Michail was hunting dragons through the ruins when one of the structures, a circle covered in vines and faint markings, began to glow the faint blue of magic. He flattened himself against a tree that was growing through a stone table and stretched out his senses. Inside the circle, magic swirled, bursting out before settling in a raging blue pool. If Michail unfocused his eyes and looked at it sideways he could see images of unfamiliar people and places, the pictures shifting like the changeable wind of Lyndale Cove. His father had died in that place, his magic nothing in the face of that wind. Michail's heart was pounding in pulse to the magic of the circle and he felt faint.
Before he could run – he would rather return without a dragon than meddle in the ancient magics – his unfocused eyes spotted four figures coming into sharp focus before blurring again in a rush of magic. He blinked his eyes to clear them. The four were standing in front of the circle, and the pool of magic was gone. They were dressed as warriors. Three of them were surveying the forest with an alertness that had Michail thankful he was well concealed while their fourth, who was obviously a wizard, was using small magics to scan the area. Michail was impressed by the amulet the wizard held in his hand. Only the best of wizards could create them.
"Oh, no. No," said the wizard.
"What is it McKay?" asked one of the warriors. He had pale skin, ruffled black hair, and stood in the same way the commander of the garrison near Michail's home stood.
"There's something out there," said the tallest of the warriors. Michail could sense the magic in the man's weapon from here and wished he had something like it to hunt dragons.
"Friendly natives something or trying to kill us something?" asked the leader.
The tall warrior shrugged. "Don't know."
"Well, it had better be option A," said the wizard McKay, "because we can't dial out." He had moved over to examine the round, stone memorial standing off to the side of the magic circle. It was very close to where Michail was hiding.
"What do you mean? We couldn't have dialed in if the gate was damaged."
The wizard shot his leader a frustrated look, even as his hands scrambled to pull vines off of the stone memorial. He paused to point at the stone circle. "Do you see those vines growing on the gate? Do you see the way they're growing around the gate?"
"Get to the point, Rodney," said the leader.
"The point, Colonel, is that those vines are still there and not lying severed on the ground from the wormhole that should have destroyed them. And there's no power in the DHD or anywhere near here though I'm still sensing faint surges further out…" He trailed off, fingers flying across his amulet. Michail had once seen a master seamstress who wove spells into the tiny stitches of her goods with a casual skill that reminded him of this wizard. "We shouldn't have been able to dial the gate in the first place. The MALP didn't show it, but the gate is damaged. And where is the MALP?"
"Colonel," called the female warrior. Michail jerked a little. He had forgotten about her, and it never did to forget a woman or so his fiancée always told him. She was out of his sight, but if he leant back a little he could see around the edge of the tree he was hiding behind. Colonel and the woman warrior were looking at his dragon bait. It was a rock, made of a special mineral found deep within the earth called dragon's gold. It would shine for days once you put a little magic into it, and dragons couldn't resist coming to look. Michail's uncle said the dragons would line their nests with the stuff if they could.
Colonel nudged it with his weapon, then reached out to touch. It flared blue as Colonel poured magic into it. Michail blinked. Colonel must be untrained. Any child knew that if you put in too much the mineral would melt or explode.
"What did you do?" shouted McKay, and Michail relaxed knowing the wizard would stop his friend from blowing up the forest. Colonel pulled his hand away from the dragon's gold, looking guilty. "Do I have to make you wear gloves?" asked McKay, but he was busy with his amulet again. "It's radiating power. There's a decay rate but it's negligible."
"What is it?" asked Colonel.
"It's a crystalline structure mineral with energy storage capacities and neutrino interaction capabilities."
"So, it's like naqahdah and the ZPM crystals mated?" asked Colonel.
McKay snorted. "Even though that's impossible."
And then Michail was reaching for his blasting rod, as the dragon rose chameleon like behind the strangers. This one was larger than usual for a forest dragon, its wings brushing the edges of the lowest trees. Its eyes glowed blue with magic as it rose up on its hind legs, and roared with a force that sent the entire area rumbling.
The strangers yelled. Colonel pulled down McKay, while the other two warriors aimed their weapons and fired. The woman's strange weapon made a lot of noise and was joined a second later by Colonel's, but whatever they were firing wasn't spelled and wouldn't pierce through a dragon's hide. The taller warrior had better luck. His magic weapon worked much like a blasting rod only instead of piercing the hide, it melted it away in great circular chunks. By that point, Michail was behind them, waiting patiently for his moment all the while regretting the damage the stranger was doing to the dragon's hide.
A few moments later and his chance came. The dragon reared back to roar again and he shot it in the mouth. It dropped, crushing the ruin he'd placed the dragon's gold on, and sending the clearing shaking for a final time. There were other vulnerable places on a dragon, but the mouth was best if you didn't want to damage the hide. Of course, the strangers had already ruined that for him.
He bowed in greeting when they turned their weapons on him. He had enough of a sense of them by now to think they wouldn't kill him, but he was still wary. Their wizard had brought them here through ancient magics, even if he seemed to be having trouble finding a spell to send them back. "I am Michail of Tertel."
After a glance from Colonel, the woman stepped forward. "I am Teyla Emmagan of Athos. This is Colonel John Sheppard, Doctor Rodney McKay, and Ronon Dex. We are explorers and traders."
That wasn't good. "The dragon is mine." Even if it would have taken a lot longer for the dragon to appear without Colonel charging the bait so high.
"We don't want it," snapped McKay. "If we'd wanted to play D&D we'd have stayed home."
"Are they good eating?" asked Ronon, lowering his gun.
Michail nodded. "Yes, and the magic preserves the meat for months, though it's the hides that are valuable," he confessed as he walked over to look at his prize. Most of Ronon's shots had hit its chest which was the second best place after the belly in terms of hide toughness and size. He grimaced. He had hoped to make enough on this hunt so he could buy a cart, but it wasn't going to happen if half the hide was in pieces.
"Our apologies for ruining your hunt," said Teyla.
He waved her off, deciding to be magnanimous. "I have never seen a magical weapon that melts a dragon's hide. You didn't know… Unless you have dragons where you come from?" It didn't fit the images he'd seen in the magical circle, but it never hurt to ask.
"Only in myths," said Colonel.
Michail nodded. He nudged the dragon's neck to one side so he could pick up the dragon's gold. He was careful not to feed it any more magic.
"Speaking of mythical things, what do you call that?" asked McKay, gesturing at the stone.
"It's dragon's gold. You can charge it with magic then use it to lure dragons. It's used in weapons and horse trappings and many other things though wizards have to be careful not to channel too much magic around them or it explodes or melts. This one is close." He carefully wrapped it in a spell woven cloth he kept for just such a purpose, hoping it would block enough of the stone's power so they didn't have to tangle with any more dragons on the way home.
"There's no such thing as magic," said McKay.
Michail laughed. "Says the wizard."
"I'm not a wizard. I'm an astrophysicist and a genius, and while it's true that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. This–" he gestured at the ruins, "is not advanced enough!" He continued to rant about why it was not magical while pointing to various magical sigils etched on the ruins.
"Could we not offend the dragon hunter, McKay?" muttered Colonel.
Michail was not so much annoyed as confused and worried for the wizard's health. "Is he always like this, Colonel?" he asked.
"Uh, yeah, though almost being eaten by a dragon does make him cranky. You can call me John. Are you a professional dragon hunter?" There was respect in the other man's voice, and the sort of excitement about dragon hunting he was more accustomed to seeing in school boys.
"Yes, though not for much longer. Only un-wed men may hunt dragons."
"Congratulations on your engagement," said Teyla. Ronon was examining the dragon's carcass while McKay had gotten distracted by some of the sigils.
"Can we help you with your dragon?" asked John.
"No need. I have a ketchua bag." He pulled it out of one of his pouches. It was looking threadbare but he refused to be embarrassed. "Let me put it away and I will take you to Tertel."
They stared at him in confusion. "That's my hometown," he explained. He began the rather arduous task of stuffing the dragon's head into the bag, but he knew from experience that once you got past the neck, the body would practically pull itself in.
"What the hell? I turn my back for one second and he's breaking the laws of physics." McKay showed up at Michail's side while he was feeding the tail in. "Explain to me how you fit a dragon inside a bag that's not much larger than Teyla." He held up one finger. "And don't say 'magic'."
"It's bigger on the inside than the outside," said Ronon, and Michail nodded in agreement, grateful to be spared trying to explain without upsetting the wizard.
McKay turned his glare on Ronon. "You are never watching Doctor Who again." He turned back to Michail. "And I suppose they're woven of unicorn hair?"
"Giant's hair, I think, but you may ask in Tertel. We have quite a few wizards for such a small town. I've never studied more magic than I learnt in school so I'm not much help."
McKay refused to believe. He asked several more pointed questions before subsiding into a huffy silence. Michail eyed the other man warily. It was never wise to anger a wizard, but then John leant in. "Don't worry. He won't curse you. Underneath the hostile exterior and rampant egomania there beats a heart of tarnished gold."
Somehow, Michail wasn't surprised when Teyla kicked her leader in the shins.
He lost track of them after his initial introductions at The Jumping Fey in town. Anybody important in the town would be in that pub and he felt they were in good hands while he went to see to his dragon. The ketchua bag would hold a dragon, but it couldn't preserve it. The dragon meat didn't rot but its organs would so the quicker he butchered it the better.
It was dark when he finished and bathed. He was tired and considered going to bed, but hunger and curiosity drove him back to the pub. John and Ronon were surrounded by a crowd telling a story about vampires or some similar creature. The entire pub was listening except for Rodney, who had fallen asleep at one of the tables. Teyla was at his side and he took the seat opposite them after ordering his food.
"Is McKay all right?" he asked. The local brew wasn't that strong.
Teyla smiled fondly at her sleeping friend. "He is exhausted from arguing with the other wizards. He would not believe them about magic until he did it himself, but I think it was too much. You are welcome to his drink. He has not touched it."
Michail took it. "Thank you."
"John told them about your dragon killing. The men here say you are the best dragon hunter in the past sixty years."
"Don't we all," said Teyla and this time her smile was for John who was gesturing to show them the size of some sort of bug. "Perhaps you could answer a question of mine?" asked Teyla, drawing back his attention.
"Did you see us come through the gate?"
"The circle? Yes."
"Was there any magic in the area at the time besides the gate?"
Michail thought it over. "There is ancient magic in the ruins, you can feel it sometimes. Besides that there was myself, the dragon's gold and maybe the dragon if it was close enough."
"The dragons are magic?"
"Of course. Didn't you see the way its eyes glow?"
Teyla shook her head. "No. I do not have that ability."
"Oh," said Michail, busying himself with the bread and pot roast he'd been served with to hide his embarassment. "There are always a few born who can't do magic. It can be hard." And now her soft smile was for him. Were he not engaged… He stifled the idea with the thought of how beautiful Nisha, his fiancée, looked in a temper, and turned on the bench so he could catch the tail end of John's story about being trapped in an enchanted land.
The next morning, he was busy treating the dragon hide when McKay and John walked into the shed.
"All right," said McKay, managing to look hung-over despite not having drunk anything the night before. "I'll admit magic exists so long as you admit you live in an alternate universe where the Ancients were magicians instead of scientists."
Michail stared helplessly at the other man. Surely McKay was a great wizard, since he made the cryptic statements of the town wizards seem as transparent as spring water. Luckily, John was mouthing 'okay' behind McKay's back, while doing the hand gesture that meant you wanted three bolts of cloth for some reason.
"Okay," said Michail, and some of the tension left Rodney's shoulders.
"Right. Teyla tells me it was just you and the dragons at the gate yesterday so I need to look at the dragon's gold. I tried to find another piece to examine but yours is the only one in this town that isn't attached to someone's ornamental armour." He sounded personally offended by the fact.
"You may borrow it if you want if you promise not to destroy it."
McKay looked uncomfortable.
"What if we wanted to buy it off of you?" asked John.
Michail winced. This was why he was retiring to become a simple cart driver rather than the trader Nisha had been imagining. He hated bargaining with people he liked. "I would need another dragon. I was going to sell it before the wedding, but I cannot afford the wedding and a new cart." Dragon's gold was expensive, but it was still a high price.
And yet John was grinning. "Great. Ronon and I will go hunt down a dragon while you stay here and study magic, Rodney."
"Have you forgotten you need the rock to lure the dragon's in?" asked McKay.
John shrugged. "I'm sure Ronon can find one." He turned to Michail. "Mind if we borrow your bag?"
Michail handed it over, having realized that the reason the other man travelled with McKay was because it made John seem sane. "The dragon's weak spots which leave the hide intact are the mouth and wing joints. And if you see a unicorn, run."
They watched John leave. "I'll bet he's having visions of mounting its head on a puddlejumper," said McKay. "Show me the rock." Michail went to retrieve it, not minding when Rodney sat down at one of the rough tables he had against the wall. They settled into a mutual working pattern so that when lunch time came it was only natural to feed McKay as well. His dragon shish kabob had the other man drooling, and somehow McKay improved the magic in the barrel Michail used to soften the hide, all the while muttering about how even magic had to obey rules.
Teyla came by later and coerced Rodney into another meal. She nodded and smiled even when McKay began sketching out arcane figures which he called 'equations' on the table. Michail was lighting the second lamp so Rodney could see, since he had finished hours earlier due to the wizard's improvements, when McKay sat up straight, then turned to point at him.
"You! You're part of it too. That's what I'm missing."
"What were you doing when the gate dialled?" McKay crowded closer, and Michail took a step back even though the other man was a head shorter than him.
"Hunting the dragon?"
"Not before. When the event horizon, no, the magical portal formed, what did you do?"
"I looked inside," Michail said slowly, beginning to grasp what McKay was looking for. "There were people and places and creatures I'd never seen before. There were ships carrying the undead, and acres of farmland, and empty cities, and a city on an ocean." His eyes were shut as he tried to recall all the images. "And then the four of you appeared."
"Yes, yes. You have magical powers. I get it. Did you feel, I don't know, nauseous? Weak? Sick?"
"I felt weak, but it passed."
"Right." McKay was lost in thought, and wandered back to the bench in a daze which was only broken when Teyla wandered in an hour later.
"How are you, Rodney?" she asked.
All the energy flooded back into McKay's body. "Not that it was ever in doubt, but I can get us back."
"Good. The Colonel and Ronon have returned. They are at The Jumping Fey. Shall we join them?" Her invitation included Michail.
They got to the pub just in time to see wizard Belus healing a long gash along John's back. "You weren't kidding about the unicorns," said John. He nodded at Ronon and the other man tossed him the ketchua bag.
"You got mauled by unicorns?" asked Rodney. "They're going to be reading our mission report out-loud in the mess for months, you know."
"Well, maybe we could agree to leave out the unicorn mauling?" John sounded hopeful.
McKay cackled. "Oh no, I want to see the look on Elizabeth's face, and I am not going to be blamed when you mutate into some unicorn/human hybrid."
"Well, at least I was hunting a dragon when it happened," said John. "Did you figure it out?"
"Of course. We can leave in the morning."
"I will come with you," offered Michail. "It's a difficult place to find when you're unfamiliar with the forest."
"Your company would be welcome," said Teyla, and the matter was settled.
The next morning, Michail presented McKay with four carefully wrapped dragon steaks for them to eat when they returned home, which resulted in McKay shaking his hand and then spending the entire walk debating out loud the merits of various animals as foods compared with dragon.
When they reached the ruins, Rodney bounced around with nervous bossiness. He positioned John on one side of the gate and Michail next to him, telling them not to remove their hands from the circle on pain of death. Teyla held the dragon's gold while Ronon was ordered to keep watch for dragons and unicorns. Rodney took up position in front of the stone memorial.
"Okay," McKay took a deep breath. "No matter how stupid it sounds, everyone think of home. I don't care if you have magic or not, just do it."
"Home, McKay?" asked John.
"Atlantis," said Rodney, his face flushing. He reached out and touched the dragon's gold sending it flaring up to a level that was just below the exploding point, then began pushing sections of the pedestal in front of him, but nothing happened.
"I think you're going to have to take your own advice," said John.
McKay glared. "Contrary to what you might think, I'm not a magician." But he closed his eyes and placed his hand back on the memorial.
"Dammit John, I'm a doctor not a wizard," muttered John.
And then the memorial stone began to glow with magic. Rodney opened his eyes, and the blue tint of the magic made the wizard's eyes intensely bright. Sigils shone on the pedestal and began to shine on the gate.
"Send them home," thought Michail, adding his magic to the ancient stone. Rodney finished the first part of the spell and rushed to the other side of the circle, slamming his hand against it like a child playing tag. Teyla and Ronon crowded close while the dragon's gold dimmed to a light blue that washed out even further as the portal formed. There was the same weak feeling from before rushing through Michail.
"Atlantis, this is Sheppard."
Michail could look through the pool and see a dark-haired woman in a red shirt, face shinning with hope. "We're here, John. The question is where are you? M7L-348 didn't show any signs of you arriving. We found the MALP and nothing but jungle."
"Alternate universe," snapped McKay, "and we're powering the gate with our minds here, so could we get a move on?"
The woman looked surprised. "The shield is down."
"Everyone step through together in case the power cuts out," ordered McKay. John nodded his thanks to Michail, and then they stepped through. For a moment, Michail could see them in a grand room, filled with light and spells. His view changed to a city glowing blue with magic, and then the portal disappeared.