Jacob Carter's head hurt. It hurt a lot. It hurt badly enough that it took him a second to realize that he wasn't in Stargate Command any more. He was in a wooded thicket at the edge of a crystal clear river leading to a wide, deep pool of water that danced with shimmering multicolored motes of light. Bright specks of red, green, blue and all the colors between flitted across a shimmering pool of crystal clear water.
He vaguely recognized the foliage as coniferous, the landscape more in keeping with the northern extremes of Canada than the area surrounding NORAD. Selmak was curiously silent, his presence dull at the back of his mind as though the Tok'ra were in a deep slumber. That was troubling- if the Tok'ra were so engrossed in the act of healing Jacobs's body that he was not even able to direct an errant thought to his host, then something had been drastically injured when the creature tackled him.
"It" was a Furling. Jacob was certain of that much, though precisely what it being a Furling implied was not a matter that he entirely understood. Selmak seldom thought of them, and when he chose to it was with an ever present edge of anxiety. The Furlings apparently tolerated the Tok'ra because their very existence was part of a cruel prank inflicted upon the System Lords, but they were a galactic power - possibly even intergalactic - who'd been able to crush the System Lords at the height of their power. A fact that only became more terrifying in light of their macabre sense of humor, the Furlings were the unquestioned equals of the Gate Builders.
That alone troubled him. That the Furlings had a seemingly magical ability to travel between worlds at a whim troubled him far more - they had an ability to manipulate physical matter and energy fields that the Tok'ra were unable to understand, let alone match. They'd made some minor strides, of course. Their crystalline architecture served as a barrier and weapon against any would-be Furling aggressor. The crystal walls had curious properties, rendering the powers of Furling and Hok'tar near useless. The exclusive use of the Ring Transports as a point of entry allowed them to set up a constant scan for the natural camouflage of the Furlings. Any Furling attempting to sneak into a Tok'ra stronghold would quickly find themselves the victim of a Tok'ra staff blast in a space that naturally neutralized their otherworldly powers.
He paused his troubled musing, and took a moment to enjoy the brief privacy as Selmak tended to his wounds. He hadn't had much privacy since they'd merged. He'd shared moments that he'd never even considered when first agreeing to merge with the symbiote. He didn't regret the decision - not at all - but there were days he wished that pooping was not a group activity.
Jacob stood up and brushed the front of his Tok'ra uniform, uncomfortably aware of the fact that he was unarmed. There was something odd about how the lights grazed across the water. He could definitely hear the buzzing thrum of insect wings in the air, but they didn't move the way that he would have expected a firefly to move. They were rhythmic in their movements - if he didn't know any better, he could swear that they were dancing.
He edged closer to the lake, curious to get a better look. His eyebrows shot up in surprise when he realized that each mote contained a tiny person, with the vague outline of a naked humanoid visible in each mote of light. Stranger still, as he got within earshot of their tiny voices, it was apparent that they were singing in Gaelic. He couldn't understand a word of it, but he was desperate to hear them better - irrationally so.
Inch by inch his feet dragged him closer to the song, muttering a poor imitation of the intoxicating words. He wanted to say something that beautiful, to be part of the dancing fairy lights. Even as it occurred to him that this was strange, that he hated dancing, he felt the need to dance with the little people along that cool water. They were happy things, they sang and chirped as they stayed just out of his reach. He couldn't think of anything that seemed as happy and welcoming as the little people did.
He stepped into the pool and felt a cool rush of water in his boots, the thick leather of his shoes plodding through the thick clay beneath the pool. It was slow going though the muck, he had to struggle through the sodden earth to get closer to the lights. But as he got closer to the lights they seemed to twirl just out of reach, their voices echoing with miniscule laughter as they went. When their mocking felt almost too much to bear Jacob felt soft hands on his shoulders as a woman's voice caressed his ear.
"They will not dance with you brother, but I will." She spoke in a sultry whisper as fresh as a winter's morning. "Dance with me."
He turned to face the most beautiful woman he'd seen in years. She was as clearly not human as she was abundantly all woman. Shimmering dark-green hair festooned with pale blue and yellow flowers was tied into a thick braid down her back, contrasting to pale blue-green. Clad in only the illusion of clothing, the soaking-wet white cotton shirt only served to accentuate her womanly curves and dark-green areolas. She pressed her loveliness up to Jacob, hands wandering over his arms and chest.
She nibbled his earlobe whispering sweet nothings to him and his body reacted immediately. He wanted her in an immediate, primal and visceral way that he hadn't wanted a woman before. Jacob hadn't been with a woman, not in a long time. He hadn't met the right one and he had always been a picky man even when his choices had been few. His philosophy was better no woman at all than the wrong one. He kept rejecting women as too fat, too thin, too young, too old, too foolish or for any number of other perceived failings but right now all of the reasons he'd given himself for not wanting to explore that aspect of himself felt distant and foolish.
Here there was a willing woman and a lonely man.
Her lips met his and his body felt on fire, lust thrumming through his very core. He was a man, she was a woman and he would have her. He didn't feel old, he didn't feel lonely, he didn't feel regret - he just felt the woman wriggling beneath him.
It wasn't till the water had enveloped them both and his lungs were throbbing with pain than Jacob realized that he couldn't breathe. He fought to get his head above water but his body wasn't responding right - as much as he was trying to pull himself to the surface he couldn't bear to pull his lips away from hers. He was as certain pulling away from her would kill him as he was of the inevitability of suffocation.
Flecks of white danced across his vision as hypoxia began to set in, an irrational giddiness filling him as the inevitability of his demise hit him - matched only by the obvious elation in the woman's eyes as she watched his struggles through the crystalline water. Her elation turned to panic, however, as a familiar presence returned to the forefront of Jacob's mind and an altogether familiar sensation washed over him. The illusionary lust purged itself from his body as his muscles responded to the Tok'ra's will. His eyes were glowing pits of hatred as the symbiote wrapped Jacob's hands around the woman's throat, twisting hard to the left.
Selmak hated the woman. He hated her for what her people had done to his mother. He hated how the only reason for his birth was her guilt and shame. He hated that his purpose in life had been chosen for him before he'd even been born as part of some sort of cruel, cosmic joke. She and her kind were the reason that his existence was an eternity of fear and pain. She and her kind had created him to hunt his own blood - blood that he hated and refused to acknowledge, but blood of his blood regardless. These were the monsters who'd weaponized empathy and inflicted it upon the Tok'ra. Countless worlds, millions dead, thousands of friends, family, children and wives - all of them were dead, all were gone, all because the Furlings thought it was funny to start a civil war. Selmak and all the Tok'ra would spend their lives embroiled in an impossible, unwinnable war - because their death and suffering was funny.
Selmak wasn't laughing.
The furling died in astonished horror as the Tok'ra snapped her neck. She sunk down into the mire, still looking up at Jacob with a glassy-eyed expression of terror and betrayal. Crimson red blood seeped out from her torn flesh, staining the perfect clarity of the pool.
Selmak stood up, gasping in a sharp hiss of air as they broke the surface. The tiny, glowing men who'd felt inescapable only moments ago buzzed across the water's surface excitedly chittering in a gossipy little him, chirping in gleeful bloodlust. They cupped their hands to lap up the blood soaked water, glowing brighter with each sip. They were hateful, spiteful things. Jacob couldn't imagine why he'd found them so intoxicating only moments ago.
"I was not awake to mitigate their effects upon us. Once I repaired the damage to your spine, I was able to resolve their illusions." The Tok'ra replied sagely, the wrath that had subsumed his entire being apparently tucked back into whatever corner Selmak normally hid it in. "Their kind is not easily able to trick my own. Only the strongest among them can fool a Tok'ra."
"So what was 'it' … 'she'? Doing here?" Jacob plodded back to shore, trying to forget the woman's dead eyes. They wouldn't trouble him long. She wasn't the first person he'd killed, though she was the first who he'd killed with his own bare hands.
"That predator was guarding this entry to Furling territory." Selmak replied succinctly, an twinge of panic in his voice. "If we find another I will be able to mitigate the situation somewhat but I can only promise limited capacity inside of the Kingdoms of Sun and Snow."
"The thing that attacked us tossed us into the other side?" Jacob groaned, realizing the gravity of it slowly as he sifted through Selmak's memories. "You mean we can't get back - don't you?"
The Kingdoms of Sun and Snow were near impossible to reach. Opening a way between the planes of reality required either specialized tools or the genetic predisposition to be able to manipulate the barrier between the physical world and the pocket of reality that the Furlings occupied. Jacob had neither and Selmak's working knowledge of how to achieve a hole in the barrier was little better.
"Damn it." Jacob shivered as he reached the shore, the cool forest air piercing how wet clothing. "Why do that? Why not just kill us?"
"He likely wasn't allowed. NORAD has an insanely powerful threshold and wards, applied by someone who was clearly an expert in their craft. A Furling would not be able to enter if he intended to do any harm." Selmak considered the matter. "He would be able to defend himself but wouldn't be able to injure anyone who didn't try to do him bodily harm- at least not directly."
"But he's within his rights to just toss us to a freaking siren?" Jacob took off his boot to pour out the water inside.
"A nymph actually. But essentially yes. I suspect that in his mind this was a fair way of disabling us without 'harming' us." Selmak gave Jacob the mental impression of a shrug. "Stranding us in unforgiving wilderness is probably the best possible outcome of being at a Furling's mercy."
"That's insane." Jacob griped, pulling river weeds out from the front of his shirt. A frog leapt out, chirruping frustratedly at being manhandled. "Even if he wasn't 'allowed' who was there to witness it?"
"Furlings are physically unable to break their laws. They're more conceptual beings than we are - they are unable to break their law, violate a promise given, or speak anything that they themselves do not believe to be factually accurate." Selmak replied. "They're consequently some of the most duplicitous, hateful, and vile creatures to ever exist."
"Fantastic." The General sighed. "Why wouldn't they be."
"Given their utter hatred of the Goa'uld do you not believe that we would have allied ourselves with the Furlings if such an outcome were remotely plausible?" Selmak chuckled. "Only a madman would ally themselves with the Furlings or the Nox."
"The Nox?" Jacob queried, only vaguely familiar with the name of the race. "Another species from the lands of Sun and Snow?"
"No. The Nox are very much part of our Galaxy." Jacob felt an odd shiver up his spine as Selmak adjusted himself within Jacob's body - an evolutionary tick Jacob knew to be an extreme fear response. Selmak had reflexively released Jacob's spinal column in instinctual preparation to flee to another host.
"We're stranded in some godforsaken wilderness in another dimension and it's something that isn't even here that's giving you the willies?" Carter blinked, realizing that when he tried to access the memories relating to the Nox Selmak put up a barrier between them. He just got a hazy feeling of absolute dread. "Selmak?"
"Jacob… there are certain questions that you must never ask me. I do not block the memories from you because I do not trust you but because there are some things that no man should ever be forced to witness. I ask you to trust my judgement and my character, do not ask of the Nox." Selmak shivered again. "You do not want to see."
Jacob gulped. The last time he'd forced Selmak to share one of his 'worst' memories, he'd been granted visions of one of Moloch's great festivals. He'd watched women tossing their own screaming infant children into red-hot brass ovens, cheering as the mewling infants howled their last and the cavorting crowds were stained with the clouds of human ashes. Worshippers of rival gods were passed around the festival to sate the urges of Moloch's faithful, used and abused till the crowd tired of them and they too found their way into the ovens. He watched the hateful faces of Moloch's worshippers curved up into twisted smiles as they delighted in the way the roasting bodies danced - writhing on the hot coals as their flesh boiled away from the bone and added more grease to the fire.
As terrible as that had been, Selmak had not been terrified by it in the way the Nox terrified him. Jacob changed the subject as much to stop thinking about Moloch as anything else.
"What happened to Kanan and Ban?" Jacob put his still sodden boot back over his foot. "Are they getting drowned in some other pool?"
Selmak paused for a moment to consider it before continuing out loud. "No. We were just collateral damage. The Furling had to have been there for Kanan. There isn't another reason I can think of for it to have been lurking in that specific room."
"I don't understand. How would it have known where to find him? Even he seemed surprised to have ended up at the SGC." Jacob shivered in the cool air of dull twilight. "It shouldn't have been possible to pass security without being noticed."
"It didn't if you recall - l noticed it." Selmak replied in a dry sarcastic tone. The bitter feeling broadcasting from the Tok'ra was a mix of frustration and fear - Selmak wasn't sure what to do next.
Jacob probably should have found that terrifying but it was honestly refreshing to be on even footing with the Tok'ra for once. Selmak had lived a dozen lifetimes before Jacob had even been born. It gave the symbiote great knowledge to draw from, but could often leave the Tok'ra with a feeling of absolute seniority in all things.
It was foolish really, but Jacob was often irritated at just how young Selmak felt he was. Not because Jacob believed his short life was equivalent to Selmak's innumerable experiences but because he was used to being the voice of wisdom in any exchange. He'd been a General - the man who thousands of Airmen considered the supreme authority at his command. And he was barely an infant to the mind sharing his body.
He knew Egeria hadn't shared any more than the bare minimum required for the Tok'ra to accomplish their mission of destroying the Goa'uld. Though she had, by all accounts, been knowledgeable in the forbidden machines and sciences of the ancient Goa'uld Empire, the Tok'ra didn't even know where her Throne world had been hidden after she started their war with Ra. Nor did they know how it still remained undiscovered.
"So what do we do now?" Jacob bit his lip, shivering only slightly. Selmak was suppressing the worst of the cold. He'd probably have suffered some minor frostbite without a symbiote, but as it stood the weather was only mildly irritating. "Staying put doesn't feel like a great idea."
"I agree, but moving is likely no less perilous. The physical geography of the Lands of Sun and Snow is inconstant. We know there is a path back to Stargate Command where we are. We know nothing of the lands surrounding us - certainly not if there is another point of entry for Earth, let alone the SGC." Selmak replied. "If we depart this place before discovering a way to open the barrier, we risk never being able to return."
Jacob flinched as a distant keening howl of something in the near distance growled, a half dozen closer hunting cries echoing after it. He looked back to the pool, once crystaline now seemingly boiling with dark red blood. "Selmak, something tells me that we're not going to live long enough to make that mistake if we stay."
Selmak didn't disagree as Jacob took off running through the thick underbrush, his attention apparently focused - as Jacob's was - on the dozens of angry howls echoing through the forest. Something hungry was on the hunt, and neither Jacob nor Selmak was going to make themselves easy prey for it.