fly."
"The whole city."
"Yes," Sam and Jennifer were nodding now.
"Huh." Cam hooked his thumb into his coat pocket. "And they have some pretty great small airships here too, don't they?"
"Yes! I have some ideas for new one or two person aircraft. The things they've done with their aerodynamics and their power distribution systems are simply amazing. They magical aspect is a bit fuzzy. I'd love to bring Jonas here and have him help unravel it all. Jen and I have already begun devising updates to the Prometheus' design."
Sumner coughed pointedly.
Cam smirked at him. "Speaking of Prometheus, the woman who stole it came back."
"Kinsey's moving against us," Cam's voice was grim.
Sam's eyes narrowed as she made an aggravated sound. "Just what we need."
"Yeah," Cam agreed. "Kinda makes you wish we had some of the Goa'uld back. They just wanted money and power and didn't bother with this political backstabbing stuff." He offered Sam his good arm and she took it. The group began to move towards the elevator system.
"I still think we should just bomb them," Jennifer groused. "Starting with the Doci's mansion." She began to comment further, under her breath. Elizabeth caught some of it. It was mostly about Origin and none of it was complementary.
"So," Sam changed topics, "What did Qetesh say?"
"Qetesh?" Elizabeth asked. The name sounded familiar to her but she couldn't place it.
"She was the pirate who stole the Prometheus from us last year," Sumner replied. "She ended up getting away but we got our ship back. I'm interested to hear what she said, too. She didn't strike me as the most trustworthy source."
"She waltzed up to Daniel in his own house and gave him a stack of reports. Wouldn't let him leave unless he promised to bring them to the correct authorities." Cam chuckled. "She held some of his older books hostage."
"Why would she help us?" Sumner asked. "Seems damn suspicious to me."
"We're trying to figure that part out."
They arrived at the gate and Elizabeth let the humans walk off and say their own farewells. She turned to Charin and they clasped arms. She chuckled when Charin's cold nose touched her forehead.
"Be well," she murmured.
"Be well, Elizabeth," Charin responded. She placed her hands on the Vampire's shoulders with an air of gravity. "I see you denying yourself happiness. Allow an old woman to offer some advice, take what happiness you can, while you can. This one is different."
"I will consider your words."
"Ever the diplomat," Charin chuckled. "Remember, I've seen you covered head to toe in elephant dung, sing bawdy bar songs in Bombay and run stark naked across a muddy field at midnight."
"Oh please, "Elizabeth grimaced, "Don't remember those moments. Let's forget those, please."
Charin laughed. "I've seen you at your best and your worst. I know you and I know what you want. Deep down you do, too. Don't forget it." With that, Charin walked off, leaving the conversation effectively over. Elizabeth sighed and walked over to say good bye to her other friend.
"Oh!" Sam pulled out a sheaf of documents from a pocket. "Rodney will want these notes."
Bemusedly, Elizabeth took the papers. "I'll see he gets them when he returns." She stepped back as the Gateway spun up.
"So," Cam was saying to Sam, "Small fighter aircraft. You know I'm available to test pilot, right? I'll just put that out there for your consideration."
"It is most unusual to see a hive abandoned," Teyla's head tilted to one side, likely listening for sounds from within the structure.
Ronon was leaning around the rock, eyes closed, trying to smell the Wraith. "No rot. If they're dead it was recent. If they're alive, they're not outside."
"They attacking the Barrier?" John asked as he carefully scanning the trees around them, looking for patrols or the returning population. "Didn't think an entire Hive would leave."
"They do not," Teyla spoke again. "At least not normally. But now?"
"Yeah. This isn't exactly normal."
Bates looked over the rock then back at the woods. "We going in?"
John studied the hive and the surrounding trees the nodded slowly. Silently his team got to their feet and crept forward, quickly moving from rock to fallen tree, trying to stay under cover. Finally there wasn't anything left. John waved Teyla forward then followed her towards the entrance. Bates behind him, Ronon bringing up the rear.
Teyla had a long knife out, the kind used to cut a path through woodlands, when John caught up to her. She was staring at the entranceway with a frown. John knew that normally the entrances and exist were covered by a fleshy membrane that opened and closed as the hive seemed to breathe. The covering was shredded but Teyla's blade was clean. She shook her head in silent confirmation that she had not done this as she used the tip of her blade to touché the hive's wall. The flesh of the structure was rubbery and slow to react when she stopped applying pressure and pulled the blade away. There was a cut in the flesh of the structure that began to heal at a sluggish pace. John un the shotgun. Warily the group entered the hive.
Hives were humid places and within minutes he could feel his shirt sticking to his back under his coat. The air was rank, but John didn't believe it smelled of death. Both wolves wore expressions of mild distaste as they looked and smelled for the hive's inhabitants. Teyla froze, signaling for everyone to halt. Bates gripped his quarter staff and John adjusted his grip on his gun. Teyla indicated that they should continue. They rounded the corner and found some of the hive's residents.
There were huge sacks built into the sides of a large room. They'd been slashed open violently, like the entranceway had been. Black ichor ran out of the ragged remains onto the floor. John counted the bodies of three drones. Two had been ripped in half and one was missing a head. John scanned the room and found it had rolled into one of the black puddles. Teyla crouched and prodded the blood with her blade. It was tacky. This wasn't recent, but the hive didn't reek of death yet. Maybe a day or so. They carefully skirted the blood and continued down the halls.
"Don't like this," Ronon rumbled.
John nodded agreement. Wraith were nasty demons, not the hardiest he'd ever encountered, but they weren't something to be dismissed and they had strength in numbers. The path they were following curved downwards and ended in crossway. Teyla looked down either side then continued forward. John let her lead. She had more experience with Wraith and Hives than he did and he'd learned to trust her judgment during their initial mission together.
"We are getting closer to the center of the hive." Teyla's soft words broke the sepulchral silence a few minutes later. She paused by another shredded doorway.
"Anyone else getting the feeling that we're going to find something nasty in the next room?" John asked rhetorically.
Both wolves exchanged a look then took a moment to shift shape. Teyla shook out her fur then gave Ronon a pointed look when he tried to take the lead. Ronon silently bared his teeth, but Teyla merely flicked an ear and arched a very human eyebrow. Ronon took a sulky step back and let her go ahead first. John and Bates followed closely behind.
John stopped short when he entered the other room, nearly running into Teyla who was taking in the scene calmly. Ronon had gone ahead and was checking the other entrances into the room. Teyla's ears were laid back against her skull.
"Damn," Bates breathed as he saw the carnage.
There were two dead Mages. Or at least John assumed the one was a Mage since it was larger than a drone but the humanoid upper torso was gone. The other's upper chest was a ragged cavity. John began counting the lower torsos and came up with a total of about a dozen drones.
A Seneschal had been killed here too. His humanoid torso was a ragged mess of flesh. Bone poked through the skin and muscle. His face had split from lower lip down to the base of his neck, revealing his mandibles and the wicked teeth of his inner jaws. The roar of defiance silent in death. The other half of his body slumped against the wall, unmistakable because of his size. Two of his lower legs were missing. The reason for the size of the group lay on the table.
She was smaller than the other Wraith and looked the most human of all at least from the waist up. She looked like a child of maybe eleven or twelve years old, just beginning to develop into an adult. Her two very human-like eyes were cloudy and sightless. The three spider-like eyes over each human shaped eye, where eyebrows should have been, were pure white instead of the normal black. A line of blood on her chin crossed the thin white line that denoted where her jaw split into mandibles. Her throat had been slashed and she'd fallen on the table, pale hair draped chaotically and mixing with her black blood. The lower half of her body had been hacked apart.
"Immature queen?" John asked. He'd never seen a queen before, but there was only one type of female Wraith.
"Yes," Teyla confirmed. "They died protecting her. Perhaps there wasn't an older one. Or maybe the older one left with a swarm."
Queens were rare and well protected. Only a very few individuals had seen one and lived and all of those cases had been observing a Hive swarming to a new location. John didn't care that any of these Wraith had died no matter how angelic this one might look. What really concerned him was the fact that something had killed all of them and, since he only saw Wraith corpses, that something was still out there.
"I found mom," Ronon growled from the doorway. "And the rest of the hive."
The next room was massive, at least four stories high. It was filled with niches from floor to ceiling and each alcove had been breached. Black ichor and other fluids ran down the walls where membranes had been ruptured. The drones and Mages had been heaped together, many missing limbs and sporting bloody mortal injuries.
The remains of a huge Seneschal lay slumped on the dais. He'd been pinned to the ground at the juncture of his upper and lower torso with his own spear. His lower body no longer had any legs and his abdomen had been sliced open. His eyes too were sightless and his throat had been slit. John frowned. That was odd for the rest of the violence.
The Queen had been pinned to the wall with another long spear. Her utterly inhuman jaws gaped around the shaft which ran through her mouth and out the back of her head. A second spear pinned between her torsos helped hold her up. Her hands were pierced by what looked like heavy steel nails and stuck to the wall as well. Her lower legs had curled inward in death and her abdomen had been dissected. That too was odd. Considering the violence around them, the surgical cuts on the Seneschal and the Queen stood out.
"Something isn't right," John mused as he turned to look around the room.
"Nothing here was ever right," Ronon shot back.
"No, John's right," Teyla agreed.
"I just see a lot of dead Wraith," Bates added. "No tears from me."
"Look, she's carved up. Nothing ripped her open," John pointed with the barrel of his gun.
Teyla nodded slowly. "And the Seneschal as well. But everything else has been ripped apart."
"I don't want to meet whatever did this." John looked around for tracks or magical residue or dropped items or weapons or anything. "But we should try and get some idea. Look around. See if you can't find anything Bates, Ronon, search over in that direction. Teyla and I will search over here."
Ronon and Bates wandered in the other direction, checking the alcoves and halls.
"They dragged the bodies in here," John said, gesturing to the streaks of black which came from the other entrances and led to the pile in the center of the room. "Shoe print?"
Teyla made her way over and looked at the mark on the floor. She nodded and bent to sniff, trying to catch the scent of what had made the mark. "Nothing. But that looks like some kind of boot. A person did all this." Teyla commented, ears flat against her skull, "As much as I hate the Wraith I do not wish to meet them either."
"Can you smell gunpoweder or anything?" John asked. He was examining the body of the Queen pinned to the wall. "Ronon can pick gunpowder up if it hasn't been too long."
"Very faint. Perhaps a day old," Teyla answered. She joined John looking at the Queen. "Wraith are tough. Do you have any ide what might have caused such a clean cut?"
The corner of John's lips quirked. "I was going to ask you that. Doesn't look like a werewolf. Too clean."
"My thoughts as well."
"Rodney created an automatic tree felling machine for our village while he stayed with us. The cuts were very rough, but perhaps something similar with a finer blade. I do not smell any gas."
"I can't sense magic."
Teyla tilted her head. "I haven't ever met anyone with your gift before joining the team."
John shrugged and walked over to the Seneschal. "You might have not known it. People like me tend to keep quiet about it."
"How does it work? Is it like catching scent of something?"
"Not really," John said as he hauled one the body to the side to see if there was anything under it other than blood. "Not according to Ronon at least. We tried to compare notes. Mine's more like phantom sensations."
"How long have you been partners with Ronon?"
"Few years now. He's a good guy when he's not being so…surly."
John rolled his eyes and let the body fall back. "Yeah."
"Why does he have a problem with you courting Elizabeth? I enjoy her company quite a bit." Teyla dropped to all fours to examine something wet in a darker corner of the room. "I caught some of the argument before."
John stood ready in case it jumped at her. "He thinks they're too Wraith-like," John summarized.
Teyla stood. "That is all?"
"Hey you'd have to ask him."
"Sateda was destroyed. What did he do between that and joining the Marshals?" Teyla asked as they returned to the pile in the center of the room and began to inspect the bodies there.
"Wandered around. Killed Wraith mostly. I was with a group that gave him a hand. Guy in charge at the time offered to send him a recommendation back to Washington."
"He took it?"
"I kinda talked him into it," John admitted sheepishly. "He's a good guy. Stubborn. Willful. Frequently a pain in the ass, you know b now. He just needed to put that rage into a direction. Do something with it."
"I see. You're part of his pack now. He will eventually come to see Elizabeth as something other than a threat."
"I was hoping he was getting all pack mentality on me." John was relieved to hear Teyla agree with him. Ronon was a good friend and John had really been hoping he wouldn't have to choose. "So how long exactly were you stuck with McKay?"
Teyla started to answer then froze. The Hive shifted and both John and Teyla assumed fighting stances. The structure settled around them, utterly silent and still. The ruff of fur around Teyla's neck stood on end. It was unsettling to arrive, expecting a fight and find everything dead. And not just dead, decimated. At least a day ago John was estimating. Whatever could easily kill an entire hive of Wraith could easily take out John's small group, and everyone in his team knew it.
"It is settling. Dying. Without the Wriath to maintain it, it will die and dissolve," Teyla explained.
"We got footprints but no scent," Ronon reported as he trotted up, rising from all fours to two legs. His ear twitched as he scowled at the room. "Princess in the other room was hacked by a blade in part. Started ragged then finished clean."
"Clean like the throat." John had been wondering and was considering taking another look.
The Seneschals and the Queens were the upper echelons of the Wraith hierarchy. The most powerful They'd been specifically targeted. He looked over at Bates who was crouched down, examining something. Maybe this was some kind of ritual? A sudden sickly feeling ran along his spine. John straightened in shock as icy fingers seemed to grasp his spine and try to yank it from his body. He gasped and staggered a step as the sensation went away.
"Shit," Ronon cursed.
He was familiar with John's reactions to strong magic and quickly darted away to grab Bates. Teyla slid under John's arm and began to help him walk away while he was still recovering.
"Wraith spell," John said, shaking his head and sliding away from Teyla as he regained his balance. "Strong. Caught me off guard. High level Seneschal coming our way, checking the place out."
"I found something," Bates said, holding up a small scrap of parchment. It fluttered in the breeze as he ran over and joined the group. "It looks like a part of a Gateway address."
"Hang on to it. We'll check it out when we're safe," John ordered.
Bates stuffed the parchment into a small bag at his waist. John grasped the shotgun tighter as they raced for the surface. The trip down hadn't seemed quite so long. A shadow darkened the entrance way for a moment before a drone push its way in. John lowered the shotgun and fired at the drone's chest. It staggered backwards with an inhuman screech. Teyla darted ahead and leapt at the demon, quickly snapping its neck. Ronon rushed out into the middle of the drone's companions with a snarl.
John and Bates followed close behind, careful of their teammates caught in melee. John could feel the brush of Bates' magic as he leveled the quarter staff. The runes glowed and the earth rumbled then flowed upwards, engulfing the Wraith who'd been about to attack Ronon. John finished it off with a shotgun shell to the upper torso. The blast left hole in the demon's chest the size of two fists. John pumped the gun, priming it for another shot as Teyla and Ronon both collided with the next drone, sending a spray of gore into the air. Bates whirled the staff and set it down against the ground. The earth rose up like an ocean wave and collided with the other half of the Wraith. John shot the legs out of another and looked around.
These Wraith had green markings. The Wraith in the hive had all had red marks in a different design. This was a new hive. They'd must have sensed the death of the old one and come to claim the land for their own, John surmised. More of this raiding party were coming through the thin woods.
"We need to get out of here!" John called out. Ronon growled in answer but John grabbed him by the shoulder. "Can't kill Wraith if we die out here and we can't take them all on."
"We will shortly be outnumbered," Teyla added as she wiped something solid and disgusting from her face then flicked her wrist, sending the thick ichor into the dirt.
"Fine," Ronon rumbled, taking off in the direction they'd come from.
John, Bates and Teyla were close behind. John ran full out across the dirt and into the woods. The heavy reddish vines which were somehow connected to the hive thinned out as they drew away from the area. Behind them they could hear the enraged party of Wraith crashing through the woods after them. There was a mage after them. John felt the faintest brush of power before the Mage unleashed his spell at them.
The group dove to the ground and an icy line of air sailed overhead, freezing everything it touched solidly. Bates rolled on his back and sat up, retaliating against the follow up spell with a jet of red-gold flame. The ice melted under the heat of the fire. John's team go to their feet under the cover of the flames. Ronon hauled Bates to his feet using the back of the man's coat collar. They were off and running again when bone-tipped spears sailed through the wall of flame. One nicked John's leg. Bates stumbled a step then cast haphazardly backwards. John felt the Earth rumble in response to the summons.
The ground opened up under the Wraith. Their screams echoed in the empty woods as they fell into the sudden pit. More spears followed them from the Wraith who'd been missed. Bates grunted as a spear impaled his leg. Teyla was under his arm in an instant, helping Ronon to help Bates hobble away. John leveled his shot gun and fired blindly into the dust the sinkhole had created. Screams from the cloud of dirt indicated he'd hit at least two.
He turned and raced after his teammates while the Wraith tried to scramble out of the hole. John put on an extra burst of speed when the small ship finally came into view. John passed the other three, focused on getting the ship turned on and getting them out of there. Laura sat beside the open door, intently sketching in a small notebook.
"Incoming!" John hollered as they drew close.
Laura's head snapped up. She froze for a moment then scrambled to her feet and into the ship. John ran inside. Rodney sat at the copilot's seat, furiously working at the controls. John pressed his shotgun into Laura's surprised hands and hopped into the pilot's seat. He looked over his shoulder as the mechanical chair adjusted itself. The small ship shuddered as the systems came to life almost instantly. Teyla, Ronon and Bates ran up the ramp into the ship, claws and boots clattering against the metal. Ronon let Teyla held Bates settle into one of the benches while he hit the controls which sealed off the entrance to the ship.
"How're we doing?" John asked as he focused on the many knobs and levels in front of him. His hands hovered over the controls as he searched for what he needed. He reached for what he wanted just as something clattered against the side of the ship.
"Ronon and I are uninjured. Christopher and you are not however,"
"Spear straight though the leg," Bates reported, the grimace plainly evident in his voice.
"You got hit," Ronon pointed out the ragged hole in his pants.
"Yeah, well when we get out of here I'll take care of- Woah!"
The entire ship rocked as something heavy landed on it. John grimaced as several sections of the console blinked at him with angry red lights. A second Drone landed on the ship just as John was able to get it to lift off. The drone began to pound its fist against the glass. Shrieks of annoyance were dulled by the ships hull.
"Get it off!" Rodney asked, though John wasn't sure who he was asking. Rodney was pushing buttons on his console, seemingly at random.
"I don't know how to get it off!"
"Shake it off!" Rodney snapped as he stabbed a finger against a red button. The finger froze "but don't kill us! Get rid of it but don't kill us!"
"The heck are you doing, McKay?"
"Trying to see if this thing has any kind of weapons!"
"Find them faster," Ronon growled over Rodney's shoulder. He bared his teeth at the drone in the window.
"Let me try this," John said as he made the ship rise.
It struggled under the weight of the huge Wraith and their already large group, but slowly the tops of the desiccated trees rose into view. The ship rocked and a sharp bone spear tip punctured the heavy metal a hand's breadth from Ronon's head. Ronon ducked down and growled up at the new hole. The spear came down again and he grabbed it, yanking it sharply into the ship before shoving it back up. The ship wobbled in the air as one of the Wraith tumbled off into air.
"Thanks," John said as he was now able to gain more altitude.
The ship spread it's fins and began to move off in the direction of the Gateway. The drone on the front slammed a sharp clawed fist against the glass, scratching it deeply, before scrambling onto the top where there was new pounding.
"How many are up there?" Laura asked, wincing as each impact left a deformity in the hull of the ship.
"My guess would be three," Teyla answered.
"How can we get them- " she broke off as another sharp spear plunged through the hull.
Bates shoved her aside awkwardly, and only just managed to dodge the second spear. The bone bit into the seat and lodged there. The Wraith began to rock the shaft about. The ship rocked in the air and the hole began to widen. Teyla kicked the spear just above the tip and the shaft splintered. She grabbed the shaft and like Ronon had done, shoved it back through the hole. Another Wraith tumbled off the side of the ship.
"Was that all of them?" Laura asked. "Why the hell doesn't this ship have any weapons?" She cursed angrily as another round of pounding began. "When we get back we need to put proper weapons systems on these things, McKay!"
"And what would you suggest, Cadman? Incendiary bombs?"
"For a start!"
"Now, now children," John quipped as he banked the ship hard to the right.
The people inside the ship were tossed, but so was another drone. Now they just had to deal with one. A fist slammed through the metal then pulled back the top of the ship like a tin can. Ronon grabbed John's shotgun out of Laura's hands and fired up into the hole. The Wraith shrieked outrage and climbed away from the opening it had made. There was a moment of peace then the ship banked hard to the right.
"It's on the fins!" Rodney watched in horror as the Wraith began to bend the thin blades of metal as if they were nothing.
"How do we get it off?" The ship lurched to one side and John swore as he fought to keep them in the air.
"I, uh," Rodney snapped and looked over at Laura. "Is there something there that looks like it could be carrying voltage? It'd be behind one of the coverings I showed you."
Laura looked around and immediately found a brass tube affixed ot the wall. She tried to pull it loose but didn't have much luck. Ronon crawled over and ripped the covering away easily.. "Yes!" she exclaimed. The removal of the half-cylinder showed glowing filaments inside the hull of the ship. "Yes this looks like it is a lead out."
"Excellent," Rodney said as he pushed out of his chair and joined her at the small panel. "Can one of you," he gestured at a larger brass panel John had taken as a decorative touch.
Ronon sank his claws into the edge of the panel and yanked hard on it with a grunt. Teyla reached over and the two of them were able to remove it. It clattered to the floor just as the ship lurched to the left.
"Keep it steady this is a very delicate process!"
"Tell that to the Wraith on the hull, McKay!" John grimaced and willed the ship to even out. It responded like a scared animal.
John spared a look outside and saw the Wraith reaching for another one of the small ship's spars. It grabbed the metal and prepared to pull hard.
John watched as energy flared between the tines and hit the Wraith. The demon leapt back and John tried to dislodge it from the surface of the ship, but it caught its balance and drove in sharp claws and legs to keep from falling off.
"Did we get it?" Rodney asked.
"Did it fry?" Laura asked.
"No. It's still out there. The Gateway is coming up."
"We can't go through with a Wraith on us!"
"Can we shake it off?" Teyla asked.
Ronon took at step for the door. "I'll go up there and get it."
John would have been amused to hear everyone in the ship tell Ronon the same thing if he hadn't been more occupied with flying. The panel Rodney had been doing whatever he'd been doing crackled.
"Oh no," Rodney said and dove away, dragging Bates and Cadman with him. Teyla's ear's perked in surprised before she jumped away as well. The interior of the box sparked and hissed audibly before bursting into white-hot fire.
"What did you do, Rodney?" John called back as the ship began to fall out of the sky.
"The Wraith must have hit something vital because it should not have done that!" Rodney gulped audibly. "We're losing altitude!"
"I can see that! Can you fix it?"
"Now with out better tools how close are we to the Gateway?"
John frowned and looked through the trees. He grit his teeth against the pain in his leg and used the pedal controls to make the ship bank towards the stone circle. He could just barely make it out at this distance.
"Dial it up. We might just make it," John ordered.
"What?" Rodney asked. "We're going too fast and there is the small matter of the Wraith!"
"Dial it up!"
Bates scrambled into the copilot's seat and quickly pressed the buttons on the ornate keyboard between the two seats. Each button had a symbol that was represented on the stone Gateway, and few that weren't. The ship hummed and John felt something leave just as the Wraith hollers and the ship lurched. A mote of blue-white light shot out from the ship and sailed for the Gateway. It impacted with the dialing device close beside it and the Gateway's runes lit up as it began to spin. The ship wasn't flying straight and he'd need to pull that damaged fin in anyway. John directed the ship into a wide loop around the Gateway as a connection was made.
"Try the communicator," Teyla suggested, "Perhaps it works across the portal."
"That's-…that's actually a really good idea." Rodney sounded impressed but John didn't care.
Bates stabbed at the communicator's controls and tried to hail the city. They got back a garbled message which could have been a response or just more static. John grimaced as the static became a high pitched whine.
"I need to pull these fins in," John said. "How do they look?"
"Bent out of shape," Laura replied promptly.
"Will we fit? John asked.
"Debatable," she replied.
He pressed the controls anyway. The ship pulled the one set inward with no troubles, yet the other made a very disturbing heavy clanking sound as it tried to retract the flight fins.
"Oh, this is not good," Rodney complained.
John ignored him. He ignored the dull rushing sound of the wind outside their breached hull and the war cries of the Wraith as it clung to the metal of the ship. He ignored Ronon insisting they should land and kill the Wraith first and Teyla's argument against that in favor of the greater firepower of the troops guarding the Gateway on the other side. He ignored the pain of the small ship as it tried to obey John's orders.
"This is going to be close," John warned everyone as he tried to slow the ship down even as he lost altitude and aligned with the portal.
He tightened his grip on the controls and tried to bring the craft to a less suicidal speed as he made the final approach. The Wraith chose that moment to slide down onto the front of the ship. John cursed it the huge arachnoid body obscured his view at the last moment. The Wraith screamed behind its chitin mask and drove its fist through the crystal glass. The damaged fin hit the side of the circle as the clawed hand reached for John. They passed thought the Gateway.
John pressed against the breaks, ignoring the fiery pain in his left leg as he depressed the heavy brass pedals. The ship had clipped the stone circle going in and came out on the other end veering to one side. John pulled up on the controls, wondering if he could get some altitude in the huge domed area and miss hitting any of the freestanding buildings. He succeeded only in lifting the nose of the small craft slightly before it crashed down into the stone tiles and newly grown grass that surrounded the Gateway in Atlantis.
The small ship landed on the other side of the reinforced points Sumner has set up and screeched to a halt as metal met stone. John thought about powering down the engine and the strained hum disappeared almost instantly as the ship limped to a halt. The Wraith was trying to grab John's face. The claws swiped at the air mere inches from his nose. Finally the ship shuddered to a halt. There was a flash of bright light and pain then everything seemed to float.
The door was already open John realized. Sound was strangely dim, but he could hear shouting and the roar of an angry Werewolf. Suddenly the arm was yanked out of the glass hole. The Wraith's hand didn't quite make it through, and it landed on the ground at the front of the ship, a pile of shredded meat. There was more roaring and then the ship shook under impact with something heavy. John heard gunfire and screeching then felt the cool, cutting simplicity of Elizabeth's power.
Suddenly everything outside was silent. He could feel a hand on his shoulder, but his ears had begun to ring. He looked over and smiled woozily at Teyla who was trying to help Rodney get him out of the seat. He felt the trickle of something warm down the side of his head and then the world went dark.
John woke to find himself in the rooms they'd designated as an infirmary. The lights were low, casting warm pools of light on the ground and the rich red wood of the vaulted ceiling. The pounding headache sitting behind John's eyes turned each soothing spotlight into a stabbing pain. John groaned.
"Oh! You're up!"
John turned his head on the pillow and saw the beaming face of Jennifer Keller. He sat up with some help then accepted a glass of water. He drank it gratefully and settled back against the sheets. He looked around and saw Bates sprawled on his own infirmary bed.
"Everyone okay?" John asked, wincing as the warm wood of Jennifer's wand lightly touched his forehead. She cast something in Latin and John shivered under the freezing diagnostic spell.
Jennifer winced in sympathy, now used to his reactions to her spells. "Sorry for the chill. But yes, everyone is okay. You and Captain Bates got the worst of it," Jennifer explained as he picked up John's wrist and checked his pulse. "The spear didn't hit anything major and he should be back on his feet in a few days. You got a nasty blow to the head."
"I did?" John asked, not really remembering much of the last few moments before he blacked out. At least he remembered blacking out so that was something.
Jennifer nodded. She looked over her shoulder then waved across the room before she returned her attention to John. She returned her wand to the pocket of the apron she wore. Her hair was coiled and pinned up out of her way and she wore a dress which would not have been out of place with the fashions of Europe currently. It was an unremarkable brown color with long sleeves and a high collar. While the women of Europe were obsessed with being covered for modesty's sake, Jennifer wore it to hide the broad scars on her neck, ankles and wrists. She'd had the unfortunate experience of being trapped by a Wraith hive for a few months. Jennifer was a werewolf and had been bound by silver during that time. The scars would never heal away completely. She was one of two doctors that the expedition currently had, though they were trying to secure the services of more.
The other doctor currently in the city was Dr. Carson Beckett, who had some small skill in thaumaturgy to compliment his practical skills as a physician. Keller's focus had been in magical treatments with less focus on actual cutting and stitching so the two complimented one another nicely. Beckett unwound a rather complicated looking device from his neck and set one end on John's chest and the other against his ear. He listened for a moment, moving the freezing brass bell on the end and turning knobs at the earpiece before removing it.
John wondered why everything any kind of healer had or did was always freezing cold. "So, will I live?"
"Aye, I think we're stuck with you for a bit longer. Though I think we'd all appreciate if you wouldn't crash any of those little ships into the city again," Carson joked.
"I'll keep that in mind for next time," John quipped back. "Wraith's dead I take it?"
"Aye, lad. Ronon and the Lady Elizabeth took care of it."
"Elizabeth helped? Ronon's not going to like that."
"He's in a bit of a funk. The Wraith got a nasty blow in," Jennifer added. "I cleaned it out and it was healed by dinner." She shuddered. "I'm just glad it's dead."
"What time is it?" John asked, looking around. The sky outside was dark but he couldn't see any clocks.
"It's a bit after nine," Carson said. He pointed at John's leg. "You had a wee cut there but we were able to knit it up. You're a bit more lucky than Christopher over there."
"Thanks, doc. So can I go?"
Carson frowned then shared a look with Jennifer. The two silently debated the merits of letting him leave the infirmary.
John sighed . "How much trouble can I get into?"
"Oh, lots," Carson reminded him. "We've been busy with you lot running around and sticking your noses into things the Ancients left around here. Bloody mess."
"I should go make my report," John argued. "We didn't see the usual level of wrong in that hive. This was much worse."
"Aye," Carson nodded, "we heard some of it from Rodney."
"We heard a lot of it from Rodney," Jennifer amended with a roll of her eyes.
"Rodney wasn't even there for most of it. Look, just let me go find Sumner and then I'll go right to bed."
"Lad, I'd be more inclined to believe you if I didn't already know you have a habit for winding back here in my infirmary." Carson crossed his arms over his chest.
"I'll take him home."
Both healers turned when Elizabeth spoke up. She was easily supporting a very tired and very red Chuck Campbell. She smiled very briefly when her eyes met John's, but she was focused and business-like as she addressed Carson. Mostly. There was a definite hint of amusement.
"What happened to you?" Jennifer gasped when she saw Chuck. Her hands hovered above his red skin unsure if she wanted to touch him or not.
Chuck staggered to the bed beside John and gingerly sat down with a suffering sigh.
"I warned you about sunburn," Carson groused.
"That is the worst sunburn I've ever seen," Jennifer remarked as she brushed past Elizabeth on her way to a cabinet in the corner. She began to pull out herbs and flasks and set them on a work table. She flicked her wand at one of the burners and lit it with a quick spell. "Aloe or milk for the base?" she asked Carson over her shoulder.
"Aloe if we have enough," Carson replied. He looked back at Chuck. "I told you to watch out for this."
"It didn't hurt until about couple hours ago," Chuck admitted.
"Why didn't you come in then?"
"I thought it would heal as quickly as everything else does."
"We don't heal quickly from normal sunlight," Elizabeth reminded him. "It isn't surprising that you wouldn't heal this at the usual rate."
"I am painfully aware of that now," Chuck winced. "What do humans do for this anyway?" he asked.
"Jennifer will mix up a potion for you," Carson clucked his tongue at his newest patient. "I hope you've learned a lesson."
"One of many this evening," Chuck sighed, wincing as breathing made his skin shift. "I'm probably the only Vampire who's ever had "sunburn" like this," he smirked.
Elizabeth merely arched an eyebrow. Chuck's face fell slightly as he hung his head, accepting her silent admonishment.
"Where do you think you're going?" Carson asked.
John winced, caught. He'd been slowly trying to slip out of the infirmary bed while the healers were focused on their new patient. "I was going to report in then get some food then sleep?"
Carson made a disgusted noise then rounded on Elizabeth. "You'll see he does that?"
Elizabeth appeared to be momentarily surprised. She nodded. "I will."
"Off with you then," Carson waved him out of the infirmary.
Offering Chuck a sympathetic look and weathering Jennifer's smirk as he passed, John made it out of the infirmary. Elizabeth followed at a more sedate pace, her hands clasped behind her back. John watched her dark dress swirl about her feet as she walked down the hall. Delicate embroidery in gold thread caught the light, as elegant and rich as the fine, dark green fabric. The gown had a high neck and long sleeves. While the women of Europe worse such styles of modesty, she wore so as little skin as possible could potentially hit by sunlight.
"I should really report in to Sumner." John ran a hand though his hair. "Any idea where he is?"
"I believe he spoke of eating a late dinner. You should have something as well. It will help you heal."
John held out his arm. Elizabeth took it and sighed. "Heroics really aren't necessary," she told him.
"What? Oh. The crash?"
Her pointed look said everything.
John scratched the back of his neck sheepishly. "We didn't really have much of a choice. What happened to the ship?"
"Still where you left it. Dr. McKay and Laura Cadman are going over it. They've said they're fairly sure they can repair it. They mentioned improving it as well."
"They want to put weapons on it," John told her, relating the short conversation as they'd been escaping.
Elizabeth chuckled. "I'm torn between thinking that is both a good and very bad idea."
"You'd think there was some kind of weapon system on the ships," John muttered.
"Perhaps we haven't found it yet," Elizabeth remarked.
She seemed distant to John. That wasn't unusual, but he wondered why. "Are you okay?" he asked.
She nodded. "Better than you were a bit ago," she countered.
John rolled his eyes good naturedly. "Did Chuck figure out his task form this morning?"
Elizabeth smiled, a hint of fang showing at the edge of her lips. "He did, finally. About an hour before you came crashing back home." She sighed heavily. "I'm probably partially to blame for the state of his skin. I sent him to find something to eat then straight to his rooms to sleep." She shook her head, "What he was doing wasn't the easiest of tasks and he needed the rest. He did well," she praised, pride in her student plainly evident.
"Good for him," John agreed.
"I didn't realize the sunlight could do that," she admitted. "I knew that such burns could happen, but I incorrectly thought the city might protect from that as well."
"Well, you can't be expected to know everything about a city people thought was a legend for a few thousand years."
She hummed noncommittally then nodded at one of the tables in the center of the room. "There's Marshal. Find something to eat and then you can give your report to both of us." Elizabeth slipped away from his side and strode over to meet with Sumner.
John sighed and fixed himself a bowl of stew of some kind and grabbed some of the last of the day's bread before wandering back out to the tables.
"Did you have to crash one of our ships?" Sumner asked even before John had sat down.
"She asked me the same thing," John replied as he set his dinner down and sank into a chair. "I'll try to remember that next time I have a demon trying to grab my face through the front glass."
Sumner snorted. "See that you do." He sipped at his drink then set the mug down. "So we have reports from everyone but you and Bates. I was going to get yours tomorrow, but since you're up," he trailed off and gestured for John to start speaking. Sumner sat back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest, waiting.
John finished the bite of stew, looked mournfully at his dinner one then began to give his report with military efficiency. When he was done he attacked the remainder of his meal with gusto.
Sumner pulled out a cigar from a case on the table. He lit it then blew a strem towards the ceiling, reflecting on what John had reported. "We got the gate address from Bates," Sumner began, filling John in on what had occurred. "Negotiator Weir wasn't familiar with the address." He nodded in Elizabeth's direction. "I'm not comfortable with sending anyone into an unfamiliar gate address, but this is the only lead we have. Wraith don't use parchment."
"I'd like to go, sir," John said.
Sumner smirked. "Not surprised. I don't have anyone else I'd care to send either. And before you get a swollen head, that's not only because you have a knack for survival. While you were taking a nap a bunch of our people were recalled."
"Remember when Prometheus was stolen?"
John chewed thoughtfully. "A squad of air pirates, did that, right?"
"Air pirate. Singular. Was calling herself Qetesh." Sumner dismissed that train of thought as irrelevant with a small wave of his hand. "Well that thief showed up on Dr. Jackson's doorstep with some rather disturbing tactical information about the Confederacy."
John noticed the odd look on Elizabeth's face when Sumner mentioned the air pirate that had stolen the Prometheus, the Union's new airship. It had been right before he'd joined the Expedition and by extension, the Gateway program, so he'd only heard about it second hand. He made a note to ask her about that later.
"So is the Confederacy moving against us?" John asked.
Sumner nodded. "We need to resolve this situation with the Wraith. The sooner the better. Beckett says Bates should be up and around again in a day or so but I can't wait that long. You, Teyla, Ronon and McKay are going to go it alone this time."
John nodded. "We leaving tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow afternoon," Elizabeth answered. "Dr. McKay seems to have come to an understanding with the ships."
"Good. Now I am going to sleep." Sumner smirked at Elizabeth "don't spend too long tucking him in. I want him up before noon tomorrow." With that parting shot, Sumner cleared his and John's empty dishes from the table. He headed for the kitchen and the huge and somewhat dangerous automatic washing machine, a trail of smoke following him.
John scowled. "I wish he wouldn't do that."
Elizabeth's only answer was a small exhalation and to rise from the table. "You should get to sleep."
"Walk with me?" John asked, quickly rising to his feet also.
Elizabeth considered the request for a moment before nodding. John slipped his arm around hers and led the way thought city's halls. He stopped at a filigree metal doorway and pressed a button. The elevator arrived quickly with the smallest whisper of metal wheels on a metal track. The elevators in Atlantis were much faster, smoother and quieter than the few he'd been in back in the Union. They also went sideways, taking the rider to many destinations. When they'd been discovered, Rodney's team of researchers had been fascinated by the system, but John had been worried about collisions for a full month until they'd proven to have safety features already included.
John felt the weight of the day by the time they reached his rooms. He staggered inside and sank into a chair. He tugged off his boots and found he didn't have any additional energy. He pulled back the leg of his pants and examined the wound from earlier in the day. A line of pink skin ran up his calf. Likely Jennifer and Carson had used his own energy to help them work their healing spell, which was why he was so weary.
"Need anything?" Elizabeth asked from just inside the doorway.
"A hand in the shower?" John asked.
"When I agreed to help put you to bed I meant to sleep," she informed him with affected loftiness.
John grinned. "Yes Ma'am." A bone cracking yawn escaped, ruining his rakish smile. "I think I might need a hand with this shirt. Maybe the pants." The first statement was serious, the second less so.
Elizabeth sighed and followed him into his room, letting the door slide shut with a small click. She began to help him out of the shirt. "What am I to do with you?"
"I can think of a number of things," John tried to leer but was thwarted once again by a yawn. "Maybe tomorrow, though," he pouted, finally giving in to exhaustion.
Elizabeth helped him out of his clothes then sat on his bathroom counter and patiently answered his questions about her day while he took a quick shower. She helped him into some clean clothes and laughed softly when he flopped onto his bed with a grateful groan. She folded his towel over the rack above the heating element in the bathroom then turned out the lights.
"Stay a bit?" John asked as he rolled over on his back. "Just to stay?"
He was drifting to sleep when he felt the bed dip beside him. He rolled over on his side, sliding an arm around Elizabeth's waist. John pulled her close and tucked her head under his chin. She smelled of jasmine and lily and felt like home. He pressed a sleepy kiss to her forehead. He soon fell asleep.
Elizabeth waited until he was asleep then sat up. John rolled into the space she'd occupied with a sleepy murmur. Elizabeth ran the fingers of one hand through his still damp hair, careful not to wake him as she stood. She looked over at the small clock he kept beside the bed. It was still early. She knew she should leave, but she felt compelled to stay.
"You are such a mistake," she told him.
John slept on, oblivious to her comment and sad tone.
Elizabeth closed her eyes and sighed. She removed her boots then slid back into the bed behind John.
John woke up to find he was alone in bed and the sun was already high overhead. A small piece of paper had been folded in half and set on his bedside table. John blinked sleepily at the note and unwound his arms from the pillow he'd been clutching to his chest. He picked up the note. Behind it, his clock showed it was well after his normal time to get up. John rolled on his back and read the paper.
Col. Sumner had a small group check the gate address earlier this morning. It leads to a gateway in Europe. Your team will go later today.
I will probably be meditating on the terrace when you wake.
John let the letter flutter from his fingers. It wasn't quite "come find me when you get up," but it was close enough for him. He rolled out of bed and quickly dressed, dragging his hand through his unruly hair. The door opened silently for him when he arrived at her quarters. He quickly passed through the living space to the covered terrace. She had a nice view of both the ocean and the reawakening gardens. Elizabeth sat under the metal awning on the balcony.
An apple and a muffin sat on a metal plate on the table beside the covered fountain. There was a pitcher of water beside it. John grabbed the plate, poured a drink then settled beside Elizabeth. He quickly ate the muffin then bit into the apple. He watched Elizabeth meditate as he ate his breakfast. He finished the apple then set the core on the plate and lay back beside her. The underside of the metal awning revealed intricate cogs and gears which could retract it back against the wall of the building, but Elizabeth always left her terrace covered. He sense her shift out of the corner of his eyes and looked over in time ot see her end her morning meditation with a relaxed exhalation.
"Morning," he greeted.
John suppressed a shiver. Her voice did powerful things to him. At the moment the base of his spine was tingling presently and a part of his mind wondered if she'd ever allow sex on her balcony. She seemed to sense his train of thought and arched a slim brow. John shrugged, unrepentant.
"Thanks for the food. How'd you know I wouldn't sleep all day?"
She shrugged minutely and stretched her arms above her head, distracting John. She was wearing yet another entirely covering dress, this time in a deep crimson. She had red highlights in her hair that the muted sunlight and the dress brought out. Again John's thoughts drifted to getting her out of that dress.
"You need to check in with Carson, but you look well enough to go this afternoon. I told Carson I'd checked in on you this morning."
"You didn't have to leave at all you know," John reminded her, propping himself on one arm.
"I am bending the limits of professionalism already."
John rolled his eyes and flopped on his back, wincing when he let his head hit the ground harder than he'd intended. "Sorry."
He offered his hand and she took it after a moment, placing her slim fingers in his hand. She tugged on his hand and they shifted until his head was in her lap. She ran her fingers through his hair. She'd found out early on he enjoyed immensely. John let his eyes slide closed in pleasure as her nails gently scraped his scalp. She traced the features of his face with her eyes.
She wasn't good at relationships of the romantic kind. She never had been and the last one had scarred her deeply. She hadn't know how badly until she'd met John. She still found it stunning that he was interested in her and it seemed for more than the physical aspect, as much as Elizabeth tried to deny it. He asked her questions about her life; everything from the mundane details of her day to her past experiences. He tried so hard for the great age difference not to bother him. It was endearing too the way he tried to protect her from the worst of the gossip in the small community of Atlantis. She knew their relationship was costing him his friendship with Ronon and that made her feel deeply guilty. But he was like a drug she couldn't get enough of nor quit.
He seemed to care for her without reservation. She couldn't call it…that word. But she recognized that there was something there even if she couldn't give it a name.
"The shot gun was a good idea," John said, drawing her from her musing. He was watching her curiously.
Elizabeth chided herself for her internal wool-gathering. "You used it?" she inquired as she drew the tips of her fingers of his face.
"Yeah. I'll take it with me later. Is Bates going to come with us again?"
"No. Dr. Beckett wants him to remain in the infirmary for another day."
"Shame. He's pretty good. Still a bit on the stiff side, but he's more loose than he was when this all started," he waved a vague hand at the city around them.
"We decided to just send the four of you. Is that okay?"
"Sure. More Wraith for Ronon to kill. He'll be happy."
"I'm sorry about him."
"Huh?" John opened one eye and looked up at her with a confused expression.
She soothed the worry lines on his forehead away with gentle fingers and began to massage his temples. "Ronon isn't fond of me beyond a professional level. And even then I'm not certain."
"He's like that with everyone. Evan probably pushes you too. Teyla maybe?"
Elizabeth frowned. It was true now that she thought about it, but she wasn't sure what John was getting at. Her fingers slowed as she spoke. "What do you mean?"
"It's a tribal thing. Comes from the werewolves. Evan isn't a wolf and he doesn't look native, but he's Cheyenne, born and raised. Their population's half wolf, but everyone acts the same. Push whoever is in charge until they know what you're made of. Nothing to worry about or take offense from." John shrugged. "Not many packs where you're from?"
"No. Before this most of my personal knowledge came from interacting with Charin." She brushed his hair back. "Somehow I doubt that is what Ronon's problem with me is."
"He'll come around."
"I do not want to come between you and your partner."
"Don't worry about it." John told her, an edge of annoyance creeping into his voice. He opened both eyes then narrowed them. "If you're trying to think of excuses you'll need a better one."
"Excuses to get rid of me or reasons why we shouldn't continue to," he trailed off "do whatever it is we're doing. What are we doing, anyway?"
"Sitting on my terrace?" she offered innocently.
John sat up and faced her, crossing his legs and resting his elbows on his knees. He looked at her intently for several moments. Elizabeth actually had to fight the urge to fidget or look away.
"What do you want?"
"That is very complicated."
"Only if you make it complicated," John retorted.
Elizabeth glared. "What do you want?" she fired back in an even voice.
She reeled for a moment before she was able to muster indignant anger. "You have no idea what that entails," she spat back. "You think you do but you do not."
She rose and left for the wide doors to her rooms. John got to his feet and followed, grabbing for her wrist. Elizabeth spun her arm and broke his hold automatically. She struck out lightly to emphasize her point but he wasn't where she expected him to be. He followed up with a simple move and had her arm again. She looked at his firm grip then up at him in surprise.
"You've been watching me teach."
"When I can," he admitted with a small shrug. He released her arm and rubbed the back of his neck. "It seemed like a smart idea. You know a lot of things that are really helpful in hand to hand comba-ack!"
In a swift move she'd bent his arm behind his back and had forced him to the wall of her rooms, shoving his face against the wood with one hand and exposing his neck. Her grip was like iron and though he tried to get out, he couldn't move. When she darted forward and pressed her extended fangs along the side of his throat, only then did he stop struggling.
"Are you scared?" she whispered into his ear. "Because you should be. A few moves you learned while watching me train my apprentice are fine against another human, but you don't seem to fully comprehend that I am not human."
She turned John around and relaxed her grip. John grasped her hips, pulling them toward his own and showing her now not scared he was. His hands went around to her rear and pulled her against him, grinding her hips against his own. Elizabeth's nose flared as she was drawn closer to John. She could smell the blood running just under his skin and she knew how sweet he tasted. John surprised her again by crushing his mouth to hers.
He slid his tongue against her sharp fangs, cutting the muscle open just enough to bleed and she was gone.
Elizabeth pressed her body against his, slamming him the short distance into the wall once more. He growled in response and began fumbling with her dress. Elizabeth opened more cuts on John's neck with her teeth when John forced her to break for air. She ripped open his shirt, not caring in the slightest for the ripped material. She shredded it away from his arms and tossed it aside.
John barely beat her to his pants. He unbuckled them and pushed them down ahead of her questing fingers. She dug her fingers into the flesh of his ass, holding his still while she ground into him. John fumbled with the closure of her dress while she found his mouth again. His tongue was still bleeding and she drank him until John had to use all of his strength to push her away so he could breathe once more.
His satisfied, lusty smirk turned into an expression of shock as she tossed him across the room to land on her bed. Elizabeth slapped at the button which automatically closed the door to her balcony then slammed a fist down on the window controls. The brass and wood shades snapped shut with mechanical precision, making her room pleasantly dark. John looked up at her with a somewhat dazed and now justifiably wary expression.
She pounced, pinning him to the bed, and scraped her teeth along his neck, opening more little cuts but not biting down as she wanted to. Not yet. She could feel his pulse under her mouth. Elizabeth straddled him and could feel his arousal against her thigh. He might be frightened but he was also excited, which excited her. She'd been careful not to become too violent with John; Simon had been appalled by her aggressive side. John's essence called to her. Not just his blood but the very thing that made him who he was, that indefinable aspect she'd sought after all of her life, that resonated so strongly with her.
She tried to sink onto John but met resistance. Growling she reached under her skirts then ripped her own undergarment at either leg and tossed it out of the way. John's eyes rolled back in his head as she sank onto him with a wanton cry of pleasure. As she ground her hips and arched her back, John's hands flew to her hips, gripping her thighs through the fabric of her dress. Elizabeth scratched her nails down his chest then grabbed his hands.
She forced his wrists back against the bed as she leaned forward, licking the small droplets of blood that had beaded up along the thin lines she'd made on his chest. She got to his shoulder and licked a smaller cut she found there before sinking her teeth into his flesh, tearing into him. He bucked under her, thrusting up in shock and pain. She growled and licked at the wound she'd made, her body beginning to rock against his, her hips pushing him into the mattress.
John moaned as she fucked him slowly while she fed. Sated with the taste of him for now, Elizabeth sat back, still maintaining the grip she had on his wrists. She looked down at him and began to move faster. John watched her with wide eyes as she rode him. Her irises glowing slightly and his blood on her lower chin black in the low light. The dress became too hot and she ripped it off over her head, not caring in the slightest where it landed. John's hands gripped her thighs as she continued to move, up and down, letting him nearly leave her body before she sank down again.
He watched her frenzied movements become more erratic before she came with a harsh cry, her fingers digging into his chest. John was still hard within her, but he couldn't move. Elizabeth gasped for breath and brushed her hair back. She looked around with a somewhat bewildered look as she came out of whatever daze she'd been caught in.
Abruptly she seemed to realize what she'd been doing. Elizabeth off him then got off the bed. John growled and yanked both his boots then his pants off and followed her flight.
"We're not done," he said, grabbing her arm.
Elizabeth's eyes flashed but John was kissing her, cutting his lips on her teeth and goading her again. Before she could regain her equilibrium, John turned her around and propelled her a few steps forward until she was pressed between him and the heavy wood and brass table she used as a desk in her quarters. John tilted her hips and entered her. Elizabeth let out a small gasp the leaned forward, bracing herself against the table.
"John," she breathed as he fucked her. Her fingers dug into the metal, crumpling it.
He'd never had sex like this before. He'd allowed her to bite him, but he had sensed she'd always held back and had been very careful. Now he knew why. Under the layers of focus and control, Elizabeth was an essentially primal predator. He'd caught another glimpse of it today and far from frightening him, it excited him. He dug his fingers into her hips and rocked against her, thrusting until his thighs met hers with a soft slap of skin on skin.
John leaned forward and bit her shoulder, not caring if he was being too rough. She turned her head and he could smell and nearly taste the metallic tang of his blood on her skin. He was close to the edge when she tilted her hips slightly, changing the angle just enough. He let go with a primal cry, thrusting hard into her. He bit down and she gasped under him, coming a second time. John kissed the area he'd bitten and wrapped his arms around her, panting into her ear. Eventually Elizabeth shifted, pushing him awkwardly away form her. John withdrew and pulled her away from the table toward her bed.
"You bit me."
"Yep," John grinned, he pulled her with him onto the bed and sighed, feeling sated and complete. His shoulder hurt a little, but didn't seem that bad.
Elizabeth scrambled to her knees and began to try and look at her shoulder. "Did you break the skin?" she asked urgently. She got off the bed and raced into her bathroom to see if he'd drawn blood before the injury healed. All she could think about was that he'd started it by cutting his tongue.
John lifted his head to watch her and winced away when the bright light flicked on. He put a hand over his eyes and waited for her to return. Eventually he heard the lights click off and the sound of her feet across the floor.
"What was that about?" he asked. "You bite me all the time. I thought you liked it."
"Well, yes," Elizabeth sank back onto the bed. He was pouting at her. She didn't know if she wanted to slap him, kiss him, fuck him again or run away. She shook her head, trying to clear the conflict. "You can't bite me."
Elizabeth bit her lower lip then realized it tasted like blood already. John's. She wiped at her face and found it was already becoming tacky. She grabbed for her sheets and began wiping it away. John snatched the sheets from her hands and began to do it for her. Elizabeth closed her eyes and let him. She'd never intended to ever let things go this far with him. It had felt every bit as good as she'd imagined and more. She'd hoped she'd get over her fascination brought on by biology and magical forces she had no control over, and she'd never told him why he couldn't reciprocate a love bite. Fortunately her skin had been unbroken.
"So why not?"
"I- You- John you must never drink my blood nor let your blood mix with mine." She hoped he'd take her word and wouldn't question.
Of course, she knew he wouldn't but she'd hoped anyway. Now she had to explain. John was often…impulsive and she very much did not want to tell him why.
"That's how you could turn into a Vampire."
And now he sounded interested. Part of her heart soared, but the more realistic part of her clamped down on that quickly. "I've told you it is deadly. Most people do not survive and of those who do live, some go insane. I can't let you risk that. Gods, I should never have-" she cut herself off, feeling more than a little ashamed of her own actions.
"If a fight and make up sex are always like that…" he trailed off and managed a leer before he moved his shoulder and winced.
Elizabeth's mind finally caught up with what she'd done and she saw every injury she inflicted. She looked at the ragged bite mark on John's shoulder, how close it was to the big artery in his neck. Horrified, she hastily began healing his injuries with pushes of power and words in the Ancient language.
"Thank you." John rolled his shoulder and chuckled. "I wouldn't have wanted to explain to Carson how I got that. Besides I'd like to use this arm when I head out later today. Hey. You okay?" John pulled her into his arms.
Elizabeth was confused. She'd assaulted him and fucked him and yes, he'd goaded her into it, but the mask had come loose. If it had come off fully, she would likely still have been trying to suck the last of his life's blood from his body. She shuddered at that thought and said a silent prayer of thanks that she hadn't sunk so deeply into the hunger that she'd killed him.
He had no idea how close he'd come to death and he was trying to comfort her.
"I don't want to hurt you."
"I know that. You wouldn't." He placed a soft kiss on her forehead.
In hear heart, Elizabeth knew she was right: he still had no idea what he was playing with.
"If you'd like to get rough again, I wouldn't mind," John told her. "I won't bite back, but would it really be so bad?"
"You could die," she hissed. She forced him to look at her with one hand on his face. "You have no idea. Promise me you won't do something as stupid as that. Promise me!"
He pulled his head back. "I promise, but maybe you could let me in on some of this?" he gestured vaguely. "You keep telling me I have no idea, but how the hell can I get an idea if you don't tell me? Should I go ask Chuck?"
"Then what, Elizabeth? Peter was a whole lore more forthcoming and I wasn't sleeping with him."
"Okay, we'll talk."
"Well," John seemed to pull back some of his annoyance. "That's something." He looked around, searching for a clock. "I should probably get another shirt. Get some lunch and check in with Sumner." He climbed off the bed and pulled on his pants. He examined his shredded shirt for a moment before stuffing it in his pocket. "Want to come with me?" he offered.
"No, thank you."
John laced up his boots. He recognized Elizabeth pulling away again and balled one fist against his thigh as he stood. He put a hand on her shoulder then again after she winced away. He leaned down and kissed her cheek then her lips when she turned her head. He could tell by the small furrow on her brow that she was working something over in her mind.
John stroked her cheek gently. "I'll see you later then." He kissed her again to let her know it was okay, that he was okay. She turned her head at the last second and he kissed her cheek. Feeling frustrated John left before they started to fight.
Elizabeth made herself slow down as she walked the halls. John would be leaving soon and she didn't want to leave things they way they had. Her pace had sped up again without her consciously thinking about it and she forced herself to slow once more. She stopped in the hall the abruptly ducked outside. She found herself on one of the many central building balconies under the huge transparent dome.
Elizabeth blinked in the sudden sunlight and slapped at the awning controls. The machinery whirred as the cover extended, creating a much more tolerable shade. Elizabeth grasped the metal railing. The metal was warm from a day in the sunlight. Elizabeth let out a long breath. From this vantage point Elizabeth could watch as the sea lapped against the side of the second ring and sparkled in the sunlight beyond the third.
She'd been playing the morning over in her mind and she wasn't certain if her reckless actions or if John's easy acceptance of her scared her more. She couldn't let him be a distraction. She had an important job and more than a hundred people who were relying on her to keep things running smoothly here in Atlantis. Despite trying to push him away or avoid him or force their relationship into someplace purely professional, she was drawn back. She'd tried to meditate on her problem, to rationalize it and couldn't. She sighed and pushed herself away from the balcony and resumed her walk down to John's quarters.
John looked up in surprise when Elizabeth entered. He smiled, surprised and pleased to see her.
"I don't know why I'm here."
John put down his coat and held out an arm.
Elizabeth drifted across the room and allowed herself to be embraced. After a few minutes of being held she spoke. "We'll talk when this is all over."
"Right," John agreed. "We'll help fix this and then we can talk about things."
"I did want to see you before you left. There are things we need to say. I still don't like where we left off"
"Yeah." John picked his coat back up and shrugged it on. "Job first, though. What's what we agreed. So. Europe." He tucked her arm into his own and casually slung his shotgun over the other shoulder. "I've never been there before. Anything I should know?"
"The team this morning said the locals knew English and French as well as Romanian."
"We should be okay then," John nodded. "Time to what this is all about."
Elizabeth watched as the small ship slide through the Gateway. She returned to her office, surprised to find Sumner lounging in his usual seat.
"Did you need something?"
"Not particularly," Sumner mused. He pulled out a case and flipped it open to reveal some cigars. "You mind?"
"No, go ahead."
"No thank you. Did you have something to discuss?"
Sumner fished out a little clockwork lighter and lit his cigar. He blew a smoke ring at the ceiling. "Yeah. I'd like to know about you and Sheppard."
"My personal life is none of your business."
"Huh. Did the temperature just drop in here?"
"Look," Sumner held up a stalling hand then let it drop back to the chair's arm rest. The other hand gestured with the cigar. "You're with him but you're not. He's confused and smitten and it is affecting him."
"John has always completed his assigned duties with-"
"I know that. I'd be the first to whip him back into shape if I should he wasn't. That's not what I mean."
Elizabeth busied herself with the collection of books that had come with the office.
"This is the part where you say "what do you mean, Colonel?" "Sumner prompted.
Elizabeth's reply was even. "What do you mean Colonel?"
"He's head over heels for you. I just need to know what you intend to do about it." Sumner paused to drag on his cigar. "He's under my command and I like to see my subordinates with their houses in order."
"What are you implying?"
"I'm not implying anything." Sumner gestured with the cigar in a stabbing motion. "I'm outright telling you that intentional or not, you have him pretty twisted up. He doesn't know if he's coming or going and, if I might be so bold-"
"You may not."
"Too bad. You're just as messed up about him. I don't know what your problem is but he scares you for some reason."
"If you two don't work out your issues, it is going to bleed into your jobs." Sumner stood. "I've seen it before and I don't care to see it again."
Elizabeth stood behind her desk, across from him. "Are you done?"
"Nope." Sumner blew another ring then released a puff of smoke through the center. "I like you."
"You're good people, Weir. So's Sheppard, though I will deny it so don't bother repeating that to him," he gestured with his cigar, creating a looping smoke trail. "Work it out. Talk to someone else: Teyla, Charin, Samantha, someone from your homeland. Do something. You'll both be happier." Sumner paused by the doorway. "I was married, so my door's open too."
Elizabeth glared at his retreating back until Sumner disappeared into his own office. Elizabeth let out a slow breath and sank down behind her desk, thinking about this unexpected conversation. She pinched the bridge of her nose. She'd have a talk. Maybe. If the situation allowed. The escalation in the North American continent required her full attention on the hunt at hand. Later. There would be time for talking and examining feelings later. For now, she had to help direct the hunt.
They exited the Gateway and set on a course that carefully avoided the small town the advance team had found. The immediate area around the stone ring was uninhabited. In most places, people had forgotten the artifacts or were content to let them be and the locals of the town were no exception.
John flew low, mindful of other aircraft. The discovery of Atlantis wasn't yet public information in even North America, let along Europe. There wasn't a way to hide the air ship craft so-
"What did you just do?" Rodney asked.
"You just did something to the ship. All the little lights over her just went active." Rodney excitedly pointed to a section of the console that had always remained dim.
"I don't know, I wasn't doing anything!"
"Well, you had to be doing something!"
"I told you, I wasn't doing anything but flying the ship!"
"Are we going to blow up?" Ronon asked in bored manner.
"No. At least I don't think so," McKay answered.
"Then quit arguing or be quieter. Some of us are trying to take naps."
John rolled his eyes as Ronon settled back into his chair with his eyes closed. "Why don't you try reading the controls to see what happened?"
"Already am. Huh. Something called a "curtain"? No, wait, a cloak? What is that?"
"Rodney," Teyla called softly.
"How the hell should I know? I don't read Ancient as well as you do."
"John," Teyla called the other man.
"Well you should have some idea!" Rodney protested. "You're the one with the 'Magic Touch'! " he wiggled his finger's at John.
"Look it doesn't work that wa-"
"Excuse me!" Teyla shouted, startling the men in the ship. All three eyed her warily. Teyla resumed her usual serene expression but with a heavy nuance of "I am humoring my friends." "Gentlemen, I believe we are invisible."
"Invisible? That's impossi- Where did the wings thingies go?"
"Wing thingies?" Ronon asked mildly.
"It's a technical term," John joked over his shoulder.
"Oh, for- The flight stabilization fins! I could add more syllables but your tiny minds would not comprehend. Just look out side!"
John looked out the window and saw that the fins seemed to have disappeared. He frowned.
"Where'd they-" as soon as he began to wonder where they'd gone, they shimmered back into sight. "Huh."
"What did you do?"
"I thought about seeing them and they came back. Let me try-" he trailed off and thought about hiding the ship again. The fins disappeared.
"You can control this?" Rodney gaped at the control panel and John flicked the system on and off, making the lights flicker.
"Yeah, I guess I can."
"Oh wow. This is- this is both very good and very bad. It's phenomenal!" Rodney flailed in his seat. "Do you realize what this means?"
"We can sneak in really well?" Ronon asked dryly.
"Well, yes. But that means other people can sneak too! Oh we cannot let anyone know about this. At least until we study it further. Do you think we can land so I can examine the-"
"No. We have a mission. You can play when we're done," John told him firmly. "Until then, we're just going to sneak around a bit."
John made the ship invisible again and took them higher into the air for a better look. Rodney grumbled under his breath but resumed looking at the various monitors sent into his console.
"What is that?" Teyla asked. She leaned forward and pointed through the broad viewscreen.
"People." Rodney said, tapping at the sheet of glass lightly. "Running fast."
"Away from something or to something?" Ronon asked.
"Away. There are- Oh Gods!"
"What Rodney?" John demanded.
"Wraith don't live in Europe!" John protested.
"Now you see why I am upset!" Rodney shot back.
"Well, then lets go see. I think we've found where we want to start investigating."
John flew over the Wraith and saw they were chasing a group of armed humans, about a dozen in each party, which mean the humans were outnumbered. The humans had some kind of mage with them, but the Wraith did as well.
"Okay, guns only. Elizabeth said some part of the area could be superstitious."
Ronon growled in annoyance but Teyla simply nodded. As John set the ship down, Rodney reached into one of the bench compartments and hauled out the largest gun John had ever seen. It had four barrels and one shorter oversized one.
"Where did you get that?" John asked.
"Oh, I made it last night after I was told I'd be going on this insane mission," he explained casually as he strained to lift it.
Ronon plucked the gun out of his hands and gave McKay his own smaller, gas-powered revolver. He quelled Rodney's protest with a single glare.
"Everyone remember where we landed," John said, only half joking. The group raced into the woods to meet the oncoming battle.
John's team looked up just as a young man threw himself out of the way of an arc of ice directed at a Wraith drone. He flew over the large log that John's team had been using for cover while they assessed the situation. The sheet of ice shot harmlessly over their heads, missing the intended target. The young man scuttled backwards in surprise when he saw John's team, trapping himself between them and the log. His eyes got huge when Ronon lowered the massive gun. The wraith above him was blown apart and backwards.
"Need some help?" John asked.
He held out a hand to the now grinning kid and John mentally revised his age to something a bit younger than he'd been thinking before. He wore worn but serviceable pants in a heavy material and his jacket was made of patched leather and carefully repaired in places. His on his forehead he wore the only adornment, a small silver dot. Ronon's minute flinch told John it was real silver.
"Aiden Ford," the kid said.
"John. This is Rodney, Teyla and Ronon. We saw you folks having some trouble with the Wraith."
"Wraith? Is that what they're called? We haven't seen demons like that before."
"We have been hunting them," Teyla explained as she fired on another drone.
"You're welcome to fight!" Aiden grinned broadly as he grabbed his gun from the pile of leaves it had landed in.
He turned and began to fire on the Wraith, using the log as cover. Teyla arched a brow at John who shrugged. The four from Atlantis joined him. The Wraith were now trapped between the two groups and confused. The Mage, John could see, had been winged and was still angry. He sent arcs of black fire at both groups, but his aim was uncontrolled.
Teyla had her long knife in one hand and her revolver in the other. She darted out and around the huge log into the fray. John fired on a drone trying to flank her while she cut the throat of one who'd been threatening the other group. Ronon focused his fire on the Wraith furthest from other people, the heavy shots reverberated in the air behind John. Rodney was following Ronon's targets.
Teyla's knives flashed in the dappled light of the forest as she lunched at a drone who'd cornered one of the other women. John saw the stranger's eyes widen in surprise as Teyla was suddenly between her and the Wraith who'd flanked her. Teyla efficiently dispatched the Wraith, taking its head.
John set his shotgun down and pulled his long-barrel revolver. He drew a bead on the Mage and waited for the flailing limbs to give him a clear shot. John fired and the round went in between the Mage's eyes, making a neat hole. The back of the demon's head exploded. As the heavy body of the Mage fell to the ground, the drones all turned to look. Distracted by the loss of their leader, the remaining Wraith were easily killed.
When the last drone fell, John put an arm on the shoulder of the celebrating Ford.
"You better lead the way. I don't want to get shot by your people."
"Sure!" Aiden hopped over the log. "Larrin!"
"Aiden! What happened? What-" The woman who answered was the one who'd been saved by Teyla..
She looked warily from the Athosian cleaning her knife to the restJohn's team. She and the rest of the party wore closing similar to Aiden's. Her clothing was a bit better in quality, consisting of leather pants reinforced at the knees and a nicer jacket over a corset and blouse. She wore a small white gem on her forehead and John could see the rest of the party wore stones or precious metals on their foreheads as well.
The other people paused then continued forward warily when they saw John's team. John holstered his revolver and held the shotgun with the barrel down. He gave a look to Ronon, then a second, and the Satedan put his new gun against his shoulder. Teyla had already put away her weapons and rejoined her team. Rodney tried to holster his gun then remembered it wasn't his and settled for holding it barrel down at his side.
"Howdy," John said, careful to look as relaxed and non-threatening as possible.
"Who are you?" the woman asked. Like Ford, she had a slight regional accent. John bet Elizabeth would have been able to place it, but he didn't have a clue.
"John Sheppard. This is Ronon Dex, Teyla Emmagen and Rodney McKay. We saw you were having some trouble and thought we could lend a hand."
"Larrin, they know what these things are," Aiden added. He kicked the body of one of the Wraith. "They were hunting them."
"Hunting them?" Larrin asked, looking from the dead Demons to John's team and back again.
"They're causing some trouble where we're from," John explained. "We were following a trail and it led here."
"Where are you from?" Larrin asked.
It was clear she was the leader. The others in the group were going around and making sure the wraith were all dead. A good precaution in John's estimation. A wizened old man with an even older wand wheezed as he climbed out from behind the rocks and sat down on one of the larger boulders.
"They're from the Americas, unless I am mistaken. That is not an English accent," the old man said.
"We are," John confirmed.
"You're a long way from home," Larrin mused, still wary.
"When we are not fighting demons, we do a great deal of exploring," Teyla added. "Such explorations take us far from home."
"See, Larrin, Davos. They're like us. They wander the paths," Aiden said, putting a friendly hand on Ronon's shoulder.
Ronon looked at the man's hand then casually walked away on the pretense of inspecting the dead Wraith.
"Not all who wander are Travelers, Aiden," Davos chided gently.
"How do we know you didn't bring these demons down upon us?" Larrin asked. She eyed the group with suspicion.
"They could have easily killed me when I went over that log, Larrin." Aiden kicked the body of the Wraith in question to emphasize his point. "But instead they killed it and saved me."
"How did you know what to do?" one of the men asked. He was at least seven feet tall and loomed impressively over the old mage.
"Like we said, we've fought these things before. The Mage was the group leader. We're all lucky we didn't have a Seneschal on our hands, or we might still be fighting." John looked back over at Larrin. "Look, these things don't belong here and we want to stop them. Anything you could tell us would be appreciated."
Larrin looked at her group then back at John's an nodded. "Our ship is this way." She gestured back they way they'd come. "We were out searching for some people of ours. We were flying low and the demon with magic shot us out of the air." She straightened and raised her voice over the group. "We will return to the ship, tend to our injuries and hope the rest of us aren't too far out of range."
"Your ship was damaged?" Rodney asked eagerly. "I think we can help with that."
"You can?" Larrin asked, clearly not believing that Rodney could.
The Scientist puffed his chest. "I most certainly can! You are speaking to one of the smartest men in the world. I've fixed-"
Teyla cleared her throat.
"I've fixed far more advanced things than a simple airship!"
"We shall see," Larrin allowed. "Come. This way."
John followed after Larrin as they made their way back. The path was easy to follow because the small trees and underbrush had been torn and trampled by the party of humans and the Wraith pursuing them.
"So do you come from the village close by?" John ventured.
Larrin shook her head. "No. We are the Travelers. The world is ours and we go where the Paths take us," she explained with no small amount of pride.
"John," she ventured as they climbed down a small embankment, "How did you happen upon us?"
"We have an Airship. A small one."
"Are the United States filled with zombies?" she asked. "I'd read that they were once."
"Zombies? uhm, no. We try to keep ourselves zombie free where I am from."
"I should like to visit there sometime. Father keeps us close to this area for now. His visions tell him to remain."
John jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "Your father?"
"No. My great-uncle. Uncle Davos is very gifted, but leadership did not fall to his line of the family. My father is with the rest of our people."
"Are there many more? Of your people, I mean. I just ask because I'm curious."
"A great many more. We're running out of room on our airship." She sighed and ran a hand through her hair, dislodging some twigs and leaves that had gotten caught during the chase. "Coming out here is a small measure of relief. Home is very crowded, but it isn't unpleasant."
"Why don't you get another airship?" Rodney added. He shrugged, unrepentant when John gave him a look.
"Our homes were a gift to us by the Ancestors, the Ancients." She touched her forehead reverently, "They are our birthright."
"Well-" Rodney was cut off by John elbowing him in the side. Rodney rolled his eyes and grumbled under his breath.
They could smell the airship before they could see it. The smell of a ruptured steam engine was unmistakable to any who had ever experienced it before, combining the smells of burning materials, hot iron and water condensing on the air. They crossed a rise and saw the ship. it was damaged but not ruined, even John could see. At first glance it looked like a haphazard fusion of several small ships, but underneath it all, John recognized an Ancient design.
Rodney rushed forward and began to issue orders. The Travelers looked to Larrin who nodded and soon they were repairing their ship. John sat back with Ronon and Teyla and offered to guard. John didn't want to get too close to their ship in case any of the Ancient components still worked.
The sun sank on the horizon and soon touched the tops of the tallest peaks. Rodney was covered in smudges and soot, his skin now a dingy brown. His eyes and teeth sparkled brightly from the dirt.
"We're done!" he announced unnecessarily She the small ship rose into the air then settle down again. He pulled a clean handkerchief from his pocket and began to wipe the grime off his face. "It wasn't easy, but I managed to re-stabilize their gyroscope and reintegrate their engine manifold with their-"
"We're all impressed Rodney," John assured him. "We should check in."
"Come back with us," Larrin insisted. Her attitude toward Rodney had changed dramatically. "I insist. The least we can do is give you a good meal before we part ways."
"Well, we're not opposed to making new friends, but we need to check in or they'll send someone to come look for us."
"You travel the Gateways," Davos stated.
"A bit. Most people where we're from don't know you can travel them," John admitted.
Davos nodded and sank down onto a stump. "We once travelled the Gateways, but the Nightwalkers closed them to us. All but a few passages." He chuckled, "It certainly explains how you've come to be so far from home."
"I told you these people were like us," Aiden playfully poked the older man in the shoulder.
Davos laughed and returned the poke. "Oh, the exuberance of youth." He shook his head and motioned for Larrin to come over. They held a quick conference together before Larrin nodded.
"Please, go check in with your people. Davos has instructed me to tell you where we may meet."
"Okay," John nodded and they quickly exchanged details. The small group boarded their own ship and John's team set off into the woods.
"Do you think we can trust them?" Ronon asked. His eyes roamed from side to side, looking for dangers.
"I don't know yet," John said. "We'll find the ship, check in with Atlantis and then go meet them. No harm in seeing if they're as nice as they seem."
John set their small airship down a ways from the Travelers' camp. Rodney had suggested flying directly over, but John wasn't willing to test the ship's ability to be invisible under those circumstances. John thought for a moment then made the ship visible. Far better for someone to stumble across a strange-looking ship than an invisible one. They made their way through the forest towards the main camp.
Sumner had been there when they'd called in, using the ship's communications equipment. Elizabeth had been called to help translate something for one of the scientists. Dr. Parrish couldn't make out if the Ancient inscription meant the room was completely safe or if it held some nightmarish ghoul. John was disappointed she was on the other side of the known city, but she'd used the city wide communication network to consult with Sumner and they'd given their approval. John was just wondering if they'd landed too far away when the Traveler's camp came into view. A dozen cook fires filled the small valley and an airship dominated the darkening sky.
The Ancient airship was old and extremely worn from years of use. Like the smaller one, the larger ship suffered from the hodge-podge of repairs that had been done to it over the years. John believed that under the wielded metal and rust he saw something not unlike one of the larger ships Atlantis had in the larger bay, still below the water. They didn't know how to get anything out without flooding the city, so they'd left that area largely untouched and stuck with the smaller ships. However this ship had the enormous air-balloon that most ships he was familiar with had. Either they'd lost the ability to hover using the strange blue coils, or they didn't have the ability to work that aspect. John thought it looked ugly and ungainly on what was originally a sleek craft.
"What a piece of junk," Rodney commented when he saw the ship.
"Now let's be nice. They might know something," John advised, though he wasn't sure he disagreed. He'd tried to follow how he thought Elizabeth would handle the situation, as she was the most poised and diplomatic model on which to base his behavior. He and his team hung out on the periphery of the gathering, feeling more than slightly out of place. A few people gave them strange looks and John was sure that word would get around to someone who was expecting them shortly, so he stood and waited, feeling conspicuous all the while.
Larrin materialized from within the surprisingly large crowd. "We were wondering if you were going to find us. Please, come and eat!" She grasped John's hand and drew him behind her into the center of the throng.
John looked over his shoulder in helpless surprise.
"Now, let's be nice," Ronon mocked as he followed.
John glared at him while Rodney and Teyla stifled their laughter. The followed Larrin to the group they'd seen earlier in the day. The incredibly tall man smiled warmly from behind a table with an eclectic assortment of cutlery and plates. John noticed Davos seemed to be holding court with a group where there was enough resemblance John guessed they were immediate family.
Plates of simple but filling looking fare with some spices were pressed into their hands along with still warm hunks of bread. They were herded over one of the larger groups and given seats around a cheery fire and mugs of something that didn't smell too alcoholic.
Ronon leaned close to John. "If they ask us to sing, I am leaving."
John nearly choked on his stew trying not to laugh. Larrin gave him a curious look but John smiled politely. "I think we'll be fine," he told Ronon in a low voice.
"So tell me about yourself?" Larrin asked. Aiden settled on the ground next to her and looked at John expectantly.
"Uh, well. There isn't much to tell." John looked at his teammates but they were either suspiciously focused on their food or engage in conversation already. John sighed internally and began to engage in small talk with the two.
"Settle down, settle down," the leader called out over the crowd.
The inevitable dinner conversation hadn't been horrible, despite John's desire not to reveal too much about who they were and how they came to be here. He'd kept to general details and tried to glean more information about his hosts instead. Teyla had been a true asset in this effort and Aiden had been a font of knowledge. John settled back in his seat and wondered what was going to happen next.
At least John assumed he was the leader. He was an older gentleman with a long grizzled beard plaited with small silver ornaments and gems. John had learned that men and women in the camp wore painted dots or small gemstones on chains which ended on their foreheads, to honor the Ancestors, the Ancients. The leader was no exception, but wore a much more lavish ornament. A medium sized ruby surrounded by gold filigree sat on his forehead. His clothes were otherwise of the same make and quality of the rest of his people. He commanded attention even at this distance.
The many people around this campfire settled into a low level of murmuring when he called for quiet, turning their attention to him. The children left their parents and began to assemble in front of the old man, carefully threading their way through the throng. A bench had been cleared and the leader stood on it so he could be better seen and heard by everyone.
John looked around. He and his team had been given benches but he saw there were not many to go around. All of the small cookfires were surrounded by the people who'd poured out of the airship. For the first time he saw how truly crowded the craft was. Everyone was turned to watch the central fire. Feeling conspicuous, John stopped looking around
"We welcome our guests!" the man called out, indicating John's team with a dramatic hand. "Demon slayers who have helped our own. We welcome them as brethren!"
The men and women around them cheered and clapped. John sheepishly nodded and waved a little bit in acknowledgement even as he felt supremely uncomfortable. Teyla serenely inclined her head. Ronon shrugged and went back to his food. Rodney ate up the applause, beaming broadly and looking much too pleased with himself. John had caught snatches of their earlier encounter being relayed from person to person. He hoped their part hadn't been blown out of proportion.
"Now, I think it is story time, yes?" he asked the assembled children at his feet.
The leader chuckled as he was met with a chorus of cheering. The adults laughed at the delight of their children, but John could see that they were eager for a story as well. John hoped he wouldn't be called on to tell anything. Teyla might know something suitable. Ronon was closed about Satedan stories and he was fairly certain Rodney could either give a full dissertation on how decrepit their airship was or tell some bawdy jokes, neither of which was appropriate.
"Well then I think it is time for our storyteller to give us a tale!"
Again the children cheered as a somewhat rotund man with a sharp nose, dark eyes and a bright coat hopped up onto the bench-come-stage.
"What story shall I tell?" he wondered aloud, tapping his chin.
The children burst forth with suggestions so quickly it made John think they'd been contemplating this very question since story-time had been announced. They called out over one another. Each asking for their favorite.
"Tell about the Ancient warriors!"
"I want to hear about Harad the brave!"
"No! Simeon the bold!"
"Tell us about the Empire of the Great wall!"
"I want Zombies!"
"I want one about the nightwalkers!"
"The nightwalkers," the storyteller feigned shock. "Oh I think that one might be too scary for you little ones."
He was met by a chorus of protests.
"Tell the story of the big bad wolf!" someone else chimed in.
"The big bad wolf?" he questioned, "you mean the one about the scary wolf that lived in woods just like these? With teeth as long and as sharp as scimitars, and claws that could rip through metal?" he mimed claws ripping open something and snarled comically.
The children giggled in delighted fright. "Yes!" was the general response.
"Are you sure it isn't too scary?"
"Well, I suppose," the storyteller agreed, feigning reluctance. There were more cheers including a few from the adults. The storyteller held out his hands for silence and again the noise level dropped until whispers were covered by the sounds of the crackling fires The story teller then relaxed on his small stand and held up a finger and arched a brow, playing to his audience like a well trained actor..
"As all good stories begin, this one starts…Once upon a time."
John even had a chuckle as half of the audience said "once upon a time" with the storyteller.
"It reminds me a little of home," Teyla leaned over to say. John smiled and nodded.
"Well, once upon a time in woods not unlike these, there lived three little pigs. These pigs were brothers and though they quarreled and sometimes threw pies at one another when they were cross, they loved one another dearly. They each decided to build a house."
The story teller paced on the bench and began to mime the actions of the three porcine brothers, the first and second of which lived in a great stone castle and a high mountain mine respectively.
"You know, this story is different where I grew up," Rodney said quietly.
John nodded but shrugged. It was probably a regional difference. Elizabeth would probably be fascinated by it and he made a note to tell her.
"Now the third pig was the eldest brother. And where did he live?" the storyteller asked his audience.
"In the sky!" the children called out.
"That's right!" the story teller made a broad, sweeping motion at the night sky. "He lived in an airship far above his brother's farm and his other brother's mine. But because he could move around so easily, he always visited. The eldest brother was the smartest of the three and spent his days learning ways to help his brothers make their own work easier." The storyteller paused and the audience leaded forward din anticipation. "Now who else lived in the woods?"
"The wolf," the story teller hunched over and pantomimed the claws again. "The most foul smelling, obscene creature the woods had ever seen. He at the rabbits and the deer and fouled the land. He could not be killed by any normal gunshot and he cursed all who saw him. His heard was as black as his mangy fur and his eyes were sickly yellow. One day the wolf decided to eat everything in the world, starting with the children!"
The storyteller roared at the children and they giggled in fright. A few got up and found their parents.
"The wolf's pack grew in number and ate the people of the towns or made them one of their own. The very earth under their feet wept in sadness. There were no apples on the trees and no flowers during the springtime and the songbird died or flew away." The storyteller began to cry dramatically. "Then," he said between sobs, "one day everyone had been eaten but the three little pigs."
"Okay, I don't think I like where this is going," Rodney said. John and Teyla exchanged a tight look. John didn't like it either. The story teller began to describe the wolf pretending to be a pig and knocking on the first brother's door then turning into a wolf and eating him. He looked over and saw Teyla had grabbed Ronon's forearm and was white-knuckled as she held it tightly. John knew someone else would have taken Ronon's stillness for calm, but John knew better.
"Ronon," John warned, backing up Teyla's silent warning. "We're here as guests. We'll be going as soon as we're done."
"We better," Ronon growled as the second pig shared the same fate as his younger brother.
The storyteller dramatically went to his knees on the bench and amazingly kept his balance. "He fell to his knees. 'The wolf has eaten my brothers! What should I do?' he implored the spirits of the Ancestors. How can I kill this evil?' he asked. And the spirits said-" The storyteller pointed at the children.
"Kill it with silver!"
"Burn it with fire!"
"Cut off its head!"
The children cheered and John felt very sick. Rodney shifted on the bench and looked over his shoulder. Teyla and Ronon had gone completely still.
"Finally the brave pig faced the beast from hell!"
The story teller pantomimed drawing weapons. "The little pig drew his gun and his knife. 'Demon! I have come to avenge my brothers, the townspeople and the very land! Come out and fight me!' the pig called into the dark, dank, smelly cave."
The story teller hunched over. "From the cave there was a snuffling then a shuffling then a great big roar!" he roared at the children and some of them screamed. The adults laughed. "Who dares come to my cave!" he said in the same grating, huge voice. He drew himself up. "I do! The eldest pig! You ate my brothers!"
The storyteller became the wolf again. "I did and they were very tasty....brother."
The two characters began to fight. It was almost comical as the storyteller played up being both roles, but John didn't find it all that amusing. Finally the storyteller told of the eldest pig shooting the werewolf with silver, then cutting off its head and finally cutting open its belly to save his brothers. John didn't even pay attention to the end but he assumed it involved fire.
"It was a good thing Elizabeth suggested you use guns today, but when she said some people were superstitious," John murmured to Teyla and Ronon, his voice trailed off as he shook his head.
Teyla looked pale, but he could see cold fury in her eyes. Ronon's expression had gone completely flat. Rodney looked indignant John knew he needed to get his people out of here before Ronon or Rodney could explode.
"Lets try and find a way out," John suggested. Teyla nodded and the group rose, trying to sneak out of the gathering.
"Kill the Wolf! Kill the Wolf! Kill there Werewolf! Kill the demon!" the children had begun to chant back by the fire.
"Yes, leaving would be good now," Rodney agreed. He looked back fearfully over his shoulder.
The fervor of the kids made John wary as well. They carefully wove their away past the adults, trying not to draw attention to themselves. Finally they made it to the edge of the gathering and John relaxed. "I think we made it."
"Of course," John sighed and put on what he hoped would pass for a friendly smile.
"Hey! Wait up!" Aiden called out behind them.
"Oh gods," Rodney swore. John could practically hear his eyes roll in the darkness.
"Aiden," John greeted. The young man hurried around the group and walked backwards, facing them as they continued to head away from camp.
"Are you leaving already?" he asked, face openly expressing disappointment.
John actually felt some sympathy for the kid. Shooting him down would be like kicking an overeager puppy, and it wasn't his fault his people apparently had a thing for wanting to kill all werewolves. Still, that didn't mean he wanted to stick around. John wished he'd taken Elizabeth's warning about the folks in this region being superstitious about supernatural beings more seriously. Who knew what they'd do to him when they found out what he could do with Ancient technology? They'd probably burn him as a heretic or something given the way they were so devoted to the Ancients.
"Yeah we'd better go. Thanks for dinner." John tried not to feel bad when they pushed past the younger man.
"John!" Larrin called out from the darkness.
"What does she want?" Ronon growled.
John looked over his shoulder and swore. "We better stop," he sighed.
"How about we just slow down," Rodney counter offered.
"Slow is good."
Reluctantly, the party slowed as Larrin and the leader hurried to catch up. Aiden trotted around to stand with them
"John! You left."
"Well, we normally hate to eat and run but we needed to get going." John once again plastered the pleasant look on his face.
"I have important things to do and so do they," Rodney waved a hand vaguely at his teammates. "Not as important as what I need to accomplish, but it's important enough."
"Have we not been hospitable?" the leader asked.
"Oh the food was great. The people were nice," John agreed. "The entertainment left something to be desired."
Rodney snorted and John sent him a quelling look.
"Oh! I am sorry we offended," the leader said. "It is a bit on the scary side, I agree. But I must assure you it was much cleaner than the version the adults tell. We really don't tell the children the stories of the Nightwalkers. We do not hide the darker aspects of the world from our young ones, but we do draw the line there."
"I don't believe this." Ronon stalked off.
The shuttle wasn't far by John's estimation, but he shooed Rodney off to follow Ronon. "Sorry. He's," John trailed off, unable to think of an excuse.
"Please," the leader said "let us talk."
"You keep talking and we'll keep walking," John compromised.
"As you like. I do not believe we were properly introduced before Mr. Lavin was able to take the stage. I am Emmeret. I lead this clan of Travelers. Larrin is my daughter and I thank you for her life and the life of my brother and our people, like Aiden here." He put a friendly had on the younger man's shoulder.
"John Sheppard. Nice to meet you." John didn't offer his hand.
"Larrin tells me you came to this land hunting those demons."
"Something like that."
"We have never seen demons such as those in our lands and our people are beginning to go missing. We thought it was the Genii, but now we are not certain."
"What are Genii?" Teyla asked, speaking for the first time.
"They are a group of Nightwalkers who live in the mountains," Larrin explained, nodding in the direction of the mountains, the peaks just visible as rough dark shapes against a slightly lighter sky. John could just make them out in the fading light.
"Okay. What are Nightwalkers?" John asked.
"Demons of a different sort. They look human and some are quite comely I am told. They are undead monsters who steal into beds at night and drink the blood of the living and have terrible powers they stole from the Ancestors. If you do not have them in your lands, you are lucky indeed."
John wasn't sure about the stealing part but he only knew of one group of "comely" people who drank blood and had lots of power and contact with the Ancients. "Vampires?" John asked for confirmation.
"They are known by that name, yes. So you have heard of them?"
"You could say that."
"We wish to assist you in your hunt," Emmeret told John with a solemn expression.
"We know these lands well, from the ground and from the air," Larrin added. "We have numbers and many warriors who would be willing to fight. Our clans are suffering. An entire ship was taken from one of our sister clans and their already thin resources have been stretched to breaking."
"They've taken some of my friends. Some of my family," Aiden added, as serious as John had ever seen him.
They came to the clearing where the ship was. Ronon leaned sullenly against the side while Rodney carried on a quiet but intense conversation with the ship's door. John guessed it wasn't opening for him again.
"Look, folks," John said as he walked up to the ship's entrance. "It's not that we don't appreciate the offer, but I think we'd like to do this ourselves." He waved his hand over the panel and the ship lit up. The hatch opened and Ronon stalked inside, Rodney close behind. The ship began to warm up on its own.
"By the Ancestors." Emmeret touched the ruby on his forehead reverently. "You have the Gift."
Aiden and Larrin mimicked him and gave him the same strange look. Aiden began to grin broadly which confused John.
"Um, I missed something."
"The Ancestors' technology wakens to your touch," Larrin explained, breathless in wonder. "This is a very rare Gift and has not been seen among our kind in generations. All our people who possess this Gift are advancing into old age."
"This is a sign! You must stay, and we will help you fight the demons!" Adien added.
"I'm not so sure about that," John scratched the back of his head. "See I don't think you people would really like us once you got to know us."
"I do not see how-" Larrin took a step toward John as she spoke but stopped in mid-sentence as Teyla interposed herself between the two.
"I saved your life today," Teyla told her.
"Yes," Larrin smiled with concern. "You did and I will be forever grateful."
"Yet, your children listen to stories where they are taught to hate and fear."
"Only monsters," Aiden shrugged, his happy grin had become confused.
"As I said," Emmeret explained, "We don't tell them the truly terrifying stories," Emmeret added as he watched Teyla with some alarm.
"I saved your life," Teyla reiterated, placing her hand just over Larrin's heart, one finger lifted in warning and admonishment.
Her hand transformed into a grey-furred and black-clawed one. The conversion continued up her arm until the fur faded into skin close to her elbow. It was a seamless and elegant transformation that only the most powerful and focused werewolves could do. In that instant John knew why Ronon deferred to Teyla; she had a more perfect control over her inner beast.
"Know what I am and that I saved you without promise of recompense or reward. I did it because it was right."
She allowed her hand to shift back into her normal dusky skin tone and swept into the small airship. The three humans watched her go. From the doorway Ronon smirked and Rodney looked smug. Both men disappeared into the shuttle.
"I see," Larrin, breathed. "Then I must apologize," she called out so the three in the shuttle could hear. Larrin focused back on John. "I am truly sorry."
"There are those among our people who would not choose to associate with werewolves," Emmeret began to say. "But that is not true of all of our people. And especially against a formidable enemy, they would be willing to overlook differences. Please reconsider."
John sighed. In the fading light, he examined the three Travelers standing before him. They looked truly remorseful, but he had no idea if they were true in their feelings or not. It was a fact that they could use a hand trying to navigate the area, and as an added bonus they already knew what everything looked like from the air. He'd have to discuss it with Sumner and Elizabeth. It wasn't his call.
"This isn't my decision to make on our side, but in the interest of," he paused looking for words, "full disclosure I'd like to tell you about the people I work for."
"As you like," Emmeret nodded agreement.
"Colonel Sumner is human. An excellent solder. So excellent in fact when he lost both and arm and a leg, he got clockwork ones as replacements and was back on the battlefield in less than a year."
"He sounds like a remarkable leader," Larrin began.
John held up a hand to stop her. "And then I also work for Negotiator Elizabeth Weir. She is a diplomat and a trained historian. She speaks several different languages and is well read from many cultures in Europe and abroad. She's killed demons and chaotic things for longer than I've been alive. She is also a Vampire."
The three managed to hide their flinches fairly well, but John saw them anyway.
"Yes, she drinks blood but she has never taken more than she needs. The only time she has killed for it was when the rest of us were going to eat the meat anyway. I'm going to go back to those people and I am going to tell them everything. And I mean everything." John gave them a hard look. "I will come back here in a day. If you are still interested in some sort of joint force, be here tomorrow after sundown. Frankly I don't know if they'll agree or not, but I'll have an answer either way."
Larrin and Emmeret nodded. "We will be here tomorrow after sundown," Emmeret assured John.
John nodded and returned to the ship. He settled into the pilots chair and closed the door.
"Are you insane?" Rodney demanded.
"Thanks for waiting until the door was closed," John said mildly.
"They're- they're….Racist! Practically from the cradle!"
"Still, it isn't my decision Rodney. That's for Elizabeth and Sumner to decide." He looked sideways at his teammates. "Thanks for not blowing up at camp. Gods know I wanted to," he admitted as he took the ship to just above the tree line.
It was dark and he could hardly see. Suddenly a screen slid down and he could see the ghostly shapes of the trees overlaid in front of the viewscreen. Rodney was instantly captivated by the new feature. John was just happy he wasn't going to run into anything, necessitating a long and awkward walk back to the Travelers for a lift home or to the Gateway.
John led the way out of the airship bay and into the main part of the city. They met Sumner and Elizabeth in one of the rooms that seemed to have been a meeting chamber of some sort at one point.
"How did it go?" Sumner asked.
John took a chair of his own and slouched in it. "Oh it went fine. We arrived, we saw some Wraith, we killed those Wraith and we met some people who seemed nice at first if a bit strange."
"Wraith in Europe?"
"Apparently. So we save this group who call themselves Travelers and get invited to dinner," John continued to explain, looking from Sumner to Elizabeth and back again. He noticed Elizabeth's look of surprise when he mentioned the Travelers. "After dinner we were treated to a bit of a show and that's when we decided to leave."
"A show?" Sumner questioned.
"A retelling of the big bad wolf, but with a werewolf antagonist," John answered. "The five-year olds sounded like a lynch mob."
"They're all ignorant!" Rodney broke in. He began to pace around the open space the semicircular ring of seats face. "You should have seen the look of their airship! Rusty and patched together! No wonder they can't get a decent Scientist to work on it! They had a balloon on it for Gods' sake," Rodney waved a hand dismissing it, "They don't have the first clue how to work or repair any of their equipment so they've…made an abortive chimera of a monstrosity out of what was once an machine of pure brilliance."
"Yeah, Rodney almost cried when he saw it," Ronon added.
"Almost! And I bet we have at least five of those same ships in the lower hanger. And They'd want all of them," he directed at Sumner before turning a finger at Elizabeth. "Oh! And you would just love this one woman? Larrin? One minute she and her Father are saying Vampires are undead demons and the next I think they both wanted to get into Sheppard's pants."
"What?" Sumner asked.
"No, it's true. They can't do the," Rodney wiggled his fingers, "The whatever he can do with Ancient technology." He looked back at John, "They were practically drooling over you when you opened the rear hatch." Rodney stopped pacing and sank into one of the chairs. "And they think the Ancients were human," he grumped. "Everyone knows they were dragons."
"Rodney, you did not know until you came here," Teyla gently chided, showing none of the cold anger she'd exhibited earlier.
"Well, you'd think for people who are so reverent of "the ancestors", they'd know that tiny detail."
"Anyway," John broke in, "They want an alliance. It seems some of their people are being taken by the Wraith. I said we'd report back and we'd be there with an answer of some kind tomorrow evening."
"Have you heard of these people?" Sumner asked.
Elizabeth nodded. "The Travelers. They believe they are descended from the Ancients and as such it is their divine right to possess what the Ancients had. They have no homeland and the entire population, save for a very few small faming settlements, travel on airships." She folded her hands in front of her on the desk. "They have a low opinion of Werewolves and an even lower opinion of Vampires."
"Why didn't you mention them before?"
"I did not know they were who our team encountered." Her eyes narrowed, considering. "I did not think their usual migration took them that far south."
"So we won't deal with them then," Sumner concluded.
"Fine by me," John agreed.
"As distasteful as I found their prejudices to be, I also do not think they are evil," Teyla interjected. "They were very welcoming when they did not know what Ronon and I were, and there was no violence when their leaders learned the truth. They have more recent knowledge of the land than we and it is true they have more people available to help find the answers we seek. I do not believe we should dismiss them out of hand."
Sumner grunted. "Elizabeth?"
"My last interaction with them was more than a century ago. Some individuals were more pleasant than others. Not all clans share the same level of animosity toward my people. However they may not be willing to deal with us when they find out I am here."
"Actually, they were willing to," John said. Rodney and Ronon glared but something in John couldn't permit that lie of omission. "I explained who and what our leaders were and they were still willing to help. They thought the Wraith and their missing people were more important."
Sumner drummed his metal fingers against the tabled and scratched his chin with the other hand. "Sounds like they'll want the city."
"They cannot have it."
John shivered at the power of Elizabeth's voice, both the sound of it and the subtle magical undertones. He knew she would be uncompromising on this point.
"Can you work with them, then?" Sumner asked.
"What? You can't be serious," Rodney sputtered, coming to his feet.
"Sit down, McKay." Sumner waved him down. "We don't have to like them to work with them. Sheppard?"
"I guess I could."
"If those who work with us can put aside their differences I can as well. It is more important that this threat be stopped."
"Oh, for the love of- I suppose."
"Good enough. Ronon?" Sumner looked over at the Satedan. "Ronon?"
Ronon's eyes narrowed and he leaned on one arim on the table, stance aggressive. "Do I get to kill Wraith?"
"Whatever," Ronon growled and stalked off.
"What do you think?" Sumner asked Elizabeth. "Try it out once?"
She nodded. "If it does not work well, we do not have to continue to deal with them."
"Fair enough," Sumner said as he rose from his chair. "I'm going to check on the teams we've got out."
John watched as Rodney stomped out of the room muttering to himself. Teyla slipped out of her seat and exchanged a quiet word with Elizabeth before she too left. Then it was just the two of them in the room. John stood as she did and quietly slipped into step beside her.
"So there was this other thing," John began.
Elizabeth tilted her head to the side a little, a silent invitation to further commentary. John began a lazy walk out of the room toward one of the broader balconies on the level above the gateway control room. He squinted at the door, asking the city to open it and was still half surprised when the city complied, the accordion-like doors folding away with the soft sound of well-oiled machinery. He next silently asked for the ubiquitous awnings to spread over the space. He'd known for awhile now that as much as Elizabeth loved the view from this height, she was not and would likely never be comfortable with so much sunlight.
"They called you Nightwalkers," he began, unsure where the conversation was going to go. He felt like he was walking on thin ice around her already after this morning. Between the sex and the fight in the woods, John was fairly certain he would feel sore in the morning.
"I remember," she admitted. She'd had a fairly large part in the animosity between the two groups, but she hadn't been willing to share that information with the others. No-one who'd been there was alive currently. At least, she amended to herself, none of the humans were.
"They seemed very," John trailed off. "They really didn't like your people."
"No, I imagine not. We told them things that didn't mesh with their view of world history."
"The dragon thing?"
Elizabeth shrugged with one shoulder as she came to the edge of the balcony. "Among other topics. My people were saved by the Ancients. The Travelers see it differently. They say we're lying and that we killed or drove the Ancients away."
"What did happen to them?"
"No one knows. When I was an Apprentice, my Mentor told me that one day they were just gone."
"There's more to why they hate Vampires. The Travelers I mean."
"There was a conflict," Elizabeth admitted.
"Anything I need to worry about?" John asked.
Elizabeth watched as the guard changed below and did not answer.
"Elizabeth." John's tone was equal parts exasperation and anger. "Fine. Who or what are the Genii?"
Elizabeth froze, eyes widening. Her head snapped toward John. "Where did you hear that name?"
Elizabeth took a long breath and closed her eyes. "Why did they come up in conversation?" she asked.
"Who are they?"
"Why did they come up?"
John growled. "They thought that the Genii were taking people until the Wraith showed up. Who are they?"
"Do they have many people taken by them?" Elizabeth answered with her own question.
"Larrin didn't say! Who are they? Is this going to change our plans?"
"Not if you don't meet any of them."
"Elizabeth! Damn it! I know-" he made his voice lower with effort. "I know they're a group of Vampires. I was told as much." He grabbed her upper arm. "I think I need to know."
"They are not right," Elizabeth said as she easily pulled out of his grasp.
John moved a step to follow her when she abruptly turned and walked around him. He watched her pace a small circuit around the broad balcony. She was tense but trying to fight it. Her hands kept clenching and unclenching. For Elizabeth this was a huge show of emotion.
"Okay," he allowed, leaning against the metal railing. "How exactly are they not right?" John stuffed his own impatience down as he watched her try and resume calm.
"They are, simply speaking, the most sinful, unspeakably evil and selfishly vile beings in all of creation."
"And they're Vampires?"
Elizabeth actually hissed. Her teeth lengthened and her irises glowed slightly before she was able to compose herself with effort. "Yes."
John watched her take several slow breaths and muttered some sort of calming mantra under her breath. "What happened?"
He watched her eyes flick open then closed again and decided to push the subject. She had issues and if she were thinking rationally, she would be telling him what he needed to know to keep their people safe. The very fact that she was so unsettled was sending up mental alarms for John. She began to emit an aura of power, the invisible waves brushed along his skin like chilly waves and he felt chilled in the pit of his stomach.
"I need to know what I might be facing here, Elizabeth."
She set her jaw and John felt the cold recede somewhat. "I once had the opportunity to kill one of their current leaders. To my shame, I did not take it."
"Okay," John nodded, feeling he was getting somewhere. "And what's this guy's name?"
She answered with such force the air around her froze for an instant. "Acastus Kolya."
John landed the ship in the clearing. The sun had just dipped below the tall mountains, sending the valley into twilight. He turned to the woman sitting next to him as the rumble of the engines subsided.
"You sure you want to be here?"
Elizabeth's head turned slightly. She was wearing the concealing mask she'd worn when they'd first met and the form-fitting leather outfit under her long jacket. Her boots reached nearly to her knees and were fastened with several heavy buckles, but were soft and extremely well made. Intricate embossed designs adorned her corset and the shoulders and back of her jacket. The form-fitting outfit was common for Negotiators to wear as there was little to get in the way of hand-to-hand combat, but it was currently considered deeply scandalous in some parts of Europe. The jacket was an elegant concession to the morals of others.
"Best to know if they're serious," she reasoned.
John pushed the ship controls back. "I guess."
Ronon, Teyla and Rodney had accompanied them as well as Lorne and a nearly recovered Bates. John had argued that Lorne and Bates would be likely additional team leaders. He'd also wanted the additional backup, though he wasn't sure if it was to somehow protect his people from the Travelers or protect the Travelers from his people.
The group got out and waited for the other part to arrive. If they arrived. The light fell enough that Elizabeth could remove her mask and John settled beside her, eyes constantly scanning the woods. His presence beside her was comforting. She couldn't shake the feeling that he was trying to protect her, though. It might have annoyed it, it probably should have, but she found it to be endearing.
Ronon paused then let his gun swing down. He still had McKay's monstrosity of a weapon despite Rodney's protests. He faced a small patch in the woods and soon the group from Atlantis could hear then see the Travelers make their way through the woods.
Emmeret and Larrin were in the lead with Aiden and Davos close behind. A number of people followed them with varying degrees of expression. They stopped a few feet from John and Elizabeth.
"I am Emmeret of the Travelers. You are Elizabeth Weir?" His eyes flicked briefly to John before focusing on Elizabeth.
Elizabeth nodded and stepped forward. "I am. We'd like to accept your offer of assistance. If you are still offering it, that is."
"We are. My daughter Larrin will lead my people."
Elizabeth nodded. "We will give this a trial. If we are successful in working together we can choose to continue or we can choose to part ways. Is this acceptable?"
"It is. We have one request."
"Yes?" Elizabeth asked, knowing what it probably would be and also her answer.
"You have the ships of the Ancestors. We would like one."
Emmeret blinked. "No?"
"Where are your vaunted negotiation skills, demon!" someone in the back spat.
Emmeret made a gesture and a couple people form the rear dragged the angry man back into the woods. "My apologies. I thought he would be able to hold his tongue. Very well if you will not give us a ship, can we arrange for parts? Our ships is in need of repairs."
"That is possible," Elizabeth allowed.
"Good. These men and woman are willing to work to end this threat."
"You know my people. With us also are Evan Lorne and Christopher Bates. They will lead our teams as well."
"Very well," Emmeret nodded. "Have you thought of where we should begin?"
Elizabeth gestured to the small fire her people had laid and the two small folding chairs they'd brought. Emmeret joined her by the fire and they began to go over the details of the agreement. John watched the Travelers carefully. They didn't seem like they were looking to start any fights, but he watched them anyway.
Larrin joined him from the other group. "Hello again. I am glad we will be able to work together."
"Why's that?" John asked. He scanned the woods, looking for Wraith, or worse, Genii. Now that he knew what they were and that they were sometimes in the area, he had to include them as a potential threat.
"Well, I think we could be friends," Larrin said.
"My friends turn into Wolves on the full moon," John reminded her. "A couple of them are your Nightwalkers."
"Perhaps I think that not all of the old tales are true."
"Is that so."
"It is," Larrin smiled in the firelight. "Aiden put it best I think. If they were true, Teyla and Ronon would have eaten us. Instead they fought with us. Saved us." She shrugged casually. "That means something to me."
"Well, good for you." John moved around the camp, away from Larrin. He had the uncomfortable realization that she'd been flirting with him. She was pretty, but he was already involved with a woman he loved.
John froze as that thought processed. Larrin had followed him but he didn't register her presence. Love? Did he really love Elizabeth? He'd respected her almost from the beginning as a leader, but he'd felt a strange compulsion to know the real her, the one beneath the masks she wore. Was that love?
"Tell me where you come from?" Larrin asked, drawing John away from his train of thought.
Elizabeth had always been hesitant about asking him personal questions, almost more hesitant than she'd been at asking him questions about his life. He wondered why that was, where that hesitation came from.
"Western Pennsylvania," John said. "We have coal. Trade. Lots of hills. Nice place."
"Do you come from a large family?"
John shrugged. "One brother. One sister."
"Do they have the Gift?"
"Dunno," John said as he walked off to continue his patrol around the area.
Larrin followed. "You don't know?"
"Why is that?"
John bit his tongue before he answered. "Ancient Technology isn't really something we come across much."
"But there are other signs," Larrin insisted.
"There are?" John feigned ignorance.
"Yes, the ability to sense magic and resist it."
"Are there others who can work the Ancient machines?"
"Not that I know of," John answered, looping back toward camp. He felt a little weird lying to her, but Evan and Carson were quiet about it like he was. "Look, I need to focus on my rounds," he said as politely as he could. "There are some pretty nasty things in the woods we need to hunt down." He felt bad about the flicker of something in Larrin's expression, but mentally waved it off.
John turned away when there was a crash from the bushes. Teyla loped out of the woods and skidded on all fours before rising to her feet. The Travelers had her in their sights in an instant before they relaxed. John held out a hand and Ronon reluctantly put his gun down from where it had been sighted on the group.
"Wraith," Teyla warned. "A party. Mage plus drones. Twice as many as we are. They are headed this way."
"Are they after our encampment?" Emmeret asked.
"I do not know," Teyla admitted. "But they are coming this way and we are between them and your people."
"It seems the time for testing this alliance is at hand," Emmeret said. He began to assemble a gun from pieces pulled from many pockets.
"I agree," Elizabeth murmured. She stood and pulled her sword from the sheath on her back.
"Are we going or are we going to fight?" Rodney asked. "Because if you ask me, and no one has asked me yet, I think we should leave."
"Can't. They'll hit their encampment if we don't stop them."
"Oh," Rodney's expression crumpled for a second. "Okay. Where's-" Rodney was cut off by Ronon shoving the enormous gun back into his hands. "Thanks. You're not going to use it?"
Ronon shook his head and pulled off his coat and tossed it at John then pulled his shirt over his head and kicked off his boots and stripped off the pants. "No." He took the coat back and tossed the clothing into the back of the airship.
Rodney winced as he watched the Satedan change shape, flinching every time Ronon's bones cracked. "I guess not. Doesn't that hurt?"
"You get used to it," Ronon replied. He pointed at finger at Aiden Ford who'd been watching curiously. "Don't shoot me."
Aiden grinned at pointed at the gold mark on his forehead which replaced the silver one. "That wouldn't be neighborly."
"They are coming," Teyla warned.
"Does your ship have weapons?" Larrin asked John.
"Laura and I are fixing that as soon as we get home!" Rodney promised. "Carpet bombing Wraith is so much more civilized than this."
"Your people have more experience with these demons than mine do. I will not regret this if I say you are in charge, will I?" Emmeret asked Elizabeth.
"Then lead on," he invited, gesturing towards the woods with his free hand.
Elizabeth glanced at her people, gating them with her eyes then raced into the forest, her weapon drawn. Teyla and Ronon followed at her heels. Aiden laughed and quickly hurried after them and the rest were not far behind, though some of the more stunned travelers took an extra moment or two to get over the shock of the speed the three had left at.
John lingered at the back, watching to see that Bates was keeping up and covering their rear. Wraith weren't know to try and flank their enemies, but then Wraith weren't know for being in Europe either. Bates acknowledged John's presence with a grim nod in the near-dark. The two watched and listened carefully for signs of attack.
At the front of the party Elizabeth easily navigated the dark woods, able to see it nearly as clearly as daylight. Teyla kept pace, a grey ghost in the forest and Ronon her much darker shadow. Elizabeth permitted herself a small smile in remembrance. She'd run into battle with Charin many times decades earlier, just like this.
She slowed, taking her cue from Teyla's finer sense of smell. By the time the rest of the group had caught up, they were stalking the party of Wraith. Elizabeth held her blades down under her coat to hide their reflection in the moonlight. John settled on one side of her and Emmeret on the other. Teyla crouched at the edge of the thicket they used for cover then carefully slid backwards on all fours.
"I count twenty Drones and a Mage. None are well armed. The Mage appears to be making something. I smell Wraith blood."
Elizabeth nodded at Bates who carefully moved forward to see. He took a look then scrambled back. "If it was human I'd say it was making a blasting rod," Bates informed them.
A sudden Wraith scream rent the night and was cut off. Elizabeth silently crept forward, John sticking close to her side. She watched as the Mage bathed the heavy club he carried in the blood of the drone he'd killed. The sigils glowed with malevolent energy. Elizabeth touched John's arm lightly and they returned to the group. [Awesome use of 'rent' there – definitely a word that doesn't get used enough]
"Nineteen drones and a mage," she amended in a low voice. "Many are wounded."
"Strike now before he's done making that club?" John switched the safety catch off of his revolver and loosened the extra clip of ammo he was carrying.
"I will take out the Mage," Elizabeth stated.
"I'll help," Larrin insisted, trading her revolver for a knife.
Elizabeth suppressed a flash of annoyance and nodded. "Provide cover," She directed Bates. "Kill anything that moves," she told Ronon, earning a single tail wag. "Direct the fire of the rest," she ordered John.
"I will assist you as well," Teyla decided.
Elizabeth's answering grin showed a lot of fang and was bright in the moonlight. She abruptly focused and the three woman crept to the edge of the brush. Elizabeth could feel the tension of the group and smell the blood of the Wraith below. It was curious they appeared to be so disorganized, but she could examine this new mystery when the demons were dead. She nodded to her compatriots then rushed at the group, pushing power along with a word to stun the mage.
The Mage rocked back, hissing and spitting as the spell it had been weaving with bloodmagic failed. It retaliated with a smaller, cruder wand it had crafted. Elizabeth flung her arm up, murmuring a spell of protection to shield herself. The Wraith's spell crashed against her power, shimmering blue sparks into the Aether as if it had hit a physical shield.
Elizabeth retaliated with another spell, the single word boomed in the clearing. The Mage fell over and dropped the weapons it had been carrying. Teyla and Elizabeth darted forward with claw and steel and fell on the Mage. Larrin joined them a moment later, adding her own blade.
The Mage came to and roared at them, its lower jaw gaping wide and revealing the inhuman teeth of the creature's inner lower jaw. Elizabeth shoved her blade through the Mage's mouth while Teyla began to maul the soft parts unprotected by thick chitin. Larrin followed her example and was soon stabbing into the soft flesh as well. The sigils carved into the Wraith's body began to glow as it died.
"Back!" Elizabeth ordered. Teyla leapt off and away, pulling a stunned Larrin with her. Elizabeth focused her own energy against the Mage's death-spell. The spell consumed the fading life of the Wraith and exploded outwards, only to meet Elizabeth's power. The two forces collided with a deep, resounding boom before the Wraith's fiery energy was expended and dissipated.
Elizabeth staggered a step back and checked her people, meeting John's eye briefly as he directed fire. Teyla and Larrin were working in tandem on one of the larger drones. Elizabeth picked out a Drone not currently engaged and fell upon it, neatly severing its head from the body. She turned and stabbed the Wraith Ronon had been mauling. He grinned at her over the creature's shoulder as it went down in a gurgling heap, then was off onto the next victim.
Elizabeth's eyes flicked over to John, who was focused on something behind her and bringing his gun up. Elizabeth felt the heat of the fireball and dove out of the way as a second Mage entered the battle. It knocked aside one of the Travelers and threw off Ronon before focusing its fully functional blasting rod at John's team.
Elizabeth reacted in the split second before the Mage could incinerate anyone, forming the word in her mind and bending it to her will. She thrust the essence of the word out like a spear then let her mind go blank and became a conduit of energy to increase the destructive result. The Mage and four escorting Drones standing next to it exploded, every joint neatly severed at once.
Elizabeth swayed on her feet, drained. A strong shoulder slid under her arm. She dimly recognized that all of the Wraith were now dead, but the woods still rang with the echoes of gunfire and death.
"Hey there," Aiden Ford, helped her sit without collapsing. He grinned with genuine humor. "Now I'm really glad you're on our side. You okay?"
"Yes," she nodded.
"The Wraith are all dead?"
"Every last one." Aiden looked at the pile of meat and let out a low whistle. "You couldn't teach me to do that, could you?" he asked.
"If you were a Vampire and a few hundred years older," she replied, and then winced. She shouldn't be making jokes. She was going to need to eat to replenish her energy and soon. She doubted even the always-smiling Ford would be able to stomach that. She needed focus.
Aiden chuckled, oblivious to Elizabeth's thoughts, "Guess not then."
John slid down next to her. "You okay?"
She punched the bridge of her nose. "There is a reason I don't do that a lot." A headache was forming behind her eyes. Next would come the hunger.
"Well, you saved us from a nasty burn, so thank you," John joked. She could hear the worry under the light tone he affected. "I think we're done for the evening," he told the group gathering around them, "One amazing rescue a day is our limit."
"Of course," Emmert nodded. "Will you come back with us?" he offered.
Elizabeth noticed several of his people looked shocked. She felt surprise as well. "No, I think my people and I will return home and prepare for tomorrow. We'll meet as planned and start the search?"
Emmeret bowed his head. "We will be ready and waiting."
"How was it?" Sumner descended from the staircase onto the hanger floor as John's and Evan's teams left their ships.
"Fine aside from the fact that I wanted to kill all of them by the end," Laura groused. She'd been placed on Evan's team and was loving the opportunity to find new and exciting ways to blow demons up. "Just one charge under their airship's balloon support?" she asked Evan. "Just one teeny, tiny charge."
"Sorry Laura," Evan shrugged. "Orders are orders."
"Nothing then?" Sumner asked.
"A whole lot of nothing."
"What about you Sheppard. Ronon looks sad. No Wraith to kill?"
"No," Ronon rumbled as he walked by, once again carrying McKay's huge gun. He set the weapon on a rack by the door then stomped out.
"And our new allies?" Sumner asked John.
John rolled his eyes. "We'll work with them but I don't think any of us are going to like it. Nice people. Strange ideas." He shrugged off his shotgun holster. "The good news is we didn't find any Wraith. The bad news is we didn't find any Wraith."
"Better luck tomorrow."
"Your lady love awaits you in tower yon," Sumer quipped at Sheppard's retreating back.
John winced. 'Thanks."
John found Elizabeth in her office. "That looks as boring as my day was." He slouched in the chair across from her desk.
She smiled and held up a hand as she finished writing something down. She closed the book then set it on the stack by her desk. Chuck came in and took the whole pile back with him.
"Well you could have come back with a damaged ship."
"How'd it work out?"
"Aiden? The kid I told you about? He's nice. Larrin's okay if a bit clingy. She keeps pumping me for information about the city. She's a decent fighter too I guess. The others haven't said anything by they're not exactly friendly."
"Will they turn on anyone?"
"I don't think so. They're more concerned about getting their people back than they are about a few foreign werewolves." John ran a hand through his hair, "It'd feel less tense, but I don't want to send only human teams."
"I don't either," Elizabeth agreed. She stood from her desk. "Walk with me?"
John took her arm. They strolled to the small balcony which overlooked one of the courtyards in the central dome of the city. John sighed and let her presence calm him after the long day of frustration.
"After they're gone, we're still going to have to work together"
Elizabeth watched as the airships settled on the hanger. The brief report Sumner and she had heard had been in high spirits. The rear hatches open and the two teams who'd been in the field spilled out into the hanger. John looked for her on the balcony then smiled for a second before turning to answer Evan Lorne's question. He clapped the other man on the back then ran up the spiral stairs and settled onto the railing beside her. They watched McKay direct some minor repairs to the airship.
"How did it go?"
"Well we found another band of Wraith. McKay thinks he can triangulate where they're coming from if we find a few more groups. This one looked like it had travelled pretty far. We think they'd been out in the wild for a bit."
"Ronon must be happy."
"He is. I think we won some points with the Travelers."
"Things are better then?"
"A bit. Aiden Ford's a decent kid. He's really trying to make an effort to show us he's not a bad person. He's been splitting his time between being my shadow and Teyla's. I think he's learning some tracking from her. Larrin and Ronon took out the big drone who was leading this group. Or at least trying to lead the group. Did you know she's got a sword sort of like yours?"
"Yeah. She decided that her gun wasn't as good against Wraith as her blade. It worked well today."
"Yeah?" John questioned with a look askance.
"Yes. It is. We need to make sure they're not taking root in the European continent."
"True. So," John remarked casually, "How's the paperwork here?"
She nudged him with her elbow. "Not quite as lethal as the Wraith."
"Is it ever?"
"Only when I was assigned to the High Council seat in Budapest." She tilted her head to one side. "The South American post was deadly as well but we figured out how they were trying to poison us quickly."
"Really? Between political bullshit and the scheming undead, which one is more deadly?"
Elizabeth smiled softly. "I've wondered that myself quite a bit. I'm still not sure."
John whistled as he climbed the stairs two at a time. There was a distinct spring in his step as the walked into Elizabeth's office carrying a bottle of wine.
"How was the party?" Sumner asked from his customary chair.
John held up the bottle. "I bought home a favor." He presented the bottle to Sumner with a small flourish. "I'm told it is very fine wine. McKay had my share at the party. Aiden Ford wanted me to personally thank you both for helping him find his cousin." John smiled. "His grandmother tried to stuff us with cookies and smother us with hugs."
"I see where he gets it from then," Elizabeth smiled then grew serious. "How are the people you rescued doing?" Elizabeth asked.
"Okay. They were drugged. They don't know who had them. They're all still a bit frightened. We might get more when they've had a chance to calm down."
"They have no idea who took them?" Sumner asked. He set the bottle down on Elizabeth's desk with a soft 'thunk'.
"Nope." John shrugged. "We're lucky we caught them at all."
"Any clues from where they were held?"
John slouched into the other seat in from of Elizabeth's desk. "No. That's the really annoying part. The good news in all this is that is we could probably ask Emmeret's people for anything and they'd hand it over on a silver platter. The bad news is we're no closer to finding out what's got the Wraith all stirred up"
"It sounds like it was a fluke that you found any survivors at all," Sumner mused.
"I think I was. The only reason we were looking in that area is because Teyla's got the best tracking skills of anyone I've ever met and she noticed some barely-there tracks. That hole was hidden well and those people were drugged. They weren't there long from the looks of things."
"Could be." John shrugged again.
"I am glad we found some people left alive even if they can't tell us anything." Elizabeth reached over and examined the bottle for a moment. "Let us hope we find the rest before it is too late."
John has been leaning against the wall heavily, hurting from more than physical pain when she found him. Silently Elizabeth took his uninjured arm and led him home. The lights flickered on automatically, casting warm glows in the dark room. Once the door was closed she carefully pulled John over to the edge of his bed and checked his injuries. She needed to see for herself that he was okay. Once she was satisfied that nothing was still bleeding or broken, she settled next to him. She drew gentle fingers through his dark hair and he leaned in to her for support.
"They got Aiden." John wrapped his arms around her more tightly and buried his face into her neck.
"It isn't your fault."
"He's just a kid." John pinched the bridge of his nose then clasped his hands loosely. "You know I think he genuinely liked Ronon and Teyla. We were making so much progress." He chuckled mirthlessly. "Ford trusted me to see him through this and I let him down."
"No, you didn't," she soothed.
"You weren't there," he snapped back.
"You're not the type of many to let someone down on purpose, John." She brushed a kiss over his forehead. "It is one of your greatest strengths. Don't let it become a weakness."
"I am so tired. How long was I out?"
"Only about a day."
"Feels like a week. Did they start to search for him?"
"Evan's team couldn't find any traces."
"I need to get back out there," John protested.
Elizabeth easily pushed him back down onto the bed until he stopped his weak struggles. Her finger traced over the fresh scar on his side and he flinched. She spread her hand over his chest, reassuring herself he was alive. "You need to recover. All of you do. That was a bad fight." Her fingers hovered over the puncture would in his shoulder, now healed thanks to Carson and Jennifer.
"I'm sorry. Gods, I need to apologize to Larrin. She trusted me too."
"Why don't you tell me what happened?"
"I gave a report."
"I want to hear what John thinks. Marshal Sheppard already reported in."
"There were Wraith. They were running in fear. That should have told us something."
"They were only some drones, nothing to worry about, right?" John sprawled on the bed. And stared at the ceiling. "It was night there. The drones don't seem to like coming out in the daylight. We ambushed them, put most of them down and then,"
Elizabeth laced her fingers with his. "Then?"
"Then people started to get attacked from the darkness. No magic I could detect. One minute they were there, fighting Wraith, the next they were down."
"Think so. Ronon said he thought he heard some shots he wasn't familiar with."
"But they took Aiden Ford."
"One minute he was standing next to us, the next he was just gone. They got a couple of the other Travelers." John pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes. "I'm sorry."
"For what? You were attacked. Maybe by what the Wraith were fleeing."
"I didn't lose any of our people though. What are Larrin's people going to think."
"I supposed they can think what they want."
"I don't want to ruin the agreement we have with them."
Elizabeth gripped his shoulder. "We'll deal with it if we have to."
John exhaled slowly, then winced as he put his arm down. "Ow."
"You didn't sneak out of the infirmary, did you?" Elizabeth arched an eyebrow.
John pretended to look innocent. "Me? Escape from the infirmary? Whatever would give you that idea."
"The last three times you left before Carson or Jennifer cleared you."
"Details," John waved off his previous bad behavior as a patient. He winced as the newly healed skin pulled.
"You're sure you shouldn't be back in the infirmary?"
John smiled up at her, a hint of the usual grin he wore. "Kiss it and make it better?"
John ducked in response to Larrin's call. A heavy club made from the trunk of a fallen tree swung through the air, nearly missing John's head. "Thanks!" he called back after shooting the huge drone who'd attacked.
The fight was going poorly once again. After days of searching and finding only the occasional lone Wraith, they'd fallen into a nest of them, apparently trying to build a hive despite the lack of the higher castes.
"Why won't these Wraith die?" John wondered aloud.
"Maybe they have a Queen in there?" Larrin suggested.
"We haven't seen anything in the higher castes," John called back of the sound of the guns and the din of the roaring Wraith. All three search parties were engaged in the battle as well as additional backup; a hive was a serious matter even if it was practically neonatal.
"Where would she be?"
John pointed at the pulsing writhing mass at the center of the clearing the drones had made. "There if anywhere."
Larrin grinned. "Let's go see!" She ran off, drawing a sword in one hand and a pistol in the other. She ducked between Ronon and around one of her own men, stopping only to fire into the center of the writhing mass.
John grit his teeth and followed, dodging around Ronon on the other side He quickly looked around to see how the battle was progressing. The Wraith had been surrounded and the Travelers and Expedition members were closing in on them.
"Ronon!" John called as he passed. "Evan!"
Ronon ripped the leg off the Wraith he'd been grappling with. It fell to the ground with a scream and was put down by Evan Lorne's bullet. The two Marshalls joined John and Larrin in a free space by the hive.
John jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "We're going to take a look inside."
Ronon growled and raced across the small distance to land on the nascent hive. The writhing mass suddenly solidified under his weight, the surface becoming hard. He scratched at the pink casing then bounded off with a growl of displeasure. "We need a bigger weapon."
"Go ask McKay if he has anything," John suggested.
Ronon sprinted off and returned a few minutes later with Rodney in tow. John, Evan and Larrin covered their progress through the battle.
"I do not want to be here," Rodney muttered.
"Do you have anything explosive?" John asked, pointing at the Hive. The solid surface cracked as the thing inside expanded. It was hit by a few bullets then solidified again.
"That is so gross," Rodney commented.
"Do you have explosives or not?"
"Let me look!" Rodney shrugged off the small pack he'd been carrying and handed Ronon the oversized gun. He muttered about being treated beneath his genius, that Cadman was a bad influence on everyone and Science was more than really big explosions. "Here!" he held aloft a complicated looking device.
"What is it?" John eyed the brass ball about the size of a fist. There was a dial on top of it and a little lever. Usually when something was very small or very large, it was very destructive.
"Oh it's a grenade of my own design. I took out half of Kavanaugh's army with these babies." He pet the device proudly.
"How does it work?" Ronon asked, taking the bolted sphere from McKay.
"Well it uses highly compressed-"
"How do we make it explode," Ronon broke in.
"Oh. Pull that lever and run like hell. The timer is set for ten seconds."
"Maybe three. Better run fast."
Ronon glared at Rodney then tucked the grenade close to his chest. He sprinted off toward the pulsing hive which solidified as he approached.
"Uhm, maybe we should run," Rodney suggested.
"Why?" Larrin questioned.
"Well wolfboy forgot the small detail of setting the charge to an appropriate amount."
"You mean you forgot," John muttered. Louder he said, "How big of a boom are we talking about? Nova size?"
"Oh no, not quite that big," Rodney assured them. "But uh, we should probably move. Now." Rodney sprinted off in the opposite direction.
John, Evan and Larrin exchanged a brief look then raced after him, calling for everyone to get out of the way. By the time they reached the treeline, Ronon had caught up to them.
There was a very loud "Ping!" then utter silence for half a second, as if all the sound in the world had been shut off, then the hive expanded like a balloon and exploded outwards, raining foul gore around the area. A huge fireball rolled heavenward, consuming the remains of the hive and charring the ground and trees.
John looked over the rock he'd taken cover behind, looking for survivors and to asses the wreckage. A little ways off, Rodney peered around another rock and pulled a bit of steaming good from his short hair. He gave John a double thumbs up and clapped Ronon's back. His hand came away from Ronon's fur covered in dark Wraith goo. Ronon's ears flipped back and he snarled silently at McKay. John shook his head at the exchange and reloaded his gun to hunt down any drones that had survived.
"Well, that was exciting," Larrin chuckled as she fell into step with John. Most of the drones had been killed by the explosion or shortly after.
John laughed. "Things usually are exciting with this group. McKay's kind of hard to take at first, but he's not so bad."
Larrin smiled apologetically. "Among my people, he'd be the easiest of your companions to take. But," she held up a hand, "I think interactions with your group may be changing minds. I know Teyla's certainly changed my perception."
"What happened anyway?" John asked.
Larrin shrugged. "Perhaps there was an incident. Maybe people just didn't understand." She shrugged. "I am not saying it will happen overnight. For some I can see it never happening at all, but I do not see this as a bad thing."
"Well I'm glad then."
"John, do you think it would be possible for us to see more of your city?"
"Maybe," he shrugged. "When we clean up here. It'd be Elizabeth's call."
"Is she a reasonable Vampire?"
"She's a reasonable woman."
"You know her well, then?"
"We're good friends."
Larrin smiled. "Then you can convince her."
"Well, I don't know about that," John backtracked.
Larrin put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. "You've seen my home. Please show me yours."
"My father would like to see the city as well, but he has been thinking about further trade with your people." She kicked the carcass of a Wraith drone to make sure it was dead. "I'd be in the delegation with him anyway. Why don't we do both at once?"
John sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "I'll ask Sumner. This is above my pay grade."
Larrin laughed lightly. "Whatever you say."
Elizabeth finally managed to extricate herself from the meeting. Emmeret had proven to be open-minded enough on some aspects, but the other Elders who'd accompanied him were less so. She was fairly sure that, given the opportunity, the Elders would have all but ordered her people off the city and claimed it as their own. Emmeret had a restraining influence on them it seemed.
Still, it hadn't made the hours long meeting go any faster. Now the Elders were being given a quick tour by Sumner. Elizabeth felt slightly guilty for passing them along to Sumner, but she'd had enough of them.
And the look of affront as she passed them to a subordinate, no matter how qualified, had been pleasing.
After some of the less-than-veiled commentary she'd had to endure in the last ten hours or so, Elizabeth was very nearly past the point of caring. Now she was looking forward to a long relaxing shower and something to eat.
Laughter made Elizabeth pause. Curious she approached one of the small rooms they hadn't found a use for. Sunlight spilled into the hallway and Elizabeth eyed it warily out of habit, though.
She recognized John's voice immediately but Larrin's took a moment longer to register. Elizabeth peered in through the glass on either side of the doorway. They were exchanging verbal barbs as well as blows with practice swords. John hadn't had training with a bladed weapon, though Elizabeth had offered to teach him. She could see Larrin had learned a technique not entirely unlike her own, and was actually quite skilled. For a human who was less than fifty years old, she supposed.
She caught him with the practice blade again and John laughed sheepishly.
"You got me," he capitulated.
"You're getting it," Larrin encouraged as she took the wooden blade away from his neck. "Try that sequence again, slower this time."
Elizabeth watched as her lover repeated the motion slowly. Larrin reached out and stopped him mid-swing, correcting his arm and wrist. Her fingers lingered a bit longer than was strictly necessary, longer than Elizabeth would have let her own stay, and she shared John's bed.
John completed the move and the Traveler laughed encouragement, John joining her as she moved the practice sword in the same pattern. Larrin was light, she was airy. She seemed to be able to make him laugh whereas usually it was him trying to make her laugh. He was so easy with her. The lines around his face had softened. She was teaching him and John had never come to her for a lesson.
Elizabeth knew she was cold, distant. She knew she was intimidating. She was a fearsome predator beneath the centuries of practice at calm and reason. She knew that he knew it was a thin veil. Perhaps this was the end of their short-lived relationship. Elizabeth was turning away when movement caused her to take another look into the room. Larrin was kissing John deeply.
Elizabeth turned and walked away. That was it. The end. She'd known it was coming, had hardened her heart against the possibility. John was compatible with her biologically, but clearly this was not the case in other aspects of his life. His unofficial reports of their actions searching for an end to the Wraith insanity which was tearing into the North American nations increasingly featured how well he thought she was doing against the demons and how she was "coming around" to like Teyla and Ronon. He'd found happiness and she could not find it in her heart to fault him or Larrin.
She couldn't hate the other woman; Larrin wasn't a monster. She felt irritated by that, but she couldn't. It had been enjoyable and pleasurable while it had lasted. It couldn't have lasted, she told herself. It was better this way for everyone. It was better than when Simon had broken off their relationship.
The door slid open with a faint whisper of gears. A fist clenched around Elizabeth's heart as John walked in. She immediately noted how tense his shoulders were and knew this was it.
"Oh what a day." John slouched into the chair across from her personal desk. "How'd the meetings go? I saw you passed the Elders off to Sumner."
Elizabeth smiled tightly. She could do this. "I'm afraid I had enough of them. Maybe someday they won't look at me with instant revulsion, but I'm afraid that day is not today."
John chuckled. "Well if they all don't come around, it's not great loss to us. The important ones are loosing some of the bias and that's what counts."
"Indeed." She carefully finished the notations that the High Council required in regard to their portion of the supplies for the expedition.
"So how was your day otherwise?"
"It was fine."
She nodded. "Why wouldn't it be?" She looked up briefly and wished he wouldn't dance around the subject.
"Okay," John drew the word out. The tension that had been leaving his lanky frame was returning. He sat up in his seat. "Something is the matter."
Elizabeth set her pen down into the well and folded her hands on the desk. "What makes you say that? Is something the matter?"
John's eyes narrowed. "Not with me. You're all," he waved vaguely.
"I know why you're here, and I understand."
John frowned. "What?"
Elizabeth sighed. "It was nice but we're too different. I know. I can't be what you want."
"I want you to know that I value you very much as a colleague as well as, I think, a friend. I don't want the…physical relationship that we shared to be a problem."
"It's not a problem. Who said it was?"
"John, let's be honest. Was this really working out?"
Elizabeth got up out of her seat, taking some papers to a small cabinet and filing them away. She leaned against the cabinet. "Why are you making this hard?"
"I'm not doing anything!"
"Elizabeth!" John stood and stalked around the room. "What are- I- You-" He grabbed her shoulders. "What is going on with you?" he asked.
"We're not right for one another. You belong with someone else."
"Like who?" John challenged. "I hate when you act like this."
Elizabeth returned his gaze coolly, offering no indication of her actual emotional state. The alarm on her desk chimed. She looked at it then looked at John. "Marshall Sheppard, I have a meeting to attend and I believe you have a mission in the morning."
"Gods damn it! What the hell brought this on?"
"Not until you tell me why you've suddenly decided we're some kind of huge mistake."
"Stop playing games with me!"
John arched a brow. Elizabeth had actually shouted. She never yelled.
"Maybe," he replied calmly, "if you told me what you are thinking I could tell you how you're wrong."
The corner of her lip lifted in a silent snarl and John knew he's said the wrong thing. He needed to leave of they were both going to say things they'd regret. "I'm going for now, but we are not done here." John stormed out of her rooms wondering what had set her off this time. He stalked to his own rooms automatically.
He didn't notice when Larrin fell into step beside him.
"Hi," John growled.
"Wow, all that anger for me?"
John stopped in the middle of the hall. "Larrin please leave me alone."
"Why? I though we could talk. Maybe get a late snack."
"I am already with someone I love," he snapped.
"Oh," Larrin's surprise didn't quite reach her eyes.
John's jaw clenched. "Look. I love Elizabeth Weir. You're a very nice woman, but I'm with her. Just," he waved her off and stalked into his rooms. He'd go on the mission tomorrow then he and Elizabeth would have a very long, very overdue talk.
The air in the mountains was cool enough John wished he'd brought a heavier coat. If they came back here he'd have to remember to bring something warmer. Scraggly grass was growing on the dirt trail, indicating that the pathway had seen little use in recent times. He wondered if the vision Davos had had the previous evening was really related to their search or not.
"Are we sure this is the right place?" one of the newer Travelers to join their search, Silas, asked. "This doesn't look like it's been used recently."
"I believe Davos' vision," Larrin called back over her shoulder. "We've found traces before. Have faith, Silas."
Silas sighed and continued to follow the path, hefting his gun to a shoulder to carry it more comfortably. "I hope you're right."
Up ahead Teyla held up a hand, halting the party. John brushed past two of the larger Travelers, men who'd replaced the two they'd lost, and joined her at the head. Larrin was scarcely a step behind. John forced down annoyance.
"A footprint." Teyla crouched next to the imprint in the ground. It had rained several days ago and the mud on the trail had since dried, preserving the imprint. "This is the only one. And I believe it resembles the print we found in the Hive."
"Why is there only one?" Larrin asked. "We should have seen more along the trail."
"Not if the being that made this can fly. Someone landed here," Teyla told her, gesturing to the track. "See the depth of the print here?"
Larrin smiled briefly and nodded."I've had little experience with tracking. I'm glad you're with us."
Teyla graciously accepted the compliment with a nod.
"Some Nighwalkers, Genii, can fly. This is near their hunting grounds," Larrin added, lifting her eyes to the overcast sky.
"Okay," John unholstered his revolver. "Let's keep an eye out. One was around here a few days ago. Maybe they moved on, maybe they didn't."
The party warily spread out into the forest, trying to make as little noise as possible. They followed Teyla and soon found a new trail which ran parallel to the known one they'd been following. This trail was broader and showed evidence of a great deal of travel. There were the human footprints they suspected were Genii and odd holes in the mud that John abruptly recognized as Wraith.
"They walked through here," Larrin recounted as they followed the path. "Then something happened." She pointed her gun at an already where the underbrush had been violently crushed and torn. The mud was disturbed and had dried that way.
"There was an altercation," Teyla picked up, she leaned down and sniffed at a patch of darker mud. "Blood. Wraith."
"Look at this," Silas called the group over. "Have you seen a cut like this?"
He indicated a tree splashed with dark Wraith blood. The bark had withered where the Blood had touched. It was an old tree with a thick trunk. A lesser tree would have been felled by the gash in the trunk. It was neat and tidy.
"I found a leg," Ronon tossed the severed Wraith limb at the feet of the assembled group. Silas skipped back in surprise.
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" John asked his teammates.
"Oh this is bad," Rodney responded, looking around the woods with wide eyes as if he expected to be attacked at any moment. He hefted his gun and tightened his grip.
"What?" Larrin asked.
"Well, we have Genii," he indicated the cut, "and we have Wraith," he pointed at the leg. "I think we just figured out what took out that Hive. Let's keep looking."
The group moved back onto the path, John at the lead.
Teyla slipped into step beside him. "I believe the Wraith are not here by choice."
"Yeah, I got that feeling too," John agreed. He gestured at another patch of broken underbrush. "They didn't go quietly. But why?"
"I think we have an answer," Teyla touched his shoulder, drawing his attention from one side of the path to the other.
"Well, that's something."
Through the forest John could see show a valley. On the other side. The trees had been stripped away in one section revealing the beginnings of a Hive structure. A wood and metal fence had been erected around the hive, to keep the demons in. Men and women in dark armor that showed no skin patrolled the area. A single bridge had been constructed of wood, spanning the valley from one side to the other.
"I'm going to guess you've never seen this before, John commented when Larrin joined them.
"No. We avoid Genii territory. Do you think this is where they have taken Aiden and the others?"
"Could b- Down!"
John dove for the ground, dragging Larrin and Rodney with him. Teyla dragged a surprised Silas and Ronon dropped to the ground as soon as John had. The cool rush of magic manifest as a line of power the sliced through the foliage and caught one of the slower Travelers in the side. The man fell to his knees with a cry of pain.
John squinted into the woods and found the Vampire. He was using some kind of cloaking spell which made targeting him hard. John pulled his revolver and shot at the center of the disturbance. The spell faded as the Vampire doubled over in pain. The revolvers of the rest of the group followed and the Genii went down and did not get back up. The group breathed a collective sigh of relief when the howling started.
"That doesn't sound good." Rodney looked wildly around. "I think we should go."
"I agree," John pushed to his feet and hauled Rodney then Larrin up to theirs.
Ronon picked up the injured Traveler and the group sprinted for the patch they'd been following originally. The inhuman howling drew closer and soon they could hear crashing in the distance, coming closer.
"Head to the ship!" John ordered as the first shots rang out, causing people to duck for cover.
Alerted by Larrin's call, John and Teyla both looked over in time to see the Traveler dragged to the ground by a nightmarish creature. It almost looked human, but had long limbs and scrambled across the ground on all fours. The creature was naked, the skin was mottled black and red, white sigils had been drawn on it with paint. The thin lips pulled back revealing wicked looking teeth. The creature fell on Nevik and ripped into him.
John and Teyla each grabbed one of Larrin's arms and pulled her ahead until the shock had worn off enough that she had the sense to run on her own. Another creature rushed at the from the underbrush and John could see it was on a long, heavy chain leash.
The ship was in sight now. Ronon sprinted ahead and began to turn it on. Rodney had taken up a spot beside the door and was shooting at their pursuers. John thought they were going to make it when he felt the surge of energy.
"Down!" he yelled again, diving for the ground.
Energy slammed into the trees overhead and someone had half a second to scream before they were silenced. John scrambled to his feet and shoved Teyla and Larrin ahead of him. He slipped on something and fell to his knees, fingers finding the leaves slick and warm, smelling of copper.
John scrambled to his feet and saw a creature streak out of the woods for a shuttle. John drew his gun and fired. The creature went down in a squealing heap, arms and legs flailing in the air. Ronon shoved a shocked Rodney into the ship and took his gun, firing heavy gas-propelled bullets into the creature. John took cover behind a tree and fired at their attackers, covering the way for everyone else to get into the ship. John saw an opportunity to break cover and get to the ship himself. He ran a few steps before something heavy and fetid slammed into his back.
"Go!" John ordered.
Ronon hesitated and John could feel another upswell of power.
His head was shoved into the ground, claws digging into his skull. He was grateful to hear the roar of the ship's engines over the howls of the creature sitting on his back. The creature climbed off and suddenly John was flipped around then hauled up by his arms. The creature's face was covered in blood. It hissed at him and eyed him with a terrible intelligence. He was held on either side by men in completely covering clothing. Genii he figured.
More Genii strode from the brush, most carrying weapons. The one in the lead held the leash of one of the creatures. He reached down to pat the thing like it was a favored pet then tossed the leash to the Genii female standing beside him. John was forced to his knees and the Vampire stared down at him though a mask made to look like a manic grin.
"What do we have here?" the Genii mused.
"Nothing interesting, so why don't you let me go."
"What were you doing here in our lands?"
"Having a picnic." The Vampire kicked him, snapping John's head back and making him see stars. "You have some big ants here," John added when the ringing in his ears had dulled to a reasonable level. He probed his lips with his tongue and tasted blood.
At the Vampire's motion, John was once again hauled to his feet. "Bring him."
John had a moment to feel wary before one of his captors stepped in and punched him. His last thought as the blackness overwhelmed his, was regret that he hadn't made up with Elizabeth.
Jennifer Keller stopped short when she saw the damaged ship. Something had slammed into the side and severed some of the coils that kept it aloft. The damage wasn't as extensive as the last time an airship had limped home though the gateway, but She'd heard they'd lost people this time. Carson was dealing with the injuries, delegating tasks to their small support staff. Carson waved her inside, indicating there were still people in the ship.
Jennifer found the ship empty except for Teyla and Rodney McKay. McKay's hands seemed to be fused with the controls and Teyla was trying gently to get Rodney to unclench his hands from the controls. Jennifer touched her shoulder lightly and settling in the space besides the pilots seat. From this angle the slash from the outside couple be seen to run into the ship, stopping dangerously close to where Rodney's head had been. Rodney was staring straight ahead, his hands locked on the controls.
She tentatively touched his shoulder "Rodney." She covered his hands with her own and gently began to pry them from the controls. "Rodney, it's ok, you're safe now."
"No, we have to go back." Rodney turned huge eyes toward her. "We have to go back, they got Sheppard."
Jennifer put a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Rodney, we'll get him, but I need you to let go."
"Ronon is probably halfway to the hanger, Rodney." Teyla pried one hand away from the controls.
"He can't- He can't fly the ships. This one let me because I begged. Oh my god I flew the jumper." He looked from one woman to the other, "They never let me do that. We have to go back!" he shouted at the ship. The engines powered weakly then fell quiet. Rodney abruptly got out of his seat and saw the slash through the ship's hull and how close it had been to his head.
"That's, that-" he pointed at the slice, then at himself, then the slice. "That was close."
Jennifer had to scramble to catch Rodney before he hit anything on the way down. With Teyla's help she got him out of the ship then checked him over quickly for injury. "Teyla, what happened? Teyla?" She looked up and found Teyla had been drawn aside and was speaking with Sumner and Weir. The expedition leader's face was intently focused on what Teyla had to say.
"We were attacked," Rodney groaned from the ground. " I think. What happened?"
"You fainted," Jennifer told him as she pulled back his eyelid to peer into his eye with a hand-held light.
Rodney batted her hand away. "I did not!"
Jen switched off the light and hauled him to his feet. "Sorry, Dr. McKay, but you fainted."
"I don't faint!" Rodney sniffed, "I will allow that perhaps I may have lost consciousness for a brief moment. Nearly being killed does things to a perso-ow!"
"Hang on there," Jennifer grabbed him before he went down again. She helped him sit then cut away his pant leg with a small knife. "Looks like you got hit," she quickly probed the wound and decided he'd been winged. "You're going to the infirmary."
Rodney tried to get to his feet, but the adrenaline "What? No! I have to go back out there! Sumner! Tell her I have to go back out."
"He being difficult?"
Jennifer pushed a stray bit of hair out of her face. "Nothing I can't handle."
"Good. Is he going to be able to get back out there?"
She scowled at her patient who scowled back. "Only if he stops fidgeting and lets me work!"
"Let Keller do her job, McKay," Sumner advised, cutting of Rodney's tidrade before it could start. He returned to Elizabeth and Teyla. "We have a plan yet?"
"How is Rodney?" Teyla looked back at Rodney.
"He'll live. Might even get to help us rescue Sheppard if he manages to sit still long enough to get some treatment."
"Evan should be here with another ship." Elizabeth watched the portal for a moment. "I'll go. They were Genii and we'll need someone who knows how to fight them. Chuck will come with me as will Evan's team, Ronon and Teyla."
Sumner nodded. "I think-"
"I'm coming too. My people all are," Larrin insisted.
Sumner shot a look at Elizabeth as if to say "your call".
"Fine. Don't get in our way." Elizabeth pulled a mask over her head and caught the weapons Chuck tossed at her.
"Where are they?" Larrin looked around at the wreckage of the captive Hive.
Elizabeth brushed by. "They left." She headed toward the ship.
Nothing of consequence would have been left behind. The remnants of the Hive were still burning as were the bodies, the footbridge and the fencing. The air reeked.
"What do you mean they left?"
"They left. They were discovered so they left," Elizabeth explained.
"Damn," Lorne cursed. "Aerial searches?"
Elizabeth nodded. "This wasn't their main base. We'll need to find it."
"They just killed everything and left?"
"Exactly. This location was compromised so they killed everything, burned the walls and the bridge, and left. They've taken John and likely anyone else to a new location."
"Think Sheppard's still alive?" Ronon settled into his seat as he asked Elizabeth.
"He was alive when you left?" Elizabeth asked, turning her head slightly as Evan activated the ship's engine.
"One of those things was on him, but he wasn't being attacked."
"So there's a chance he's still alive. We need to find him!" Larrin leaned forward in her seat, gripping the back of the pilot's chair. "They might have taken him where they've taken everyone else."
"Bola Kai," Chuck answered.
"What?" Larrin asked.
Elizabeth turned her head slightly. "The creatures. They were red and black with white markings?"
Larrin sat back in her seat as the airship took off. "Yes."
"They're called Bola Kai. The Genii use them like hunting dogs."
"They demons?" Ronon asked.
"What are they?"
Elizabeth looked forward, scanning the horizon. "They were human."
John was surprised to wake up. The room was dimply lit by a single electric bulb behind a hefty cage bolted to the wall. There were no windows on the plain stone walls and the door was made of heavy metal. John carefully moved his arms and legs, testing them to ensure nothing was broken. The cuts on his face had healed and dried, as had the blood he'd slipped in.
John crawled to a seated position with a groan as his head swam. When he opened his eyes, he was greeted by the sight of the cell's previous occupant. The skeleton still had some mummified flash and scraps of clothing hanging from the bones. John sighed and leaned back against the cell wall.
His voice echoed in the small room. "At least I'm alive."
The door slammed open and two burly guards in heavy leather armor hauled John to his feet and out the door.
"Hey guys," was all he managed to say before one of the guards punched him in the gut, knocking the wind out of him.
The Genii guards hauled him with them base more cells, some of which had been bricked up from the outside. John caught a fleeting glimpse of what looked like a huge warehouse and thought he could hear the sound of rushing water as well as screaming. Every time he staggered, or tried to get his bearings, the guards stuck out. By the time they halted, shoved him to his knees, and locked him into manacles bolted to the floor, John was disoriented.
The guards took up positions by the doorways, leaning beside them as if they didn't consider John to be a threat. At the moment, they were right. John sank to the floor and looked around, bewildered. The room looked like some kind of warehouse built into the mountain. Chains hung from the ceilings, many with sharp hooks, some with suspended cages. The floor was metal with tracks inset. There was a single simple, incongruous table with a few chairs clustered around it.
The broad double doors opened and John got his first look at Genii. They looked like three normal people, a taller, somewhat older and distinguished gentleman, a slightly younger man wearing a lab coat, and a second younger man with a blank expression who resembled the second. John guessed brothers, but knowing he was dealing with vampires, they could easily be father and son or even further relations on the family tree.
Their clothing was uniform with shiny silver buttons on the front panel and covered them from head to toe with high collars. Masks and gloves hung from their belts. Definitely Vampire outfits.
"So this is him," the man in the center said. "And you say he could tell when you were about to strike?"
"Yes. He was in charge. Told everyone to get down," the man with the blank expression said.
"Fascinating," the older man said, crouching down in front of John. He reached out and pulled John's neck to the side, then shoved him away as he stood. "This has been healed. You've met one of us."
John remained silent. He only knew the name of one Genii and he had the sinking suspicion that he knew exactly who was in charge here. The leader folded his hands behind his back and looked contemptuously at John.
"Nothing to say, Human?"
John glared mutely. The man flicked his wrist lazily and John as suddenly knocked back as if he'd been struck by something heavy. John swayed as he got back to his knees. The manacles bit into his wrists and the magic was uncomfortably chilly against his skin. He suppressed a shudder.
"You should speak when your betters ask you a question. Isn't that right Ladon?"
"Yes, sir," Ladon replied. By his voice, John now recognized Ladon as the man who'd taken him.
"Were you sent by the High Council, human?" The leader asked.
John once again remained silent and was blasted by the same force. John tried to duck this time and managed to avoid most of the effect. The wind was chilling and John couldn't suppress the shivers this time.
"Interesting," the other man said.
"He could sense what I was doing? Oh this is very interesting indeed." The man clapped a hand on Ladon's shoulder and Ladon smiled for the first time.
"Is he some kind of Fae, Radim? The Nox haven't been seen in millennia."
"No Acustus, I think this might be the key we've been looking for."
John barely managed to not groan when he heard the name "Acustus". Kolya however had been studying John intently and arched a wry brow. He bent at the waist to peer down at John who was seeing double, but determined not to give up who he was or where he was from.
"You know my name. How very intriguing." Kolya straightened and gestured to Radim and Ladon. "He's yours. Tell me if he says anything interesting." Koyla dismissed John as inconsequential and strode from the room. Movement out of the corner of John's eye caused him to look just in time to see Ladon's fist connect.
John woke to a sharp pain in his arm. He opened his eyes and winced in the bright light. He could feel tugging on his arms and then another sharp pain in his other arm. John turned his head and saw a woman with shoulder length blonde hair pushing a needle into his skin. The needle was connected to a tube which ran into a jar which was currently filling with his blood.
"That's probably not sanitary you know." The woman ignored him and instead tilted the table John had been strapped to. John felt nauseated and let the room spin for a bit. "I was kind of using that blood," John protested weakly. Then the world went dark.
When John woke again, the bright light was still on, but it had been turned to the side allowing John to see around the room. It was filled with many tables like the one he was trussed to. None of them had bodies still on them thankfully. They were, actually, spotless, as were the sharp and well maintained implements laid out on trays next to each table. John looked on the other side and saw he had his own tray. The saws, pointed skewers and knives didn't look any better closer up. The blonde woman returned, looming over him. She wiped her mouth, the cloth coming away red. It was then that the searing hot pain on his shoulder registered. John went rigid against his bonds, gritting his teeth.
"Mark time. Subject has metabolized the pain suppressant." She checked his eyes then disappeared from view.
"Marked," a male voice replied from out of John's range of vision.
She returned with a syringe filled with something then injected John. "Administering agent number three four dash Seven."
"Defin'ly n'sanitary." The room became very fuzzy and John blacked out again.
Elizabeth was surprised to find Ronon was the one who'd rung the chime on her door.
"Ronon." She nodded once in greeting then retreated back into her rooms. She'd found a map of Europe in the database and had coaxed the city to display it over her desk.
"So that's Europe?"
"Yes. The Genii have bolt-holes and tunnels all around here." She gestured to part of the map around a red dot where she'd marked the burned out hive. "Known gateways in the area are marked in blue."
Ronon's gaze swept from the map to Elizabeth then back again. "You love him." It wasn't quite an accusation, a statement of fact, or even a question; it hung somewhere in between all three of those.
Elizabeth glanced up at Ronon then back down at the map.
"So why'd you break it off?"
"He told you?"
"I made him tell me what was bugging him before we left."
"He's better off without me." Elizabeth's eyes flicked back to him then down to the map again. "I'd have though you'd be happy."
Ronon grunted an answer which could have been anything. "Think he's still alive?"
Elizabeth's hands clenched on the table top. She bit her bottom lip then refocused on the map. "They didn't kill him outright."
Ronon leaned on the table across from her, hands aggressively splayed on the tabletops. "You know what they're doing to him?"
"They won't turn him if that's what you're asking."
Ronon was taken back for a second. "Hadn't thought of that." He arched an eyebrow. "Why not?"
"Genii rarely do. Cowan's clan is more likely to than Kolya's."
"Who are we dealing with?"
"Could be either. The Genii don't exactly keep us apprised of their territorial disputes." She pointed at a mountain range close to where they'd lost John and near where they'd lost Aiden and others. "There's an old facility here and another one here. We flooded both about four-hundred years ago. If they're using the Wraith for something, they'll need a large space."
"You're not four-hundred years old."
"I read history," Elizabeth stopped herself from snapping, but she couldn't quite make her tone less icy.
Ronon's eyes narrowed. "You've hunted Genii before. Why?"
"Why are you surprised? Because they're Vampires? Because Humans are the only ones who can have internal disputes?" Elizabeth knew she was becoming angry and held her tongue for a moment to regain control. She started in with a different tactic. "You don't like us."
"You're not nearly as nice as you pretend to be," Ronon shot back.
"You're right," Elizabeth grinned ferally, showing long pointed teeth. "We're not. We're monsters, same as you."
Ronon growled and Elizabeth held up a placating hand. "You control yourself. So do I. Genii do not. What do you do with a rogue werewolf?"
Elizabeth smirked. "That's why I hunt Genii."
Ronon snorted acceptance and resumed watching Elizabeth silently. He put his hands back on the desk again and leaned forward. "I want to hear you say it."
"Say you love him."
"You are out of line."
"It is over."
"It isn't over because the damn fool is still head over heels for you."
"It isn't your business."
"I'm making it my business. Say it."
"We agreed it was over."
"Bullshit." Ronon pointed a finger at her. "You decided and he got angry. Say it."
"Why is this important to you?"
"'Cause he's Pack and that means something to me. Say you love him and it's killing you that he's gone. Or, if it really is over, say you don't love him."
Elizabeth glared across the table at the Werewolf. She tried to deny she was still in love with John but the words stuck in her throat. She tried again but they turned to ash on her lips. She looked away, fists clenched. She couldn't be a lovesick fool. She needed to find him and bring him home.
Elizabeth winced, knowing it was true. She started at a spot on the floor until she heard Ronon begin to walk away with a disgusted sound.
"I love him."
The words were out of her mouth before she could think about them. Elizabeth's shoulders sagged. She heard Ronon's pause, his footsteps stopped. Elizabeth sank into her chair. "Gods help me I love him."
She lifted her eyes and saw Ronon standing with his arms crossed, his expression inscrutable. A single dark brow lifted, inviting further confession. Elizabeth clasped her hands together. She felt miserable but somehow free. "It's killing me that he's out there. They're the worst of my kind and they could be doing anything to him."
"He got us out of there. Gave us cover fire."
"I know." She leaned back in her chair, let her head rest against the chair's back and looked at the ceiling. "I'm proud but I want to throttle him." She shook her head. "I'm sorry I'm not making sense."
Ronon chuckled. "Makes perfect sense. Welcome to my life." She heard him walk closer and he cleared his throat. "So this isn't a fling for you."
She laughed ruefully, ignoring the watery quality that had crept in despite herculean efforts on her part not to cry. "Gods I'm afraid not."
"Damn. You're as bad as he is," Ronon commented. "Maybe worse." He sounded surprised.
Elizabeth looked up and saw he now seemed to be amused by the situation. Elizabeth wondered what had changed for a moment before she stopped. She could reflect on this later. She stood again and pointed at the map. "Help me get him out and you can tease me all you like," she promised.
Ronon smirked. "Deal."
The next time John woke, the light was mercifully off. He could hear something being slapped and in his fuzzy state we wondered if it was him. His mind woke up more and John blinked away the last cobwebs caused by whatever the Genii had given him. The wet, rhythmic slapping continued and John distantly registered intimate female grunts. John's head rolled forward and he got a good look at the other side of the room.
Two of the tables from him were now occupied. An unconscious Aiden Ford was strapped to one. He'd been gagged and looked pale and drawn but was otherwise intact. John couldn't see the face of the other man as his table had been tilted horizontally and John didn't recognize the crown of the man's head. A nude woman with curly blonde hair was enthusiastically bouncing on him, pleasuring herself. The man moaned under her around his gag; a distinctly unhappy sound. John looked away but he could still hear them; the man's agonized moans in the space between pleasure and pain and her breathless gratification as she molested her victim. She slapped him then giggled when the man cried out in pain.
John sagged against his bonds and wondered if Elizabeth would even authorize a team to come after him. He hoped she would if only so they could get the mess with the Wraith straightened out. Deep regret welled up as he thought of some of the things they'd said to one another before he'd left, and now he especially regretted trying to taunt her again. John cringed away from the wanton moan from across the room. The wound on his shoulder pulled painfully. He focused on that pain, using it to drive out the rest of the room.
The door opened and the other Genii woman, the one who'd drugged him, entered with Radim. Her eyes flicked over to the blonde then returned to the journal she was writing in. "You done yet?"
"Almost," the other woman gasped.
"We could come back later," Radim shot over his shoulder. He was amused by all of this while the other woman was bored.
John watched the two Genii ignore the blonde and begin to prepare something. The blonde cried out, finally coming on the man. She chuckled and John heard another slap. Morbid curiosity made him look back.
"Thanks for the ride." The blond dismounted and stretched her arms languidly over her head. "You sure you don't want to try this one Dahlia? He's still good to go." She reached over and grabbed the still erect member. The man squirmed in agony and began to sob behind his gag. John could see she'd dug her nails in and winced in sympathy.
Dahlia set her journal down and began to switch on machines which hummed with energy. "No thank you, Sora. I don't play with my food."
The blonde, Sora, shrugged. "Suit yourself." She pulled a lever and the table lifted higher into the air on a piston. She unhinged it and the table tipped downwards so the man's feet were elevated above his head. He'd been beaten and fed on for some time. His entire body a mass of bruises and open wounds including ten deep cuts down the center of his chest where blood had been smeared. One of his legs had visibly been broken and his face was swollen and puffy. "You wanted this one right?"
The other woman nodded in confirmation. "Yes."
"Just making sure," the blonde said taking a surgical knife from the nearby tray. She slid the blade along the side of the man's neck, spilling bright red blood onto the table. The man screamed behind his gag. The blonde laughed and licked her fingers as she watched the blood pool in a collection plate below the man's head. She dipped her fingers into it then slowly licked each one off.
John's stomach twisted as the gurgling sounds grew softer then finally stopped. This was what Elizabeth had been trying to warn him about and he'd ignored her. Hell, he'd blatantly provoked her not once but twice. For the first time, John was actually afraid. An irrational part of him wondered if Elizabeth was capable of any of this, if the inner demons she controlled could be this dark.
A slim hand with a grip like a vice forced John's head. Sora smiled at him, showing fang and not a little bit of naked lust. John pulled his head away and she laughed. "May I have this one?" she asked, trailing a finger down John's chest, breaking the skin. The shallow cut burned. She licked her nail.
"No," Dahlia told her. "We need him for the trial."
Sora pouted, "Not even for dinner? If I promise not to kill him?"
Sora sighed. "You just want him for yourself. Not that I can blame you." She fondled John through his pants. "Oh I bet he'd be fun." She slapped his cheek then sashayed out of the room with a careless wave over her shoulder.
Radim pushed a button. "Bring it in."
The wall on the side of the room opened with the hiss of pistons and several guards came in pulling heavy chains. A platform slid into the room on rails. A Wraith Seneschal was bound by some kind of magic circle engraved into the metal. The spidery legs of his lower torso had been encased in iron and his lower body had metal bands bolted directly into the chitin. His human-like upper body was encased in a metal jacket which left his arms outstretched and bare. His hands were sheathed in metal mitts chained and welded to poles.
The Seneschal hissed at the woman who drew blood. The line on his lower jaw split and his mandibles stretched open, trying to bite at her. The Genii reacted to this with a bored roll of her eyes. The Seneschal was then wheeled into a slot next to John's table and both John and the Wraith were pushed against the wall of the room and secured. John looked over at the Wraith..
"What're you in for?" the demon asked, clearly joking. John had never heard a Wraith speak English before, let alone make a joke. He drew back in surprise. The Seneschal barked a laugh. "I wouldn't get comfortable human. They go through a lot of your kind."
John returned his attention to Aiden who'd been wheeled into the center of the room. A subservient looking Mage was carefully constructing a circle around his table with chalk and the Genii were plugging tubes and pasting wires onto Aiden. A very large mechanical arm had been swung into place over Aiden. It held an ornate wire construct, at the center of which was a blue stone resting in a glass jar of blood. John didn't like where this was going.
Kolya walked in with an angry-looking Genni who sported short, dark hair. The blonde walked a few steps behind them. She now wore a leather uniform not unlike what Elizabeth wore into battle. That, John told himself, was where the similarities began and ended. She winked at him slowly and John glared back, reminding himself that these people were considered psychotic by their own kind. That thought didn't exactly give him a great deal of comfort. Movement caught John's attention and he focused on it; anything to take his mind off the fear.
Aiden was waking, which filled John with relief until he noticed there was something wrong with him. The younger man moaned and strained against the bonds of the table, the metal creaking. He thrashed around and Radim dipped a glass beaker into the blood of the man John hadn't known. Aiden ceased his struggles and focused on the beaker when it was held in front of him. His teeth elongated into fangs and the skin stretched on his face momentarily becoming red and blotchy like the creatures that had attacked them.
The Wraith beside John grunted in pain as the woman, Dahlia, attached a tube from his chest to Aiden. The broad doors opened once more and two guards came in, carrying a sack. Something long and spindly pressed against the grey, leathery casing. They put the sack into a smaller circle the Mage had drawn.
Radim opened a heavy wooden box and pulled out a very intricate golden device. He flicked it and it began to spin, layers upon layers of spinning gears and clockwork, slow at first then faster than the eye could see. The clockwork device was hung from the lattice that had been pulled over Aiden. It hung in between the sack and Aiden who was now being hooked up to the contained of blood which was above him. John suspected it was his own blood.
Kolya strode over to stand near John, who looked away. Vampires couldn't read thoughts but John didn't trust himself to give something away. He could feel Kolya's eyes on him, making his skin crawl. Kolya and studied him for a moment before the angry Genii forced John to look at the Genii leader. "I have questions for you. And I expect you to answer them. If you do not answer them? Well," Kolya indicated Aiden.
The mage was cutting sigils into Aiden's flesh: binding circles. He began chanting and John felt the rush of spirit magic and a cool, Vampiric echo from Aiden.
"You can feel it, can't you?" Kolya asked, rhetorically.
The sack tore open and the infant Wraith screeched. John had thought things were bad before, but, he realized, he was witnessing them getting much, much worse.
Elizabeth looked up when Sumner sauntered in to her office. "Mack."
"Elizabeth," the colonel drawled. He casually draped a bandolier of ammo over the back of a chair on top of his coat
"You've decided you're going?"
Sumner put on his shoulder holsters. "Yep."
"I thought that wasn't wise."
"Depends on how you look at it."
Elizabeth arched an eyebrow. "How are you looking at it?"
"You are fulfilling the request of my president to resolve this issue with the Wraith. I am going on a search and rescue mission for a missing officer." He settled the bandolier across his chest. "The way I see it, we happen to have two tasks to accomplish in the same places. We can leave Bates and Chuck here without too much worry."
Elizabeth bit her lip. She'd been worried about splitting her focus and failing John, failing herself, getting more people killed, a hundred cataclysmic scenarios. There were many pitfalls she could stumble into here. She hadn't expected to find an ally in Marshall Sumner.
Mack stuffed his hands in the pockets of his jacket. "I give John a hard time, but he can take it." He leaned forward conspiratorially. "Don't let it get around but I've been accused of being a romantic." He straightened, all serious business now "But aside from that, I want my guy back."
Elizabeth turned the map toward him. "This is the plan of attack I think we should take. I wasn't able to get much more on the layouts of the bases." There wasn't much on the bases to be had. She'd supplemented the information she'd received from her government with what she remembered.
Marshall set both his hands on the desk and looked over the plans. "Split Larrin's people between our groups?"
"I was thinking so," she agreed.
"These places common?"
"Not empty and not this size. Most are inhabited. Underground construction is a convenient way to avoid the sun."
"Huh. I'm taking Teyla. You take Ronon."
"He won't like that."
"Teyla has a better nose and Ronon likes killing Wraith."
The portal opened admitting the two airships they'd decided would be equipped for this journey. Both leaders were on the ground by the time the small craft settled in the open area before the Gateway. Elizabeth and Sumner exchanged looks of understanding as they assembled their groups and entered the ships.
John woke from one nightmare only to find himself in another. He'd passed out, he could recall that much. The ritual had been grisly and his mind had thankfully shut off. Memories flashed before him. He grit his teeth and tried to suppress them. He needed focus. He needed to escape. He needed to escape and find Elizabeth and then they were going to have a long talk. First he'd apologize. Then maybe she'd let him just hold her for awhile.
Calmer, John took stock of his current situation. He was in a free standing cell in a huge warehouse-sized room. A bright light shone on his cage and in a few other spots that he could see. He shakily sat up then shaded his eyes and tried to see into the darkness. He could see little beyond the patch of light he was contained within.
"Welcome back," the sound of the Wraith's voice made John cringe. The inhuman rasp did not belong with the highly cultured Cambridge accent. John turned. The Wraith was in his own cell, still bolted into his restraints and the platform bolted into the floor. He sat in his own eternally bright spotlight. John stood up and tried the bars of the cage just in case.
"What do they call you?" The Wraith asked.
John hesitated for a moment. "Like I'm telling you," John shot back.
"I'm just trying to make pleasant conversation with my fellow inmate and potential dinner," the Wraith retorted. "I'll tell you my name."
"Ah! Stop!" John put his hands on his ears and felt a trickle of blood. "You did that on purpose!" He wiped the blood away, mindful that he was in the care of psychotic Vampires. The image of the man Sora had bled out flashed in his memory and he shuddered.
The Wraith laughed. "Just a bit of Wraith humor, human. You are human, aren't you? Apparently there has been some debate."
"Last time I checked." John carefully catalogued his injuries, to see if there were new ones. His wrists were bruised and his shoulder was still painful, but it and the cut on his chest seemed to have clotted. "Look, uh," John paused, thinking of something to call the Wraith, "Todd. They probably just want you to get me to talk. Well, I'm not going to."
The Wraith chuckled. "If that was their plan they have not let me in on it, human."
"The hell was that back there?" John changed the topic of conversation. Interrogating the Wraith was safer and might prove useful. If the demon wasn't lying that is.
"They are trying to bind demons into their flesh." The Wraith laughed again as if it was the most amusing thing he'd heard all day.
John hadn't expected that answer. He eyed the Wraith, trying to tell if the creature was lying or not. "Is that- nevermind." John sat down on the floor of his cage again and began to inspect the bolts holding it down. They were heavy and solid, smelling faintly of some kind of oil. John guessed they used a machine to bolt the cage down.
"I would imagine," Todd said, "That they have caused quite a disturbance among the hives."
"Why's that?" John asked, trying not to sound too curious.
"They have taken many young queens to fuel their experiments."
"Isn't that a pity."
"It is. As long as they are alive, their hives will march over whatever is in their path so long as their queens are alive to call them."
"You seem pretty calm."
The Wraith sounded smug. "I am of a higher caste than the drones. I make my own decisions." The Wraith grinned at John, showing sharp translucent teeth. "I await the time to strike."
"You don't look like you're in much of a position to do any striking."
"I have personal matters to attend to here," the Wraith replied with lordly disdain. "An opportunity to leave shall present itself," Todd observed mildly. "Good things come to those who wait? Is that not a saying among your kind?"
John resumed his exploration of the cage, ignoring the Wraith. The Wraith they'd encountered had been beaten and disorganized. If they'd escaped that could be why. He jumped back into the center of his cage and feigned sleep when a door opened somewhere n the gloom. He could hear heavy machinery move and opened one eye just enough to see two gold-painted cages be dragged into the room. The cages were much smaller than his own and wheeled smoothly into the room. They settled into depressions in the floor with an audible clunk. The Genii guards brought over huge mechanical drivers which rumbled as they drove heavy bolts into the metal, securing the cages to the floor.
The guards walked away without any comment and John heard the door slam then several heavy gears lock together. John listened for the location relative to him then continued ot play possum for a few minutes more. Finally John deemed it safe and sat up to better study his new neighbors. One was a small man with thinning wild hair. The other was a petite woman with exotic features. She looked like she could be Chinese, but John had only seen one or two of them in his entire life since few passed over the Great Wall. Both lay on the floors of their cages.
The man's eyes opened and he pulled out glasses from a case he'd kept in his pocket. "Miko?"
"Here." The woman sat up and began to unpin her incredibly long hair. She paused in mid-motion when she saw John. "Radek. He's awake."
Radek looked over and smiled at John. He reached through the bars of his cage toward John, extending his hand to shake. "We hoped they'd put us with you." The man said. He had a similar accent to Larrin and Aiden, but his was much thicker.
"You did?" John asked, warily.
"Yes. We think you can get us out of here," Radek explained.
John reached over and shook the other man's hand. "Nice to meet you Radek."
Radek took the long hair sticks from Miko and tossed her his glasses case. She began to deconstruct the case, pulling metal gears and wires from the lining of the wooden box and sliding aside small compartments to reveal bolts and glass. Radek meanwhile had unscrewed her hair sticks and begun to pull bits of wire and metal rods.
"We didn't have much time to come up with a solution," Radek apologized with a smile. John saw the tips of his teeth and realized he was a Vampire. "But we believe this will work."
"Why are you locked up?" John asked suspiciously.
"Those two are trouble but still too valuable to kill," Todd interjected. "Much like myself."
"Hush, you," Miko hissed. She too was a Vampire. The animosity between the two seemed to be old, the kind that almost bordered on respect for an enemy. John relaxed slightly. From what he'd seen, a Genii plant wouldn't have acting this way around one of the Wraith.
"I am merely trying to be helpful. Perhaps you shall free me when you fly from this place and allow me to conclude my business."
Radek snorted as he accepted gears and wire from Miko. Something was beginning to take shape on his cell floor.
"Yes. You cannot tell?" Radek gestured to his cage bars. "Is joke Kolya has decided to make." The irony was heavy. "We are pets he liberated from Cowan."
"Cowan? Another Genii?"
Radek grunted confirmation as he unwound some wire from one of the sticks and began to work it into the device he was constructing. "He made us both. Why have a scientist for only fifty maybe sixty years when you can make someone immortal?"
"How long have you been-?" John gestured vaguely.
"Ten years," Miko answered.
"Almost eight," Radek added. "Kolya "acquired" us last year. Ah. This looks right?" He held up what he'd been making for Miko to see. She held out two pieces of glass and Radek set them into what looked surprisingly like a gun.
He tugged in the leather cord and it came away from his neck. Radek aimed the gun then set the stone into a cradle of wire. Nothing happened. He nodded to himself then removed the stone and held it out to John.
"You can activate it. Miko couldn't".
John figured he didn't have much to lose. He reached out and touched the stone with the tip of one finger. The stone glowed and this time when Radek set it into the device he got the reaction he'd been looking for. A beam of light shot out from the device and impacted with John's cage. The iron began to heat then melt under the beam.
"Why are you doing this? Why me?"
"Needed you to activate Ancient Stone." Radek winked. "And we are not fighters."
John wrapped his hands in the remains of his jacket and pulled the hot iron bar down before it could fall and make a noise. They continued until John, Radek and Miko were free.
"We need to leave. Where should we go?"
"We know the way."
"Excuse me," Todd reminded them of his presence.
The three paused and turned as one to face the demon.
Todd smiled a gut-twisting, rictus grin. "Now I know you're not going to just leave me here. Not when I can easily sound an alarm."
"He is right," Miko sighed.
John glared. "You're not coming with us."
"Wouldn't dream of it."
John looked at Radek then Miko then around the dimly lit warehouse-like room. "It would be such a shame if the guards were busy with an angry Wraith," he mused.
Miko looked at the door then back at the demon. "Those restraints look awfully tight, do you not agree?"
Radek hefted the small device and pulled the stone out of his pocket again. "They do. Perhaps we can make more comfortable?"
"I have a terrible pain in my back and I fear my nose itches. If you could see fit to loosen some of these chains I'd be very thankful."
John exchanged a look with the two Scientists. "I think we can help you there."
The airship slid through the clouds as Evan guided it down, closer to the mountains. Elizabeth gripped the arm of her chair and scanned the area, finding the cave entrance that concealed the former Genii base. She'd been here before to see the site, but she hadn't participated in the raid.
"Ma'am?" Evan Lorne pointed at the cave and directed the ship. "There?"
"Hang on then, we're going to land," Evan called out to the other occupants of the airship.
Sumner checked his weapons over again. Ronon had shifted and was crouched near the rear hatch. Their Traveler allies were all eying him warily except Larrin who sat with naked blades on her lap. The second shuttle drew into formation with the first as, Rodney, the other pilot, caught up with Evan. Apparently the small ships and the Scientist had come to an agreement.
Elizabeth stood and drew her weapons. She'd seen the atrocities the Genii were capable of. That had been the reason she'd seen the flooded out former base. When the hatch opened, she was out before even Ronon. She flew into the cave, quickly crossing the natural entrance which became the smooth, clean, familiar lines the long-gone Asgard had used when carving these places eons ago. Ronon and Larrin joined her, Lorne and Sumner moments later.
Elizabeth hardly heard them as she was focused on the cavern and finding John. "This way." She followed a half remembered path into the darkness.
Evan lit a torch and followed after with a red-orange glow she didn't need to see. Ronon ran beside her, head low, trying to track any scents. The twisted path they followed ended in an open area which swallowed Evan's meager light. Elizabeth cast a spell which created a small glowing orb of light just above her hand. She sent the light out into the cavern with a flick of her wrist and the ball grew in size an intensity until the room was illuminated.
Ronon growled. The floor of the vast room was covered in debris; ancient trees, silt from the flooding, bones of the dead still covered in the remnants of Genii uniforms. Elizabeth cursed. John wasn't here. She let the spell die, abruptly plunging the room into total darkness save for Evan's lone torch. She flew for the surface, passing the second shuttle and a surprised Rodney and Teyla.
"He's not here," she called over her shoulder.
"He's not?" Teyla questioned, catching up to her far more easily than the humans in the group.
"No." Elizabeth hurried into the airship she'd arrived in. She pulled out the map and waited impatiently for everyone else to return. Elizabeth slid into the copilot's seat and studied the controls. She tentatively touched one, wishing it would respond now when it hadn't countless times before. The ship didn't respond. Elizabeth made a fist and prayed John was still alive.
When they were out of range of the Wraith and had successfully dodged two groups of wandering Genii, John introduced himself to Miko and Radek. Both had been over the moon on hearing he was from Atlantis and he'd had to spend precious time talking them down from their highly technical euphoria. Finally they'd been able to resume escaping.
"There should be a gun locker here." Radek used a small mirror to check around the corner then led the way to a cabinet and began to pick the lock.
"Maybe some outfits for you two." John looked around and prayed they wouldn't get caught.
"Outfits?" Miko questioned as she pulled guns and ammo from the now open locker.
"You're Vampires right?"
"We are now."
"I have no idea if it is day or night outside and you said you don't know how far we are from another town, let alone a Gateway. You'll need cover."
"The sun," Radek realized with a sigh. "I had been hoping to see the sun again. We have been underground or in boxes since we were taken."
John felt bad the Scientist had apparently either forgotten or been in denial. He clapped a hand on Radek's shoulder. "In Atlantis, you can see the sun all you like."
Radek relaxed. "Oh that is good news. Come."
"How long before Todd escapes?"
"Todd?" Radek questioned.
"Ahh. Well-" Alarms sounded and there was the sound of screaming. "Not very long."
Heavy footsteps sounded in the hallways and John found himself suddenly tugged into a very tight space. Miko put a hand over his mouth and the three waited until the Genii passed. There were more screams and more Genii. Radek tugged on John's boot and they crept back into the tunnel further until the light at the end was only a small dot.
"There are tunnels all over the place," Radek explained. "Come. We memorized many of the passages. Way out takes us near Queens' chambers but is best way out."
"And what if you forget some and we get stuck?"
"We're dead if we go into the hallways. Follow me."
The ship hadn't even touched down before Elizabeth and Ronon had opened the back hatch and jumped down over Evan's objections. This complex's entrance was at the bottom of a narrow valley and lacked a suitable place to land. Elizabeth suppressed a stab of annoyance when Larrin followed them.
John hadn't been in the last set of caverns so Elizabeth hoped she would find him here. She unsheathed her blades and slipped through the underbrush, leaping from rock to rock as she made her way up to the caverns' entrance. Ronon followed behind, a silent brown ghost in the forest with Larrin taking up the rear, doggedly trying to keep pace.
Elizabeth forced herself to pause at the entrance, allowing the others a moment to catch up. She was certain this underground complex would be the one. They'd likely have a nasty fight on their hands, and while she was good, she couldn't take on an entire Genii clan alone. She focused her senses, straining for sounds of anyone or anything in the caverns. Distantly there was the clash of metal on metal. Elizabeth led the way forward into the dark cavern.
There were signs of recent habitation in these caverns which spurred her onward. Ronon dropped to all fours to keep up with the pace she set. There were bodies in the tunnels, Wraith and Genii alike.
"Wait!" Larrin called after them in as loud a voice as she dared.
Ronon but on an extra burst of speed in response and Elizabeth now followed him. They found lights, dim but still glowing. "Here," Ronon abruptly turned down a hallway, following some scent, Elizabeth followed.
"Damn." The room they'd ended in contained many twisted bodies of Bola Kai in cages and Wraith nailed to tables like oversized bugs in someone's collection.
Ronon stood and began to search the laboratory room. "I could smell one of the Genii that attacked us."
"Do you recognize any of these?" she asked, pointed to the bodies.
"No, but that scent is all over the room."
Elizabeth kicked open a container. Glass jars in packing straw spilled to the floor with a clatter. The next crate contained heavy chains and the third was a box of mechanical components she couldn't readily identify. She picked up one of the Genii bodies and searched it for information, tossing it aside in mounting fury.
The rest of their group ran into the room and stopped, shocked by the obscene experimentation. Sumner and McKay were the first to recover. McKay gave in to his natural curiosity and drifted towards the mechanical equipment. Evan shook out of his daze and followed closely behind. Sumner walked over to Elizabeth.
"It doesn't look like he's ali-"
Elizabeth held up a hand. "Do not finish that thought."
Sumner scowled but completed his thought anyway. "I don't like it any more than you do, but we might have to face the fact that John isn't alive."
"I am not ready to dismiss him just yet, Colonel." Sumner regarded her with pity and she looked away. "You saw the destruction. This may be the source of the problems with the Wraith in your country."
"Now you're just changing the subject."
Elizabeth turned away, using steps at the doorway as an excuse to halt the conversation. Teyla led the way, followed by Larrin and some of the Travelers.
"I have not seen evidence of current inhabitation. The bodies appear to be weeks old."
"There is a room of automatic rifles and ammo. Fuel for airships," Larrin reported.
"What were they doing in here?" Larrin wondered, nose twisting in distaste. She looked to Elizabeth in question.
"Experiments of some kind. Unusual for the Genii."
"Well, there are half a dozen hives here." Sumner pointed to two of the bodies. "Different marks, different hives."
Elizabeth looked over at Rodney. "Do Vampires have Technomages?"
"No," Elizabeth shook her head. "We've never produced one, why do you ask?"
"Some of this looks like a fusion of technology and magic that isn't Ancient." He held up a gear and some metal plates inscribed with runes. "There are more on the floors."
Evan kicked some of the debris on the floor, revealing a metal circle set into the stone. "They're all around the tables and some of the cages. A few were pried apart and broken."
One of the mages came over at Sumner's gesture and crouched. He studied the circle for a moment then stood. "Shaman if I had to make a guess. Not someone familiar with Wraith. I think they tried to treat them like spirits rather than demons."
"If the Genii had a technomage, we'd have heard about it before now," Sumner reasoned. He plucked one of the metal gears from Rodney's hand then tossed it on a nearby table. "They keep in touch with one another even if they don't talk to anyone else. Quinn would have told us."
"Search the room. If they're not here they're someplace else." Elizabeth swept down the hall, her dark coat billowed in her wake.
Sumner followed, using an electric lamp to help him see. "Elizabeth. Wait!"
"You should remain with the rest."
"Lorne and Stackhouse have it covered." He walked ahead of her. "What are we walking into?"
"I don't know," Elizabeth snapped, walking around him. Sumner followed. They passed a series of cells, some of which had been broken open from the inside, others had been sealed with brick and mortar. More bodies lay on the ground Elizabeth scowled at a few. They were human, not Genii. "I haven't seen anything like this before." Never. In her heart she knew who was responsible. Kolya. She stopped her angry stride then took a deep breath, trying to find calm.
Sumner stood beside her. "We haven't seen John's body-" Elizabeth's hand shot out and impacted with the nearest wall. The brickwork crumbled. Sumner continued to speak as if she hadn't reacted at all. "Teyla's right. All this happened weeks ago." Elizabeth struck again and the metal door behind the bricks crumpled off its hinges and careened into the cell. "McKay should be able to give us a good idea about what's going on, but they abandoned the experiments here. Which means they took John and their pet Wraith someplace else."
"Kolya's behind this. Cowan dislikes magic." Elizabeth scowled at her surroundings and mused to herself, "Where did they go?" She began to knock down the doors with single-minded focus, searching for any sort of sealed lab or cache of information.
Lorne rounded the corner, gun drawn. Sumner silently waved him back. Evan watched Elizabeth effortlessly break down another door then nodded, holstering his weapon and slipping back down the passage.
Sumner followed her until the passageway ended in an empty room filled with the remains of some crates. "Is Kolya the type to leave anything behind?" Sumner asked, stepping easily over the last of the hallways rubble, his coat keeping the masonry dust swirling in the stale air.
"Then we need to find an answer elsewhere."
Elizabeth stiffened then her shoulders slumped, both reactions minute and controlled, but spoke volumes about her true mental state. "I don't know where to look."
"Well, we could- we could see what McKay is hollering about." Sumner turned as McKay ran in, Teyla on his heels. McKay slipped on some of the stone and Teyla grabbed his elbow, keeping him from falling to the ground.
"We have to go back!"
"Why's that McKay?"
"Well we got a message and it's obvious no one's here, so we need to head back to Atlantis." McKay pointed over his shoulder. "So let's go."
Elizabeth slipped around Sumner to confront Rodney. "What message?"
McKay's eyes widened. "The one we just heard we got from Atlantis?"
Teyla smoothly stepped in to clarify. "Charles sent another ship with word from the city. Davos would like to speak with you. He says he has had a vision. He knows how to find the Genii."
Sumner snorted, "Well that's damned convenient. Now he tells us he knows where these psychos are."
Elizabeth was pulling on her dark mask in preparation for heading to the surface. "It's something."
John peered out of the dim corner he'd been hiding in. He took in the horrific sights before him with a small shudder. Radek and Miko had superior night vision and could easily navigate the dark tunnels with hardly any light. John had been forced to trust them further as they led him by the hand and helped him navigate. The relief he'd felt at finally leaving those dark places proved to be short lived as he looked at the room in front of him.
There was a machine which dominated most of the space, illuminated by the only light in the room. Huge towers with sparks arching between them were on either side, humming with electrical power. A magical circle of some kinds had been etched into several interlocking rings, each on a different axis, creating a huge metal cage around the creature in the center of the machine. She was a young queen, barely out of adolescence John supposed. Physically she was between the dead ones John had seen back in the hive in America. She was connected to tubes and wires which ran from her body to the outside of the machine. Like the Seneschal, she'd been bolted into the metal. She hissed anemically at Dahlia who was working on a console at the edge of the machine. the Genii ignored her, obviously used to such sights by now.
The Genii turned dials and threw a lever, then picked up a clip board and watched the results. The Queen shuddered and screamed as the machine moved her limbs and pumped drugs and electricity into her body. A sack dropped onto the ground under her and a conveyor belt moved the egg-sack to a receiving bin at the edge of the machine. The Genii motioned in two others to remove the egg-sack then set her clipboard down and returned the machine to its previous status. John had to quell a feeling of pity for the demon who, it seemed, had lost consciousness somewhere in the process. They waited for a few moments longer.
Radek slid over the side of the tunnel's mouth into the room. "I believe is safe now."
"There are guards in this room but the next tunnel is on the other side." Miko cautioned. She took his hand and John followed her down a path he couldn't quite see.
"You lead, I'll follow."
Radek called up softly to warn them. "Careful. Path is slippery."
Once on the ground John could see his footing far better than in the tunnels. Radek led the way as they crossed the room, moving from one looming machine to the next. There were many dead, dying or otherwise unconscious Wraith here, all higher castes. Miko paused by one machine, distracted by the controls before John and Radek realized she was missing and backtracked to retrieve her. John pulled Radek off the next distraction before they lost more time. Radek bobbed a nod of thanks then resumed leading the way across the cavernous space. There were guards watching from catwalks and the group had to avoid them. Radek and Miko seemed to have their movements memorized, though. John followed as they wove a twisting path to avoid the guards, pausing at intervals to avoid the patrols.
John knew it couldn't last. It was too easy. The far door slammed open and Todd skittered in on spindly legs, the roar of gunfire following him. The lights switched on and the group was immediately spotted by Genii on the catwalks. John swore and dove for cover, dragging Miko behind him. Radek dove for the nearest machine, quickly disappearing under the dead and bloated body of some Queen who'd come to a bad end. John fired back at their captors, splitting their attention between him and Todd.
The Wraith had been busy. John caught a glance of his arms covered in the blood of Genii. The Vampires had got their own licks in though. Heavy, anchor-like metal, spikes had caught in his chitin armor. The spikes were attached to chains, some of which were broken but others were still intact, trailing after the demon. Todd froze in the sudden light then roared at his attackers. He pulled on one of the chains that trailed him and the Genii who'd been holding the metal flew into the air. Todd caught him. Todd's lower jaw split wide and the unfortunate Genii's face was engulfed by the Wraith. Todd ate his soul. The Genii poured on weapons fire, but the Wraith didn't seem to be bothered while he was feeding. It took only moments but when he was done, he dropped the withered husk of the Vampire to the ground and flung black fire at his attackers.
"Okay, I think we need to leave." John looked around for the tunnel and for cover from the fire from above.
"The tunnel is there!" Miko pointed to a dim corner of the vast room. A small hole could just be made out, a darker spot in the shadows. Radek's hiding spot was close enough he could probably make it.
John waved Radek forward. "Go if you can!"
"I can't leave you!"
John was fairly certain Radek was speaking to Miko specifically. He waved the Vampire onward. "Go. People will be looking for me! Find them!"
"Radek! Go!" Miko tossed something gold across the space which embedded itself into the metal floor by Radek's hand. He took the gold star then fished out the stone from his pocket and lobbed it across the space. Miko caught it and tied the cord around her neck.
Radek looked at them then nodded once. He crept to the edge of the corpse and John fired on the only guard who could get a clear shot at the Scientist. The Genii ducked and in that moment Radek sprinted toward the tunnel. The guard stood and John shot him down. With any luck, no-one else had seen Radek escape. John checked on Todd's progress. The others had woken and were struggling against their bonds, howling weakly. Todd had a pile of corpses at his feet now, each one a Genii John didn't have to deal with. He was trying to get to the Queen in the larger machine and the center of the room, but the Genii had brought in a heavily armored mech. Miko winced.
"You made that?" John asked.
Miko nodded. "Radek and I sabotaged most of the rest. That one's an older design." She wrinkled her nose at it in disdain.
"Old or not, it's still holding up to Todd."
"It was built to stand up. In- in case they escaped."
"Lovely. Ideas on how to get out?"
Miko looked around as John reloaded his weapon. John slid the cartridge home then shot at the Genii who'd been trying to sneak up on them. Miko grabbed his shoulder. "John? You must stop them from doing this."
"I know, but I think we should get some backup don't you?"
"I do not think we have time,"
"Yes but you will not like it."
John scowled as he fired at one of the Genii who'd been trying to cross the room. "I hate when people say things like that. Let's hear- what's this?"
Miko finished shoving the folded piece of parchment into his pants pocket. "This is a map. I'm giving you a light."
John felt her slip a metal pendant on a chain over his head. "You know a light would have been nice earlier."
"Radek and I could see and we might have been caught. We don't have a choice now."
"Oh no," John shot a glare in her direction as she began to scramble out of cover. "You are not going."
"He will not kill me. I am too valuable."
"You sure about that?"
"Fairly." Miko smiled nervously. "Keep hidden."
John grabbed her arm. "Wait!" He held her back intending to keep her close when the Wraith above them woke with a roar. "Move!" he shoved her out of the machine towards coder that was less angry and less alive. They huddled under a dead Seneschal while a guard on the catwalk fired into the corpse, hoping to the fugitives below. "We're sticking together! What options do we have that don't involve being recaptured. Think!"
Miko peeked out from under the body and jumped back when a bullet impacted the metal in front of her. "Not many. There is another tunnel that way." She indicated the direction. "We could try to follow Radek?"
John eyes the expanse. The Genii and Todd were between them and that escape, the battle having moved across the room as Todd tried to reach his goal. "We're not getting through that fight. How about the way we came?" John reloaded his weapon.
"There are guards."
"That settles it then." John fired at the Genii attacking them then dragged Miko behind him as he scrambled out of cover and sprinted down the room in the direction she'd indicated. "Where is it?"
Miko dashed ahead and jumped into a hole in the wall. She reached down and grabbed John's hand then easily hauled him up behind her. John let out a surprised breath as he collapsed onto the tunnel floor. Miko was already moving onward in a half crouch. John got to his hands and knees and followed her. The sound of the Genii and the angry Wraith grew more muted as she led them on a twisting escape route. Finally she stopped.
John collided with her shoulder. "Sorry." He sat down and fished out the small light she'd given him. He felt around then flicked it on. It filled the small, smooth chamber with a warm yellow light. Miko untucked a small crystal from her shirt. It glowed a weak blue in her hand.
"What do we do now?" she asked.
John looked back the way they'd come then sighed as he rested against the stone wall. "Well, we can sit tight and wait for reinforcements to come. We can keep moving to avoid capture. We can try to escape again."
"They will find us if we sit here. That tunnel and the front entrance are the only ways we can get out. Unless you can fly up an airshaft that is set at ninety-degrees and half a mile long."
"Can't fly. I know someone who can, but I can't." He sighed and looked over the remaining ammunitions and weaponry he had. "Looks like we keep moving." He began to reorganize his weapons for the next encounter then paused, smirking as a thought came to him.
"If the Genii are busy with the Wraith, they're not going to be able to find us easily."
Miko opened her mouth to speak then closed it as she considered the problem. "I believe you are right."
"Do you know where we can hit them?"
She smiled. "It so happens that I do."
The Travelers parted for her as she strode through their camp, lips curled in sneers. Curious children were pulled back into tents or into the dark portals of the huge Ancient ship they called home. She hardly gave them a thought, intent only on following the Larrin and her father to Davos' tent. Larrin's body language loudly proclaimed she was extremely angry Elizabeth was there, but Elizabeth found she didn't care. She pushed aside the heavy flaps and found the interior pleasantly dark.
"Thank you for coming, Lady," the Seer greeted as he rose from his chair. Larrin bristled out of the corner of her eye, immediately making Elizabeth more wary. They clasped hands over the small table he'd been seated at. "I have taken precaution so that we might speak face to face." He indicated the heavy tent flaps and the dark area.
Elizabeth cautiously unbuckled the one glove then, not feeling the agony of sun on her skin, she removed the other then her mask. "Thank you." She restrained herself from asking further questions.
"Take my hand, so that I might show you what I have seen."
"Human magics do not often work well on my kind."
The old man lifted a busy brow, eyes twinkling with mischief. "Who said my gift was human?" he asked in a low tone.
Intrigued but watchful, Elizabeth carefully took his hand. In an instant she could see a mountainside, hazy with mist. A man in a dark outfit was staggering through the underbrush. His hooded head looked wildly around as she tried to keep his footing on the steep slope. The mist cleared and Elizabeth caught a glimpse of higher peaks behind him. The image changed and Elizabeth could hear screams of agony; a woman's voice but she didn't recognize her. Then there was John, bloody, beaten, clearly fed on but still alive. Kolya held him by the neck. Then the vision ended and Elizabeth let out a rush of air.
Elizabeth sat back in her seat, dazed. "How do-" she shook her head abruptly, trying to make the vision lose some of its power. "Who was that man at the beginning?" She began to replace her gloves.
"That I do not know, but I do know he will lead you to what you seek." Davos indicated Larrin. "I know the mountains behind him. Find this man and we may yet save our people. Larrin."
Larrin took Davos' hand and froze, caught in a vision. Elizabeth wondered if it was intentional or not. Davos calm expression as Larrin snatched her hand away and stormed out of the tent didn't answer it either way. A sliver of sunlight hit her neck and Elizabeth hissed in unexpected pain. The flap draped down again, but she glared at it.
"My apologies," Emmeret said, rising with fearful eyes.
"No harm done." Elizabeth held up a placating hand. And rose, affixing her mask securely in place. "If there are to me more conferences between our people, we'll gift you with proper lightfast tents. Where are we to go?"
"Larrin will show you," Davos replied as he stood. "She is unhappy but knows her duty." He caught Elizabeth's wrist as she turned away. "Lady, you must hurry or we will all die."
Elizabeth nodded once then left.
John slid out of the tunnel shaft and landed in the hallway. Miko quickly opened a room, easily foiling the complicated lock on the door. John follower her into a sparsely decorated room. There was a small worn bed and a much better kept drafting table as well as a workbench and a battered chest, but nothing else. Miko opened the chest then pulled out a box and flipped the lid open, revealing gauze and bandages. She easily lifted a heavy marble basin of water and set it on the table beside the box.
"You should clean those cuts and re-wrap them before we move on," she suggested.
John nodded. "Good idea. Your room?"
"Is this wise?"
"They won't look for us in here. Not yet."
"You've escaped before?"
"Once. We were discouraged from doing so again."
She pulled aside heavy stones from the wall as if they were nothing, using the same unnatural strength that had allowed her to carry the heavy, chipped basin. John carefully wet his shoulder to loosen the dried blood, watching her out of the corner of his eye. She removed an ornate box. At first he thought the front was an intricate carving until she began to disassemble the wood pieces, revealing it was a very intricate lock.
When the box was unlocked, she withdrew a small knife with broken cross-guard. The design wasn't anything like John had seen before, straight and simple with a leather wrapped hilt. She checked the blade then tied the sheath to her waist. Next she removed a small pendant. A curl of dark hair was suspended in the glass. Finally she removed a fine piece of cloth which had once been brightly colored but had dulled with dirt and age. She unwrapped the bundle then repacked the frilly child's dress and covering fabric into a smaller package.
"I did not have time to get these before," she explained. "I am thankful for the opportunity. How is your arm?"
"I'll live. I think." John winced as some of the clotted blood stuck painfully. John wondered if she knew any of Elizabeth's healing tricks, but then realized she'd probably have offered before now. "The dress belong to someone else we need to save?" he asked, sensing he could be skirting a delicate subject.
"No. They can't hurt her anymore."
"You don't know how to heal someone with a spell, right?" John asked to fill the awkward silence.
"No. Only a few of the Genii can do spells and they never taught me."
"Just a thought. So, ideas? I mean for keeping things busy? You said you thought you knew where to hit them?" John felt tired and wondered how much they'd drained him.
Miko helped him re-wrap his arm. "Yes. I know where they keep much of their equipment, how their systems work, where they get their power, where the central armor is, everything."
"Any of those sound like good places to-" John and Miko both froze when they heard yelling in the corridor. The sound retreated and both relaxed.
"I also know where the controls for the Wraith restraints are."
John grinned. "That is either a very bad or a very good idea. Let's keep them busy."
John slipped back into the tunnels while Miko quickly replaced everything in the room then ducked outside. She resealed the door then they slipped back into the tunnel they'd used to enter this wing of the complex. She slipped past him and John followed using memory and sound to guide him.
"Do you know many vampires?" Miko asked.
John followed the sound of her voice and her soft footsteps. "A couple. The leader of the expedition I'm a part of is one. She has an apprentice."
"Do you know them well? Are all Genii the same?"
"I don't know. I've only met the ones here."
Miko lit her small light and changed direction. "But you said you knew two?"
John blinked a few times before he understood what she was saying. "Oh! Not all Vampires are Genii. Elizabeth says the Genii are considered rogues and outcasts." John caught himself before he said anything further.
"There are Vampires other than the Genii? We do not have any in my home and Radek thought they were myth before he was captured. Cowan and Kolya never mentioned others around us. What's she like?"
"What's who like?"
John wasn't paying attention and his head against a low ceiling. "Ow. Why are these so short?" Who built these places anyway."
"They were called the Asgard. I think they were some kind of troll. This way."
"So where are you from, anyway?"
"In English, Japan."
John blinked. That was ever further away than China. Maybe. Elizabeth would have known, he felt certain. He made a note to ask her once they go out of here alive. "How'd you end up here?"
"That is a long and boring story. Careful this next section had some structural damage."
John carefully climbed over the fallen masonry. "How long have you been with Radek?"
"Since he survived turning. He was someplace else before then. We are close." Miko switched off the light. "Follow me. The controls are along the wall."
"I'll take out the guards and you'll release the Wraith."
"There!" Ronon pointed at a patch of dark near one of the small trees on the hillside.
Evan worked the controls and the ship turned gracefully. Rodney's ship followed his lead, but it was clear McKay didn't have the finesse with the controls Lorne did. The ships settled on the ground in a fairly flat area. Elizabeth and Ronon led the way cautiously approaching the sprawled figure. There was blood on the stones. He was breathing so he wasn't dead.
Elizabeth motioned for the others to stay back. "Hello?" The figure whirled on his back, a gun drawn, but Elizabeth had already moved to the side, the tip of one sword against his throat. The gun wavered in the air then dropped.
"Please do not kill me." He tossed the gun away. Ronon took it and removed the ammo. "Are you Atlantis expedition?" the man asked.
Behind her mask, Elizabeth's eyes narrowed. "Who asks?"
"My name is Radek Zelenka. John Sheppard helped me escape Genii. He said you would be looking for him."
Elizabeth sheathed her swords. "Bring him." She watched as Rodney and Ronon hauled out on the tents the Scientist had made.
Rodney touched the center of the tent then hurried away as the device opened itself, cogs and gears working, draping heavy dark cloth and extending support poles. It wasn't pretty but it unpacked and packed itself and, most importantly it blocked the sun completely. Given his clothing, it seemed likely that the man in Davos' vision was a Vampire.
The tent finished opening, resulting in an ungainly looking construction. Evan and Teyla helped Zelenka inside. He was limping and still frightened but seemed to be otherwise unhurt. Elizabeth followed the group inside and sat on one of the camp chairs Evan had set up. Teyla pushed Radek into another chair, removed his hood then examined a dirty cut on his cheek. He eyed her warily but let her check him for injury.
Elizabeth spoke into the silence, throwing authority into the pitch of her voice. "I want to know everything about the Genii base."
Radek looked at her with wide, frightened eyes before he reached up and straightened his glasses. "Is in the mountains, not too far from here. Area is riddled with tunnels. We think of Asgard make but is not important. Guards sit at tunnel entrance"
Elizabeth watched him behind the dark glass of her mask as he began to tell her everything he knew about the base. She'd find John then deal with Kolya.
The stone tunnels echoed with the howls of Wraith and Genii. John could hardly hear them over the sound of blood rushing in his ears. Each beat of his heart seemed to block out the sound of his labored breathing.
"I don't think," John heaved, "that they're following us."
"No." Miko agreed. "I believe they were eaten."
"You'd think Wraith would be more thankful. We did free them."
"True," Miko stopped and leaned against the wall, hands on her knees as she too caught her breath, "However they are demons." She'd been quiet since they'd released most of the holding cells.
"Point." John listened for signs of pursuit, but the Genii who'd been chasing them had either been lost or killed. John checked his guns. "Next I think we should hit the armory."
The shuttles descended through the clouds, following Radek's directions. Elizabeth stood between the pilot and co-pilot's chairs, a hand on the back of the copilot's seat to steady her herself in the occasionally turbulent air. Night was falling again, early with the high mountains and dense clouds to cover the sun. They landed in fields close to where Radek had indicated. One shuttle with a single pilot had been dispatched to Atlantis for reinforcements, the bulk of the party was crammed into the single remaining airship.
Sumner organized their people into assault teams. Elizabeth paced the edge of the clearing, senses focused and alert for Genii assault. She slowed her circuit of the landing site and fell into step with Sumner.
"Elizabeth. Thank you for your help."
She quirked an eyebrow. "With?"
"The search and rescue of course." He settled his gun. "We're going to get him back." Sumner scowled at the ominous entrance to the mountain, hidden by tall pines. Sumner seemed to be taking John's capture personally. He went to speak with Lorne who was in charge of hiding the airship as no-one else had been able to figure out how John could make the ship invisible.
Elizabeth watched the nearly hidden entrance, eying where there defenses could be, and wondering what might be happening to John. Had he been recaptured? Killed? Radek had been sparse on the details by necessity, but she now knew what Kolya was doing and it seemed he'd decided John was some integral part of the process to create a superior Bola Kai.
She was underequipped and they were undermanned, but they had to strike now. Not only were lives inside the mountain at stake, but lives in North America. Latest word from the Union was that while some hives had pulled back, others were rampaging across territories and states, killing everything in their path. The Confederacy was hit as well and the population whipped into an Anti-Union and Anti-Canadian frenzy which did not help matters in the least.
"Think he's still alive?" Larrin asked as she stepped up beside Elizabeth.
"They need him. They won't kill him but they won't let him go easily."
"You certain about that?"
Elizabeth eyed her askance. "Fairly. If they have him, they won't let him go without a fight."
"Then they're going to get a fight." She settled her weapons with overconfident assurance.
"You have no idea what you're going to be fighting in there, follow me."
Larrin glared. "I've fought your kind before. They fall easily enough to a well placed blade. He'll likely have seen things in there." Larrin smiled. "You should follow me. If he's wandering around in the dark, he'd be less likely to attack another human."
Behind her mask, Elizabeth arched a wry brow and thought Larrin throwing a gauntlet in her face would have been simpler than this verbal dance. "Between the two of us, I think he'll want to see me more."
"You think that likely?"
"I know it," she grinned ferally behind the sturdy leather. A quick glance at Sumner and his look of conformation and she was off, jumping down a small embankment. Ronon and Teyla on her heels, their soft footfalls chasing her wake.
They took out the guards around the entrance with quiet efficiency. Elizabeth waited only long enough to see Larrin, Sumner and Lorne break through the treeline before she, Teyla and Ronon moved ahead. The main tunnels were lit by electric light and showed the smooth construction of the Asgard. Deep within the complex, Elizabeth could hear the sounds of fighting. She paused waiting for the rest of the team. Even though her heart screamed at her to run forward, to find John, to kill Kolya, to stop this madness, she waited in accordance with the plan.
"Wraith," Ronon growled. His hackles rose as he looked down one long passageway. He shrugged off the calming hand Teyla placed on his shoulder.
Larrin ran in at the head of the group. She wore a scowl which Elizabeth matched behind her mask. The Traveler joined the forward guard, a sword in one hand and a heavy revolver in the other. She started to speak when a shot rang out in the cavernous entrance. The group scattered, seeking cover behind huge stone pillars which supported the vaulted ceiling. Larrin ended up behind one, Elizabeth and Teyla behind a second and Ronon behind a third.
Teyla's ears flicked back. She indicated a dark corner with a nod of her head. "The shot came from there. Vampire. I can take him out."
At Elizabeth's slight indication, Teyla darted around the pillar with a snarl. Ronon moved to follow, but Elizabeth waved him back, indicated he should follow her instead. A bullet impacted with the floor, sending up a cloud of dirt and stone. Teyla leapt away, ducking around another thick pillar. Bullets impacted the sides, sending shards of stone onto the floor. She looked around then began to climb up, sinking heavy claws into the stone where she couldn't find sufficient purchase. She jumped from one pillar to the other, barely avoiding being shot, then into the darkness. A dark-haired Genii with a gun rolled out, grappling with Teyla.
Elizabeth recognized him as Tyrus, one of Kolya's lieutenants. The rest of the group was engaging Genii at the entrance but far fewer than Elizabeth had expected. Elizabeth motioned to Ronon then raced deeper into the complex. Larrin followed with an annoyed growl.
John shot off the last lock on the cell then looked inside. Bones hung from the wall and in a pile on the ground. "Empty."
"This one as well," Miko answered.
It had taken some convincing to get her to beat down the doors using her superior strength. John smiled. They'd freed some of the captives who were now following behind them; men and women taken from Traveler clans or from remote villages like Radek had been. When Elizabeth came, he'd help them all escape and Elizabeth could help Miko and Radek.
A Wraith bellowed down the hall, one of the Seneschals if the deep bass was any indication. The captives huddled together in terror behind him. They'd slowed John and Miko's reign of destruction, but John hadn't been able to leave any prisoners they'd come across.
"This way!" John had found that if he spoke with authority, the people listened.
"Careful" Miko's smiles were small now, as her slightly pointed teeth terrified the escaping prisoners. She'd learned that the hard way with the first group they'd freed. Miko led the way, lifting her light when they passed through sections where the electricity had failed or the lights had been destroyed.
"Remember, when we get to the tunnel to the outside, right then left then right twice." John helped an older woman down some steps then checked the cross ways. Gunfire echoed down the hall opposite where they were headed. He listened for sounds that there were intruders, but the general ruckus didn't indicate anything other than the Genii using guns and the occasional heavy Mech against the Wraith he and Miko had freed.
John led the way down the hall and into the ruined room where Todd's Queen had been. The machine was now empty as were many others as Seneschals had come by to free their own Queens. There were many carcasses still trussed to the machines, some of which had been overturned in the chaos. John stood guard as Miko showed the captives the way.
This was of course when their luck ran out.
A shot impacted the wall then Miko's shoulder. She fell to her knees in a cry of surprise and pain. John dropped behind an overturned machine and returned fire until his gun was empty. John reached for another cartridge of ammo but came up empty.
"I'm out! Miko, do you have any ammo? Miko?"
John looked up into the face of Radim and had a moment of panic before the Genii's fist connected with his jaw and the world went black."
John woke suddenly, his cheek stinging with the final slap. Radim smirked at him and stood back from the table John was strapped to. John's vision swam as he looked around, wondering what had happened to Miko. He found her strapped to another stable, her face bruised and bloody, breathing and mercifully unconscious. Kolya's face loomed into John's view. Lacking other options, John tried to spit in his face, but only managed a hacking cough.
"You've been extremely costly," Kolya mused. "You and your little friend here." He walked over to Miko and whispered something in her ear. John felt the brush of Vampire magic and Miko woke with a strangled scream. "Miko," he stroked her hair, "You've been such a bad girl."
"Leave her alone," John ground out.
"I think not. I think I might remind her who she belongs to," Kolya stroked her hair and Miko winced away as best she could in her bonds, terrified. "I didn't think we'd have to have this talk again, Miko. I don't like giving second chances. So the question becomes, who gets punished first?"
"I made her do it!"
"I doubt that. Despite her usually pathetic appearance, this little kitsune has teeth when she gets backed into a corner. Where is Radek?"
"I- I don't know. He abandoned us."
Kolya flicked his wrist, the gesture directing a rush of power and a deep cut suddenly appeared across Miko's abdomen. She cried in pain, but John saw the cut could have been much deeper; Kolya was toying with her. He watched as the wound began to heal before his eyes and realized Kolya could very nearly mortally wound Miko all day and she would heal too fast to die. Another smooth cut appeared on her leg, flaying the flesh to the bone. John recognized the attack with sudden clarity. The mutilated Wraith in that first Hive had looked like that and…Elizabeth had been teaching Chuck that as well.
"Interesting." Kolya walked over to John then flicked his wrist again, this time the slash appeared across Miko's cheek, coming dangerously close to her eye. "You do recognize this. What is the name of the Negotiator you know."
"I don't know what you're talking abou-" John bit back a cry as an unseen force slammed into John's leg. He was sure he felt something crack, but it was hard t think past the pain.
"You do. Come now! There aren't many of those misguided civil servants around. No? Pity." The force slammed into John's chest this time, audibly cracking ribs. "You have me curious now." He gestured without Power this time and the table John was strapped to was tilted downwards. Kolya examined some sharp implements on a nearby tray as John's head swam again. Sora smirked at him then locked the table in place before sashaying away.
"If you will not tell me anything, then it seems your usefulness has come to an end. All my Scientists need is your blood and you've proven too troublesome to keep alive." Kolya set down the knife with a grin. "I think I'd like you to see what you helped create, what you will help create, though."
He whistled and a pair of Genii entered, a mutated creature covered in glowing sigils between them. It looked more human than the Bola Kai, but the transformation was so shocking it took John a minute to recognize Aiden Ford.
The young man had become a monster. His was mottled red-black with long limbs, fingers and claws. His sigils glowed and eight, white, spider-like eyes stared at John from Aiden's forehead. Tusks now jut out of Aiden's lower jaw and his teeth had become sharp and translucent.
"This," Kolya gestured to Aiden, who snapped at his guards, "is what I have wrought with your blood, the missing ingredient. Thank you," Kolya mocked. Then he slit John's neck.
John gasped in pain. He'd been sure Kolya wasn't going to actually kill him. John looked over when Miko sobbed to see what they were doing to her, and hissed in pain as the wound moved. Miko was fine, reacting to his injury.
The wound on his neck felt hot then cold then hot again as blood rushed out of his body and down the side of his face in time with his heart-beats. It ran into his hair before it collected in a basin below his head. John tried to think calm thoughts to keep his heart from racing, to slow his death just that much more, but a cold fist of terror settled low in his belly, driving his heart rate back up. It was a small wound, but he knew he didn't have much time. John began to black out.
The door was blasted apart and John's eyes snapped open. At first he thought he might be dead, but then Ronon and Larrin joined the angelic appearance of Elizabeth and John knew they'd come to rescue him. The Genii unleashed the Bola Kai that had once been Aiden Ford. Larrin and Ronon moved to fight it. Elizabeth lifted her mask to face Kolya and John distantly heard the Genii leader chuckle.
"Weir. I'd heard you were chasing fantasy someplace"
Elizabeth ignored Kolya, instead attacking him directly. John watched as Kolya met her, steel clashing with steel in an intricate dance of precision which roughly contrasted with Larrin, Ronon and Aiden's more primal fight. Aiden seemed to be impervious to the bullets from Larrin's gun so she fought him with steel and Ronon with claw.
Kolya and Elizabeth exchanged spells, their voices carried the essence of the Ancient words on cool, cutting winds, punctuated by thunderclaps where they deflected one another with shields. John clung to the idea that he was feeling cold and his head full of cotton because there was so much magic in the room. If he succumbed to the sensations he thought he might die. Something warm and moist drew his attention to Aiden.
"L'kout!" He managed to call, directing his words to Ronon.
The Werewolf's ear twitched and he dove out of the way as Aiden breathed black flames at his attackers. Ronon ran over to John and cut his bonds with quick slashes of his claws. "The hell is that thing?" he asked as he helped John down to the floor. Ronon ripped at John's shirt.
John looked at the blood he'd already lost and weakly helped Ronon press something against the cut on his neck. "S'Aiden."
"Ford," John managed, looking over at Aiden. "N'fremiko."
"You're telling me that thing is what they did to Ford? That's the kid?" Ronon looked back as the creature that had once been Aiden Ford scrambled across the ground like a misshapen spider. He sprang into the air and landed on the other side of Larrin with gaping jaws and solid white eyes.
John nodded then pointed at Miko. "Help."
Ronon quickly freed Miko and helped her to sit beside John. She reached over and helped John hold the compress against his neck. John hissed in pain, but kept her hand against his neck when she tried to pull away in apology.
Larrin yelled as Aiden's claws caught her across the back. Ronon ran to reenter the fight and John could hear him trying to explain that she was facing Aiden. Their conversation between attacks was cut off as Elizabeth and Kolya's battle drifted back to this part of the room. The stone shook and debris rained down under the force of their spells. John felt like he was being buffeted by magical winds made of small needles.
Elizabeth had been trying to keep Kolya away from John who was bleeding profusely. The pool under him had been alarmingly large. She could smell his blood from the hallway. Furiously, she struck at Kolya's swords. The blades, mirrors of her own, held steady against her assault.
"I have not had the pleasure of exchanging blows with you for some time, child."
Elizabeth ignored him and struck out with a quick combination intended to disembowel an opponent then decapitate. Kolya held her off but she could see he was straining to look so nonchalant.
"What? The little Negotiator has no words?"
She flicked her blade and knocked one of his weapons aside. Kolya retaliated with a fist to her jaw. The touch of his skin to hers sent a disgusting shockwave through her system. Like John, Kolya was compatible to her and the Ancient magic resonated along her spine like a plucked bowstring. The momentary distraction allowed Kolya to retrieve his weapon.
"I'd wondered where he'd learned what our magic feels like, where he'd heard my name. Now I have that answer." Kolya idly twirled his left sword. "You've been playing in North America. How quaint."
Elizabeth retaliated with a concussive spell that knocked Kolya several inches into the back wall. Kolya sprang to his feet and glared for half a second before the glint in his eye became calculating. He began to blast the pillars supporting the room. Elizabeth caught the falling debris and tossed it aside with levitation. Kolya focused his efforts over John and the fight with Aiden, switching between locations, trying to trip Elizabeth's concentration. Heavy steel girders began to fall around them. What Elizabeth couldn't catch clattered to the ground with a sound as loud as the spell casting had been.
John watched her begin to tire under the strain of Kolya's attack. She was chanting under her breath to maintain the magical energy that seemed to be holding half the ceiling up. John looked around carefully and saw a downed Genii guard, his gun still in his hand. John tried to reach it with his foot but it was too far. Miko grabbed it and pressed it into his bloody hand then returned to pushing the sopping cloth against his neck. John aimed for Kolya who was focused on Elizabeth and fired.
Kolya moved at the last moment with a hiss, but John's bullet had grazed him. Kolya rounded on John, teeth elongated in fury when Elizabeth shoved the debris to one side then retaliated.
"Renatil!" Elizabeth slashed with her blades using the movement and clarity of thought to help empower the attack. The spell caught Kolya in the shoulder and nearly cut through the stone pillar he stood in front of. Kolya's face darkened in rage and he retaliated with a flurry of concussive spells and lightning quick strikes with his still useful arm. Elizabeth took a few steps back under the barrage, grinning. "You lose control, Kolya. Focus."
"I have perfect control!" he caught his anger, visibly suppressed with surprising speed. Still, he'd shown a chink in his armor. "All this plays into my plans."
"Likely," Elizabeth mocked.
"Indeed it does, and your little playmate is no longer needed." Kolya fled from her with inhuman speed.
Miko barely had time to squeak before John was pulled to his feet and propelled across the room. John blacked out for a moment and suddenly found himself being held by his neck on the room's catwalk.
"Stop or he dies."
John could feel the burning press of Kolya's sword against his throat and feel the wound on his neck pulse with each heartbeat. Elizabeth watched him with wide eyes. John tried to convey that his life wasn't as important as stopping this monster, but he wasn't sure she got the message through the pain he was feeling. His world was going cold and fuzzy, the only heat he could feel was the steel cutting into his skin and he was having trouble with time. Things were slowing and speeding up unnaturally. He felt dizzy.
Elizabeth glared at Kolya. "You'll kill him anyway," she accused.
"True. But you have a choice to make, child. You're so weak you can't do both so choose wisely. Save him or kill me."
Elizabeth's eyes flicked from John to Kolya and back. She could save her lover or she could kill Kolya. The decision was surprisingly easy, though she knew it should have been hard. Kolya seemed to sense her mind and drew the blade across John's neck, shoving him into a heap on the metal.
Elizabeth leaped onto the catwalk but the sword had done its work and Kolya was already off into the darkness. John gasped for breath, distantly recognizing the gurgling sound as his own efforts to breathe. Elizabeth placed her hand on his throat and he could feel the skin and underlying tissues begin to heal back together. He coughed, tasting blood. There was shouting in the caves and he could feel Wraith magics on the floor as Ronon and Larrin continued to fight Aiden. Sound was strangely absent, unable to penetrate the fog of pain. He watched over Elizabeth's shoulder as Larrin struck out with her swords, a dark expression on her face. The creature that had been, could have still been, Adien Ford, died under her blade.
Elizabeth focused on healing the gash at John's throat. She wasn't trained for this sort of delicate work so she threw all her energy into the healing she did know and plryed it would be enough. The horrible sucking sound ceased but John's color was still poor and he was cold. He'd passed out, but she could still feel his heartbeat, though it was weak. His breathing was shallow.
Sumner and the rest of the team had followed the path they'd taken here. Elizabeth picked John up and leapt down to the floor, setting him down again and dropping to her knees, exhausted
"What happened to him? What happened to you?" Sumner asked, his eyes flicked around the room, looking for threats.
"Kolya," Elizabeth answered, swaying slightly. Teyla crouched at her side while Sumner looked John over. "He slit John's throat. I think he'd been bled befor that."
"He has." Japanese vampire woman was being supported by Ronon. She had the look of one who'd been beaten, though he cuts on her face seemed to be recently healed so her injury couldn't have been too long ago. "They were bleeding him."
"You are Radek's Miko?" Elizabeth asked.
"Yes. Is he okay?"
"He led us here. We need to get John back to Atlantis."
"Can we move him?" Teyla questioned.
Elizabeth struggled to her feet. "I healed the biggest wound but I want Carson and Jennifer to see him. He's weak." She swayed and Sumner caught her under her arm.
"Woah there. Okay, Ronon, Teyla, you help John out of here." Sumner slipped Elizabeth's arm over his shoulder. "We found most of the Wraith were set free, and we found a group of civilians wandering around. One of the Travelers is leading them out. We haven't seen too many Genii since Teyla killed that rather angry gentleman in the front entrance. We think they're escaping."
"Kolya just left. He was in charge." Elizabeth gasped, feeling a pain she hadn't noticed before."
"Looks like he got a good one in before the end." Sumner carefully pulled aside her long coat and found a gash. "Will the rest of the Genii leave with their leader gone?"
"Good. Then all we have to do is figure out what to do with the Wraith."
Elizabeth winced, feeling the wound gently. It was painful but likely would heal by morning, or sooner if she fed. "Have the Wraith been escaping?"
"No. They've been collecting out front. One of the big males is in charge."
"About twenty Queens and attendant Seneschals. Maybe twenty Mages and about three dozen drones, all from different hives."
"We don't have the resources to deal with a hundred Wraith."
"I know," Sumner and Elizabeth walked around a large piece of fallen masonry. "Which is why we didn't open fire on them. Damndest thing. They want to talk."
"I know. I didn't think they could talk." Sumner looked at her out of the corner of his eye. "Will my guy be okay?"
"I hope so. We need to get him back to Atlantis." Elizabeth picked up their pace until they weren't quite running. The entrance to the cavern had been blown apart sometime after Elizabeth had passed. "What?"
"McKay. Cadman gave him some presents before we left. He panicked when some of the Genii and the Wraith drones came pouring out of the tunnel." Sumner nodded at the group of wounded demons "And there are the lucky survivors and our reinforcements."
A large Seneschal was speaking with Evan Lorne. In the moonlight it looked like he had a large growth on his back. It wasn't until pale hair spilled out from under the blanket that Elizabeth realized he was carrying a small Queen on his back. All of the Wraith present were bleeding and damaged. Tension could be seen in the shoulders of every member of the Atlantis reinforcements. The lead Seneschal looked up when Ronon and John staggered out, the rest close behind.
"Is that one dead?" The Seneschal pointed at John.
"No," Ronon growled at the Demon.
Elizabeth hurried forward, ignoring the deep twinge in her side. She put a restraining hand on Ronon's shoulder. "He is injured. We are taking him home."
The small Queen peered over the Seneschal's shoulder. "He freed us." Her voice was disturbingly child-like.
The Seneschal tucked her back under the blanket gently. "We only wish to use the Gateway to return to our homes."
"My people will let you return home if you cause no problems."
"We will not."
Elizabeth squeezed Sumner's shoulder, indicating he should continue to deal with the Wraith while she answered Teyla. She hurried over to where Ronon, John and Teyla were. "What? What happened?"
"For a moment I lost his pulse. We must do something."
Elizabeth brushed back John's unruly hair and noted that his skin felt cool. She felt for a pulse; it was weak. She stood and looked over at Sumner. The colonel caught her eye and nodded, indicating he had everything under control. "We're going back. Ronon?"
Ronon picked up John again. Teyla raced over to McKay then dragged him along behind her. "You will fly the shuttle. John is gravely injured."
"Me? Why me? Why not Lorne?"
"Evan will be needed here to deal with the Wraith," Elizabeth explained as she ushered McKay into the airship. "And you were closer. Fly."
"What if it doesn't listen to me?"
"It will to save John, now fly."
If the flight from the Gateway had seemed long before, the flight back seemed interminable. Elizabeth crouched beside John as he struggled. Rodney was uncharacteristically silent as he forced the ship to speed to the Gateway. Teyla kept silent vigil from the other bench and Ronon was a hunched shape in the navigator's seat, peering over the back of the chair. He'd remained in his wolf form. His ears were flat against his skull and his tail tucked between his legs, but his eyes burned with fury and worry.
Elizabeth didn't know what Carson could do, but he had to be able to do something. Perhaps Chuck could heal what Carson could not. She was exhausted and couldn't do anything more herself. Beyond the broken leg and potentially other internal injuries and the nasty bit on his shoulder, Elizabeth didn't know what to do about dangerously low blood volume. Elizabeth reached up and brushed her fingers through the hair on the side that was covered in blood. Dried flakes fell off into her hands as she brushed the stiff strands of hair.
Elizabeth's eyes focused on John's. He was fighting to stay conscious.
She leaned close to speak with him. "John. We're bringing you home."
"I'm sorry." John swallowed with effort.
"It is okay," Elizabeth soothed only then realizing he was referring to their earlier fight almost a day before.
"John just rest. We'll be home soon."
"Not okay. Don't want to fight." John winced. "So tired."
"Stay with me," Elizabeth squeezed his hand when his eyes rolled up. "I can't heal you anymore. I- I don't have the energy. You need to wait until we can get you to Carson and Jennifer."
Elizabeth's heart stopped as John's hand grew colder. "John." She shook his shoulder gently. "John!"
"Can't you do anything?" Teyla leaned over John, checking his pulse for himself.
"No. None of the spells I know can help him heal." Elizabeth winced as the wound in her side pulled. It was healing slowly.
"You were injured?"
Elizabeth nodded. "Kolya got a lucky strike in. I didn't even notice it until Mack pointed it out. It should be healed by morning."
"Vampires heal quickly," Teyla mused, latching onto the idea.
"Yes. It takes energy I'll need to replenish."
"Does that healing include bloodloss?"
Elizabeth's eyes widened. "No! I will not do that."
"John," Teyla crouched by John's head. "Elizabeth could turn you."
"It heals injuries rapidly, does it not?"
"Do you wish for John to die?"
"No, of course not!"
"Do it." John looked at Elizabeth. His eyes scrunched in pain as the airship jostled. They opened again and regarded Elizabeth solemnly. "I don't think," he paused to gather strength, "That I have many options," he swallowed painfully. "At this point."
"You don't know what you'd be agreeing to!"
"Think…I've seen…the worst."
Elizabeth's shoulders sagged. She shook her head unwilling to move. "I can't kill you."
"Elizabeth, you will be saving him."
Elizabeth turned anguished eyes back to John, but found his eyes had closed. "John!" Elizabeth touched his face and gently shook his shoulder "John!" She sighed in relief as John groaned and one eye opened slightly.
"Elizabeth, help him!"
"How long until we reach the gateway?" Elizabeth asked Rodney.
"Fifteen minutes?" Rodney replied over his shoulder, the airship jostled as he lost concentration. Rodney's head whipped back to the front viewport.
Elizabeth checked John's pulse again, her breath catching when she could not find it at first. "We're going to need to bind him. Find something," she ordered. Teyla scrambled to find rope or something they could use and Elizabeth returned her attention back to John. She leaned close to his ear. "Forgive me." Elizabeth bit John's lip, raking a sharp fang across his lip. She then slashed her own wrist open and brought it John's mouth, letting the blood drip down his throat and mix with the blood on his lip. Elizabeth closed her eyes and prayed John would survive.
She'd never done this before, though she knew, at least in theory, all she needed to do to infect him with the curse was to having John inject enough of her blood and optimally, have some of hers mix directly with his. It was dangerous with over ninety percent of people unable to survive. The odds were better for John since she knew he was compatible with her, but she still feared he'd go insane or die.
"Don't leave me," she whispered in his ear. "We still have to have that talk."
John coughed. "Yeah." He groaned. "Don't feel so," he trailed off then gasped, his back spasming.
Elizabeth grabbed his shoulders and hauled him to the floor. She winced when he cried out in pain, but she wasn't sure if it was because he'd begun the transformation or if it was because of what Kolya had done to him. Teyla helped her tie down his arms and legs, a task made more difficult ad she writhed on the floor of the airship.
"What's going on back there?" Rodney asked. The ship swayed.
"Keep flying," Teyla snapped back.
Elizabeth crouched near John's head. The cut on his lip had healed, which was a good thing, however he still had to survive the rest. "Stay with me," she whispered when another seizure ended, leaving John panting on the floor of the airship.
He coughed, choking and she loosened the bond on one side to allow him to roll over. He emptied the meager contents of his stomach on the floor. A single tooth floated n the bile and blood. Elizabeth carefully checked his mouth and found a hard point forming under the gum. She hoped that was normal. John seized again and she grabbed his flailing hand to keep it from colliding with anything hard. The muscle in his arm rippled, expanding and contracting under the skin. John moaned and Elizabeth bit her lower lip, helpless to do anything else.
"Rodney! Are we there yet?"
"The Gateway is up ahead! Two minutes!"
"Thank the Gods," Elizabeth murmured as John began to thrash. She held him down and watched as his chest rippled, the broken ribs forcefully pulled back into place.
"That almost looks like when I change," Teyla observed from where she was sitting on John's legs.
"We're stronger than humans. The muscle is breaking and rebuilding. His wounds are healing."
"That is a good sign, correct?"
"It isn't bad. I've never been present before so I don't know the rest."
Teyla reach over and put a hand on her knee briefly before John's entire body arched until only his heels and his head touched the floor. "You will help him through this."
"It is up to him to survive." Elizabeth wiped her eyes. "After that he'll need someone with skills I don't have."
"You won't help him?"
"Oh I will, but I'm not trained for this. He hasn't had any kind of counseling. I don't know what to tell him. I've never been anything else. I don't know what he's giving up."
"It will work out. How long will this take."
Elizabeth held John's shoulders down as he seized again. The hard point had erupted into the tip of a pointed fang. The one on the other side looked loose. Worried he could choke on it when it finally came away Elizabeth pulled gently and it came away in her hand. John howled involuntarily, his mind already lost to the transformation fever. His skin grew hot to the touch in seconds. He quieted, but his muscles continued to seize at random.
"The physical part is extreme but is over very quickly. Then he'll be hungry for the rest of the time."
"I will see we get more livestock."
"We're going in!" Rodney warned.
The airship crossed into the Gateway just as John's other arm broke the rope holding it. Elizabeth caught it and held on. The airship passed into Atlantis, but she only felt a small sense of relief as Rodney landed in the courtyard in front of the Gateway. She and Teyla helped John to his feet. The broken leg was nearly healed, but they held him off it.
As soon as they stepped out of the shade of the airship, John growled and ducked away from the early evening sunlight still streaming through the windows. In reaction every window in Atlantis dimmed to block the sun. Elizabeth exchanged a surprised look over John's shoulders as Carson and Jennifer ran forward.
John woke again. Or perhaps he was still dreaming. He wasn't sure anymore. The room was comfortably dark, but his entire body ached. Over the ache was a profound hunger. John could smell traces of something. He shifted on the bed, sniffing the air. Elizabeth was somewhere close, he could feel her. She was delicious too. There was something else, but his mind was fuzzy. As soon as he ate he'd be able to remember, he was sure.
The door was open. John ducked away from the light until he caught the scent of that same smell. Hunger gnawing at him he dragged himself from bed. Time had ceased to have meaning. He woke, looked for Elizabeth, drank then fell into a fitful sleep. Sometimes he remembered the nightmarish visions, sometimes he didn't. Sometimes he woke to find the bed covered in blood, his or Elizabeth's he wasn't sure, he healed so fast now, and he found he didn't mind at all. He woke and found his new teeth embedded in her shoulder. He woke again, roused by the sound of another man's voice and the cool of magic in the room. He woke and nearly doubled over in pain as his body craved something his mind wouldn't recognize.
It was like there was another him, one who rose up and pushed him aside for awhile, making sometimes making him unaware of the outside world, one who delighted in the blood and suffering. John feared he'd always been there. Twice he'd come back to himself to find he was in the middle of violently fucking Elizabeth. He's pulled away, terrified of the dark bruises against her pale skin. She'd murmured comforting sounds he couldn't really understand. He couldn't speak either. He was trapped behind a veil where time lurched along unevenly, the only constant was the deep hunger.
Elizabeth quickly closed the door, sealing John in the room. He growled in anger. He wanted to hunt, to slake his thirst! Part of a memory buzzed in the back of his mind, trying to remind him of something important, but then he could smell the blood in the pitcher and the dark side took over once more.
"Slowly," Elizabeth cautioned, though John was once again beyond hearing her. She had to hold the pitchers that Chuck brought to them now. John didn't have fine control over his new strength and had crumpled two now. "I'm sorry I've brought this on you." She stroked the side of his cheek and he turned his head into the caress as he had many times before. Then he sank long teeth into her wrist.
"I knew you were going to do that," she muttered. The transformation had robbed him of much of his higher thoughts as well as the ability to speak. She'd been terrified of that, but the expert who'd been rushed in to help John, Radek and Miko, had said it was normal to a point. Elizabeth sighed and sipped from the pitcher. As long as John got what he needed, it didn't matter if it came from her or not. "I bet you're going to want this next," she told him. He removed his teeth from her wrist and grabbed for the pitcher.
Elizabeth let him have it and examined the marks. She healed the wound before the blood could drip on the floor. "I didn't think this would be so tiring for me," she admitted. She wiped her eye. "I hope you come back to me soon. I prefer when you're lucid."
John finished the blood then looked at her with the same hunger. Elizabeth sighed and tugged off her top. The hunger changed subtly, finding a new focus. He touched her, his mouth grazing over the skin of her neck while his hands swept up her sides to cup her breasts. Elizabeth let her head roll back and the sensation take her for a moment. The mystical resonance between them was stronger now. John nuzzled against her neck and she realized he wasn't as hot to the touch as he had been for the past three tiring days. That was a good sign.
She's successfully distracted him from one hunger, changing his focus elsewhere. John's teeth dragged along her skin but didn't sink in. She could feel him hard and hot against her thigh and wrapped her hand around him. John groaned in pleasure and pushed her back towards the bed. Elizabeth pulled him along. She lay back, her muscles aching. It had been a very long three days of dealing with John's nightmarish visions and nearly uncontrollable urges to fight, hunt or fuck. She groaned as John entered her and began to rock against her. Elizabeth ran her fingers up and across his back as he moved with animal passion. His fangs sank into her shoulder ass he came with a muffled roar. He panted and she soothed him with soft sounds until he withdrew from her and leaned back.
Elizabeth wiped away sweat damped hair and found intelligence in John's eyes again. "Hi." She smiled at him, eyes watery.
"What's," John looked around, bewildered. "Elizabeth, I-" he shook his head.
Elizabeth pulled him down onto the bed to lie beside her. "The fever broke," she smiled at him, tracing a light finger over his features.
"I feel like I ran around the city with Ronon on my back." John swallowed with a grimace. "I can't remember everything."
Elizabeth left then returned from the small en-suite bathroom with some water. "Kate said that's normal."
"Did I hurt you?"
"Kate has been sent to help you, Radek and Miko. Normally we plan all of this very carefully. They try to make anyone who wants to make the change speak to a counselor."
"Did I hurt you?" John repeated. "I want the truth."
"Not intentionally and nothing that won't heal."
Elizabeth grabbed his hands. "John, it is okay. I stayed with you to help you. I knew it wasn't going to be easy."
"You didn't have to."
"Yes I did. It was my responsibility as the commander of this expedition. If being rough with me kept you form doing something unspeakable while you had no control, that is okay." She placed a hand on his chest. "It was also my responsibility as the one who turned you. And, well" she trailed off then leaned forward and kissed him. "I wanted to be there for you."
John grimaced. "Why does my head hurt?"
"That should go away,." She gripped his hand. "John, you're alive."
"You sound like you're surprised."
"John you don't know how dangerous that was. How close you were. I-" she stopped talking and kissed him again. "You were so close," she breathed into his ear. "So close."
"Hey," John wrapped his aching arms around her shoulders. His skin tingled where it touched her. He rested his head against her bare shoulder then smiled softly.
Elizabeth ran her fingers though his hair, massaging his scalp. John hummed in contented pleasure. He began to kiss her shoulder, working his way up to her neck. He rested his forehead against hers.
"I blacked out a few times. Will that happen again?"
"Not because of this," she brushed her thumb over his lips.
He sucked the digit into his mouth, caressing it with his tongue before releasing it. "I didn't hurt you?"
"No," she reassured.
"What's wrong?" He asked.
Elizabeth shook her head and pulled him down onto the bed with her. She trembled slightly but kept a firm grip on her emotions. John reclined beside her and she curled up against him, throwing a leg over his and holding him close.
"Wraith taken care of?" he asked.
Elizabeth nodded. "One said to say that Todd owes you one."
"A demon owes me a favor?"
"So he said."
"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"
"I don't know."
John settled against her, listening to the way her breathing changed, becoming hitched. He buried his face into the back of her neck and held her. It was a long while before she was able to drift into sleep.
The shrill alarm woke John from a sound slumber. His dreams had been odd, half-formed apparitions involving fire and darkness as well as light and laugher. They died, shredded by the alarm. John flung out a hand to smack the offending clock. The device didn't dodge out of the way fast enough and hurtled into the wall, sticking for a moment before falling to the ground with a clatter. There was a clock sized dent in the wood panels.
John looked over, started to see Elizabeth's wryly arched eyebrow.
"I'm sorry," he apologized.
She kissed his nose. "You'll learn how strong you are, don't worry."
John looked at the clock then back at Elizabeth. "What are you doing here?"
Fear flashed briefly before she could school her expression. "You don't want me here?"
"No! I mean not no! I- Stay!" he grabbed her arm as she shifted under the covers. "You've never stayed before."
Elizabeth winced slightly. "I'm sorry."
"I was letting the past dictate my future," she replied, somewhat vaguely.
"Will you stay tomorrow too?"
"If you like."
"Oh, I like very much."
Elizabeth smiled softly. "We don't need to get up yet anyway."
Elizabeth shook her head with a playful smile. "I happen to know the boss. I pulled some strings."
"Oh did you," John grinned as he rolled over her.
Elizabeth smiled up at him, her green eyes deep with many emotions. She trailed a finger down his face and gently over his neck. John shuddered in memory of what had happened to him. "You still have a lot of healing to do," she told him then spread her fingers over his chest, not to push him away, but to simply touch.
"You'll be there?" John asked.
"Yes I will."
John leaned down and kissed her deeply, pulling back when he pricked his lip on his own sharp fang. "Ow. Okay that's different."
Elizabeth laughed softly. "That's not all there is to get used to. That's why Kate's here now."
"You're not going to teach me?" John pouted.
"It's better for both of us if I don't." She leaned up and kissed him again.
"She going to teach me how to kiss you without opening a vein?" John continued to put.
Elizabeth pulled him down to her and nipped at his chin playfully. "That's something I'll still be able to teach. If you're up to the lessons that is?"
John grinned, "Yes ma'am."
"You got a therapy session today."
"I do?" John pouted, less than thrilled with the idea of leaving their bed.
"Radek and Miko will be there too. They're learning as well." She grasped his hand and squeezed it. "I'll help you too."
Elizabeth nodded blushing. "Of course. I love you."