Jacob Carter felt the immediate bite of a Chicago Autumn, cool air frigid against his soaking clothes. The rough spun wool and leather only seemed to distribute the biting whip of afternoon air rather than mitigating it in any measurable way. His feet trembled in his boots as he stepped through the rip between worlds, following his guide into a dingy alleyway.
Elaine pulled the cloak from her shoulders, stashing it in a bright nylon backpack as she pulled a length of chain from inside it. She wrapped the chain around her arm, letting the excess hang loose. Its tip sizzled ominously and smelled vaguely of ozone. There was a look of caution in her eye, the carefully emotionless mask of readiness that Jacob knew could only mean that she was genuinely worried about her immediate safety.
Is this not a district of one of the most developed cities of the First World? Queried Selmak, the symbiote's voice more curious than worried. Odd that she is so troubled in its heart.
"Not exactly." Jacob thought back to his mental co-habitant. "Fuller Park is one of the worst neighborhoods in the city by almost every metric. I would be hesitant to drive through here, and we're on foot."
Are not the streets policed? Selmak replied in mild confusion. The symbiote's experience with the home world of Humans had been highly structured thus far, the military wasn't going to risk its alliance with the Tok'ra by putting Tok'ra representatives in undue danger.
So the locations chosen for the Tok'ra's visits were scrupulously screened, designed to not only provide the greatest degree of defensibility but to cast Earth in the most positive light possible. And while the Tok'ra could access all of Jacob's memories to learn of Earth's less admirable qualities, it had been Jacob's experience thus far that Selmak preferred to live things for himself.
Consequently, there were certain gaps in the Tok'ra's knowledge of some of the more nuanced specifics of life as a Tau'ri - the live and vibrant criminal culture of Chicago's inner cities for example. Jacob wasn't an expert in the subject by any measure, but he knew enough to realize that he was the wrong age, income bracket, profession and ethnicity to not irritate someone living here just by virtue of his very presence. He thought back to the symbiote, "Cops come here rarely if at all unless they're forced to be here. Certain elements of the locals tend to object to their presence. It interferes with business."
Business? Selmak queried internally, sorting through Jacob's memories before sighing disappointedly. Ah, drugs and prostitution. Charming.
"We're going to need to take a cab." Elaine chewed her lip in thought, pouting in a way that Jacob was entirely too old to find enticing - or so he assured himself firmly. "But we're at least four blocks from anywhere that a cab is going to stop for a fare."
"Can we call a cab?" Jacob suggested. "Get them to pick us up?"
"Be my guest." Elaine arched an eyebrow and pointed to the pay phone at the end of the alley. The heavy metal container of the telephone on the right had been pried open as though with a crowbar, its innards spilling down to the street from where someone ripped out the coin repository from it. The telephone on the right had not been successfully pried open, but had instead been smashed soundly - the cracked remains of what might once have been a telephone head set poking out from key pad. Someone clearly hadn't been thrilled about the news they'd gotten at some point. Both were riddled with small holes, presumably damage from a drive by shooting.
"Ah," Jacob swallowed. He did not want to stand on the street corner and risk drawing undue attention to himself, and "blood soaked balding man" had a way of drawing attention. "I suppose you have a better plan?"
Elaine shrugged, "We walk a couple blocks then I hail a cab."
"I said better plan." Jacob replied, not thrilled about a nighttime jaunt through inner city Chicago.
"Calm down gramps." The mousy haired woman giggled, following Jacobs line of thought. "Nobody's going to see us." She snapped her fingers and shimmered out of view, without even the blurry outline that Jacob would have associated with a cloaking device of Goa'uld make to hint at her presence. He couldn't even see her footprints on the ground any more.
Jacob whistled, long and low. "You're going to have to teach me that trick sometime."
"It would do you little good." Selmak interjected mentally. "The talent for using those abilities is genetic. Some Goa'uld have attempted to force the genetics of humans to allow for its use… the results are rarely pleasant."
"Can't blame a guy for trying." Jacob thought back to his Tok'ra companion. "That sort of thing would be damn useful."
"Power comes at a price." Selmak replied. "Always."
Elaine, unaware of his internal dialogue, extended her spellwork to extend the envelope of sorcery around the both of them. Jacob felt like the world took on a bluish tint through whatever it was that she was doing to make them both invisible. It was unnerving to see someone just casually manipulate the laws of physics with that much ease. He wasn't even entirely comfortable when Sammy managed to do that under a patina of physics and alien technology. To do it by just waving your hands? That was just freaky.
Jacob followed Elaine out of the alley and into the street. Walking through downtown Chicago while invisible was an experience in and of itself. One does not realize how much of walking through a crowd is an unwritten social contract not to run into each other till one is forced to circumnavigate a city street without anyone else able to see you. Fuller park wasn't exactly teeming with life as the day bled away into twilight, it was too dangerous, but even the minimal presence on the streets presented a surprising impediment to safe travel.
Jacob swore and just barely dodged a messenger bike tearing along the street, it's rider clearly eager to out of the neighborhood. He'd flipped a decidedly inappropriate gesture at the man's back before he realized the futility of flipping off someone who could neither see, nor apparently hear him. Elaine managed to only giggle a bit at his frustration, biting back the sarcastic jibe he just knew was at the tip of her tongue. The woman's soul had been awash with sarcastic wit that he was in no mood for at the moment.
O'Neill's inevitable cavalcade of Bewitched references was going to be bad enough once this was all over. Using witchcraft to safely navigate the streets Chicago was going to haunt him, he just knew it. Jacob turned at the keening whistle of a train, loaded with cargo and heading north past the park from which the neighborhood got its name. He could see a baseball diamond and some tennis courts, but they had a dinginess to them that felt incongruous to their manicured lawns. He could hear the distant sounds of shouting, but they were shouts of excitement rather than anything to be worried about. The dull thud of a basketball being dribbled and squeaking of shoes on wet stone hinting at a basketball game out of his field of view.
Several dogs took a degree of interest in Jacob and his companion to a degree that their owners found baffling in a way that had Jacob wondering how many times his own dogs had been barking at a concealed practitioner of magic rather than the nothing he had perceived it to be. When voiced to Elaine, the witch found that proposition greatly amusing. "You're not far off gramps. Dogs are smart. If it's not some big nasty that uses veils or illusions to hide themselves it's probably one of the little folk or something equally benign."
"Little folk?" Jacob queried.
"Fairies. The little kind. Sprites, brownies, really any of the wildfae too small to draw significant attention from the Winter or Summer courts. You've probably had them around you for most of your life." Elaine smiled, looking around her. "They're mostly benign, but they're still fairies and not to be trifled with."
Jacob thought back to the cruel little sprites that had taken such joy in the letting of blood when first he'd entered the world of the Furlings. Not to be trifled with indeed. "Is there anything that can be done to make sure they stay away from you?"
"There are things that you can do." Elaine considered the statement. "But I would advise against it. Warding against the little people is something that they'll notice, and probably take as a personal slight. They're probably not going to be able to do anything about it, but they'll know how to find someone who can."
"So just hope they're benevolent?" Jacob asked incredulously.
"Gramps, they're like an inch tall and they have a memory span of moments." Elaine chuckled. "They're not exactly a fighting force. Just treat them decent if you run into them and leave them be otherwise, they don't have much of a reason to involve themselves in the affairs of "the big people." Even vanilla mortals are like Godzilla level out of their class. They're mostly happy to go unnoticed."
"I still don't like it." Jacob replied. "It's a huge potential threat to be dealing with on a day to day basis and nobody knows about it."
"Says the man who apparently has a rebellious ancient god living in his head." Replied Elaine.
"The Tok'ra are not gods." Asserted Selmak angrily, taking over Jacob's vocal chords without bothering to go through the traditional head nod. Jacob wasn't overly surprised at the rudeness. Selmak was extremely nervous standing next to the Hok'tar – they had a reputation for seeming random and capricious solutions to the presence of a Goa'uld. It was part of why Selmak had been intentionally minimizing his presence, there was no benefit to drawing unnecessary attention to his inhuman nature.
"Sorry, the rebellious not god in his head." The mousy haired woman snorted. "I mean seriously, the fact that the US military is putting some sort of whatever you are into the heads of our military leaders to fight a war against the old gods on other planets kinda trumps 'Cobbs will secretly fix your shoes' on the 'people should be worrying about this' scale."
"Shoes?" Jacob asked, arching an eyebrow.
"It's a whole thing. You can occasionally hire the more specialized Fae to complete tasks but they're weird about it. You tell someone that they're doing it and they have to stop." She held up a finger to silence Jacob before he had a chance to reply. "And before you ask, no, I don't know why. That's just the rule for some reason. You negotiate some sort of payment in advance, you keep paying it at the rate you agreed, and they complete the task."
"You're telling me I could have hired cobbs back in Officer Candidate school to have my room prepped and inspection ready every time our instructor came to check on it?" Jacob briefly amused himself at the idea of a perpetually and impossibly clean room, as well as a perpetually befuddled Master Sergeant trying to determine how, exactly, the candidates were actually managing to meet his standards without apparently trying. "That would have been useful."
"Trust me, it's better to not owe things to fairies. Even the little ones." She shuddered, clearing thinking of her own entanglements with the Furlings.
"It would be wise to listen to this one's advice." Selmak agreed. "She is bound in chains of debt that I imagine we've scarcely even begun to understand."
As they crossed 47th street and started heading West, Jacob was struck with the distinct impression that he was being watched. He paused, holding out a hand to stop his companion as he looked over his shoulder. His sight, enhanced by the Tok'ra to see further than a human would normally have been able in the growing darkness, caught a shape rising from beneath the overpass to the East, something too big to be a man. "There's something coming from under the bridge."
Elaine's eye's bugged. "From under the bridge. You're certain of that?"
"Yep, and it's huge." Jacob tilted his head, trying to get a good look at it. There was a hazy aspect to it, as though the features beneath the thing's wide brimmed hat and long, leather jacket were being viewed through an unfocused lens. It tilted its head back, as though sniffing at the air, before turning its face down the street and looking directly at where Elaine and Jacob were standing. "Oh, no. I think it can smell us."
"Damn it." Elaine's voice hitched up a half octave as she sped up her pace, not quite running but getting as near as she seemed to dare without breaking her concentration on the spell enveloping the pair. "I was worried something like this would happen."
"What is it?" Jacob asked, matching the woman's speed and regretting his lack of weapons.
"A troll." The witch replied, cutting right and running across the street into a large parking lot full of shipping containers. "A creature of Winter."
"Trolls! Oh good, all we need is a goat and we're set to go." Jacob replied sarcastically as he followed Elaine, all too aware that the massive man's thunderous footsteps were charging after them at a break-neck pace.
"Christ I'd kill for a gruff right now." Elaine agreed, adrenaline seemingly having robbed her of the ability to register Jacob's jibe. "Jacob, that thing is actually casting a half decent illusion. Do you know how few Trolls have the brains required to actually do that? It's either very old or very capable – and if it's come to the mortal world then it's here to breed or to hunt mortals, and I'm not especially eager to find out which."
"So, what? Do we sprint till daylight?" Jacob snarled. "Because I don't know about you but I'm not going to be able to keep up this pace for another twelve hours."
"We just need to be able to get to an area populate enough that he can't attack without drawing attention." Elaine huffed as they ran through the stacks of cargo containers. "We're going to have to hop the fence, but there is a bottling plant south of West 49th street. There are armed guards and cops round the clock, he's not going to want to draw the attention of that man mortals."
"Why do you know so much about Chicago's geography?" Huffed Jacob, his age slowing him even with the aid of Tok'ra enhanced stamina.
"My boss has a thing about it for some reason." Elaine huffed, swearing in irritation. "I've got to drop the illusion. If I keep this up I'm not going to have an juice in the tank to slow him down."
"Hell." Jacob groaned, forcing his legs to move faster in spite of his fatigue as the roaring cry of the troll echoed through the containers. Apparently it had caught sight of the two of them as soon as Elaine had stopped hiding them.
"Just keep running, just keep – oh no!" Elaine dropped down, dragging Jacob to the pavement as a massive shape soared through the air, slicing past where Jacob's head had been only seconds ago. The seemingly impossibly large projectile flew past them, smashing down in a loud display of sparks and tearing metal.
The troll had tossed a shipping container at them, trapping them in the corridor of shipping containers with only one exit, directly past the troll. Elaine uncoiled the chain from her arm, snapping it like a whip. "This is bad. Stay behind me."
"Like hell." Jacob growled, ripping a long iron bar off the side of the crumpled container and spinning it like a club. "I'm a damn General. I'm not hiding from something that gets its ass kicked by goats."
"Christ gramps." Elaine sighed, "You're worse than my ex."
"I'm sure that I'm prettier too." Jacob replied, eliciting a snort from the witch.
"You might be at that, gramps." Elaine licked her lips nervously as the troll advanced.
It was huge, larger than it had even seemed when Jacob had first seen it. The magics it had been using to hide its form had apparently also served to mask its true size. It stood an easy fifteen feet tall, with hairy grey limbs protruding from a bulbous hairy body. Its huge belly stuck out, draping down over what Jacob presumed to be a loincloth. He wouldn't have called the material used for either the creature's loincloth or coat to be leather. Leather was cured and treated. The Troll seemed instead to have just skinned its still-bloody prey and sewn the bloody skins into clothing without bothering to let it dry. Consequently, they had a pungent odor to them, a rotting musk that was nearly as unpleasant to smell as the Troll's face was to look at.
Its nose was enormous, taking up easily half the creature's face, and what little of the face was not consumed by the broad proboscis was barely visible beneath thick hair. Beady little eyes stared hatefully beneath a thick brow ridge, accented by the white reflections of long jagged tusks. He had apparently flung the container one handed, given that his other hand held a long club.
On closer observation Jacob realized that it was, in fact, a tree that the troll had ripped up at the root. Though, given that it was half as thick as Jacob's torso, he had no doubt it would prove an effective weapon. It sniffed the air and smiled, exposing the rotting where tusk met gum. It spoke, its voice surprisingly midwestern for creature of Norse legend. "First I kill you. Then I have your woman. Then I maybe eat her too."
Elaine's face went a few shades whiter than her already pale completion as the troll's loincloth stirred, hinting at how terrifyingly male it was beneath the blood-soaked rotting garment. "Oh, to hell with that."
She swung the chain out, grinning as the troll held up his arm to block it. The thick iron chain wrapped around his wrist and began to smoke before she spoke a word and lighting arced down the length of it, making the troll's muscled body convulse in pain. The creature foamed at the mouth, its piggy little eyes bulging in hatred as he smashed down his club in her direction.
She yelped and jumped back, maintaining her hold on the chain. As she moved back the red hot links of chain tightened around the troll's arm, cutting into the creatures flesh with an ease that didn't seem possible. It ripped through flesh and bone, mauling the arm as she pulled away from him.
"It's the iron." Selmak assured Jacob. "It hurts Furlings in a way they cannot protect themselves from."
"Well then, I think it's time to give this man an object lesson in manners." Jacob grinned, taking advantage of the Troll's overswing to get in close with his makeshift club and bash the thing in the face. The creature howled as the iron rod struck its eye, swearing and spitting up purplish-black blood.
Jacob dodged another swing from the creature, but he was too slow prevent the creature's next swing. The tree struck Elaine hard, bouncing the diminutive woman off a shipping container with enough force that he actually heard the woman's arm pop out of its socket. Without consciously thinking what he was doing, he interposed himself between Elaine and the troll in the hopes that he might at least deflect the beast's next blow.
The creature's club rocketed down at Jacob's head with enough force to spit it open, then froze within an inch of his head. Jacob opened his eye tentatively, lowering his arm from the reflexive gesture of defense as he realized the troll seemed to be struggling against some impossible force. Its bloodied face was contorted into an expression of confusion as it did it's best to strike Jacob with the club. It swung at Jacob again and again, putting more and more effort into the swing each time, but no matter how hard it tried, it couldn't hit him. Not just didn't, it physically could not swing its weapon at Jacob.
Elaine pulled herself to her feet, her lamed arm hanging next to her. "Something you want to tell me Gramps?"
"I'm as lost as you are." Jacob replied, shifting to the left as the troll attempted to strike Elaine again only to find the attack barred by whatever force protected the General. "Trolls haven't come up much in my day do day life admin."
"Well don't stop now." Elaine smiled, looking out at the street. "Apparently Chicago's Finest have seen fit to notice us."
Jacob nearly whooped for joy as the blue and red lights of a squad car flashed from the street, a voice echoing over the loudspeaker declaring to "Stop, Chicago PD!"
The Troll, frustrated that his quarry had protection beyond what he'd been expecting and apparently unwilling to tussle with the cops, kneeled down on his stubby grey legs and propelled himself over the stack of cargo containers. His purple-black blood spattered across Jacob's already bloodstained tunic as the Troll flew off into the distance, howling and gibbering in fury of having been robbed of his prey.
"I've got to go gramps." Elaine winced, popping her own shoulder back into place with a wet squelch against the container. "I can't afford to end up in the system, not here. There are too many people that I can't afford noticing me. Good luck!"
"Wait!" Jacob turned to the woman as she vanished into thin air, leaving him alone in the wreckage of their battle with the troll. "You can't just leave!"
But Elaine seemed to have done very much that. It was as the uniformed officers approached him with weapons drawn that Jacob realized exactly how much blood was covering the front of his alien tunic and exactly how much damage had been inflicted on the shipping facility. He raised his hands to the sky, doing his best to look non-threatening as he asked the officers. "I don't suppose you'll believe me and let me go if I say that this is classified, will you?"
"Absolutely fucking not." Replied the closest officer as he pulled a set of cuffs from his bet.
"Worth a shot." Replied Jacob. "Can I have my phone call?"
The cop shook his head in exasperation. "Bro, you can figure that out with the spook squad once I pass you off to SI. I'm not going anywhere near the paperwork necessary to make whatever it is that I just saw keep me from losing my pension."