The Next Event
Disclaimer: If I owned 'em, I'd probably sell 'em to buy Julie that better hay she's been wanting. Sadly, I don't, so I hope I won't be sued because, then, how would I buy Julie her hay at all? Or keep her barn warm? Or keep that deadbeat Yak lover of hers off the premises (damn Yak!)? Seriously! Do you really want to put her through that kind of pain? Think of the trauma! Think of the angst! Don't hurt JULIE!
Category: GEN/T – action, angst, adventure, aliens, artichokes, armadillos, anti-venom, appaloosas....
Characters: Team, Beckett, and Weir on the side
Description: A revived Satedan festival leads to places dark, dangerous and deadly, especially when it's learned that Ronon's sister is still alive...
CHAPTER ONE: DISTRACTED DEX
Bouncing on the balls of his feet, Sheppard ducked and shifted, successfully avoiding Ronon’s fist. He smirked and waggled his head, taunting the giant warrior as he ducked another attempt.
“You’re slow today,” he teased, only to suddenly feel his feet leave the floor as Ronon swept his leg out and around.
John landed with a solid thud, the air leaving his lungs with an audible ‘whoosh’. He lay gasping as the former runner hovered above him. “Ow,” he thought, chiding himself for getting cocky. Served him right he supposed. Slowly, Sheppard pushed up and flipped over, one arm wagged lazily at Ronon but he had yet to recover enough to speak.
“You were saying?” Ronon asked, leaning over and placing his hands on his knees as he took a moment to catch his breath as well.
“See,” John accused with a gasp. “I’m gaining on you.” He frowned as Ronon shrugged and reached out a hand to help him up. “Or…” he drew out the word and grasped Dex’s hand, allowing the taller man to assist him up. “You’re distracted.”
Sheppard watched closely as Ronon seemed to pause a minute before moving toward the window seat. The gym was deserted and silence fell heavily around them as John waited for Ronon to decide to respond or not.
Ronon plunked himself down on the seat as if all his energy was gone and leaned forward, resting his arms on his thighs and focusing on the floor. “Teyla brought a message for me from Belka.”
John grabbed his towel from the top of his duffle bag and wiped the sweat from his head and neck before sitting beside Dex. Sheppard was aware that Teyla had just returned from a scheduled trade meeting on the planet. “From?”
John turned and leaned back against the sidewall so he could see Ronon better. “He your friend from Sateda?”
“What’s the problem?” John didn’t know much about Ronon and Teyla’s earlier encounter on Belka with Solen, he only knew that Ronon had finally discovered that at least 300 of his people had survived the Wraith attack on Sateda by escaping through the stargate. That news alone should have left the former Runner elated, but when he and Teyla returned from Belka, there was an unspoken tension underlying their report about the news. John never had asked about it, he’d been too distracted with Rodney and the catastrophic events on Doranda.
He sighed inwardly as he thought of Doranda and the events that let up to it and that followed it. He’d been hard on McKay afterwards but he’d been so disappointed as well. He’d put himself out in order to stand up for Rodney, to show he trusted him and Rodney had let him down. Sheppard knew it wasn’t intentional, hell, even McKay couldn’t be right all the time but it still burned at him that he hadn’t been able to rein Rodney in sooner. He didn’t quite understand McKay’s determination to make the weapon on Doranda work and he wasn’t comfortable with the obvious tension that still sat heavily between the two of them now. Things weren’t right. The team just wasn’t clicking like it had been before he and Rodney had gone to Doranda and Teyla and Ronon to Belka. They needed something to get things right again…he just had no clue what.
“Every fourth season, on Sateda, we used to have a festival, the Festival of Yedeenorog.” Ronon looked up. “It’s a competition of sorts,” he went on. “Warriors compete against warriors in displays of strength.”
“Okay,” John tried to hide the wariness in his voice, but was certain his trepidation was obvious. For some reason, the image coming to his mind was of roman gladiators fighting to the death.
Ronon read him easily and smiled. “It was a grand festival,” he assured. “We would have parades to honor the warriors. Our Storytellers would recount the year’s events through song. There were presents and sweets for the children and the women,” he paused, his smile growing. “The older ones would cook and prepare a great feast. Every kind of food imaginable.”
“And the younger ones?”
“They found their own ways to honor the warriors.”
If it was possible for Dex to show embarrassment…John could have sworn Ronon was blushing. “I’ll bet.”
John relaxed as he watched Ronon’s posture. From the way the younger man suddenly became at ease with describing his home tradition, John could tell that this festival had been an important part of Satedan life, it reminded him of Christmas back on earth.
“I’m guessing the annual festival came to an end with the Wraith destroyed the place?”
Ronon nodded, his eyes clouding briefly with anger. “Solen has informed me that a small number of my people have decided to try to have the festival this season.”
“Where?” John asked. “Are they going back to Sateda?”
“No.” Dex shook his head, his thick dreads falling about his face, hiding the sadness that John knew was there. He remembered the scenes that the MALP had sent back of Ronon’s world. No one would be returning there for a long time. “They have arranged for the festival to be held on another planet.”
“No, it is not one that I’m familiar with, but Solen sent the ring address.”
“You want to go,” John stated firmly.
Shrugging, Ronon pushed himself to his feet. “It has been so long.” He shook his head, obviously torn about his choices.
“All the more reason to go, isn’t it?” John grinned.
“I am not the same man.” Ronon’s voice filled with bitterness.
John nodded. “No, I can’t imagine anyone is the same after all this time.” Slowly, grimacing, Sheppard stood. “When is the festival? How long does it last?”
“In a day’s time. It lasts for three.”
John grabbed his bag and shoved his towel into it before flipping the strap over his shoulder. “Want company?”
Ronon’s eyes widened with surprise. “You would come with me?”
“Sure. You’re part of my team right?” John turned for the door. “I think we all could use a chance to get away and check out something new. Of course now we just need to convince Elizabeth that it’s a good idea.”
CHAPTER TWO: SHEPPARD'S STUFF
Elizabeth sat at her desk and listened with amusement as John balanced on the line between persuasion tactics. The colonel presented his case, moving from chain-of-command respect to carefully doled out charm and back again.
“Besides offering us the prospect of aligning with additional allies, this is a prime opportunity to practice some of that…” he gestured casually with one hand while trying to remember the correct buzz word, “team-building stuff.” He inwardly winced. “And by ‘stuff’ I, of course, mean those valid exercises that Dr. Heightmeyer says are so important to…you know…team-building. And… stress relief.”
Elizabeth bit down sharply on the inside of her lower lip to prevent a smile from revealing itself. She saw right through him. John knew this. Elizabeth was also aware that *John* knew that she knew that he knew she saw right through him. The colonel was looking for some good,
old-fashioned R-‘n-R for himself and his team. Elizabeth didn’t mind.
Truth be told, she was enjoying watching him work. This was the least demanding negotiation session she’d participated in since that Ukrainian assembly in 2001. Though in that instance, the vodka was a major factor.
“And this festival lasts three days?” she asked.
“Give or take. We’d be off-world four, five days tops.”
Elizabeth didn’t give her answer right away. She had to make him sweat at least a little. The seconds of silence were taken up as she reflected on the dynamics she’d observed between John and Rodney over the previous few weeks. A subtle, awkward tension existed between the two men. Elizabeth noted it after Doranda. She’d read the formal report submitted by the colonel - but she’d never learned, what she called, the emotional details. The unease she sensed troubled her.
Since the inception of Sheppard’s team, Elizabeth had seen signs of both John and Rodney being positively influenced by the other. John more readily let show his Mensa-level intelligence now that his ‘scientists to military grunts’ ratio leaned less toward the testosterone-heavy side, and Rodney exhibited definite signs of blending with his more mischievous associates. She couldn’t stand the thought of either of them reverting back to past behaviors.
‘What was it that Twain said,’ she thought to herself, ‘there’s no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.’
She finally let a smile lighten her contemplative expression. “I think it’s quiet enough around here. Atlantis should be able to operate securely enough while you and your team are…team-building.”
John returned the grin but only nodded in thanks before turning and heading out to inform Ronon and the others.
Rodney settled in to the co-pilot’s seat as John finished the flight initiation sequence, but the fingertips of the scientist’s left hand drummed a light, quick rhythm across the heavy fabric of his pants.
“What exactly did Elizabeth say were the scientific exploratory aspects of this mission?” The colonel had told them all where they were headed, yet Rodney felt like he was missing out on some great secret.
John focused more intently on the control panel and answered in a distracted tone. “You know…science stuff.”
“I’m only asking because Dr. Simpson gets to go with Wu’s team to P2C-115 to investigate the evidence of coronal mass ejection in relation to the planet’s atmospheric radiocarbon levels. And honestly, if there isn’t going to be anything on Manaria that really warrants my being there, my knowledge and experience would be of much more use on –115.”
John exchanged a quick look with Teyla, sitting behind Rodney. She and Ronon both had been present for Rodney’s three previous discourses on why he would be better suited for the -115 trip.
The colonel studied Rodney briefly before replying. “How much coffee have you had today?”
The puddlejumper vibrated as it responded to John’s commands and powered up fully. “Look, Rodney - you’re here, we’re going, you’re coming. I’m sure there will be all kinds of fascinating… *aspects* for you to explore on Manaria. Relax, you’ll have a great time. Trust me.” He shot a glance at the man beside him. “Can ya just do that?”
The look that flashed across Rodney’s face made John instantly regretted his choice of words. Trust wasn’t exactly the best topic as of late. He hoped McKay didn’t take the question as some kind of dig. He quickly turned his attention to the event horizon shimmering in front of them.
“This’ll be just what we all
need. We’re all gonna have a great time.”
CHAPTER THREE: YEDEENOROG YINS AND YANGS
"Somehow I expected the festival to be a bit more...festive," McKay muttered, peering down the deserted streets of the Satedan settlement.
Sheppard cocked a disapproving eyebrow at the physicist, but privately had to agree. The refugee encampment was located far from the larger cities of the planet's native population. The houses here had a flimsy, temporary feel to them, as if they'd been thrown together by people who never expected to live in them this long.
Here and there, the drab shelters were livened up with garlands of flowers around the door lintels. Bright scraps of fabric fluttered from streamers that had been strung between buildings. Colorful flags snapped in the breeze.
But any cheer they might have brought to the scene was offset by the fact that the village -- Set, Ronon had called it -- was completely, eerily empty.
"Hellooo?" McKay called through an open window. He scowled back at his teammates. "Where is everybody? What is this? Brigadoon?" he said. "What say we ditch the festival of the damned and head back before Simpson completely botches--"
Sheppard and Teyla exchanged an eyeroll and kept walking, following Dex as he marched purposefully down the empty streets, heading for the hillside beyond. McKay trundled after them, keeping up the running commentary of complaints the team had come to expect whenever they dragged the Canadian cross-country.
As they crested the hill, Dex pulled to a sudden halt. McKay, who had turned to complain because all the trees on this planet had purple leaves, collided with his shoulder.
"Would you watch where you're--Oh." McKay edged around the runner and stared at the sight below. "Oh my. That's...that looks..."
"Cool," Sheppard breathed, a loopy grin plastered on his face.
Below them, Yedeenorog was in full swing. The broad grassy valley was dotted with colorful striped tents, interspersed with smaller booths, crackling bonfires and the marked-off squares of playing fields where several competitions seemed to be underway. Laughter, music and the distant cheer of crowds floated up to their ears. Looking down on the festival, Sheppard half-expected to hear calliope music or see a Ferris wheel spinning slowly over the scene. He glanced over and saw McKay and Teyla grinning down at the festival, looking more relaxed than he'd seen them in weeks.
This, he decided, had been a great idea.
"This was a bad idea," Dex muttered softly.
Slowly, the others pivoted to stare at the runner.
Dex took a hesitant step back, looking very young and lost all of a sudden. "It's been a long time. I don't know these people anymore. I don't belong here."
Teyla caught his arm. "These are your people." she said. "You will always have a place among them."
But there was an odd note in her voice; one that Sheppard probably would have tried to analyze in more depth if he hadn't been distracted by a group of children on the hillside, shrieking and cheering at a cluster of bright shapes that were swooping and diving over their heads. Kites. He leaned forward longingly. Weird-shaped kites of alien construction, but kites nonetheless. He loved kites.
Dex was still trying to talk himself out of it. "Maybe we should just go back--"
This time, it was McKay who cut him off. "Whoa-whoa-whoa," he said, flapping a hand to silence the debate. He took a step closer to the festivities, sniffing the air like bloodhound. "What's that I smell?"
Intriguing scents were wafting to them on the breeze -- sweet, salty, deep-fried smells familiar to anyone who spent any amount of time at carnivals or county fairs. And John Sheppard, connoisseur of Ferris wheels, had spent a lot of time at a lot of carnivals.
"Colonel?" Teyla's amused voice penetrated the haze of memory and snapped Sheppard back to the present.
He clapped Dex on the shoulder and have him an encouraging shove downhill. "I don't suppose you people have gotten around to inventing Ferris wheels?"
"So how does this work?" McKay asked, bouncing on the balls of his feet as he eyed a concession stand larded with gooey pastries that gave off an intoxicating chocolatey aroma. "How much do those cost? What sort of currency do you people use? Didn't anybody think to bring some glass beads or trinkets to barter with the natives?"
Dex shrugged. "This is a warriors' festival," he said, as if that explained everything. He nodded to the pastry vendor, who was waving encouraging at them, a sweet cake in each hand. "The vendors fall over themselves to offer their wares to the warriors. It's their way of honoring those who protect the weak and defenseless."
McKay's face fell.
Sheppard, however, was looking around at the crowd with new appreciation. There must be thousands of people here -- far more than the few hundred who survived the culling of Sateda. Now that he was looking for them, the off-world warriors were easy to spot, strutting through the crowd, bristling with weapons and armor -- and all but staggering under the gifts that had been pressed upon them.
"They just give stuff away?" Sheppard asked.
"To the warriors," Dex confirmed.
"And how do your people recognize a true warrior?" Teyla asked, watching as a group of young men swaggered up to the pastry vendor, then meekly hand over payment when the chef snatched back the treats they were reaching for.
McKay crossed his arms and huffed in disgust. "Well that's just great. Meanwhile, what am I supposed to do? Wait for the Science Fair before I get something to eat?" He shot an annoyed glance at a snickering Sheppard.
"Here." Dex held something out to him. McKay blinked, recognizing the Wraith-bone charm the runner always wore.
When McKay made no move to put it on, Dex dropped the necklace over his head. "You wear that, you won't starve."
McKay stared down at the finger bone dangling around his neck -- clearly torn between disgust with the trophy and the lure of free food. He poked at it with a finger. "Please! It's going to take more than ugly jewelry to fool anyone into believing I'm a great warrior."
Dex shrugged and turned away. "You've killed more Wraith than half the soldiers here," he tossed over his shoulder. "That just makes sure everybody knows it."
He headed off into the crowd as McKay stared after him, dumbstruck. Teyla gave Sheppard a nod and McKay an encouraging smile, then strolled after him.
"Come on, mighty warrior," Sheppard clouted the scientist on the shoulder. "Let's get something to eat."
McKay followed, sneaking an occasional peek at the symbol of valor on his chest.
"Yours is an interesting culture, Ronon," Teyla said, graciously waving off an elderly man who was trying to press a beaded bracelet into her hands.
Dex peered out at her from under two garlands of flowers that had been draped over his hair. "How so?" he asked, accepting a loaf of crusty, warm bread from a giggling young girl. He ripped off a hunk and offered the rest of the loaf to Teyla.
By mutual consent, they leaned against a rough fence to share the bread and watch the competition underway in a nearby field.
"Well, for instance..." Teyla waved to the field. "What test of skill and strength might this be?"
In the center of the field stood a massive old tree; its trunk split with age and disease, its purple leaves withered and sparse. A line of young warriors -- boys, mostly, with a few young women here and there -- waited impatiently in a line for a chance to get close to the tree. Up against the trunk, a young man stood pressed against the cracked bark, trying to wedge himself into the cleft and split the tree in half entirely.
Dex let out a bark of laughter -- the first real laugh Teyla had ever heard from him.
"It's an object lesson," he snorted. "From an ancient legend -- about a warrior by the name of Kroton who had more muscles than brains. He was walking through the woods one day and decided to test his strength against the oldest tree in the forest. He wedged himself into a crack in the trunk and did his best to tear the tree to pieces. But the wood just snapped back into place, trapping him half-in, half-out of the tree."
Teyla eyed the young warriors as they contorted themselves into the narrow cleft in the trunk, straining mightily. "What happened then?"
"Then," Dex said blandly. "Wild beasts of the forest came upon him, trapped and helpless, and devoured him."
"Come," Dex tossed away the heel of the bread loaf and caught her arm tugging her away from the crowd around the tree. "You must come see the next event."
"That bone necklace really works, huh?" Sheppard grumbled, watching sourly as McKay collected another armload of treats from a smiling vendor.
The merchant turned to Sheppard, taking in his weapon and uniform but clearly undecided whether he fell into the category of warrior or wannabe. Sheppard made a face at him. "Never mind." He snagged a pastry out of McKay's fingers.
Rodney bit into the treat in his left hand instead. "For food like this? I'd wear that bone through my nose." Magnanimously, he offered another tidbit to the colonel -- a savory meat pasty of some sort. Sheppard ate it in two bites and looked around for someplace new to wave McKay's miraculous bone necklace.
They walked in amiable silence for a while, pausing now and then to gape at the sights -- a tall poll that shot out a continuous cascade of multicolored sparks, a livestock display crammed with a bizarre collection of creatures. And, to McKay's delight, a booth hawking an odd assortment of rubbish that included a few items of clearly Ancient origin.
Sheppard managed to drag Rodney away only after they both pawed every object to see if any would turn on. None did, although McKay did pocket a device that looked something like an Atlantis-issue data pad.
"Play with your toys later, Rodney," Sheppard chided, leading the way toward one of the competition fields. This one looked like an improvised race track. "What say we watch some of these feats of strength Ronon was talking ab-awk!!" The sentence ended with a yelp as he finally caught sight of the athletes.
They stared with identical expressions of slack-jawed shock. McKay recovered first. "Why..." His voice came out as a squeak. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Why…are they naked?"
If Sheppard could have collected his scattered wits, he might have been able to answer that question. As it was, all his dazed brain could do was agree that yes, all the athletes on the field were indeed naked. "Quite naked," he mumbled. "Very nude."
"Naked...ladies," McKay croaked beside him, eyes bulging at the footrace before them. The runners were rounding the curve in the track and heading straight for them.
They edged closer to the edge of the track, jostling for the best view.
One runner was lengths ahead of the rest of the pack, running with an easy, loose-limbed stride that ate the ground. Head and shoulders taller than the other women, her tawny hair streamed over her golden shoulders as she sprinted forward effortlessly.
They drew closer, bare feet pounding the earth, each runner grinning fiercely at the crowd as she darted by. McKay felt his heart skip a beat as the lead runner whipped around the track and her dark blue gaze locked with his.
Suddenly, those flashing eyes narrowed.
The next thing McKay knew, he was flying backward.
He landed with a painful thump, with a furious naked woman kneeling on his chest.
"Ow," McKay wheezed, rolling his eyes toward Sheppard in silent appeal. But the colonel stood frozen, clearly not sure how to help, or even if McKay needed rescuing.
Was this what Dex had in mind when he mentioned that the young women had their own ways of "honoring" the warriors?
McKay glanced at his attacker again, then quickly screwed his eyes shut, blushing furiously. He felt a finger trace a line from his chin, down his chin and come to rest against his chest, where the bone necklace rested. Her long, strong fingers curled in a fist, twisting the hide cord until it tightened around his neck like a garrote
"Tell me," the young woman purred in a low, husky voice. "Where you stole this..." She flexed her knees and McKay felt his ribs creak. "Before I snap you in half."
CHAPTER FOUR: RONON'S REUNION
“Hey,” John called, schooling his simple word. He reached out one hand, and considered resting it on the large woman’s shoulder, but something about her nudity made him hesitate. Honestly, he didn’t want to tussle with her – one never really wanted to restrain a naked person in a fight. It was so hard to find something to hang onto that didn’t – well – cause great embarrassment for everyone involved. And then there was the ‘slippery’ factor.
So John said, “Hey,” again. “I think we have a little misunderstanding going on here, so if you’d just get off my friend and…”
“Where did you get this!” she spat out, apparently ignoring the man who hovered just behind her. John tried not to stare at her sculpted ass – it was a lovely one.
McKay squeezed his eyes shut so that he didn’t have to gaze directly at the pert breast just above him. “I… I…” he got out, his mouth dry. “I just…” and he gasped as she ground her knees into his ribs. Oh crap! He was certain that she was going to stave in his ribcage, or at least shatter one of the bones. Yeah, the one on the right – just below his nipple…. nipple.
McKay allowed himself to squint up at the woman – finding the breasts still there – so close – so close. Other things too – not so far away. The once-pretty face twisted in rage and hate. Her luscious lips twisted in a snarl. Oh yes, she was going to kill him. “Eeep,” was all he got out.
“Now, look,” Sheppard stated, finding himself smiling at McKay’s predicament. “Look, we can work this out. Just…”
The Amazon seemed to anger even further. “I asked you where you stole this from!” she shouted, then yanked on the necklace, as if she might be able to bust it right off Rodney’s neck, but the cord holding it was strong and it didn’t give.
McKay just made a pathetic sound and squeezed his eyes shut again. So this was how he was going to die – squashed by a giant warrior woman. All things considered, it wasn’t the worst way to go. The story about dying while saving all those kids was a good one – but this might suffice as well.
Around them, the crowd had drawn back to give them room – watching intensely. The other racers had moved on. Apparently, seeing their biggest competition drop out of the race was a boon for their own chances and they weren’t about to give it up. They continued, their bare feet tramping the dirt as they went.
The gorgeous giant yanked again on the cord, harder, jerking up McKay’s head. Her vicious attempt to remove the necklace was enough to put Sheppard in motion. Not that he actually ‘wanted’ to get involved in this, but he couldn’t let a giant naked woman break the neck of the head of their science department. All things being equal, he’d rather they worked it out without him. Girding his loins, the colonel forward, and reached for her naked naked shoulders to throw her off the trapped man.
But she was too quick for him. In one smooth moment, she rolled off of McKay, and got to her feet, hoisting McKay along with her – one hand twisted into his jacket, the other still clenching the necklace.
McKay went, “Gah!” as he stumbled for footing.
She was as striking as she was statuesque. Her eyes flashed as she glanced about the crowd.
Sheppard shook his head. Of course, this couldn’t be easy. Seeing an opening, he stepped in, shouldering in between McKay and the big woman. He managed to separate them, but she never let loose her grip on the necklace.
Nose to nose – chest to … breast, John dropped a hand to his gun. “Let him go,” he stated, his voice low and impossible to resist.
The tawny-haired woman, strangely enough, smiled at him, delightfully, looking pretty as all hell – and resisted. Giving the boney necklace a yank, she pulled McKay from his semi-protected position behind Sheppard and tugged him onto the now vacant running track.
“Hey! Hey! Hey!” McKay got out, staggered as she led him.
Sheppard sighed, wanting out of this. “Okay, enough is enough!” he shouted, his hand still ready on his weapon. They were here for a festival, and he had no intention on drawing on these people – but it looked like the woman might snap McKay in two if this didn’t stop.
“Attention, noble people of Sateda!” she shouted, her voice booming. “We are an honorable and proud people! I have discovered a traitor -- a man who masquerades as a warrior but has been revealed as a cowering thief! A man who has stolen glory from those more deserving.” She kept her fierce grip on the bone necklace, pulling McKay to his tiptoes. “Here stands a pariah, a coward, a spurious knave -- impersonating one of our warriors, just so that he might partake in what he does not deserve!”
She glared at the remnants of their little feast – squashed pies and pastries were scattered where McKay had been ambushed. “He pretended to be a soldier to deceive our fair people.” She lowered her voice and growled at her captive, “And you believed your deceit wouldn’t be discovered?”
It was time to end this. “Let him go,” Sheppard demanded, resisting the urge to pull his weapon as a show of force. He understood that he was surrounded by warriors, and a display of a weapon might be a very bad choice at this moment. If he could just ‘talk her down’ before she strangled McKay, everything would be fine.
“Thief, where did you get this?” she snarled between her teeth.
“He said I could wear it,” McKay squeaked out. “I didn’t…”
She scowled, but managed to still look beautiful. She flicked her head to one side, letting her locks flow down her back. “The man who owned this would never give it to such a mealy creature as you, and you would never have been able to take it from him – not while he still lived. And, if you had murdered him, it could only have been through treachery. How did you get this?”
Before Sheppard could attempt to pull them apart, another form stepped in and did exactly that.
“I gave it to him.” Ronon, shoved McKay back and broke the grip on the necklace. Grateful, McKay stumbled away, rubbing at his neck and muttering uncomfortably. “A loan,” Dex stated, holding out one hand, open palmed, toward McKay, while his eyes stayed on the nude warrior.
Without hesitation, McKay pulled the necklace over his head and gave it to Ronon. Dex closed his fingers over the cord and let it hang at his side.
They stared at each other – the former Runner and the woman racer. Sheppard wasn’t sure what he saw in their eyes – surprise, shock, apprehension, love?
He glanced to McKay and found the scientist glaring the woman, but apparently unable to find a comfortable place to keep his gaze.
“Ronon?” the woman spoke his name hesitantly. “Ronon? I never… I never believed it could be true.” Her dark eyes became moist in emotion.
At that statement, Dex made a little grunt. “I’m surprised as well,” he returned.
With that, she surged forward, leaping, wrapping her arms around Ronon’s neck, strapping legs around his waist, and giving him a full-body hug. As Ronon embraced the woman, Sheppard couldn’t help but think he looked a little uncomfortable – okay, more than a little.
Teyla came alongside Sheppard, her brow furrowed at the sight.
“Ronon?” Sheppard prompted. “Care to introduce us to …”
Looking a little beleaguered, Dex let out a sigh, and spoke from the space between the woman’s arm and her head, “Colonel Sheppard, Teyla Emmagan, Doctor McKay,” he paused as if it pained him. “This is my sister, Nonor Dex.”
Teyla and Sheppard exchanged started glances. McKay mumbled, turning his head this way and that, saying in a pitched tone, “Your sister? She almost broke my neck!”
Nonor had excitedly led them to her private tent, and – after donning what might be considered ‘appropriate garb’ -- she left quickly, bringing Teyla with her. “We shall see to a feast!” she told the Athosian. “A feast befitting a warrior such as my brother!” And she kissed Ronon, sweetly, on he cheek before she exited the tent. She clung to Teyla as they departed, holding onto her arm as if they were the closest of friends.
And for a minute, the three men sat in silence, in the dimness of the tent.
“Well,” McKay finally voiced, rubbing at his neck. “That was your sister.”
“Yeah, sister…” Sheppard trailed off. “You never said anything about having a sister. Can’t remember you ever mentioning your family.”
Ronon sat with his arms crossed over his chest. “I can’t remember you ever speaking of family,” he pointedly told Sheppard.
“Oh,” McKay answered instead, as Sheppard returned Ronon’s stare. “I could go on and on about MY family. I could fill books! I have a sister, too, so I think I know a little about what you are going through,” Rodney said in a conspiratorial tone. “Not that my sister ever ran naked through the streets or assaulted a man. You, Ronon, have one HELL of a sister.”
Ronon continued to stare at Sheppard. “Yes, I do,” he agreed.
“I mean, first off, she was naked. Then, she ALMOST BROKE MY NECK!” McKay cried. “Really, she could have killed me. If she didn’t kill me outright, she could have paralyzed me – or … crushed me.” He shook his head, wincing at the movement. “Really, if I hadn’t had it all displayed in front of me like that, I would have been suspicious whether she was a really woman at all. She’s built like a bear. Well, not a bear, because she’s pretty good looking. I probably just said bear because she was… bare. Okay, got that, but she’s huge! Like some sort of animal that’s really big and powerful and … big. Did I mention that she’s big?”
“McKay,” Sheppard said under his breath. “Need I remind you that you’re talking about Ronon’s sister?”
“And bare. That’s the naked sort of ‘bare’ not the ‘Grrrargh’ sort of bear.” McKay still tenderly moved his head back and forth. “You shouldn’t let your sister run around like that, Ronon. Naked and all. People will talk.”
Ronon didn’t respond. Instead he just growled softly, rather like a bruin in hyperphasia.
“McKay, let it go,” Sheppard said, noting the strange, sober mood Dex seemed to be in.
“Someone should really talk to her about that,” McKay went on, oblivious. “I’d never let Jeannie run around nekid. Not that she’d ever listen to anything I had to say, but I certainly wouldn’t like it if she tried that and I’d certainly have something to say. You think Teyla and sis will bring back some more of those little pasties?” McKay held out both hands, indicating the size and shape of the preferred cakes. “The ones with all the sugar on top?”
Sheppard ignored McKay’s latest comments, and regarded the Specialist, wondering what was going on.
“Okay, I meant to say ‘pastries’! My neck hurts,” Rodney complained, finally letting his hands drop when it appeared no pastries or pasties were forthcoming. “Give me a break.”
Teyla hurried to keep up with Nonor. The Athosian was nimble, and used to quick movement, but the long stride of the Runner’s sister kept her hopping.
They careened through the village of Set, past tents and booths that displayed their wares for those that deserved them. The sellers fawned over Nonor as the two scurried by. The vendors were eager to give the tall warrior just about anything she wanted – but Nonor was intent on reaching only certain destinations.
They stopped at one booth that looked rather like all the others, selling the same sorts of things, and Nonor spoke excitedly to the man within, ordering this and that, shaking her head at other offerings – and they were off again – searching out a feast befitting of a warrior such as Ronon. They stopped here – but not there -- onward to a booth three doors down, then again to an opening four windows further.
“Has it been long?” Teyla asked as she hurried alongside Nonor. “Since you have seen your brother?”
“So many years,” Nonor stated as she kept the quick clip. “We had thought him culled. Gone. Forever.” She paused, her full lips quivering and her sapphire eyes welling as she took a moment to compose herself in mid-stride. “It is a great joy to my heart to find him alive.”
“They why are you not with him now?” Teyla asked. “If I were to find one who was lost to me, I would be unable to leave his side.”
Nonor laughed. “But he will be hungry.”
“He has eaten,” Teyla responded.
“But he must have a feast,” Nonor insisted. “He is a warrior and they are always hungry. And, I know my brother. It is what he would want. Later, we will talk.” And she made a little gasp of delight as she found another booth. They stopped -- she ordered – and they went onward – madly pounding through the carnival city. The dash only stopped when they came to a crowd of people, surrounding a little arena.
“Oh!” Nonor exclaimed, her voice high and overjoyed. She stretched her considerable height to see over the crowd. “Oh yes!” she cried. “It’s what I thought! Come! Come see! This will be my favorite event. The best of them all.” She shoved her way into the crowd. People gave way, some begrudgingly – but they all gave way. “I was to participate against an able opponent, but she has resigned from the competition following her last bout. It is a pity.” Soon Teyla and Nonor were against the rope that was strong along poles at thigh level, surrounded the grassy area.
The arena itself was empty except for a tent at one end, and one man, who stood at the opening to the tent. Nonor looked on, enraptured, excitedly tugging on Teyla’s arm. “It’s about to start,” she confided eagerly.
Behind them, a man grumbled –
annoyed at his obscured view.
Then, two women came out of the crowd, stepping over the fence at the far side. With purposeful strides, they made their way into the center of the arena.
A cheer went up, as the women warriors met at the center. They lowered their heads, bowing to each other. The man came to them – an official of some sort. And they three spoke together for a moment. The man presented them with their weapons.
Teyla cocked her head, seeing the fighting sticks that she was so familiar with. The women took what was offered to them, and stepped back. And, following a shout from the man officiating, the fight commenced.
For all their previous hurrying, Nonor seemed perfectly content to stand still and watch, her gaze fastened on the battle. Teyla split her attention between the fight and Ronon’s sister. Nonor leaned on the fence, making the rope creak, as she watched the spectacle, enraptured.
It went on for several moments, wood cracking against wood, the grunting of the women, the sound of a tussle, someone took a fall and got back to her feet – than the other tumbled. And then, with a shout from the official it was over. A winner was declared and Nonor made a disappointed sound. “A poor match,” she muttered as the official brought a trinket from the tent and presented it to the victor. “Hardly spirited. We shall stay for the next one.”
And they stayed as two men came to the field. They were surer fighters. Teyla appreciated their speed and intensity. One, she decided, was more experienced than the other. She smiled slightly, anticipating the moves of the less skilled one, knowing exactly how he’d move and how he should be countered. It was a good fight that could have been better.
Nonor let out a poof of breath, sounding disappointed when the fight ended and another prize awarded. She turned her head swiftly to meet Teyla’s gaze, seeing something in her glance. “You are familiar with this style of fighting?” she asked.
Teyla lifted her head assuredly. “Yes,” she proclaimed. “I am familiar.”
“And you are … good?”
“Yes,” Teyla assured. “I am… good.”
Nonor beamed. “Great!” she cried. She raised a hand and flailed it at the official. “Then, we will be next!”
CHAPTER FIVE: TEYLA THRASHING
A warm sun beat down on the grass playing fields. A soft breeze kept the heat at bay and dried sweat as it beaded skin and soaked the clothing of some participants.
In one small section, with a single small rope delineating the boundaries of the playing field, two women warriors stood facing one another ready to do battle.
One was a tall robust woman, her hair pulled back into a tight pony tail exposing sharp features, full lips and large, startling, hard, diamond blue eyes which seemed to sparkle in the light. She moved heavily. Her footfalls were solid bending grass and leaving imprints. Taut muscles bunched and knotted over unmarred skin, protecting a heavy skeleton. Thick boned wrists twirled her fighting sticks with blinding speed. A grim thin lined smile hardened her features highlighting her fierce concentration.
The second woman was much smaller, finer boned and elegantly toned. She moved with the sophistication and grace of a hunting cat. Her bare feet seemed to glide over the grass without bending a blade. Her dark eyes warily watched her much larger opponent. A small smile curled the edges of her delicate mouth giving an added softness and openness to a friendly face. Her hair too was pulled back into a pony tail though loose strands seemed to pull free at a whim and dance unrestrained in the breeze as if matching the spirit within the body. Her beauty was unmatched.
Her skill was yet to be tested.
Teyla sidestepped confidently, twirling her stick around her hand with such speed it made the air sing. She held her other stick before her as she circled Nonor.
The Athosian kept her eyes on the taller woman’s chest, knowing that a head could feint left or right or could mime an attack and spring a trap. The head was flexible and deceiving. It could move without the rest of the body and force a lesser opponent into moving foolishly.
Teyla continued to circle, careful never to cross her bare feet on the short grass. She felt constricted in the tight confines of her SGA issued pants but could do nothing to change it. She had sparred in such constricting clothing before and would do so again.
She would adapt. She had too.
She continued to twirl her back right hand, her power stick, while her left remained out front on guard waiting like a sentry.
Teyla looked forward to testing her skill against Ronon’s sister. Nonor appeared a worthy opponent.
The Athosian stared straight ahead, making her challenger match her moves, circling to the right, which somehow felt unnatural on this planet. She focused solely on the towering Nonor.
The sounds of the crowd faded as Teyla became more focused. The feel of the hundreds of grass blades tickling her ankles disappeared.
The swirl of the stick in her power hand whispered in the air, comforting the twitter of butterflies that patted within her stomach.
Teyla watched Nonor’s chest. The torso would not move unless the body was committed to movement. The torso did not deceive in stick fighting, not like the head or eyes of an opponent.
Her attack was fast and furious. The warrior leaped in brandishing her sticks before her like twin blades rotating in opposite directions.
Teyla’s guard stick was caught and whipped to the side clearing the way for the flashing of Nonor’s left stick. It came crashing down toward the Athosian’s skull.
Teyla snapped her head to the side escaping the blow as she leaped to the right and slightly back. She was careful to avoid backing in a straight line thus allowing her attacker to continue her assault at the same angle.
The ferocity and brutal power of the attack surprised Teyla.
This was to be a friendly bout. One trained with friends, practiced with comrades, sparred with fellow athletes.
One fought only with the true enemy.
Teyla leaped right, feeling the motion unnatural, confusing her and causing her to think.
Thinking paused instinct.
Nonor stick lashed out and connected solidly with the side of Teyla’s neck.
Shocking pain lanced up and down Teyla’s neck blinding her momentarily and numbing her side.
This was no sparring match. Nonor fought to inflict pain.
The Athosian immediately snapped an arm up, rolling Nonor’s stick away and attacked the extended forearm with her second stick, her power arm.
Nonor, pivoted easily, her long hairless arms outstretched twirling and swinging her sticks with the repetitive speed of hummingbird wings.
Teyla dove to the ground and shoulder rolled to the left, seamlessly gaining her feet. Pain was blocked and smothered. There would be time to lick one’s wounds and tend deep bruises when the fighting was done. One could only heal if they survived. To survive one must stay in the fight and be victorious.
This was not a training session amongst friends or acquaintances.
Teyla settled down in her stance, lowering her center of gravity. She held her guard stick forward and continued to twirl her power stick just low behind her hip. The movement was comforting, soothing. Her heartbeat slowed and breathing evened out as her stick spun effortlessly behind her.
The Athosian circled the larger woman, knowing that in a match between evenly skilled combatants, strength, weight and reach would favor the bigger person. Speed and agility did not often garner enough of an advantage for the smaller quicker fighter.
Nonor was truly of mythical proportions. She rivaled her brother in height, weight and reach.
Teyla circled keeping herself from Nonor’s reach which unfortunately cut herself from her own form of attacking.
The Athosian stared at Nonor’s chest and realized her opponent did not gasp or fight for breath. She was not winded.
Telya ignored the free strings of hair that clung to her forehead. She did not feel the sweat that beaded her skin and glistened in the sun light.
Teyla swung her sticks, taking comfort in the hiss as they cut cleanly through the air with no hint of a warble. She attacked. Teyla came in low, feinting with her guard stick as her power stick whistled through the air on a horizontal plain aiming for Nonor’s knee.
Teyla would apologize to Ronon later. Doctor Beckett could fix just about anything, Nonor would not be permanently injured. She needed to end this now before someone got truly hurt.
Nonor fought too much like her brother, and where Teyla trusted Ronon, she did not know or trust his sister yet. This needed to be ended now.
Teyla’s stick sliced in cleanly, blindly cutting through the air with a blurring speed.
A stick shot down and connected with Teyla’s power swing, easily deflecting it outward in a wider arc forcing it outside its circumference of maximum damage.
Teyla’s strike finishing strike was deflected.
With the stick redirected wide, Teyla’s right side was exposed. She tried to twist away to avoid the devastating blow that was sure to fall.
Had she been sparring with a friend, training with one of the Lanteans, she would welcome the slight bruise as a learning aid. A reminder that she had become careless, over confident in her own prowess.
Her carelessness here earned her a punishing blow that snapped her lower right ribs and tore intercostals muscles from their origins and insertions. Veins broke, tiny arterioles tore and nerves screamed.
Teyla pirouetted around on the ball of her foot, bringing her left arm up to protect herself as her right side flared in crushing pain.
Nonor was there, knocking her left stick to the side and closed in flailing her sticks like a club hunter.
Teyla felt the first set of blows crash across her right shoulder blade. The second strike swung up from the ground like a vicious uppercut hoping to stand up a failing fighter for one more solid blow.
The stick cracked under Teyla’s mandible snapping her head back arching it brutally revealing the soft underside of her neck, exposing the stretched tracheal rings hidden under ineffectual thin muscle and skin.
Her collar bones became prominent and unprotected as she was flung backward, the back of her bead nearly touching between her shoulder blades.
Teyla saw the blur of a stick heading for her. She twirled on her faltering balance. Her inner ear sent conflicting data to her brain as her eyes only caught rotary movements.
Teyla twisted away on a collapsing leg as the whirling stick came crashing down on her exposed extended collar bone.
She heard a plaintive cry somewhere amongst the hazy grey world. She lost feeling in one of her hands but couldn’t fathom which one.
Teyla hit the ground and rolled. Instinct and a life of fighting kept her from giving up.
She still held her sticks, she stilled breathe, could still move. She would continue to fight. This was a fight with the enemy.
Teyla rolled again, somersaulting at an angle, working on instinct listening only to the feel of her feet on the grass, her brain ignored the sensory import of the inner ear.
Teyla felt the whistling air of a near miss. She pivoted, rotating from her hip to her feet and attacked before her opponent could adjust to the new angle.
The Athosian attacked swiftly, brutally. Teyla stormed in on her larger, stronger opponent swinging her sticks in controlled powerful arcs. The soft curve of a gentle smile was replaced by the snarl of a predator not used to being cornered.
The clickity, click of sticks, resounded through the area. Teyla pressed onward. She swung her sticks, lashed out and in controlled fury with her damaged lower jaw tucked in tight to her sternum. She struck blow after blow, connected repeatedly with sticks that deflected her attacks, and still she pressed forward, refusing to give ground. She took no pleasure when her sticks hit solid tissue. Through muscle memory her body moved with the assurance and grace only witnessed with a life time of training and fighting.
Teyla would not lose this fight because she would not quit. She would not lose this fight because she was tired or beaten. The Wraith did not care for such things and thus Teyla and her people trained accordingly.
The Athosian continued swinging and attacking, using her arms and calling strength from damaged muscles and protesting joints. She defied nay-sayers that believed in only the physical strength of the body and dismissed the spirit that raged deep within the body.
Teyla continued to attack in a controlled efficient frenzy.
Nonor deflected most strikes. She took a blow to her ribs that caused her to blink. She took a solid hit to her elbow that numbed her fingers.
Nonor was forced to back away from the wild Athosian that pressed her swirling sticks and revealed a raging spirit.
Nonor had known many opponents but none fought with the deadly intensity or endurance of Ronon’s pretty little friend.
Nonor felt herself tire, felt her shoulders ache, her hands were sweaty, the grips on her sticks were waning. She felt short of breath. Her heart raced. The fight was becoming too much of an effort.
Still this little woman continued to attack her. She was like a stinging insect on a hot humid day. Nonor continued to swat at her, but the nimble little creature continued onward, attacking, attacking, attacking.
Nonor Dex began to worry. She could not lose before her people, not in front of her brother, though her brother was in the tent with the little funny men.
Nonor could not lose to this diminutive primitive woman. She was sure she had already broken some of tiny woman’s fragile bones.
When would this nuisance quit?
Nonor continued to back in a straight line. She was forced to block blow after hand numbing blow. Nonor heard the crowd cheer for the little woman in the funny dress.
The spectators cheered for the small alien with tiny laughable sticks that should not carry the bite and sting that they did.
Nonor felt her face grow red with the heat of exertion and embarrassment. It was time to end this now. Nonor felt her self backed into a corner. If she was forced from the ring then she lost.
A corner flag flapped at the nape of her neck. The little Athosian stung at her from the front, her flying sticks leaving angry welts and threatening to break Nonor’s fine skin.
Nonor made a desperate lunge for the flag.
Teyla attacked and attacked. She was oblivious to her pain. She fought the enemy. With directed energy and no wasted movement, Teyla attacked the Setedian. She would win this contest and then go the Jumper and wait for the others. She would tend her wounds in private and apologize to Ronon later.
Teyla swung her power stick up from behind her hip and found it suddenly foiled in red and white cloth.
The cloth billowed in one section while another knotted and blunted her power stick. Her arm faltered. She struck out with her left, seamlessly switching from right handed to left handed as her father had taught her a life time ago. He had made her practice everyday, three times a day. Left and right should make no difference in a master fighter.
The cloth came down tight trapping her other stick and then covering her head.
Teyla dropped her head and charged forward into her opponent uncaring of the reason behind the deceitfulness but recognizing it for what it was…treachery.
Teyla never saw the sticks that pummeled her head and shoulders. She was forced to her knees, folding to her hands as blow after blow landed on her body from outside the red suffocating cloth.
Through the frantic beat of her heart and heaving rasping of her breath, she thought she heard the familiar voice of Doctor McKay shouting frantically for Colonel Sheppard. She thought she heard McKay holler for someone to stop.
A fierce blow snapped the back of Teyla’s cloth shrouded neck. Pain exploded in her skull.
Then all went dark.
Teyla became aware of the pain first. Lancing fiery pain seared the back of her head and felt as if the bones of her neck were shoved too far into her skull. Her shoulders burned.
She moaned and rolled her head but stopped abruptly as something grated within her neck. It felt strangely numb. She tried opening her eyes. They felt swollen and tacky. She attempted to work moisture back into her parched mouth. Teyla attempted to manipulate her lower jaw but unmatched agony exploded forth.
She cried out sparking a vicious cyclone of paralyzing pain that forced her to tense muscles that in turn shifted bones. She cried out again fisting a hand tightly not recognizing the returning grip of Dr. McKay.
“Oh God, Oh God.”
Teyla heard the words repeated over and over and wondered if Rodney knew what was wrong with her.
She tried to open her eyes again. The upper and lower lid of one unpeeled and she stared through a blurry film at the inside of a red and white striped tent.
The world pitched and rolled.
Her stomach rebelled. Vomit erupted and spewed forth, forcing her to open her mouth wide. Her lower jaw shifted, her back arched and something shifted unnaturally in her neck.
Teyla screamed, choking on her partially digested stomach contents.
“Oh God, oh God---Teyla don’t do this, hold on Teyla, the Colonel’s getting Beckett---we couldn’t risk moving you…your neck…” McKay’s voice sounded far off. He sounded scared.
Teyla had trust in Dr. McKay, more trust than the man had in himself when it came to things not connected with his laptop.
She felt a set of hands roll her onto her sore ribs.
She whimpered. It was a plaintive sound that had her wishing she would succumb to unconsciousness before making such a pitiful noise again.
“Oh God, a little help in here! Sheppard? Where the hell is Sheppard with Beckett?! They’ve been gone long enough. How long does it take? Damn them!”
Teyla heard McKay’s panicked shouts and wished he would holler a little more quietly. She felt hands rubbing her back and hoped they would soon stop touching her. Her back hurt. Her skinned burned and tingled as if hypersensitive.
Vomit strung heavily from her bloodied lips.
“Hold on Teyla, Sheppard left an hour or so ago. He’s getting Beckett. They should be here any moment.”
Teyla heard foot steps and then she heard a voice. She had only ever wished to hear two voices in all her life time. She had always wanted to hear her mother sing to her one last time as her mother put her to bed. The second voice Teyla longed to hear had been her father’s. She had always wished to hear his strong confident voice of reason when dealing with difficult trade agreements or trying problems with her own people. She always wished to hear her parents again and feel the safety and comfort that had been snatched from her so long ago.
Never had she ever thought that she would wish to hear a third voice. However, when the thick accent, “Dear God, what happened?” whispered steadily from a far off distance she felt her fear spark and rise in parallel with her relief.
When a gentle hand gingerly touched the side of her head and lay there for just a moment she found great comfort and felt her misery abate just a little. She strained to hear the voice again, to feel the warmth and reassuring comfort it so often granted without much effort. The voice quietly whispered, “Ahh, lass, it’ll be okay. I prom---,” the soothing voice faltered, paused. The rhythm interrupted and then picked back up, soft and with a sad cadence, “You’re going to be alright, Teyla…I’ll not let the pain stay.”
Teyla’s fear spiked. A rebellious tear rolled down her marred face.
She knew it wasn’t going to be okay. She was not going to be alright.
Dr. Beckett’s voice had hitched. He couldn’t promise her she’d be fine.
Perhaps she would get to hear her mother and father a little earlier than she had planned.
CHAPTER SIX: RAGING RODNEY
McKay paced outside the tent, rubbing his hands together feverishly, ignoring the looks he was getting from the festival goers. Sheppard and Beckett were inside, tending to Teyla, while he and Ronon were outside, waiting to hear.
How the hell could this have happened?
If Sheppard hadn't asked him to leave the tent, so he and Ronon could talk, McKay would never have seen the fight...would never have seen Ronon's sister being beaten by Teyla...right up until the Satedan woman had cheated.
And the crowd had cheered when it happened! They had CHEERED! What sort of people cheered on the beating to death of another person?
Bile rose in his throat as the scene ran through his mind for what felt like the hundredth time....
Still annoyed at having nearly been strangled, and painfully aware of the dark looks he was getting from the crowd now because he was a "fake," he had pushed his way through the people in a half-hearted attempt to find Teyla. Not that he wanted to find her if she was still with that Amazon woman, but being alone on a strange planet where the half the population looked ready to knock him down was not his idea of fun.
It was the sound of the stick fighting that had turned him in the direction of where the largest crowd had gathered. Not finding Teyla in the general crowd, he'd come across the bright idea that, she too, might have been attracted to the familiar noise, knowing that it was Teyla's favorite sport. So, he'd wandered over...and pushed through the crowd when he recognized the lion's mane hair of Nonor in the middle of the ring, the Satedan woman taller than most of the crowd.
As he reached the fence, he grinned. Teyla was whipping the snot out of the taller woman—a one-Athosian wrecking crew. The sticks in her hands flew with a speed the other woman couldn't match, hitting and smacking and biting and whipping, and it was easy to see the astonished look on Nonor's face as she was forced back towards the fence. Teyla looked driven, relentless, and Rodney could see why. There was blood on her face, and he recognized that she wasn't moving as fluidly as she normally did—Nonor must have done her some serious damage before Teyla decided to go to town. This wasn't a friendly fight—Teyla looked like she was fighting for her life.
He cheered when Nonor hit the fence with her back, barely deflecting half the blows rained on her...then, before he even had a chance to see how, Nonor had grabbed a large red and white flag and trapped one of Teyla's sticks...and then her head.
"NO!" he'd shouted, "No! That's cheating! Stop!" But his words were drowned out by the cheering around him, as the Satedan people cheered on one of their own.
Nonor was already taking advantage of her treachery, beating down on Teyla as the Athosian vainly tried to escape the heavy fabric, her struggling movements growing increasingly slower.
"STOP!" McKay didn't even think, jumping over the fence and running for the two combatants. He heard yelling behind him, but he wasn't sure who it was for. Probably him, but he didn't care. He tapped the radio on his head, "SHEPPARD! I NEED YOU! TEYLA'S DOWN!"
And then he was by her side, shoving Nonor back, paying no attention to the look on the other woman's face as he worked feverishly to get the tightly wrapped red and white flag off of Teyla, to get her out of there. When Nonor tried to step in again, he raged up, shoving her back with a force that actually sent the taller woman stumbling to the ground and pointing his gun at her head. He didn't even realized he'd drawn it.
"You get the hell out of here! You come near her again, and I will kill you!" he yelled, still holding the weapon on her. When Nonor made no attempt to move again, he quickly put the gun away and returned to Teyla.
He was still unwrapping her, peeling fabric away from bleeding wounds, when he felt Sheppard at his side, helping. Then Sheppard was gone, racing back to the gate to get Beckett, and he and Ronon were carrying Teyla back to the tent....
After that, it had been a blur until Beckett had arrived, and he and Sheppard had told him and Ronon to leave the tent.
He stopped his pacing, wiping a hand down his sweating face, looking towards the closed tent flap, wishing he was in there...and thankful he wasn't. Teyla's face had been badly beaten, blood and bruises covering most of the side of her face and down her neck. Her arm had been at a sickly looking angle, and her torn purple top had revealed a flaming red bruise covering most of her ribs, abdomen and back, a bruise that was rapidly turning the darkest and ugliest shade of purple he had ever seen.
He wasn't a fool.
He looked up when he heard desperate whispering, and turned to see Nonor talking with her brother a few yards away. Nonor wore her share of bruises, up and down her arms, along with a nice number of cuts where the skin had broken under Teyla's onslaught. Her tawny hair was gathered up on her head, around which it looked like a laurel wreath had been placed. She was talking rapidly, her eyes wide and worried, pointing every so often at the tent and at McKay and then at herself.
Ronon, for his part, simply listened, his arms crossed. His expression was shuttered, unreadable.
Finally, Nonor backed off, her bottom lip trembling a little, and McKay watched as a tear tracked down her lovely, dirty face.
How could something so beautiful be so deadly?
Ronon said something finally, and Nonor nodded, backing up and wiping at her face to get rid of the tear. She glanced once more at McKay, her expression showing a level of confusion, then she turned and limped off, headed somewhere.
McKay's jaw set, his barely quelled anger rising once more to the surface. She had almost killed Teyla! Hell, for all they knew, she had! And, what? Nothing? She was going to get away with it?
He made a move to go after her, so angry he could spit, but a heavy hand slapped against his chest, stopping him.
"Let me go," he hissed, glaring up at the Satedan.
"She said you pulled a gun on her," Ronon growled, pressing a little harder. "Said she thought you were going to kill her, but Sheppard stopped you."
"What?" McKay was flabbergasted. "I...what?"
"How could you?" Ronon spat, shoving McKay hard, sending him back a few steps.
"How...she...No! Damn it! She was trying to kill Teyla! I stopped her!"
"She wasn't trying to kill her."
"Oh, no, you're right," McKay snapped back, his acidic tongue in full force. He pointed at the tent, "Teyla's dying in there because she tripped. Did it to herself, did she?"
"It was a fair fight," Ronon growled back, stepping threateningly towards the smaller man. "Teyla knew what she was doing."
"Fair fight? Is that what that valkyre told you! Nonor cheated, Ronon! She—"
A hand shoved hard at the scientist's chest, sending McKay stumbling backwards again, and then Ronon was suddenly right in Rodney's face, staring down at him.
"My sister...doesn't cheat. She's a lot of things, but she doesn't cheat. She doesn't need to."
McKay drew up to his full height, almost standing on his toes as he met glare for glare, "You didn't see what I saw. Teyla was winning, but your sister—"
"No! Nonor doesn't cheat! She told me it was the heat of battle that caused it to go as far as it did, and I believe her." He stepped even closer to McKay, chest to chest, "And so do the officials. They awarded her the winner of the contest."
"They're blind! They wanted her to win! They were cheering when she tried to beat Teyla to death!"
"Shut up!" Ronon yelled, shoving at McKay again. McKay staggered back again, then rushed forward, shoving hard at Ronon. Amazingly, it took the Satedan enough by surprise that he was forced back a step or two. McKay jabbed an accusing finger at him, his face bright red.
"I will NOT shut up! Your sister cheated! She nearly killed—"
The punch sent McKay flying, landing hard on his side, his jaw on fire where Ronon's fist had impacted.
"She's my sister!" Ronon yelled at him, fisted hand shaking. McKay just stared up at him from his position on the ground, breathing hard and touching his chin with a shaking hand. When he pulled it back, he saw blood on his fingers.
"And Teyla's my friend," McKay replied, his voice trembling slightly as he stared up darkly at the man standing over him.
Ronon stared down at him for a moment, his expression moving from anger to confusion...and finally to sadness. Closing his eyes, the former Runner turned away, moving to stand several feet away from the scientist, his back to him.
Slowly, McKay got back to his feet, blinking dazedly a little and looking again at the blood on his hands.
The sound of the tent flap lifting turned his head in that direction, and he found Ronon by his side again, both of them barely breathing as first Sheppard, then Beckett emerged from the tent.
Sheppard didn't look at either of them. He just pushed past and walked as far as he could without being out of earshot, keeping his back to them.
McKay stared after his friend, his eyes widening. Then he turned back to Beckett, and the knot in his stomach nearly stopped his breath.
Beckett's eyes were downcast.
"There's...there's nothing I can do," the Scot said, his voice deep with misery. "Her wounds...even if I got her back to Atlantis right now, I couldn't...." he trailed off, and shook his head.
"Oh God," McKay whispered, staring past the Scot to the tent. Ronon seemed frozen to the spot next to him, completely unmoving.
"You...you might want to say your goodbyes now," Beckett added softly. "She doesn't have much time."
Rodney felt like he was choking. Couldn't breathe. This couldn't be happening. This could not be happening!
Beckett's blue eyes lifted, meeting Rodney's shocked ones, then shifted to Ronon's misery filled ones.
"I am so sorry," he whispered, the pain in his voice plain.
"Wait!" Nonor's voice shouted, causing them all to turn. "Wait! Ronon!"
She was pushing through the milling crowd, her golden hair flying behind her. She was holding something in her hand—it appeared to be a small jar of salve. As a group, they turned to watch her approach. McKay hated her even more as she smiled brightly at them all. How could she be happy? He growled, and he felt Ronon's hand on his shoulder. Sheppard and Beckett, meanwhile, just watched as she arrived before them, almost breathless.
"Ronon!" She held the salve out, "I won this! Winning the sticks event made me the overall champion of Yedeenorog, and this was the prize! You can use this for Teyla!"
The former Runner looked momentarily confused, staring down at the jar in his hands. "What?"
"I'm sorry, lass," Beckett said, shaking his head at her. "I'm sure we appreciate—"
"Like hell," McKay muttered, glaring viciously at the woman.
"...the gesture," Beckett finished, shooting McKay a shushing look, "but I'm afraid—"
"You don't understand," Nonor said, pressing the jar into Beckett's hands. "This is Alicornia Salve!"
"By the Ancestors...," Ronon gaped, his eyes widening. "Really?"
"It's what?" Beckett said, staring down at the jar.
"Alicornia Salve," Nonor said, her brow furrowing. "You know, the Oil of Eternity? The Liniment of Life? The Cure-all Cream?"
Beckett just blinked at her.
Ronon suddenly snatched it from the doctor's hands and ran into the tent, leaving them all behind. Beckett blinked some more, then dashed in after him. By unspoken accord, McKay, Sheppard and Nonor quickly followed, pushing into the small area in time to see Ronon on his knees next to Teyla, spreading what looked like a whitish salve over the almost black bruise covering Teyla's abdomen, side and back.
"What are you..." Beckett started to say, getting on Teyla's other side, then his mouth fell open. "Oh my God," he gasped, watching as, everywhere the salve soaked into the skin...the purpling bruise immediately started to fade. "What the hell...?"
Ronon was already spreading more of the salve on Teyla's neck and head, where Nonor's blows had impacted the skull.
Cuts healed, bones knitted, bruises disappeared as the blood was reabsorbed....
"This is impossible," Beckett breathed. "Impossible."
Nonor just grinned, crossing her arms across her ample breasts, shaking her hair out. "I told you. I've saved her."
McKay flinched at that, and he turned to stare openly at the brazen woman.
When Ronon backed off, having used more than half of the salve in the small jar, Beckett was there, leaning over Teyla, checking her over. Hands prodded and poked, then he was pressing a stethoscope to her chest. The Athosian appeared to be sleeping...peacefully. Not a mark on her.
The Scot backed off, shaking his head. Then he looked up at the group, "I need to get her home. Now."
Nonor's face fell a little, and she looked at Ronon. "But..."
Ronon turned to look up at his sister, and she stared back, her blue eyes softening, filling with tears.
"But," she said again, "You just...we just..."
Ronon stared at her a moment longer, then shifted to look at Sheppard, standing between her and McKay.
"Can she come?" he said, his voice questioning. Nonor's eyebrows lifted, surprised. For the first time, she realized that Ronon was not in charge here. Her head snapped to the side, to look at the man on her right with an appraising look.
Sheppard stared back at Ronon, his jaw tense. He had no idea what to think right now.
Finally, slowly, he gave a nod.
McKay gave out a loud huff, and crossed his arms. Clearly not happy. Ronon purposefully ignored the scientist, giving Sheppard a thankful nod.
"Okay," Beckett said, standing up. "Let's get her out of here."
CHAPTER SEVEN: ARUMENTATIVE ASTROPHYSICIST
Buzzing filled her head, like insects hovering over wildflowers during the warm season. The annoying noise slowly receded, resolving itself into the familiar voices of her friends and teammates. One of those voices pierced through them all, sending a sharp spike of pain through her head.
“I will not shut up!” Rodney McKay’s distinctive voice shouted in the high-pitched tone he used when he was especially agitated. It sounded like he was – as Colonel Sheppard had explained – having a “hissy fit.”
“Not here, McKay!” the
Colonel interrupted with a hiss.
“There’s sick people here who don’t need to hear your little tantrum.”
“Tantrum?!” Rodney’s voice pitched even higher.
“Gentlemen!” Elizabeth said firmly. “Briefing room. Now.”
Both men fell silent, though Teyla could hear some soft grumbling. A tiny smile curled her lips as she pictured them meekly following Dr. Weir like chastised children.
“Teyla? Are you awake, lass?”
Forcing her eyes open, Teyla blinked against the bright lights of the infirmary, then looked up into the concerned blue eyes of Dr. Beckett. Relief flooded his features and he asked with a kind smile, “How are you feeling?”
Teyla moved her arms and legs experimentally. “I am... stiff and my head hurts.”
“Aye, that’s to be expected.” He took her vital signs and examined her carefully, shaking his head in awe. “We were afraid we’d lost you.”
Wrinkling her brow in confusion, Teyla searched her memory, but could recall nothing that would explain her present condition. “What happened?”
“You don’t remember?”
“No,” Teyla said with a frown. “I remember going to the Y festival, but things are not clear beyond that.”
Beckett sighed. “Well, you apparently took part in the competitions, though I’m afraid you fared badly against Ronon’s sister.”
“Why do I not remember?”
“You took a good bang on the head, and it’s common to have some minor memory loss after something like that.” Beckett smiled at her.
“And the rest?” Teyla pressed, knowing there was more.
“Your injuries were quite severe, but Nonor had some salve that literally saved your life. It was remarkable really. I’ve never seen the like.”
“I must thank her,” Teyla said, shifting uncomfortably.
“Later.” Beckett patted her arm gently. “You rest now.”
Teyla let her eyes drift shut and slipped easily into sleep.
Rodney folded his arms tightly across his chest, scowl firmly in place as he glared across the table at Sheppard.
Leaning forward in her seat, Elizabeth asked, “What happened?”
Rodney opened his mouth to answer but was cut off by Sheppard, who threw a pointed look in his direction. “Teyla fought in one of the competitions and things got a little rough.”
“Rough?” Rodney exclaimed. “Is that what you call it? Rough is cuts and bruises. That wasn’t rough, it was brutal.”
“McKay,” Sheppard said, warning clear in his voice.
“Her neck was broken, Colonel,” Rodney spat. “That... that Amazon was trying to kill her!”
“It was a competition, not a fight to the death,” Sheppard said in a tight voice. “Nonor didn’t hurt Teyla on purpose.”
“Like hell!” Rodney’s voice rose along with his anger. “She cheated to get the advantage and then kept hitting Teyla after she was down.”
“So you’re an expert on fighting techniques now?” Sheppard said sarcastically. “The judges said she won fair and square.”
Rodney gave a contemptuous snort. “Of course they did. Those bastards were all cheering her on while she beat on Teyla.”
Sheppard rolled his eyes. “Nonor won all her other bouts, McKay. I hardly think she needed to cheat.”
“I know you’re upset about Teyla, Rodney,” Elizabeth began.
“I know what I saw.” Rodney lifted his chin stubbornly.
“What you think you saw,” Sheppard argued.
Throwing Sheppard the nastiest look he could muster, Rodney prepared to argue his point further, but Elizabeth intervened.
“Enough!” She gave each of them a reproachful look. “Without any proof, we cannot assume that Nonor intended to harm Teyla, and she did, in fact, save her life.”
“Wouldn’t have needed saving if she hadn’t...” Rodney muttered angrily.
“Rodney,” Elizabeth warned. “While Nonor is here, you will accord her the same respect as any other visitor.”
“She’s your teammate’s sister, McKay,” Sheppard said. “You might try giving her the benefit of the doubt.”
Tossing a final glare at them, Rodney stomped out of the room. As he left, he heard Elizabeth ask, “What happened to his face?”
“Ronon said he tripped and fell on it,” Sheppard replied.
Storming away, Rodney had easily heard the amusement in Sheppard’s voice in his reply to Elizabeth's question, and it only angered him further.
He should have expected this. Any time there was an alien woman involved, Sheppard’s common sense went out the window and everyone stopped listening to Rodney. It was like the Chaya situation all over again. Somehow, he was always painted as the bad guy.
Outside the infirmary, Rodney paused to take a few deep breaths, forcing his anger back down. Teyla didn’t need to be dealing with his problems. Despite what most people thought about him, he could be nice when he wanted.
Once he was calm, Rodney stepped inside the infirmary, relieved when he saw no sign of Ronon or his sister. “Carson?”
The doctor poked his head around the curtain surrounding Teyla’s bed.
“How is she?” Rodney asked quietly.
“She’s a bit sore, and she doesn’t remember much, but I think she’ll be fine.” Beckett shook his head in wonder. “Bloody miracle. If it wasn’t for that salve...” He left the rest unsaid.
“Do you know what’s in it?” Rodney asked, his scientific curiosity temporarily overriding his disappointment in Teyla’s memory loss.
“Not yet,” Beckett replied. “I sent a sample off to the chemists, but it’ll take them some time to properly analyze it.”
“Can I...” Rodney gestured toward the curtains.
“Aye, but just for a minute,” Beckett answered. “She needs her rest.”
Rodney stepped behind the curtain and stared down at his sleeping teammate. She looked as beautiful as always—there was no sign of any of the injuries she sustained in the fight. If he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes, Rodney wouldn’t have believed it ever happened. He shuddered at the memory of Teyla’s broken, bloodied body lying in the mud, her neck at the wrong angle and bruises marring her smooth skin. Rodney swallowed hard and turned away.
“Wait a minute, Rodney,” Beckett called as he made to leave the infirmary. “I want to look at that eye.”
“Your eye,” Beckett explained. “You’ve got quite the shiner going, there.”
“Oh, right,” Rodney said. In all his worry over Teyla, he’d almost forgotten the punch he’d received from Ronon.
“How’d you do this, then?” Beckett asked as he prodded Rodney’s cheek.
Recalling the explanation Sheppard gave Elizabeth – and the fury that led Ronon to hit him in the first place – Rodney decided it would be better for his health to keep the truth to himself.
“I, um, I tripped.”
Beckett eyed him dubiously.
Rodney sighed. “I was in a hurry to get to Teyla and I didn’t watch where I was going.”
“You should be more careful, Rodney,” Beckett said with a soft chuckle.
“Yeah, yeah, mock my pain,” Rodney grouched. “Would it kill you to show a little sympathy or do you save it just for livestock?”
“Keep it up and I’ll break out the bovine needles next time you need an injection,” Beckett retorted.
“I always knew you were a vet masquerading as an MD,” Rodney sniped, though it lacked his usual bite.
“Cows certainly complain less than you do,” Beckett said with a grin.
“What about the sheep?”
Beckett rolled his eyes, ignoring the comment. “Doesn’t look like anything’s broken, but you’ll have a nice bruise for a few days.” He handed Rodney a packet of ibuprofen.
“Nothing nice about it,” Rodney grumbled as he started for the door.
“Put some ice on that,” Beckett said as he left.
Rodney was headed for his room when something slammed into him from behind. Strong hand turned him around and for the second time that day, he found himself pressed against Nonor’s enormous breasts. Normally, having a beautiful woman’s leather-clad bosom in such close proximity was something he enjoyed, but in this case, it was hampering his ability to breathe.
“What do you want?” he gasped, looking around in the hope that someone would see them.
Nonor growled at him. “You will stop lying about me.”
“I’m not lying,” Rodney argued. “And you know it.”
She responded by pulling him away from the wall and slamming him back again. Rodney barely had time to catch his breath before she landed a solid punch in his stomach.
“You are a weak, boastful man who steals the honor and glory of others,” she sneered. “A coward like you could never fight the wraith.”
“I don’t need anyone else’s glory,” Rodney said angrily. “My bombs have killed thousand of wraith and destroyed entire hive ships.”
“Lies,” she said dismissively. “You lie like a sniveling coward.”
He glared at her defiantly. “Just because I use my brain instead of my fists...”
Nonor punched him again, then threw him to the floor. Rodney’s head smacked audibly into the hard surface. Nonor pressed her foot into his groin. “You will stop telling lies or I will make you regret it.”
Rodney said nothing, knowing that it wouldn’t make a difference. The faint sound of approaching voices reached his ears and he sighed in relief.
Nonor hauled him up off the floor and dragged him further down the hall. Pausing in front of a narrow door, she pressed the panel to open it and shoved him inside.
Rodney landed hard in a pile of cleaning supplies. The door closed and he lay there catching his breath while he inventoried his new aches and pains. He sighed aloud. “Just great,” he muttered to himself. “Another friggin’ galaxy and I’m still getting stuffed into lockers. By a girl, no less.”
Groaning, Rodney pushed himself to his feet. He probably shouldn’t be surprised by her reaction to him. A society that placed so much value upon physical strength and fighting ability was not likely to appreciate someone like him. He winced and rubbed his aching midsection. Nonor had certainly made her opinion clear.
Rodney opened the closet, relieved to find the hallway empty. He headed for his room, still muttering angrily to himself. “I’m just as much a warrior as they are. Just with my brains instead.”
A pair of Marines passed by, eyeing him oddly as he griped his way down the hall.
“I’m a... a mind warrior. That’s it. Brains instead of brawn. Not a coward...” Rodney smiled at that. Mind warrior. He thought it was an apt description. Maybe he could get a t-shirt made.
Rodney fell heavily onto his bed, the smile fading as he thought about the crazy Amazon woman’s threats. Between her and Ronon, he was likely to get his face smashed in if he kept pushing to get the truth out. He sighed, wondering what he should do. He still had no answers when he dozed off twenty minutes later.
CHAPTER EIGHT: NONOR'S NARCISSISM
Ronon glanced about the gateroom for any sign of Nonor. He wasn’t sure where she had wandered off to but he was fairly certain that his sister, roaming the halls of the ancient city unchaperoned, was a bad idea. Still, a mix of overwhelming emotion filled him. His sister was here, on Atlantis—alive! Never, since the moment he had discovered that some of his people had actually survived the wraith attack on his world, had he dared to dream that any of his family might still live. Seeing Nonor at the Yedeenorog was a shock, a thrill and…a burden. His sister lived. Strong and independent, a mighty warrior and now, Nonor was his responsibility.
Above him, in the glass-enclosed room that served as Dr. Weir’s office, he could see Col. Sheppard and Weir conferring together. He wondered if they were discussing Teyla’s condition, Nonor’s arrival, Dr. McKay’s accusations or maybe even him. What was to become of his place here now that they had found Nonor? For seven years he’d been on his own, careful to connect to no one. He’d survived and now, when he finally had found a place, a place where he almost felt like he belonged…
His eyes narrowed as he watched Sheppard and Weir talk. There was too much noise in the room for even him to hear what they were saying from this far away, but he could read their faces. He could see the worry etched across Weir’s brow and the way the skin wrinkled just above her nose. He took in the hard set of Sheppard’s jaw and the tightness across the man’s shoulders. Stiff. Tense. Angry.
Ronon turned away, hating the tension he saw. The team had gone to Yedeenorog with him to help him reconnect with his people, to relax and unwind and instead they had returned through the gate with nothing but…
“Brother!” Nonor’s melodic voice bellowed through the gateroom as she entered, surrounded by admirers. Somewhere amongst her explorations, the Setedan woman had attracted Major Lorne for an escort. There were others too. Two marines Ronon didn’t recognize, a Scientist from McKay’s lab and—was that Dr. Kavanagh? Ronon shook his head, amazed yet unsurprised by his sister’s ability to draw people to her. She towered above the group of men, but leaned attentively to hear whatever it was Lorne was pointing out to her. Ronon didn’t miss the fact that Nonor’s hand clasped Lorne’s arm possessively even as she managed to press herself against him.
“Sister.” He failed to keep his displeasure from his tone but Nonor was oblivious.
Lorne, however, was not. The major met Ronon’s gaze somewhat sheepishly as he tried to pull away from the gorgeous woman, but she wasn’t having any of it. Nonor tightened her grip on Lorne’s arm. The others, seeing Ronon’s expression, scattered quickly.
Ronon ignored them. “Where have you been?”
“Exploring.” Nonor excitedly pulled Lorne closer, eliciting a soft grunt from the uncomfortable looking Major. “It is invigorating to find myself walking the very hallways that the ancestors themselves once…”
“You should not go off alone,” Ronon interrupted, chiding gruffly.
Nonor frowned. “ I did not hurt anything,” she emphasized petulantly, lowering her gaze a moment, but not before Ronon caught the flash of defiance there.
Anyone. He heard the insinuation in her tone. She was still angry at him for questioning her about what had happened to Teyla.
“Ronon? Nonor?” Sheppard called from above. “Elizabeth is ready for a briefing.”
The brilliant smile returned to his sister’s face as she glanced up at John and licked her lips. Without pause she shoved Lorne away and hurried up the steps.
Ronon waited a moment, his thoughts not so easily shifting away from Teyla. Nonor had insisted that what happened back at the Yedeenorbog was an accident, but McKay had been equally insistent that it wasn’t. His anger still churned toward McKay. How could Rodney have pointed a weapon at his sister? And yet…Ronon’s chest tightened. Had he ever known McKay to use a weapon under less than dire circumstances? Well, not unless he was panicked anyway. Had McKay merely panicked when he realized Teyla was injured?
Ronon huffed in frustration. The questions made his head ache. He pushed away the confusion and conflict and ignored the doubt that plagued at him. McKay did not understand. He didn’t know what it was like to get caught up in the heat of a battle, even a friendly competition. The man was just a scientist who didn’t trust what he didn’t know. McKay was not a warrior and he did not know Nonor.
“How is this possible?” Weir looked from Sheppard to Ronon then to Nonor. “You’re telling me that this.” She held up the small, nearly empty, jar. “Alicornia salve, healed all of Teyla’s wounds?”
“All of ‘em,” John nodded, tapping the jar lightly. “I know what you’re thinking. I wouldn’t believe it either if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes,” he admitted.
“How?” Elizabeth turned the jar in her hands before gently setting it on the conference room table in front of her and looked up at Ronon.
The large warrior met her gaze and shrugged. “Don’t know.”
Beside him, his sister giggled softly. “Alicornia salve is a rare treasure on our world. What small amounts remain are valued higher than anything else in our society.” She straightened proudly, thrusting her ample bosom in John’s general direction. “It is only awarded to the mightiest warriors. It is a great honor to be awarded the salve that I gave for Teyla.”
Elizabeth nodded patiently. “Where does the salve come from?”
Nonor smiled, flashing brilliant white teeth. “Our legends tell us it comes from the Alicornia of Ctesias.”
“Those legends have not been told for generations,” Ronon reminded.
Nonor glanced contemptuously at her brother. “I know the legends.”
“How?” he challenged.
“I learned them!”
Elizabeth shared an amused look with John and softly cleared her throat, bringing the siblings attention back to her. “Please, Nonor. If you know the legend, we would be very interested in hearing it.” She raised her hand to forestall any protest from Ronon. “Presuming, of course, that after Dr. McKay and Dr. Beckett join us with the chemical analysis of the salve, we will go over the information again to glean fact from fiction.” That seemed to please both of the Setedans.
Nonor adjusted in her seat again, her posture emphasizing her assets. Her ponytail bobbed playfully though her expression grew serious. “Generations ago, explorers from Seteda discovered the magnificent Alicornia of Ctesias.” Her voice dropped to a loud whisper as she gestured grandly with both hands.
Ronon closed his eyes, Sheppard raised an eyebrow and Weir carefully controlled her expression as she tried to hold back her laughter and focus on Nonor’s dramatic story.
CHAPTER NINE: SATEDAN STORY-TELLING
"Ctesias!" Nonor repeated the name, her eyes aglow. "Long, long ago, before the Wraith darkened our skies, the Ancestors walked among us and taught the people wondrous things."
Despite himself, Dex found himself relaxing, letting the familiar words of the fable wash over him.
"But the universe is wide, and there are wonders therein even older than the Ancients," Nonor continued. "One such is Ctesias. The planet of light. The planet of healing. Where the gentle alicorn dwells on the slopes of cloud-shouldered mountains, waiting for a warrior of pure spirit and noble heart to prove to prove worthy--"
"Worthy?" Weir broke in.
Nonor scowled at the interruption.
"What kind of creature?" Sheppard asked, tilting his head at her.
Nonor seemed less bothered by his interruption, and he eyes darted about the room. She focused on a small bronze statue on one of Elizabeth's mantles and pointed.
"Like that there, though larger and healthier and truer of spirit."
They turned to look, and Weir frowned. It was a bronze of Don Quixoite on Rocinante. "A horse?"
"How can you not know what an alicorn is?" Nonor said in reply, disdain dripping off her tongue at Elizabeth's clear inferiority.
Unfazed, Weir made a little hurry-up gesture. "Does this creature have something to do with the salve?"
Dex rolled his eyes. He'd heard the story at least as many times as his sister. "The legend says the creature's horn has miraculous healing powers," he said, placing heavy emphasis on the word 'legend.'
"Horn," Sheppard repeated. "Singular? One horn?"
Weir scrubbed wearily at her forehead. Sheppard's expression, on the other hand, was alight with manic glee. He only wished Rodney was here to hear this.
"A unicorn?" he cackled. "You're saying there are unicorns in the Pegasus galaxy?"
"Alicorn!" Nonor growled. Only Nonor Dex could growl and look cute doing it.
Weir crossed her arms and tried very hard not to think about the collection of ceramic unicorns that had cluttered her bedroom when she was 11. "Could you describe these...alicornia for us?"
"Their pelts are soft as featherdown and golden as the sun. Their hoofs are cloven and a single horn rises from the middle of their foreheads, straight and sharp as a sword blade."
"And it's the horn that's used to make the healing salve?" Weir asked.
Nonor nodded eagerly. "If a warrior of noble worth makes the journey to Ctesias, the alicorn will prostrate itself before him, or her, and make a willing sacrifice of itself. So the legends tell us. The proof, you have seen for yourself."
"And how do the warriors make this journey?" Sheppard asked.
Nonor turned a brilliant smile on him. "The proper sequence on the Great Ring has been passed down from generation to generation through our lorekeepers. Haigha, the only lorekeeper to survive the ruin of Sateda, has been teaching me the legends. I know the way."
Dex snorted. "No one has been to Ctesias in a thousand years. If it even exists."
"It exists!" Nonor said.
"In nighttime tales to lull babies to sleep, maybe."
Nonor stomped her foot. "The lorekeepers do not lie! Haigha has seen the lost world himself! And so have the select few he has chosen to keep the lore of our people for the next generation!"
"Now, I don't think we--" Weir tried to intervene. She was ignored.
"You?" Ronon scoffed. "You expect us to believe you've seen an alicorn?"
Nonor advance on him, her hands balling into fists. Sheppard prudently moved out of the way. There was no way he wanted to be caught between the two of them.
A chirp from the intercom interrupted before the Dex siblings could come to blows.
"Doctor Weir?" Beckett's cheerful hail cut the tension in the room. "If all of you would care to join me, we're ready to put this miracle salve to the test."
"Just in time!" Carson's voice greeted them as they entered the infirmary. Carson himself was nowhere in sight, completely obscured by a massive array of diagnostic equipment. It looked like Beckett and McKay had stripped half the labs in Atlantis to monitor this experiment.
Gingerly, they picked their way through the tangled web of cables and power cords on the floor, searching for the source of the voice.
Agitated medical and science staff scuttled around them, adjusting the equipment and arguing with each other. Sheppard narrowly avoided a head-on collision with Zelenka as the Czech barreled by, nose buried in a stack of readouts.
"Carson?" Elizabeth called, raising her voice above the babble.
"Here!" Beckett's voice was closer now. "Now, Rodney, would you just-- I mean it! Quit squirming!"
"I'm not squirming! I'm leaving! Find yourself another guinea pig, Doctor Strangelove!"
They rounded a final bank of beeping, blinking equipment to find Beckett grinning down at Rodney, who sulked on a diagnostic bed as nurses attached a bristling web of electrodes to his head, chest and torso.
"Stay," Beckett admonished his patient, slapping an adhesive-tipped wire on McKay's temple, just above the mottled edge of the bruise that had purpled the left side of his face from jaw to eye. "Radek? Do you have the-- Ah yes, there it is, thank you."
Zelenka, swathed in surgical scrubs, mask and gloves, handed the container of healing salve to Beckett as if it was a basket of live cobras. Beckett unscrewed the cap and inserted a metal probe to extract a tiny dollop of thick, odorless goo.
"This is ridiculous," McKay said, scooting mutinously away -- or as far as the electrodes would allow. "We already know the stuff works."
"Aye. But we don't know why it works. Or how it works."
Beckett turned to include his audience in the discussion. "This substance is like nothing we've ever seen We ran it through every test we had. Chemical and radiological tests, spectroscopic analysis -- we can't find anything that would explain its apparent ability to heal tissue, mend broken bones and re-grow nerves."
"You want to watch it in action," Weir guessed. "In a controlled laboratory setting."
"Exactly. So chin up, Rodney," Beckett instructed, poised to smear the salve on the bruise.
A hand shot out and caught the doctor's wrist, arresting the motion. Beckett let out a yelp as the bones in his wrist ground together.
"Are you mad?" Nonor cried, wrenching the instrument out of his nerveless fingers. "You would waste the most precious substance in the universe on a..." Her gaze raked across McKay with undisguised contempt. "...bruise?"
Sheppard stepped forward, casually inserting himself between the furious Satedan and McKay. He reached up and caught her hand, encouraging her to loosen her death grip on Beckett's wrist.
"Easy now," he said. "The doc here knows what he's doing."
Carson gasped with relief as Nonor released his arm.
She locked eyes with Sheppard a moment longer, then reluctantly returned the sample to Beckett. "Wars have been fought," she hissed. "Legendary warriors lost their lives in search of that which you hold in your hand."
"Nonor," Dex growled a warning. He'd had more than enough of his sister's theatrics for one day.
Elizabeth held up a hand, cutting off the debate. "Carson? A word?"
She and Beckett moved a few steps off, heads together. Zelenka tossed an encouraging smile at McKay and hurried to join them.
"She has a point. A black eye isn't exactly a life-threatening injury," Weir murmured, keeping her voice low.
She watched as Sheppard hopped up to sit on the edge of the bed beside Rodney. The scientist was poking unhappily at one of the electrodes attached to his arm. The dark circles under his eyes and the garish bruise added to his air of general misery.
Carson was still trying to massage sensation back into his fingers. "You happened to catch us on a slow day, Elizabeth," he snapped. "We're fresh out of trauma cases. It's Rodney's contusion or Kavanagh's hemorrhoids. Which would you prefer?"
Weir and Zelenka shuddered. Taking that as a sign that he'd won the argument, Beckett turned back to his patient.
"Now." He said, brandishing the salve. "Where were we?"
Stars swirled lazily on the display screen as the image tilted just enough to give viewers a glimpse of the distant, glowing curve of a planet's ionosphere --Ctesia, if Nonor's directions were right. The MALP's freefall through the vacuum of space continued, offering the viewers back in Atlantis flashes of stars, a white blur that might be a moon and the Stargate, event horizon still activated and twinkling as the MALP tumbled farther and farther away.
Sheppard pulled a face. Space gate. They lost more MALPs that way.
"Oh would you look at that," McKay groused, punching keys in a futile attempt to direct the probe's sensors toward the planet.
The skin of his cheek was smooth and unmarred. The circles under his eyes had vanished, as had the headache he'd been nursing since they returned from the planet. The experiment, as far as he was concerned, had been a rousing success. Even if it hadn't answered any of Beckett's questions. The diagnostic equipment had dutifully recorded the effects of the salve -- ruptured capillaries repairing themselves, torn and bruised flesh knitting itself whole again, the bruise fading away as if it had never been. But again, there was no clue how the mysterious balm had worked the cure.
McKay caught himself prodding his own cheekbone again, and pulled his attention back to the job at hand. If they couldn't synthesize the salve, their best hope was to visit Ctesia and harvest the raw ingredients themselves.
He scowled at the scanty readings coming back from the doomed MALP, then at the woman who had provided the gate address. "You couldn't have warned us this was a space gate? That's a couple of million dollars worth of precision equipment we just spaced, thanks to you!"
"McKay," Dex growled, curling his fingers around the back of the scientist's chair and tightening his grip until the furniture creaked in protest.
McKay swallowed hard, but subsided, still frowning ferociously at the data.
But Elizabeth was already moving in, eyes narrowing as she studied Nonor. "I'd say this explains why no one has harvested this healing salve in generations," she said slowly.
Dex had turned his glare from McKay to his sister. "Spacecraft are one of the hardest bits of technology to protect from the Wraith. It's been centuries since we have known any people who could travel the stars as you do."
Nonor shrank back, turning to Sheppard in appeal, one long-fingered hand reaching up to clutch the sleeve of his jacket.
Sheppard sidestepped her. "So, when you said you'd been to Ctesias..."
Nonor squirmed. "Well, Haigha always described it so vividly," she said, spreading her hands and giving a helpless little-girl shrug. "I felt like I really was there."
McKay erupted out of his chair and rounded on the Satedan woman with an air of undisguised triumph. "And when *he* said he'd been to the mystical land of waterfalls and rainbows? Hmm?"
Nonor stiffened, ready to spring from her chair and smash the smirk off his face.
"This lore has been passed down from generation to generation for eons, little man," she snarled, rising until she towered over McKay. "These tales are our history, the very essence of our culture, and to be entrusted with the keeping of them is an honor your crabbed and cringing mind could not possibly begin to grasp."
McKay flinched as she bent to hiss the last few words to his face. But he held his ground -- chin still tilted at a defiant angle that made her fists itch to punch it.
"And when were you planning to tell us that this was just a fairy tale?" he asked. His eyes flickered toward his teammates, hoping to see someone ready to jump in and back him up on this one. Weir was watching Nonor through narrowed eyes. Sheppard was still glumly following the MALP's death spiral through deep space. Dex was just...looming.
"Enough, Rodney," Sheppard said, straightening and squaring his shoulders. "I want everyone geared up and in the jumper bay in half an hour. We're going on a unicorn hunt."
CHAPTER TEN: CTESIAN CREATIONS
“If this place has a beachline with even just *three* foot rollers – I am so retiring here.”
Sheppard’s eyes never stopped scanning the landscape of Ctesias as they flew down in the puddle jumper with his team and the five others with them. They had been flying for awhile, looking for Nonor's elusive alicorn, without success.
Tall, snow capped mountains, covered with lush, multi-colored foliage stood against a pale blue sky to the far right, while a massive ocean glittered to the far left. The variety of colorful, flowering trees and bushes covering the land in between was of Willy-Wonkian magnitude.
As he dipped the puddle jumper lower, aiming for what looked like a large, round lake ringed by black sand, he took in some jagged red cliffs to the right, sparkled with geological flecks of blue and silver. To their left, orange moss filled what could only be wetlands, striped with lines of blue, leading out to the ocean. Low-lying hills covered by a dense forest rippled the rest of the surface, while straight ahead in the distance, volcanoes smoked up the air with gentle puffs of smoke.
Sheppard flew down low when they reached the massive lake, skimming across the shimmering blue and causing white waves to form. He angled the jumper up again as they came to a wall of black on one side—a steeply sloped cliff of black sand leading up to a plateau of sorts. The HUD displayed the topography, mapping it for him as they flew. Coming up over the edge, he lifted them over some trees, headed towards a clearing he had spotted earlier. It was as good a place as any to start.
“It’s stunning.” Dr. Robyn Kat Bedevere had been off-world exactly twice since she’d left working as Professor for the Understanding of Science at Oxford University and accepted a position on Atlantis eight months ago. This was the petite, perky scientist’s second trip. She never imagined her doctorate in evolutionary biology and a passion for xenobiology would land her in the kind of place she’d only dreamt of as a young girl.
They landed in a wide, almost perfectly circular clearing inside the forest not far from the lake, Sheppard expertly placing the jumper almost directly in the middle.
"Everybody out," he called cheerfully, standing up from the pilot's chair. Already in the back, McKay and the others finished suiting up and the scientist hit the hatch control. Nonor jumped out, opening her arms wide and taking a deep breath. Behind her, Ronon and Teyla stepped more cautiously, but even their eyes were wide with wonder. Doctor Bedevere followed next, smiling broadly, her eyes cataloguing the flora around her almost greedily.
To her right, Corporal Lou Jerkin stepped off the ramp and scuffed the tip of one boot into the pockmarked, rocky patch of turquoise ground that Sheppard chose as a landing pad. He nudged up the brim of his cap over his red hair with one finger and glanced again at the scenery. “Ho-ly cats. It’s like Hawaii…on acid.”
The man’s Texas drawl made Sheppard think of a NASA engineer…or a college football commentator. Yet, there was a good amount of truth in the brief description.
“I’ve never been to Hawaii, Red,” stated Carson simply stepping forward and looking up at the pale sky, “but if it really is anything like this…”
A gruff voice interrupted him as Sergeant Charles Boris responded. “It’s better than this, Doc…Hawaii has lots of hot chicks in thongs.” The burly sergeant walked across to one corner of the clearing, peering into the trees.
Nonor stood beside her brother and while she couldn’t subdue the awe in her voice, she responded with a clearly confident tone. “See, I told you. It’s just as beautiful as I said it would be.”
On the other side of Sheppard, McKay rolled his eyes and muttered softly, “And we certainly know what a pillar of truth and sincerity you are.”
He focused his attention once more on the device in his hand and missed the sharp look the colonel cast at him.
‘Just as well,’ thought Sheppard. ‘I’ve used it enough already today. He’s gonna build up an immunity.’
“You’re not gonna believe this,” the colonel commented, “but when I was a kid, my uncle had this exact landscape painted on the side of his van.”
McKay spoke up. “This doesn’t look good.”
“I never thought it was a very good painting either,” replied Sheppard, “but judging from the traffic into and out of that van - the ladies sure seemed to be impressed.”
McKay threw back a humorless expression and raised the device he held. “No, I mean this. Either the meter has taken one worm hole trip too many or there is constant low-level seismic activity going on.”
“Not too surprised,” offered Corporal Jerkin. “Except for it bein’ kinda blue colored, this here ground is about as much like Hawaii’s lava rock as I ever seen.”
Sheppard cut in. “Now let’s not go jumping to any conclusions, Red. Rodney, are you sure you’re not picking up anything more than…I dunno, a herd of Ctesias elk?”
“Ah yes, you’re probably right – extraterrestrial elk that, oddly enough, are also able to mimic the same deviations in the electrical and magnetic fields that fluctuate with the pressure and stresses caused by subterranean magma movements as they’re thundering across the plains. Please give me some credit for being able to interpret readings on the magic box.” He gently wiggled the meter back and forth, driving home his point.
Carson looked at McKay, with a slightly furrowed brow. The distractions offered by the wondrous planet faded abruptly and the physician’s usual apprehension of being off-world flooded back upon him. “Is it safe?”
McKay stared at the man to his left. He thought his seismic activity comments made things abundantly clear.
“Would you like me to lie?” he answered, then glanced at Sheppard and continued in a dry tone. “I’m apparently good at that.” He let the comment hang in the air for a second before continuing. “I’d just like to state for the record that I’m not convinced this is the safest planet to be on.”
Sheppard decided at that moment that he needed to write out a list of all the reasons why he kept Rodney on his team and as a friend, laminate it, and keep it with him at all times. It would be a good reminder for why he shouldn’t kill the man when his persnickety side reared its irritating head.
“Alright, look,” said Sheppard, “just keep an eye on ‘the magic box’…if the readings change, let me know. Till then, secure the jumper and let’s go.”
“Hold up, sir,” Jerkin blurted, “almost forgot my secret weapon.” The soldier ducked into the small craft and returned a moment later, fastening the latch on his backpack.
Sheppard looked over his people and quickly divided up teams. They hadn't seen any alicorn from the jumper, or even any sign of them, so it meant searching on foot. Two groups should do it.
‘Carson’s looking tense…McKay is making me tense…Not sure I want Teyla and Nonor together just yet…But do I want *McKay* and Nonor together?...Aw, to hell with it, it will be good for them to work out their differences, and he and Nonor can keep Carson distracted and calm.’
“Oh please, Colonel, call me Robyn…but you can use Raven, too. It’s the Native American name I was honored with when I spent a year studying with a Navajo shaman in New Mexico.”
“Uh…okay.” Sheppard briefly wondered if his sunglasses hid his befuddled expression. “How ‘bout you and Sergeant Boris come with me and Teyla. The rest...," he frowned slightly, realizing that they didn't have directions picked yet. He glanced over at the practically prancing tawny-haired Satedan. "Nonor, I don’t suppose Haigha passed on any knowledge about where we might find an alicorn?”
“We should find the prettiest, most magnificent spot of beauty. The alicorn would naturally be drawn to such a place.” Nonor's return smile was blinding.
Teyla replied gingerly to the suggestion, as if addressing a well-meaning child, “Yeesss…that is a…suggestion worthy of the description you’ve given of the alicorn. However,” she glanced at Sheppard, “if I may suggest, Colonel, another possible method of finding one is to seek out the nearest fresh water source. It is very likely that many of the native creatures will be found close by there.”
"Didn't see any by that big ass lake," Boris called from where he was now peering into another section of the forest.
"No," Teyla agreed, "but there were many other, smaller lakes." She pointed first to the mountains now a little behind them, which meant heading down off this plateau towards the lake, then to the volcanoes puffing up ahead over the tops of the hills. “It is probable that water run-off from the mountains and volcanoes would channel down into the woods…leading, I’m sure, to the most magnificent spots of beauty.”
“Volcanoes and mountains it is,” replied Sheppard. “Ronon, you guys head up. We’ll head down.”
“And we’ll be in Scotland before ye,” muttered McKay.
Carson tentatively spoke up, peering nervously at the volcanoes. “Nonor, would there be any non-gentle, magnificent wildlife we should be aware of?”
The tanned warrior brushed a lock of hair over her shoulder and eagerly offered her knowledge. “Ctesias is populated with many creatures worthy of sharing the world with the alicorn. Thecodontias – as graceful out of the water as they are in it. The long-necked Anser, softer than any pillow you’ve ever rested your head upon. Dromedaria – like ships on land, they are. Pantrog-lodytes, felidae, muridae, loxodonta…but as certain as your mother gave birth to you – the most magnificent of them all is the alicorn.”
“Yes, but what he was asking,” said McKay, none-too-gently “was – do any of them bite?”
Nonor shot a hard look at the scientist. “You gleeking flap-mouthed giglet! If I--”
“Oh, name-calling. Is that another of your great warrior traditions?!”
Sheppard stepped forward to prevent things from escalating. “Alright, that’s enough! Knock it off, both of you!” ‘Jeezus, when did I become a den mother?’
Nonor composed herself and focused on Carson. She beamed a soft smile and answered his question. “This is a peaceful, beautiful world, Doctor. You have nothing to fear here. One look at the muridae and your heart would open – furry and small, with a wiggly nose and shiny eyes. No two are the same exact shade.”
“They sound like colorful rabbits,” observed Dr. Bedevere.
“Or rats.” McKay added. “Rats every color of the rainbow.”
Sheppard cocked his head slightly, narrowed his eyes at the scientist and whispered to him, “Would you at least try to be civil, please?”
“She started it.”
“Rodney.” The lifting of the second syllable made it clear that Sheppard was ending the exchange. “Alright, let’s go. Check-in thirty minutes from now.”
A low, quiet rumble suddenly rolled up from deep beneath the ground they stood on. For several seconds the rocky surface vibrated gently then, just as quickly, disappeared.
“Anybody else feel that?” asked Carson, tensely.
McKay spoke up immediately. “Yes, ladies and gentlemen, as if hunting for a mythical animal wasn’t special enough, we’re now apparently doing it on a geologically unstable planet.”
Sheppard looked distinctly less-thrilled with this mission. He looked at Rodney. “I don’t suppose-”
“If I may, Colonel,” said Bedevere. “I’m slightly psychic and I’m pretty sure I know what you’re about to ask. Tectonic earthquakes traditionally only occur in fault zones or other regions away from the principal areas of magma movement. This terrain doesn’t seem to show any obvious signs of recent ground breakage. The tremors, like ones in California, are probably very common and I don’t think they’ll be a threat for the time we’re here.”
She tucked a strand of her raven black hair behind one ear and smiled sheepishly when she realized the looks she was getting. “I also majored in geology and volcanology and worked briefly with one of NASA’s Earth Observing System Volcanology Projects. I know…I’m a geek.”
Sheppard was speechless. “Um…thank you for the input.” He adjusted his P-90 to rest more comfortably across his chest and again gave the order to move out.
Each group moved in their respective directions and John swore he heard Rodney talking to himself as they separated.
“Earthquakes. Fabulous. Are there tornadoes too? Maybe we’ll get lucky and a house will land on the wicked amazon of the west. ‘Ships on land’…what does that mean anyway? If a ship is on land it doesn’t move. What kind of animal is that? They’d be legless lumps!”
CHAPTER 11: AMBULATORY ATLANTIANS
“What are you humming?” McKay asked, obviously irritated.
“Oh?” Becket responded, sounding a little distracted. “Nothin’. Nothin’ to worry your head over.” And he gave McKay a little grin, to hide his nervousness. “Lovely day,” he tried.
“Yeah, right,” McKay snapped in return, “If you enjoy the constant threat of volcanic eruption and harmonic tremors.”
Beckett gulped, looked about nervously and continued his inane humming.
“Is that necessary?” McKay demanded to know.
Offering a quiet laugh, Beckett stated, “Just tryin’ to keep myself calm. You know, find a little balance.”
McKay snorted, and declared,
“Not likely to happen here.”
They continued their trek over the fantasyland, Beckett’s tune slowly fading as McKay continued to shoot him irritated looks. The world seemed brimming with bushes so full of flowers that they appeared all pink and purple. The trees were filled with puffy, frothy leaves of lime-green coupled with a garish yellow bloom, stood upon slender orange-ish trunks. In the distance, the volcanoes puffed and gurgled. All things considered, the volcanoes seemed more ornamental than dangerous.
Beneath the trees, impossibly adorable rabbit-like characters peered at them and wiggled their delightful little noses, unafraid and looking as if they wanted to make friends. They seemed to be dyed in the same bright color of Easter eggs, except all pastels. ‘Must be one of those muridae that Sheena had mentioned earlier,’ McKay reasoned.
It was hideous, McKay decided -- in the worst possible taste. If one of those little monsters came near him, he’d slapshot it back to where it had come from. He glared at the things, their button-bright eyes shining back at him – radiating only affection. He didn’t trust them. Their cozy cuteness made him want to puke.
The physicist kept his eyes on his scanner so as not to fall into their wretched thrall of sweetness. He hoped the next earth tremor opened up a crevasse and swallowed them all up.
“Cute little buggars,” Beckett said in his ear, seeming to calm at the site of the little sweeties. “Maybe we could bring a couple of ‘em back to Atlantis.”
“Do it, and die,” McKay responded under his breath.
Beckett only smiled in return. “Would make a lovely pet,” he continued to bait his friend. It was impossible to ignore the contempt that just dripped from the physicist. “You like cats, don’t you? One of those would be a delightful replacement for one, don’t you think?”
“Any cat with any self-respect whatsoever would rip the throat out of these things the instant it saw one!” McKay snapped back. He crinkled his nose as he gazed back at the fuzzy things. Anything that innocuous shouldn’t be allowed to live – a creature should be able to defend itself and those things looked utterly helpless if something were to attack it. He dropped a hand to his hip to feel for his weapon – just to be sure.
“Ah,” Beckett replied. “A pity. I was thinkin’ of getting’ you one of the wee creatures for your birthday.” And he enjoyed the grumble that emanated from the Canadian in return.
Behind them, Corporal Jerkin stated in his soft Texan drawl, “We kept rabbits back home.”
“Oh,” Beckett declared, happily. “I hear they make lovely pets.”
“They’re better in stew,” the corporal told them.
They moved along a trail. Nonor had surmised that it had been obviously created by the animal that they sought. She’d pointed out how perfectly trodden the trail was. “Only the golden hooves of the alicorn might create such perfection.”
McKay had exhaled loudly and replied that a good engineer with a plumb line and a yardstick could have achieved a better trail, but the response was met with hard stares from both the Satedans. Well, there was no help for them, Rodney decided, the two were bound to be lost forever in their ignorance.
They continued onward, following the gentle slope of the hill. Nonor led the way, dancing and prancing, her hair lifting and falling in a beautiful halo around her head, her toned skin shining in the perfect sunlight.
Beckett and McKay came next, huffing at times from the gain in altitude, finding themselves unable to keep their gaze from her flawlessly formed bottom. They’d catch either other at it, and offer up stupid grins. Beckett would glance away at the scenery. McKay would go back to his scanner.
Corporal Jerkins followed, looking at the sweet little bun-buns as if they were dinner.
Ronon took of the rear of the group, looking glum and annoyed. A gray cloud seemed to form behind him, and somewhere nearby a little rain fell. But, undoubtedly, on the pretty, faultless (but somewhat shaky) planet, the rain was warm and welcome and would be quickly erased by the flawless sunlight. Off in the distance, volcanoes steamed, sending up happily little plumes.
When a gentle, fragrant breeze reached them, Rodney sneezed explosively, breaking the absolute calm of the day. Nonor threw him an annoyed look.
“Allergies!” McKay cried in response. “I got some pretty severe pollen allergies, and you can just bet that this world is riddled with some form of pollen designed to irritate my nasal passages. Absolutely riddled!”
Beckett made a clucking sound. Behind them, Ronon grunted, and Red mumbled something. Nonor, turned toward him just rolled her eyes and faced forward, leading them onward.
“What? What?” McKay responded. “Oh, I get it. No one cares if I suffer.”
“No,” Beckett corrected. “That’s not it at all. We just worry that we’ll be sufferin’ right along with you.” And he cordially handed his friend a pocket pack of Kleenex and hoped that would suffice.
They continued in silence for a time, the sound of their feet only interrupted by the occasional sniffling of McKay, and one or two good nose-blowings. Other than that, the day was beyond reproach.
Out of this quiet, Nonor started yammering, “Oh, long have I waited to set sight on this land!” She held out her arms, stretching them wide as if to encompass all that surrounded them. “It is beautiful beyond words!”
“Nearly as lovely as you, lass,” Beckett cooed softly at her.
Nonor beamed. Ronon shot the doctor a dangerous look, while Red looked her up and down, with a hungry grin. McKay did his best to keep his stomach from disgorging.
“It’s a lovely land,” Beckett added. “I mean, if you ignore the earthquakes and all that.” He licked his lips nervously, trying to forget about that bit.
“All it’s missing is the lollipop tree and a rainbow.” McKay grumbled, making a rather comic display of ‘jazz hands’ at ear level. He had no time to defend himself as Nonor lunged at him, grabbing (rather viciously in his mind) and spinning him about.
Nonor, her grip undoubtedly cutting off circulation to his arm, pointed with her free hand. There, just over the top of a tree garbed in garishly large fruit – a rainbow – the colors so bright it almost hurt his eyes to gaze in that direction. “Behold!” she breathed.
“Figures,” Rodney muttered.
Ronon kept moving, passing their little group, leaving Red to cover their six. The Texan did so without comment.
Nonor, looking rather proud of this small victory, released her victim and skipped back to the front, catching up to her brother. Becket shoved his hands in his pocket and hummed “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”
“Great,” McKay grumbled, and kept up with the doctor. He glared at Beckett, hoping that would be enough to silence him. Carson kept it up, trying not to let the escaping chuckles ruin the pretty tune. Behind them, Red laughed.
Nonor spun about as she danced forward, smiling at her brother then back at her entourage. “It is just like when we were children,” she sang. “We spent many a day dreaming of visiting this world of legend. Ronon loved to paint, trying to create a perfect…”
“Quiet,” Ronon declared, his voice low and ominous.
Nonor just smiled at him, warmly. “Oh, my dear, dear brother was a marvelous artist when he was a child! He may have painted with the masters one day if he’d only kept it up and not devoted himself to becoming a soldier.”
“Nonor, enough!” Ronon growled.
“Oh!” Nonor responded, sounding hurt. “I am proud of you, Ronon. If you had chosen that other path, you would’ve become nothing but a weak creature devoted to the non-physical arts. So pitiable. I am proud of your choices in life.”
McKay looked to Beckett and mouthed, “Pitiable?”
To that Beckett shrugged. Corporal Jerkin pulled up a long stalk of grass and stuck it between his teeth.
But she smiled sweetly. “He was so silly in this phase. His favorite images were of this planet. Oh, he came SO CLOSE to matching the wonders of it. Did you clearly see it in your mind’s eye, dear Ronnie?”
“Don’t!” Ronon barked. “Don’t call me that!”
“Ronon,” she corrected. “He made the cleverest little muridae and the cutest felidae with their tiny little whiskers and their purple tails. He always put little bows on their tails. So cute.”
“Wee whiskers, didja say?” Beckett echoed, sounding amused.
“Bows?” McKay added.
Corporal Jerkin waited, standing hipshot as he chewed on the stalk of grass, though his expression appeared to say, "Ronnie?"
Ronon pushed forward, leaving them behind. “I will not stand for this,” he bellowed.
But his sister traipsed next to him, clasping his arm and laying her big head on his massive shoulder. “Brother, dear brother, forgive me. I only wanted to tell these people more about you. You will forgive me?” Her dewy eyes welled. “They obviously don’t understand you as they should.”
“They know all they need,” Ronon grumbled, glancing over his shoulder at the others.
“Yes,” Rodney agreed. “That was plenty. Thank you!”
Beckett gave him an elbow in the side and McKay crossed his arms over his chest.
“Ronon, please,” Nonor went on. “I am so sorry. You will love me still, won’t you?”
Ronon grunted again.
“Please, Ronon, forgive me,” Nonor went on piteously. “It’s just that I had thought you dead, and you have come back to me – alive. It would break my heart to think you are angry with me. For years and years, I wept thinking of your horrid death. My heart was frozen with that pain. Please, Ronon, tell me you forgive me.”
Finally stopping his forward motion, Dex regarded his sister, seeing her trembling shoulders, her tear-filled eyes. With a sigh, he touched his sister on the shoulders and looked into her eyes. “I forgive you, sister.”
“Oh joy!” she breathed.
“Glad we got that out of the way,” McKay mumbled.
And they started moving forward again, Ronon and Nonor linking arms, with Beckett and McKay following. Corporal Jerkin followed, pulling down on the brim of his cap as if it was a Stetson.
Bedevere was practically skipping, heading down off the plateau in the direction of the red cliffs with a joyous air. It was all Sheppard, Teyla and Boris could do to keep up with her. She stopped every few moments to take a picture of another flower or fern, plucking half of them and depositing them into one of her endless supply of little baggies.
Sheppard watched the petite woman curiously, amazed at her seemingly endless energy. Rodney was like this when he saw anything Ancient, but, otherwise, he tended to drag his feet, always complaining about having to walk anywhere.
Bedevere had mentioned something about hiking all the American national parks in her youth in her prattling, and it seemed she hadn't been lying.
Was there anything she hadn’t done?
They hit the flatlands off the plateau, and the earth had turned to black. The trees were closer together down here, and Sheppard finally decided to rein the woman in before she walked into....
"Quicksand!" she squealed frantically, stopping and staring down at what looked like just another patch of black sandy earth to the rest of them.
"What?" Teyla said, moving forward, tilting her head curiously. "What is quicksand?"
Boris pushed Bedevere back, and leaned over to stare intently at the ground. After a moment, he looked over at the Colonel.
"She's right, sir."
"And quicksand is...?" Teyla asked again.
Sheppard snorted, turned and headed over to pick up a blue and silver specked rock. With an eyebrow arch to Teyla, he tossed it into the patch of ground Bedevere had indicated.
Sure enough, the ground swallowed the rock. Teyla gasped—it was a new phenomenon for her.
"Huh," Sheppard's eyebrows lifted, and he looked at the doctor, who was swallowing nervously, showing that she wasn't quite as gung ho as before. "Nice spotting."
She shrugged, "Part of my geology course—we studied the effects of tides on the west coast of England, specifically the long wash of the Severn estuary. Quicksand is an extremely dangerous natural phenomenon there. I learned to discern dangerous areas of quicksand at a mere glance." She smiled weakly, "Good thing I'm here."
"Uh huh," Sheppard said. "Okay then...shall we move on?" He nodded to Bedevere, "And would you like to take the lead once more?"
"Um," she hesitated slightly, then smiled again. "How about we share it?"
Sheppard gave her a smirk, but moved to stand next to her. She nodded her thanks, and, together, the four skirted the quicksand and continued their "quest" for the alicorn.
Beckett kept his gaze moving, smiling contentedly at the vision of loveliness all around them. Rodney looked at the scanner. It was impossible to pinpoint any specific lifeform, he decided. This place was abounding in life, so the scanner was of little use, but his study of it meant he could look away from other things. Still, one had to remain alert.
“You sure there’s nothing here that can… hurt us?” McKay asked.
“Hurt you?” Nonor echoed, turning to McKay and giving him a haughty look. “Is that all you ever worry about.”
For a moment, McKay looked taken aback, then he responded, “Well, yes. It’s a healthy thing to be concerned about.”
Scowling in disgust, Nonor turned, and continued her skipping stride. “There is nothing to fear on this planet. The creatures here live in harmony and love. They have been untouched by the horrible hands of science and are left to live in peace.”
“Horrible hands of science,” Beckett repeated quietly to McKay.
Rodney held out one hand for examination. “I’ve been told that I have lovely hands,” he said with a smile.
Beckett grinned in quiet conspiracy. Red looked away, not wanting to comment.
Nonor went on, oblivious, “It is not as if the horrid molemen would be found on the surface.” And suddenly she stopped, the mere thought of the creature making her weak.
“Sister,” Ronon called softly, still clasping her arm.
“They are creatures of darkness… and dirt!” she spat out the words. “They live only to pull you beneath the surface and eat your flesh – right from the BONE!”
Beckett looked concerned, and felt for his medical bag. McKay just sighed and shook his head.
“I am sorry, dear brother. The thought of the vile creatures made me weak for a moment. I shall continue.” And she smiled bravely at her brother.
McKay just grimaced. To Beckett, he complained, “She thinks of a mole and gets weak, yet if I mention a little healthy concern over our safety…”
But Beckett had raised a hand to quiet him and strode on to catch up with the others.
The trail turned slowly, coming over a rise, and then to the crest of the hill. Nonor and Ronon stopped and tawny-haired woman let out a gasp of delight. “Alicorn!” she pronounced, clinging to her brother in pure glee.
McKay and Beckett scrambled to catch up, herded forward by Corporal Jerkin. They came around the siblings to gaze down the other side of the hill. There, near the base of the hill, stood the object of their quest – the single horned alicorn of legend.
Corporal Jerkin set down his pack to withdraw a length of black twill rope, getting ready to show off the special skill that had Sheppard choosing the newcomer marine for this particular mission. The others, though, just stared at it in disbelief.
“Looks more like a llama to me,” McKay grumbled.
CHAPTER TWELVE: BEAUTIOUS BEASTIES
The Alicorn stood proud in the small glade. The sun glimmered over its sleek white coat. A hint of a curl twisted the supple fur, softening its outline in the afternoon sun. A golden horn spiraled from its forehead, tapering from a wide base to a finely honed point.
The creature grazed on the waving sweet green grass. Fresh blades lapped at its shorthaired legs, whispering across beautifully formed fetlocks and pasterns. Its cloven hooves remained invisible within the nitrogen fed grasses.
A gentle breeze ruffled fine delicate hairs along its body, gently lifting and curling them. They caught the glare of the sun and seemed to shimmer in the light giving the creature a peaceful aura.
The Alicorn’s erect ears lazily twisted left and right, pivoting effortlessly on its fine-boned head. They tapered to a point and nearly touched over its poll. Soft doe brown eyes swiveled left and right in a lazy manner under the protection of long naturally curved lashes.
Mesmerized, Beckett watched the creature from the cover of the forest. Birds chirped in the background, a soft breeze blew across the Alicorn’s flanks from a westerly direction. The sun gently warmed the area.
There was nothing to fear here.
The Alicorn was beautiful, a magnificent creature. Well-defined muscles bulged and flexed from its elongated neck across its massive shoulders to its flanks. Its hindquarters were rounded and no less muscular than the rest of its body. The powerful back legs tapered to the fine-bone meatless lower legs of an animal that was made for speed and power.
It casually shifted its weight once again, exposing its delineating muscular physique under the shimmering gleam of its startlingly white coat.
It practically glowed in the sunlight.
The sun wrapped around the prominent horn accenting a radiating golden halo.
The proud statuesque figure was more breathtaking than any young girl’s fantasy of mythical woodland creatures.
After a moment, the Alicorn raised its head, tenderly grinding a tuff of lush grass that hung limply from the corners of its petite mouth. Its pointed split upper lip hinted at prehensile tendencies, tossing it from a simple grazing animal to a browser.
McKay was right; it appeared more similar to Llama than an equine.
From across the glade behind the Alicorn a shadow moved.
Ronon and Nonor spotted it first. Their sudden shift in attention drew McKay and Beckett’s notice.
The foursome watched with furrowed brows as the shadow on the opposite side of the glade shifted again.
Corporal Jerkin skirted around the edge of the woods. He placed his gun down against a tree and hefted something in his other hand.
“What’s that damn fool doing?” McKay muttered. The plan was to observe the creature first.
Beckett merely shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. He sighed, leaned against a tree, content to just observe the Alicorn in peace.
From across the way, the corporal straightened, braided rope in hand.
Red inched from the cover of the forest, hunched low, the lariat loop held loosely in his left hand and the coil in his right.
The Alicorn faced away from the marauding soldier and peered into the sun.
A tiny, young muridae hopped through the grass. Its bobbed purple tail twitched as if wagging. The very ends of its downy coat caught and reflected the gentle afternoon sunlight. The young muridae stood on its hind feet and pawed playfully at the Alicorn.
The magnificent beast tenderly bent its head and lowered its horn toward the tiny creature.
The muridae danced away only to stop and paw at the air again. Its tiny bobbed tail waved with heightened vivacity.
The benevolent frolicking continued. The giant shimmering Alicorn dutifully played ‘cat and mouse’ with the tiny creature under the stretching rays of a caressing afternoon sun.
Not a bug buzzed near the foursome that watched the serene play from the edge of the wood.
Beckett exhaled dreamily allowing a dimpled smile to brighten his whiskered face. It had seemed like ages since he had ever felt such warmth and peace.
McKay grunted in nauseated disgust. He fiddled with his scanner impatient to get things moving, then reached up to touch the radio on his ear in order to inform Sheppard, Teyla and the others that they'd found an Alicorn.
Across the meadow Corporal Jerkin stalked closer, letting the loop of the lariat dangle further from his body as he straightened his left arm, preparing to cast it aloft. McKay paused, half impressed, half jealous of the Texan's confidence and obvious skill. He'd heard the boy had grown up on a ranch, and had competed in a rodeo circuit before entering the service.
The Alicorn continued its gentle play with the toddling muridae.
Red crouched lower to the ground, grapevining silently around the blind side of the Alicorn towards its beautiful horned head.
The Alicorn lowered its fine-boned face and shook its horn at the young purple-tailed muridae, causing the little creature to chirp with delight and dance to the right. It pawed at the lowered horn delighted in the play.
Jerkins widened the loop, accommodating for the spiral fine point horn.
The Alicorn brushed its golden horn against the side of the muridae delicately knocking the small weanling to the side. The young creature let out with a gentle squeal as it lay on its back and wrapped two soft paws around the point and chirped.
Jerkin’s raised the loop over his head slowly and began to swing it.
The Alicorn suddenly lunged forward fiercely burrowing its horn into the ground. The little muridae squealed in terror as the fine point was rammed through its body.
Beckett squeaked and pushed himself upright nearly tripping over his own feet and falling into the open meadow.
McKay's hand fell from his ear and lashed out to steady the medical doctor.
Unfazed, Corporal Jerkin swung the rope a second time and tossed it. He leaned forward into the throw, extending his left arm straight. His shoulder and elbow extended and followed the motion of his hand and snapping wrist. The lariat loop sailed wide and true through the air toward the Alicorn.
The Alicorn pirouetted on its hind feet raising its head from the grass flinging a thick tuft of grass and rich dark soil into the air. The young bobbed-tail muridae twitched and eeped, still spitted to the horn. Its small legs twitched and trembled as little hoarse squeaks gurgled from its bloodied mouth.
McKay’s eyes widened. His fingers fumbled blindly at his holster. The scanner in his right hand and his panic marred his futile attempts.
Nonor, seeing his intent, hissed and pulled at his arm, further interfering with his attempts to free his sidearm.
“The Alicorn must not be harmed,” she whispered harshly.
Ronon flashed an angry glare at his sister, grinding his teeth in familiar frustration.
The Alicorn lunged forward with impossible speed, dropping its head and massive horn under the sailing lariat loop and then dove upward, snapping its neck and head toward the sky.
The lariat lapped ineffectively across its extended shoulders and flowing mane.
The spiraled, thick base horn, impaled the shocked corporal's abdomen, thrusting upward and forward. Red’s abdomen was punched backward by the force jolting his head forward toward his chest.
Ronon reached for his gun but Nonor’s flashing, strong grip stayed his movements. The two Satedans stared at one another.
A soft choking sound emanated from Beckett. McKay scratched at the safety strap holding the .9mm in place at his hip. He slowly stopped moving.
It was already too late.
Red gasped. His grip on the rope tightened reflexively and then loosened as he was flung from his feet and tossed into the air with the horn burrowing grotesquely into his body.
With a wet groan, the horn punctured through Corporal Jerkin’s back, tenting his coat before shooting itself free with blood and strips of thickened gore wrapped around its spirals.
The Alicorn reared on its hind legs pawing the air with its front feet. Red's body slid down the remainder of the horn forcing the tiny body of the young muridae to rest pressed at the Alicorn’s forehead.
Thick blood ran down the creature’s face, marring the white fur. It’s flared nostrils aerosoled the densely running blood, spraying it in a wide fanning arc. Fine crimson droplets dusted the trampled green grass at its feet.
The Alicorn’s brown eyes rolled in its majestic head, exposing the whites of its eyes. It pounded its feet on the ground, tossing its head left and right, up and down. The limbs of the dead flopped listlessly to and fro. The Alicorn reared again, screeching a fierce high-pitched scream.
The four spectators watched in macabre awe and horror.
Red's legs and hands twitched nonsensically back and forth as nerve endings shorted out. Fingers curled and partially straightened as the final throws of death slowly stole physical movement. Beckett could discern through the thickened gore the bared and misaligned vertebrae. A section of spinal column lay exposed to the sun as ribs peeled back from the body like a fried onion flower appetizer.
The Alicorn spun on its hind feet and stared in the direction of the four observers. The creature reared again, slashing the air with its cloven hooves. Thickened blood cascaded down its wavy coat congealing slowly in the sun’s warmth.
The Alicorn spun again on its hind feet and effortlessly galloped for the Eastern edge of the glade. It kicked and bucked violently tossing its hind feet into the air, letting loose with a crescendo of exploding flatulence. It crashed through the trees with Jerkins and the young muridae still skewered to its drying blood coated golden horn.
The four stood at the edge of the wood in silent shock.
Beckett swallowed thickly and blinked.
McKay checked his scanner and then looked into the now empty grass meadow.
Ronon rubbed at his head and shot a furious glare at his sister.
Nonor stared into the meadow and then to the others, “One should not try to rope the Alicorn.”
“Oh, that’s just fantastic. You tell us that now?!” McKay sputtered with indignant horror. “Anything else we should know about this mythical not so benign beast that you have failed to mention? Or didn’t know about?” Rodney’s bare accusations were laced with fear and trepidation.
“Enough, McKay,” Ronon stated quietly, but with an air of unending resignation. Ronon shifted his notice to the silent medical doctor who still stared into the empty clearing. “Dr. Beckett?”
McKay turned his attention to the pale Beckett. “What? Is this something you don’t see everyday? Huh?”
“Aye, it’s like Vlad the Impaler,” Beckett mumbled.
“What?” McKay sputtered, shaking his head with quick hurried, disbelieving movements. “What? Carson your knowledge base frightens me.”
“Aye,” Beckett said distractedly not paying attention to those around him, “did you notice how strong its nuchal ligament must be…Stronger than bull’s I would presume.” Beckett turned his attention from the empty meadow to McKay, “We’re doomed.”
As if on cue, at that same moment, the alicorn, sans its two most recent victims, burst back into the glade, head and neck still covered in drying red blood. It stopped, stared at the four people still standing on the edge, and charged, bellowing a cry that sounded more like a hyena's scream than a roar.
If anything, it was even more terrifying.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: MONSTER MASH
Ronon fired three solid gut-tearing red blasts at the creature, despite Nonor's scream at him not to. They impacted the blood-soaked white coat...and disappeared. Nothing. It barely slowed the llama-beast down. McKay had his gun out as well, and had managed to get off a few rounds of his own at the same time, but the bullets, like the Satedan weapon fire, had simply disappeared inside the thick fur.
"That's not good," McKay said quickly, stepping backwards, hands shaking around the apparently useless weapon, "That's really not good!"
"Run!" Ronon yelled, grabbing Beckett's arm, as he was the closest to him, and spinning him around. "Scatter!" With a shove, he got the physician moving, tearing away through the forest in a random direction. Ronon followed, glancing only once to his right in time to see that McKay was already tearing off in a different direction, Nonor on his heels.
Ronon put all his energy into running then, leaping over a log and then down the trail—the path of least resistance--hoping that the beast would follow him, and not either of the softer scientists...or his sister.
As he heard the galloping hooves behind him, he smiled, pleased it had worked.
And then he realized it was gaining.
"Colonel!" McKay's screamed yell over the radio caused Sheppard to jump about a mile. He, Teyla, Doctor Bedevere (sniffing loudly), and Sergeant Boris had been gingerly stepping through a close-set forest with some rather curious geysers...that erupted sulfur gas. Each geyser only erupted for a second, sending a stream of the noxious fumes into the air about six feet high, coating everything near it. They'd quickly learned that, just before one of the nearly invisible geysers was about to explode, there would be a strange sort of whistling noise. Consequently, none of the small group was speaking as they listened for the telltale high-pitched whine.
Which explains why McKay's scream had Bedevere fainting into Boris's arms (her second such faint so far—the strangeness of the planet was getting to her).
"McKay?" Sheppard yelled back.
"Do not approach," Rodney gasped for air, and Sheppard realized the scientist was running, "the Alicorn! Whatever," another gasp, "you do! Corporal Jerkin's," another deep heaved breath, "dead!"
"What? How? Anyone else hurt?"
"You split up? Ronon! Beckett! Respond!"
"Busy here, Colonel!" Carson's gasped reply came over the radio waves. "Running!"
"I get that," Sheppard glanced worriedly at Teyla, who was gripping the P90 on her vest tightly. "Ronon?"
No answer came to the call. Sheppard's eyes widened, "Ronon!"
"Ronon?" Sheppard frowned, tapping the radio again. Did the Satedan just hush him?
"Uh," Bedevere said softly, where she was still leaning against the muscular arms of Sergeant Boris, "That wasn't Ronon." She sounded oddly dreamy as she spoke. Sheppard turned to look at her, and found she was staring straight up at the trees overhead.
Slowly, Teyla, Sheppard and Sergeant Boris tipped their heads back.
Muridae filled the tree branches overhead, the cute, purple, pink and teal colored bunny-like creatures watching them. Noses twitched, cottontails wagged, and ears flopped endearingly.
"There must be over a hundred up there," Teyla whispered wonderingly.
At her voice, one of the closer muridae, a purple one, actually raised a cute little paw to his nose and blew...
"Awww," Bevedere murmured, unable to help herself. "How cute."
And that's when the muridae attacked—en masse.
Ronon had heard Sheppard's call, but he was sort of busy trying not to be skewered. He was flying through the woods, no longer checking behind him to see if the insane beast was still following him. He knew that stopping to look would only earn him a spear through his back. No, he just ran, eating up ground at an incredible rate.
His lungs were burning now, his legs almost on automatic. The landscape was beginning to blur around him. He was running up a hill, he knew that much. His legs were really beginning to hate him, and his heart felt ready to burst out of his chest it was beating so fast.
And then he saw his salvation--a massive low-lying branch on a tree that looked to cap this tiny mountain he'd just run up.
Pulling on reserves of strength, he sped up, shoving his gun inside his vest as he did so, and reached both hands for the branch.
He caught it and swung up, vaulting up and over the branch...and landing upright atop it. Not even pausing, he reached for the next highest branch and pulled himself higher—out of llamacorn range.
Only when he was high enough did he risk turning to look behind him.
To see nothing.
He was alone.
"Damn," he muttered, oddly disappointed. Hell, he'd just performed the most incredible...
Aw hell. Who cares. He reached up to touch his radio, to finally answer Sheppard's call.
And then he saw her.
He was high up enough to see the clearing they'd just escaped from, a circle of soft blue green down near the bottom of the hill. The alicorn, a mere tiny creature from this height, was already back there, eating nonchalantly. Not a care in the world.
And his sister had just walked out into the field with it, her golden hair like a beacon to her brother.
Ronon was down the tree and racing down the hillside at a speed that made his earlier gait seem like a toddler's crawl.
McKay slid down a slimy embankment, black and turquoise mud coating his trousers, and fell the last few feet. Panting for breath, he stopped at the bottom and looked up, trying to see behind him. Nothing appeared to be looming over the top of the mud bank—no alicorns, no sickly molemen, no giggling felidae, no obnoxiously cute (but now obviously deadly) muridae....nothing. He had escaped. He didn't know how long he'd been running, but, for a moment there, it felt like this entire world was out to get him. He'd seen enough sharp pointy teeth on innocent looking creatures to last a lifetime.
Heaving a sigh of relief, he stood up...and immediately slipped onto his ass again.
"Ugh!" he mumbled, shaking the black, sticky mud off his now covered hands. "Perfect. Just perfect! Well done, McKay!"
When he got up this time, he actually managed it with some dignity. Well...coordination. Dignity was somewhat of a lost cause when you could feel black mud dripping off your nose.
Staggering forward, he looked around, trying to spot the puffing smoke of the distant volcanoes that he'd been using as a landmark. Amazingly, they were where he hoped they would be—off to his left. He had actually managed to come around in a circle back to the trail. With any luck....
He stumbled forward, catching his aching feet and burning legs a little on the low roots, aiming for the lighter patch of forest up ahead.
He slowed when he realized he was moving a bit too clumsily...and loudly.
Forcing his exhausted legs to perform, he managed an almost silent walk, keeping to rocks and large tree roots. Teyla would be proud.
The area before him opened up, and he gave a tiny squeak of amazement. It was the same glade, the same clearing that they'd spotted the alicorn. Perfect! Now he just had to....
The thought died as he realized he wasn’t the only one to return to this clearing. He swallowed convulsively, staring at the massive alicorn as it feasted bloodily on the muridae it had caught. At least it wasn't the poor corporal....he shuddered, unable to complete the thought. Briefly, he considered trying to find Red's body...then quickly decided such a feat was better done from the safety of the jumper...or perhaps the Daedalus. When was it due back from Earth again?
Okay, he thought, trying to remain calm, just skirt around the edge. The path's that-a-way, so....
His whole body went rigid, staring in shock as Nonor entered the clearing...and walked calmly and confidently up to the alicorn.
"Aw hell!" McKay muttered, stepping over the roots at his feet and reaching the edge of the glade. Long, soft grasses brushed his legs. A breeze caused a massive amount of yellow pollen to skim his face, and he clapped a hand over his mouth to stop himself from sneezing. After a moment, he lowered it, having somehow succeeded.
Sniffing, and in awe at her blatant idiocy, he watched as Nonor continued to move forward. She wasn't far from him, really—maybe ten feet. From his angle inside the trees, he was staring at her statuesque profile, noting the full lips lifted in a soft, beatific smile and limpid blue eyes intent only on the alicorn on the other side of the glade. She stopped about fifteen feet from him, still on the same angle, and bent over slightly, holding out a hand.
What the hell was she doing? His heart began to beat faster, and he looked towards the alicorn. It had stopped feasting, and had lifted its head. With the languorous grace of a highly toned predator, it turned its beautiful head in her direction, large, golden eyes focusing on the beautiful Nonor as she took another couple of steps closer, hand still outstretched towards it.
The alicorn snorted, pawing angrily at the earth. Blood snorted from its nostrils.
Oh God, it was going to kill her!
Quickly, he snapped his gun out of its holster, ignoring the slipperiness of it under his hands and he managed to get both hands around the handle.
He stopped again when he realized Nonor was talking to it.
"Here, ali-ali-ali-corn!" she cooed, "Here, sweety baby. You cute little thing! Come to Nonnie..." She rubbed the fingers together on her outstretched hand as if she had catnip in it. McKay was pretty sure all the alicorn was seeing was the prime, lean, grade A meat of her arm. Nonor, though, was oblivious. "Come on, baby sweetums. My little honey bunch. Come to mama. I got a treat for you, you little plum pudding you...."
McKay stilled the bile rising in his throat—now was not the time to throw up. But, oh, he so, so wanted to.
The alicorn twisted, tilting its head at her, the sharp-as-diamond-cut-steel horn reflecting the sun. The hooves clawed divots in the earth.
"That's it, baby," Nonor called, the sugar practically dripping from her lips. "Come to Nonnie...."
And it did -- at full speed. It leapt and charged, squealing that high pitched hyena-like roar again. A second to late, Nonor realized that something was, possibly, not quite right, and with the sort of speed and alacrity only an extremely fit athlete could manage, jumped to the side and rolled. The alicorn flew through the space she had been a second before, its skin-and-muscle piercing horn carving through empty air at what would have been chest height.
Nonor continued to roll and leapt back to her feet, ending up only feet from McKay now. She danced backwards, panting heavily. The alicorn hit earth and skidded, clumps of black mud erupting from beneath the cloven hooves. It turned and faced her, shaking is massive head like a warning.
But Nonor didn’t give up. Pasting a much weaker smile on her face, her eyes a little less certain, she bent over and held out her hand again.
"No one's trying to hurt you, magnificent one," she squeaked out. She swallowed, and when she spoke again, her normal dulcet tones were back. "I'm a warrior, like you. Let's be friends. I just want to cuddle and love you. I'm sure that, once you get to know me...."
Apparently, alicorns were as good at seeing fakes as McKays. It screamed again and charged, but this time, Nonor seemed to freeze, her eyes opening in terror. She suddenly straightened, and threw her hands up in front of her face with a scream of her own.
McKay dived into her side, driving her out of the path of the horn at the last second. The alicorn landed, bucked a bit, and turned. McKay and Nonor rolled along the ground, sliding in the soft grass and muddy earth. McKay shoved himself up on one arm and turned on his side, to see the alicorn pawing at the earth again, not ten feet away. Nonor was doing the same, though she was already halfway up.
"Run!" McKay yelled, shoving at Nonor's hide with his left hand as his right came up, pointing the 9MM at the beast. He fired, shot after shot, but the alicorn just soaked up each bullet as it lowered its head to glare at them. McKay turned, to see that Nonor was already several feet away, backing up from him and the alicorn.
Oh God, he was in real trouble, wasn't he....
The alicorn charged, squealing. McKay twisted back around to get to his hands and knees under him, trying desperately to get to his feet, but all the mud worked against him. He wanted to scream, but the air whooshed out of his lungs as the unmistakable, painful crush of two, golden hooves landed flat on his back. He somehow managed to suck in some air then, and screamed for real as the alicorn bit deeply into his left shoulder.
New gunshots exploded through the clearing, and the alicorn slid off his back. And that's all McKay knew before passing out.
Beckett stood like a fool on the edge of the clearing, firing round after round uselessly into the alicorn's hide. He knew, even before he started firing, that it would do no good. He figured it out while he was running—the creature's horn. It healed the alicorn almost instantly, just as the salve made from it had healed Teyla almost instantly. But, at least, the force of the bullets had driven the creature off of Rodney. It backed up, looking annoyed, but relatively unharmed by the assault. He couldn’t kill it.
But he didn't care about that now. All he cared about was distracting that thing long enough to get Rodney out of there. He'd seen the whole thing—Nonor foolishly trying to win over the alicorn, McKay saving her life— and his innate bravery finally overcame his terror when McKay went down, and he joined in to save his friend.
"Get him out of there!" he yelled at Nonor, hoping she understood. She was sprawled on her rear a fair bit away from McKay's prone body now. She didn't move at his yell, staring from McKay to the alicorn with the eyes of one too shocked to hear anything.
"Nonor!" he yelled again, "You have to get McKay...." He trailed off, because the alicorn was now charging straight for him now, the horn pointed down, fresh blood caked over its entire muzzle and dried black on the sharp pointed spear. It would not be stopped this time.
"Oh, bugger," he whispered softly.
And then his gun ran out of bullets. Terror gripping him, he spun around and ran...straight into a tree.
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: FELLED FIGHTERS
"Run Away!" Boris' voice cut through the chaos of teal and pink and purple fur.
Sheppard would have been offended at the Sergeant's audacity to give orders, but he was too distracted by the onslaught. Tiny vicious creatures came at him one after another. No sooner than he shook one off, then two more fluffy bunnies were there, gnashing their sharp teeth and sinking them deep into his arms and legs. He shouted in pain as he swatted wildly, unable to get a clear shot. He could hear Bedevere screaming and Teyla thrashing next to him.
Boris fired into a mass of
the creatures, shouting inanely as down flew, “Right! One rabbit stew comin' right up!”
They moved as a group, backing away from the attack, trying to push one another to safety even as they fought off the tenacious and colorful creatures. They bumped into trees, tripping and hauling each other back to their feet in order to avoid losing anyone under the mass of muridae. Somehow, Teyla managed to get a shot at the furry demons. The muridae exploded in a mess of blood and gore, reminding Sheppard of a bad B horror movie.
"SHHHHH!" The animals hissed and spat at them, but backed off for a moment, apparently impressed by the show of force.
Sheppard and the others kept moving. He wasn't sure how much ground they had covered, but he realized they had managed as a group to back themselves up against one of the red cliffs they had seen when flying in. A quick glance upward assured him that no one would be able to climb their way to safety.
"This is bad. Really bad," John muttered, searching for a way out. He glanced back the way they'd come, as he pressed a hand over one of the more impressive wounds on his arm. Who would have thought...?
Teyla fired off another round at the muridae. Though they hadn't advanced again, they appeared to be regrouping.
"What are we going to do?" Boris asked anxiously. Blood trickled down the side of his face but he didn't bother to wipe it away. He joined Teyla, firing on the furry creatures, lurking only a few yards from them, then looked at Sheppard for an answer.
John frowned as his eyes scoured the hillside and the area around them for any sign of escape.
Bedevere sobbed hysterically on the other side of Teyla, and he was tempted to smack the woman just to shut her up. He couldn't think. Brightly-colored muridae scrambled up the trees and through the thick green thicket. They were getting ready for another attack; John could see the fluffy blobs as they moved, huddling together on the branches, thick as cherry blossoms in April. They were biding their time for just the right moment. The fanged puffballs were everywhere, surrounding their bloody and tattered group. There had to be a way out. But how?
John searched and then he
spotted it. There! Off to Teyla's left, beyond Dr. Bedevere,
behind another copse of trees, he could see a lightly trodden path leading up
and around the cliff. It was scaleable.
"There," he nodded in the direction he meant. "I'll hold them off. I want the three of you to run as soon as I start firing."
"We can not leave you," Teyla argued breathlessly.
"I'll be right behind you. Now go."
Even as he gave the order, the animals began to surge. "Go! Go! Go!" he screamed as he fired at the fuzz nuggets, feeling Boris with Teyla slip behind him and run. Bedevere, however, froze. She stared wide-eyed at the approaching fur balls and simply...screamed.
"Go," John waved to Teyla to go on when she stopped to grab Bedevere. Grabbing the slender Doctor's arm, Sheppard tried to pull her with him as he continued to fire on the attacking horde.
There were more of the muridae this time, the puffy rabbit-like creatures were
multiplying like - well - rabbits. The ever-intensifying hushing hiss seemed to
be a clarion call for others. Sheppard knew he was in trouble. He couldn't hold
the pastel-colored creatures back. He pulled Bedevere,
screaming at her to run but the doctor stumbled instead and dropped to her
knees. The over-confident woman who'd first
stepped off the jumper with them was long gone.
John continued to fire on the muridae, but there were too many of them. He'd managed to hit one or two- in an explosion of colorful down- but the missing ranks were instantly replaced by more of their kind. Bedevere screeched as they jumped on her, tearing at her uniform, her hair and skin. There was nothing he could do as his legs were swarmed by the things. He swiped at them with his gun but their teeth and claws tore at his legs. Two jumped on his head, another latched onto his arm, forcing him to drop the P90 as he tried to shake them all off.
Frantically he tried to reach Bedevere again, pulling the rabid creatures off of her even as he continued to struggle to remain on his feet. Pastel fur was soaked in blood as he flung the critters away. The doctor wasn’t moving and was covered in the muridae. He hoped he was near her head. Finally, he saw flesh...or what was left of it. He stopped stunned, seeing what remained of her face. Her nose was gone and one eye dangled from its socket. Her mouth gaped and he realized her lips were missing. She was dead.
John swallowed and realized he needed to move or he would suffer the same gruesome fate. A bright purple muridae jumped at his face and he jumped back swatting it away as another wave of the mutated bunnies swarmed over Bedevere, continuing their feast on her cooling flesh. Gagging, he turned away and kicked his legs free.
Running, he struggled to stay on his feet and focus on the path ahead, a faint line of pink leading uphill to...hopefully, safety. He could hear both Boris and Teyla firing above him and knew without a doubt that he couldn't fall. If he fell it would be over. He didn't look at the mass of seething fur where Bedevere went down. He couldn't think of anything except getting to the path and away from the muridae.
Swatting and writhing as the downy-soft, sharp- clawed creatures crawled over him, John fought. Suddenly the earth began to tremble and the forest shook around him. He stumbled, but he kept pushing through the panicked animals. The muridae scattered as Sheppard recognized the earthquake.
Suddenly, he was free of them as they fled with fear of the tremor. The path was within reach; he could feel the incline under his feet as he stumbled yet again, tripping over the scurrying muridae in front of him. The path seemed to lurch beneath him and his knee hit the ground, pain spiking. He hands clawed at the cool muddy path as he fought, his feet slipping on the incline that would have been his salvation. Instead, it seemed to fall away beneath him. He felt something hit his head, dizziness overcame him; darkness encroached and he knew...he wasn't going to make it.
And suddenly, he was falling.
Carson bounced off the tree, stunned. He shook his head, trying to clear it as his ears rang. Suddenly he remembered. He dropped to his knees and rolled just as the Alicorn barreled past him, the breeze lifting his hair.
"Bloody hell." He scrambled to his feet, scurrying into the clearing, looking over his shoulder for any sign that the Alicorn was coming at him again, and he let out a yelp as he watched the animal slide to a stop and turn. The beast lowered its head, pawed the ground once and charged.
He screamed and took off, knowing there was no way he could out run the legendary alicorn. He cursed his interest in the healing salve, damned his curiosity and looking over his shoulder again, he tripped. And, as if things couldn’t get any worse – the earth shook.
Terrified, Carson skidded through the grass, the dark green weeds tearing at his face and staining his uniform, as leaves and loose branches rained down around him. Underlying mud splashed up around him and he rolled onto his back, crabwalking backwards over the trembling earth, even as the alicorn advanced on him.
Oblivious to the earth’s
gyrations, the creature head lowered. It
was only a few feet away now, and as his sight narrowed in on the glittering
spear of a horn aimed at his chest. He
knew there was no way he was going to escape. The hoof-beats thundered in his
ears and he absently wished to hear his mother's voice one last time. He braced
himself for the impact wondering just what it would feel like and then.
The alicorn's head exploded. The horn flew in one direction and Beckett instinctively raised his arms to cover his face as, a millisecond later, another blast took the rest of the animal's head, even as it was collapsing to the ground. Blood and brains rained down on him as silence descended on the field, as even the ground stopped shaking in its astonishment.
Trembling to compensate for the lack of earth-quaking, Carson slowly lowered his arms, opening one eye to peek at the scene. The animal’s body lay still and quiet only inches from him. He could have reached out and touched the beast's leg if he wanted.
Beckett yelped as two more blasts were fired into the downed animal. This time the weapon did the damage it was designed to do, tearing and mangling the alicorn's hide, sending more blood splattering onto the doctor.
Glancing once at Ronon striding toward him, Beckett flopped backwards in the grass, heedless of the mud and gasped for breath, willing his heart to start beating again. He closed his eyes, longing for relief when he heard Nonor screaming.
In an instant, Carson was on his feet again, running to the center of the clearing where Nonor loomed over Rodney, nudging him onto his side with one foot. Why wasn't she helping him?
Instead, Nonor was bent double, yelling at the injured scientist. "How could you do that? Couldn't you see I had almost earned the Alicorn's trust?"
Carson heard the angry words and growled under his breath.
"You ruined everything!" Nonor screamed again, turning her back on Rodney.
"He bloody well saved your life, lass," Carson spat as he ran past and dropped to his knees beside McKay.
Rodney stared up at Nonor, obviously out of it. Tears rolled from the corner of his eyes as he blinked slowly. Carson was certain his friend was already in shock. The Alicorn had torn McKay's shoulder open to the bone. Oh God, Rodney.
Putting aside his emotions, surgical procedures raced through Carson's mind as he pulled at his vest, searching for a field dressing or anything to stop the bleeding. Behind him, he could hear Nonor berating Ronon for killing the legendary creature, blaming McKay for overreacting again and jumping to the conclusion she was in danger.
Rodney hissed and squirmed beneath his hands. "Yer going to be okay, Rodney," he assured, glancing down as McKay quietly closed his eyes. "Damn it."
"What?" Ronon stepped closer, obviously conflicted between his concern for McKay and the things his sister was insisting he hear.
"We need to get him to Atlantis. I can do nothing for him here." Carson tightened the dressing and shook his head when McKay didn't react. "He's passed out again."
"I got him." Ronon knelt beside Carson.
"But he's the one who...." Nonor started, but a deadly look from Ronon stopped her.
Ronon holstered his weapon and gently eased McKay's limp body up over his shoulder.
"You need help?" Carson kept a steadying hand on Rodney as Ronon stood.
"I got him. Let's go." Dex took off at a fast pace.
Nonor took a moment to look back at the fallen alicorn, tears running down her face. Then abruptly she turned, glared at Carson and marched after her brother.
Beckett started to follow but turned and jogged back to the grotesque remains of the nasty beast. His eyes swept over the gore quickly until they settled on what he was searching for. Quickly he reached down and scooped up the impressively sharp horn. It was cold to the touch and still stained with Red's blood. Carson tightened his grip and ran after the others.
Teyla stared in horror as the earth opened up and swallowed John Sheppard.
"Colonel!" she screamed, running back down the path and lunging toward the widening crack, her fingertips brushing the empty air where Sheppard's reaching hand had been a moment before. She threw herself belly-first on the shaking ground, arms reaching as far as she could stretch into darkness below. Debris tumbled around and over her, bouncing off the pack she still wore, bruising her legs and shoulders. She dug her fingers into the soft earth, clinging tight, still searching. A tall sapling beside her swayed, tipped, and slid over the edge, following Sheppard into the abyss.
She shouted for him again, startled by how loud her voice suddenly sounded. Belatedly, she realized that the forest had gone utterly still around her. The ground tremors had ended as suddenly as they began. Teyla looked around frantically, but saw no sign of the predators that had been pursuing them.
"Sir?" The frightened call and another shower of dirt and pebbles announced Sergeant Boris's arrival on the scene. The two of them exchanged wild-eyed stares, than turned to stare into the gully that hadn't existed minute ago. The earthquake had split the ground like a ripe melon. A six-foot-wide crack separated them from the swampy, black lowlands where they'd lost Bedevere. Sunlight barely penetrated the rift, making it impossible to tell how far Sheppard might have fallen. Boris crouched down, bellowing for his commanding officer, looking more frantic each time the call went unreturned.
Teyla shook herself out of her daze. She reached out and touched the sergeant's shoulder gently. "Keep watch," she said, shrugging out of her pack. "I will go after the colonel."
Boris sputtered a protest, which Teyla ignored. She hefted the pack, debating with herself, then moved to the edge of the cliff and tossed it over, hoping she'd gauged the distance correctly. The last thing the colonel needed was for a pack laden with survival gear to come crashing down on his head.
Turning back to Boris, she gestured toward the radio still tucked in her vest. "I will let you know as soon as I find him. In the meantime, try to contact Doctor Beckett and let him know we will need his assistance," she said. "And warn him to beware of those creatures."
"Right," Boris said miserably. "Beware the cute, fluffy animals."
Boris gnawed his bottom lip for a moment, staring at the dark, jagged trench, then nodded reluctantly. He moved back a few steps and hefted his weapon, eyeing the treetops warily. Teyla gave him a grateful smile, lowered herself to the edge of the crevasse, and began her descent.
"Beware the *what?*" Beckett snapped, pulling the walkie-talkie away from his ear to stare at it incredulously. "Wee bunnies, you say?"
The battered survivors of the great alicorn hunt were limping through the sun-dappled forest, retracing their path downwards to the jumper. On the distant horizon, trees swayed in the final aftershock of the earthquake, but the temblor had barely slowed them -- their one and only lucky break of the day.
Beckett kept a steadying hand on McKay's back, trying to keep the unconscious man from being jostled too much as he dangled over Ronon's shoulder. McKay's breath hitched painfully in time with the runner's footsteps, but he didn't stir.
The radio squawked again as Boris repeated his ridiculous message about the rabbits. Beckett turned away, distracted by a sudden movement in the underbrush.
He froze, staring, as one of the pastel bunny-creatures peeked out at him through a clump of wildflowers. Its cute button nose wrinkled, exposing a mouthful of long...white... Wait a minute. Were bunnies supposed to have saw teeth like a piranha?
The bunny raised a dainty pink paw to its muzzle, sharp teeth baring in a shark-like smile beneath its whiskers and candy floss fur.
"Shhhh!" It hissed.
"Oh God," Beckett whispered, pawing at his sidearm, trying to un-holster his pistol without dropping the severed horn he still carried.
A bright red energy bolt slammed into the hillock where the creature was sheltering, reducing the wildflowers to a heap of charred ash. Dex cursed, trying to readjust his aim without dropping McKay. The creature's fuzzy white tail flashed once as it vanished, hissing, into the underbrush. Dex's next round missed it by a hair, incinerating a tree stump instead.
Nonor whirled on her brother and punched him viciously on the arm. "Would you stop shooting every magical creature we meet?" she snapped.
Beckett and Dex ignored her, trying to listen to Boris's panicked report.
"Robyn—Kat—Doctor Bedevere! She's dead! Those...those *things* chewed off her face!" Boris's voice had climbed an octave with shock.
"Easy now," Beckett said, his own voice coming out as a frightened squeak. He cleared his throat and tried again. This time, he hit the calm, reassuring bedside tone he was aiming for. "Calm down, lad. Tell us about Colonel Sheppard."
As Boris choked out account of ferocious rabbits and earthquakes and cliffsides that swallowed men alive, Beckett ran through a mental triage. First, they needed to get back to the jumper. He was the only one in the group still in any condition to fly the thing. If he could make it to the jumper, he could stabilize Rodney, then head to the hillside to help with the rescue effort. The jumper had a well-stocked first aid kit, a backboard, climbing equipment, everything they'd need to mount a proper rescue.
He picked up the pace, still mouthing reassuring phrases into the radio. He recognized a rock formation that marked the edge of the plateau where they'd parked the jumper. Nonor flounced after him.
Dex kept his same steady pace, scanning the terrain for any other signs of wildlife. The flower-strewn ground, the feather-leaf trees, everything around them had taken on an air of menace. He tightened his grip on McKay, wishing he didn't have to carry the injured man like a sack of grain.
He'd spent his childhood daydreaming about this place. Were none of the old legends true? Was everything that was supposed to be good and pure in his people's mythology nothing but a twisted lie? Dex's gaze strayed to the bloodied horn the doctor still clutched like a weapon. The alicorn was supposed to be able to weigh a man's soul in the balance and judge his worth. The creature had savaged McKay, and had been about to do the same to Beckett. Could they be so unworthy?
Ahead, the forest lightened and thinned, showing they were nearing their destination. Still leading the way, Nonor and Beckett reached the clearing and stopped, staring at something. Dex put on a careful burst of speed and joined them.
"Where's the jumper?" he asked, frowning in confusion.
There was a lot more earthquake damage down here. Huge trees had come crashing down, as had a large section of the plateau to their left, in the direction he knew Sheppard and the others had set off. The jumper was simply gone.
Beckett jogged forward toward where the jumper once stood. There was nothing – nothing but blackness – a hole in the ground. “Oh crap,” he moaned, coming to a halt at the yawning pit. "This is the spot," he panted. "This is where we parked it. The jumper's in there...somewhere." Timidly, he edged forward until he could peer within. “Good God,” he murmured, keeping a good two feet from the very edge. He squinted, focusing on something beneath a covering of dirt, showing white in the pretty half-swallowed sunlight. “I can’t believe it.”
Nonor, heedless of the danger, charged forward until she stood on the verge of the pit, the toes of her boots pointing out over the abyss. Inquisitively, she peered down, catching the same glint of something in the blackness. “Why would someone have put that thing so far down in the ground?” she asked, charmingly. Her voice echoed and she smiled, delighted. “What is it?”
“The jumper,” Beckett spoke, his voice awed and echoing slightly as he leaned, keeping his center of gravity well over solid ground. Somewhere below, water dripped, sounding far off and lonely. "I think that's the windshield we can see all the way down there....maybe." He glanced at her, "You shouldn't get that close. The ground is unstable, lass. It could crumble."
She just smiled back at him, shaking her head, "Oh no. Nothing here will harm me," she assured him. "I am not the unworthy one." At that, Beckett grimaced, but didn't reply.
“How far down?” Dex asked, keeping McKay balanced on one shoulder as he pondered how he’d manage to climb with the injured scientist. He didn’t like the way the scientist was breathing, and McKay was feeling terribly hot against his shoulder.
“Long way,” Beckett said, gazing at Nonor’s reckless stance. A stone, loosened from her proximity to the edge, toppled. Carson sucked in his breath, watching its long decent until it obviously collided with a quiet metallic ‘thunk’ on the top of the jumper. It clattered away, coming to rest, unseen, alongside the sunken craft.
Beckett waited, listening until all that remained was the constant wet drip that filled the space. “Long way,” he repeated hollowly.
The show over, Nonor sniffed. Imperially, she drew to her full height. "The very earth cries out against the murder of the gentle alicorn," she said, flinging out her arms dramatically as she strode toward her brother. She smiled smugly -- apparently forgetting that the jumper was her ride off this benighted planet too. “See what happens to those that dare harm the serene alicorn?”
Dex resisted the urge to kick her in the shin. "If killing the alicorn caused this, then I guess it's a good thing I didn't hit that pink rodent back there. What do think that'd bring down on us? An asteroid shower?"
Nonor shot him an irritated glare, then froze, staring at his arm. Dex glanced down, startled to see his arm sheeted in red from shoulder to fingertips. McKay's blood was trickling down his sleeve in slow rivulets, tickling his wrist, dripping from his fingertips to stain the wildflowers.
"Damn," Ronon muttered, backing further from the hole and moving to the other side of the clearing, in the direction of the lake, hoping it to be more stable.
“Beckett!" Ronon called, sinking down on one knee and rolling McKay gently onto the turquoise-colored earth, mindful of the scientist's cracked ribs. McKay's eyes fluttered open at the change in position, blinking up at him in pained confusion. His face was sweat-slicked, pale and bloodless. Dex shrugged out of his long coat and draped it over his injured teammate as McKay began to shiver. Absentmindedly, Ronon rubbed at his blood-coated arm, trying to free himself from the uncomfortable sensation.
Beckett was suddenly there, throwing himself down beside Rodney, looking wild-eyed and frantic.
Muttering to himself in an accent so thick the two Satedans couldn't begin to make out the words, Beckett peeled back the bandage to get a better look at the shoulder wound. It shouldn't be bleeding this badly, this long. The wound didn't seem to be clotting at all and the flesh around it was already turning an angry, inflamed red.
Beckett studied the putrefying wound for a long moment, then grabbed his radio.
"Boris?" he called. "We have a problem." He sighed and brushed McKay's sweat-soaked hair back from his forehead. "Two problems, actually."
There was silence on the other end of the radio.
"Boris?" he tried again.
The radio crackled to life with a hideous burst of noise.
Gunshots and human screams rang out, startling Teyla so badly she almost lost her grip on the slippery earthen wall of the hole. She clawed for purchase, feeling nails rip and skin shred as she fought to save herself. The trench was deeper than she would have believed, and only the fact that it was angling into a slope, rather than a dead drop, gave her hope that she might find Colonel Sheppard in one piece at the bottom of it.
"Boris!" she cried, blinking up into the sunlight. The sergeant's frightened cries continued, punctuated by automatic weapons fire.
Teyla started climbing, ignoring the tree roots the scratched her arms and slapped at her face.
Abruptly, the terrible noises above ended. Teyla froze, arms and legs locked, one cheek pressed into the cool, damp earthen wall.
"Sergeant Boris?" she called softly.
A shadow appeared on the edge of the drop-off, dark and indistinct against the sunlight. A small shower of dirt and pebbles pattered down on Teyla's upturned face.
Teyla coughed, blinking to clear her vision. Her legs and arms were starting to tremble from the effort of holding her up.
"Sergeant?" she called again.
The shadowy figure shifted, crouching closer to peer down at her.
"SHHHHH!" the monster hissed. There was blood on its whiskers.
Their gazes locked for a long moment.
Then the rabbit pounced.
Teyla shrieked, flinching back reflexively, losing her grip on the wall.
And then they were both falling.
Beckett's hand dropped from his radio. It was Nonor who reached over and turned it off, cutting off the hissing, chittering, gnawing noises that had filled the transmission since Boris's final pain-filled scream.
Dex grabbed his sister's arm and squeezed hard. "What else aren't you telling us about this planet?" he growled. "What else is waiting out there to kill us?"
McKay stirred and groaned as Beckett tightened fresh bindings around his shoulder. His blood was spotting the new bandage already. Beckett crooned to him, soft reassuring nonsense, while he waited for Nonor to answer the question.
Nonor collapsed in a dejected heap. "You don't understand!" she whined.
"What don't I understand?"
"They won't hurt us, brother! Only those who are unworthy are attacked!"
Ronon shook his head as if to clear it, "Nonor! Attacked by what?!"
"I don't know!" she sniffed. "The legends say the muridae are the mischievous little creatures who dance in dew circles. They didn't say anything about eating people's faces!" Her voice climbed to an aggrieved wail.
Dex loomed over his snuffling sister. "What *else* do the legends tell us?"
Nonor gnawed her lower lip, frowning. "Well..." She held up a finger, ready to tally up the mythical beasts. "Reportedly, the skies above Ctesias are patrolled by great flying beasts, ever ready to swoop down upon evildoers with their razor beaks and claws."
Carson hunched his shoulders, willing himself not to look up to scan the bright, cloudless sky.
"Feathered serpents...trees that uproot themselves and dance by moonlight..." Nonor was warming to her topic now. "Toads the size of haystacks...mole men..."
"Mole men," Beckett muttered. McKay jerked and mumbled something. His skin was furnace-hot under Carson's touch.
Dex crossed his arms, hoping the others couldn't see his skin crawl. "The old stories say a race of monsters live beneath the earth here."
"Mole men!" Nonor interrupted brightly. "Ghastly creatures that sprout in shadows like mushrooms! Flesh eaters! Mortal enemies of the righteous alicorn!"
Carson perked up a bit at that, then turned back to Rodney, tuning out the rest of Nonor's excited recitation. He had enough to worry about with the monsters they'd met thus far.
His mental triage list was getting longer by the minute. They needed to get Rodney someplace safe, someplace where he could try to clean and tend his wounds. Below them, the jumper was sunken into a sinkhole. Boris was most likely dead, poor Bedevere, too, and Jerkin certainly so.
And somewhere in this fractured fairy tale of
a planet, Sheppard and Teyla were missing.
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: MUTTERING MEN
It took a moment for Sheppard to come around. He lay half on his side, one arm flung up over his head. He was discombobulated, sore. He squeezed his eyes shut, and tried to figure out what the hell had happened.
His head buzzed maddeningly, and all over him little hurts blossomed. With a groan, he blinked and tried to roll over, but pain struck and the loose-earth shifted beneath him. Painfully, he tumbled, rolling over onto his belly as dirt cascaded around him. The downward journey stopped and he rested for a moment. Dirt clods continued to dribble down on him – annoyingly. He coughed and tried to sit up.
Ow! Oh God… Crap! He remained still, thinking that he could put up with the dirt bits. No need to move just yet. Yet more stuff continued to come down, and he had to get out of the way.
Stoically, he pushed himself upright with one hand. OW! That hurt. What the hell…?
He blinked into blackness and tried to figure out it out. What happened? Everything was so … black. He breathed in the rich smell of soil. Beneath his fingers – dirt. He had little else to go on.
From somewhere above and behind him, a little light eked in. Otherwise the space was dark. There was enough light to send a glow through the area, but he couldn’t really see anything. He was underground – in the dark – and hurt.
Ow! Crap. Oh God.
His arm—yeah, that hurt a lot. He felt cut – bitten maybe -- bruised from head to foot, and every attempt at movement sent new agony coursing through him.
Okay, Sheppard, get a handle on this. What the hell happened? Think? Strangely enough, the only image that came to him was something akin to Easter Bunnies.
Bunnies? Fuzzy colorful bunnies – hippity-hoppiting down the bunny trail – floppy ears -- little noses wiggling as they leaped – mercilessly -- onto him and the others – to tear off hunks of flesh and --
It all came clear -- the planet of the alicorn -- the horrible rabbit-beasts – Bedevere! He jerked upright, feeling pain jar his side. An almost-electrical shock jolted through one arm. He tugged the arm close, cradling it to his chest, trying to ease the nauseating pain. He breathed through his teeth, forcing his respiration to a slower rate, until he was sure he wasn’t going to vomit.
Okay, good. Better. He experimented with moving his fingers, but found that was a bad idea. Something was broken. No doubts there.
He’d fallen. He’d fallen into a crevasse or a hole of some sort. If any of those damn rabbits showed up with a pocket watch, he’d be ready for the really good drugs.
But the others -- where were they?
Clasping his hurt arm tightly to himself, Sheppard sat up and called, “Teyla? Boris?” Only silence returned – the earth muffling any echo. He listened intently, hearing nothing. Not a sound from the others. Damn!
He felt about, hoping for his P90 and its flashlight, but knowing he’d dropped it as he’d fought to free Bedevere from the hoards of candy-colored puffballs intent on ripping her face to shreds.
He’d never stop having nightmares about that particular incident.
He grimaced, realizing his failure. “Damn,” he said under his breath. Should have protected her, he told himself. No one should have to go like that. Damn sorry. But there was nothing he could do for her now. He had to deal with saving those that were still with him. He glanced upward toward the only light that came in to him.
“Teyla,” he called again. “Boris?” He stilled, listening – and nothing. “Great,” he muttered. “Just great.”
His ‘good’ arm stung as he moved it upward to feel his ear, trying to find his radio. It was – unsurprisingly – missing. He continued searching his person for anything that would help his situation. He should have had glowsticks in one pocket, but he found that the Velcro flap was open and he’d probably lost the contents in his fall. Still, there had to be something –
Finally his hand brushed against the Life Sign Detector in one pocket, and he pulled it free. Cool! Yeah, that’d work. He concentrated and the thing blipped into operation. With a grin, he held it out, letting the screen illuminate his situation.
He was underground – no surprise there. He moved the device around, finding that it was a tunnel of some sort – strangely uniform in size, stretching out beyond the reach of the meager light. Behind him was a mound of dirt, beneath an opening in the ceiling where a little light bled through. The ceiling was strangely out of alignment, and he realized that this was the crevasse he’d fallen into – and it was mostly sealed again.
He winced as he twisted the Life Sign Detector about to get a look at his injuries. Blood spotted his arms where the fluffy vermin had bit through to flesh. His cuffs were smeared with red – Bedevere’s probably – either that or the creatures’. The things seemed to have concentrated mainly on attacking his arms and legs – probably trying to immobilize him before it went for the more vulnerable face and throat.
He frowned at that thought and angled the light upward – to the hole above his head. If that was how he got in here – then it was his best bet at getting out once again. Slowly, painfully, he scooted himself up the mound of dirt. The illumination was a bit brighter from that vantage point, but even so, there seemed to be no direct light getting through. Above, little filaments of light dotted the ceiling – not enough to see by, but enough to delineate the broken roof that ran above him.
“Teyla?” he shouted. “Boris?” And still there was no response. Where were they?
And then he chuckled slightly at his ridiculousness and turned the LSD about so that he could actually look at the screen and use it correctly. He frowned at what was revealed. Dots – and lots of them. Rabbit creatures, he decided. The device was picking them up although the things were on the surface. And his expression darkened as he thought about Teyla and Boris – still up there – with the death-balls of fuzz.
He scrambled up to his knees, grimacing at the little pains that went through him, and reached for the hole. He could probably climb back out, he decided – maybe – if he didn’t have a broken arm and if he wasn’t riddled through with a dozen little bites. He imagining himself leaking like a sieve if he were to take a drink at that moment.
Glancing to the display again, he examined the dots, trying to figure out if he could differentiate between the representations. Which one was Teyla, and which was Boris? Which of the dots were the rabbit-things? How many were worms or voles or maybe glowy things in the earth?
He frowned. But there was something curious about how the dots were arranged; they seemed to be in a line, as if the creatures had queued up for something. And he slowly lowered the device, holding it out in front of himself as he stared beyond it to the dark tunnel that stretched in either direction.
The dots, he realized, lined up exactly with the tunnel. The life-forms weren’t above him. Oh no. They were right here in the tunnel with him. He breathed slowly, listening as something quietly scrambled beyond the little halo of light.
“Hey!” he called. “You out there!”
More scuttering about answered him.
“Whatever you are out there,” he paused, wondering what he could say to the unknown creatures. “I could take ya…” he tried.
WHUMP! Something fast and large came down on top of him, tackling him, driving him downward. Shocked, he tumbled as he grappled with the attacker. He gasped in agony as the bones in his arm ground, as the shape forced him from the pile of dirt to the floor of the tunnel. The Life Sign Detector flew from his grasp and he was plunged into darkness once more.
Nearby, things scurried away.
McKay coughed, painfully, and shivered. One arm reached out, trying to grasp hold of something. The injured arm did not move at all – it was as if the limb were already dead at his side. “Got to…” he started to say. He paused to lick his lips and build his strength. “I have to… ” he tried again.
“Rodney,” Beckett spoke softly to the injured scientist, grasping the hand that moved in vain. “You’ve got to be quiet now.”
McKay sucked in a breath as his fingers wrapped around Beckett’s hand with a feeble grip. He said nothing, simply holding on. His breathing came in ragged gasps and his eyes seemed unfocused and bright with fever. “Every one okay?” he asked softly, glancing languidly to Ronon and Nonor.
“We’re fine,” Ronon stated emphatically as he stood above them. He hoped that McKay had forgotten what had happened to Jerkin, and hadn’t heard the news of Bedevere or the horrible end of Boris. He moved closer, protectively. He didn’t look down at his teammate, but rather searched the surrounding area for the horrible creatures of his childhood fantasies. “We’re fine,” he repeated.
“Good, good,” McKay whispered. “Because, me… not so good. In case… in case you didn’t…” and his voice trailed off as he sucked in a breath.
“Yes, yes,” Beckett responded, digging one-handedly through his pack. “I can see that, clearly. Just stay still.”
“Still? You think?” McKay’s voice was soft and incredulous. “I was thinkin’… maybe… me and Ronon could go… for a hike or something.” He squeezed his eyes shut. “Mountain climbing… spelunking perhaps.” The effort of speaking seemed to be sapping him of whatever energy he had left.
“Keep quiet, ya fool,” Beckett ordered softly, wondering if McKay had understood about the fate of the jumper.
Nonor flitted about, looking anxiously into the trees as well, but as Beckett glanced her way, he realized that, unlike her brother, she wasn’t searching for targets that needed destroying – rather she was looking for little fantasy friends. Ronon would have a hell of a time if anything attacked them – first to protect, but also to keep Nonor from running off and trying to caress the creatures.
The doctor looked down to Rodney, whose frail grip was fading, and he gasped open mouthed as Beckett released his hand. He pulled back the coat that Ronon had draped over the scientist and started checking the bandage again. Dark stained marred the white substance. McKay’s face contorted and he sucked in a breath, but otherwise made no sound as Beckett worked.
“Rodney, you’re gonna need to hang on for just a bit, okay?” Beckett tried to assure. “You’re gonna be fine.” But as he spoke the words, the doctor looked anywhere but into McKay’s eyes. “Just fine.”
“Carson,” McKay got out, wincing as if the very act of breathing was hurting him. “You’re a worse liar than I am.” His voice faded to nothing as he continued to struggle.
“Nah,” Beckett said softly, “No one is quite that bad.”
McKay’s gaze continued to wander, first to Ronon who gave him an assuring nod before returning his gaze to their surroundings. When he glanced to Nonor, the woman gave him a perplexing look and then stepped away, her arms wrapped around herself.
He glanced in the direction where they’d left the jumper. Confusion sparked across his features. “Where’s…?” he started as another tremble passed through him. He licked his lips and completed, “…the jumper? What’ve you done with it?”
“See, we’ve run into a bit of a snag,” Beckett said, trying not to sound alarmed. “Jumper’s out of commission for a while.”
“Commission…” McKay repeated, slurring the word.
“Aye,” Beckett answered, taking Rodney’s pulse again as his gaze flitting up to take in the empty space that once held their means of escape. “Just stay quiet a bit and we’ll figure it out.”
“Figure it out?” McKay’s eyes becoming more unfocused. “Give me some of the facts. Can’t do anything without…” But his voice failed him and he stared off into nothing, then stiffened as another pain shot through him. Whimpering softly, he let his eyes close.
Beckett remained still as Rodney breathed in hitches and Ronon stood guard over them. Nonor paced. Beckett looked helplessly at their meager supplies.
Carson laid a hand briefly on Rodney’s forehead, feeling too much heat. The physicist seemed out of it again. “He shouldn’t be this bad,” Beckett said softly. “I’ve never seen a fever come so quickly. I can’t get the bleeding to stop.” He shook his head woefully. “How did this happen?”
“The alicorn judges those that it confronts,” Nonor said softly. “Those that are worthy are given great gifts. Those that are not worthy are tossed aside.”
“Tossed aside?” Beckett echoed incredulously.
Nonon nodded earnestly. “As we all saw for our own eyes,” she confirmed. “He received the fate owed to him.”
“He’d done nothing to deserve this,” Beckett snapped, laying a hand softly on Rodney’s immobile arm. “What? You think that just because he’s not a ‘warrior’, and he doesn’t go off killing things, that he deserves to be killed instead?”
Nonor sniffed delicately. “The alicorn has higher standards than most. It can see right to the heart of a man.” She smiled sweetly, her arms still tightly wrapped around herself. “The alicorn favors those that are pure of heart and sure of the nobility of their deeds. The uncertain, those that doubt their own actions, are what that the alicorn despises. The alicorn weeds out what is unpleasant and improves the next generation with his blessings.”
Beckett felt his face grow hot with these words, and almost jumped to his feet to confront her, but Ronon cut him off.
“Nonor!” the big Satedan growled, the snap in his voice bringing a surprised expression to his sister.
“The alicorn judges a true warrior and laud him,” she defended. “Its judgment against the self-important and dishonorable is known to be quick and severe.”
Rodney sifted, his face tight with pain, and let out an unintelligible murmur. Beckett gave up on any idea of confronting Nonor, staying crouched over Rodney, trying to comfort. The physicist had stopped talking – not a good sign.
“It is for the best,” Nonor continued, her voice plaintive. “Everyone knows this. Ronon, you sang songs in your youth praising the alicorn’s wise deeds. Its pronouncements are beyond reproach.”
“Enough!” Ronon snarled.
“I am only repeating the truth! You know this, dear brother,” she simpered. “You were raised on this knowledge. It flows in our blood.”
“They were just stories.”
“Stories that hold everything we believe in.” Nonor moved around him, trying to meet her brother’s eye, but he continued to scan the fluffy-tuft landscape, ever on the alert.
With a pout, Nonor went on. “Remember when you were young and still wearing a little gertergauld? You told me that you wished to someday bow down before the alicorn, to have it place its head on your lap. It was your greatest dream!”
“I was a child.”
“When you went away to join the special forces, you said that it was to make yourself worthy.” She blinked her adorable large eyes becomingly. “We all knew it was to attain your dream. Do you turn your back on everything that you once believed to be true?”
Ronon spun toward her. “I grew up!” he spat out. “I have learned the value of my friends. That creature is a horrible beast!”
“But it’s the alicorn!” she countered, as if that word alone would solve everything. “It knows…”
“It is creature that kills without remorse or thought!”
The declaration stunned Nonor. Hands clutched at her throat as tiny pearl-like tears formed in her eyes. Her mouth drew up into a delicate bow as she pouted. “Oh, Ronnie,” she whimpered, ducking her head as if stuck. “Oh, you have no idea how much you’ve hurt me!” And her shoulders heaved with silent sobs.
Beside them, Rodney let slow, staggering breath. His one hand clutched at the dirt as the other lay motionless at his side. His face grew even paler as Beckett removed the now sodden bandage.
“Aw…hell.” Beckett pursed his lips. “This isn’t gonna work,” he said regretfully. “It shouldn’t be bleeding like this still. I just…” He ran a hand worriedly through his hair. “I just don’t have the supplies. Short of cauterizing the wound, I don’t know what else to do to stop the bleeding.” And his forehead crinkled with worry at that proposition. Lord, he didn’t want to resort to that, but the bleeding wasn’t stopping. If this kept up, Rodney was a goner.
“How much longer until Weir sends someone to check on us?” Ronon asked.
“I dunno,” Beckett snapped. “I’m not in charge!” And then he sighed, regretful. “It’ll take them a couple of days, I’d think. We’re scheduled to be here for a while. And we don’t know what’s become of Colonel Sheppard and Teyla. Lord, I hope they’re doin’ okay.”
“Sheppard will be fine,” Ronon decided and stiffened his stance as he kept watch.
“We gotta do somethin’,” Beckett declared, then his gaze lit upon the severed horn that lay in the grass not far from his knee. He snapped it up, and turned his head to fix Ronon and Nonor with a knowing look. “How?” he demanded. “How do we do it?”
Nonor’s eyes, still wet from her tears, opened wide in confusion. Ronon’s narrowed in understanding. “The ointment?” he confirmed.
“What do we do?” Beckett asked. “Can we make it now? With the materials we have?” He gripped the horn as if he might crush it or use it as a weapon. “Do you know what needs to be done?”
Ronon shook his head regretfully, while beside him, Nonor fluttered. “I know!” she declared joyfully, dancing a little. “I know!”
“Well, out with it, lass!” Beckett demanded.
“First, we need the skin of a fezzmick.”
“Fezzmick?” Beckett repeated halfheartedly.
“One of those feathered snake things,” Ronon informed. “Shouldn’t be too hard to find one. They like to sleep under rocks.”
Beckett moved away from a stand of stones near his back.
“And the blood of a muridae,” Nonor ticked off on her fingers.
“Won’t be a problem,” Ronon included.
“And I think it needs honey from the hive of the nuffnuff,” Nonor added, biting her lip. “Either that or sap from the wandering trees.” And she furrowed her brow in pretty contemplation.
“Shouldn’t be hard,” Ronon decided as he un-holstered his weapon and checked it.
“And once we gather this dog’s breakfast,” Becket started. “How do we combine the ingredients?” He hefted the horn uncomfortably. “We must break this down somehow.”
“The horn must be carefully rendered or all its magical properties will be lost,” Nonor stated. She demonstrated by pressing her palms together, making her ample breast appear even more impressive. “The pressure must be constant and severe.”
“And you know the recipe?” Beckett asked.
Ronon’s sister nodded, tossing her beautiful tawny mane. She slipped into storyteller mode as she sing-songed, “The mortar and pestle must be formed from the blood-marble mined from the Eknar Fissure. Water from the pure fountain of Is primes the mixture. The skin of the fezzmick lines the mortar, and for seven days and seven nights, the wisest and the oldest of the master alchemists labors at the sacred task of refining the horn of the beloved alicorn to a fine particles. Seven drops of muridae blood must be added seven times a day over the seven days. No more. No less. He is to be assisted by a virgin, dressed in simple linen and barefoot, and she shall wipe his brow, massage his weary limbs, and bring his sweet fruits to eat during his toil. At the end of the prescribed timeframe, the sap – or maybe the honey – is folded in to seal in the magical properties. And finally, when all is complete,” she spread her arms wide as she reached the denouement. “It is to be collected into a jar with a nice tight lid and carried close to the heart of a true warrior who further endows the ointment with goodness and light.” Nonor’s face was flushed and she looked half-ready to faint as she ended her recitation.
“Right,” Beckett said undecidedly. “I’m thinking I can rig up something with what we have in the jumper.” He glanced to the hole where the ship had disappeared. “Seven days won’t do, but I should be able to speed that up with the right equipment. Might have to do without some of the trappings is all.”
Beside him, McKay spoke, his voice little more than a whisper, “What about… the virgin? You’re gonna need… one of those.” And a smiled played at the edges of his otherwise tight mouth.
Beckett smiled slightly at that remark. “Don’t you go thinkin’ about somethin’ like that right now, Rodney. You need your strength.”
As a response, McKay just sighed, looking a little less pained than before – but not much.
Beckett felt hopeless, realizing what they were up again, and looked to Ronon. “Okay then, we just need to get me, Nonor and Rodney safely down there and you can go looking for the nuffnuffs and the fezziwigs right? Does anyone have any rope?”
Nonor, who’d still held the serene look from her tale, stiffened and stepped away. “I shall not go underground!” she declared hotly. “I shall not!”
“Nonor!” Ronon sharply spoke.
“I will go with you to collect what is needed,” Nonor insisted.
“Someone must stay with them,” Ronon told her severely.
“You then,” Nonor went on. “I would be the best choice to find everything that is needed. The creatures of this planet love me. They will come to me. All I would need to do is sit quietly and to open my mind to the oneness of this place.”
Ronon watched his sister, with a sorrowful expression. “That’s why I gotta be the one that finds this stuff. You’ll go with them. Protect them.”
Wildly, she turned about, as if assaulted from all sides. “The molemen,” she cried. “I shall not walk in the halls of evildoers! They are creatures of the dark that hate all things of light. They are the sworn enemy of the alicorn and everything beautiful.”
“An enemy of my enemy…” Beckett started, but Rodney made a quiet whimper and he returned his attention to the scientist.
Ronon nodded sharply. “Fine. You stay up here until I get back with the stuff,” he declared. When he saw Beckett start to protest, he raised a hand, and glanced sadly toward his sister. “We got to have that snake skin before you can start crushing the horn. I’ll get it. And we gotta find something for a rope. I’ll come back and you’ll all go down there. Then go look for the rest of it.”
“Right,” Beckett responded halfheartedly.
Already, Nonor looked happier, half-dancing with the joy of staying above ground for the time-being – apparently not understand that she’d only received a temporary reprieve.
Drawing his mouth into a frown, Ronon watched her happy movements. “You will keep watch over them.” His tone was unequivocal. “You will let nothing harm them,” he stated, jabbing a finger in her direction.
“But…” Nonor started.
“Beckett doesn’t have time for foolishness,” Ronon told her. “He has to watch over McKay. And YOU will watch over both of them. On your honor, you will protect them.”
She looked as if she wanted to counter his commandment, but Nonor only offered him a timid nod.
That seemed to be enough for Ronon and he started off at a trot toward the trees where they’d recently seen the puffy fluffy muridae poking cute wiggly noses at them. They can’t be that bad, Ronon thought, remembering a particularly inspired rendition he’d made of the creatures in watercolors. The snake should be easy to find nearby. They loved feasting on newborn muridae after all.
Nonor stood, arms akimbo, looking cross, but staying in place as her brother had requested. “Try not to hurt any of the creatures,” she called after him, sounding hopeful.
Beckett tucked the horn inside his vest, then went through his pack again, as if he might be able to uncover anything that’d prove helpful, while beside him, Rodney muttered and tossed his head, trying to escape the pain that tormented him.
Sheppard let out a shout as he tumbled once again, using every ounce of strength he contained to not pass out as he reached the floor of the tunnel. This attacker was much bigger than the rabbit creatures, and (for the most part) not as soft. It was only the somewhat familiar shout that kept him from grappling with his attacker.
“Teyla?” he called, grasping hold of a bare arm in the darkness.
“Get it off!” Teyla pleaded.
Light flared as Teyla activated a glowstick, waving it about wildly in an attempt to free herself of the last fluffy-puffies that savagely clung to her face.
Feeling sick at the sight, Sheppard reached, ready to dislodge the beast with the least amount of damage, when the creature let loose on its own. With an unnerving “SHHHHHHH!” as it jumped away, clinging momentarily to the earthen ceiling of the tunnel. Its eyes were wide, glowing in the greenish light, and, seeming terrified. It turned, scuttling away through the hole in the ceiling, hissing like water flung on a fire -- the sound growing softer as it disappeared up the hole.
And for a moment, the two sat, side-by-side, panting in the glow, waiting for another assault. But all was still.
“Are you all right, colonel?” Teyla asked evenly.
Still trying to calm her breath, Teyla responded, “I am well.” She tenderly touched the side of her face, feeling the bleeding wound. She grimaced, exploring the damage.
“It’s not bad,” Sheppard tried to assure her, pulling a bandage from his pocket.
Teyla looked grateful for that small offer as she opened the packet and pressed the gauze to her face.
“Boris?” Sheppard asked.
Teyla tilted her head up, looking up to the chimney that sprouted to the surface. She kept the bandage to her cheek as she held out the glow stick with the other. “I believe he… I heard him …” and she was silent for a moment before she was able to complete her thought. “I think that the creatures attacked him.”
And they were silent again. Something caught Sheppard’s attention and he leaned stiffly to retrieve the dropped Life Sign Detector. It flared to life again as he touched it.
Still holding her face, Teyla’s eyes glanced to the screen on the LSD. “There are others,” she said, hushed and anxious.
“Yeah,” Sheppard responded, regarding the display with an annoyed expression. “Seems that they’re down here. We got company.”
Teyla, in one quick movement, brought the glowstick back and flung it into the tunnel. It landed even as she pulled a fresh stick from her vest pocket.
Sheppard looked out in disbelief. For a second, creatures were illuminated – squat, creatures with what appeared to be a layer of short brown hair, little more than fuzz against skin. They had big heads, small flaps for ears, wide shovel-like hands, little clawed feet – and their eyes were huge and strangely teardrop shaped, like those horrendous figurines that were sold in knickknack shops.
The creatures groaned unhappily and disappeared from the greenish light – going deeper into the tunnel – into the blackness.
“Colonel,” Teyla whispered. “Did you see… creatures?”
With a groan, Sheppard rubbed his forehead and uttered a miserable, “Crap!”
Teyla and Sheppard sat side-by-side on the mound of dirt, gazing out beyond the green light. Teyla clutched another glow-stick, ready to activate it if necessary. She’d dropped her other arm to touch the weapon at her hip – the bandage remaining adhered to the awful bite on her face.
They said nothing, listening to the shuffling in the darkness just beyond the dome of green light. Sheppard strained, hearing what might have been voices whispering. Finally, he drawled out a slow, “Okay… so… you creatures out there…ah… what do you plan to do? I mean, if you can communicate…”
Sniffling and snorting commenced, and Sheppard held his arm tightly, ready for action. Then suddenly, something lunged. Teyla drew her weapon as the thing flapped, and something was thrown over the glow-stick – snuffing out the light.
John let loose the hold he had on his arm, to still Teyla’s hand. “Don’t fire,” he ordered, finding her in the darkness. He could almost feel her ire at being restrained. They waited.
In the black, something sighed and a voice seemed to mutter, “That’s better.”
But Teyla snapped her second stick and they were again bathed in a green glow. Shapes that had drawn closer, howled. Five creatures ducked, pivoting away as they hid their overly huge eyes.
One deep voice seemed to say, “Aw buggar!”
Another, in a reedy voice declared, “She’s got another of those wretched things!”
The rest chorused with a round of unhappy murmurs.
From nearby, a voice warbled, “Can’t you just put it out, love?”
Teyla continued to hold the glowing rod out in front of her, catching sight of hunched backs, as the softly furred creatures huddled together, averting their eyes and nattering unhappily.
“How rude,” the one with the deep voice complained. “Bebbil asked kindly enough, but they just do as they please.”
“Bastards,” one commented with a bit of a lisp. “Not at all kind.”
“I’m with Dabbo. They seem very unmole-like,” the reedy one whined.
“Very un-mole-like, indeed,” three or four echoed. They sounded pained as they scrunched closer together in their misery.
“Douse it,” Sheppard called to Teyla. She gave him a forlorn look, but tucked the glowing stick into her pocket and they were plunged again into darkness.
“Hurrah!” the reedy voice called out of the black.
“Hurrah! Hurrah!” other voices joined in.
“See, they are kind. Most unlike the horned beast and the small biting things,” Dabbo slurred out.
“Och! I don’t like the little biting things!” the deep voice declared.
“Nobody does, Nobis.”
“You’re not going to bite us, are you?” the reedy voice inquired.
“Good question, Ally!” someone in back commended.
“Yeah! Excellent. An answer! We need an answer!”
“Ah,” Sheppard started, staring hard into the blackness and seeing nothing, but could hear the creatures shifting about anxiously. “I don’t plan to bite anyone. How ‘bout you, Teyla.”
Sounding relatively sure of herself, Teyla replied into the dark, “I have no designs on biting.”
“You don’t have a pointy horn do you?” Nobis called.
“Or wings – big flappy wings? You got any of those?” a feminine voice called.
“No wings. No pointy horn,” Sheppard assured.
“Course they got no wings, Mang, can’t you see that?”
“The bright hurt my eyes,” Mang complained. “I can’t see a thing.”
“Hate the bright,” Bebbil warbled.
“How ‘bout this,” Sheppard tried. “We keep the bright glowy thing put away, and maybe you could help us get out of here. You’d like that wouldn’t you? And everyone would be happy and we’d all get back to our happy little lives, right?”
“Sounds like he’s talkin’ down to us. Eh, Bebbil?”
“Seems like he’s got a bit of an attitude, don’t he?” Mang commented.
“We only ask that you allow us to leave,” Teyla tried to negotiate. “We will do you no harm.”
“Yeah,” Ally, said shrilly, “‘Cept you put a hole in the roof!”
“And dumped your big boxy thing in the grand hall,” Bebbis whined.
“Another big hole,” Dabbo complained. “Like we need that!”
“Let’s the bright in,” Nobis complained. “I don’t like the bright.”
“And who do you think gets to clean that up all the dirt you dumped?” Mang added.
“Wait a minute,” Sheppard held out his hands in a placating gesture, wondering if they could even see the movement. “Did you say you found a big boxy thing?”
“It’s bigger than all of us put together,” Bebbil explained. “And it come right down in the last temblor. Why’d you put it where you did? Couldn’t you tell it wasn’t the safest place for somethin’ o’that size?”
“They just don’t think, do they?” Mang added, making a tsking sound. And a couple of voices made cooing sounds of agreement.
Sheppard furrowed his brow and turned toward Teyla in the darkness, bumping into her nose as she did the same to lean in toward him. He offered a quiet, “Ooops, sorry,” before adding, “You think they’re talking about the jumper?”
“Jumper?” a voice that Sheppard couldn’t identify called out. “You think you can wear it?” And laughter followed.
“Is it a ship?” Teyla asked, her voice pleading, hoping that she could get a straight answer out of the group.
“What she talking about, Mang?” a voice whispered not far from them. “That thing ain’t gonna sail on the lake, is it?”
“Oh,” Mang said softly. “I love the lake when the bright is gone. It’s so nice. Is it supposed to be on the lake, ‘cause if it is, it’s not in the right place.”
“Not right at all,” Dabbo confirmed.
“Can you just show us what you found?” Sheppard asked tiredly. “Just lead us there and we’ll take care of it, okay?’
“Gettin’ pushy again, ain’t he?” Bebbil commented. “Well, come on then. Don’t have all day.”
And the mole creatures started to shuffle away in the blackness. Sheppard and Teyla slowly scrambled to their feet, and stood warily for a moment in the darkness. Teyla reached out one hand, trying to find the wall of the tunnel while she kept the other hand on Sheppard’s shoulder.
“What’s the delay?” Dabbo asked from a short distance away.
“They’re from the bright,” Mang reminded. They heard her paddle up next to them, and Teyla felt a warm, large hand encompass hers. “Come on, love. Let’s find your big boxy thing and put things right.”
And the group shuffled off into the darkness – Teyla trusting the mushroom shaped creature to lead her, as she kept a firm grasp of Sheppard’s shoulder.
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: FLYING PHYSICIANS
Beckett squatted beside Rodney keeping a dirt covered hand on the scientist’s coated shoulder. The thick quick clot pressure bandages he had recently placed over the wound once again showed multifocal areas of pink, hinting at rapid saturation of the once sterile cloth.
This wasn’t going to work. Beckett shaded his eyes against the sharp glare of the sun.
They were going to lose Rodney here on some Godforsaken planet that seemed a cross between the enchanted forest and Jurassic Park. It seemed to be the place where Bambi would probably feast on small children and pick his teeth clean with their bones.
Carson stared with some trepidation at the point in the path where Ronon’s large frame had disappeared. If he and Rodney ran into trouble now, they would be on their own. The doctor let his gaze glance across the blonde beauty a few feet from him and Rodney. Nonor had a perfect muscular frame which curved and dip in all the right places and offer just enough natural soft and tender areas to accentuate her feminine figure. She was the picture of health which attracted the doctor in him. She was beautiful which pulled at the man he was and she presented no outward physical flaws that had the geneticist in him wanting to examine her DNA. A cute pout wrinkled her clear features adding to her allure.
“This is his fault you know,” she muttered turning large, long lashed doe brown eyes in Beckett’s direction while indicating Rodney.
And Beckett sighed slightly, disappointed, the allusion was cruelly shattered—again. He cupped his hand around his eye, blocking the sun and stared up at the Satedan.
Nonor was perfect, absolutely stunningly beautiful, with the sun casting a golden halo around her frame. Her beauty was unmatched—until she spoke. The doctor and researcher in him desired to run cranial imaging on her. Perhaps her brain was like the Grinch’s heart: two sizes too small. Perhaps he could run an EEG and search for any type of brainwave activity.
Beckett sighed and shook his head. With that simple move, he dismissed both her foolish statement and his callous plans. However, his mind kept coming up with diagnostic possibilities; maybe a scanning electron microscope would have better luck finding grey matter in Nonor if he managed to get a biopsy.
He shook his head again trying to rid himself of his uncharitable thoughts, chuckling weakly. This was Ronon’s sister. The former Runner deserved better from his friends. Nonor wasn’t a bad person, she wasn’t evil or wicked. She was just—Nonor.
“Whaa’s so f’nny?” McKay breathed out, turning his head slightly. He blinked a few times, lazy slow movements that had him struggling to unroll his eyes from the back of his head.
Beckett watched as Nonor turned and took a few steps toward the surrounding forest as if trying to distance herself from the two unpure men. He never did claim to be a saint and Rodney surely held no aspirations for canonization.
Carson turned his attention back to Rodney and offered sly chuckle. “Just wondering what I would find if I did some brain scans on Ronon’s sister.”
“A worm hole,” Rodney muttered. His voice was a barely articulated answer that whisped over chapped lips.
Beckett stared quizzically at the astrophysicist not understanding the answer.
McKay took a careful breath and then explained. “It takes matter in one end, breaks it down, and then lets it escape out the other side—whole. Nothing retained.” Rodney quirked a smile and let his eyes flutter closed. The effort of speaking seemed to drain him even further.
“Aye, you’re a daft bugger Rodney,” Carson replied chuckling, “but occasionally pretty astute.”
“Only occasionally?” Rodney asked slight annoyance. Even exhausted and dying no one appreciated his efforts.
“Aye. Ya did get chomped on by horned beastie, now didn’t ya?”
“Maybe, but at least I didn’t run into a tree,” Rodney retaliated with a faded accusing voice. He managed to open blood shot eyes and stare at Carson with a superior glare, even if it was muted by pain and blood loss.
“The tree ran into me,” Beckett defended. His indignation was admixed with the worry that all of Atlantis would learn of his ‘run in’ with nature.
“Trees don’t jump out in front of people, Carson,” Rodney stated with quiet confidence. The talking was obviously sapping him of what little strength he had left, but Carson could tell it was also pushing the incessant pain a little further away.
“Aye, they do on this God forsaken planet.” Beckett itched to lift the bandage and check McKay’s seeping wound again but kept himself from doing it. It would do them no good to disturb the bandage. If the bleeding stopped, then kudos for them, better for Rodney. But it clear wasn't. Beckett eyed the slow spread of the focal points of pink as they darkened and stretched, radiating out, wicking through the bandage and slowly bridging across the areas of white to further saturate more of the cloth.
Rodney was in trouble. They needed to get help, leave this planet of insanity and get home to Atlantis.
“I’m going to die aren’t I?”
“Aye, someday, Rodney,” Beckett answered staring back into the woods hoping Ronon returned soon. He shielded his eyes with his hand, to block the glare of the sun overhead.
“You’re a great comfort you know that, Carson?”
“You’re not going to die today, Rodney.” The doctor looked back down at his patient and offered him a kind smile that morphed into one that carried an air of mischief. “At least I don’t think you will.”
“Oh, great, fantastic,” McKay paused and dragged in an elusive breath. “You...you are no help, none whatsoever,” Rodney ranted for a bit letting his hands dance and jerk about without moving his arms. He narrowed his eyes in an accusing manner, “Shouldn’t you be shaking a rattle and wearing feathers and chanting some nonsense to the healing Gods about saving my life?”
Carson chuckled pleased to see some life come back into his friend. A spark of hope flared—all was not lost. McKay was an obstinate man and wouldn’t just roll over and die.
“Left my rattle at home," he replied, glancing back at the woods for Ronon and shielding his eyes again, "and used the last of the magic snake venom to heal Zelenka of his stomach bug.”
Beckett dropped his hand from the corner of his eye as the sharp afternoon rays of the sun were blocked by a cloud. The sounds of a tarp flap beating rhythmically caught his attention.
There was no breeze and certainly no one had set up a tarp.
Carson pushed himself to his feet searching the forest around them. He saw nothing. Everything was deathly still. Where was Nonor?
The rhythmic flapping continued and seemed to draw nearer.
“Rodney?” Beckett asked with rising concern. “Do you hear something?”
The slow steady flapping drew ominously closer.
“No,” Rodney whispered and then added with slight panic, “I’m deaf! Carson what if I’m deaf? What am I going to do?”
“Give us all chronic headaches with your yelling,” Beckett answered, turning in circle searching the surrounding forest, trying to pinpoint the sound. He paused and then added, “You’re not going deaf, Rodney; your ears just aren’t working right now.”
“How is that different from being deaf?” McKay squeaked trying to raise an impossibly heavy hand to his ear.
“Shush, man, and listen; something’s not right,” Beckett hushed his friend.
“What gave you that idea? The killer horned beast, the deadly lagomorphs, or the fact that our jumper has been completely swallowed up by this planet?” McKay closed his eyes and swallowed tentatively himself. His stomach gurgled threateningly with the cautious action.
The area in the small clearing grew a shade darker as if more of the sun was being blocked.
Beckett snapped his head around to face to the left. He heard the unmistakable sound of something overtly large crashing through the forest, heading in his and Rodney’s direction.
“Oh, crap,” he whispered.
The doctor’s heart began to beat frantically. Something was charging at them from the forest. He swung his head left and right trying to find a place to hide, someplace to drag Rodney off to that would offer some sort of protection. They were sitting ducks out here in the small glade.
Where was Nonor? Where had the Satedan blonde disappeared too?
The flapping sounded increasingly louder, drumming closer, causing the tiny bones in Beckett’s inner ear to vibrate.
He stared fixated to the spot in the forest which seemed likely the source of the charging beast. He fumbled with releasing his .9mm from its holster. He cursed himself, knowing he would have better luck with throwing harsh language at whatever rushed them than hitting it with a bullet. Major Lorne had tried training him with the handgun and insisted that Beckett was less incapable with his left hand. Colonel Sheppard had invested many hours attempting to teach him and thought Carson was less dangerous if he used his right hand. Both the Colonel and Major agreed it might be advantageous if Lieutenant Cadman try and train the doctor in handguns. However, that too was a bust. Carson had to admit he was not terribly focused on keeping either of his hands on the gun with Laura so close and within easy touch. And she didn’t seem to mind too terribly badly.
Carson switched the .9mm to his left hand.
The glade remained in the shade. How big was that cloud? Beckett was curious but refused to look, it really didn’t seem all that pertinent at the moment, but it was a bit intriguing.
The crashing drew closer, the snapping of branches, the sound of jumping feet and the thud of foot falls on the unseen dirt path carried closer and closer to the two doctors.
Beckett positioned himself between Rodney and whatever charged at them from the cover of the forest. Perhaps it was one of Boris’s ferocious bunny rabbits. Maybe an angry feather snake with feet? Would it still be a snake, then?
Beckett shook his head in frustration trying to rein in his stray thoughts.
He switched the gun to his right hand.
The incessant flapping continued to beat the air. Who set up a tent? Maybe that was where Nonor disappeared too? It would be good to get Rodney out of the sun and into some shade.
The area darkened further. A strange pulsing breeze suddenly buffeted Carson. He worked diligently to ignore it and focus on the man-eating monster that was sure to erupt from the forest and try and dismember him and Rodney. He really didn’t enjoy this kind of thing. Not at all. He was a quiet man, grew up in a quiet house, had a good mum, did his chores most days, studied hard, tried to help people the best he could. His life was exciting enough in the laboratory and emergency department. He really didn’t need to add life sucking creatures or carnivorous animals to it. He didn’t embrace the possibility of being skewered by deadly mythical beasts, tormented by Peter Rabbit’s rabid twins, or face unknown flesh eating monsters that crashed through the forest with the sole purpose of eating scientists. This really wasn’t his thing.
Beckett’s pulse raced. He didn’t want to die on this world that seemed spawned by a macabre drug induced hallucination. What would his mother and cousins think if they ever learned he was killed by some purple wee bunnies with cute noses? Or feathered snakes that hid from the sun? He’d be the laughing stock down at the pub. His only consolation was that his death would be classified information. Maybe Elizabeth would be kind and make up something heroic, like Rodney always insisted. Saving children or old folks. Yes, yes, that would be better than dying by the hands or nasty pointy teeth of whisker twitching lop eared bunnies with cotton tails.
Sweat ran into his eyes.
The flapping was nearly oppressive. His teeth seemed to rattle in their sockets.
He could no longer hear the crashing monstrosity that dashed through the woods.
He gripped the hand gun in both hands.
The clouds still blocked the sun casting the sharp afternoon brilliance into an almost early twilight.
Nervous fingers, released the safety on his .9mm. His sweaty palms and fingers gripped the textured gun handle. Shoot to kill. That is what the military guys had been teaching him. They had finally relented and constantly told him that he should just shoot with the intention of hitting his target.
With wide eyes and a racing heart, Beckett started to raise the gun and aim it with steadfast intention of hitting something. He caught fleeting glimpses of the charging creature through the camouflaged of the thick forest.
Rodney’s hoarse panicked scream had Beckett twisting his upper body around just in time to have his heavy issued off world coat and vest snared by the large brutally curved talons. Said talons were solidly attached to over sized legs that ran jointed up to an exceptionally large leather winged bird. Its shear bulk would have given an elephant a run for its money in size.
In the flash of a moment the doctor was torn off the ground, dangling from curled talons within the grip of the largest leather winged bird of prey he had even seen.
The only leather winged bird of prey he had ever seen. He hoped it didn’t have bumble foot.
The gun fell from his hands. He watched it fall a small black dot that only got smaller as it tumbled away like a discarded rock. He could probably hit more things with a rock.
Bad luck…bad luck…bad luck. He squeezed his eyes closed as he sped away from the ground. All he ever had going off world was bad luck. First it was Hoff, then held captive in some Ancient tower by inbred medieval madmen, being stuck in a super sized volcano and being forced to ride the curl of a monstrous lava wave, and now large birds of prey. No one else has been scooped up by some winged creature. Why him? Wee feral bunny rabbits didn’t seem so bad right now. Bring them on. He knew how to roast up a good hare.
Beckett opened his eyes and found himself lifted high above the forest canopy. He stared down at the shrinking prone figure of Rodney.
A shadow broke through the forest into the clearing. It was Ronon. It had been Ronon who had been running at them from the woods. Carson watched with slight detachment as large red energy bolts streaked across the sky toward the screaming winged monster that held him.
For a moment Beckett prayed Ronon’s aim was true, until he realized just how small and far away Ronon and McKay looked from his lofty vantage point.
“Oh no…oh no…oh no…no…no…no…” Beckett mumbled despondently. He kicked his legs and wiggled as red flashes of energy streaked by, barely missing him.
The raptor screamed in a high pitch wail that had Beckett screaming himself. The unmistakable smell of burnt tissue wafted down to him.
The creature lurched to the side. Beckett’s body thrashed around, his leg careening out like the tail end of a whip.
“Oh God. Oh God. Oh God,” he whispered as more red bolts zipped dangerously close to him and found their mark.
The raptor screamed again and jerked a hundred and eighty degrees to the left.
Beckett’s legs flew out in the opposite direction of his shoulders and upper body.
More energy bolts zapped past and exploded mercilessly into the massive feathered body that clutched him.
The raptor screamed again. Beckett mimicked it.
Another blast found its mark. The bird was thrown forward, head down, giving Beckett a nauseatingly close view of its razor toothed beak and sword shaped tongue.
“Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.”
Beckett closed his eyes. He promised he’d never have another sarcastic remark for Rodney again when it came to medicine. He promised never to threaten him again with a prostate exam. He would give Rodney his undivided and most sympathetic attention possible. Carson whispered desperate pleading promises, if only he would be spared a useless death at the claws of an overgrown chicken hawk with leather wings. His cousins would laugh at him until they cried themselves silly. The humility of it all; the injustice of it.
He could hear the whine of more laser bolts from Ronon’s gun.
The massive bird jerked again.
Beckett felt the talon’s loosened their grip. His vest ripped, popping just a few stitches, jerking him dangerously close to freedom.
Carson peeled open one eye and looked at the forest terrifyingly far below him.
He was wrenched again as another talon tore through his vest. The material of his right shoulder ripped free. He dangled precariously from his left while the right side of his body dropped few feet closer to the diminutive trees and expansive forest.
He began to twist in a nauseating circle.
Another volley of red blasts streaked by.
The rhythmic flapping of the leather wings faltered. As a pair, the bird of prey and he dropped like a stone for a brief terrifying moment.
The trees below gave way to large blue expanse of water.
The beating wings started again, bringing their free fall to a jolting halt.
The seams on his coat over the left shoulder tore. He free fell a few inches until his vest was snared within the talons. The material was yanked upward up under his jaw and across part of his face forcing his head to the side. Beckett clutched firmly to the top of the vest, hoping to keep it on and hoping to prevent it from shearing his head off.
The flapping faltered again.
The creature cried. Its sharp screams pierced the area. Beckett cringed drawing his legs up closer to his midsection. He was going to be dropped by a bird…the only thing missing was newly washed car to land on. His life should have had a more graceful ending.
The stitching of his vest gave.
For a moment Carson Beckett was free falling. In a last ditch effort to avoid mimicking urate, he desperately reached up and snared one scaly leg just above the creature’s foot and held on for dear life.
The bird screamed again, bellowing its rage and fright as the duo once again plummeted to the right and toward the water.
Beckett held on desperately, matching the creature’s distressed scream.
They careened toward the water like a badly formed cinderblock.
The desperate flapping of leather wings sounded over head. It slowed their descent just a fraction. Turning their free fall from one of sure death into a possible severe maiming.
Beckett wasn’t sure he wanted to limp away from this.
The red energy bursts once again started zipping past him. The smell of burning flesh was marked but the horrific cries of pain from the bird.
They continued to fall toward the water. The creature continued to beat its wings trying to slow its own descent.
Beckett could make out the shore line. It seemed too close. The water too shallow.
He began kicking and wiggling trying to influence the creature’s direction, push it out to deeper water.
Hell from this height he’d be lucky to walk away with intact bones. Slamming into a sandy shore line would do little to improve his chances. And sand in ones socks and underwear was not something easily removed. The little unseen grains were tenacious and hellacious. Broken bones or not, chaffing in some areas of the body by sand was not to be tolerated.
Another red bolt of energy flashed by, singing the underside of Beckett’s right arm. “Knock it off you daft Bugger!” Beckett screamed competing with the panicked cries of the failing creature.
In a desperate attempt to lose its dinner turned hitchhiker, the giant bird reached around with its massive head and plucked the ‘cling-on’ from its leg.
Beckett found himself hanging by his coat from the saw toothed beak facing the water.
“Oh no,” He whispered as the bird let go.
His screams followed him down through his free fall. He whirled his arms and kicked with his legs in a mad attempt to slow his too rapid decent into the crystal clear blue water below.
At the last moment, he pulled his legs in together, hugged his arms in close to his side and hit the water as straight has he could, not sure if it was proper thing to do or not. And not really caring. Bubbles rushed passed him as he shot through the water like an unleashed arrow. It was amazing how loud it sounded as he careened through the depths.
In the forest clearing, standing over McKay, Ronon holstered his gun and looked down at the scientist. “Got it.”
“Carson?” Rodney whispered, his apprehension as clear as the soaking blood on his bandage.
“Pretty sure he fell into the lake.”
"Very sure," Ronon said confidently.
“He doesn’t like the water,” Rodney stated. He gave up trying to wrestle himself up onto his elbows. It seemed dizziness assaulted him every time he raised his head above his shoulders.
“Better than being an MRE,” Ronon said in his assured understated manner.
“You would think so,” Rodney mumbled not truly convinced Carson would feel that way.
“I saw him,” Nonor announced, appearing suddenly at the top of the black-sand cliff just visible through the thin trees in that direction. She had obviously been down by the lake, and was now returning. “He broke through the surface and is swimming toward shore.” She jogged towards them.
Rodney rolled his eyes and was swamped by vertigo. Of course Carson was swimming to shore, what else would he be doing? Question was—why hadn't she stayed to help him?
Ronon made a step in Nonor's direction—the direction of the lake, then paused, looking back down at McKay.
“Go. Make sure he’s okay,” Rodney ordered, closing his eyes. As much as he did not want to be left alone with Nonor, he’d feel better if Dex was keeping an eye on Beckett and not his sister. McKay had no doubts that he would not make it off this planet alive if something unfortunate happened to Carson.
The runner eyed the astrophysicist for a bit. After a moment he simply nodded. Nonor had paused at the edge of the clearing.
“Nonor, come back and watch Dr. McKay.”
She grimaced as she traversed the few yards back to the clearing and the two men. "But, I—"
Her brother cut her off.
“You shame the warriors of Satedan, Nonor. You leave two of your wards to seek the comfort of childish dream animals instead of defending those who rely upon you. Even the Alicorn of our myths would find wrong doing in that.”
Nonor dropped her eyes chastised and embarrassed, though her eyes still sparkled with defiance.
"You will watch him," Ronon stated firmly. "On your honor."
She grimaced again, then nodded. "Fine."
Accepting that, Ronon left the small clearing. Within a few minutes he stood on the edge of the same solid dirt cliff overlooking the lake. With a small smile, observed with some amusement as the physician swam a few more strokes before gaining his feet in shallow water. He watched as Beckett stumbled left and right with his arms out trying to find his balance. He managed a few unsteady steps in shin deep water staggering haphazardly toward the beach. Ronon scrutinized the CMO as he trudged erratically from the massive lake, arbitrarily shaking his hands as if trying to rid them of dripping water.
Dex smiled half heartedly as Beckett shook one hand and then the other and finally both together in irritation as water persisted to run onto them.
“Beckett!” Ronon hollered.
The doctor staggered one more step and left the water. He stood on the black sand beach weaving in small circles.
Carson looked up searching the small cliff face for the source of the call.
His eyes landed on Dex who waved both arms over his head. “Are you alright?!”
“Fine-- bloody, well fine. Not every day you get your ass shot out of the sky by a laser gun and plummet to your death with some prehistoric bird of prey. I’m doing bloody well marvelous. Couldn’t be doing any better. Practically kicking my heels up I’m doing so bloody wonderful.” Beckett mumbled disgustedly to himself as he continued to try and dry his hands on his wet pant legs. He managed to smear sand all over his hands. “Bloody hell.”
“Beckett?!” Ronon shouted again, having not received an answering wave from the stumbling physician.
“What does he want? My first born?” Beckett whispered to himself. He lifted his head and stared up at the cliff and realized for the first time that he might not be doing ‘fine’.
Vertigo hit him like a sledge hammer off the side of his head. One moment he was standing up and staring up at Ronon who stood at the top of a cliff and the next he found himself face down staring at sand particles up close and personal. He was going to get sand where he didn’t want it.
“Beckett?” There was a hint of concern in Ronon’s disembodied voice.
“Not so fine at the moment,” Carson mumbled quietly to himself. Not so fine. Not at all.
Ronon watched the unmoving doctor from the top of the short cliff and waited just a moment. Beckett had yet to move. “Nonor! Stay with McKay.” With that last order the former Runner stepped brazenly over the edge of the dirt cliff and free fell a few yards until he hit the soft black crumbling dirt of the sloping face. He slid madly down the near vertical surface leaning back with one hand to keep his balance while wind-milling the other. He kept his eyes fixed to the black sand beach below. Fist size rocks rolled passed clunking into one another passing clods of rolling loom. Ronon kept his balance as he leaned backward, keeping his weight on his heels as he careened the last few yards to the sand.
Dr. Beckett had not moved. “Beckett.” Dex’s deep voice rang out with the sharp tinge of authority.
“Go ‘way,” Beckett mumbled quietly into the sand with his eyes closed. He wasn’t military and was damned if he took orders from anyone right at this moment.
The Satedan, jogged the last few yards to the prone CMO concern rising as Beckett had yet to move. Sheppard had left both doctors under his protection and he had failed them.
“Dr. Beckett,” Ronon called again and dropped to one knee beside the Scot.
“Go ‘way,” Carson mumbled again.
Ronon cocked his head to the side, “Are you hurt?”
“You’re daft, man,” Beckett stated incredulously. He pushed himself up over onto his back, further covering himself in the fine black grains of sand and stared at the brilliant too blue sky. He absently wiped his hands on his sand covered jacket. The sand rolled and skidded about his skin, working its way between his fingers and under his nails. It worked under clothing and scoured the sensitive skin at the boundaries between hems, cuffs and waist line. “I’ve just done my best impersonation of urate, the jumper’s missing, Rodney’s hurt and maybe dying. We got wee little bunnies that eat flesh raining down from the trees, nasty llama beasties with razor sharp horns trying to skewer us.” Beckett blinked trying to make out the shadowed features of the Runner through the glare of the sun and added with exasperation, “And I fear things are only going to get worse.”
A short moment later, things got a touch worse.
Without warning the ground suddenly gave out from underneath them as another earthquake hit.
Beckett yelped, reflexively reaching out to grab a hold of something as the one time solid if not annoying sand suddenly disappeared. He found himself unexpectedly free falling for the second time that day only this time it was through an over grown gopher hole. Perhaps a family of over zealous prairie dog tunnels? His mind whirled with possibilities as he fell butt first through the ground.
“Beckett!?” Ronon shouted as the doctor promptly disappeared from sight. The Satedan threw himself backward away from the disappearing ground to no avail, and Ronon found himself free falling in the same expanding hole that had swallowed Beckett. His last shout was for his sister.
Nonor had run forward towards the edge of the cliff when she heard her brother shout her name, forgetting the man behind her. Beneath her the ground undulated and shook, but she managed to keep her feet as everything shifted. She was just in time to see her brother fall down a massive hole near the bottom of the cliff face. Sand cascaded after him, and suddenly, a large chunk of solid, turquoise colored earth, fell from the cliff and covered the hole.
"RONON!" she screamed.
McKay felt the horrific shaking and tilted his head to the right, towards the big hole that marked where the jumper had fallen. His eyes widened as he saw a large, feather-leafed tree on the far side of the hole appear to erupt from its moorings in the soil and come crashing down. With a yelp, he did the only thing he could—he rolled.
The massive tree slammed down just feet from him, completely covering the hole where the jumper had falled, the wind of its felling rolling him even further.
When he stopped, he was lying on his stomach, completely unconscious.
"Get down!" one of the mole men yelled, Sheppard thought it might have been Dabbo. Trusting them completely (for no other reason than they had no choice), Teyla and Sheppard hit the dirt—just as a large quake shook the dirt walls around them like some much jelly. The mole men had disappeared—it wasn't clear where.
"It'll pass!" Dabbo called again. "These tunnels are stronger than the tremors."
Mang spoke up from somewhere near to Teyla, "Feels like it's coming from the lake, love!"
"Is that where we're going?" Sheppard called back into the pervasive blackness.
"Why does he keep asking dumb questions?" Bebill's voice floated over the cacophonous shaking. "Isn't that where ship's are normally found?"
Sheppard caught Teyla staring at him, her eyes shining in the darkness, bright with worry as dirt spilled down on top of them.
The sound of cascading sand surrounded Ronon, drowning out all other noise.
Ronon did not holler or scream. He did not raise his voice or waste precious energy fighting the inevitable. Instead, he fell silently, keeping his body relaxed and quiet waiting for the impending brutal stop.
It came blessedly sooner rather than later.
He landed feet first with a splash. His knees bent as he dropped and stuttered a step to the side, maintaining his balance and dispersing the energy of his fall. Sand shifted under his feet and water lapped just at his knees. He snapped his gun up to fire at any foolish threat that thought it would capture him unaware.
He heard splashing coming from his left mingled with disgusted accent laden curses.
The former Runner squinted his eyes trying to see through the gloom. He stood in a small body of knee deep icy water within a large cavern, shafts of light illuminating it from tiny holes far overhead. His eyes were drawn from the fumbling doctor who appeared incapable of making it successfully to his feet to the missing puddle jumper that sat like a mirage off to his right. A sense of relief flooded him.
Perhaps things were improving.
The former Runner waded through the water toward the blundering doctor with determined steps, holstering his weapon.
Beckett pushed himself back up to his feet, cursing madly under breath, but once again lost his balance. He flailed his arms wildly as he crashed downward, though he was hard pressed at the moment to know which direction was down. Water closed over his head and face as he slipped below the dark surface.
A firm grip latched onto his upper arm and yanked him partially above the surface. Beckett gasped for breath and blindly reached for the solid grip that held him above the water.
“Beckett.” Dex spoke again keeping tight grip on the physician’s arm.
“I’m all right,” Carson muttered slightly panicked, “dropped from the sky, fell through the ground. It’s alright. I’m all right. No problems. Doin’ fine.” The Scot attempted to shake one hand free of the water and lost his balance. He tilted to the side.
“Beckett!” Ronon’s sharp tone cut through the small area.
Carson snapped his head up, managed to keep his knees from buckling and remained somewhat on his feet as his little dark world whirled around him. His wide eyed glance swept the dimmed area and landed on the tan Jumper that seemed so out place in such a dreary place.
The Puddle Jumper sat perched on a dry mound of land as if on a pedestal for display.
“Ohh, a Jumper,” Beckett whispered with a touch of awe, his accent thickening. He looked owl-eyed up toward Ronon, “Parked in a puddle.” A bright, pleased smile dimpled his cheeks. “Do ya think there are more of them down here, lad?”
Dex tightened his grip on the doctor’s arm and pulled him more upright, straightening the left sided list that had Beckett heading back toward the water. “That is our Jumper.” Ronon began leading them toward the Ancient craft.
“Really? I don’t remember parking it down here.” Beckett blinked a few times, tripped over his feet, stumbling in a twisted fashion back into the water. He stared at the jumper and then back up at Ronon, “Do you?”
“You are not alright.” Ronon once again lifted the doctor up out of the water by the grip on his upper arm.
“Ach, no. My shoes are wet.” Beckett tried to lift a foot from the water to prove his point but his precarious balance had him tipping into the Satedan. “I’m wet.”
“You will survive.” Ronon propelled the doctor forward toward the jumper. “You must fly us out of here.” Under Ronon’s sturdy and steadying guide, they splashed their way toward the puddle jumper.
“You’re daft, man,” Beckett mumbled wading through the water that reached just above his knees. Carson suddenly stopped forcing the big Satedan to stop as well.
“Beckett?” Ronon asked with some concern. He stared quizzically at the doctor’s concentrated expression that suddenly turned sour. Dex feared the man might be sick.
“Ah crap, I’ve got sand in my shoes.” Carson once again tried to lift his foot to show Ronon but managed only to tumble backward.
Dex tightened his grip and pushed the doctor upright, “You can fly with sand.”
“Ach, no I can’t,” Beckett stated. Sand in his shoes meant sand on his heels. It’d scour the skin away in no time, not to mention the fine grains that grated and gritted abrasively between his toes. Sand would never do.
Ronon propelled him forward uncaring of his dilemma.
The mismatched duo weaved and trudged their way through the chilled, blackened, water toward rear hatch of the puddle jumper.
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: WHACKED WARRIORS
The shaking stopped, and Nonor stopped with it, standing on the cliff edge, peering down at the lakeshore. Literally, she froze, eyes glued to the site where she had seen her brother disappear. She didn’t breathe, didn’t blink, her heart even seemed to stop beating.
“No,” she whispered finally, letting out a pained breath. She fell to her knees, looking at the spot where Ronon had disappeared. He had been sucked down into a sinkhole and the rocks and dirt had filled in the space after him—buried alive. Shaking more, she looked up from the shore and out to the low valley beyond, taking in the serene, glittering lake filling much of it. And realized saw no sign of the healer either.
She was alone.
No, wait, not alone.
She turned, her eyes focusing on the still figure lying on the ground in the clearing. She could just make out his form from here through the trees—he had rolled onto his stomach. When had that happened? And...he wasn't moving. Was McKay dead? From here…he looked dead.
“No,” she whispered again, body stilled once more, depression pressing down on her limbs like a heavy shroud. If McKay was dead…if they were all dead….eating by muridae, killed by the alicorn...swallowed up by the ground....She swallowed, tears brimming in her eyes, and shook her head.
Was she alone?
“This isn’t the way it should be,” she whimpered, the seriousness of the situation finally occurring to her.
This place was the place of her dreams, her hopes, her wildest aspirations. It was the place that all warriors wished to come, to be found worthy by the creatures here, to become one with its wonders. But…
It had taken her brother from her.
The others...she didn't care much about them. She could explain what happened to them, why they had died, but....
Not Ronon. Not her brother. The brother she had wanted to see again for so long; the brother she had wanted to impress; the brother she had wanted to be proud of her and her accomplishments.... The brother she had missed so desperately.
Ctesia had taken him? WHY?
Ronon Dex was always one of Satedan’s greatest warriors. A hero in every sense—strong, powerful, an expert with weapons, not to mention being one of the most honest, selfless and caring people she had ever known. He took care of her after their parents had been culled, when the two of them were just children, protecting her up until the day the Wraith had taken him as well. And to find he had survived! No one survived being culled, and then to be a Runner for seven years…it just made him greater in her eyes.
If there was ever anyone who should be deemed worthy by Ctesia, it was Ronon Dex. But this place had swallowed him whole.
And the realization of it was like someone striking a match inside her soul.
It had taken her brother. Her brother! She had just gotten him BACK!
Something black and ugly simmered inside her, growing hotter and hotter with each passing moment.
"No," she hissed, physically shaking with anger now. "No!"
She got back to her feet, her eyes wild as she scanned the lake, the forest, and the clearing. She was no longer looking for something to cuddle...she was looking for something to kill.
"RONON!" she screamed, arms outspread, face tilted towards the blue sky. This terrible place had taken him from her! Ripped him from her side, so soon after she had found him again.
How she HATED it!
Suddenly, everything that had happened since they had arrived on this planet took on new meaning, the events given new clarity. She recognized the creatures for what they were—monsters—and the landscape for what it was—mud-covered and dangerous. Nothing here was as she imagined, except perhaps in her nightmares. Including…what had happened with the alicorn. She had worshipped that creature her whole life, but all she could see now was the way it had pierced that muridae without warning or reason. Then Jenkins. And then…
By the Ancestors, it would have killed her as well! She knew that now. She’d tried not to admit it before, but how could she avoid it now? Which means…
McKay really had saved her life.
A soft gasp emitted from her throat, and she finally turned to face the clearing again.
What was she doing? He'd saved her life! And she was letting him die!
As suddenly as she'd frozen before, she was now running, headed back to the clearing. She had to get to him! She barely spared a glance for the fallen tree that filled a chunk of the clearing, caring about nothing but getting back to the scientist.
As if to mock her, she suddenly saw a group of muridae emerge from the trees, bounding over to McKay, a blanket of pink, purple and teal. He showed no recognition of the danger he was in, not moving a muscle to defend himself.
No! Not him too!
The rage filling her had gone beyond mere anger—it was so pure it felt like it was searing her from the inside out. She let out a scream of fury, the bellow echoing across the dirt-filled clearing, and for the first time since arriving on the planet, pulled the gun the Atlantian's had lent her from her holster. The muridae stopped at the almost inhuman sound, shifting nervously, and turning their cute little heads in her direction.
Then those cute little heads started popping off one by one as every single one of Nonor’s shots hit their marks.
She never let up her rebel yell, never let up firing, just kept going until every single one of those horrific little creatures was dead. A mass of pink, purple, teal and now red. They hadn’t stood a chance.
Breathing hard, she studied the forest before her, gun trained to match the shifting of her eyes as she searched for danger…and more things to vent her anger on.
When she finally gave up finding other things to shoot, she backed off, lowering the weapon to check on the scientist at her feet. He was completely unconscious, the bandage on his shoulder awash with red. Hastily, she shoved the weapon back into her holster and knelt next to him, pressing a hand to his neck. Faintly, gratefully, she felt the pulse in his neck. Slow, erratic, but there.
She ripped open the front of her leather bodice, reaching inside for the small jar of salve she had brought with her—what she'd held back from the seemingly wasteful antics of Doctor Beckett back on Atlantis. There wasn’t much left, just a couple of fingertips, but maybe it would be enough.
Ripping off the useless bandage, she turned him over and touched the salve to the ugly, gaping wound on his shoulder, praying that it would work.
McKay groaned, his head turning. She glanced at his pain-filled face, and guilt warred with the rage, nearly overwhelming her. She had promised her brother to protect this man. To help him. She had promised to protect Doctor Beckett too. And she had failed. On all counts.
No wonder he had looked so angry.
Tears rained down her face now, mixing with the blood from McKay’s shoulder, and she closed her eyes.
"Please be enough," she whispered.
"Amazingly resilient wee things, aren't they," Beckett slurred, practically slamming into the side of the jumper as they reached it. He pressed his cheek against the cool metal, a silly grin on his face. "There y'are," he said, "pretty lady."
Ronon gave the loopy physician a concerned look as he pulled out his remote for the jumper. Hitting the button, he sighed in relief as the back hatch opened without a problem. He'd been terrified it would be too badly damaged to open. Now he prayed it could still fly...
The ship was tilted slightly, its back end in the water, but it was at least upright. The hatch opened until it couldn't open anymore, disappearing into the cold, black water of this underground lake.
"Come on, Doc," Ronon said, grabbing Beckett by the shoulder and pulling him around and inside. Beckett let himself be pulled, taking everything in groggily.
"Cold in here," he muttered as Ronon shoved him forward. He slipped a little on the floor, his wet boots sliding back a step. "The floor's uneven. Who parked this thing?"
"No one," Ronon reminded him, closing the back hatch behind them. It came up, but protested a little, metal giving an unhealthy squeal. "It fell through a hole, remember?"
"A hole?" Beckett blinked and tottered to the side, then abruptly sat on one of the benches. "Where?"
Ronon grimaced, taking the physician by the shoulder again and getting him back to his feet.
"Above us. And we need to fly back out of it. Get back to McKay and Nonor. Then find the others."
"Fly...out?" Beckett blinked, letting himself be shoved forward into the cockpit, but, when he understood that Ronon meant to put him in the pilot's chair, he balked.
"No, no, no," he muttered, grabbing and bracing himself on the back of the chair, "No flying. Not me. I don't like flying."
"Beckett," Ronon stressed, pushing harder at the physician's broad back. "We don't have a choice. It's our only way out. You have to fly it. You know I can’t."
"But I can't!" Beckett stressed again. "I'm terrible at it! Plus...I think I might not be totally well....I mean, there is only one of you, right?" Blue eyes blinked over his shoulder at Ronon, squinting in the low light. "Because...I'm seeing more than one, you know. There's you, and there's half of you to your right, and half of you to your left...."
Ronon bit his bottom lip, "Yeah, I know, Beckett. I know. You're hurt...pretty badly, but you have to do this. We have to get out of here."
Beckett stayed firmly rooted, shaking his head, then obviously regretting it as his face winced in pain. Finally, softly, he asked, "Can't Rodney do it? He's better n' me."
"Rodney's why you have to do it," Ronon urged. "Remember? He's dying. You have to get back up there with the jumper to help him. His shoulder...remember?"
Beckett blinked again, and he looked up, eyes looking clearly at Ronon for the first time.
"I forgot...his shoulder...Oh God. I have to get back to him."
"Yes." Ronon pointed out the window. "So, can you fly it?"
Beckett turned, then stepped forward around the chair, almost falling into it when he finally sat down. Shaking, wet hands touched the console, and the jumper lit up. He then peered out the window, perhaps realizing that he couldn't actually see anything.
In response, the HUD came up, showing the interior of the cavern in vivid 3-D. Beckett listed a little as he refocused to the HUD screen, and then gritted his teeth.
"Hang on," he muttered, "Here goes nothing...."
The jumper lifted off the ground...and immediately careened to the left, smashing into a stalagmite and breaking off the top with an ugly tearing noise. Beckett gave a weak smile at Ronon, who had braced himself against the co-pilot's console at the impact.
"We there yet?" Sheppard called. He stared at nothing but the top of the head he could see bobbing in front of him. They're eyes had adjusted, but only enough to see vague shapes, and everything appeared in a sort of gray haze.
"Almost, tall one," Mang said from somewhere behind him. The female mole man...mole woman?...was leading Teyla.
"Above ground creatures are always so impatient," Bebill muttered in annoyance. "We get there when we get there."
"Colonel," Teyla said softly, "I...I think I can hear water. And...."
Suddenly, a loud noise—sounding a lot like two cars crashing into each other—burst forth from somewhere up ahead. The mole man all immediately stopped.
Another crash sounded, though this one sounded a little less severe.
"What is that?" Sheppard asked.
Bebbill turned his head, his large eyes blinking up at the colonel. He looked terrified.
"That...." he said, "is a sound I have never heard before."
"Run away! Run away!" Dobba squealed, and, before Sheppard and Teyla knew what was happening, their companions were gone.
Another crash echoed through the hall.
Sheppard looked at Teyla, and she pulled out the green light stick from her pocket. Tossing it to Sheppard, she pulled another...and the two jogged towards the sound.
The only thing they knew for sure is...there was a distinctive metal clamor to the crashing, which could only mean one thing...
Nonor frowned, looking down at Rodney's shoulder. It was healed, but not well. It looked raw still, puffy and thin, as if the salve had just done the bare minimum, but maybe…maybe it was enough? She had no idea if it had done anything for the blood loss or the other wounds—like his ribs—but it was all she could do. The salve was gone now. She put the scraped clean jar back inside her torn bodice with a sigh. His heartbeat seemed stronger now, his breathing more even. He looked only like he was asleep.
Rustling from the woods had her looking up again. It grew louder, and she stood, facing down the threat, gun held in unwavering hands.
“I will not let you have him,” she spat. “I promised my brother to take care of this man, and I will. No one and no thing will take him from me. So, whatever you are, you had better….”
She trailed off as the alicorn emerged from the trees, as beautiful as ever. Obviously, it wasn’t the same one. Looking closely, she realized the markings were different, but the gleaming horn, the large eyes, the golden sheen were all the same.
The monster moved forward, overconfident, gracefully skirting the fallen tree and the large hole it covered, and walking to where the dead muridae were. She followed it with her weapon, never letting up her aim. It gnashed its teeth at her, stepping gingerly through the mass of pastel colored muridae flesh when it reached it.
“I can kill you, you know,” Nonor told it simply. “My brother was an excellent shot, but I’m better.”
The alicorn snorted, and spat.
How could she not see how ugly the creature was before? Ugly and mean.
And then another emerged, coming up behind the first. Nonor let out tight breath. It was smaller, thinner. There was dried blood on its muzzle. It sneered at her as well when it reached the first alicorn's side, then bent its head to snuffle among the fresh meat the dead muridae presented. The first continued to stare at her a moment longer, then it too dropped its head to eat at the carrion.
Swallowing down the bile that had risen in her throat, Nonor bent down next to McKay, still not lowering her weapon’s aim. The creatures were distracted for now, but for how long?
“Doctor McKay,” she hissed, nudging him a little with her foot. “Doctor, can you hear me?”
He gave a soft groan, and she smiled in relief—he was still with her.
"Doctor," she called, a little more loudly, "You need to wake up. Can you wake up?"
He mumbled something, so she nudged him harder with her foot. “Please, Doctor, you need to wake up.”
A blue eye cracked, and looked up at her. “Nonor?”
She smiled, full wattage. “Yes. Can you move?”
The eye closed and he shifted a little, wincing at the movement.
“Please,” she repeated, “Can you move?”
“Did,” he paused, sucking in a breath, “Did you just say ‘please’ to me?”
She chose to ignore that, starting to get a little impatient. “Can you move?”
“Where are the oth—”
“Dead. It’s just you and me. Now, can…you…MOVE?”
Both of his eyes shot open, “Dead?”
She gave a tense nod, and it was then that he must have realized that she wasn’t actually looking at him, for he turned his head to follow her gaze towards the two alicorn feasting on the pile of dead muridae about ten feet away.
“Oh,” he shifted again, rolling onto his unhurt side, using his good arm and shoulder to lever himself up.
The movement caused the larger alicorn to look up again, and it sneered at McKay. The scientist paused. Nonor’s hands gripped the weapon in her hands more tightly. She thought she could probably kill both alicorn, but would she be fast enough? And, if they were dead as well, what foul creatures would their blood attract?
After a moment, the alicorn lowered its head again.
McKay let out a harsh breath, and started…slowly…to push himself up again. He teetered a little once he was to his knees, and Nonor let go one hand from her weapon to help him stand up. Getting her hand under his arm, she pulled him to his feet, and then started to slowly back up, still gripping his arm and thus bringing him with her. McKay, clearly not totally with it, stumbled a little, but moved. His eyes looked like they were ready to close again.
Once she had him facing the opposite direction and walking…somewhat…steadily away from the mess, Nonor glanced back at the two alicorn…and to her horror found two more had joined them. Along with some alive muridae. They were all feasting like vultures! And movement in the trees suggested more might be coming.
She decided not to let McKay know.
"BECKETT!" Ronon yelled, as the ship smashed into a large stalactite, chunks of wet calcite coating the window.
"I'm trying!" Beckett yelled back, "I can't bloody well see!"
The jumper tipped backwards, and Ronon whimpered as it felt like they were free falling for a second. Beckett had her steadied again in a moment, and turned the jumper around.
"Okay, okay, okay," the poor doctor muttered, "this is harder than it looks. Maybe we need a bigger hole?"
"You haven't found the first hole, yet!" Ronon barked.
"That's because it's not where it's supposed to be!" Beckett retorted, his head beating with a pain so fierce, it almost drowned out the other man. "I can't find what's not there!"
"Of course it's there. We looked down into it, remember?"
Beckett just shook his head, and thought about the problem.
The unmistakable sound of the jumper's weapon bays opening assaulted their ears.
"Maybe," Beckett said groggily, "If I make the hole bigger..."
"No!" Ronon shouted, reaching over to grab Beckett's arm. "Don't!"
"Why?" Carson shook his head. God, it was swimming. He wished Ronon would stop swaying like that.
"You could hit McKay and my sister up there!"
"Oh...good point." Carson leaned forward, his eyes closing.
The jumper leaned forward as well...and careened down towards the underground lake.
"BECKETT! Pull up!"
The doctor sat up, and the jumper "sat up" as well, leveling off just feet from the water.
"Just land it," Ronon begged. "Please."
"We'll find another way. You were right, you can't fly it."
Carson frowned, but landed the jumper sloppily on a sandbar of sorts sticking out of the black lake.
"I'll try again," he promised, "Let me just...catch my breath."
Ronon closed his eyes, covering his face with his hands. What the hell were they going to do?
And then the most beautiful thing happened.
Their radios came alive.
"What the hell are you doing to my SHIP!" Sheppard's voice yelled over the comm..
Nonor stopped when they reached the top of the black sand cliff and looked around at the valley below, trying to judge the best place to take McKay until help came. After all, she assumed that Atlantis would send someone once they didn’t report in...right? That Doctor Weir character seemed the type to do that sort of thing. So...she just had to keep McKay alive until then. She could do that. She had to do that. She had promised her brother. And McKay had saved her life.
Besides...she really didn't want to be alone.
And then McKay, who had been swaying where he stood as they looked down at the lake, suddenly slipped to his knees, his head bowing in exhaustion. Nonor, her hand still on his arm, nearly went down with him. Only sheer stubbornness kept her both on her feet and her hand on his arm.
“You can’t stop now,” she exclaimed fearfully, tugging at his arm and looking behind her at the now mostly hidden clearing. “We have to keep moving. We’re not far enough away yet.”
He sighed, looking up at her with shadowed eyes, his expression dark.
“How do you know they’re dead?” he asked.
“What happened to them?”
“Oh, you mean…your friends? And my brother?”
“Your brother is my friend, too.”
She grimaced a little at the correction, then sighed. “I believe…muridae attacked your Colonel Sheppard and his team. We heard them being...." She shuddered slightly. "Let's just say, it did not sound like a pleasant demise. Then Doctor Beckett was dropped by the bird into the lake you see down there. I think he was climbing out but he is missing now—I am not sure what that means. As for my brother…” she paused, swallowing thickly, “my brother…the planet ate him.”
McKay frowned, blinking slowly up at her. “What? What do you mean, ‘ate him?’”
“I think it may have swallowed up your healer too. That’s why he’s missing. The ground shook, opened, and they disappeared into the ground…then it closed up on top of them. As if,” she sniffed, eyes filling with tears again, “they never were….”
“They fell down a hole?”
She gave him a glare (it was a hard habit to break, apparently); didn’t she just tell him that they had fallen down a hole?
“Yes,” she replied, her tone bordering again on impatient.
“So…you did not actually see them die,” he noted.
She blinked at him, “What? Don’t be silly! Of course they are dead! You don’t fall down a hole and survive! The ground doesn’t eat people and spit them back out whole!”
He just stared at her. “Now I know they’re not dead,” he said, smirking a little.
She frowned, not understanding. “What are you talking about?”
“Far as I can tell, you haven’t been right about anything this whole trip. Why start now?”
Her glare could have melted mountains. And he matched it, square on…until she finally lowered her eyes.
“Either way,” she said, her voice soft, “we need to get you out of here. Someplace safe.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” McKay replied, his tone suddenly bone weary. Her head lifted, her eyes angry.
“Of course you are! You’re healed! Now we have to move. Did you not see the alicorns? They—“
“I can barely feel my legs,” he admitted. “I’m just going to slow you down.”
“Slow me down? On my way to where? All I want to do is find a place for you to be safe!”
“Slow you down…when you go looking for the others.”
She stared at him, amazed. “What are you talking about?”
“They're alive. Go find them. I’ll stay here and…and make sure the alicorns don’t follow.” There was a quaver in his voice, and it wasn’t from his weak condition. He’d turned his head as he spoke, looking back towards the now five alicorns chewing on the muridae remains in the meadow. “Oh,” he said, his voice faint, “weren’t there just two when we started?” He swallowed, and turned to look up at her, “Well…two, five…doesn’t matter. You should go now.”
She continued to stare down at the top of his head, too stunned now to speak. Was he serious?
“Your friends are not alive,” she said. “And those creatures will kill you as soon as they’re done eating.”
“They are. And you don’t know—the alicorns could leave me alone once they've had their fill....”
She narrowed her eyes, annoyance, anger, frustration, fear, depression and loathing all coming to the fore once more.
“You are getting up, and we are going to find someplace safe, and I am going to protect you. I promised my brother. And nothing you say will change that.”
He looked up at her, and, for the first time, he seemed to be looking at her with something more than the disgust he had offered her since her fight with Teyla. She drew herself up, chin lifting high.
“I am a Dex,” she intoned, resting her hands on her hips. “We do not back down from a fight. We do not go back on our promises. And we do not let the bad guys win!” She opened her arms wide then, standing tall and proud. The sun lit her almost perfectly then, her golden hair glowing like a halo around her head, perfect skin glistening in the rays. “I AM NONOR DEX!” she yelled, “AND I WILL PREVAIL!”
Which, of course, was when the alicorns in the field decided that live prey was more fun than dead prey…and charged across the clearing towards them.