The Way of the Wolf
Part 2: Wolf Pack
*** Summary: Willow may be done with our favorite were-wolf but the PTB have grand plans, you might say galactic plans, for him. ***
*** Spoilers: Season Six of Buffy and Season Six of SG1. I'm referencing the SG1 episodes 'Paradise Lost' and 'The Torment of Tantalus.' I'm also including a few characters from the Oz book, 'Oz; Into the Wild' written by Christopher Golden. This story reconnects with the BtVS universe at the episode 'Dead Things' by Steven S. DeKnight. Then this fic takes a sharp left turn, never again to return the cannon. If Buffy and Dawn's conversation seems familiar, it is. It's as close as I could get to the episode script. So those words are not mine. On to the Disclaimer . . . ***
*** Disclaimer: If someone is offering Oz or Jack, I'll take them and run. But no, no one has. So they belong to someone else with the rest of their respective universes. I took everything ever said about the Furlings and expanded it. 'Our Territory,' its customs, and its many natives are my own creation. I used a Tibetan online dictionary for the language, http://www.diamondway-buddhism.org/diction/diction.htm. I apologize if I used a noun as a verb and vice-versa. ***
*** Warnings: A little language here, a little violence there, a little depressing everywhere else. This is set in season six, people. I'm also going to warn you about the length. This is three or four times longer than anything previously posted. I hope it doesn't drag on and on. That's my fear. That and that I might have edited it to death. ***
*** Distribution: Twisting the Hellmouth and Heliopolis ***
*** Way of the Wolf, Part 1 Review
Some important plot points to remember: Were-wolves are actually Furlings. The native Furlings cannot control their inner beast anymore. Furlings were once allies of the Asgard and the Nox. Oz asked SG1 for some Tibetan plants to make the potion to help control the wolf. Oz remained on the Furling homeworld when SG1 returned to Earth. ***
Oz gazed around the monastery in awe. He absorbed the simple lines and the high ceilings. There was very little ornamentation on the cold stone walls. It was airy and dust-free. That was quite an accomplishment considering that 99.99% of the population could not even see the five-acre monastery, let alone clean it. Oz wandered into what should have been the library. Entire shelves were empty, missing the books. Other shelves had an odd book standing upright, as if the shelf was full, but the observer could only see one or two books. Out of the corner of his eye Oz could see shadows of books, but when he turned to look, none were there. The effect was eerie.
A pedestal at the far wall beckoned Oz close. On it was a single thin book. Oz opened the cover to the title page. There was no title, only a dedication, "To the Bitten Tauri who will Save Us All." Oz dropped the cover back into place and took a step back. Teal'c had explained that those from Earth were called the Tauri. And Oz was the only Bitten Furling, as the natives called were-wolves, to had lived on 'Our Territory' for many generations. Oz's composure was shaken. To save them all, whoever they were, would be an awesome responsibility.
In the moment, Oz truly comprehended the frightening burden of being the Chosen One. He felt sympathy for Buffy. Then he offered a wry smile; it looked like he had a handbook to help. Now was as good a time as any to find out what the book had to say. Oz picked the book back up and flipped to the first page. He sat down and leaned against the pedestal.
Oz started reading and accepted his future.
Jack O'Neill was a man on a mission. He was huffing and puffing and still climbing higher into the mountains. The rest of SG1 lagged behind. Every native asked about the plants Oz had requested for the trade had smiled, nodded and pointed higher into the mountains. Onward and upward SG1 climbed.
Jack turned back to check on his team. Carter stumbled; Jonas looked rather subdued. Teal'c stoically covered their six. He looked none the worse for the wear. Jack held up his hand to signal a stop. Carter collapsed on a convenient rock. Jonas just sat where he was in the middle of the trail. Teal'c joined Jack standing on the perimeter.
"Somebody's watching us," Jack whispered. It was a statement, not a question. Every hair on the back of Jack's neck stood at attention at the unknown observer.
"Indeed." Teal'c was just as uneasy.
Carter looked up at her CO and asked, "Sir, why are we doing this? Couldn't you have ordered someone else to expedite the botany retrieval?"
Jack had to grin. It was an odd day that Carter was willing to pass off work to another. She must have a backlog of projects in her lab, which of course she did. Jack thought he owed her and the rest of the team an explanation.
"Well, Carter." Jack considered crouching down beside her, but knew his knees would never forgive him. Instead he motioned for her to share her rock. She smiled and moved over a bit. "Well, Carter, Oz asked me to deliver a message when we went to Tibet for the plants."
Carter looked interested. "Really, sir? I didn't know that."
"Hammond did. And now I'm telling you," Jack said.
Carter nodded. "Thank you, sir." She paused. "To whom are you to give this message?"
Jack shrugged. "Some old man," he said with great irony gesturing toward his own gray hair.
Jonas tilted his head and asked, "Did Oz give you a name or a place where you could meet his friend?"
"Nope. Oz said I'd know when to give the message."
Carter thought for a moment and then said, "O-kay." She paused. "How?"
"I haven't the faintest idea."
"Perhaps, O'Neill, now would be that time."
SG1 turned toward to face the same direction as Teal'c. Two natives, an old man and a young girl, sedately walked down the path. The slight female balanced a large tray of plant seedlings and carried a burlap bag over her shoulder. The old man walked with a tall wooden cane. Jack's eyes narrowed. The old man walked with the cane like Master Bra'tac or Teal'c walked with a staff weapon. He was calm, assured, and ready to blow SG1 to hell if provoked. How the stranger could do it with a big stick, Jack did not know but he did not want to find out either.
"Teal'c?" Jack asked quietly.
Teal'c nodded. "One of them is like Oz," he whispered.
Which meant that the big stick could possibly be an alien weapon. "And the girl?" Jack asked.
"I do not know."
Jack grunted. He turned back to the rest of SG1. Carter and Jonas closed ranks behind him. Teal'c turned his back to the approaching strangers to watch their flank. Armed only with knives, the team would have to exercise extra vigilance. Jack wanted his P-90, but it would have been hard to get through customs. The old man and the girl stopped in front of SG1 and bowed.
"Welcome." The old man said.
"Thanks," Jack replied. Then he looked to Jonas and Carter for a clue in the next step. He figured his team had a better chance of not upsetting the people who might be Earth-bound aliens. Jack had a special talent of alienating aliens, and humans and politicians and CO's, and the list went on.
Jonas stepped forward. "We are peaceful explorers from . . ."
But if they were going to screw this up . . . Jack promptly shoved Jonas aside to interrupt. "Oz. We're from Oz." He heard Carter snicker behind him and rephrased the comment. "We're friends of Oz. Are you?"
"Yes, we are." The old man inclined his head regally. "These are what you have been searching for." He gestured to the girl's burdens.
Carter stepped forward to accept the gift. "Thank you." She smiled at the girl, who smiled and bowed.
"It was an honor," the girl said.
Carter held the tray as the girl removed her sack and lifted it over Carter's shoulder and head to settle the strap diagonally across Carter's chest. Carter was surprised with the great weight. The girl adjusted the sack to lie in the small of Carter's back.
"Thank you." Carter murmured. The girl smiled shyly, bowed and stepped back
Carter rolled her shoulders and then looked over the tray with interest. From her quick glance, it appeared that the tray held every plant that Oz had requested in seedling form.
"Is this everything?" she asked. If it was, this pair had just saved her many, many man-hours of work. Sam would have to get out her list to compare and see what exactly was in the burlap bag but still, healthy seedlings were an unexpected bonus.
The girl looked to the old man who nodded. "Yes," he said. "It is all Oz will need at this time. You will be back."
Jack nodded. "I'm sure." The old man waited and an uncomfortable silence fell. Jack turned to Carter in confusion. She looked at him and mouthed, "The message."
"Oh, yeah." Jack turned back to the native couple. "Oz says, 'hi.' And . . ." Jack's brow furrowed in concentration; he wanted to repeat the message exactly. "A wise student appreciates his Master's opinion long after leaving his tutelage."
The old man nodded sagely. "True, but a Student spreads a Master's wisdom where the Master cannot travel."
Jack paused and silently repeated the old man's reply. "Sure." He looked at the members of his team. "Are we done now?" Jack saw Jonas' eyes widen and turn back to the natives, but only the girl remained. Jack muttered, "Apparently, we are."
The girl stepped close to Sam and laying a hand on Carter's, she whispered. "Tell Oz, that if he needs any help, I'll come." The girl stepped back, bowed one last time, and then faded in the wind.
"How'd they do that?" Jack's question broke the awed silence. Jack and Jonas whirled around looking for the old man and the girl. Even Teal'c face revealed surprise. The girl had vanished before their very eyes, just as her teacher had done moments before.
Major Samantha Carter balanced the tray with one hand and used the other hand to rub where the girl had touched. She looked unsettled. "I don't know, sir." She started, "but the girl's hands are very warm."
"Warm, what so you mean warm?" Jonas asked.
"Like she was burning up, as if she had a very high fever." Carter explained.
Teal'c spoke in the silence. "The girl appeared to be in perfect health, MajorCarter."
"The girl," Jack stressed the word, "also appeared human right up to the point where she went 'poof.'"
Oz grinned and eyed the library with pleasure. The handbook had clued Oz in on one very important fact. The magic protecting the books would only reveal the reference materials needed for the upcoming battle. Buffy and Xander and even Giles would seethe with jealousy. No all-night search parties, no mounds dusty volumes with some vague reference to the current events; everything was right in front of Oz. In such a context, the number of books in view was a staggering amount.
Oz carefully placed his 'Furling Manual' on the floor, stood and stretched. He wandered close to what looked like the only full shelf in the room. He picked up the first book and leafed through. It chronicled the rise to power of some guy named Anubis. The second book detailed how the Furlings and their allies had defeated Anubis, and the sacrificial lost of control by the residents of 'Our Territory.' The third book discussed Anubis and the Ancients. Okay, so Anubis was the big bad trying to take over the universe. Hopefully, a Hellmouth was unknown to Anubis or just low priority on his 'to do' list. Nothing Oz had read thus far had mentioned a 'center of mystic convergence.'
Oz's skin crawled. He looked toward the west. The lack of windows could not hide the fact that the sun was setting and night was falling. Malt'en was waiting outside, Oz could smell him on the breeze. It was time to go. Oz collected quite a stack of books, placing the one written for him on top. He would bring the books. Oz and the rest of the Furlings would need this information readily available.
Oz committed to memory the sight and the feel of the library and the cold stone walls of the many empty rooms on his walk out. The temple was quiet, peaceful, still. Oz would be back, and soon.
Maybe next time he would bring his guitar.
Malt'en waited in a clearing. He stretched his six senses, but still could not identify the temple. He felt a spurt of jealousy toward Oz, Spyang Sku ngo, Master of his Wolf. He had tried to subdue any such feelings since Master Oz had queried about the temple. No one had set eyes on the temple in several thousand years. Oz had spied the temple when he had walked through the Chappii. The youth had access to both control and Malt'en's own history. As Judge to the Others, he should be the one so blessed. Malt'en calmed himself; Master Oz had no interest whatsoever in his position. Master Oz wanted what was best for all Furlings, as did Malt'en.
Oz's scent grew stronger. Suddenly he appeared in the middle of the clearing, not ten feet in front of Malt'en. Malt'en must have wandered closer to the temple than he had thought.
"You'll get there," said Oz. "Cool place."
Malt'en's feelings must have been on his face. He watched as Oz took a side step and adjusted his hands in the air. Malt'en tilted his head as he watched. The move strongly resembled how the children pantomimed the schoolmaster walking down the street with a pile of books.
Oz stabilized his pile. "Can't see them?"
Malt'en executed a small bow. "No, Master Oz."
"Huh," said Oz. "Then no one else will."
Malt'en felt a burst of pride over the acknowledgement, but he simply nodded and gestured toward the path down the mountain. The Others awaited news of the temple.
"Need a hand with that, Carter?" The Colonel asked.
Major Carter paused for a moment to balance the large tray. She was definitely slowing SG1's descent but, "No, sir."
"Have it your way, Major." Muttering, Jack turned back to trail.
A second later, the team was engulfed in a white light and deposited on the command deck of the Balissner. Carter, who had been anticipating a large step down, faltered. The tray of seedlings tilted precariously. Only Teal'c's quick reflexes saved the plants from taking a disastrous tumble.
Thor walked toward his favorite humans. "Greetings, O'Neill."
"Thor, buddy!" Jack tried to be genuinely happy to see the diminutive alien. "Were you in the neighborhood and decided to give us a lift home?"
Thor paused to contemplate O'Neill's odd words, but only for a moment. He had long since realized that the human talked sense only 67 % of the time. "No, O'Neill. The Asgard need your help once again."
Jack looked to his teammates and then back to Thor. "Okay, we'll listen but when you set us back on Earth, can we land in the SGC?"
General George Hammond surveyed the Gateroom with pleasure. Three teams were off world, all of them reporting in on time with favorable news. His most trouble-finding team, SG1, had flown to Tibet to gather plants for trade with Oz. The SGC was rarely this quiet, General Hammond knew to relish such times.
A bright light indicative of the Asgard transport beam blinded General Hammond for a moment. When SG1 appeared on the embarkation ramp, he knew that the calm spell had just ended. At least Major Carter appeared to be carrying the plants that Oz requested.
Colonel Jack O'Neill looked his way. "General, we need to talk."
"What?!?!" To say that the General was surprised would be an understatement.
Colonel O'Neill was not truly pleased either. "Apparently sir, Oz and those native to 'Our Territory' are Furlings. And the Asgard would like us, specifically me and SG1, to mediate a new treaty between the two races."
General Hammond stuttered, speechless for a moment. "Furlings? As I understood it, they were allies. Why do the Asgard need our help?"
Jack shrugged. "I got the feeling that they hadn't talked to each other for a very long time. Thor thought that the Furlings might shoot first and ask questions later."
"O'Neill," said Teal'c. "I saw nothing on our journeys to P3X-759 that could be construed as a projectile weapon."
Jack waved his hand, "You know what I mean." Then he encompassed the table with a frustrated gesture. "And don't any of you think that's a little odd?"
Jack started ranting. "The Furlings are old friends of the Asgard, but they don't have spaceships and they don't use the Stargate. By just looking at them, Daniel would have said that they're about at our level of technological development. Their level of architecture is way better than ours, as is their competency at astronomy. They skipped fossil fuel consumption for energy, 'cause 'it smelled bad.' Give me a break! No gas, no cars because it smelled bad! They had nothing in the way of public transportation, or anything private for that matter, from what I saw. And I kept my eyes peeled for anything that looked like the transport thing that dumped me on that moon with Maybourne. Then their naquada reactor is enough to make Carter drool. And another thing, Malt'en instantly recognized our guns as weapons. They had fresh meat at every meal, barely cooked by the way, but we didn't see one thing that could be used to shoot somebody, or something! And the Asgard still want to talk with them."
Jack looked around the table for a response. Everyone stared back in shock. So Jack kept on talking. "And why would anyone call themselves 'Furlings' if they didn't have any fur!"
Major Carter recovered from her CO's unusual, but very observant, monologue to theorize. "They could raise domesticated animals for slaughter, much like we do."
Jonas shook his head. "But they don't. I asked. Farms are strictly for plants and herbs. They have not domesticated any animal for market. Malt'en said that only a very small minority of the planet inhabitants have succeeded in domesticating the wild creatures. And those who have, live very far from any civilization. The local butcher buys the meat daily from hunters."
"You asked?" Jack said. His tone asked a different question, like 'where was I for this conversation?'
Jonas shrugged. "I remarked on the lack of pets or any beasts of burden in the town. Malt'en and I were distracted from the original conversation."
"Of course you were," Jack muttered.
A phrase of Jonas's caught General Hammond's attention. "Mr. Quinn, you said 'planet's inhabitants.' Did Malt'en say that or are you surmising?"
"Malt'en said it." Jonas said. "The people are in complete communication with each other and the Others are the ruling body for the entire planet. Sixteen representatives, each one elected from their major city. They each double as governor of that city. They meet one week in every four for planetary delegation. Each representative has additional duties such as Malt'en is the highest judge on the planet or that one female is in charge of the military . . ."
"I read that in your report, Mr. Quinn." General Hammond cut off the alien as politely as possible. "I just did not realize that the Others represented the entire planet." He said.
Carter made some quick notes on her paper. "In order for that to work efficiently, they must have an extremely small population."
Jonas nodded. "If an individual member of the Others represented one-million people, than the planet's entire population would be approximately double that of New York City. Chappi'rik, the city by the Stargate, could be considered to be the capital of 'Our Territory.' The fact that Chappi'rik is considered the capital proves that at one time, the Stargate was very important to the Furlings."
"Sir," Jack turned to General Hammond. "There are no one-million people in that town. One hundred-thousand people would be pushing it."
Teal'c nodded, "I concur."
"Sirs," said Major Carter. "We have no idea where the city limits are. Malt'en's home was approximately 5 klicks from Chappi'rik. As the Judge to the Others, I believe that he would be the equivalent of a United States Supreme Court Justice and Senator in one. He would be considered a very important person in any culture. How many other people," she paused and then corrected herself, "How many other Furlings live out in the forest? There also must be several small towns between the major cities."
"Be that as it may," General Hammond brought the briefing back on track. "We still need to decide what we are going to do about the proposed Asgard-Furling alliance."
"Do, sir?" Jack was surprised. "We help it along at every venue. We're friends. They're friends. We all help each other."
General Hammond nodded. "As much as I appreciate and agree with your opinion, Colonel O'Neill, I still must take this up with the President."
Muttering something uncomplimentary about bureaucracy, Colonel O'Neill still managed a rather vocal, "Yes, sir."
General Hammond ignored the normal O'Neill antics. "Dismissed."
Three days later, Colonel Jack O'Neill had a valid reason for complaining much louder. He stood ready and waiting at the foot of the embarkation ramp in disgust. Sam Carter smiled his way sympathetically but then she turned back to the FRED to recheck some components. Jonas was curious. He kept shooting glances to the 'Gate room door checking for the additional member of the diplomatic team. He was trying hard to be both fair, seeing as he was an alien to Earth himself, and supportive of his team and their rather loud, negative reaction to the chosen representative. Teal'c stood at attention, quiet and disturbed.
The President had okay-ed the mission with very little hesitation. The hold-up had come in a very familiar form. Senator Kinsey and his insistence that a member of the Senate Oversight Committee, namely himself, oversee any diplomatic mission to the newly discovered alien species had caused the long delay. After the incident with the Achen, Senator Kinsey was not about to leave SG1 solely responsible for any mission that might lead to an official treaty between worlds. He was not pleased that the Asgard, in the form of Thor, had demanded SG1's involvement with the Great Race Alliance.
The delay also shortened the length of the visit to 'Our Territory.' In three days, the Furling-imposed exile would begin. Senator Kinsey was sure that he could convince the Furlings to extend the time of the Tauri stay. Colonel O'Neill was much less certain. He had a feeling that Kinsey was about to create an intergalactic incident and place SG1 smack-dab in the middle. Of course, when the dust settled, SG1 would be taking the blame for the good Senator's stupidity.
The same good Senator who was currently late and delaying the important diplomatic mission. The very same Senator that had argued for hours against Colonel O'Neill being explicitly declared the highest in the chain-of-command. Thankfully the President had backed General Hammond and Colonel O'Neill in their reasoning. After all, this would be Senator Kinsey's first time through the Stargate.
If nothing else, Senator Kinsey proved he was an expert at creating dissention within the ranks. He had been on base for no less than two hours before O'Neill had to expel the man from both Carter's lab and Jonas's office. Senator Kinsey had insisted on being fed and then insulted the quality of food available in the mess hall. The chefs had painstakingly prepared a special meal for the visiting dignitary. Jack O'Neill was hoping that the Senator would vomit all seven courses as soon as the diplomatic party arrived at 'Our Territory.'
That at least would make up for the little lecture General Hammond had given Jack on 'being civil and diplomatic' during the mission, especially to Senator Kinsey. General Hammond had also wrung a promise out of his 2IC that the Senator would be returned to Earth whole, alive and in reasonably good condition. Jack O'Neill turned just in time to see Senator Kinsey make his grand entrance. He was dressed in his best Armani suit and dress shoes. Jack smirked at the shoes. Jack was glad that 'reasonably good condition' could be interpreted liberally. Those shoes would not be comfortable for the eight-klick walk to Chappi'rik. Jack silently thanked General Hammond again for letting SG1 wear their normal BDU's for the journey. Carter's and his dress blues, as well as suits for the alien contingent, were packed on the FRED, brought along for the endless meetings ahead. In Jack's humble opinion, Senator Kinsey was jumping the gun for an Earth-Furling treaty. Then again, no one had asked him.
The Stargate activated and Jack focused on the mission at hand.
"SG1," General Hammond paused with an unnamed emotion, "and Senator Kinsey, you have a go. Good Luck."
Thank God, finally. Jack stepped in front of Senator Kinsey and then stopped. He adjusted his P-90 and allowed Major Carter and the FRED to precede the rest of the team. Jack ignored the Senator sputtering behind him and followed Teal'c and Jonas through the Stargate.
This mission was going to suck for someone; hopefully it was not going to be Jack.
On the other side, Senator Kinsey promptly lost that fancy lunch he had eaten. For diplomatic reasons, Jack was glad the man was hidden behind the FRED for his disgraceful entrance.
He nudged Teal'c.
Teal'c nodded back. "Do not fear, O'Neill. SenatorKinsey did not soil tomorrow's formal wear."
Jack grinned evilly, "Good." Jack turned his attention to the natives. Most were wrinkling their nose. Jack suddenly remembered that the Furling's sense of smell was far more sensitive than humans.
Oz stepped forward and shook Jack's hand, a very American custom. He then bowed to the rest of SG1 much in the fashion of the old man in Tibet. "Welcome back to Khams,
'Our Territory.' You are much earlier than expected. You will not be staying long." Malt'en stepped forward and copied Oz's motions.
Jack shrugged. "Sorry 'bout that. Bureaucracy held us up. But we brought all the plants you asked for."
The Furlings were pleased. Malt'en nodded. "We have the ore you requested. The Others will oversee the actual trade the first few occasions. Later it will be privatized."
Senator Kinsey finally found his bearings and control over his stomach. He stepped into the impromptu meeting with all the arrogance that Jack hated. "I'm Senator Robert Kinsey, Congressman of the United States of America. It's a pleasure to meet you."
Both of the Furlings leaders stepped back and bowed regally. Malt'en speared Jack with his bright black eyes. "You are here for more than trade?" he asked.
Jack nodded but Kinsey answered. "Indeed we are. We'd like to form an alliance between our two worlds, against our common enemy the Go'uald."
Oz cocked his head. "You speak for all of Earth."
Kinsey grinned slyly. "I speak for all those in the know."
Malt'en motioned to the walkway. "We will see."
The Furlings led the way to Chappi'rik in silence. Not far down the road, Oz slipped off into the shadows and did not return. Jack noticed that the other natives kept glancing worriedly in the direction he had taken. Jack was surprised at the obvious concern on their normally expressionless faces.
Then Senator Kinsey started hobbling and Jack had other concerns. Teal'c looked away in disgust as Carter and Jonas made room for the senator on the FRED. Jack noticed other emotions of the Furlings as Kinsey got himself settled with thankfully little whining. Jack could tell the Furlings were not impressed with any part of the senator but were too polite to say anything. They did not understand why SG1 had brought along the dead weight.
Jack completely agreed with their assessment. He did not know why Kinsey had to be there either.
The Oz-wolf ran and howled. The wolf was angry and headed for the hills. Even in this state, Oz controlled the wolf. His control had improved dramatically even since Tibet and his short visit to Sunnydale. He reined in the natural impulses of the wild creature and thought.
Oz craved the peace of the temple.
He had immediately recognized the senator's scent, but did not know from where. Now he knew. Kinsey had been in the Initiative headquarters shortly before Oz had been captured. The senator had condoned the dissection and experimentation on demons, part-humans and college boys.
Oz-wolf ran harder up the mountain.
The wolf wanted Kinsey dead, but not to eat. Spike had said once that 'You're too old to eat, but not to kill.' That was Kinsey. He was too worthless to be considered food. Of all the attributes that attracted the wolf; sex, youth, and raw power, Kinsey had none. The wolf did not consider Kinsey legitimate prey.
Oz-wolf finally slowed down and found a nice grassy knoll. The grass was soft and fragrant. The temple was close, but he would never see it in this form.
So Oz changed back.
Voluntarily changing form was painful, dangerous and required enormous amounts of discipline. It was a relatively new trick for Oz. He breathed in and out, in and out. When the pain faded to a manageable level, he stood and stretched. He entered the temple before him unashamed of his nakedness. He walked straight for the library. This was his safe place; this was also where he stored his guitar. Oz did not know which object was the reason he came here, the library or the guitar. One was merely the excuse for the other.
Oz found the robe for the Wolf Master and donned it for the first time. He had been avoiding the deep red fabric and the status it symbolized up to now. The material scratched. Oz, as the Wolf Master, had to show for any meeting that included the esteemed Senator Kinsey. The Furlings would not trust, nor enter into an agreement with, a man that worked with the likes of Dr. Maggie Walsh.
This was part of the reason for his presence here and now. The other, in the form of Big Bad Anubis, would come later.
Kinsey was gloating and Jack longed to wipe that smug look off his face. It would take one punch. It might even be worth the court-martial, not that his team would tattle on him.
Malt'en had offered a small cabin on the outskirts of Chappi'rik to the Tauri. Kinsey had immediately claimed it for himself and only himself.
Jack's jaw clenched as he gave the order to pitch the tents. Hopefully it would not rain during the next three days. It was hard enough to keep peace with Kinsey while the sun was shining.
On the other hand, maybe Kinsey would be less annoying if he was sequestered in the cabin at night. Every watch would keep a close eye on Kinsey's door, the only possible entrance or exit for the cabin. It might end up being better than the sleeping arrangement Jack had foreseen.
Jack was off wandering with Carter. Teal'c had reluctantly accepted the order to keep an eye on Kinsey. Jonas was keeping him company. Between the two, Kinsey should not cause too much trouble. Teal'c's very existence was a great deterrent.
All official business would start the following morning, so this would probably be the last opportunity to explore before SG1 was bored out of their collective skulls. Okay, so Jonas and maybe Carter would find the next couple days interesting but Jack and Teal'c were about to be slowly tortured by meetings.
Jack heard kids laughing and veered in that direction. Carter smirked but followed his lead. The children were playing some sort of tackle game. Some of the hits looked hockey-worthy. Jack could not see any sort of ball or identifying marker for who got nailed. He tried to join in anyway. Carter chose to watch from the sidelines.
One kid snarled at Jack in the native language and shoved him toward Carter. Jack put his hands up and laughed. He thought that maybe the game was for kids only. Another kid grabbed Jack's pants and Jack stopped. The two kids had a heated discussion and than the first kid brightened, laughed and then tackled Jack. Jack rolled and landed on his feet, leaving the boy in the grass. But the boy was smiling.
A second later two more boys jumped Jack and the game was on. Jack led the kids on a merry chase through the clearing and around the near-by trees. He made good use of his long legs and his great stride. Thankfully the kids were called home for dinner before they exhausted Jack.
Jack cheerfully collapsed beside Carter. "That was fun."
Carter smiled at him. "You did good, sir. Kept them all running."
Jack O'Neill laughed. "It was like basic training, always moving, always on the run."
Sam smiled. "It looked like a fair amount of strategy to keep away."
Sam looked across the clearing. "Was it just me or do mothers calling their kids in for dinner sound the same in any culture?"
Jack chuckled. The two remained silent for a few moments, then Jack spoke up. "Any idea what that first bit was about?"
Sam shook her head. "I couldn't hear anything, but I could read the body language pretty clear. It was confusing."
Jack nodded. "Being any closer wouldn't have helped. The kids weren't speaking English. The only word I heard repeated a couple times was ri bong, or something close to that. The first kid called me that and then the second kid defended me. I think. Any idea what it means?"
"No sir." Languages were not Samantha Carter's forte. "I'll ask Jonas and Teal'c. If they don't know, I'll try Oz or Malt'en. I think it's important." It was at times like these that the loss of Dr. Daniel Jackson was felt professionally.
Jack nodded. "So do I, Carter. So do I."
Grij'er stared at the waxing moon. It was trying to tell him something. These Tauri were very important to the future. The reasons why tickled the edges of his mind. They were both friend and foe. The contradictory nature of his vision confused the apprentice prophet.
Time was moving forward, he hoped that Master Oz would be ready. Not all the players were in place and danger was coming.
Grij'er wished he could relax. That was what the moon had been telling him, danger was coming. The first form had arrived. The second would soon follow.
Grij'er hurried to Master Kinta'mi's cabin, she would want hear his revelation. He would also inform her that Wolf Master Oz had requested an audience at her convenience.
"I hope the Furlings don't judge all Tauri by Senator Kinsey," said Jack.
Malt'en shook his head. "We cannot, for we met you first."
"Thanks, I think." Jack's smile was wry.
Malt'en was confused. "There is no comparison. You are honorable and trustworthy. Senator Kinsey is old and weak. Master Oz considers you a friend but Senator Kinsey brings out his spyang. We do not need a prophet to tell us who is friend or foe."
"Spyang?" Jack questioned the native word, ignoring the mention of the prophet.
Malt'en ignored the query. "I do not understand how a ri bong like him can be considered an accurate representative of your people."
"Ri bong?" Jack tried again. There was that word the children had used.
Malt'en searched his vocabulary. He was willing to answer this question. "A small prey honorable only for children, a frightened rodent, a pest."
"Ouch," muttered Jack. "Wait a minute, you don't consider me old? But I'm as almost old as Senator Kinsey." The children evidently did not think much of ri bong either. After the tackle practice earlier, Jack noticed that the kids had gone looking for Kinsey and then they called Kinsey a ri bong. The first child, Bacci, had even apologized for calling Jack a ri bong. A frightened rodent was not much of a definition for a word that was so oft used in the Furling culture.
Malt'en looked insulted that Jack had placed himself in the same category as the Senator. "You are khrug dpon khog, war-worn. An honorable addition of cycles is not old, it is aged."
Jack leaned back against the rock and admired the clear night sky. The unfamiliar stars twinkled brightly; there was so little pollution. After many moments, he whispered gruffly. "Thank-you. No one has said anything that nice to me in a very long time."
Malt'en nodded sagely and the two sat in companionable silence.
Jack watched the stars. It was a quiet night. Malt'en had left and his team was in bed. He had third watch and Kinsey had not stirred.
Life was good. The native children did not think Jack was a ri bong, whatever that was. Jack figured that it was a 'bad name.' They thought that Kinsey was one. Jack was pleased that even the children could see the difference between Kinsey and himself. Jack had no doubts that the adults were even quicker about identifying the smarminess of the senator.
Malt'en called Jack war-worn and aged. Jack liked the sound of that, aged. He might not refer to himself as old anymore. He was aged. It sounded like a good brew.
A stick snapped and Jack whirled, his P-90 ready. Bacci stood there hesitantly until Jack grinned at him. The boy grinned back and scampered to Jack's side. The boy poked the fire a couple of times, murmuring all the while in his native language. Then he rolled on his side and fell asleep. Jack rolled his eyes and covered the boy with his blanket. Bacci promptly kicked it off.
Jack covered the boy again, this time tucking the blanket under the child. A soft chuckle alerted Jack to another's presence.
The unfamiliar man was young and he looked a lot like Bacci. Jack guessed he was an older brother searching for his charge.
"Bacci will not stay covered."
"It's a cool night," Jack defended his actions.
The man shrugged. "None the less, Bacci will just kick it off."
Jack glared. "Did you come to take him home?"
"No. He is safe here. Have a pleasant night, Colonel." The man disappeared into the dark woods. Jack found it rather disturbing the ease and silence with which the Furlings hid among the many trees. No, Jack corrected himself, the Furlings did not hide, they expertly maneuvered within the woods. They used the woods better than a SEAL used the water or the Air Force used the sky. They would make a strong ally if Kinsey did not screw it up.
He sat next to Bacci and pulled the blanket up to the boy's chin. Still, it was a good night.
Oz carefully controlled his smirk. Senator Kinsey was in the middle of the Others' Floor giving his first speech about the virtues of having a treaty with the United States. The Others' Floor was a place that the convicts normally stood to give their last words. The members of the Others were not impressed with the human's verbosity. He said too little with too many words. The senator did not know enough or care enough to realize that he had insulted the Others several times.
The first insult had happened because Senator Kinsey had not realized that the morning session started at the crack of dawn. Colonel O'Neill had experienced enough on his previous visit to suspect the timing. He and Major Carter had been ready and waiting in their dress blues when Malt'en and Oz had come to escort the humans to the Others. Jonas Quinn and Teal'c had appeared quite formal in their suits. Senator Kinsey had not been awake yet and the official negotiations had been postponed two hours waiting for the senator.
The Others were simply too polite to throw the man off the planet or into the Pit, their version of jail. Gavva'ni, under the guise of taking notes for the planetary news publication, was planning out her spice garden. She had requested to be included in growing the Tibetan herbs and now had to make room where the soil was the richest. Since she rightfully held the position of Planetary Agriculture Director, the Others had appreciated Gavva'ni's formal petition filed like any other farmer.
Gavva'ni was not worried about missing part of the senator's speech. She did have a photographic memory, which was part of the reason that she had triumphed over any competition. Gavva'ni would summarize the senator's two hour long speech into a three hundred word news blurb, maybe less. Oz was very interested in reading it. He would probably have it translated for O'Neill, the man would get a kick out of Gavva'ni's dry wit.
Malt'en was practicing the breathing techniques that Oz had taught him. If the Furling relaxed any further, he would appear to be sleeping. That would be considered very rude on 'Our Territory.' Oz saw the male breath deep one last time and then pulled himself out of his trance. Malt'en might overcome his wolf on the first night of the moon. Oz hoped that he did. Once Malt'en felt truly secure in his place, tension within the city and around the planet would lessen. The man was well respected and wise but he struggled with bouts of jealousy. The population of 'Our Territory' had tried very hard not to insult either Oz or Malt'en with their respect for the two highest ranking Furlings. Oz had no interest in the position of Judge and tried to make it very clear. Malt'en had to deal with many squabbles and did so with great aplomb and fairness.
Fred'aj was staring at Teal'c. The Jaffa had been met with much suspicion, but Fred'aj was trying to overcome centuries of stereotypes and bedtime stories. Thankfully Malt'en had not attacked Teal'c on sight like many other Furlings might have. Fred'aj was trying to do more than just tolerate the alien, he wanted to befriend him. Fred'aj, as the Education Superintendent, was very interested in social interaction and was always willing to lead by example. Teal'c looked Fred'aj's way and nodded solemnly. Fred'aj nodded back. To Oz, it looked like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Terid'li was not calm. Senator Kinsey rubbed her the wrong way, every time, all the time. The representative for Jagged Mountain Range could barely sit still. Malt'en, to her left, and Gavva'ni, to her right, took turns creating a light physical contact that would help Terid'li relax. The Jagged Mountain Range had no main city but many rowdy towns. Considered by many as uncivilized and lawless, the Furlings there were hardier than anywhere else. Thus many were recruited into the peacekeeping force under Terid'li's leadership.
Oz had found it quite amusing that after recruitment, all soldiers were given to Fred'aj for Temper Training. Fred'aj would push, punish and cajole the soldiers until they had become more 'civilized and calm enough for city duty,' somewhat akin to Earth's police force. The multi-purposed Jagged Soldiers made Go'uald incursions on 'Our Territory' few and bloody. The Go'uald had learned long ago to not hunt down the Furlings. Their bite was worse than their bark, much worse.
To the rough and tumble Jagged Soldiers, Terid'li was a great leader whose merciless training pushed them to become their best and Fred'aj was Evil Incarnate and the Ultimate Punishment that Terid'li could sentence. The two leaders worked disturbingly well with each other. Only those who had passed both Fred'aj's and Terid'li's extensive training were promoted into the exclusive and coveted position of Other Guards. Terid'li, the Jagged Soldiers, and the Other Guards would be the hardest sub-group of Furlings that Oz had to teach. Oz tilted his head, or maybe, since they were closer to accepting the wolf and utilized it in their fighting, they would be the easiest group.
Senator Kinsey finally finished up his introductory speech and even the strictly trained Other Guards let out a soft sigh of relief. It was time for food. As was normal for an Others meeting, everyone took care of themselves. Oz left Senator Kinsey to Malt'en's expert handling and motioned SG1 to follow him out the door and into the courtyard. Oz silently led the way to his favorite vendor a few blocks away.
His efforts were much appreciated by Jack. His eyes brightened in glee. "A Furling Big Mac?" he asked when he was handed the sandwich.
Oz nodded. "Something like that."
Jack took a big bite. "Hmmm." He looked closely at the meat. "Hey and it's completely cooked, too!"
Oz smirked. "I asked Tider'di to cook it longer. She was scandalized."
Jack bowed to the large scowling woman behind the wood counter. "Ma'am, I am forever in your debt. This makes today worth the sunshine."
Tider'di blinked at the colonel's wide smile and engaging manner. She growled and walked away.
"Be careful," Oz whispered conspiratorially. "I think she likes you."
Jack shrugged and started devouring his sandwich. When Tider'di returned a few moments later with potato-like salad, Jack winked at her. Tider'di responded by putting double the amount of salad on his plate than on anyone else's. Jack knew he was in trouble. Tider'di was his height and outweighed him by a good seventy pounds, it looked to be all muscle. He should have known better that to engage in any sort of light flirtation while off-planet.
Oz's face, as well as that of his team, showed amusement. In the back of his mind, Jack wondered if years of working with Teal'c had prepared him for reading the faces of the Furlings. Now he had to concentrate on the immediate problem. He tentatively stuck the knife (no forks for the Furlings) into one of the 'potatoes' and put it in his mouth. It was crunchy and rather bitter, but not bad.
Jack smiled at Tider'di, but not as enthusiastically as before. "Delicious, ma'am. You're a great cook."
Tider'di nodded, not a glimmer of a smile breaking her face.
Jack suddenly remembered something important. He laid down his knife and dug around in one of his pockets. He pulled out six small tissue-wrapped packages. "Oh, I forgot. Cassie wanted me to give these to you. She nagged and nagged until I promised I would." Jack handed them over to Oz. "She'd skin me alive if I forgot."
Oz flipped though the flat packages slowly, finally opening the last one. He nodded and then opened the other five. Cassie had bought him replacement strings for his acoustic guitar.
Jack had picked up his knife but pointed it at the gifts. "She thought that you might have a hard time getting the strings you're used to on 'Our Territory.'"
Oz nodded. Cassie's thoughtfulness and generosity touched him. He carefully packaged all the strings and pocketed them. He picked up his sandwich and eyed it.
"Cassie's cool," was all he said.
Oz looked around the wooden stalls of the Chappi'rik marketplace. He had delivered SG1 to Malt'en and slipped away to think. The guitar strings were a treasured and completely unexpected gift. Oz hoped to return the favor. He wanted something special.
Oz knew that he had to be careful. His every move was watched and remarked upon. He would have to choose a gift that would insult no one and show no preference to one group of people over another.
A jewelry stand caught Oz's eye. Jewelry could be considered the universal gift for a female. Even Willow had appreciated jewelry, though her preferences leaned toward amber, hematite and other rocks that could be useful during spells.
Cassie would not need anything like that, though a spelled trinket might be a good idea. Maybe one that could protect her from vampires and demons and other things that walk the night, like bounty hunters.
Oz moved closer to the stand. He felt amusement when he realized that some of the jewelry sold was silver. That was locked up tight and one had to have special dispensation to buy it, rather like Americans needed to register for a gun. He knew that some scientists were working on a vaccine to prevent or slow the deadly poison of silver in the were-wolf's system. He supposed that others liked tempting fate, wearing the very thing that could kill them.
The merchant came bustling over when he saw Oz's interest. "Wolf Master," the man bowed very low. "We are pleased that our work has caught your eye. Is there anything you might like to view closer?"
"Do you have any with protection spells?" asked Oz.
The merchant brightened. "Oh, yes, many. Come, come see." The merchant gestured to a far wall.
All these were trinuim necklaces. The Others Mage, Likk'op, had mentioned that trinium held a spell for a longer period of time than other metals. One piece caught Oz's attention. It was a smooth band, about an eighth of an inch thick and a half of an inch wide. It would lay flat on a woman's collarbone. On the upper left hand side there was a single wolf footprint.
The merchant gently picked the necklace from its display. "The Wolf Master shows his incredible taste."
The merchant started wheedling. "Wolf Master, my wife fancies herself a gardener, but alas, she does don't have the space to qualify for some Tauri seeds. Perhaps the Wolf Master could save her a few dozen?"
The merchant was very pleased. Not only did the Wolf Master buy from his stall, something that his son had made, but he bartered for something that his wife had been trying to acquire since she had heard about the special plants.
"Can you wrap it up?" asked Oz.
"But of course." The merchant hurried away. Soon he was back with a small black unadorned box. "Wolf Master, My name is Lanc'eg. I am here in this stall every barter day. You may pay as soon as you are able."
Oz nodded, accepted the box and walked away. He would send young Bacci with the payment this afternoon.
Lanc'eg barely waited until Oz was out of sight before questioning other merchants. Had the Wolf Master been paying court to any female? No. He had not, not that any knew. Even the Other Guards who followed and protected the Wolf Master knew of no female.
Than why, the merchant wanted to know, had the Wolf Master bought a sbyan bya necklace?
Jack spied Oz looking off into the distance across the river on the edge of Chappi'rik. The dark red robe, the only one of its kind, was easy to spot. Jack decided to join him on the cliff. Oz had a beautiful view of the sunset. The climb was steep; most of 'Our Territory' was mountain ranges. His knees ached a little but the postcard view was worth it.
Jack stood next to the short musician and thought through the recent changes. Just a couple weeks ago, Oz was playing in a teen club, a second rate-gig by Jack's estimation. Oz had seemed content, but someone had tried to kill the young Furling. The incident was still under investigation, but without Oz's cooperation the case was going no where. The sniper's rash action seemed pointless but had revealed the alien nature of Oz to the SGC. Now Jack had to go through Oz to get the Others to accept the Asgard proposal for a treaty. He had become the most important person, Furling, on the planet.
Well, there was no time like the present to complete a mission objective. Jack might as well introduce the subject of the Asgard because it looked like Senator Kinsey was busy pushing his own agenda.
"So Oz, ever hear of the Asgard?" he asked.
Oz looked away from the river that had captured his attention. "Huh?"
Jack smiled. "The Asgard? Short, gray, generally helpful folks. Ever hear of them?"
Oz nodded. "They were Furling allies once."
"Yeah, well. They want to be allies again. Despite what Kinsey says, that is the real reason we're here. They want to chat with you."
Jack rolled his eyes good-naturedly at the one-word answers. "So if Thor shows up, you won't kill him?"
"Depends on what?" Jack halfway-enjoyed pumping Oz for information. It was like asking Cassie how her school day went. If one was persistent enough they could hear some real humdingers of a story.
Oz spoke. "When he shows."
Jack smirked at the condition. "Yeah, well they generally have rotten timing. Thor likes to interrupt my fishing expeditions."
"Malt'en likes to fish."
Jack brightened. "Really? That's great. Do ya'think he'd lend me a pole and point me to the local hot spot?"
"Malt'en fishes with a spear."
"Oh." Jack was disappointed for a moment. "I guess that's better than dynamite." Jack wondered how good he would be at fishing with a spear. Then he realized that in such a situation, he would be unable to drink beer and fish as the same time. Forget that idea for forging better off-world relationships. Maybe next time he could bring a couple poles and teach Malt'en how he fished. That could be fun.
At Oz's questioning glance, Jack backtracked to the spoken conversation and elaborated. "I was once stuck on a moon, it was on one of your failed colonies actually. Everyone had died and no one had buried them. A human tricked me there. He had found an invite to a paradise. He started eating the local vegetation and then went loco. Maybourne liked to fish with dynamite."
"Kun nas bzod pa ka ta pur 'dzag."
Now it was Jack's turn to be clueless. "Huh?"
"Kun nas bzod pa ka ta pur 'dzag, Forgiving Moon, that's the name of the failed colony. We never knew why they died. But they suddenly stopped communicating."
"They were communicating with this planet?" asked Jack astounded. He had not seen anything that could be construed as a communication device. He had gone through that camp thoroughly, he had found nothing shiny or advance-alien-looking.
Oz just stared at him.
Jack decided to offer up some information in hopes to gain some. "The transport thingy."
Oz corrected, "Screen."
"The transport screen prevents go'uald technology from passing through, which you probably already know. But a Go'uald passed through. I found his skeleton. I think he might have brought with him a plant that causes hallucinations."
"Do you have a sample at the SGC?"
Jack nodded. "Sure. You want us to bring some next time?"
"No," said Oz.
"No?" Jack echoed.
"No. But should I return to Earth, I'd like to look at it."
Jack nodded slowly. "Sure, okay, I don't see why not."
"Thank you, Colonel O'Neill. I'm going for a walk. When you see Malt'en would you pass on a message?"
Jack shrugged. "Sure."
"Tell him I found another temple."
Jack stared across the river toward the trees that Oz seemed so interested in. He saw nothing that looked like a temple but then he had never seen a Furling temple before. He would ask Malt'en if Jonas and Teal'c could accompany Oz. "Will do," he said. Then he nearly groaned out loud. With the aliens busy with Oz, Jack would have to follow Senator Kinsey on his campaign trail.
"So? Can they?" Jack asked Malt'en. Out of the corner of his eye, Jack saw Senator Kinsey trying to get close enough to overhear Jack's conversation. Teal'c stood in his way. Jack was not worried.
Malt'en shook his head. "No. They are not able."
Jack blinked. "Not able?" At least Malt'en had not forbid the Tauri from visiting the temple. Daniel would be foaming at the mouth if he had still been alive. Daniel had tried to find any reference to the Furlings on Earth or any other planet SG1 visited. Information was sparse. A Furling temple would have become Daniel's obsession of the moment. Jonas would be pretty interested too.
Malt'en turned toward the river, somewhat wistfully. "The temples are protected by Old Magic. Only Furlings with certain characteristics can see the temples. Only those who can see can enter."
"O-kay." Jack drawled the word. That sounded like a Nox trick, magic or not. Well, these guys used to be buddies. "Who else can enter, other than Oz?"
Malt'en grew stiff. "No one. I am beginning to see the outline of one temple, but yet to see the door to enter. Such control takes time." Master Oz had been very pleased that Malt'en could see the shape of the building, but all he had said was 'such control takes time.'
Jack thought it over. Sometimes the alien was just too alien. "So what now?"
"Senator Kinsey," Malt'en's voice was carefully devoid of emotion, "has requested that he be allowed to give another speech. He wishes to tell us of the many advantages of aligning ourselves with the Tauri."
Jack snorted. "For cryin' out loud. He hasn't said anything worthwhile thus far and he wants to waste more time?"
Malt'en blinked. Jack was sure it was with amusement. "The Others have granted his request. Master Hatr'er, the Other Scholar, has requested to be excused and that Major Carter be allowed to visit the University to discuss various naquada generators and energy theories with a number of masters and apprentices."
Jack brightened. Listening to Carter techo-babble would be infinitely better than listening to Kinsey political-babble. He would be bored with better scenery. "I'll come with her."
Malt'en paused. It was the Teal'c kind of I'm-choking-on-my-laughter-pause. Jack was sure of it. "You cannot. You are Alpha. To leave the Others at this time would be an great insult. You, of course, could order one of your men to accompany her."
Jack sighed. Teal'c would go. Jack rethought his actions. This was more of a Jonas-thing and if the alien was going to be deprived of a temple, Jack might as well let him be surrounded by the egg-head type. Major Carter could watch her own six and Jack needed to start showing his trust in Jonas sometime. Jack would have to suffer alone. He had other plans for Teal'c.
"Carter, Jonas. You two are going on a field trip."
Jack sighed. Carter and Jonas would go to the University. Jack would have to watch Senator Kinsey and Teal'c would try to go track down Oz. Maybe Teal'c would get lucky and see the temple. The things he did for his team and his planet.
Oz was surprised but not.
The temple was not a library of history or a place of prophecy and peace as the other had been. This temple was a place of advance technology and war. This temple contained weapon manuals instead of history books and formidable interstellar ships instead of magical ingredients. As the other temple embodied everything that Master Likk'op, the Others Mage, wanted to know about his race, this temple embodied everything Master Hatr'er wanted to learn of the Old Technology.
Little wonder the two men could not tolerate each other. Hatr'er paid enough attention to the prophecies to know that there would be a battle and that the Old Technology would be needed. Likk'op nearly worshiped the old prophecies themselves, acknowledging the power within without trying to apply them. Likk'op craved the Old Magic. Most of Malt'en's judicial problems were clashes between Likk'op and Hatr'er, their respective fields, and their respective territories. The University Campus had expanded to the edges of the Mage Sacred Grove. That border was oft disputed.
Both the Old Magic and the Old Technology had been lost when the Furlings Sacrificed. Oz thought that the frustration with themselves boiled over to the frustration with the other group that had lost. Oz had heard Likk'op complain, 'if only the Old Technology defeated Anubis without the Mages being forced to sacrifice the control of the entire species to win.' Hatr'er had expressed a similar frustration with the Old Magics. In his view of the history, the Old Magics had failed the scientists and warriors when they needed it the most.
The two views created a rivalry that had endured for several centuries. Oz would need the two groups to work together to win against Anubis.
Master Kinta'mi, the beautiful aged prophet of the Others, had a very different view of the Last Battle and Sacrifice. She said that it was not the Time to win. As with many prophets and the prophet of that time, her views were not favored.
Oz considered all views as he walked through this temple.
Oz picked up a tall metal outline of a rectangle from the lab table; it looked interesting. It resembled a transport screen, only smaller. The winds changed and Oz smelled the coming of night. It would be a pleasant sleep. He realized the time and set the screen back on the lab bench.
Oz would have to hurry if he was to be punctual for his audience with Master Kinta'mi. He jogged around the town, careful not to be seen. The Furlings were never in a hurry. If anyone saw him run, they would fear the worst and the news would be around town before it could be reported in 'Happenings,' Gavva'ni's publication. Oz wryly thought that him running would get a bigger write-up that everything Senator Kinsey had said since his visit began.
Oz slowed and controlled his breathing. He walked out of the woods to the small encampment. Master Kinta'mi and her apprentice, Grij'er waited outside their sturdy cabins. Oz walked up to Kinta'mi and bowed low.
"Thank you for seeing me," said Oz.
Kinta'mi bow low in return. "We are pleased that you asked."
"You were in the Historical Temple," said Oz. He thought he had recognized her scent the last time he had visited.
Kinta'mi looked surprised. "I was."
Oz nodded. "Why?"
Kinta'mi waited a moment, searching for the right words. "After a prophet finishes a book, they are drawn to the Temple to place it where it belongs. It is the only time a prophet can see the temple."
Oz nodded again. "Cool. Thanks." Oz turned to leave.
Kinta'mi blinked. Even for a Furling, Oz had remarkably few words. "Wolf Master." Oz turned back. "Don't you wish to know how it ends?"
Oz shook his head no. He only wanted to how he was supposed to do his job and he already had the manual for that. He had seen what happened when one paid too much attention to the end result of a prophecy.
Kinta'mi suddenly smiled. "You made the right choice with your gift."
Oz raised his eyebrows. "Good to know." This time when Oz left, Kinta'mi did not call him back.
Grij'er stared at Oz's retreating form. "In a territory of Lone Wolves, he walks alone but not. He will be Furling to the Furling, Tauri to the Tauri and Scooby," the apprentice prophet stumbled at the unfamiliar word.
"Grij'er," Kinta'mi whispered, "it is time for you to start a book."
Grij'er stared at his Master in shock. Most prophets did not start their first book of prophecy until they had reached their fiftieth cycle. Grij'er had celebrated his thirty-second cycle at the last moon.
Kinta'mi smiled softly and turned her gaze to where Oz had been. "These old eyes do not see the ways of the young. Remember to write and not to think. Oft times the prophet never understands his own work. That is not our job."
Grij'er nodded. Oft times the prophet never understands his own work. Master Kinta'mi had repeated that proverb every day since she had come to his parents' cabin, as he had foretold. He would write and maybe he would understand some day in the future. That would have to be enough. He entered his small apprentice cabin, picked an empty prophecy book from the shelf, sat at his rough wooden table and opened to the first page.
"The First Book of Grij'er," he wrote in his best penmanship. Master Kinta'mi had taught that a prophecy, good or bad, meant nothing if it could not be read. The words disappeared as soon as the ink dried.
This was not a book for now.
Grij'er was slightly disappointed. He turned the page and started what he knew.
"In a territory of Lone Wolves, he walks alone
He will be Furling to the Furling,
Tauri to the Tauri,
And Scooby to the Scooby,
He will lead the leaders
And count friends among the dead.
The dead will fight along his side.
The leaders will follow his battle charge.
In a territory of Lone Wolves, he will never be alone."
Grij'er leaned back in his chair and watched the words fade from sight. He felt pride that his work had begun and sadness that no one would know until much later. He was the youngest prophet since Master Shantou and by the time he could tell someone, he should have learned how not to boast, even subtly.
Grij'er put his pen back to the book and prayed for a happy ending. After all, he was the only one who would know how it ended long before it happened.
Jack stared out into the woods. He had the third watch again. He was pleased that the Furlings were talking about being allies, they would destroy Jaffa armies easily. It was Anubis that had Jack worried. Maybe he would have Carter drop a hint or two in the University, get those eggheads thinking about a solution long before events demanded an answer.
Not that he did not trust Carter to come up with a solution, because he would bet on Carter against all the Furling and human eggheads any day of the week. Hell, he would even prefer Carter thinking up solutions to the Asgard. Even if she did destroy the fancy Asgard ship The O'Neill before he could set eyes on it.
He had a bad feeling about this Anubis business. He did not see any way to win against an ex-Ascended Go'uald with knowledge of the Asgard and tricks of the Tollan. It seemed to be the worst case scenario of all the aliens the SGC had met.
Grij'er jerked up in bed, sweat dripping off his face. He saw a burial on 'Our Territory.' The Tauri Alpha and his Mate were laid to rest in the Jagged Soldier Burial Grounds.
Grij'er crawled out of bed and opened his book to the page marked and started writing. The Tauri Alpha had done so much in battle that the Jagged Soldiers had demanded that he be laid to rest with other honorable warriors. The only reason that they prevailed instead of the Other Guard was that the Alpha wanted to be buried next to his mate and the Other Guard had not accepted the mate.
Grij'er watched the words fade from sight and smiled sadly. Master Oz had been at the funeral but he had aged and wed. The Tauri Alpha had time, but not too much.
"Three days have passed. You will leave now." Malt'en delivered the edict with his normal calm and sincerity.
Kinsey accepted it with his normal temper and arrogance. "Don't be ridiculous. We've just started discussing a treaty. We can't leave now."
"None the less, you will."
Kinsey blustered. "You have yet to give us a valid reason to leave."
"Now comes the time for the spyang. It is a private custom on our world. Each person goes off by himself into the forest. No one will remain in the city."
Jack looked up surprised. "What about Oz?" he asked. Jack glanced to the quiet man in question. Oz stared back. He was letting Malt'en manage the Tauri confrontation.
"Oz will take a select few and travel to the temple," said Malt'en.
Teal'c entered the conversation. "Are you among the few?"
Malt'en nodded once.
Jack nodded a little more emphatically. "Good." Jack looked around the campsite. "Pack it up, kids. It's time to go home."
Kinsey whirled on Jack. "Colonel, I must protest."
Jack stood at attention. "I don't want to hear it, Kinsey. I have my orders. Exchange the plants for the ore, talk to the Furlings about the Asgard, open dialogue for a treaty with Earth, and leave. We have done everything else. Now it is time to leave."
"I order you . . ."
Jack cut him off. "I'm in charge of this mission. I give the orders according to the President. We leave in one hour. I suggest you unpack your walking shoes, Kinsey. You're going to need them."
Kinsey opened his mouth again, but this time Oz interrupted softly. "America always prided itself in accepting other cultures. Are you trying to invalidate one of our most private and deep-seated traditions?"
Kinsey immediately shifted gears. "No, no. Of course not. I did not mean any disrespect. I am just excited that you are considering a treaty with us and would like to unite our peoples as soon as possible."
Malt'en bowed. "Of course." He looked at Sam Carter and Jonas Quinn cleaning the campsite of any garbage. He glanced at Jack and Teal'c taking down the tents and turned back to the Senator. "I will walk you to the Chappii when you are ready."
Kinsey smiled smugly. "Thank you, we appreciate it."
Malt'en bowed one last time and disappeared into the woods. Oz walked beside the taller man.
Kinsey barely waited until the pair vanished before crowing. "I did it. I'll have treaty with them in no time. Next time they should come to Earth. Should have had them do it the first time."
Jack rolled his eyes in Teal'c's direction.
Teal'c murmured, "Indeed."
Jack looked to where the senator was standing. "Kinsey, pack up your stuff. We're leaving in one hour."
The senator glared before striding into a cabin that the Furlings had so graciously offered Kinsey.
Jack looked around the cabin interior and swore. Senator Kinsey had left a mess behind. Teal'c walked in the door and raised an eyebrow.
Jack shook his head. "Yeah, that. Teal'c, you and Carter leave now with Kinsey and Malt'en. Send Jonas my way and we'll clean this up. We'll catch up with you later."
Teal'c inclined his head and left. Not two minutes later, Jonas bounded in the door. "You wanted my help, Colonel?"
Jack looked up from the dishes he was stacking. "You want to wash or pick up trash."
Jonas looked around the room. Kinsey had left a bit of Earth trash behind, most of it in a neat pile, but Colonel O'Neill was an absolute tyrant about littering off-world. "I'll do dishes."
O'Neill threw a dishrag at Jonas's face. Jonas caught it before it fell to the floor. Jack walked into the bedroom and started cleaning. The two men worked in silence.
Fifteen minutes later, Jonas was drying and stacking the dishes and Jack was packing any trash into his backpack. Oz walked into the cabin and watched.
Jack looked up and noticed him. He offered a crooked smile. "Just doin' a little tidyin'."
Oz nodded. "The Others will not initiate an alliance that includes Kinsey."
Jack winced. "Hey, we're not all that bad."
"You are not."
Jack grimaced. "Look, I think that you really ought to give us a chance. Anubis is a huge threat. He wants to rule everything and kill every one."
"Anubis is not your concern."
Jack was shocked. "Anubis is everyone's concern.
"Anubis is the Furlings' concern."
Jack sat back on his haunches. This was a new problem. Normally the aliens Jack and SG1 met wanted to pass off the responsibility, not hoard it all for themselves. This called for a new tact. "We can help you, he's killed other friends and allies. He wants Earth gone. That kinda makes Anubis our concern."
"No alliance will be formed with Kinsey."
Jack wanted to groan. They were back at the beginning. "Look, Kinsey's an ass. We all know that, but he's not in charge of the Stargate."
"He's up for the Presidency." Oz had paid a little attention to the news in the States.
Jack nodded. "Yeah, I know but I sure the hell ain't goin' to vote for him."
"There are others like him."
Jack nodded again. "I know. We do our best to keep them out of the SGC."
Oz cocked his head. "Is your best enough?"
Jack shrugged. "I don't know. But it's our best." Jack wanted to get the conversation out of the rut it was in. He held up the small silver ball he had found in the fireplace. "Is this yours?"
Oz shook his head. "No. What is it?"
Jonas finally decided to help the conversation. "It's a long range communication go'uald device." He looked to Jack for confirmation. "Isn't it?"
Oz eyed it for a moment. "I have never seen one on 'Our Territory'."
Jack could have groaned. As if Oz needed more proof to break off diplomatic relations. "Kinsey must have brought it," and intentionally left it behind. Maybe the NID had jerry-rigged it into some sort of spy device. Jack shoved it in his pack. Jack took one last look around the cabin. Everything else seemed to belong. "I guess that's it. Time to go, Jonas."
Jonas put on his pack and readied himself. "Right behind you, Colonel."
Oz stopped them at the door. "See you in two weeks?"
Jack's eyes widened. "You said no alliance."
Oz shrugged. "Friends are good."
Jack mulled over the comment.
"This is for Cassie." Oz offered a small black box.
Jack intentionally tangled his hands in his backpack straps. "Don't give it to me. I have to declare everything that I bring back to Earth. If it's alien, then the geeks will get a crack at it first. Hammond will insist because he wouldn't want to hurt Cassie anymore than you do and it's SOP. But once it's in the labs, it has a better chance of getting taken apart piece by piece than to ever land in Cassie's possession."
Oz looked down at the box.
Jack kept on talking. "You said that you'd probably come to Earth sometime to check out that loco weed from that moon, so wait and give it to her then. I'll tell Cassie that it's coming and that you liked her gift and she'll understand." Jack grinned. "She knows how obnoxious those custom agents coming out of Toronto can be."
Oz nodded and stepped aside. Jack lead the way out the open door and Jonas followed.
Not two seconds later, Oz called to him. "Colonel?"
Jack turned back. "Yeah."
"If Senator Kinsey returns to 'Our Territory', his corpse will not be found."
Jack grinned. "I'll remember that."
Oz was watching Colonel O'Neill and Jonas Quinn hurry down the path to the Stargate when he heard his name. "Master Oz! Master Oz!" Oz turned to the boy running to him. Young Bacci was screaming at the top of his lungs, but it was with excitement. Every head in town turned to watch Bacci run by. Oz wondered how many could see the book cradled in his arms. Only yesterday could Malt'en see the covers of the books and only half of them. Everyone else carefully avoided setting anything on Oz's research table.
Oz offered a half a smile to the boy. "Yes, Bacci?"
"Look, Master Oz. Look!" He opened the book carefully to a marked page. "I can see the book and I can read this page." Malt'en would be very jealous but Fred'aj, Bacci's father, would prevent any mishap.
Oz held his hands out and Bacci reverently placed the book in Oz's care. "It's only this one page, but that's more than anyone else." Bacci proudly informed Oz.
Oz glanced over the page. He had not gotten this far yet in his research. A phrase caught his eye. 'The Chosen One and her Mate.'
"Gotta make a phone call."
"Master Oz?" Bacci sounded confused.
Oz quickly skimmed the surrounding text, 'The Chosen One and her Mate . . . known by the Bitten Tauri . . . shall destroy the other Keys . . . weaken Anubis,' and then closed the book. "Bacci, run for your father. Tell him to find me."
Bacci was staring at his chest.
Bacci almost whimpered. "The book disappeared."
Oz softened his expression. "That's good, Bacci. It means you did your job."
Bacci brightened. "It does?"
"Yes, now run for your father."
Bacci took off like a shot.
Oz looked up to Fred'aj from packing. He did not have much but the he had several things from the temples he needed to bring. He had hidden the objects in his cottage. "I have to travel with the Tauri."
Fred'aj showed surprise. "Now?"
"I'll summon the Other Guards."
"But Master Oz . . ."
"I'll pick up my own security on Earth."
Fred'aj bowed. "If you are sure, Master Oz."
Oz started giving instructions. "I've made the potions needed. You, Malt'en and the Others should go to the clearing, drink it and then enter the temple and meditate. I shouldn't be long."
Fred'aj bowed again. "I will walk you to the Transport Screen."
Oz closed his guitar case and straightened. Fred'aj followed Oz out of the guesthouse.
"What the hell?" Jack stared at the sight before him. Oz was sitting on the steps of the Stargate with his guitar case beside him. "How the hell did he get here before us?"
Malt'en stopped abruptly in his conversation with Jonas. He hurried around the group and sprinted to Oz's side. The two had a whispered, and in Malt'en's case, furious discussion. Terid'li and Gavva'ni blocked the path of the SG1 and Senator Kinsey.
"Is everything okay," Jonas asked the two female Furling escorts.
"Perhaps," said Gavva'ni. "Perhaps."
Terid'li just scowled.
"Just so you know," Jack rocked back on his heels. "If Oz wants to come back to Earth, we have to ask General Hammond first."
Senator Kinsey sputtered. "Nonsense, Colonel. If Mr. Oz wishes to visit Earth, we'd be more than delighted to have him."
Jack could just imagine what Kinsey and the NID would be delighted to do to Oz, especially if there was no treaty for them to ignore.
"Master Oz would bring Other Guards as protection," Terid'li's tone exhibited her displeasure.
Senator Kinsey looked affronted. "Nonsense. We would be pleased to have Mr. Oz visit and we'd be happy to take care of security."
"Master Oz will not leave 'Our Territory' without a protective detail." This was Terid'li's final word on the matter.
Jonas stepped in to mediate. "It shouldn't be a problem, should it Colonel?" Jonas turned all attention towards Jack but Jonas was still talking. "After all we wouldn't expect the American President to leave Earth without the Secret Service to back him up."
Jack nodded. "I call Hammond and tell him to freshen up the guests' rooms."
Terid'li growled toward the woods and four huge soldiers silently stepped out. They were each over six foot tall and all muscle. They each had a sword strapped to their backs and odd bulges around their waists that Jack assumed were assorted Furling weapons. Jack wondered how many other guards were still in the forest and how long they had been following the Tauri visitors. He looked these big boys up and down and reevaluated his estimate. All four were closer to seven feet tall. Tider'di's crunchy potato salad must be good for the growing boy.
Oz was also eyeing the soldiers. He was not pleased. They made him look like a little kid hovering around some NFL players, not that Oz really cared about what he looked like. The protective detail would make it hard for him to disappear while on Earth. Why did he want to come to Earth in the first place, Jack wondered. Cassie's gift was not that important, was it? Or was it a combination of the gift and the locoweed? Jack guessed that there was a third reason that had pushed the slight Furling to action. Though he doubted that Oz would forget either of the other two excuses for this visit.
Oz had a soft argument with Terid'li. He did not want the bodyguards any more than Senator Kinsey wanted him to have them. There appeared to be some hard negotiation going on and then three of the football players stepped back into the woods. Only the biggest one remained. This one dwarfed Oz without any effort. Terid'li obviously believed in the philosophy of putting a huge wall between an assassin and the target. This wall's name was Curk'id.
Curk'id was not pleased. He kept his face strictly neutral and listened. Wolf Master Oz was insisting that he had to leave and would gain a protective detail on the Tauri homeworld. Master Terid'li did not want the Wolf Master to be unprotected for one second. She would prefer if Master Oz stayed on Khams, 'Our Territory,' and sent someone else to retrieve the prophesied warriors. Curk'id agreed. The Wolf Master had yet to truly teach the Furlings how to control their bla spyang. He had much to do before he was lost to the Unending Beyond.
Then the decision was made and the Wolf Master would not compromise anymore. Curk'id was left standing alone by the Wolf Master. Curk'id wished for a least a partner for assistance. He would be expected to cooperate with strangers Master Oz sought on a strange planet with strange people, some who were the enemy. He would cope. After all Curk'id was among the highest ranking of the Other Guards. He would cope but he would not enjoy this assignment. It would take all he had learned from both Terid'li and Fred'aj to succeed.
Curk'id tried to slow his breathing. He was about to travel the Chappii. The Tauri Alpha dialed the address, initiated a wormhole and was talking through a communication device. Curk'id's fists tightened. He had heard stories of what the Chappii would do to an unsuspecting Furling. The Gate would unleash the inner wolf without the moon to guide it. Furlings had gone insane with the combination. Master Oz had traveled the Chappii without any major ill effects. Curk'id had been guarding the Gate the first time the Wolf Master had arrived on Khams.
Curk'id had smelled the wolf for only a second before Master Oz had controlled it. That alone had convinced Curk'id that this bitten Tauri was the one who would save his people. Master Malt'en had taken more convincing. Either the stories of the Chappii were exaggerated or Master Oz was stronger than he had revealed. Curk'id believed that Master Oz was stronger, much stronger, than even the Others believed and that frightened him.
If the Chappii released his wolf, then who would protect Master Oz? Who would protect the Wolf Master from his own bodyguard? Curk'id eyed the Wolf Master and matched his breathing cycle to the smaller man's. He had been guarding Master Oz as he taught Master Malt'en. Curk'id had learned much. Breathing was very important. Control of one's thoughts was also important. One had to have a reason to not surrender to the wolf but to become one with the beast. He thought of his beautiful wife and their two small sons. It was for his family that he would obey Master Terid'li and Master Oz. Children often died when the moon ruled the night. Sometimes their parents killed them.
Curk'id had dug a pit deep into the ground for each of his boys. The pit had a thick wooden door. Some had mocked Curk'id's unconventional efforts. Others had accused Curk'id of abuse but both his sons were still alive. Few of his neighbors could claim the same distinction for all the children they had borne. The Wolf Master had to return home so that more Furling children would survive.
It was Curk'id's job to make it happen.
Master Oz motioned that Curk'id should precede him through the Chappii. Curk'id followed the Tauri to their world and stumbled out the other side. He was so cold. His wolf demanded to be set free, it was then Master Oz addressed him for the first time.
"You're Tider'di's brother?" Master Oz's voice was barely heard above the din in his head.
Curk'id shook off the howling wolf inside to concentrate on a suitable answer for the Wolf Master. He would not shame the entire Other Guards in the first few moments of his new assignment.
"Yes, Master Oz," he said.
His widowed sister had left her home in the beautiful Jagged Mountains to follow his family when Curk'id had been promoted into the Chappi'rik Other Guard. It was her way of supporting his great achievement, the greatest achievement a Jagged Soldier could strive for. Tider'di would help his wife care for his small territory and put the boys in their protective pits in his absence. Curk'id wondered how his wolf would react to the lack of moons. Curk'id could not hear a whisper of the Tauri's moon song. He knew there was a moon, but just one and it had little strength.
Master Oz nodded and turned back to the Tauri Alpha.
Curk'id realized that Master Oz had subtly helped him gain control over his wolf. He was grateful. He eyed the Tauri soldiers at the bottom of the ramp. They all had weapons pointed not so subtly at the Wolf Master. Curk'id put himself in the line of fire.
The Tauri Alpha blithely handed over his strange weapon to a guard. The rest of SG1 followed suit. If they thought that Curk'id was about to release his weapons to them, they were sorely mistaken
Then he realized that over half the guards warily followed Senator Kinsey. Apparently, the senator was as popular here as he was on Curk'id's home planet, Khams. Curk'id surveyed the room the Chappii was in. It was tall and metal, no wood anywhere. There was no trinium to be seen and the only naquada in the room was the Chappii. The window opposite the ramp showed several people in uniforms like those Colonel O'Neill and Major Carter had worn for the Others meetings.
There was a multitude of smells in this room. Many people had passed this way. They obviously kept it very clean, but one could not eradicate the stench of blood, pain, death and mourning. Curk'id could smell the faint scent of staff weapons and the stronger scent of the Tauri weapons. He could smell a little fear, but more of the defensive attitudes. The guards were very nervous with strangers on their world.
The sounds of the Tauri technology assaulted his ears. Buzzing, beeping, clicking; the sounds made Curk'id long for the peace of the woods. The air felt warm, stiff and polluted, like a cabin a University Master forgot to air out after an experiment. The breeze felt wrong. It did not play with Curk'id green-brown uniform.
Aside from the terror at the Chappii journey, the wolf was not alarmed by anything it felt. Curk'id thought that this assignment might not be too horrible. He must be as flexible as Master Fred'aj had taught.
Master Oz reached over and un-holstered Curk'id's zatnil. The Wolf Master handed that over to the guard taking the weapons. Though it was the only piece of Old Technology Weaponry carried by the Other Guards, its absence by no means left Curk'id unarmed. Curk'id personally preferred his sword.
Curk'id smirked. The guard who accepted the zatnil now looked like he had swallowed a truilt raw. A truilt was a bottom-feeder fish that lived in the river. It was horrible-tasting when cooked but deadly raw. Furlings said that one could taste death in a raw truilt.
The guard juggled the zatnil, trying to touch the unfamiliar object as little as possible. Major Carter saw his dilemma and stepped closer. She was curious.
"How fascinating," she said. She reached for the zatnil.
"Carter," the Tauri Alpha warned. Curk'id found that amusing. He used the same tone of voice warning his children away from the river's edge.
"But sir," Major Carter had not removed her eyes from the zatnil. "It closely resembles a zat-gun." She turned to Curk'id. "Does it fire and incapacitate its victims the same way?"
Curk'id stared back. He was unsure of her question therefore he did not answer.
Major Carter tried again. "Do you mind if I experiment with it?"
Curk'id did not answer again. That was not a question he would. If he had his preference, the zatnil would never have left his hip.
Major Carter must have realized that. She turned to Master Oz. "May I?"
Master Oz shrugged. "Curk'id will want it back when we leave."
"Which means, Major," Colonel O'Neill stepped into the conversation, "that you'll have to have it all put back together before they skid-daddle."
Major Carter nearly snatched the zatnil out of the guard's hands. "Yes, sir."
Colonel O'Neill blocked her path out the door. "But first you have to see Doc Fraiser. Then you can go and play in your lab with the . . ." the colonel motioned with his hand, "doohickey."
"Zatnil," Curk'id filled in the blank.
Major Carter smiled up at the Other Guard brilliantly. "So it probably does work like a zat'nik'tel."
The Tauri Alpha grabbed Major Carter's arm and pulled her through the large blast door. Master Oz followed and Curk'id followed the Wolf Master. He could hear the Colonel O'Neill as he dragged his second-in-command along. "Doc first, Carter. Only if she gives you the 'all clear' can you work in your lab."
"But sir, this is very exciting. If it is similar enough to the zats, this could be the breakthrough we've been looking for in our attempts to backward engineer the Gou'ald technology."
The Alpha wagged his finger. "Na-uh. Only if the Doc gives you the all clear. If she says, 'sleep,' than I'll lock the fake zat somewhere you can't find."
Major Carter sounded so alarmed. "But sir!"
The two bickered all the way to the healing room. Master Oz caught his eye and Curk'id knew that the Wolf Master was as amused as he was.
A slight woman managed the healing room. She had the scent of a female child, but no mate. Curk'id wondered at the conundrum. This woman personally performed all the tests on Master Oz and Curk'id. She handled Curk'id's bodyguard duties easily, not insisting that they be examined in different areas.
When she finally stopped giving orders, Master Oz placed a small black wooden box on the corner of Doctor Fraiser's desk.
"Tell Cassie thanks," was what he said.
Doctor Fraiser looked very surprised and glanced over to Major Carter who was taking the zatnil apart with the healing knives and on a healing table while one of the other healers worked on her.
Doctor Fraiser nodded and quietly put the black box in the bottom drawer of her desk. Curk'id reeled mentally. The black wood from a hartwil tree was rare and extremely durable. He knew of families that had boxes made of that wood several centuries old. Sometimes Furlings offered a hartwil box, empty, as a gift. His family had one such box. He had received his Other Guard commendation in one.
The hartwil box that Master Oz had given Doctor Fraiser was not nicked or scuffed with age. It had been made very recently. There was only one place that sold new hartwil boxes, Lanc'eg's Precious Heirlooms. Master Oz did not seem the kind to offer an empty box. Lanc'eg only packaged one thing in hartwil boxes, betrothal necklaces, expensive betrothal necklaces.
He had heard rumors, but he had thought them empty. His sister had said that the Tauri Alpha had carried gifts to the Wolf Master from a female. The Wolf Master had obviously accepted those gifts and offered the necklace in return.
Master Oz turned to leave and Curk'id followed. Then he stopped at the door and bowed low to Doctor Fraiser, mother of the betrothed of the Wolf Master.
Oz and Curk'id walked the corridors to the VIP quarters, a guard trailing behind. Oz wanted to roll his eyes, but didn't, when the bodyguard insisted that he check out the suite before Oz entered. Oz insisted that Curk'id guard from the inside of the room and dismissed the SGC guard. That MP guard took position a few meters away.
Curk'id argued with the Wolf Master's orders. The argument lasted ten minutes. The Wolf Master said a grand total of twenty-eight words. After Oz won, he placed his guitar case on the bed, dragged the bedside table to the middle of the room and put a single candle on the table. He lit the candle with a Tauri lighter and then sat on the bed to meditate. Curk'id took position by the door.
Curk'id's eyes opened wide as he recognized the unmistakable scent of Old Magic in the air. The Wolf Master was planning something special. His chanting was too soft for even Curk'id to hear. Curk'id did not know which spell he was performing but, if the potent scents were an indicator, it was a powerful one.
Curk'id closed his eyes and concentrated on the sounds. He might not be able to see an enemy coming but he could make use of his other senses. He could hear the buzz of the surveillance device in the corner, the slow even breathing of the Furling on the bed, and hurried footsteps in the hall. Then the buzz stuttered, stopped and then restarted. Curk'id knew that this was one of the Old Magics that those at the University utterly despised.
Master Oz now had the ability to control the output of any technological instrument he chose. Master Oz had chosen the surveillance device. Curk'id held himself very still, again matching his breathing to the slight Furling. He did not want to disturb the Master's plans. He waited.
It seemed like a long time before Master Oz roused himself from his trance. Once he did, his movements were economical and efficient. He opened the guitar case. The first item he pulled out was a crossbow. This he handed to Curk'id.
Curk'id set about to ensure the weapon was in operational condition. He checked the sights and all the joints. He started sorting out the arrows. He kept one eye on the Wolf Master so he would not be surprised again.
Then next item Oz pulled out of the case, Curk'id could not see. So he assumed it was a book of prophecy. This was set reverently on the bed. The next several items were metal, long and narrow, they held the scent of both naquada and trinium. Oz started attaching different poles end-to-end. The construction took some time. The result resembled a Tauri doorway frame but Curk'id knew what it was.
It was an Old Technology portable Transport Screen.
Master Oz was comfortable with both the Old Technology and the Old Magics. For the first time, Curk'id believed that the Wolf Master would lead the Furlings to total victory against Anubis. The biggest hurdle was yet to come. Master Oz had to get those of the University to cooperate with those from the Sacred Grove.
A knock at the door surprised both Furlings.
Oz motioned that Curk'id should answer.
Curk'id carefully opened the door a crack. He was surprised to see Major Carter standing there with a tray of food. "Yes?" Curk'id glanced at the guard. He was distracted, giving directions to a pretty female Tauri with a long white coat and a cart.
The major smiled, somewhat preoccupied. "Doctor Fraiser was worried that since Oz lost weight that his body was not accepting all the proper nutrients needed while on 'Our Territory.'"
Curk'id was impressed. By sending Major Carter, Doctor Fraiser was caring for both her future son-in-law and her friend. The doctor had used this excuse to pull Major Carter away from the many pieces his zatnil was sure to be in.
Curk'id nodded. "Master Oz will eat when he returns."
Major Carter's head shot up. "Returns? From where? He's not supposed to leave the base without an escort."
Curk'id pulled Major Carter, tray and all, into the room. "Then you will be our escort." A quick glance confirmed that the guard's back was toward Curk'id.
"What? No!" Carter tried to drop the tray and break for the door. Curk'id was faster on both accounts. He had the tray carefully balanced in one hand and his body in front of the door.
Carter made a frantic glance to the security unit in the corner.
Curk'id was smug. "Master Oz has already taken care of that."
"Should have told her I was doin' an O.O.B."
Master Oz garnered both their attentions with his statement.
Curk'id rolled the unfamiliar term around on his tongue. "O.O.B.?"
"Out of Body. Body in one place, spirit in a different realm."
Curk'id nodded. The prophets experienced those. "I did not wish to defy our hosts and yet still speak the truth."
Oz snorted, after all life was easier if one did not speak much.
Major Carter had spied the Transport Screen and was overcome with curiosity. "Is that a . . . ?"
"Transport screen?" Curk'id finished her sentence. "Yes, it is."
"It's a lot smaller than the one we saw before. Is it going to send us to a paradise?" she asked.
Oz strapped the controlling bracelet to his wrist. He closed the guitar case, leaving it on the bed, and picked up the invisible book of prophecy. "No." He finally answered the question. "It's sending us to hell."
He stepped through the transport screen. Curk'id grabbed Major Carter's arm, picked up the crossbow and bolts and the two followed the slight Furling.
Major Carter stumbled on the other side. It reminded her of her first trip through the Stargate, only with more dizziness and less nausea. Oz tapped a few buttons on the controlling bracelet and surveyed the area. They had landed in a graveyard, Sunnydale Memorial if Oz was not mistaken. He muttered something in Curk'id's native language and the bodyguard nodded.
Curk'id shifted warily. The Wolf Master had told him that if it smelled dead to aim for the heart and to show no mercy. Curk'id was not pleased. The wolf inside was growing agitated. This place had no peace. The graveyards on 'Our Territory' had so much peace for they were the Gateway to the Unending Beyond. The Wolf Master should have allowed all four of the bodyguards to come along if he had known he was coming here. The air reeked of danger.
A scream filled the air. Oz took off at a run and Curk'id yanked Carter off the ground and followed. Carter tried to keep on her feet, but Curk'id had a much longer stride than she did. Oz stopped at the edge of a clearing. One short blond girl was glancing around looking confused.
"Buffy!" Oz warned.
The girl looked his way. "Oz?" Her confusion increased.
"You're in a spell!"
The world shifted and a blue robed demon came at the Wolf Master. Curk'id released Carter and she collapsed to the ground again. Curk'id stepped in the demon's way with his sword unsheathed and sliced it in half.
The world turned on an unseen axis. Spike appeared to Oz's left, breaking a neck of another demon. He looked to Oz, confused. But then he yelled, "Buffy!"
Buffy was punched in the face by a third demon. She fought and then staked it. The world shifted again. A girl appeared and then started running toward the hill. Carter was not about to let her get away. She swung her legs around, tangling them in the girl's.
The girl fell hard.
Oz knelt over her, set down the book, and turned the strange girl over. The girl stared up at Oz, eyes wide. His brow wrinkled in dismay. "Curk'id?"
Curk'id stood at the Wolf Master's side, his sword ready. He had dropped the unfamiliar crossbow long ago. "Her scent is wrong, Master Oz." Everything was off in this strange world. The scents were confusing and Magic, Old Dark Magic, pulsed in the night.
Oz tilted his head. "Thought so."
The girl started stuttering, "Oh, no. Oh, no."
Buffy and Spike joined the circle. The girl struggled frantically. Oz and Carter held her down. Curk'id tightened his hand on his sword. Both of the new strangers smelled dead, but Master Oz had not shown any aggression toward them yet. Indeed, Master Oz had gone out of his way to assist the tiny blond female.
The strange female on the ground morphed into a male. Carter jerked away, landing on her butt and bumping Spike. Spike kicked her away. Carter stayed at Curk'id's feet. It was safer there.
"Jonathon?" Buffy and Oz chorused.
"It was all Warren's idea," he blurted out.
Curk'id sniffed the air. "Master Oz, there is another dead . . ." His voice trailed off.
Buffy raised an eyebrow. "Master Oz?"
Oz shrugged, "Long story."
"A dead Tauri lies over that way." Curk'id motioned with his sword. Oz picked up his book and dragged Jonathon to his feet. Carter was still sitting and staring at Jonathon in shock. Buffy helped her to her feet. The group followed the tall Furling.
"Oz, not that I don't appreciate the help, but what are you doing here?" asked Buffy. She trailed after the lycanthrope.
Oz held up the book for Buffy to see. "There's a prophecy about you . . . and Spike."
Spike brightened. He swiped the book. Oz offered no resistance.
"Bugger that," said Spike. He started randomly flipping through the pages. He wasn't disturbed by the lack of writing on the first hundred pages; frustrated-yes, disturbed-no.
Curk'id spoke. "There she is."
Carter gasped at the dead girl near the water. Her head was at an unnatural angle and she had the same face that Jonathon had worn before. How could that be?
Buffy whirled on Jonathon. She had her hand around his throat and was lifting him in the air. "What is going on?" she demanded.
"I-it w-w-was Warren's idea."
Spike looked up from the book and mentioned casually, "Slayer, you might want to let him explain before you break his neck."
Buffy threw Jonathon to the ground and placed one foot on his chest. "Spill." Carter winced at the rough handling.
Jonathon spilled his guts. "We made a cerebral dampener. And it worked, then it didn't work and then she no longer said master and she's Warren's ex, that's why he picked her. She said rape and jail and Warren said no and we tried to stop her but she hurt us and then they fought and she fell and she was dead so Warren said to make you think you did it but he came and things changed and, and . . . I really don't want to be a super villain any more 'cause people get hurt and it hurts and you feel guilty and we don't even have a cool villain's lair."
Carter stared at the boy. "Did anyone get that?" She shook her head, when had she started channeling Colonel O'Neill?
Buffy applied more pressure on Jonathon's chest. He was starting to struggle in earnest. "I think I did. That's Katrina, isn't it?"
Jonathon nodded frantically.
Buffy grew darker. "And the plan was to make me think that I had killed her?"
Jonathon nodded again. "I am so sorry. She wasn't supposed to die. No one was supposed to die," he wailed.
Spike snorted. "That's what you get when you're working with humans. All that guilt that comes with a soul." Spike eyed Buffy solemnly. "Speaking of which, luv, as much as you'd like to kill him, you'd regret it before his blood cools."
Carter looked around the clearing, desperately trying to get a handle on the situation. She took in the trees and the hill and recognized none of it. "Where are we?" she asked. No one answered. "I order you to tell me where I am!"
Now she got their attention but not the way she had hoped.
Buffy had turned her deadly gaze on Carter and Spike was positioning himself to watch the girl's six.
"Is she Initiative?" She asked Oz. "'Cause she sounds Initiative-y to me."
Oz shook his head. "Her kind give the Initiative ulcers."
Buffy brightened. Carter blinked; the mood swings were reminiscent of PTSD. This girl had some serious psychological problems. Why was Oz coming to her for help? This girl needed help of her own.
Then Oz spoke up to confuse the issue. "Buffy, why do you smell dead but not undead?"
Buffy shrugged. "I died."
Buffy nodded. "Wanna see my grave? I have a nice headstone."
Oz shook his head. "Willow?"
There was an uncomfortable silence. Carter was confused. "Where are we?" she asked again. "Why are we here? Will somebody please tell me something?"
The rest of the group ignored her. Spike had found the prophecy and started cursing. "Bloody wankers and bloody wolves and their bloody noses and . . ."
"Spike!" Buffy yelled. She diverted his attention from the book. "What is it?"
Spike threw the book at Buffy's head. She caught it without a flinch. "The prophecy! I'm the Big Bad, William the Bloody, Childe of some of the most merciless demons to terrorize Europe, killer of two Slayers and how am I mentioned?"
By this time Buffy had found the page that Oz had marked and read the prophecy. All the blood drained from her face. She looked like she was about to collapse. "The Chosen One's Mate."
"Buffy?" Oz asked.
Buffy was white as a sheet. "How big is this Anus-butt?"
Buffy looked frail and helpless. "End of the world stuff?"
"I have to pack and stuff . . ." her voice trailed off.
Grij'er awoke screaming. He was trying to claw his way out of a box. He felt a tremendous sense of loss. It was heart breaking in its intensity. He had glimpsed the Unending Beyond. It was more wonderful than any imagining. His soul ached to return to the peace. His hands shook.
He climbed out of his pallet to fix himself a cup of tea. He sat at the table and stared at the ceiling.
Why did he have this vision now? It was not the future, not his, not yet. It was the past, but this past would affect the upcoming battle.
Grij'er had just taken a sip of hot tea when he realized the implications: Someone had been forcibly removed from the Unending Beyond. Grij'er dropped the cup with a clatter. A punishment so severe, even the gods would not command it.
But it had happened, and it had happened to one of the warriors coming. She had been punished unfairly. Grij'er grabbed his book of prophecy and hurried toward the door. Kinta'mi had to be told. Then he would attempt to write the experience down for others to understand. He did not know the words to describe the wonder and the loss, maybe Kinta'mi did.
"Sam?" Doctor Janet Fraiser knocked on Major Carter's door.
The lab was empty but the many pieces of the zatnil scattered the bench. "That's odd," Janet murmured. Delivering Oz's meal should not have taken this long. So where was Sam?
Janet walked out of the lab, the gift from Oz to Cassie in her hand. She'd put it in her desk and ask Sam to look at it later. The necklace and the box had come up clean from any bacteria or virus it could have carried. Janet had already checked. It should not cause any problem for an hour or two.
Buffy knocked on Willow's bedroom door. After a few minutes, she knocked again. Finally Willow opened the door.
"Buffy?" She rubbed the sleep from her eyes. "Is everything okay?"
Buffy shook her head no. "Oz is here and he has a prophecy and I wanted you to see if you could find another book that speaks of it . . ." Her voice drifted off. "It feels really real. I think it's for real, but if I'm goin' to leave Dawn and you and you guys and the hellmouth, I want to be sure."
Willow shook her head, trying to dispel the haziness of sleep. "You-leave? Wait, Oz is here?"
"Yeah," said Buffy. She was rather subdued. "And he brought a couple of friends. A big football type that's good with a sword and a chick that sounds Initiative-y but she's not. He's standing guard and she's on the couch. No one's tied her up yet." Buffy paused. "Spike should be here soon, too."
Buffy eyed her friend. "Only if you're up to this, 'cause I could always call Anya and Xand and see if they can find something . . ."
Willow straightened and smiled. "Just a run-of-the-mill prophecy? Just research and no magic? No big. I'm sure I can handle that. I'll be right down." Willow only partially closed the door behind her in her excitement to prove herself.
Buffy started down the stairs. She met Spike coming in the front door. "You get Jonathon taken care of?"
Spike nodded. "I dropped off the whelp at the police station. He blabbed to them and the police are going for the body and the two other wannabes. If they catch them, Hellmouth should be quiet for a little while." Spike looked Buffy up and done. "Are we really goin' to do this, 'cause we don't have to. We can always tell the mutt where to shove his prophecy and stay here, 'cause here's the Hellmouth."
Buffy smirked. "Is 'ittle Spiky scared of the big bad wolf?"
Spike jerked. "Hell no. But you realize that the big guy is another were-wolf, right?"
Buffy sighed. "Thought so."
"So?" the vampire asked.
"So we take a lot of tranqs with us." She walked into the living room where Curk'is stood at attention. She looked the towering were-wolf up and down. "A lot, a lot of tranqs."
Major Carter stood up. "Tranquilizers? Why would you need tranquilizers?" Oz had told her to sit on the couch and Curk'id had enforced the order. Curk'id stepped forward to remind Carter, but she saw him coming and sat back down, silently.
Buffy collapsed into an overstuffed chair. She stared at nothing for a while. She finally roused herself. "Oz," she said. "Can I read the prophecy again?"
Oz handed over the book.
Carter did not understand why they were so concerned with this prophecy they kept referring to. Even after Jonas' little run in with prophecies, she was very skeptical. She did not understand anything that could not be quantified with mathematical equations. Prophecies defied mathematics and the Laws of Probabilities. QED: Carter could not comprehend prophecies. Then again Carter did not understand any of this little excursion, prophecies notwithstanding.
Buffy's fingers found the marked page and she began to read silently.
Defenders, warriors, champions,
Protectors of the Key,
The Chosen One and her Mate.
Dead, dying, broken,
Fighting for the Light.
Known by the Bitten Tauri,
Traveler, friend, comrade-in-arms.
That which protected the Key
Shall destroy other Keys
The destroyed others shall weaken Anubis.
The weakened Anubis shall be defeated.
The Sacrifice was not in vain.
To the dead, Furlings offer life.
To the dying, Furlings offer hope.
To the broken, Furlings offer healing.
Let the defenders defend.
Let the warriors war.
Let the champions triumph.
Buffy sighed. It sounded too good to be true. It was definitely written for her and Spike. Oz had not known that when he came for her. Oz had guessed. He had not known she had died again and he had not known that she was now consorting with a vampire. He probably did not know what, or more correctly who, was the Key. He had not known that Spike and Buffy had protected the Key. Buffy prayed that the other Keys were not in human form.
She would have to pack the Troll Hammer for this trip. That was good. It meant that she could leave most of the other weapons behind so that the Scoobies could use them. She closed the book with a snap and tossed it on the coffee table. Curk'id winced at the rough handling.
The book vanished into thin air.
"Ohh, that's so neat!" Willow's exclamation gained everyone's attention. She paused and then pouted. "But that means that I can't read the actual prophecy to compare."
Buffy grinned. That was good. She could keep her dirty little secret secret. Spike growled in the corner. Buffy bounced out of the chair. "I'll go call Xander and Anya. Tell them what's the what."
Willow glanced at the clock, four am. "Why don't you let them sleep for a couple more hours? This doesn't sound too time dependent. Xander has to get up at six anyway for work. Call then." She grabbed her best friend's arm and dragged her into the old dining room, now the converted non-magic-research-only library. "Tell me about the prophecy now."
Buffy plunked down at the table. She shrugged her shoulders helplessly. "I don't really remember that much," she demurred.
Willow got out her computer, booted it up, and set a pen and paper on the table. "Just quote what you know. Exact wording helps, though it will probably have to go through a translation or two."
Buffy leaned back and closed her eyes. She breathed and remembered. She quoted the words that had imprinted themselves on her brain. "The Sacrifice was not in vain. To the dead, Furlings offer life. To the dying, Furlings offer hope. To the broken, Furlings offer healing."
Willow gasped. Buffy opened her eyes. Willow was covering her mouth, tears forming in her eyes.
"I'm so . . ."
Buffy cut her off. "I don't know what a Furling is though."
"It's us." Both girls turned to Oz. He looked at them evenly.
Willow blinked her eyes a couple times, trying to clear the tears and concentrate on the matter at hand. "O-kay. I've never heard of that term before, but if you're sure."
"I'm sure," said Oz.
Willow's computer beeped. She logged on and started searching the demon and prophecy databases for keywords. She looked from Oz to Buffy and back again. "Do you remember anything else?"
Oz spoke, "The Chosen One and . . ."
Buffy sat up and started talking over Oz. "I remember something. Protectors of the Key."
"Protectors of the Key?" Willow stared at Buffy knowingly. Then she ducked her head to type it into the computer and Buffy used the opportunity to send Oz a frantic silent message. Oz blinked and then nodded once. Buffy relaxed slightly.
Oz spoke again. "A weakened Anubis shall be defeated."
Willow paused and looked at her ex-boyfriend. "Anubis?"
Willow stood and started looking through the books on the shelves. "I seem to remember, back when," Willow's fingers grazed over different titles, "I was silly enough to ask about worst case scenarios." Buffy winced but Willow did not see. She picked up one book and started flipping through. "Giles told me that there was a whole book that told how to divert some of the worst cases, kinda like the Codex but more vague."
Willow put the book back on the shelf and started looking for another one. "It was in the Watcher's training to have this book completely memorized so that they could see and prevent an apocalypse from happening. And since Giles had it memorized, he could leave it here when he left." Buffy winced again, Oz noticed. "Not to mention that if there is going to be an apocalypse, it's going to be here. Probably, 'cause here's where it all happens. I read it a couple times but I never truly memorized it."
"A-ha." Willow lifted a book of the shelf triumphant.
Buffy blinked at her thoughts. "There's also this line about 'Let the champions triumph.' It's after some stuff about 'Let the warriors war' and stuff."
Willow nodded absently. "Here it is. 'Anubis lost once. There was great sacrifice. In defeating him a second time, the Chosen One prevents two apocalypses. The balance is restored.'" Willow paused and reread the section. She looked at Buffy helplessly. "There's more but that's really straight forward for a prophecy. If you help them, two apocalypses won't happen. But on the plus side, between the two prophecies it sounds like things go good. We haven't had that in a while."
Buffy blinked back tears. "Then I guess I better say good-bye to Dawn."
Hesitantly Buffy walked into Dawn's room. For a teenager, the room was quite clean. She stood and looked down at Dawn. Her sister had grown into a beautiful young woman. Buffy sat on the bed beside her sister, and put a hand on Dawn's arm.
Dawn slowly woke up.
"Hey," said Buffy.
Dawn sleepily peered at her sister. "What time is it?"
"It's late, it's early. I just wanted . . ." Buffy trailed off.
Dawn frowned. Something was wrong. Her Hellmouth radar started sounding off.
Buffy started again. "I love you. You know that, right? "
Dawn sat up, alarmed. "What's wrong?"
Buffy started apologizing. "I know I haven't been everything I should be . . . everything Mom was . . . but I love you. I always will." Buffy looked tearful.
Dawn was scared. "Why are you talking like this? Buffy?"
"In the woods. Oz . . . he was there." Buffy tried her best to tell the story.
Dawn cut her off. "Oh goddess. Does Willow know? Is she all right?"
Buffy breathed deep. It staved off the tears for a moment. "Not really. She's okay mostly, but . . ."
Dawn looked shocked.
Buffy started again. "I'm sorry."
Dawn hugged her sister, trying to offer all the support she needed.
Buff gained strength from her sister, real or not. "There's something I have to do. Oz has a prophecy. I have to go with him, far away."
Dawn pulled back from the hug. "With Oz?"
Buffy shuddered in spite of herself. "Dawnie, I have to."
Dawn was shaken. "But . . . what's going to happen?"
"I don't know," said Buffy.
Dawn pushed Buffy away, upset. "It's dangerous, isn't it. What if you don't come back? What if you die there?"
Buffy looked down, when had Dawn's blanket gotten so frayed? "I'm sorry."
"No, you're not," replied Dawn. Buffy's head shot up, surprised, but Dawn kept on yelling. "You're never here. You can't even stand to be around me."
Buffy tried to stem the flow of anger. "That's not true."
Dawn was almost crying now. "You don't want to be here with me. You didn't want to come back. I know that. You were happier where you were. You want to go away again."
"Dawn . . ."
Dawn was not about to be consoled. "Then go! You're not really here anyway."
Dawn flipped off her covers, slid off her bed and ran from the room crying. Buffy was left on the bed; sitting, staring, crying.
Spike looked up when he heard the door slam and Dawn thunder down the stairs into the basement. "Mornin' Bit."
Dawn stopped and stared. Spike was obviously packing a weapons bag. The Troll Hammer leaned against his leg. "You're going with her," Dawn accused. She threw up her hands in anger. "You're all deserting me! Who else is going? Xander, Willow?"
Spike lit a cigarette. "No one. Just the Slayer and me."
Dawn's eyes narrowed. "And you don't have a problem with that, do you? You get to keep the Slayer all to yourself. Don't have to share her with her little friends or family. You're stealing her away, little by little."
Spike's jaw tightened. "I'm giving the Slayer what she needs."
"She doesn't need an obsessive vampire shaggin' her." Dawn spit out the words. Spike's eyes widened. "Oh, yes I know," Dawn sneered. "You mean nothing to her. She's just using you."
Spike dropped the weapons bag a stalked over to the young girl. Dawn did not retreat under his glare. "I make her feel," growled Spike. "I help her. I fight her. I love her."
Dawn smirked. "Do you know what love is? She doesn't love you." Dawn taunted the vampire. "Tell me, does she scream out Angel's name? I know she doesn't sleep in your arms. Does she even look you in the eye?"
Spike lowered his voice. "Who does the dishes or cleans the house? Who holds her, distracts her, when she's yearning for heaven? Who gives her gifts? Or leaves money around the house to help with finances? Who tries to take care of every big bad that might try to cause trouble so that she doesn't have to? Do you?"
"A head in bed doesn't count as a gift," Dawn shot back.
"When it's the only thing she'll accept, yes it is. Get this straight, Nibblet. Buffy needs help, lots of help. The fact that she is shagging me should be a major hint. She has not recovered from being pulled out of heaven. You aren't giving her help and her little friends aren't giving it to her. Just because you ignore the problem does not mean that it will go away. It can't. I might not be giving her the right thing either, but I know this. At least I'm trying. I may be selfish with my methods, but I'm trying. Just because the Slayer hasn't said anything to you guys doesn't mean she's forgotten anything. She shouldn't be caring for the Witch or you. She can barely care for herself. You all should be caring for her. The whelp is shirking his duty, too."
"The world doesn't revolve around Buffy Summers."
"Until she recovers, yes it does."
Buffy's soft whisper had the effect of a soldier's order. Dawn and Spike took a step back from each other. She looked from one to the other with tears in her eyes. "Oz is about ready to leave." Spike picked up the weapons bag. He left the Troll Hammer on the basement floor and climbed the stairs without a backward glance.
"Dawn . . ."
Dawn put up a hand and turned her back to her sister. Buffy sighed and slowly walked down the stairs. "I have to go," she whispered.
"What about the Hellmouth? It almost went down the tubes last time you went away." Dawn was grasping at straws.
Buffy picked up the Hammer and started tracing invisible lines in the handle. "I called Giles. He's coming back. I called Angel. He'll help anyway he can. I wrote Faith a letter. Angel, Giles and Willow are already working a plan to get her out of jail. I called Tara. She promised to be available for any magic needed."
"Faith? But she's . . ." Dawn could not find words to describe the Dark Slayer.
"She'll do fine if I'm not here. You guys need her."
"Xander and Anya?"
"Xander's pissed, but even he can't argue with two averted apocalypses. Anya says that you can take my place in her wedding. She promised to help you any way you need it, even," Buffy winced, "giving you sex advice." Buffy hurried on, trying for some levity. "I really, really don't want you to take her up on that offer."
"So you're just going to leave?"
"Dawn, I have to."
The silence stretched out.
"Dawn, I want to be on good terms with you."
Dawn whirled around to face her sister. "Well, you're not! You think you can designate everyone a job and then you can flit off! Well, you can't! I am not a job to be delegated! If you leave, I'll never forgive you. You'll regret it for as long as you live. I promise that." Dawn brushed past Buffy on her way up the stairs.
Buffy sighed, picked up the Troll Hammer and followed.
At the top of the stairs, Dawn ran into Oz. She slugged him in the jaw. His head snapped back. "I hate you," Dawn hissed. "First you cheat on Willow and then you almost hurt Tara and now you're taking Buffy away. I hate you!"
Oz looked Dawn up and down, confusion showing on his features. "Who are you?"
Dawn tried to hit Oz again but was forestalled by Curk'id. She struggled against his strength, but he held tight. Dawn attempted some dignity and answered Oz. "I'm Buffy's little sister, you mutt."
Curk'id tightened his grip. Dawn winced. "You will not address Master Oz in such a manner, child."
Oz's face cleared, as if he just remembered something. "Oh. Dawn, right?"
Oz nodded back, then his gaze shifted to the person behind her. Dawn stiffened instinctively. Oz raised an eyebrow.
Dawn caught Buffy's nod in her peripheral vision. Dawn shook off the strange man's hands and stalked her way through the kitchen and up the stairs. She had nothing left to say to those people.
Oz said that they could leave from the basement, so everyone climbed back down. Buffy gave them all hugs good-bye. She started with Anya first. She squeezed tight. "Thanks Anya," she whispered. "Take care of all of them for me. Xander especially. And make Giles say, 'oh, dear' at least once a day." Anya wiped her eyes and promised.
Xander was next. He did not complained about the strength in her hug. He realized that she really did not want to let go. "Xander," she said. "I'm proud of you. You're making the most out of all this mayhem. Marry Anya and have lots of kids that make the teachers blush. Leave Hellmouth if you have to, but you're the only one that can be somewhat normal. Please be normal for the rest of us. And accept all parts of Anya, no more cold feet and no more singing demons. Please?"
Xander was not ashamed of his tears. "I promise."
Willow was last. Both girls were crying, but Buffy had something to say. "You'll be okay. Giles will help more than I did. And anything Dawn does is not your fault. I love you."
Buffy gave one last wistful glance up the stairs and then followed Curk'id, Major Carter, and Spike through the portal. Spike had made no effort to say good-bye. Oz nodded at each Scooby in turn and walked through the portal. The portal dissolved behind him.
Up in her room, Dawn curled up on her bed crying.
Grij'er stared at the words he had just written with confusion.
Grij'er shook his head. Something was ending and something else was about to begin. Then he muttered, "oft times the prophet never understands his own work." This apprentice prophet did not understand his work at all.
He put the quill away and started for the door. He still had three more rows to weed in the garden before sundown and moonrise.
"Major Carter, where the hell have you been?" Colonel O'Neill's question echoed through the corridor. Not that anyone was surprised at the yelling. The whole base had gone into a panic when it was revealed that Major Carter had vanished with the two Furlings. The three were not in the VIP room. The MP had seen Major Carter drop off the food as Doctor Fraiser had requested but had not seen them leave. The surveillance camera was severely mis-functioning. It still showed Oz meditating and Curk'id standing guard. There was no record of Major Carter on the VIP surveillance camera tape.
Ten minutes ago, Major Carter had appeared running through the halls looking for her CO. Said CO finally caught up with her on sub-level 21.
"Well, Major?" Jack O'Neill asked a little softer.
"I have no idea sir." Carter looked bewildered. "I went to deliver the food as Janet asked. Curk'id said that Oz was leaving and I told him that he needed the escort. Curk'id insisted that I was that escort and next thing I knew, I was in the middle of a graveyard. I'm not sure what planet it was on, let alone . . ." Carter paused and thought. "Sir, I think I was still on Earth. One of the people Oz brought back, a strange man named Spike, mentioned Europe."
Jack growled. "Oz brought people into a classified base without permission? And you let him?"
Carter nodded. "Yes sir, but it was more that I couldn't stop him, sir. It has something to do with some prophecy they all deem important. The Furlings are sure that they need these people to defeat Anubis. Oz's group of people had a book that mentioned Anubis by name, sir. And Oz didn't exactly use the front door to get off or to get back on the base."
Jack threw up his hands. "Then how exactly did he get in and out of the base undetected?"
Carter paused. "You remember the transport screen on P5X-777?"
"Yes, Carter. I was marooned on a moon with a crazy Harry because of a transport screen. I remember the transport screen." Jack was momentarily distracted. "Hey, did you know the name of the colony was 'Forgiving Moon'?"
Carter shook her head. "No sir, I didn't. But Oz was in possession of a smaller, portable transport screen."
Jack blinked. "Really?"
"Yes, sir. Really, really."
Jack thought that one over. "How does he get it to where he wants to go?"
Carter shrugged. "I have no idea, sir. I don't even have a grasp of the basic physics behind the transport screen. If you ask really nicely, he might tell you, or rather tell me, how it works. It would be great technology to learn."
Jack grinned. "Can you image? Just popping in anywhere you wanted to and to be able to get back home just as easily? No more aerial inserts, no swimming through oceans, no trekking through deserts. It would revolutionize Black Ops. It'd be awesome."
Carter grinned. "Radical?"
Jack smirked. "Gnarly."
Carter sobered. "Anyway, I doubt I'd be able to see the screen, let alone figure out how the technology worked without some help. Being nice to them will probably get us farther than throwing them in the brig. Oz made a special trip, knowing that he might reveal secrets to us, to get those two people. He wants to get them on 'Our Territory.' Perhaps we can work out a compromise to keep some of the technology. Even keeping just the zatnil would be advantageous. Keeping open lines with the Furling University would be even better."
"So tell me about his two friends." Jack looked panicked for a moment. "Where are they? Don't tell me they're wandering the base."
"No, sir." Carter was quick to reassure. "I asked Oz to keep them in his suite until I gain permission for them to be here. He agreed. Though he did ask that it be soon. He wants to get to 'Our Territory' before the sun sets on that planet." Carter paused. "Sir, if we want the negotiation to go our way, we'd better get it done before Senator Kinsey gets wind of it. I know he's on a plane to Washington to report to the President, but if he can get it refueled, he can be back here in hours."
Colonel O'Neill nodded. "Let's talk to Hammond and get him on the red phone. You're right. For this to go our way, we need to get it done now."
"Mister Oz," General Hammond tried to keep a tight rein on his temper. "I don't think I need to tell you how you should not have brought people into this top-secret facility."
Oz nodded. "Yeah."
General Hammond continued as if Oz had not spoken. "And now you wish to use the Stargate."
Oz smirked. "You knew I'd be going back."
General Hammond ground his teeth. "I didn't know you'd be taking unauthorized guests with you."
"Now you do."
General Hammond took a deep breath. "You cannot use our Stargate anytime you wish. This is not Grand Central Station."
"I won't be back."
General Hammond blinked. "Is that a threat?"
"Than why say it?" General Hammond was confused by Oz's one-word answers.
"The Chappii is dangerous for Furlings. Curk'id will be unconscious the return trip." General Hammond thought that through. It was the first time Oz had ever offered information.
"I see." Not that General Hammond saw the whole picture by any means. "Than why get the two . . ." He consulted his notes from his short briefing with Major Carter, "Spike and Buffy?" Those were some odd codenames.
"They can travel the Chappii."
General Hammond leaned back in his chair. That did explain a lot. The Stargate was very useful, but only if one could use it without any serious side effects. Carter had assured him that the two visitors were capable warriors. The wording had disturbed Hammond. Carter had explained it by saying their style, strength and discipline resembled the rebel Jaffa more than any military. She had been very sure. These two were not soldiers, and they had too much passion to be mercenaries. She knew of no other way of describing them other than calling them warriors. Oz called them protectors. They were protectors who believed that the best defense was a good offense.
Oz had searched out people he knew he could trust to travel the Stargates on behalf of the Furlings. That made sense to General Hammond. After all, he sent out soldiers and scientists on a daily basis on behalf of the United States.
That still left the question of the technology unanswered. "Mister Oz. There still is the issue of leaving base without an authorized escort, kidnapping personnel, and returning with visitors not cleared for the SGC secrets. The President asks and I agree that you submit to a discipline action."
Oz raised an eyebrow. "Major Carter insisted we have an escort, so we took an escort."
General Hammond frowned. The kidnapping that Major Carter had described had not appeared on the surveillance cameras. The surveillance cameras still did not show what was currently happening. Major Carter had no solid explanation. She did have a theory of wavelength interference from the Furling Transport Screen that she wanted to test. "We want to keep the transport screen."
General Hammond blustered. "Why not?"
"Your people can't see it inactive."
"So fix it," demanded Hammond
"It is fixed."
Hammond ground out the next words. "Make it so that we can see it."
Hammond was not too surprised with the answer. He had read Teal'c and Jack's report about the temple that only certain people, mainly Furlings, could see. Teal'c had followed Oz to the temple clearing where he had disappeared into thin air. Teal'c had been rather surprised and had referenced the Nox in his report. He had also mentioned that with the Furling skill in the woods, Oz must have known that the Jaffa was following and allowed it to happen. A simple fact remained. Jaffa and probably humans could not see Furling temples. It would make sense that the Furlings of old had protected their advance technology the same way. It was frustrating, but Oz was probably telling the truth.
Oz was waiting. So Hammond tried again. "Then let us keep the zatnil."
"Done." Oz stood. Hammond stood as well, out of respect. "We wish to leave in an hour."
Hammond offered his hand to the young man. "It's a pleasure doing business with you."
Oz shook his hand. "I hope to see SG1 in two weeks."
Hammond was surprised but tried to hide it. "They'll be there." If the Furlings were willing to keep communication lines open, Earth and the SGC were more than willing to use it. Not even the Asgard was this open to the Tauri.
An airman came running into the briefing room, out of breath. "Sorry General," he panted. He turned to the Furling. "Mister Oz, your visitors are fighting in the hall and they're doing quite a bit of damage to each other and everything around them."
Oz started for the exit at a run. Curk'id followed from his post in the corner. Oz stopped at the doorframe and Curk'id nearly ran him over.
"Don't let anyone try to stop them," Oz ordered General Hammond. He was gone before Hammond could reply. Curk'id was a silent step behind.
General Hammond hurried to the phone and called the duty officer assigned the visitor's floor.
He knew something more was going to go wrong. The question was 'how wrong could it get?'
Buffy and Spike were engaged in a death match. Oz was not surprised. It was actually comforting from his point of view. It was certainly more expected than Buffy having sex with a sworn enemy.
Buffy threw Spike against a wall and Oz winced. That left a dent in the metal. Spike kicked the Slayer away and then swung his right hand. Buffy dodged and returned the punch. He glanced around at the SGC members. It looked like one poor soul was nursing a bloody nose and broken jaw. Another airman had a bruised arm. They must have tried to break up the fight. Neither participant would have tolerated that.
The brawlers were only a couple yards away from the room Oz had left them in. The door was flung open, against how the hinges were supposed to swing. The doorframe had been busted off the wall. The interior of the room showed where the fight started. It was in ruins.
Colonel O'Neill caught Oz's gaze. His expression was very clear. O'Neill wanted this fight ended now. Teal'c flanked the colonel. He was watching the fistfight with avid interest. As warriors, he and Curk'id were probably examining the fighting style. Buffy and Spike were definitely putting on a show.
"Oz?" Major Carter appeared at Oz's side, concerned. "They're going to kill each other."
Oz shook his head. "They've been trying for years." From the speed of the dangerous dance, Oz knew that they had fought each other many, many times. Maybe they trained together. They knew the others' moves as well as they knew their own. The overpowering scent of sex drifted from the VIP room. This fight probably started as a make-out session and degraded into this. Oz could smell anger, shame, pain and even relief from Buffy. Spike was pissed, but he was also aroused and having fun. The two sets of feelings were so contradictory in nature, but then so was Spike's whole existence. He was a walking corpse after all.
Oz was trying to figure out how to get the two past Dr. Fraiser. She was going to throw a fit and no one got through the Gate without a physical. Maybe another bribe would work, or maybe he should just tell General Hammond that they were misplaced aliens as well. General Hammond and SG1 may or may not believe that one. Hmmm, misplaced aliens; it was worth a try.
Carter looked shocked. "Oz, you've got to stop it!"
General Hammond would probably appreciate that as well. Oz took a deep breath and at the top of his lungs yelled, "DEMON!"
It was as if a switch had been thrown. Before the echo had traversed down the hall, the two warriors were back to back, arms up, eyes searching for the danger. They were ready for anything.
Buffy saw and sensed no danger, other than the obvious sources. She glared at Oz. "You know what happened to the boy who cried wolf, right?"
Oz offered an innocent smile. "He turned into one?" he asked.
Spike threw his head back and laughed. "He's got you there, pet. He beat you to the punch-line."
Buffy whirled on the vampire. "I'll show you a punch line."
Oz stepped in between the two. He managed not to wince at Buffy's fist an inch away from his face. She proved her remarkable control at being able to not hit him.
"You're worrying them." Oz motioned with his head to the SGC staff.
Buffy stared at Oz. She did not care.
Oz realized it. He stared back, searching Buffy's eyes. He saw so much pain and shame, but what was startling was the lifelessness. He was worried. He did not know how to help his friend, but he would try. He would have to find out what happened. He would have to ask questions that Buffy would not want to answer.
Oz motioned to the broken room. "You better see if anything survived."
Buffy glanced at the room and smirked. "At least that's the only casualties." Oz could feel the unspoken completion to the thought; 'everyone else is already dead.'
Buffy walked into the room without another word. Oz turned to Spike. The two stared at each other for quite some time. Oz finally understood how dedicated the vampire was, in his own perverse way, to the Slayer. He understood how needed it was, even if the method was wrong. Spike followed Buffy and forced the broken door closed behind him.
Oz turned to go tell General Hammond that everything was settled and to offer an apology.
Being a planet's representative required a lot of talking.
Oz gained one conclusion from the meeting with General Hammond: Humans were desperate for an ally. They were deathly afraid of what Anubis would do to them. Their fear pushed them to allow much more latitude in alien actions. They trusted that the Furlings were about to hunt Anubis, therefore the Furlings could do little wrong. Especially if they were willing to share technology, which few allies were willing to do. The zatnil was the most technology that anyone had given the Tauri on the second diplomatic meeting. Most had just refused and were still refusing to share.
Greed and fear were driving the American government. It was not pretty, but it was true.
General Hammond had tried to be firm and polite. He was not greedy and he did not fear much. He was attempting, to the best of his abilities, to keep to the altruistic morals of the Stargate Command without compromising the safety of the Earth. He relied on his soldiers and they had pulled off the impossible several times, but even he knew that SG1 and the others would lose sometime soon. The odds were against them.
The government official that had sat in on the meeting was much more transparent. The fear radiated off him in waves and he had already relieved Major Carter of her zatnil.
Greed and fear.
Survival of their families and planet.
Either way, Oz walked away from the meeting with little more than a slap on the wrist.
The position of the American government would not be respected with the Others, but Oz understood. He had once allied himself with the bounty hunter, Cain, to defeat a more dangerous foe. Oz would try hard so as not to take advantage of the Tauri's precarious stance.
Oz paused in his thought process. He had just called humans Tauri. Khams, Our Territory, was becoming home. Khams was where Oz belonged.
Buffy was swinging her legs on the edge of the dilapidated bed when Oz returned. "We goin'?" she asked.
Her previous aggressive mood appeared to have evaporated. It seemed to Oz that she was as brittle and broken as the guestroom. The bed had been put back together, but it would never endure much stress. The end tables were splinters on the ground; the lamps were shattered to pieces. The walls were solid with a few dents. It was a good thing that Furlings, and the SGC soldiers, had good boots. The cleaning crew would need them.
Oz nodded to the short blond.
"Oz, where are we going?" she asked.
Curk'id smiled. "We are going to Khams, 'Our Territory'," he said proudly. "You both shall be honored guests."
Buffy rolled her eyes at Curk'id's pronouncement. "And where is that?" She was not impressed with his pronouncement. She would believe 'honored guest' when she saw it.
"Another planet," answered Oz.
Buffy blinked. "Really?"
Oz nodded. "We're telling the soldiers that you're mis-placed aliens."
Buffy offered a small hint of a mischievous smile. Oz took heart from the pure pleasure in it. Maybe the Vampire Slayer would be okay someday. Oz glanced at Spike. The vampire was extremely pleased with Buffy's reaction as well.
"So Doctor, what is your conclusion?"
Doctor Fraiser smiled wearily to General Hammond. "I'm forced to believe Oz, sir. I have no other explanation for Buffy and Spike other than to say that they are aliens that have been living on Earth for a while. Buffy is human but her DNA has several abnormalities that I've never seen before and they don't match anything in the database. They do however come close to Jonas' DNA with certain segments. She is healthy physically. She's healthier than any of the teams were allow through the Stargate. Mentally, she's a wreck. She's the most severe case of PTSD I've ever seen. Oz knows about it and says that she'll get treatment on 'Our Territory.'"
Janet gathered her notes and took a deep breath; now for the hard part.
"Spike is dead."
General Hammond looked very confused.
Doctor Fraiser shrugged her shoulders helplessly. "Clinically Spike is dead. No heart beat; he has no cardiac activity whatsoever. No exchange of oxygen, he only breathes to speak. It took a little while to figure that out because the man never shuts up. He's vicious as well. He made two of my nurses cry. Every machine in the lab coincides. Spike is dead, or he's so un-alive that my machines can't pick up any of the normal life signs. He does however have brainwaves."
She rifled through her notes for the real anomaly. "His blood has too many different strains of DNA to count. The computer can't even give us an approximation of his DNA. His skin DNA does not any of the blood DNA we have. We've tried to separate the blood into basic groups to no avail. His anti-bodies will not even help us determine his blood type. It's as if someone took a couple drops of blood from everyone on base, threw in some animal blood in for fun, shook it up, and then gave it to my technicians to identify as a type of psychological torture."
Janet Fraiser looked to her CO helplessly. "How do judge the health of someone who should be on life support? I really am lost on this one, sir. If they want to go through the Stargate, you might as well let them. Neither one is carrying any virus or bacteria harmful to the Furlings. We have enough samples in our lab to keep us busy to doomsday."
Buffy watched the Stargate whoosh into motion. She grinned. "That's nifty."
Beside her, Curk'id shifted uneasily. "Master Oz . . ." His voice trailed off. It was humbling for him to mention a weakness in front of so many people, but he would not be able to keep the wolf in check for the return trip. Already it was howling to be free. He would put the Wolf Master into jeopardy and fail at his responsibility.
Oz nodded to Buffy. She tossed something to Spike behind Curk'id's back. Before Curk'id could turn around, he felt the bite of a needle in his butt and a strong arm was holding him in place. Curk'id struggled for a moment, but his vision was quickly growing dim. His movements grew sluggish.
Spike caught Curk'id as he slumped. "Bloody 'ell, is he heavy."
Oz picked up his guitar case and nodded to General Hammond in the observation room. Buffy adjusted the backpack of clothes, picked up the duffel bag of weapons and waved to Major Carter. Carter self-consciously waved back. Spike flung the unconscious Furling over his shoulder and followed the two shorter people through the event horizon.
Oz stumbled through the Stargate and struggled for control. The wolf was laughing at him, mocking Oz with his strength, and taunting Oz with his anger. Oz would not travel the Stargate again. The next battle he would lose to the wolf.
Oz breathed deep. That was next time. This time he had to play host. He turned to his visitors.
Buffy stared at the surroundings. Her eyes were wide with delight. She had decided to ignore the Furlings for the most part. She had cast admiring and assessing eyes at the muscled Other Guard. Then she saw the clothes of the welcoming party.
She turned to Oz absolutely horrified. "Tell me I'm not going to have to wear That!"
Oz smirked. 'That' was a solid color Tibetan-type robe, no patterned fabric for the Furlings. Everyone wore his or her ceremonial robes to the Chappii, the exception being the Other Guard. They wore a dark green pants suit that was hemmed much closer to the skin, yet still managed to flow something like a robe did. The two prophets wore robes of orange. Malt'en and his assistant judges wore robes of gray.
Every profession and 'Our Territory' region was represented. Every segment of the population had a different hue. The clearing hosted a veritable rainbow of colors. More had come to welcome the two protectors than had come to welcome the Tauri on their second visit. Oz could see children peeking from the forest; these too were in their best robes. Theirs were a pale yellow; an echo of the University's deep yellow-brown. Hatr'er had bragged that the color matched the old scrolls, always dear to the students. The younger children might not agree, but those could pick the color they would someday wear with the occupations they chose.
It was a great, colorful, assembly. Buffy probably did not appreciate the gesture. Oz glanced at Spike. To his surprise, Spike's eyes shined with an acknowledgement of the honor that the presence of so many signified. Spike looked rather humbled and surprised and awed. Then the shutters dropped down, a smirk settled in place. Spike handed Curk'id off to a near-by Other Guard and stepped behind Buffy, placing his hands on her hips.
He chuckled and whispered in her ear. Oz could hear him loud and clear. "But pet, just think about how much easier sex would be."
With her feet firmly planted, Buffy curled her hand into a fist and swung above her head. She connected with Spike's ear.
"Ow! Bloody 'ell!" Spike stumbled back.
Buffy ignored him. She glared at Oz. "Please tell me that there is a mall here? One that carries something other than robes. I know it won't have Abercrombie but . . ." she trailed off and pleaded some more. "I knew I should have asked before. I can't believe I forgot such an important question."
Oz shook his head. "No mall, but an outdoor market. You'll enjoy that."
Buffy brightened. "An outdoor market? It sounds interesting. Just so I can shop."
Oz nodded. "You'll get a paycheck to spend." Oz would urge the Others to be very generous. He was not worried. They would be, not that it mattered. He doubted that any of the merchants would let Buffy pay for their goods, at least not for the first month or so. If Buffy and Spike were as successful as Oz suspected they would be, it might be much longer. It depended on how much Buffy took advantage of it.
Buffy suddenly sobered. "Could I send part of it home to help Dawnie?"
Oz shrugged. "Took care of that."
Buffy stopped. "You did?"
"Yes." He had never taken Willow's name off his checking account. Not that she knew that she was on it in the first place. Oz had handed her the checkbook. He would not need it. The checking account contained enough money to keep those in the Summers' residence from landing in the poorhouse. Giles was also going to be there. He should be able to keep the spending within budget.
Oz would not return to Earth, probably.
Giving Willow the money had felt like the right thing to do. It seemed to sever his last tie to Earth. Willow had given Oz a hug as a thank-you. Oz could still smell the sweet, familiar scent of Willow on his skin and on his clothes. It was a reminder of things best forgotten. There had been a faint scent of Tara in the house but she had not been around.
Willow had been mourning Tara.
Oz had been mourning Willow. Willow did not want him back, never would. Oz had accepted that painful truth. Oz had no reason to return to Earth. Oz had no reason to keep a checking account on Earth.
Oz saw Malt'en and Kinta'mi approaching. He had best start the introductions.
Curk'id sat on the dirt in front of his house and smiled. He was home. He had succeeded in his mission and his family was still well. The scents of Khams soothed his soul. His wife, Madme'di gracefully sat beside him and leaned her head on his shoulder. Tider'di had taken their two sons for a long walk.
"What are the Tauri like?"
Curk'id snorted. "Very strange. Master Oz mourned for one of the females like Tider'di still mourns for her husband. This female asked if I was Master Oz's boyfriend. I am not sure what she meant. The smells surrounding her were very strange. Dark Magic had fermented on her skin.
"The smells everywhere were odd. They have odd words. They have odd names. They have odd customs. They have odd people. They do not kill those who are treacherous. They obey those who are no longer warriors. O'Neill took orders from someone who was not as Alpha as he, but O'Neill respected this man."
Madme'di smiled and curled closer to her husband. "Master Hatr'er is almost as short as Master Oz. Master Hatr'er leads the Univeristy. Master Oz leads Khams. Some do not believe them to be Alpha."
Curk'id spoke with authority. "Master Oz is Alpha. He controls his spyang like you control your weaving, my dear wife. I was carried through the Chappii because I would have shamed the Other Guards if I walked. Master Oz has walked through the Chappii three times. The Chappii breaks the bonds that hold the wolf in place."
Madme'di absorbed the information. "Than perhaps this man Alpha O'Neill obeys is Alpha like Master Oz. That speaks very highly of O'Neill that he sees the man's worth."
Curk'id nodded, seeing his wife's point. "Alpha O'Neill's base is like the University, many smart people. They are always curious, mostly of what they see. They ignore the many smells around them and do not use their senses like we do. Their base has many noises and is underground. Some are frail, but most are friendly. They try to help. They do not understand us. I do not understand them. I believe that the Tauri view us the same way. We must seem so odd. I have more respect for them. They did not, or tried not, to judge us.
"They came to us seeking peace and allies. I would fight along side of Alpha O'Neill and those he leads."
Spike was watching the sunlight play on his skin. The sun did not scorch as it normally did vampires. The Prophets had said that Protectors were protected. The sun felt pleasantly warm now. It had taken a couple of days for Spike to realize that he could get an everyday normal sunburn like humans. It had been so long since he had stood in the sun. Spike's complexion had turned bright red. Now that had healed but the sun and its rays were still novelties. A movement distracted Spike and he saw Oz out of the corner of his eye.
The wolf had always been close but busy. When the first moon was high in the night sky, Buffy, Spike and the Others had retreated to the Temple of History. Buffy and Spike were closed off in one room as Oz taught the others how to control the inner beast. Buffy and Spike had had a sex marathon, intermitted with some rough and rowdy fights. The two extremes had long since blurred together for the couple. They were sequestered for three days. The residents of 'Our Territory' would have seven days before the second moon ruled for three more nights. Spike was looking forward to another bout of uninterrupted sex.
Here they were a couple; it was an established fact. Oz and Malt'en had chastised the couple about producing large amounts of sex pheromones that would encourage the wolf. Neither Spike nor Buffy really apologized for that one. What else had Oz expected them to do? Members of the Others had offered to host the couple for dinner. Strangers would walk up to Spike and tell him where his 'Mate' disappeared to.
Oz had said nothing disapproving about Buffy's taste in men. He had watched them interact, but had remained quiet. Now with Buffy asleep under a tree and Oz was waiting to speak with Spike.
Spike put on his Big Bad face and grinned at the young were-wolf. "Problem?"
Oz stared at him but finally handed Spike a cup of blood. "The butchers have agreed to supply you with fresh blood."
"Good." Spike was hungry; he had not eaten much in three days. The meals on 'Our Territory' were bloody enough to keep his blood lust at bay, but not enough to keep him in fighting condition. He sniffed the liquid; it did not smell like pig's blood. He took a sip. It was fresh, an unknown animal, probably killed in the last hour. Spike liked the were-wolf definition of 'fresh.' There was a tang. It would keep him fed. He might even grow to like the taste; a little basil wouldn't hurt the taste either.
"What happened to Buffy?"
Spike put down his cup on a near-by stump. He eyed the smooth, carved wood as it contrasted with the rough-hewn remains of the tree. He had been expecting the question and dreading it. He had hoped that the mutt would have asked his ex before they had left good, ol' SunnyHell.
Spike sighed. He hated thinking about this. "She was protecting the Key and someone had to die to stop Hell on Earth. It was starting. She's the Slayer. She died so that no one else would."
"I smelled Joyce's death. It happened in her house."
Spike offered a sad smile. "Completely natural. Brain aneurysm. Knocked the Slayer and the Bit for a loop." Oz realized that Spike mourned for Joyce as well.
Oz thought about his next question. "Why is Buffy . . . ?"
"Alive?" Spike spat out the word. "Her little friends couldn't leave her be. They buried her, ripped her out of Heaven and left her to dig her own way out of her grave."
Oz was stunned. He was sure that Spike's point of view was biased but Spike probably had hit the highlights. Buffy was traumatized and yet Oz had found her still patrolling. Where was Giles in this whole diabolical mess? He asked, "Giles?"
Spike shrugged. "He had gone to England when she died. He came back when she was back but jumped ship to help Buffy grow up."
"Grow up?" Oz echoed. Oz walked away flabbergasted.
What had Giles been thinking? What had the Scoobies been thinking? Had they all lost what common sense they had? Buffy had been in heaven. She was now on Earth and she was supposed to be the strong leader as before? She was supposed to jump back into life as if nothing happened? She was supposed to be the great Slayer that had saved the world again?
Oz was surprised that she had not suicided within days. Willow would have self-destructed had it happened to her. Oz might have, maybe. Xander would probably have worked through it, maybe. Buffy was suffering from severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It was painfully apparent to anyone who looked. Both Carter and Doc Fraiser had inquired on Buffy's mental health.
The Prophets, mainly Grij'er, had expected Buffy's battered emotional state. The two had taken the slight girl under their wing and spoiled her rotten. They had her on a schedule of mediation, sleep, food and play.
Buffy had looked so lost, standing on the field with dozens of children that first time. Even with a little sister, Buffy had not spent much time with younger kids. Before she had been Called, she had money and friends and never saw a reason to interact with younger people. After she had been Called, she had concentrated on staying alive. Only to find herself back from the dead and surrounded by excited and rambunctious kids.
After a few false starts, Buffy remembered how to work with kids. She was good with kids, as she had proven on that Halloween so long ago. The children had welcomed her with open arms. They had accepted her and loved her and never wanted anything more than another game. They wanted to be like her, as in super strong, a hero and a savior for the planet. They defended her from anyone who might be critical. Buffy had flourished in the adoration. She looked less haunted. She looked like she remembered why a Slayer was needed, so children could have a chance to grow up.
The children had accepted Spike as well. They saw nothing wrong with Spike or his relationship with Buffy. There was nothing to hide. They did not understand Buffy's shame. The shadows mingled with the light. The lines blurred more with each passing day. Spike was still a pain in the ass. No doubt about that, but he was less wrong for her now.
If one of the Prophets told Spike of something that would help the Chosen One, nothing could stop him. Spike had hunted the woods for flowers. He had played with the children just to spend time with Buffy. He had pounded on Master Lanc'eg's door at three in the morning to commission a bracelet. When a few of the Other Guards had harassed him for acting weak, he had beaten them to a pulp. His enjoyment of the violence had been visible to all.
The Other Guards quickly learned to respect the vampire and the slayer. The two had begun training the Guards and the Jagged Soldiers for war. The Furlings had won every battle against the Go'uald very easily up until this point. Now they learned that their skill and their victories and their great strength meant nothing. Buffy and Spike broke bones, egos, and weapons without a second thought. The mock battles had become a sort of 'adult' playtime. The Furlings had much to learn from the odd Tauri.
Once Oz gain control of his rolling emotions, he would go back and talk to Buffy and Spike about the Temple of Technology. The three of them needed to visit it soon. They had a war to plan.
What on Earth had Willow and the Scoobies been thinking?
Buffy stumbled again. Spike was at her side, but he knew better than to touch her at the moment. His cool skin would trigger a flashback. They were in the Temple of Technology. Oz had thought to visit it tomorrow, but Buffy had had another nightmare so Oz had rescheduled the trip for tonight. Buffy thought she was in a temple dedicated to war. Oz explained that there was technology that could be used during peacetime in every part of the temple but she, as the Slayer, could only see the technology used exclusively in battle. She definitely preferred the other temple but she was at home here too. This place calmed her like the training room once did.
Her fingers itched to touch the weapons she saw. There were swords and crossbows and scifi-looking lasers. She had admired the spaceships in the hangers and the maps on the walls. Oz led the way to the Command Center.
Buffy gasped when she saw who was waiting for them. It was E.T. and E.T.'s mirror image. Buffy and Spike were instantly in a fighting stance.
The first one nodded, oh so slowly. "Wolf Master Oz, I am Supreme Command Thor of the Asgard."
Oz nodded. "Jack O'Neill mentioned you."
Buffy relaxed a bit.
Thor blinked his eyes and tilted his head. "Colonel O'Neill is a loyal friend and ally."
Thor motioned to the Asgard beside him. "This is Freyre of the Asgard High Council. We wish to renew our alliance."
"The Others approve the alliance."
"We wish to offer what little help we can in the war against Anubis."
Oz was pleased. He almost smiled. "Do you have anything new on him?"
Thor pointed to the table. Instantly a holograph came to life, flashing bits of ship blueprints and planetary designations. There was a wealth of information in the ever changing view. "We can not offer much more. Our ships are otherwise occupied."
Oz was looking at the intel. "This'll do."
Thor nodded. "Farewell and we hope for victory."
Spike snorted. "We can't lose."
The two Asgard blinked at Spike and then disappeared in a flash of light.
Buffy smirked. "A talkative bunch aren't cha."
Grij'er was frustrated. So much he did not understand. Kinta'mi had tried to warn him, again and again, that he would write and not understand.
Like now, the words on the page mocked him.
A Love long denied will turn the tide of War.
The prophecy was so short. These words had not faded. They were for now, for this coming battle. But how could they be used if Grij'er could not understand them?
He would tell the Wolf Master and perhaps he could solve the riddle.
Oz turned to the apprentice prophet. The man had come to visit daily. Sometimes he brought news of Buffy's slow recovery, sometimes he told of setbacks. He had often threatened to kill Spike for his interference.
Oz understood Grij'er's frustration. "Yes, Grij'er?"
"I have a prophecy and I do not know how it concerns the present."
Oz raised an eyebrow.
Grij'er bowed slightly, opened the paper he had carried with him, and read, "A Love long denied will turn the tide of War."
Oz committed the words to memory. They meant nothing now, but maybe later. It definitely was not talking about Buffy and Spike. Buffy did not have enough emotion within her to love yet. So who loved and denied? He would think over the words until he had figured out a solution. "Thank-you, Grij'er."
Grij'er bowed and disappeared as quietly as the wind.
Grij'er grinned into the dark night. For once the Unending Beyond did not trouble his dreams, nor did uncertainties whisper in an odd meter.
Grij'er stood and reached for his prophecy book. He had started keeping the book by his sleeping pallet. He wrote the first line and then glared. His handwriting was sloppy. He had written the words much too fast. Kinta'mi would never approve. Grij'er set the quill down and stoked the fire for hot tea.
Once he had calmed sufficiently, Grij'er returned to his book, crossed out the line he had written and started again.
The Wolf Pack will assemble,
For now all members are known.
The assembled Wolf Pack will hunt,
For now the prey is found.
The hunting Wolf Pack will kill,
For now the weakness is seen.
The Wolf Pack will reign.
For not even Anubis can stand against an assembled, hunting, killing, and reigning Wolf Pack.
Grij'er grinned. The Hunt had begun.
Crud. The author looks around wildly. The end? That's the end? How on Earth or Khams had this part of the story ended without her knowing it was coming? The author rereads the last scene. Yup, that's the end. Now she has to write all those extra nifty ideas into part three.
Tibetan Translations as they appear in the story:
- Spyang Sku ngo: Wolf Master
- Khams: Our Territory
- ri bong: rabbit
- spyang: wolf
- khrug dpon khog: war worn
- sbyan bya: betrothal; literally: making the marriage contract
- Kun nas bzod pa ka ta pur 'dzag: Forgiving Moon
- bla spyang: life-giving wolf spirit