FEAST OF THE SAMHAIN
Colonel John Sheppard and the Garou known to him only as Ar'kahl moved with astonishing ease through Sin'ai's great arena for but a moment before someone finally sounded the alarm. John winced when the first bells sounded, ringing claxons piercing the night. They jarred at his ears and shook him to the very core as the sirens wailed and chimed with flashing lights. The very air within his lungs trembled and quaked from the force of the cacophony resounding upon the stone corridors and walls about him.
'So much for the element of surprise.'
John shook his head in chagrin and pressed onward. It was only a matter of time, really, before someone discovered that the Garou had flown the coup or the grizzly remains of the butchered guards left in their wake. If anything, he knew to thank whatever god held him close that their luck had persisted for that long.
A trio of guards rounded the nearest corner and blinked in shock at the sight of the escaped slaves. John flinched inwardly; they looked appallingly like men under his own command on Atlantis. However, he knew better than to spare them. The colonel reared back with his baton and brought it down with a terrible force upon the crown of the guard nearest to him. The guard crumpled beneath the blow, struck down easily.
At his side, Ar'kahl drew out long talons and slashed through the bellies of the other two with little effort. Those razor sharp things cleaved through the flesh with a sickening cleanliness, splitting both abdomens. Viscera spilled forth, splattered upon the floor. It was easy to forget the Garou's animal nature until faced with such unassailable evidence to the fact.
John's stomach nearly turned at the sickly, sticky mess slopping out of the two for the briefest of breaths before his opponent clambered to one knee, staggering to recompose himself. Before the guard could do anything more, Sheppard instinctively whipped back with his cudgel and smashed the thing into the young man's head, just before his temple with deadly accuracy. The guard fell beneath the blow, unconscious now, unlike the mass of ruined meat piled before Ar'kahl's feet.
Onward they went, with hardly a second thought. A distant part of Sheppard's mind marked the numbers and faces of the dead – an old habit – mindful of the men gone by his hand. He had never forgotten any man, woman, or child dead by his cause. Despite his outward cheer, Sheppard, like many soldiers before him, carried the weight of his actions with every day of his life. He knew the worth of his own kills, the scores of individuals spared by the deaths of others, but that did not make it any easier.
Ar'kahl paused at each intersection, lifting his nose to the air. Sheppard stopped with him, his eyes glancing about wildly to keep watch. They slipped effortlessly into their roles. Sheppard watched the Garou's back as the wolf within practically tasted the air for any sense of the Wraith. Those soft, still moments lasted but only for the blink of an eye before the Garou would snort at the stench of the beast, shake his head, and shoulder off to whatever lay ahead.
Once, to Sheppard's very great horror, Ar'kahl swiftly shoved him back against the wall just in time for a rather large contingent of guards to storm past. Their boots thundered in hall. John held his breath. To his surprise, so did Ar'kahl. It was an utterly human thing to do, so much so that John could have laughed, if he weren't so honestly terrified of the consequences should they be caught.
Ar'kahl waited a moment, then cocked his ear to the side. The Garou stilled, listening for the boots. It seemed difficult for him to separate the sound from the alarms, but, in time, Ar'kahl nodded the all clear.
Sheppard followed without hesitation through a veritable maze of halls and alleys. Once, when John was a young man and visiting New York on a whim, he had passed through Penn Station. He had marveled at the labyrinth beneath the city at the seemingly endless walks of white tile, one a carbon copy of the other. John got himself lost nearly immediately trying to find the right subway platform, but hoards of commuters and residents navigated without a second thought. Then, John had recalled that Penn Station was but a glimpse of the entire structure – reminded by a shop selling Knicks trinkets that Madison Square Garden rested atop the station. He found himself oddly reminded of those tunnels in the city and the unsettling feeling of smallness as the odd pair dashed through the complex.
At a dark junction, Ar'kahl's step wavered for just a millisecond of warning for Sheppard before a swarm of Sin'ai's men spilled out upon the Garou. He froze in the shadows, just out of sight as the squad rushed the Garou. They crashed into the hulking man, knocking him to the ground. The fray circled Ar'kahl mindlessly, swinging clubs and other weapons, but their many blows were as the sting of bees to the wolf within. Sheppard held up his baton and took a step forward to Ar'kahl's aid. Through the mass of guards, Sheppard caught Ar'kahl's eye, and, to his surprise, the Garou merely gave the tiniest of shrugs of his head.
Ar'kahl smirked brilliantly and taunted mercilessly through grit teeth, "You think you can take me? Do you?!"
The warrior tipped his head back and howled deeply, his cry reverberating in the stone with a single, clear note as he took to his wolf skin. John watched from his place in the shadows. He knew better than to intercede when Ar'kahl so clearly wanted him to escape, to go on without him and to stop the Wraith. He did not take his eyes from Ar'kahl, not even with the bones of his face and body snapped to reform in inhuman shapes meant for rending flesh. He did not even stop watching when Ar'kahl's mighty, brilliant teeth found purchase on soft, yielding tissue, gripped, and tore through the flimsy, human skin they found.
When the wolf had finished, two men sprawled upon the ground, blood pouring from lethal wounds upon their necks and across their chests. He sprang through the lines, an efficient hunting and killing machine that tucked up and sprang over his victims with grace. The guards gave chase, leaving Sheppard with the dying.
Sheppard listened for a moment to the sounds of both the gurgled, last breaths of one of the guards and the tunnel beyond. In the depth of the stone, he heard the noise of many boots and shouts. Occasionally, a scream went up, but, in time, all sounds faded – even that of the two felled men before him. Sheppard was alone once more and entirely on his own.
John surveyed his own situation. He did not have the keen sense of smell that the Garou bore and, as such, could not so simply find the Wraith by scent. The guards had come from the left and chased Ar'kahl down the tunnel to the right. He doubted Ar'kahl would be so foolish as to lead the guards down the same path they need tread, so that effectively ruled out the right. The left and the straightaway remained. Sheppard listened intently. No sounds came from either direction. No guards, no nothing, and certainly no obviously clues as to which way Ar'kahl intended him to go.
'Think, think. The Wraith needs a landing strip – open air to take off.'
John smelt the air himself. Ahead of him stank of stale fats and fry oil – kitchens, perhaps. The left smelt lighter, fresher. That was his best guess. Sheppard took his chance and ran, hoping for the best.
In short time, he came to a vast, stone opening, a great, round hole in the fortress of Sin'ai's great coliseum, and, there, in the distance, sat the dart. Torchlight flickered in the pit and gleamed brightly, cheerfully against the sharp angles of the craft. It seemed unguarded and alone in this great pit. John never thought he would be happier or feel luckier to spot a Wraith dart in the distance in his life.
He trotted to it, to perhaps a distance of twenty feet before something stopped him. John might never know what it was, but, before he could get any closer, an overwhelming sense of dread stole his breath and all rational thought away. He stepped, freezing stiff and still.
A loud rasping sound echoed in the arena, and, suddenly, John knew. He took slow, wide steps to the side, circling the craft. His heart hammered in his chest with each step, but the colonel forced his body to obey, to move. The rasp came again – the sound of metal on stone. As John crossed the nose of the dart, he saw him – the Wraith. The creature perched upon the wing, holding one of those long, deadly blades that had cleaved the heads from the Garou months before, whetting it upon a small square of stone. The beast did not even seem concerned by Sheppard's presence, focusing instead on another swipe of the stone on the edge.
Sheppard held his baton up and at the ready, but the Wraith stopped in his task only to survey the edge. He held the blade out, looking down the edge and nodding appreciatively. Then, the monster slipped his whetstone into a pocket and rose.
He smiled, but it came as a grizzly sneer. "You know you will never beat me."
Sheppard shook his head and licked his lips. "No. But it's not going to stop me from trying."
In time, the Garou came to a final wall, a tall thing of stone and iron rails at the top adorned with grotesque visages of battling monsters. Snake like things coiled about snarling wolves, while men slashed at dragons with sharp blades. Sin'ai's hand in design, Birkita knew. Turali Sin'ai's flair for the dramatic touched every aspect of these places, influenced every minute detail in design. He had left no inch of the public areas of his arenas untouched in aesthetics, ensuring that his grand vision went out with the hearts and minds of each and every man, woman, and child to attend Sin'ai's grand games.
Birkita knew this to be the last wall without a second thought. Even if she had not seen one at the border of every of Sin'ai's great keeps, the Garou would know it. She had been to Disney once, as a child; her father had taken her. She knew the glorious, shining façade of the entrance heralding the destination amid the groves and marshes of Central Florida. The loudest and the most garish of facades would always face out, serving as both a greeting and an advertisement to entice.
She scrambled up over the wall, as did the Garou around her. At the top, the albino gave pause to look over her shoulder at the fortress and arena behind her. Shouts rang out here and there in the stone, echoing just enough for her to catch the sound but not loud enough to discern the words, even with her keen ears. She did not hear Sheppard or Ar'kahl, saw nothing to her eyes.
"C'mon, Sheppard," she whispered fearfully.
One of the Garou below – Cierros – called softly to her. "My Lady…"
Birkita mouthed a prayer to the Moon to keep John Sheppard and Ar'kahl. Then, she sprang from the top of the wall to Cierros's waiting arms. The Garou set her down, and they ran. They flew through the night, chasing the dawn and the promised freedom of the Ring of Ancestors, darting down narrow alleys and passages towards the outskirts of town.
The quiet, sleeping city bled away as a hangover. Tall buildings and towering halls of loud, reveling citizens partying and savoring their excess gave way to fat, squat and dark apartments of the slumbering laborers that stank of body odor and overcooked leftovers. Those, in time, shrank to smaller houses that crept back from the street.
The stink of the city fell away sharply, leaving only the night scents. The Garou moved impossibly faster, spurned by the smells and sights about them. They were, after all, nocturnal creatures by nature. This was their time, given to them by their blood and instincts. The Garou owned the night like no other creatures, and the shadows embraced their skin.
The pack bolted through a tuft of trees and stopped before the edge of the clearing. Ahead, stood the Stargate, the Ring of the Ancestors. It pierced the night and shone with deep, reflective tones from the alien moon. Birkita felt herself smile ever so briefly and ever so slightly. They were almost home free.
Cierros strode ahead to dial, but she caught his arm. "No. Not without the others."
He shook his head. "My apologies, my Lady, but no." She blinked, dumbfounded at the first refusal in her life, but the wolf went on. "We promised to meet them on the other side. That's what we're going to do – whether you like it or not."
Cierros took a single step into the clearing. Gunshot cracked in the night. Birkita gasped but clamped her hands firmly on her own mouth to keep from shrieking. The wolf took another wobbly step and crashed to his knees. Something gurgled on his lips – perhaps words, perhaps blood. She would never know. He sank slightly and then pitched forward, falling flat on his face. His body quivered on the ground and stilled.
They were not alone in those woods.
John moved slowly, cautiously, on the balls of his feet. Months fighting alongside the Garou had taught him as well as Ronon had. The wolves had taken great pride in their various forms of combat, reveling in the cheap thrill of the fight. They had laughed and joked at one another, all the while honing their own skills and Sheppard's. He knew to wait.
The Wraith grinned, baring pointed, sickly-yellow teeth that shone in the firelight of the torches. The beast wielded his blade with a curious ease, as though an extension of his own being. The deadly sharp blade sang as the creature passed it menacingly through the air in what may have been a kata or a dance for the Wraith.
Then, without warning, the Wraith struck out. The movement was so fast, it barely registered as a flicker in John's vision. He barely had enough time to bring up his baton defensively. The Wraith's blade took off the very top of the metal cudgel, leaving a clean edge in its wake. The shock of the blow rang up Sheppard's arm, drawing a hiss from the colonel.
The Wraith swung again, and, this time, John was ready. He ducked to the side, spinning about and neatly avoiding the razor fine edge. The blade hummed as it passed just over his head. John only felt the faint shift of the air about him, never the switch in direction of the Wraith's killing blade nor when it connected once more with his baton. When John held it up once more defensively, the thing spanned no more than four inches past his grip.
John looked to the pathetic remnant of the baton and back to the Wraith; the thing considered him with yellow eyes and smiled. He toyed with the human, like a cat with a mouse. Sheppard hardly felt surprised. He had known the Wraith to be nothing but cruel and unsympathetic as a species, predators to the core. He did not doubt that the beast would treat him so. He shrugged and cast aside the baton.
To his surprise, the Wraith gave a simple, respectful nod and sheathed his blade in a smooth, slickly polished motion. John blinked. He had not expected that. Wraith did not often offer such seeming mercy, so the colonel knew better than to think it that.
Sure enough, the Wraith grinned madly and explained proudly, "I have been instructed not to damage you too much. Your value exceeds that."
"Of course," Sheppard murmured to himself.
Her brought up his fists, balled up and ready for the coming fight. No matter how he steeled himself, though, nothing could prepare the colonel from the sudden fury vented from the Wraith. The beast moved with lightning speed, striking out with unimaginable strength. John ducked and dodged, but he knew it would only last him so long. Eventually, the Wraith would surpass him with superior stamina. John jumped and threw himself out of the way of those mighty fists, feeling a sinking pit in his stomach. The Wraith would end him there, but it would be in vain if he did not destroy that damnable dart.
John switched his tactics, dancing and sidestepping towards the dart, drawing the fight closer to the craft. He needed to bring the Wraith there, hopefully close enough to use the dart for cover. Maybe, even, if his luck held, John might find a weapon he could use there.
His luck did not hold. The closer he got to the craft, the nearer the Wraith drew to him until one of those broad, strong, chitin reinforced mitts collided with his jaw. Supernovas burst into life and instantly faded in his vision from the strike. John fell back to the sand of the pit, knocked flat by the blow. His vision swam for a moment before clearing just in time to the see the Wraith looming over him, preparing to heel kick him right in the chest. John rolled out of the way in the nick of time before the leather booted heel could smash down on his ribcage.
That did not save John from the next blow. The Wraith kicked out with his other foot. The toe struck hard, catching Sheppard in his chest full force, knocking the air right out of his lungs. John gasped, gulping desperately at the air and coughing when it came. An involuntary reaction. A third kick square in the chest cracked something audibly within him.
The Wraith knelt down to his side, but, this time, John was ready. He hurled a fistful of sand at the creature. The Wraith had been expecting it. Sheppard tried not to think on the matter, tried not to be surprised. The beast had seen him perform the same trick in the pit before. The sand hit him in the eyes, but the creature simply shut his eyes, reached down, and snatched John up by the collar of his shirt. His feeding hand followed, clamping down on Sheppard's scrawny neck and locking tight.
With impossible strength, the Wraith hauled Sheppard up. The Wraith stood, holding Sheppard up by his neck, over his own head. The feeding hand squeezed tightly down, crushing down on Sheppard's windpipe. The colonel's hands shot up to the Wraith's wrist, clawing and scrambling to free himself when the Wraith cut off his breathing, but no amount of fighting could break the monster's hold on him. As the Wraith continued to apply the pressure about John's trachea, he felt his head swim, his lungs ache, and his blood burn from the lack of oxygen. His vision blackened horrifyingly, and John knew that, should he not do something and quickly, the Wraith would strangle him to submission.
John's hand fell to his pocket and found the tiny shard of bone there. It was small, and pathetic as a weapon, but it was all the colonel had to his name. He dug it out, his fingers numb and uncoordinated. It took effort – real effort – to grip the terminal of the bone, but, once he had a hold of it, John threw his hand up, aiming the bone to the only weak spot he knew on the Wraith. The bone shot right through the Wraith's chin and into his skull at the joints of the neck. He twisted sharply, and the bone snapped beneath the creature's jaw.
For a horrible moment, John thought the effort had been for naught. The Wraith seemed barely affected by the injury. Then, something stirred behind those cold, reptilian eyes, something akin to shock. The Wraith blinked, his grip loosing just enough for John to slip free. The colonel fell to the ground, landing in a heap and sputtering for air, but mindful of the alien monstrosity at his side. As he watched, the Wraith lifted his fingers and hesitantly feathered his neck, finding the wound and gushing black oozing from it.
Then, without warning, the Wraith hissed and took a step forward to him. John tried to force himself to move, but his oxygen starved body faltered on him. It mattered not. The Wraith collapsed in a heap beside him, dead.
John knew better than to trust it. He jerked away, clawing at the soft sand of the arena and dragging himself a few feet from the Wraith. He stayed there for just a moment, gasping for air until his heart settled enough to allow him to move. Then, John made himself rise. He staggered to his feet, his eyes never leaving the Wraith as he moved, crossing the part to the dart.
The Wraith twitched, but there were only faint, involuntary convulsions of a dying nervous system. Still, John knew better than to take any chances. He tiptoed forward and slipped the Wraith's long blade from its sheath. The thing was nearly the length of his arm, and curved slightly. It was a heavy, stocky blade, almost too weighty for Sheppard to wield, but it would have to do. Both Ronon and bad cult-horror-flicks had taught him better than to go unarmed when he had the opportunity to take on a weapon – any weapon.
Sheppard clambered awkwardly to the Wraith dart, wincing as the muscles about his own ribcage moved. He wondered idly if he actually had a broken rib or two from the brief skirmish with the Wraith when the entire side of his chest protested violently against the motion. He curled his left arm about himself, hugging himself gingerly.
He opened the cockpit, curling his nose at the sweat like stench of the organic conduit that made up so much of the Wraith technology. Beckett had speculated on more than one occasion that such carbon-based conduction could be the answer to traumatic nerve damage and paralysis were it not for what happened to Keller. The fine carbon filaments cultivated or manufactured by the Wraith apparently bore superfine conduction and precise integration between systems, as was befitting the nervous system of a grown organism, one which could potentially grow unchecked in a human as it had in Jennifer. John had been equally sickened by the notion as well.
A sound drew his attention to one of the many tunnels that poured out into the makeshift flight deck. It sounded like footsteps echoing in the rock. John shook his head; he had to get in gear and get out of there.
He slid into the dart and went to start the thing up, only to stop and blink dumbly at the console. John had been in the pilot's seat of a dart a few times, not enough to be an expert in their operation, fabrication, and maintenance, but enough to know what the controls should look like and their base functions. He knew enough to realize that key parts – ignition included – were missing, having been removed cleanly. John's heart fell; someone had clearly anticipated this.
The footsteps thundered louder in his ear; the guards were coming now for him. John bit his lip and, before he could change his mind, plunged the tip of the Wraith blade into the console. Sparks flew as organic wiring shorted out from the metal blade. Something snapped in John at the thought of destroying his only chance to escape, and he thrust the blade into the console again and again, tamping down his selfish desire. If Sheppard could not fly the dart out to his own safety, no one would.
By the time he had finished venting his own rage and frustration on the thing, the flight controls were nothing more than a smoking mass of shredded cables. John nodded to himself as the first shadow of a guard entering the pit for him. Birkita, her kin, and the rest of Earth would be safe now. The dart had been destroyed, and the only creature in Sin'ai's fold who could repair the thing had been killed by his own hand.
"Put your hands were I can see them and get out of there!" a gruff voice commanded.
Sheppard rose, slowly and carefully, unfolding himself from the dart and sliding down the side facing the guard. He kept one hand in the cockpit as he climbed, as though for support, while the under arm remained curled about his ribs. To any observer, it would have seemed the weakened, injured human needed to keep a handhold to steady himself. However, John's grasp did not hold any part of the dart; he held the hilt of the Wraith blade.
He swallowed hard. The guard, like most of Sin'ai's men, looked young, like most of the men on the expedition. Intense, physical work like this often attracted the younger ones, as did any sort of work with a sense of adventure, of action. The kid's hand shook fearfully as he aimed some sort of a pistol at John. The honorable man in Colonel John Sheppard did not wish to kill the guard needlessly, but the survivor in him knew that he had little other choice granted the only weapon in his disposal.
The guard took a step closer, and John took his chance. He whipped about, slashing wildly through the air with abandon. Ronon whispered in his ear, tell him where to cut. Teyla's touch warmed him, guided his hands. The blade came down and hit home, slamming down through the guard's shoulder and cracking the clavicle. The stranger shrieked a blood-curdling, agonized scream that rattled Sheppard's bones.
John tore the blade from the guard and ripped it back, intending to strike a killing blow this time, when a sharp crack tore through the night. Something pounded at John's back, hitting him with the force of a solid punch, sending him stumbling. For a moment, he wondered in a daze how someone managed to get the drop on him to get in such a cheap shot, but, then, the warmth began to pool at his shoulder and trickle down his chest.
He had just a moment before a squad of guards came for him to spy the blood. He prodded at the wound, marveling at the queer lack of sensation about the trauma when his fingers came away tipped with scarlet. Something heavy and blunt connected with the back of his head, and, suddenly, everything blinked out.
The woods shattered about the Garou, splintering from a rain of bullets. Shards of bark and shredded leaves blew out from the force of the mighty slugs, littering the forest alongside the bodies of fallen Garou. Their corpses shuddered and stilled from the poison coursing through the veins. Silver.
As Birkita bolted with the others in a mindless, panic fueled flight, she understood. It was a trap, a last-minute insurance policy to prevent the Garou from escaping Sin'ai's clutches. Their ease of escape suddenly made so much more sense to the albino. He knew that they could run all they wanted, but the Garou would never make it off that world with such guard posted on the Stargate and armed with silver bullets.
Birkita ran as fast as her legs could carry her, and, as she ran, suddenly, the sounds dropped off behind her, leaving the woods silent around her once again. She never stopped running, not even when the Garou realized she was alone.
Sheppard jerked away and instantly regretted it. His shoulder throbbed with white-hot agony, and even the small movement of stirred sent flares of liquid fire licking at his nerves. John tried to reach to hold the wound instinctively, but sturdy manacles bound his hands behind his back. He was forced to grit his teeth and try to ride out the pain as best as possible.
Sheppard looked to his side and found Ar'kahl kneeling there, similarly trussed and locked up in a windowless cell illuminated only by torchlight. The Garou peered at him with eyes wide with concern. The Garou looked a bit beaten up, but nowhere near as badly injured as Sheppard felt.
"You look bad," Ar'kahl hissed, keeping his voice low.
Sheppard nodded, clenching his teeth about the agony. He did not trust himself to speak, not yet. He did not know if it would be human speech or screams that would spill from his lips if he opened his mouth.
The Garou pressed his lips together firmly and frowned. He glanced over Sheppard to the other side of the cell, perhaps at a passing guard, perhaps at nothing. John could not care less. He seemed to worry over something for a moment before turning his attention to Sheppard. The Garou leaned close over him, opening his mouth, and, for a dark moment, John wondered if the Garou would just rip his throat right out.
Ar'kahl did not; instead, he whispered, "My kind heals faster than yours."
Sheppard just stared, dumbfounded by the statement. He knew that from experience in the pits. He had seen the Garou take blows that would have killed any ordinary man. John had watched them shrug off what would be crippling damage. He did not understand until Ar'kahl drew closer and the fine, clear sting of fangs sinking into the yielding flesh of John's forearm that he knew. This was the only way Ar'kahl knew to help him with whatever lay ahead of either of them.
"Thank you… Ar'kahl," Sheppard ground out.
It was the best Sheppard could offer in the way of something to say to the Garou. Ar'kahl's s bite would doom him to the life of a half-breed. From that moment on, should John Sheppard survive this and whatever was coming, he knew he would change by the light of the full moon into a hideous beast. He had no idea what would be left of his own mind during those dark, animalistic moments. The thought horrified him to no end. Yet, John equally knew, somewhere in his agonized hazed mind, that this would likely be the only thing standing between him and systemic infection.
The Garou shrugged half-heartedly. "For what it's worth now, same to you."
Neither said a word after that. There was nothing else to be said, no further words that need pass between them. They each numbered the many unsavory destinies that were likely beyond that door without being reminded of them. So, they each passed what remained of the peace and quiet in silence, steeling themselves.
In time, they came for Ar'kahl. The Garou did not fight. Instead, he held himself impressively still and stoic. He gave a small nod to Sheppard and nothing more. It was the last time John Sheppard would ever see Ar'kahl again.
Then, at dawn, they came for him.
Birkita ran through the night and caught the dawn. Only then did the girl realize just how alone she had become. She had lost her kin in the flight. Then, the albino circled back, following her own tracks back to the gate.
She had tried, initially, to follow her scent. However, that only worked for so long. In time, the woods grew rank with the acrid stink of charred flesh and burning cinders. The albino tried not to think about it, not even when the air grew thick and hazed. The forests filled with smoke that stung at her eyes and drew tears from the corners. The golden light of dawn caught in the haze, and the air glowed in a strange, ethereal sort of way that sent shivers down her spine.
In time, Birkita found her way back to the gate, but she was not alone. The forests were filled with the sounds of many men. She heard them long before ever getting close and instinctively hid herself amid thicker undergrowth. There, in the dark shadows, the Garou watched and waited as the trail filled with Sin'ai's guards – his entire staff, it seemed. She smiled to herself absently; if they were leaving on foot, it meant that Ar'kahl and John Sheppard had succeeded in destroying the dart.
Then, her breath stilled. There, shackled and dragged against his will, was John Sheppard. Dark scarlet stained his dark clothes, gleaming in the pale light of dawn. The albino flinched as thought struck when he stumbled, awkwardly listing as he recovered, but she held her place. She knew better than to try when so woefully outnumbered. They would both be captured and killed if she tried. No. Sheppard's only hope, to her knowledge, lay in her continued freedom and the possibility of the albino contacting his fabled Atlantis. Instead of bolting from the brush in her wolf hide and adorned by teeth and claw, Birkita drew back, deeper into the fading shade.
This did not stop her from watching. Something stirred within the young wolf, tugging at her heart and forcing her to watch as burly guards marked by Sin'ai's elegant crest hauled the human along the path to the gate. She could not spy the dialing device from her hiding spot, nor could she risk alerting Sin'ai's contingent to her presence by moving to see better. All the albino could do was fix her eyes upon Sheppard and pray to the Moon that this parting be only short-lived sorrow.
The portal opened with a great rush and a flash of brilliant, blue light. Sheppard blinked in a daze, perhaps concussed or perhaps simply exhausted by this point. Then, he was walking again, ferried along only by the firm pull of Sin'ai's soldiers upon his fetters and leashes. She swallowed hard, forcing herself to trust in his belief in this Atlantis beyond the stars, to believe that they could rescue he who had saved her entire race from further harm at the hands of these aliens.
It was the last Lady Birkita Canagan of the Avoyelles would see John Sheppard for many years, and the last she would ever see him whole.
She waited until the last of the guards left, until the gate shutdown on its own, and until the woods grew still once more. Then, and only then, did Birkita creep from her hiding spot on long, spindly limbs like a spider. She tiptoed from the undergrowth and back to the path.
Then, the albino froze. There, in the clearing beside the gate, were piled high charred, smoldering remains of what could only be her kin. She knelt before the remains, her lip quivering at the sight. She reached hesitantly for a gnarled, unrecognizably scorched appendage, then withdrew her hand upon feeling the kiss of the flame's heat still radiating from the corpses. They might not have been her kin by blood, but they were her kind. They had been hers to protect, as was her place. Her duty had been only to preserve her fellow Garou, and she had failed miserably.
It took some great time for her to compose herself enough to dial the Alpha Site and even more to make herself leave her fallen kin. There, Lady Birkita waited in the wilderness for some sign or measure. None came for two weeks. She bade her time in quiet solitude in her wolf pelt, feeding upon the small, rabbit like creatures that inhabited that world. It was somehow easier to bear her guilt as a wolf than as a human.
On the very eve of the third week, a party which could have only been from Atlantis came through. They bore firearms of distinctly Earthly design, dressed in American military garb, displayed the flags of various countries proudly upon their forearms. They were fleeing from another world, regrouping there. While the quartet of soldiers caught there brief in a shadowed grove of a weeping-willow like tree, she retook her human skin, dressed herself in the awful silken garb, and greeted the humans to their great surprise.
"My name is Lady Birkita Canagan, and I have been sent by Lt. Colonel John Sheppard."
To her surprise, their leader – a stocky fellow with broad, caring features – returned her salutation, taking off his glove and extending a bare hand to be shaken. "Lady Birkita, it's good to finally meet you. We've been looking for you. My name is Evan Lorne." She shook hands with him, and the soldier asked that terrible, awful question. "Forgive me, but where is Colonel Sheppard?"
She bit her lip. The albino did not trust herself to answer properly, for what could she say? What could she tell them when she had so effectively lost the man? Instead, the wolf simply shook her head.
The soldier – Lorne - must have understood, for he softly murmured, "That's okay. It's okay. We'll find him." He smiled at her. "C'mon. Let's get you home. I know someone who's going to be very happy to see you again."
Lorne extended a hand to her. She took a step back, suddenly timid for no reason. Her heart trilled at the thought of trusting these strangers. Her instincts screamed to bolt for the forests and the safety of the wild once more. Lorne held his ground calmly, waiting for her to approach with an impossible bounty of patience. The albino looked to the towered trees and green roams of this world and back to Lorne's calm features once more.
Then, she remembered Sheppard. He was lost somewhere in the universe, stolen from his world and his home for the crime of helping her ancient race. John Sheppard had given everything for their kind, and more. Birkita – and, indeed, all of her kind – owed him this small chance. She thought of him and took Lorne's hand.
Author's Notes : So…. there you go. That's how we got to here.