by Avalon (email@example.com)
fanfic at http://members.dencity.com/avalon_online
PG-13, S/J, Part 1/8
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: To Linda Campbell, for all the research and Beta reading, and for insisting that I would write a Stargate story. Ha! Jedi mind tricks don't work on me! Er...okay, I guess they do. :)
DISCLAIMER: SG1 isn't mine, and neither is the Stargate. It's probably just as well. After all, where would I put it? Oh, and the Ammita aren't mine either. The ancient Egyptians invented them. I just...embellished.
THE MANY SHADES OF NIGHT I
"Lest Darkness Come"
"It appears the sun is going down."
Carter look over her shoulder. Teal'c was right. The orange star had dipped low on the horizon, turning the sky scarlet and casting long shadows across the alien city. She shivered slightly and turned back to the others.
"All right kids. Time to go." Jack O'Neill was crossing the deserted plaza to where Daniel was still poring over the inscriptions he had found earlier. The archaeologist did not move, even when O'Neill poked him in the shoulder.
"Just a minute," Daniel said absently, waving his hand slightly as if the Colonel were an annoying insect.
O'Neill poked him again, more insistently. "You can come back and play tomorrow. I'm sure your wall will still be here."
By this time though, Carter had stopped listening, her gaze shifting away from the two men, back toward the city ruins. She shifted her weight a little, her fingers tightening unconsciously around her weapon.
She had been edgy ever since they had arrived on PJ2-838. The faint disquiet she had felt when they had first come through the Stargate had only increased as they entered the deserted city. They had met no one on their journey and seen no sign of the city's former occupants. The only sounds had been those they made themselves. No birds soared overhead and no animals scavenged in the empty streets. Nevertheless, Carter had never felt that they were entirely...alone. She hadn't been able to shake the feeling that there was someone -- or something -- just behind her, moving so that it was always at her back. It was as if something malevolent were hiding in the shadows, holding its breath. Waiting for one of them to fall behind...
The ruins themselves were a strange combination of Mayan and Sumerian architectures, according to Daniel, mixed in with a little H.R. Giger and a whole lot of Escher. And --there was something about the vaguely runic symbols carved into the sides of the buildings, and especially on the walls of the plaza, that seemed familiar to Carter. She couldn't remember where or when she had seen them before, but she knew she had. Somewhere. It was driving her crazy.
None of the team had said much since their arrival. Only Daniel, who had practically gone into raptures when they had discovered this plaza and its inscriptions, seemed able to ignore the planet's oppressive atmosphere. He had been crawling over the rubble and muttering to himself for several hours now.
Normally the team would have fanned out further, leaving Daniel alone with his notebook. At the very least, two of them would have headed out to explore more of the city, while the third stayed behind with the archaeologist. But they hadn't. After a brief argument about the importance of Daniel's find, the Colonel had given in and agreed to stay a while. Without discussing it, almost without thinking about it, the others had taken up defensive positions. Teal'c had moved as far up a set of crumbled stairs as he could, standing motionless against the pale sky, while Carter and O'Neill had stationed themselves at opposite ends of the plaza, their backs to one another, staring out across the ruins.
Carter's chosen viewpoint looked down on a lower level of the city, carved into the side of the sandy hills. More of the half-crumbled brown buildings stretched out before her, almost as far as the eye could see. Faint hints of blues and golds had glinted in the sunlight before disappearing in the gathering twilight, and a long stream of something silver still shone faintly. A waterway perhaps? Beyond, more levels led ever downward until the city spilled out onto a flat plain. In the distance small trees and other vegetation could be seen.
Despite its desolation, this place had a quiet beauty, Carter decided. Beneath the jumble of decay and ruin there was a pattern to the streets and alien structures, and a sense of...purpose. Connection. Meaning. This place had meant something once. People had lived and worked here, built their homes and lives here. So what had happened? Where did they all go? And why had they left? The wind moaned quietly above them and Carter shuddered.
A faint sound made her glance back. Teal'c was moving down from his perch while Daniel was blindly stuffing notes and tools back into his pouch with one hand, his eyes still locked on the wall and its runes. The Colonel was prowling restlessly around the edges of the plaza. Time to go.
Carter turned and walked carefully over the uneven ground toward the others. As she did, something made her glance up, in time to see the expression on Daniel's face change. She came to a halt, her heartbeat inexplicably speeding up. Something was wrong.
"Um...hang on..." Daniel was saying.
"For crying out loud..." O'Neill moved toward the other man. "Daniel - pack it up. Now."
Daniel was wearing the same distracted, worried look he always got when he discovered something unpleasant and Carter tensed even more, alarm clawing at the base of her spine. And...there was something else, something that was hovering just on the edge of her senses. A sound? Or perhaps a smell. Something she couldn't consciously identify, but which was strong enough to send every primitive instinct she had into a frenzy. She held her breath, fighting the impulse to flee.
"Uh...guys? I think I know what happened to the inhabitants of the city..."
"Great." O'Neill shot him a look. "You can tell us on the way..."
The archaeologist ignored the interruption. "It says that many of them were killed, by...they called them the Ammita -- 'Demons of the Night'. Creatures that feared the sunlight and dwelt in the places where the sun sets. I think they were..."
Carter was no longer listening. It was a sound, she realized now. Dried leaves rustling together. Bones snapping. A thousand sibilant voices, whispering in the wind. Mocking her.
And growing louder.
She looked back at the rest of the team. Couldn't they hear it? There! Something was moving, a shadow dancing on the edges of her vision. But when she turned her head, it was gone. Or...were those eyes looking back at her, gleaming a dull red in the darkness?
She was already in motion, bolting back towards the others before she had made a conscious decision to move, the sound of her racing heartbeat mingling with the hissing and crackling in her ears.
"We have to leave. Now!" She skidded to a halt beside a startled O'Neill and resisted the impulse to grab his sleeve and forcibly pull him into motion. Instead she spun around again, her gun aimed, peering out through the gathering darkness. Automatically the Colonel, Teal'c, and Daniel reached for their weapons and fell into a tight cluster around her.
"What?" O'Neill shot her a quick, questioning look, then twisted around to scan their surroundings.
"Can't you hear that?"
"Hear what?" Daniel asked.
Carter shook her head, trying to force the sounds away. "I..." She broke off. There was no time to explain, and no words to explain with. Instead, she shot an anguished look at O'Neill. "We have to get out of here, Sir. Fast."
He stared at her for a brief moment, then nodded. "All right," he said decisively to the others. "You heard the Major. Let's go." Not hesitating this time, they turned as one and headed for the exit at a steady run while behind them, the last faint rays of the sun vanished altogether behind the distant hills.
* * *
They had maybe fifteen minutes of lingering light, Carter decided, trying to juggle things like the planet's orbit, atmospherics, and their current latitude in her mind as she jogged with the others through the darkening streets. On Earth, at certain times of the year, she might have expected up to an hour of reflected light after sunset. But here, they didn't have half that much. Perhaps not even a quarter. Breathing deeply, she increased her pace, noting that the others were doing likewise.
They hadn't questioned her. Not once. Evidently they had all decided that explanations could wait until they were safely back on Earth. She hoped she would have one to give them. Actually, she just hoped they would make it back to Earth. The whispering in her mind hadn't ceased. If anything, it had grown louder while around them the shadows seemed to boil with something even darker. Many somethings. If she paused to look closely she knew she would see a thousand dull red eyes, staring back at her, moving ever nearer.
She didn't pause.
They reached the open field outside the partially destroyed city walls in considerably less time than it had taken to find their way in. Ahead, the Stargate was barely visible in the rapidly fading light but its DHD was a scant thirty feet away. Daniel sprinted ahead and began dialling rapidly, his hands flying over the symbols. Teal'c had moved up beside him, his fingers poised over his GDO, ready to send the signal back to Earth to open the iris. O'Neill hung back a little with Carter, both of them facing the way they had come, covering the others.
Carter heard but did not see the Stargate open, and felt the slight tremor in the ground and changes in atmospheric pressure as the wormhole stabilized. A quick glance showed her that Daniel and Teal'c were already in motion, racing over the final fifty feet or so that separated them from the Gate. O'Neill met her eyes. "Go!" he said, nodding toward the Gate.
Time seemed to slow down to a crawl. Carter saw Daniel vanish through the event horizon. Teal'c was close behind, turning back to look at them as he ran. O'Neill had gained a few feet on her and was slightly ahead but the Gate was nearer now. They were all going to make it. Relief surged through her...
...and the night erupted. Darkness came raging out of the shadows and poured over the field. Things -- creatures or demons perhaps -- raced toward them, each on many legs, razor claws shimmering in the moonless night and multiple red eyes the colour of old blood reflecting the first faint light of the stars. There were more than she could count, more than she could imagine...a nightmare given form.
"Go!" O'Neill was waving at Teal'c as he ran, urging him through the Stargate. Nevertheless, the Jaffa paused on the threshold and raised his staff.
They could still make it, Carter thought. They could reach the Stargate before the creatures reached them. They would. She stretched her legs even farther, her lungs burning and heart pounding, everything within her focused on the Gate. And escape.
When it happened, Carter had no warning. The rustling noise in her head had risen to a scream and she could hear nothing beyond it. She could see little in the darkness which had fully descended on the planet and no instinct made her turn her head at the last moment. Something unseen came out of the shadows -- for all she knew it rose up through the ground itself -- and slammed into her. There was a distant sensation of something slicing through her flak jacket and across her back; the crushing impact on her right side as she fell; then the horrible moment when the body knows that it has been injured but the pain has not yet had time to reach the brain. She inhaled...and the agony hit her.
It was nothing compared to the fear though. One of those -- things -- materialized before her, darker than the darkness around it. She had a vague impression of many limbs, a body hunched over like an insect's but which still towered above her, and a face full of fangs. Then it was raising a single limb, a barbed claw glinting dimly in the night, and she was swallowing a scream, her hands automatically raising her gun and firing up at the monster before her.
It had an effect, but just barely. The creature rocked back on two of its legs and hissed like a snake. She switched her weapon to sustained fire mode and held the trigger down. As she did, she could hear more gunfire coming from behind her, and the distant sound of shouting. After an endless moment, the creature staggered backward into the night and screamed. The sound echoed through her head and was taken up by a thousand more voices, until nothing existed for her but the sound.
Get up. You have to get up.
Carter didn't know if the words came from someone else or if it was her own sense of self-preservation screaming at her to move. Get up. She tried, but nothing happened. It was as if the pain had shut her body down completely. Even her lungs seemed to have stopped working. "From when I fell," she thought hazily. Already her vision was beginning to blur from lack of oxygen and she sensed, rather than saw, movement in front of her. She struggled to lift her weapon again, and failed.
"I'm going to die," Carter thought distantly, and wondered why she no longer felt any fear. Before her, the shadow in the darkness moved closer.
TO BE CONTINUED