Ba'al pulled the blade from his shoulder with a snarl of pain and frustration, discarding the steel blade upon the floor of the transport ship. His yellow shirt turned crimson as the blood seeped forth from the wound. It would have been enough to kill a human without the healing powers of a Goa'uld, even without the poison he was entirely certain that the Minoan goddess of serpents coated her blades with. It was a mostly symbolic gesture given that the Goa'uld were virtually immune to all poisons or diseases, but it would likely have dispatched any human who displeased the goddess.

The pain in his shoulder was subordinate to the satisfaction at the memory of what he'd done to the one who caused his injury. He'd not been gentle when he'd ejected the goddess from the transport ship, and the Jaffa loyal to Apophis had been close enough to capture the wounded goddess. Assuming that the Jaffa did not dispatch her on the spot, she would be brought back to their master for re-education. She would be tortured and resurrected until she was willing to swear the necessary oaths of loyalty to serve in Apophis' newly reforming pantheon.

His transport rumbled suspiciously, its aging engine hissing a complaint at the speeds he was requiring it to reach. He was pushing the limits of what was physically possible for a Goa'uld transport ship, having made some minor modifications to the crystal configuration in the ship's engines. It would likely never be space-worthy again after this flight but given that he'd forced three hundred percent of the normal operating power out of it, the sacrifice felt worth it.

He leaned back in the pilot's chair, focusing on knitting together his host's flesh as he watched the curved display of the ship's tactical readout. The glowing red triangle was still gaining speed at an alarming rate, fast enough that Ba'al wasn't entirely convinced that it wasn't going to be able to overtake him. He cursed his luck. Of course Qetesh would be able to secure an Al'kesh while he languished in an unarmed transport, the slippery bitch always seemed to be able to talk her way into our out of whatever she needed.

He had no evidence to support his assertion that he ship following him was, in fact Qetesh's vessel, but he just knew that it had to be her. There had been precious few of his old powers that survived the terms of surrender to the Furlings, but Ba'al retained a preternatural sensitivity when it came to immediate danger to his person. His instinctual reactions to a given threat seemed able to guide him from danger, often allowing him to enact countermeasures to threats he hadn't even realized were even possible at the time he'd enacted them. Ba'al trusted his instincts and right now his instincts were telling him that Qetesh was on that Al'kesh, hungering for his blood.

"Damn Heka to the pits of Netu. Damn him to the blackest scraps of the Empty Night." Ba'al swore, lamenting the lack of a cloaking device on his vessel. Why hadn't that shameful excuse for a god just stayed on his planet and remained in shameful exile? How did he dare to socialize with the rest of the pantheon as though he weren't the architect of their ultimate demise? Thoth's confidant and longest friend had no place among the civilized members of society.

Heka had made Ba'al's skin crawl even in the times of Apep. He was hungry for power in a way that unnerved him, fond of violence that seemed entirely unnecessary for one to rule. Ba'al held no special love for the chattel but it was rather difficult to rule the dead. well it was for most. Heka hadn't ever been particularly limited in that regard. Thoth may have discovered the Sarcophagus and its powers, but Heka had turned the science into a twisted and macabre form of art.

If Ba'al was honest, there was a certain degree of envy in his hatred of Heka. The man held sway over forces of nature even before the ritual of necromantic ascension and his abilities had only grown in the times that followed. But Ba'al had focused his efforts on learning skills that would benefit his holdings rather than the esoteric and violent interests of Heka, control of the weather and rain to ensure fertile crops in inhospitable places. Belief was the greatest resource a god could have, and greater populations meant a more potent supply of belief.

Or rather it had been the most potent resource a god could have, before Heka enforced the cruelest terms imaginable upon his own people. Ba'al could still feel the whispering taste of belief just beyond his reach, the well of power close enough to taste as it was whisked away from him. He could sip at but the meagerest drabs of true power, serving as little more than painful reminder of when he had once been able to command the forces of the universe. Once he had been able to command the heavens, now he was just a footnote in the religious texts of gods more powerful than he.

He ran a finger over the bloody patch of flesh, examining the scabbed over skin. It was going to leave a scar, one large enough that he doubted that the sarcophagus would be able to remove it entirely. It was unsightly, but not enough for him to discard his host body. Not when his host was effectively his only remaining conduit to the life he had once led. His face was the face that had defied the god of the Israelites for centuries, this body the body which had once broken lesser gods and demons. In truth, it was no more or less potent a host than any other - the terms of surrender having robbed it of most of the magical potential it once held - but he retained a fondness for it that he hadn't yet overcome.

Ba'al chewed his lip, watching the Al'kesh draw closer and closer to his transport - matching heading and bearing. There was no possible way for Ba'al to reach his holdings in time and any attempt to land his ship on a planet would just open him up to the Al'kesh's guns. He couldn't hope to outmaneuver it or outgun it, so he'd have to out-think it. And while his former powers had diminished, his mind was quite entirely intact.

He changed the direction of his transport and was gratified to see the Al'kesh struggling to made the course correction. Their craft would plow past the transport moving in a straight line, but it was bulky and didn't corner well. It would increase their pursuit of him by seconds. Seconds he desperately needed. Ba'al activated his long range communicator and sent off a wide-band transmission to his intended destination. It meant that his pursuers would be able to intercept the communication, but he needed to be certain that it reached the intended recipients.

He typed the words that he was certain would save him from Qetesh's fury, knowing full well that it meant he was going to be in debt to a Pantheon he neither knew much about nor held any particular love for his deeds. He was loath to subordinate himself but given the option between subordination and death, he would choose the former. Even if it meant he was subordinating himself to someone he couldn't hope to match in power, it was the better option in the long run.

A minute passed, then two, then three before the ship's computer chimed, letting him know that his message had been received. By minute five he was actually perspiring in discomfort watching the Al'kesh accelerate. It would only be a few more minutes before he crossed over the border, he would be able to avoid Qetesh for that long, but if they didn't extend him an offer of safe passage prior to encroaching on the space held by a rival pantheon he'd have greater threats than Qetesh to worry about. A Ha'tak could destroy both spacecraft even without a supporting fleet - and there would be a supporting fleet.

His heart nearly skipped a beat in relief when he received a reply, offering safe passage in exchange for the price he offered. Blood of Apep but it would cost him dearly. He steeled himself for what came next, slowing his ship and deactivating the hyperspace window to re-enter real space. The red triangle of Qetesh's Al'kesh was upon him in an instant, popping out of hyperspace and looming over Ba'al's unarmed spacecraft.

Any intended violence was immediately forestalled as Ba'al's plan came to fruition and a fleet of Lord Yu's forces came to impose their territorial boundaries. Faced with twelve Ha'tak, Qetesh had no choice but to turn and flee the superior firepower. Ba'al's grin stretched across his exhausted face, enjoying the imagined sound of the goddess' petulant fury at once again having been bested by her betters.

He hobbled over to the ring transporter, his leg responding slower than it ought to have done. Odd, he didn't even remember having hurt his knee. It's funny the things one misses in the heat of combat. His leg managed not to collapse under him as he reached the rings, allowing him to stand upright as a column of light materialized in his ship - revealing a tall Jaffa of Asian origins.

The Jaffa was apparently unarmed, his clothing marking him as a courtier of the Pantheon of Lord Yu rather than a soldier. The Pantheons of Yu were unusual, even by the standards of the Goa'uld, employing a complex system of bureaucracy and aristocracy to ensure an orderly procession of Yu's Kingdom. This Jaffa, if one could even call him that given how little the man would actually be involved in the practice of fighting a war, was a bureaucrat bred for the purpose interacting with the Goa'uld on behalf of his master.

The Jaffa bowed to Lord Ba'al, pressing his hands together in a way that made his long, hanging sleeves seem to envelop the top half of his body so that only is tall hat poked over the bright green silk. He waited there, bowed low, for Ba'al to address him. Well, Ba'al couldn't fault the Jaffa for his manners - the creature did know how to address his betters. "You may rise."

"This one thanks you for your indulgence Lord Ba'al. The great and powerful Yu welcomes you to his realms and bids you safe passage." Replied the Jaffa. "This one is known as Chancelor Win, and is proud to see to your needs."

"Lord Yu is here? In person?" Ba'al hadn't expected the ancient System Lord to stray so far from his places of power. The enigmatic System Lord was one of the few Goa'uld to be allowed to retain his mantle, but only within the confines of his capitol world. If he were ever to depart it, the ravages of time and age would affect his mind as much as it did any other Goa'uld who'd been a victim of Heka's treachery.

"It is my great lament to inform you that the most magnificent Lord Yu is unable greet you in person. I am currently in the service of the Queen Consort Xiwangmu. It is she who has command of this fleet." Chancelor Win spread his hands, raising his arms and continuing to keep his head bowed in apparent deference to the Goa'uld System Lord before him. There was an edge of pride to the Jaffa's scrupulous deference that Ba'al did not care for – a sensation that the Jaffa's actions were born out of formality rather than any genuine respect for the System Lord before him. "Shall I transport you to Ulan-Tze aboard the flagship of this fleet or do you prefer to continue in this… vessel?"

The implied insult against his transport was anything but subtle. Ba'al bristled at the apparent insolence of it but could find no actual cause to seek retribution on the bureaucrat, not when he was relying upon Yu's forces to ferry him to safety. "I will accept your offer of safe passage. This ship is… unlikely to survive further exertion."

"Of course, my Lord Ba'al." The Jaffa smiled. "If you would be so kind as to step into the rings."

Transportation to the flagship took only seconds, the dingy and smoke filled transport ship quickly vanishing to be replaced with the interior of a Ha'tak warship. Xiwangmu's flagship was atypical of a Goa'uld vessel, having opted for the use of jade, rather than gold in the construction of the ship's defenses. The Pantheon of Yu had never been overly open in their dealings with the rest of the Goa'uld, deferring to Ra's authority but otherwise having chosen to keep to themselves and their own dealings without particular interest in the other bloodlines. Even at the height of the Goa'uld Empire, when Lord Yu's power might well have encompassed that of Ra or Apophis if he'd cared to exercise it, the Goa'uld Lord hadn't demonstrated any overt aspirations for greater power than what he already held – a trend that he'd retained even after the Heka's "peace" with the Furlings had been imposed upon the Pantheons.

It was something of an oddity in Ba'al's mind given how little of Lord Yu's power had been taken away. Those few gods who'd been allowed to retain a semblance of their former powers had just retreated to obscurity – with the notable exception of Ra, who's powers seemed to have been largely allowed so that he could continue to enforce the terms of surrender. Yu, if properly motivated, could have easily made a play to become the new Supreme System Lord. He had not done so, choosing instead to wage limited wars and only conquer those Goa'uld who could not be disabused of their aspirations to take Lord Yu's territory.

Ba'al's teeth clenched in pain as he placed his hand against the carved Jade depictions of birds in flight and the sweeping countryside of Yu's domain, detecting the powerful magics flowing through the Jade with even his own emaciated talent. Lord Yu's fleet still retained powerful protections against spiritual and magical incursions aboard his vessels. More than that, the Jade Emperor's magics were recent. He pulled his hand away from the jade, unaccountably worried that the spells might strike out against him in spite of knowing that no System Lord would ward his ship against the Goa'uld.

He followed the Jaffa through the opulent interior of the ship, walking through room after room of painted wood and potted plants placed with scrupulous attention to how they would affect the flow of ambient energies through the ship. Jaffa and humans went about their business as they passed, single mindedly focusing themselves upon their tasks. Ba'al wasn't even entirely sure what they were doing. Rows of men knelt on wooden reed mats, going over ledgers with obsessive interest as women walked among them, serving tea and sweet-smelling cakes.

Jaffa warriors stood protectively around them, but gave the impression of being guardians rather than enforcers. If Ba'al's admittedly limited knowledge of Yu's bureaucratic rankings was accurate, he was reasonably certain that the garments worn by the humans actually marked them as being higher status than their Jaffa watchers. A curious habit, allowing humans to believe themselves superior to the Jaffa. Ba'al would have thought any human allowed that degree of autonomy would have rebelled against their betters long ago, but he couldn't claim to have an Empire as powerful as that of Lord Yu either. His own territories had been shrinking as of late, resulting in the indignity of supplicating himself to the late Lord Sokar.

The bridge of the Flagship was more conventional, a tall throne made of Jade and petrified wood sat atop a plinth in front of several raised pedestals that controlled the functions of the ship. The Jaffa bureaucrat made no move for the seat, nor did he offer it to Lord Ba'al. It was neither his to use nor to offer, and Ba'al understood it as such. For either one of them to even acknowledge it would have been an insult to Xiwangmu's authority and an impropriety as a guest of another Goa'uld pantheon. That did not stop Ba'al from examining the throne thoroughly and finding it wanting for nothing. It managed to display the opulence of Xiwangmu's resources without managing to be either gaudy or, unless he misjudged the cushions, uncomfortable. Xiwangmu wanted those in her court to know how wealthy she was, but not at the cost of her own comfort. A sensible decision that remarkably few Goa'uld chose to make.

But the Matron of Yu's court had a reputation for sensibility, at least in most things. Her utter and irrational loyalty to her husband, Lord Yu, was a matter for which she had historically displayed a most un-Goa'uld like inflexibility. She had been Lord Yu's consort since before the fall of Apep, and thought she was reportedly no longer able to bear him children, she held a jealous love for the Jade Emperor and a an entirely Goa'uld like spitefulness for anyone who dared to endager his health and happiness. Ba'al's continued survival would hinge greatly upon not offending Xiwangmu's sense of propriety. Hopefully she would not be too angry with him having sided with Marduk against her Lord in the early years after Thoth's Folly before it became clear what was really going on.

Win addressed his second in command in hushed tones, speaking to the other Jaffa in a language that was not one with which Ba'al was familiar. Their conversation was lively, but not overly anxious. Ba'al suspected that it wasn't intended as an insult against him, reputedly only the highest-ranking bureaucrats of Yu's pantheon received an education in the Goa'uld tongue. Yu had not required his people to learn the language nor had he prohibited them reading and writing – yet another choice that Ba'al felt was too risky to allow for any but the most trusted of servants.

Having finished his discussion with the other Jaffa, Win returned to wait on Ba'al. "My apologies for the interruption, Lord Ba'al. I needed to delegate command of the fleet to another vessel so that this one can transport you to my Lady. Our mission must continue."

"And what mission would that be?" Ba'al asked, fully expecting to be provided a half-truth by the Jaffa.

To his surprise, the Jaffa didn't even bother to prevaricate. "We have been dispatched to find Nekheb."

Ba'al raised an eyebrow at that. "I'm reasonably certain that your star charts should be sufficient in resolving that."

"No my Lord, I fear that this one has been inadequate in conveying meaning. We are aware of where Nekheb once was. We have been dispatched to discover where it has gone." Win shook his head in sad frustration. "It is a most puzzling affair."

"The system of Nekheb is missing?" Ba'al replied in incredulity. "Heka cloaked a system?"

"No. It is not hidden. It is gone." Win replied. "Unoccupied. The space where once it stood lies empty. No rubble, no debris, no light, nothing. It is gone."

"You can't disappear a star system." Ba'al's face curled as though he'd bitten into a particularly pungent lemon. "Nekheb is gargantuan. The main planet alone is twice the size of Delmak. There are moons, planets, a damn star. Even if you destroyed it there should be debris."

"And yet there is nothing my Lord." Replied Win. "This one confesses that it is most irregular. It is beyond this one's ability to explain and yet it is without question irrefutable fact that the entire system of Nekheb no longer exists. Therefore, this one has been sent to find how such a thing might come to be, and consequently how such a thing might come to be prevented. This one would gladly seek any insight that one as great as you could shed in the matter, Lord Ba'al."

Ba'al's blood ran cold at the implication. Someone had developed a method of disappearing an entire star system. A weapon? A method of concealment beyond anything seen since before Thoth's Folly? There were few possibilities for what might have happened that didn't bode ill for the future, save the one glimmering ray of hope that Heka might have died in whatever fate befell his systems. One did have to look for the positive things in life, after all. Ba'al considered re-directing the question and implying greater knowledge than he actually had, but it was probably best to err on the side of honest while a guest. "I am unaware of how such a feat might be accomplished."

"This one regrets having placed you in a position of being unable to answer this one's question. No offense was intended." Win bowed his head, seemingly sincere in his apology. It was, after all, rude to ask a question for which ones guest might be made to look ignorant. The insult was minor however, and the boon of having been granted knowledge of Nekheb's disappearance was more than sufficient compensation for the slight.

The trip to Ulan-Tze was a remarkably pleasant one. Win, a trained courtier, was a more than acceptable host. Ba'al having lost his Jaffa escorts and human servants on Delmak was waited on by human's in Win's employ who were, even by his own exacting standards, entirely adequate in seeing to his needs. He wasn't overly fond of the garments provided to him by Win, they were crafted in the styles favored by Yu's pantheon, but they were opulent enough to satisfy Ba'al's needs and clearly had been crafted for him specifically. The elaborate interwoven silk shirt bore a dancing ram riding a thunder cloud, which while not his preferred style of tight leather, was an entirely serviceable display of his crest.

He even found himself actively enjoying the company of the Jaffa bureaucrat. Win was invested in the propriety of seeing to Ba'al's needs even if he held no special love for the System Lord, and had been active in making sure that Ba'al was entertained in transit. The flagship employed a number of amenities that Ba'al would not have considered necessary on a warship, not the least of which were philosophers and poets. The room of men scribbling into books he had seen when first he'd arrived transpired to be great thinkers and speakers, men who'd been given the duty of transcribing their complex thought to papers so that they might present their works entertain Lady Xiwangmu. He had watched several plays dealing with the complexities of a famous family of human nobility for Ulan-Tze whose collective greed eventually resulted in their downfall for having betrayed the Lady Xiwangmu. He found their imitation of the family's eventual punishment to be especially gratifying.

By the time they actually reached the world of UIan-Tze he was almost disappointed to have to leave. Win hadn't even tried to assassinate him nor had there been any apparent efforts at assassination requiring Wins men to intercede. As times in the control of a rival went, it was remarkably uneventful.

His first impression of the world of Ulan-Tze was that of a paradise. The city of Kweilin's sweeping oriental architecture wrapped up and around the steep cliffs of a great spire of white stone topped with a bright red palace, giving the distinct impression that it was one giant structure rather than the metropolis of millions he knew it to be. The ring platform Win transported them to was at the edge of the metropolis rather than in the palace itself. Ba'al knew that this was a conscious choice on the part of the bureaucrat, a way of simultaneously displaying the sheer scope of Kweilin City and reminding Ba'al that however important the System Lord might be external to Xiwangmu's realm, he was not the most important person here.

Win was not entirely without propriety though. When they arrived a phalanx of Jaffa warriors were waiting for them with a litter for Ba'al to ride in. He would never admit it, but he was actually somewhat glad to have to make the trip. Kweilin was actually impressive enough of a city to merit taking the time to be carried through it. The streets of Kweilin actually went through the heart of the mountain, great caverns having been bored through the stone pillar to connect the rising levels of the city. It didn't even seem possible for the huge structures to hang off the high precipices and steep angles of the mountain, but entire fortresses and apartments had been built seemingly in defiance of gravity.

Ba'al was actually a bit sick at the sight of the cliff's edge. If he ever actually attempted to invade this planet, he'd have to remember to just bombard the city from orbit. Trying to mount a ground assault on Kweilin would be a nightmare, his Jaffa would have a hard-enough time just walking the streets without falling off the side of the mountain. The roads were barely wide enough for three men to stand abreast. No, better to bombard it from orbit and be done with it, he mused as he marveled at the resplendent beauty of the city around him.

When they reached the palace atop the spire Ba'al was once again impressed. The doors to Xiwangmu's fortress seemed to have been cut from two massive slabs of jade and carved into an elaborate depiction of some great battle from Lord Yu's conquests. Slaves must have labored on it for generations to make a carving that detailed. Ba'al was going to need to figure out something similarly impressive for his own fortress, his own decorations felt woefully spartan by comparison.

The doors swung open and his litter was carried past two formations of Jaffa in the formal uniforms of Imperial Guard of the Jade Emperor. Easily two hundred Jaffa stood on either side of the road, at attention and unmoving. His litter was carried as far as the foot of a tall staircase, then placed upon the ground. Win offered Ba'al his hand, helping the System Lord to his feet as he gave a few last-minute warnings on protocol. "This one has taken you as far as he may. This one does not have the right to travel any deeper into the palace. This one warns you, Lord Ba'al, that no one may stand taller than the Queen Mother of the West save the Jade Emperor. It would be viewed as a grave insult. Such things are not done."

Ba'al nodded, remembering Lord Yu's obsession for protocol. "I wish you well Win, may you have safe travels in solving your Mistress' riddle."

"We all have our place in the world, my Lord. Mine is to serve my Lady." Win bowed deeply, waiting for Ba'al to depart.

The System Lord dismissed the Jaffa, walking up the long staircase and into the palace. He passed through several antechambers worth of bureaucrats, couriers, courtiers, courtesans, and noblemen before finally reaching the throne room. He was unsurprised to find the space lined with yet more Jaffa in the armor of the Imperial Guard. Win's warning not to be higher than the Queen Mother was going to be easier to abide than the Jaffa might have implied. For though the Queen Mother herself was a waif of a woman, her throne had been elevated taller than even an Unas might stand comfortably. The Queen Mother's host was not old precisely, but she was more matronly than one might have expected. There were lines around her eyes and a whisper of grey about her hair that would have been enough for most Goa'uld to seek out a new host. Then again, she, like Ba'al, had been alive before the terms of peace.

"Come closer." She commanded, her voice sultry and stern. "I would see you Lord Ba'al."

"Lady Xiwangmu. I thank you for your indulgence, and your offer of safe passage." Ba'al replied, kneeling before the Goa'uld lady. "These are trying times and the old traditions are not upheld by all."

"I find that the old traditions are aided by some of the new ones." Lady Xiwangmu replied. "For example, while I am willing to offer you safe passage in exchange for the amount of Naquadah you promised, I am not willing to permit your departure until payment has been received in full."

"Is not my word sufficient, Lady Xiwangmu?" Ba'al smiled, pleased at the familiar exchange of mistrust, if she had accepted his offer without demanding something to that affect he would have known that she intended to kill him, laws of hospitality be damned.

"I find that one's word is as reliable as one's options." The Lady replied. "And I have been without company for too long, Lord Ba'al. You would not deprive an old Lady of entertainment so soon after arriving. We have not even had tea yet. I would be a poor host to invite you into my home and not even share a meal."

"I welcome your hospitality, but I will require the opportunity to communicate with my forces to get you what you desire." Ba'al replied.

"As I expected." The Lady Xiwangmu snapped her fingers twice and a servant appeared, seemingly popping out of the shadows from nowhere, and handed a long-range communication device to Ba'al. "This will be sufficient for you to send a transmission through the stargate once it has been activated, but we will have tea first."

"If you insist." Ba'al replied, having consigned himself to the obsessive ritual of drinking tea while aboard Win's Ha'tak. It was not an altogether unpleasant cultural requirement.

Before the Lady Xiwangmu could summon her tea service, however, a young boy in a red-robe scurried into the room and dropped to the floor before the Goa'uld Queen, supplicating himself in total silence. The Queen of the West addressed the boy curtly, clearly furious at having been interrupted. "Why have you interrupted your queen, insolent boy – you are not so young as to avoid the punishment for such an insult. Why have you risked flogging for such impudence?"

"Forgiveness mistress but the head of the guard dispatched me to warn you. We have received a messenger." Replied the boy, his face still pressed against the tile as he replied.

"We have received a System Lord foolish child." The Queen snarled. "A messenger can wait until their turn."

"It is a messenger from the Furlings, my Queen." The boy spoke in fearful reverence.

Ba'al's blood ran cold. The Furlings had not bothered to send a messenger in centuries, not to anyone. For one to arrive here, now, was an ill omen of things to come. His eyes met those of the Queen of the West and the two of them nodded to each other, needing no words to convey the severity of what this meant. Xiwangmu gestured next to her throne and Ba'al moved to the spot she indicated, facing the entrance he'd just come through. It served neither of them for Ba'al to be in a position of supplication when the Furling messenger arrived.

"I would receive him, provided that he agrees to abide by the laws of hospitality." Pronounced the Queen. The boy scurried away in an instant, never looking up from the floor. She hissed from between her teeth, though her master had been one of those least affected, she held no more love for the Furlings than Ba'al.

The Furling messenger trotted into the room, a goat-legged creature with the torso of a man and a shaggy face with curling ram-horns. He wore a simple linen tunic marked with golden oak leaves and carried a pan-pipe in one hand. His giddy expression couldn't help but feel caustically insulting.

He made a deep bow, given that his knees didn't quite bend the right way to kneel, and addressed the Queen of the West with his braying neigh of a voice. "I have come to bid you good tidings Queen Xiwangmu, and pass thee a message from Mine Queen and Mine Queen's sister."

"And what message would that be?" Queried Xiwangmu, her tone clipped and commanding.

"The courts of Winter and Summer have made a formal declaration of War on the God Chronos in alliance with the Lord Warden Dre'su'den, he who was Heka, heir of Sokar, God-King of Nekheb and ally of Fairy." Replied the furling. "Those who would wish to avoid our conflict need only cut ties with the traitor god Chronos."

The furling might as well have punched Ba'al in the face. Heka, the scourge of Djer's Lament, had allied himself with both courts of Sun and Snow – publicly. To even chose to interact with them was unthinkable, to ally one's self with them unforgivable, for Heka it ought to have been impossible. But the one redeeming quality of the Furlings was their utter inability to speak that which was not true.

"Is that all?" Xiwangmu replied, her voice scrupulously absent of interest.

"No." Replied the Furling. "Due to the circumstances of Nekheb's King, the terms of your people's surrender will not be applied to him."

Ba'al blanched. What could Heka have possibly offered the Queens of Sun and Snow? His stomach churned as a thought hit him. Perhaps a power great enough to move a solar system? He had interpreted Heka's self-imposed exile as an act of self-preservation given his unpopularity with everyone other than Ra himself, but what if it had been something different? Blood of Apep, Heka had effectively been unmonitored for two millennia, what devilry had he concocted in that time?

"He is free of the terms?" Xiwangmu replied, a hit of some emotion Ba'al could not quite place in her tone. "Entirely?"

"Entirely." Replied the Furling. "The Queens of Winter and Summer shall not impose the terms upon him."

"And for those of us who are not participants in your war?" Queried the Queen.

"You many continue as you have done so since the terms were set." Replied the Furling. "The bargain remains. But know this, there are many who strayed from the terms, many more who seek to stray. The Queens do not forget what they are owed."

"I will not be threatened in my own home, Furling." The Queen's eyes flashed in fury.

"I do not threaten. I have no need to. It is fact." Replied the Furling. "But I have given my message, dost thou wish to reply to the Queens of Summer and Winter?"

"Yes, I would." Queen Xiwangmu nodded curtly. "Tell them that the Jade Kingdom abides by its word, but does not bow to threats. If the Queens wish to re-negotiate our terms I will not do so with a subordinate. I am the Queen Mother of the West, not some human cow to be frightened by a man with hooves and horns. I have no love for Chronos or whatever Heka has chosen to rename himself. The Jade Kingdom has no need of your war."

"Yes Queen Xiwangmu. I will convey your message." Replied the furling before it raised its fingers and snapped them, vanishing in a puff of smoke and fur.

The Queen Mother of the West glared at the spot where once the Furling had stood before addressing Lord Ba'al directly. "Lord Ba'al. I hope you will not be offended if I request that we delay our tea until after you have send the message requesting that Naquadah. I suddenly find myself desiring an ampler supply. My Jaffa will see to activating the Stargate as you do so."

"Of course." Replied Ba'al as he activated the long-range communications device, the sheer magnitude of what had just happened playing through his mind. "I understand entirely."

The shape of galaxy had just changed, and the Furlings were marching to war. Blood of Apep, what had Heka done?