I own nothing. Except, possibly, the salt.AN:
This is what happened during the three months Faith was gone in "Retrieval". Those of you (amusewithaview) who noticed my pathetic attempt at foreshadowing will get my reference to "a friend's dog", etc.
Considering its predecessors, this baby's big. I'll admit, what started out at a two pager, it kinda got away on me. Also, ten points and a big kiss to whoever gets the certain-Angela-Lansbury-movie reference!
In case you haven't read the series intro, fics written in present tense are the dramatic, Faith-on-a-spree/emotional-turning-point pieces, and fics written in past tense are the *snort*, oh-god-what-has-she-done-now pieces. This is one of the former.
On the first day, Faith darts through the gate, ducking immediately for the undergrowth, circling the clearing, stalking like the predator she is, hunting for any sign of anything that might interrupt her.
Satisfied, but still on tenter-hooks, she steps into the clearing again and carefully unpacks the equipment she’ll need. Clear of the gate’s splash-zone, she pours a ring of finely powdered rock salt. Into its center she empties a vial of her blood and crushed crystal salvaged from one of the trash units in Atlantis. Waste not, want not and all that crap.
Summoning circle and marker in place, she steps back pours the remaining salt in a protection circle at her feet, and speaks to the still-misty morning air.
“With holy salt I call you to me.
With my offered blood I call you to me.
With the essence of my dwelling I call you to me.”
There is an explosion of light, scintillating in wild, reaching patterns, and she is forced to shield her eyes or be blinded. Those tangled arms of shrieking silver, limned with pale green, brush the edges of her circle, but never break it. She can feel the heat of it blushing up her arms under the sleeves of Teyla’s coat. Every hair on her body seems to stand up in the suddenly electrified air.
“Well, Lil’ Sis,” she mutters, eyes narrowed to slits behind one hand, “looks like you’re gettin’ the hang of it. Won’t Red and B be proud.”
The portal lets out a familiar keen and begins to fold away. Within seconds, it snaps closed, leaving a small smoking crater inside the summoning circle.
Kneeling within the crater is a figure, his head bent, one hand holding a wooden staff across his knees, the other grips a green duffel bag. He wears faded jeans with a pair of well-worn boots. His rough-spun shirt is dull saffron, an obvious by product of his time in Tibet, as are the many coloured beads about his neck and wrists. When he looks up at her, his eyes have blown briefly black from the excess of magic, but fade to green when daylight hits them.
Faith grins at him, and he offers a small smile in return.
“Wolfman,” she says, helping him up, careful of the shrinking claws, rapidly going back to nails and chipped black polish – some things never change. “Long time no see.”
“Yeah,” says Oz.
On the second day Oz has learnt Aiden’s scent, defining it from the others that linger in the caves. He also learns that of the enzyme, and the others that were Aiden’s band of juiced up fools. He and Faith leave the planet and begin the search for her first victim.
On the seventh day, they emerge in the middle of a culling. Darts whine overhead, and Wraith guards stride down the village’s main street, throwing people into the beams or draining them on the spot.
Faith’s rage knows no bounds.
As the last dart disappears through the gate, blue gore lies steaming in the dust and the villagers watch in horror as the two strangers drag the last live one away into the woods.
The inhuman screams last for three days before being cut off abruptly. Later, a group of foraging teens find the Wraith drawn and quartered, skinned and hung in a tree. His head and hands stand on crude pikes beneath his gently swaying body.
There is no sign of the strangers.
On the thirteenth day they find the landed hive ship, just where the Wraith said it would be. After a brief massacre of a scouting party to satiate the Slayer’s bloodier sensibilities, Oz picks up Aiden’s scent on seven of the DHD’s glyphs. Faith cleans her sword while the werewolf’s neglected calculus skills and patience puts together a list of possibilities. There are surprisingly few.
“He was slow dialing,” he tells his companion. “The earlier glyphs don’t smell as strong. I can almost tell the order.”
Seventeen words where there might have been fifty-seven. It’s refreshing getting an explanation from Oz as opposed to McKay.
On the twentieth day, they get lucky and Oz picks up the trail again. This time there are dead Wraith before Faith has drawn her blade.
“Your friend did this?” Oz asks, as they inspect the bodies.
“Yeah, see how the arms are butchered? It’s where he will’ve gotten the juice – the enzyme.”
“Okay.” Oz pauses, tilts his head to the side and squints at one particularly ruptured wrist. “Are there supposed to be teeth marks?”
Faith feels sick. The size of the jaw is just right for a human – roughly two inches between the upper canines, maybe two and half between upper and lower incisors. You see enough vamp bites, and you know these things.
She also notes how much unnecessary damage there is – ragged, as though once his enemy was down, there was no time for finesse. He’d done anything to get the enzyme into his system, including savaging the body, yanking
the arm close to him, ripping open the flesh with his teeth
Wherever Aiden is, he’s getting worse.
On the twenty-seventh day they step into another village, and a storm of rumours. The Black-Eyed Man once walked the moors, howling in his brazen way, turning milk sour at the sound, shattering glass and sending the beasts mad in their corrals.
The villagers are scared and don’t take kindly to strangers.
Faith and Oz stay long enough to scent Aiden’s next address (it’s harder this time, more gate traffic) before taking off, and leaving a spate of new rumours behind them.
On the thirty-second day, they find the runner. She’s curled half-broken beneath the leggy roots of something like a mangrove, shaking like the proverbial leaf. They pull her out and feed her what they can.
Once her teeth have stopped chattering, she tells them about the Wraith that hunted her and the creature that took them down. She watched it go through the gate before more Wraith came and sent her scurrying into the swamp. The mud muffles the signal, she explains, scrawling the gate address for them as well as her aching hands will allow.
Faith dials the address for Parrish’s research station.
“Ask to see Doctor Beckett, and tell them Faith sent you.”
The runner takes in Faith’s cocksure smirk and torn AC/DC shirt. Her eyes slide over Oz’s hand-stunner (he only uses the staff on Wraith, and the stunner doesn’t kill humans – he follows what teachings he can) and the extraordinary colour of his hair.
She will remember them.
On the forty-third day they find a township full of footprints, but no people. There aren’t even any bodies. Oz tracks to an empty house on the outskirts, to a nest of shredded bedding.
“He was here,” he states.
The trail goes from the house to the town square, and it is here the trail goes cold. However he left this planet, it was not through the gate.
He says nothing as she snarls, thrusting her sword into the beaten earth.
On the fifty-first day a random dialing takes them to a new planet, and all hell breaks loose. For the first time in their travels, they encounter a full moon. And not just one, but three.
The woods are dark, the air cool enough to send their breath clouding before them. Each of the moons is a different shade of trouble – pale gold, the very faintest hint of lavender, and cold, burnished blue. They sit low on the horizon like craggy, maverick pearls, casting tricolour shadows over the nightmare landscape of twisted trees and tangled undergrowth.
Beside Faith, Oz has fallen to his knees and lets out soft inarticulate snarls as his body shivers, twitches.
“Faith…” he gasps.
“I hear ya, Oz. What do I have to do?”
“Take my staff and the stunner. I won’t – argh
– won’t be able to use them. I can control my – myself…but…”
He can no longer speak. She watches, both their weapons in hand, as he frantically pulls his clothes away. Crouched in only his shorts, the change takes him over, fur rippling over his skin, bones crunching and reforming, constant pained growling as his body shape-shifts.
Faith feels the faint singing of magic falling away, and when the change ends, she sees why. She knows after the first few changes the Hellmouth did something to him, left him stunted and ugly, ape-like.
But this isn’t the Hellmouth. This is a planet with clean air and three full moons. And there is nothing stunted or ape-like about the wolf before her. He is easily eight feet on his hind legs, thickly pelted and breathing great gouts of steam into the night around them.
“Oz? You in there, man?”
He peels back his lips and grins at her.
She grins back. “I’ll take that as a yes. Time to hunt?”
A low, chest-shaking rumble answers her.
Strapping his staff across her back and keeping her sword drawn, they take off across the darkened hills, into the veiled woods.
Minutes later, Oz catches a familiar scent, roars, and leads his companion deeper into the night.
Midnight passes them into the fifty-second day and still they run, long and loping like real wolves, moving for distance not speed. The moons half-colour the world, pick out tints in Oz’s fur and in Faith’s banner of dark hair.
Faith is suddenly aware of a telltale tingling like the Wraith give her, but so very, very faint. Almost nothing at all, except that it must be, because beside her Oz is roaring triumphantly, breath smoking, teeth flashing ivory knives. A great supernatural hound baying after his quarry.
Her blood runs hotter, and she spots something darting before them in the shadows.
She can’t be sure, but he might have hesitated for a second, before plunging with renewed vigor back into the undergrowth. But she and Oz are faster than any Wraith, and Aiden only has fragments of them in his brain and blood.
In hours, with the moons setting up a fantastic false dawn at their backs, they bring him to bay against a cliff face.
The fight is quick and dirty. Faith moves like a contemporary samurai, a masterless dancer against the black-eyed shell of a man.
Oz circles them, until even his patience – wolf and man – wears thin, and one massive paw strikes out, clubbing Aiden, driving him to the ground. Even so, the ex-lieutenant struggles to rise.
Faith silently apologizes, the Slayer crows, and she plunges her sword through the man’s left shoulder, pinning him the earth. He lets out a guttural scream, cut off suddenly as she knocks him out with Oz’s staff.
They spend the next month holed up in a cave on the planet, resting and recovering. Being still. It’s nice, after two months of constant mad movement. They still have to hunt for food, though and the game is plentiful here. Every night, at least one of the moons will rise full – Oz has never enjoyed being what he is so much since high school.
Aiden is a mess; both eyes blown to sinister black, his scars receding but turning faintly blue. The same is happening even now to the sword wound. They have to cautiously feed him by hand, and when he sleeps, he dreams terrible things. He trashes and whines.
Once, Faith thinks she hears a word or two slip out, names maybe, but she can’t be sure and there is no way to ask.
On the eightieth day, its time to go home. Oz goes first. He hugs Faith out of the blue. She’s appalled that she gets a little misty over it.
“Tell everyone back at HQ I say hi.”
He gives her one of those enigmatic half-smiles and nods. He will.
“Thanks, man. Been a blast and all that crap.”
Another smile, so terribly knowing. “Sure.”
It’s almost anti-climatic. She watches as he pulls a brass bed knob from his jacket, taps the top three times, and requests passage home. There is a soft flush of apple green that wraps him like silk, and he simply winks away. Dawn told her, before she left, that it was easier to bring people back than it was to send them away. There’s some deep meaning about family and home in there, she’s sure.Ironic,
she thinks, dialing the gate and sending her IDC, feels like I’m going home now.
And as she prepares to sling Aiden through, behind her, the sun rises.