Notes: Even though this is a prequel, you may want to read Rampage first. This is a slight AU where Aang did not confront Ozai during Sozin's comet. And, y'know, SG1. ;D
After Azula attacked, everything was fire and falling rocks and screaming. It wasn't too much of a surprise that everyone had lost track of each other.
"There must have been a spy in the ranks," Sokka muttered, later on. It made sense. How else would the mad Fire Lord know exactly where to strike them? True to her calculating nature, Azula had struck at the best time the past place to put her best imperial firebenders against the Avatar and the last of what remained of the Earth Kingdom.
They had gotten out thanks to Appa, mostly unscorched, with Katara grimly healing a wicked-looking burn on Aang's shoulder.
"We have to go back," Aang said. He tried to push her away and stand. But dizzy and weak from pain and exhaustion, it was little effort for Katara to pull him back down again. "Katara! We can't just leave them there!"
Loud booms echoed back over the distance as if in answer: Azula's zeppelins pelting the entire area with bomb after bomb.
Katara's mouth set in a thin line and she shook her head, forcing herself to pour all of her concentration into her water-healing. "They'll be fine, Aang." Somehow she was able to keep her voice steady. "The earthbenders will be able to hide underground. Toph will be with them. Suki can take care of herself, and Zuko… He never gives up."
Left unsaid were the fates the rest of the firebenders – those Zuko had convinced to desert his sister's rule… and the near platoon of civilians who had joined the fight, inspired by the Avatar. Unless they were near enough to take shelter with the earthbenders…
Judging by the haunted look in Aang's eyes, he was thinking about them, too.
They weren't able to get back until after nightfall, when Azula's fleet had run out of ammo and all had gone dead and silent. Wary of remaining zeppelins, they flew Appa low to the ground, looking for any sign of movement, of survivors.
Aang was just on his feet again, and of course had insisted on going with them despite the fact that he was still wobbly and his face was ashen.
It made the gaang's reunion with Suki all that much sweeter.
Katara had been right: The small earthbending army, led by former Dai Li agent, had simply dug a large borrow for themselves and had waited the overhead bombardment out. Suki had taken refuge with them, along with many of the civilian troops.
The rebel firebenders… hadn't been so lucky.
And there was no sign of Toph or Zuko.
The look on Aang's face was something Katara had never wanted to see on him again. He stared out at the blackened scorched earth, sad and lost and so horribly guilt-ridden. Katara went to him, touched his shoulder, and tried to figure out what to say. It was impossible. Tears were running down her cheeks and her throat seemed to have closed off any sound.
Any "I'm sorry," would fall desperately, sickenly short. Not when two of his best friends were dead or captured. With Azula it was probably all amounted to the same anyway.
So she said nothing, and after a bit Aang spoke. His voice was rough, but small… so small… "This shouldn't have happened. It's all my fault."
"If I stopped Ozai before the comet came. If I didn't wait..."
"Aang," she repeated, turning him to face her. "You knew you weren't ready. You would have been killed—"
"And now Zuko and Toph are gone, and all of those soldiers! Is that any better?" he demanded, and of course she had no answer. His grey eyes glinted with something hurt and terrible. Before she could find an answer he had flipped open his airglider and taken to the wind.
He needed to get away. She knew the feeling.
And far down, accidentally buried deep under the earth by the actions of half-panicked, desperate earthbenders, a ring of strange stone lay, waiting.
Six hours prior
"The MALP has shown breathable air and earth-like climate," Carter reported briskly, as she and the rest of SG1 did a final check. Behind them, the Stargate whirled and locked in its normal sequence, coded in by the techs up in the control room. "No sign of civilization."
O'Neill raised his eyebrow at that and almost, almost asked the obvious question: If there wasn't any signs of a population, why where they bothering to even go there? But then again, he already had the first signs of a headache throbbing in between his eyes, and he wasn't sure if his pain threshold could stand Carter or Daniel's science-y answer.
So naturally, Teal'c asked for him.
"Wouldn't it then be more prudent to concentrate our efforts on a planet that may help us fight the Goa'uld?"
Carter flashed him a bright smile. "The MALP only conducts a brief survey. It may not catch everything—"
"It hasn't, always," Daniel added, with a rueful look. He was speaking from experience. Somehow, it always seemed that when things went wrong, he took the brunt of it.
"Chevron Seven is locked!" a tech's voice called from the speaker above.
With a whoosh of space/time fabric (which for some reason looked a lot like an underwater vortex) the Stargate burst into life. O'Neill gave a long sigh and ascended the ramp, clapping the big Jaffa on the shoulder in sympathy. This mission looked to be one of those long, boring ones.
The ground bucked under O'Neill's feet the second he stepped from the other side of the gate. He threw out his arm for balance, knocking into Carter who had just stepped out herself.
"Whoa! Earthquake! Get down!" O'Neill shouted, couching down to keep his center of gravity low.
The Stargate was in a heavily wooded area. Good news, since that meant they weren't going to be smashed by any falling ceilings any time soon. Bad news because falling branches could be equally hazardous.
The ground under them jerked once more then settled out to an odd thrum that could barely be felt through the soles of their boots. O'Neill glanced around, gave a quick headcount to make sure everyone was there, and quickly led the way down the small earthen hill from this planet's Stargate. He didn't want to be anywhere near that thing if it went crashing down.
"Jack," Daniel complained, "You know it's not necessarily an earthquake if it's not on Earth, right?"
"Planet-quake doesn't have the same ring to it," he answered, scanning the trees. Something wasn't right. He could still feel the unsettling vibration – the foliage around them was shivering with it. Beyond that, his well-tuned spider sense was tingling. The hell with the MALP reports: There was something – or someone—out there.
He kept everyone in a tight formation as they led out from the gate, snapping perhaps a bit too much at Daniel when he knelt to examine an oddly broken piece of rock.
They had been only walking for about fifteen minutes when Teal'c suddenly stopped and bent down, one hand pressed to the ground. He frowned and rose again, a quick twist brought his staff weapon to life, "Colonel O'Neill," he said, rising. "There appears to be two large forces advancing from either side of our position."
O'Neill upholstered his own zat and saw Carter do the same. "Goa'uld?"
"I cannot say."
"Betcha they're Goa'uld," O'Neill muttered. That would just make his day complete. He turned to Carter. "Set up a perimeter of claymores at ten meters. I want a way to get out of here in case this turns ugly—"
There was no warning. The ground suddenly heaved up again under them, as if turned into liquid choppy seas. A wall of sheer granite, at least ten feet high and three feet thick, burst out of the soil, showering them all with pebbles and clods of dirt. Then it fell forward – it would have crushed them all like bugs if they hadn't scrambled out of the way in time.
A moment later a column of soldiers – looking a lot to Jack like Dr Seuss' version of red Strom Troopers – came boiling out the trees from their right. Then, from the left, another line of men – these more massive, and dressed in green.
The granite wall protected SG1's flank, and let them take a defensive position with their backs up against something…
And that was when the real madness started.
O'Neill wasn't quite sure when he realized when he had his team had been unlucky enough to gate into what appeared to be the meeting point between two opposing armies. His first hint was that no one was as much attacking them as they were each other: Fighting with thrown rocks, some kind of concealed flamethrowers… spears…
This definitely wasn't Goa'uld. This was… well, O'Neill wasn't quite sure what it was. Especially when he saw swarthy looking man in a green loincloth pick up a boulder about five times his own size and hurl it at the red guys, taking out about three of them.
The only thing he and his team could do was take a defensive position with their backs to the granite wall and zat anything that came too close.
O'Neill heard a twipping sound from his left and reacted on instinct, grabbing Daniel by the back of his collar and dragging them both to the ground. Not a moment two soon. A hail of fist-sized stones went by with enough force to have been shot out of a canon.
So the natives had spears, flame-throwers and… rock-throwing canons? Catapults?
"Carter!" O'Neill roared, taking aim and shooting again. A native in a green loincloth with a neck the size of his thigh went down, twitching. "We're getting outta here! Get to the gate and dial us out." He had enough of this planet already. Time for a strategic retreat. They'll come back in a few weeks: Give the local war some time to cool off.
Carter nodded, and, grabbing Daniel by his arm, hauled the archeologist to his feet and set into a dead run back the way they came. O'Neill and Teal'c fell smoothly into rear guard position, watching their backs and their sides.
Daniel pointed up to the sky, yelling something, but his words were lost to the chaos.
They had gotten no more than a hundred yards when an almighty BOOM shook the ground and the forest all around them and sent a wash of dry heat over the entire area. Jack had just enough time – no more than a second – to flash back to one particularly bad day in Desert Storm, think Air Strikebefore there was another blast.
He didn't hear it – it was too loud to be heard. He only feltthe shock of impact, and then that particular stomach-dropping sensation of his own body in uncontrolled flight through the air. His training kicked in when his mind could not, rolling with the impact and keeping protective hands over his head. There was a moment of blank silence, then O'Neill came back to himself, laying on the ground with the taste of dirt in his mouth and his body aching.
At first he thought he had been deafened by the expulsion, but… no. He could hear coughing and groaning, but the fighting around them had momentarily paused.
O'Neill raised his head. "Anyone else alive?"
"Here, sir," Carter said, to his right. She had been half covered by a blasted frond, kept safe and whole through sheer dumb luck.
Daniel coughed to his left and sat up. One of the lenses in his glasses had been cracked and there was a nasty bleeding wound in his scalp, but he gave a wave to O'Neill and seemed more or less alert.
Teal'c, already standing again with his staff weapon in his hand, merely nodded. "I am unharmed."
"I thought I saw a zeppelin through the trees." Daniel said, pointing up.
There was another explosion, this one slightly further away, as if to underline his point. This one was enough to shake the ground again and O'Neill saw a bloom of orange some way out in the distance. Something wasn't right here. If they had tech for air combat, why the spears? He made up his mind in an instant.
"We need to take a look at these weapons. Carter, get to the gate and get us dialed out. Me and Teal'c are going to do a little recon. Daniel, cover her."
The area around them was thick with foliage, but the closer he and Teal'c got to the blast-zone, the more damage they saw: Trees with trunks as thick as houses had been flattened to the ground, and out beyond in the point of impact the ground was blackened to dirt.
With the area clear, O'Neill was able to get his first view of open sky.
Daniel had been right. One side of the war had zeppelins – O'Neill guessed it was the side the red Storm Trooper guys were on because the entire fleet, more than a dozen ships, were also painted in the same rusty color. The zeppelins had come in high and silent and pretty much flattened most of the valley, by the looks of things. SG-1 had been lucky to be positioned on the edge, or else they would have been fried to a crisp.
There was some kind of movement around the fleet of airships – it was too far away to get a good look, even with the binoculars, but it looked like some sort of cow-shaped animal was flying between them, harassing the machines. Someone on the green guy's side, or maybe just a flying alien creature defending its territory: O'Neill didn't know, but even from here he could see that the thing wasn't doing much good… it couldn't against so many. Worst of all, the entire fleet was making a slow, ungainly turn. It looked as if they were coming in for another pass.
The zeppelins were slow. They'd have a few minutes yet. O'Neill motioned for Teal'c to move forward and together they climbed a small hill, crouching down to get a better look at the battlefield.
From their point of height they could look over the worst of the damage. The entire area was blackened and burned with small fires still scorching the outside. There was more fighting far off past the other side of the blast zone: More soldiers with what had to be flame throwers being surrounded by an army in green. They weren't looking up, though, and soon as those zeppelins came around, those scales would be tipped.
For a moment, O'Neill considered doing the stupid, heroic thing. Running down there, telling the guys in green to watch their heads.
Local war, Jack, said a cold, cynical voice in his head. You don't know the story – any of the story behind this. Besides, there's no time. The zeppelins aren't coming fast, but they're coming and –
While Jack had been debating with himself, Teal'c had been taking a look at ground level. Catching O'Neill's eye he pointed to a spot not fifty feet away.
There had been a disturbance in the flat, blackened ground. An up-thrust stone. And under the lee side of it, a scrap of green. Someone had taken shelter down there, someone who had not been blasted to bits. Someone who was maybe alive.
O'Neill nodded, and, keeping low, he and Teal'c ran down the dusty, baked hill. There were burned forms on all sides: Bodies toasted and deformed, looking more like hunched, black rocks than people…
If someone under that rock had survived, it was a miracle.
And as Teal'c and O'Neill got close they saw that it was not one miracle, but two.
"Aw crap," O'Neill breathed as he bent down, searching for pulses. They were just kids. He hated seeing kids hurt. One dressed in green and one in red, probably from either side of the war and… ah geez, kids this age should be worried about proms, or whatever passed for a prom in this world. Not entrenched in wars.
Still, they were alive, knocked unconscious… but alive.
"The zeppelins will be here in minutes," Teal'c rumbled, and there was a silent question in there.
O'Neill looked out to the fighting group – too far away to help, even if they did have the whole story. But the kids… Hammond probably wouldn't like it, but he'd probably like Jack's shrink's bill even less if he had to turn his back on two kids with certain death coming from above.
"Think you can take the one in red?" O'Neill asked, bending down to take the green kid.
He didn't think he imagined the approval in Teal'c's voice. "I can, O'Neill. We must hurry."
The kid in green was a girl, O'Neill realized, startled when he turned her over to heft her in his arms. She was heavy for someone so young, or maybe it was the armor. He left her wide, oversized helmet on the ground behind them, and with a look, he and Teal'c retreated back to the gate.
This may have been a little confusing, since it was done from SG1's POV, so here we are: Basically SG-1 gated into a fight between some of the last of the Earth Kingdom forces and Azula's Fire Nation troops. The EK were winning at first, until Azula brought in her fleet of airships and blasted the whole area (including a good deal of own guys). Toph and Zuko were with one of the unlucky platoons and would have been blasted in the second wave for sure if Jack and Teal'c hadn't found them. So there we go!