Darkness covers the ground, making their path and footsteps hard to see, but the sky is still light with the silvery purples, blushing coral pinks, and fresh blood reds of a setting sun. However that beauty also means that pretty soon what little they can barely see will be absolutely gone… it also means that the Fomorians’ and their winged friends’ attack will begin soon. The team had found the path the Fomorians apparently take down the mountainside, a wide road like one used for mountain logging back on Earth, a couple of hours ago. It was Daniel who’d stumbled upon the packed dirt and rock road wide enough for two logging trucks first. None of them had particularly liked the idea of taking the obvious road, but it was also the unanimous consensus that it would save them considerable time. Both Rodney and Kenmore had tripped up a few times on jutting parts of rock embedded in the solid ground, but the group had progressed far up the mountain despite the stumbles and having to check to make sure that neither of them had hurt themselves… they just haven’t gotten as far as any of them would have liked by now. U’dana’s estimating the distance in terms of time had been no joke and it has also not been anywhere near accurate. It’s a long way that never seems to get any shorter. They’re on the mountain side and the top of the thing still looks so unreachably far away.
This time it’s Teyla’s boot toe that stubs into a rock. It makes her step ungracefully and awkward, but she doesn’t come at all close to falling. But… everyone knows what’s wrong with this picture. Slowly, as a unit, they all slow to a stop and the looks start traveling up and down their line from one person to the other. The sentiment the same: this is not going to work.
Their voices come out quietly just in case there are some Fomorian scouts around, traveling early to make a good report. They doubt that that’s likely given how far they’ve come using the Fomorian road and given the Fomorians’ penchant for battle frenzy. If there were scouts out, they would have attacked them on sight for sure by now. It’s also apparent that the Fomor don’t think they need scouts and seeing as how it was usually the villagers that fought with them, there was a good chance that the villagers had never crossed into the territory of the Black Mountain before as part of a preemptive strike. Would never risk a move that could possibly be considered a declaration of war… or brainless suicide. And even when villagers have come up here, they barely managed to make back to the village in time before they died according to Boudica.
“Any ideas,” McKay asks quietly.
Teyla takes another glance up at the sky, “They will be coming soon,” she warns.
Kenmore keeps looking around at the environment around them. Especially up at the higher parts of the thick, tall-growing trees.
“Well, I think I’ve got an idea about that,” she says.
* * *
The team, Kenmore, and Daniel spread their line out across the trunks and substantial branches of three large evergreen trees. They face the trunks and hold on to them while trying to walk across the branches. It’s like an SGC version of the Flying Wallendas. They keep their eyes on the branches under and ahead of their feet as best they can, the darkness has started creeping upwards from the ground to meet their height. The rest of the mountain is still ahead of them and occasionally they, in their own individual times, chance a look back at the village. The place is lit up with enough torches to look like a highly populated city with a great nightlife. How much of a bad sign could that be? How easy a target? Teyla looks up ahead at the mountain again and suddenly stops.
“They are coming,” she hisses the alert.
The group immediately halts and looks up at the mountaintop too. The torches are appearing there again. One by one. Starting to snake down the main road. Coming for the village. Coming towards them.
“You know what to do,” Sheppard quietly orders. They had been waiting for this.
Not going any further, the group members sit down on the branches. Backs to the tree trunks, waiting, and watching the oncoming attackers silently from about thirty feet above the road’s ground.
“How did you figure out to do this,” Rodney ‘whispers’ in the meantime. He’s never been good at silent stealthy covert ops stuff like this. Still isn’t, but he’s trying to get better.
“It’s how I assassinated Shiana. Sat in the trees and picked her off.”
There’s no comfort in that confession.
“You mean you expect us to pick off some of these guys and their winged buddies?!”
Kenmore looks over at McKay. Seriously Doctor Scream Like A Little Girl And Shoot Like Crap… “No. We just shut up and wait here until they pass.” My God, ya’ don’t be stupid by hiding here then revealing your location by mowing them down in the heart of their ranks. Really?! These guys don’t have to climb trees. They’re big enough they could just knock the suckers down. The advantage of being up here would be totally lost and render them as the best visual aid for the phrase ‘Sitting ducks’.
Rodney looks like he’s going to argue this some more, along with Ronon, but Ronon mostly just for fun, when there’s rustling. All the reaction time anyone had was for Kenmore to press herself back as flush with the tree trunk and stop breathing as quickly as she possibly could before the winged Fomorian beast crashes through the forest. Latching onto the rest of the branch Kenmore’s on. It bears down on her.
Everyone’s eyes widen. The thing sniffs and snarls inches away from Kenmore’s exposed jugular. It reminds John of Sigourney Weaver in her encounter with one of the Aliens. Only far less macabrely sexy and a helluvalot more scary. Not to mention that he isn’t watching it on a screen, he’s up close and personal. Kenmore’s too terrified to even breathe, she blinks instead. The animal reacts. Lunging at movement. Drawn to it. But not striking at it yet. They realize that the Flyers are neither deaf nor are they blind. Kenmore slams her eyes shut. The creature doesn’t lunge. It extends its long purplish-black tongue towards the Lieutenant’s throat. It’s perfectly long enough to wrap around her throat like a python choking a calf with its coiling body…
Before it can taste or eat or suffocate and then eat her, another sudden rustling further beyond their group ruffles a scraggily treetop. Immediately drawing the creature’s attention. It roars then abruptly bolts after the rustling. Apparently deeming it better prey. After a ten count of hearing the hunting animal crash and barrel its way through the trees in pursuit of whatever had had the stupid misfortune to move near it, Kenmore opens her eyes again. She lets out a slow, silent, rattled breath. The others watch her try to hold back her panting when the Fomorians show up.
Marching in a roaring, battle-frothed parade filling up the entire road beneath them. No one moves. Breathing so shallowly it’s like they’re not breathing at all. Learning from Kenmore and McKay’s mistake and fearing attracting any further winged attention. Praying the bright Fomorian torchlight won’t reveal their positions.
Hours pass. Still sitting up in the trees in the exact same spots with the middle of the Fomorian parade continuing to pass below them, the group watches as the front line approaches the base of the village of Uisneach’s hill’s crest. The SGC team watches the first handful of Fomorian lines start their charge up the steep embankment… and run face, and in some cases head, first into an Ancient forcefield. They fall back. Repelled. Confused by being thrown back by what looks like empty air, they try to charge again… and are repelled again. The Fomor get angrier. No matter the confusion or the pain, the Fomorians charge up to the forcefield and begin using each other as links in a living chain. Crawling up. Roaring even louder from the voltage surging through every part of their bodies. It’s only a couple of minutes before the chain reaches the top of the large ellipsis-shaped forcefield.
Ursula chances it. He’s close enough to her, it might not draw any attention.
“It was a good idea to bring in a jumper,” she whispers to Sheppard on her left.
Rustling in the upper reaches of the trees nearby silences any reply he was going to make, but Sheppard takes the chance and makes a small nod of acknowledgement that he knows Kenmore can see. They continue to watch.
The Fomorian chain makes it halfway over the top of the cloaked jumper and plenty are now pouring into the village around the edges of the jumper’s forcefield’s extents. Lorne uncloaks the jumper, but doesn’t lower its forcefield. He raises the little ship off the ground. Taking most of the living chain with it. With the ‘dam’ removed, the rest of the Fomorian lines flashflood into the village. Lorne takes the jumper up to near fatal heights then tilts the craft sideways. Dropping the links of the living chain on top of their invading brothers. Some of the oncoming Fomorians trample their fallen links to death. Others rip the fallen apart with their bare hands in their battle frenzied bloodlust.
Teyla’s eyes widen. Horrified by what she’s seeing. “They are worse than the Bola Kai,” she whispers.
“Worser,” Kenmore whispers back.
“You read that mission report,” Sheppard asks, Kenmore’s penchant for reading the reports out of order still dumbfounding him. How can anyone not go in order? How can someone just skip around? It’s not like mission reports are stories or episodes of a television series. You can’t just skip around and guess you’ve got the gist of what’s going on or what’s happened. Gees.
Kenmore’s eyes shift to him and her expression quirks, “What mission report?”
Sheppard takes the gamble and looks at her. His own expression equally as quirked. What the hell is wrong with you?
Suddenly the winged animals come into play with piercing roars and shrieks. Their eyes return to the village.
After the long procession of Fomorian onslaught finally passes them by and the flying animals become entirely absorbed by Lorne in the puddle jumper trying to draw them away from the village, the group takes the opportunity to abandon the Fomorian road and make their own way using their lifesigns detectors hidden inside their vests. All it takes is activating all the detectors for them to realize that all of them using the bright equipment is a dumb idea. It’s a unanimous vote to let McKay keep his detector lit and guide the way. One hidden light is better for safety’s sake than six lights.
Rodney maneuvers them towards the edifice’s back, deciding to try coming up to the mountain’s top that way and praying there’s some sort of back door that the Fomorians either don’t care about or don’t even know is there. He has no idea when the last of the village’s people thought it was a good idea to come up here only to return to the village to die, but he hoped it’d been awhile and he hoped that the villager who was stupid enough to come up here would also be stupid enough to walk through the front door and help keep the Fomorians from away from any other entrance. But that’s looking like those are questions that are going to have to be answered tomorrow. Their day is getting done. The lack of sleep the previous night, the exertion of fighting constantly throughout it, and the effort of tending to wounded throughout the day has drained them. Even Ronon and Teyla are starting to feel the drag in having to lift their feet when they take steps. The group has to rest.
Taking the longshot that the winged animals don’t nest or whatever they do on this side of the mountain and hedging their bets even further on the density of the forest canopy, Sheppard makes the command decision to go ahead and okay a campfire. A small one though, like with the light of more than lifesigns detector, there’s no need to draw too much attention to themselves. In reality, he’d rather not make a fire at all but there’s a sharp chill in the night air and it feels like it’s brewing itself to get a lot cooler as the night progresses. Glo-sticks or nothing just isn’t going to cut it with the clothes their wearing, they’re too high up to survive a cold night without a heat source. Sheppard and Ronon along with Daniel and Kenmore pull over some thick downed logs to use as benches as Rodney and Teyla start the fire. When it’s up and going, they sit. Ronon and McKay on one log, Teyla and Sheppard on the next, and Kenmore and Daniel on the third. They’re all silent, staring at the fire, pitiful by comparison to their overwhelming number assembled to one side of it. They try to process their uncomfortable feelings about leaving a battle while it’s going so bad for ‘their’ side… and not even being involved in said battle in the first place, it rankles them.
“We could try radioing them,” Rodney offers to the silence.
“We can’t chance the Fomorians or their flyers tracking where we are,” Sheppard denies.
“And do you really want any one of our people stopping what they’re doing just to answer their radio,” Kenmore adds.
“Oh shut up Miss Minshara,” Rodney snaps.
Kenmore as well as the others look at him. Ronon’s smiling, looking so damn proud to be sitting next to Rodney McKay for once, let alone that everyone knows the obnoxious scientist is his friend. Kenmore works her tongue in her mouth, eyeing Rodney for a moment, then she gets up and crosses over to a birch-like tree. She looks it over. Finds two suitable looking branches. Then draws her diving knife from the side of her tactical belt and hacks them off. As she walks back over to the group, she uses her knife to trim both branches into fit recognizable condition. She stops right in front of McKay. Ronon glares at her, the muscles in his body, his shoulders tensing. He’s preparing to stand but before Sheppard can try to throw a coughing fit to distract him from doing so, the Lieutenant extends one of the trimmed limbs out to McKay.
“Care to put your money where your mouth is, Spock?”
McKay looks up at her cockily smirking down at him… and takes the damn arced limb with two extra equally parallel arcing prongs near it’s tips from her.
Kenmore replaces her knife in its scabbard as McKay stands up from the log.
“McKay,” Ronon tries to warn, but Rodney shrugs him off.
“I’ve got this.”
Ronon doubts that. He’s tried to train Rodney a few times over the years and each and every time was a thoroughly qualified disaster. The scientist may have as Teyla would put it a ‘warrior’s spirit’ but the man just isn’t a fighter. A computer guy, sure. What Ronon, Sheppard, and Teyla are, nope. Not at all. Although he’d never admit it out loud, the Lieutenant had dropped Ronon easier than it should have been possible for her to. Rodney isn’t going to stand a chance against her, she can even best Sheppard for Ancestor’s sake.
McKay takes up position opposite Kenmore, leaving about ten feet of space between them. The Satedan shoots Sheppard and Teyla a look and gets the same one back, don’t hesitate to intervene when the Lieutenant starts kicking McKay’s ass. Their eyes return to watching the showdown and their bodies prepping to intervene at a moment’s notice.
Kenmore spins her own arcing and pronged tree limb in her hands, confidently and skillfully. It reminds Sheppard of her with a pair of bantos rods. Yeah, they’re going to be picking McKay’s ass up off the ground in about two seconds, if that. He kind of wishes Rodney would just lay on the ground now like some sort of Redshirt with the good enough foresight to lay down first and maybe the monster or whatever it was will just pass him by going after some other dumbass who hadn’t the good sense to throw the towel in right from the start.
Kenmore turns around to face the astrophysicist. He’s still glaring at her as he shifts the tree limb into position in his hands. No flare, unlike the Lieutenant. No fumbling, oddly like the Lieutenant. Kenmore’s still smirking as she shifts her own tree limb into position in her hands. They eye each other.
Daniel sighs. “Oh come on you two.”
They start circling each other.
Daniel sighs again. “Please,” he tries. This is ridiculous.
For once Sheppard gets to see Kenmore make the first move. Direct and confrontational, the exact opposite of how she’d been with him. A thrust with the point of one end of her tree limb. Somehow, no one’s sure how, Rodney dodges it easily, gracefully in fact, while successfully blocking the blow then using a wrist flick to bounce the end of Kenmore’s tree limb back in her face, almost making her hit herself in the nose with it.
There’s a moment of shock throughout the group. What the hell did they just see?! Kenmore eyes the arrogant astrophysicist suspiciously. Then backs up from him.
They start circling each other again. Scrutinizing each other just like the group is scrutinizing them. Kenmore tries another attack, a swing to Rodney’s right thigh. Without even turning and keeping his eyes locked on hers, he blocks it blindly with a deft slip of his tree limb’s edge to defend his endangered side. She squints at him. Ronon does too, analyzing Rodney’s fighting pattern while simultaneously dumbfounded at the fact that, yes, Rodney McKay does have a fighting pattern. An actual legitimate fighting pattern. Where has he been hiding it all this time?
Kenmore retreats a few steps again… then quickly lunges full force at Rodney. A decisive strike meant for his head. Rodney finally shifts from his position. He easily swats her branch end aside like he’s casually swatting away a fly. Then does a couple of tight spins, getting in close to the off balanced Lieutenant. Starts a third spin with a stiff powerful slam of half of the back of his branch to the middle of her back and sends her staggering forward a couple of steps. Rodney finishes his spin by coming around to her other side, shifting his tree limb in his hands, swinging it up, and cracking it down across the top of Kenmore’s back. Dropping the bent over Lieutenant down on the ground over her knees in an unceremonious pile. Like a sack of potatoes. Rodney holds his ending position for a few resting heartbeats then leisurely backs up, letting Kenmore get her time and bearing to get back to her feet to try this again. Kenmore’s face is contorted and her mouth’s open but nothing’s coming out as she curls her head down onto the ground, she’s in pain. This is going to take awhile to recover from, she can feel it.
Everyone else’s jaws are dropped. Before their thought had been ‘what the hell did they just see’, now it’s simply ‘What the—?!’
Eventually Kenmore gets up… she shakes herself off… regrips her tree branch. Her breathing is labored and she’s shifting her weight constantly from foot to foot exactly like Sheppard had when she whooped him with those Athosian sticks. She isn’t caring about eyeing the Doc anymore. Her mind is more on the fact that she just got dropped by him. How could that possibly happen? What is going on? Sure the battle last night had been rattling. Sure tending to the injured during the day seemed to never end. As for watching some of her buddies take on that battle all over again and knowing that she isn’t over there to help, that, that is numbing. Enraging. But it shouldn’t be enough for Doctor McKay to get the drop on her like that that easily. It just shouldn’t. Nothing she’s ever been through short of her husband dying has ever gotten to her enough for an enemy combatant to take advantage of her. Damn.
She starts circling again and Rodney starts doing the same, still keeping his blue eyes keenly and tranquilly on her. That’s disconcerting but Kenmore finally meets his eyes. She’s cagier this time. She knows to be. They keep circling each other for awhile. And at last the sight starts reminding John more of the skillful fighter with a pair of bantos rods that he had gone up against and dropped his ass. However also like how he’d been during that sparring match, she does eventually make another play at McKay. Kenmore makes a low swinging uppercut at his legs. Without hesitation Rodney sidesteps, taps her branch with his to transfer her momentum to him, does a large spin, and slaps the end of his branch against the back of one of her knees. Staggering her again. He takes advantage of the opportunity, reverses his spin, and slams the other branch end into her gut. Doubling her over. Then he pivots, shifts his branch in his hand to bring its flat side to bear, brings the weapon up, and snaps it down. Slapping the side of Kenmore’s face down with enough strength and momentum transference to send her spinning to the ground.
The Lieutenant lands hard on her back. There’s half a heartbeat of frozen time before she curls up with a more anguished expression crinkling her face and her mouth forming a far more grandiose silent ‘Ow’ of pain and rolls over onto her side into the fetal position. Sheppard, Teyla, and Ronon remember what she’d done to Ronon… well, somewhat of what she’d done to Ronon. Somehow neither of them figures that ‘manhood’ is playing any part in her pain. Severely deflated ego’s a sure bet though.
She finally groans, “You’re a Dahar Master, aren’t you?”
Rodney doesn’t have to respond, his smile says it all. She catches it through her squinting eyes.
“Aw crap,” she closes her eyes and tries to struggle to pick herself up off the ground, wobbling back and forth trying to shake off the pain. Eventually she does move her arms from wrapping around her waist and puts her palms flat on the dirt. She slowly rolls over onto them. It takes her a few tries before she manages to push herself up and pulls her knees under her to get herself on all fours. Humbling doesn’t even begin to cover it. It’s another pair or two of heavy breathing moments before she starts moving one of her legs to press against her belly and pushes herself up onto her feet.
Once up, she staggers back to start the circling again… but she can’t really make it. She has to stop herself and spend time doubled over waiting for her body to finish recovering. Part of a warehouse wall had crumbled down on her, killing her for two hours, and this, this is what’s giving her body a hard time to bounce back from. Oh God, if Teal’c or Cam hear about this…
Rodney nods. Still smiling. “Know where you went wrong?” He asks, amusement in his voice.
“You mean other than pickin’ a fight with you,” she starts nodding, “Yeah, I dropped my left flank by point zero three centimeters.”
Sheppard’s about to say ‘How the hell can you possibly know that precise a measurement’—
“Actually it was point zero three two five centimeters. And that was enough of an opening for me to take advantage of. More than ample. You should never let your flank drop by anything, anything more than point zero three. Do you understand me?”
Kenmore nods. Still winded, still doubled-over and using her bat’leth-shaped branch as a cane to support her recuperating resting.
When she finally has enough of her breath back in her to speak again, “Could you teach me,” she asks.
Rodney considers it…
He walks back over to his and Ronon’s log, drops his bat’leth-shaped branch down beside it, and retakes his seat. The Lieutenant takes a couple more minutes hard, laborious breathing before she staggers back to her and Daniel’s log. She abandons her branch beside it too—just lets the thing fall out of her hand like gravity wanted it to—and practically collapses onto her spot beside Daniel. He gapes at her. She looks in bad shape, he’s never seen her take this long to physically rebound from anything except her husband Michael’s death.
“Are you going to be okay,” he’s genuinely concerned. He doubts there’s as serious an emotional connection with this circumstance as there had been with her husband’s death.
“Yeah,” she breathes, still fighting for breath despite the some five minutes of relatively undisturbed rest she’s given herself so far. But she can see in Daniel’s eyes that it’s going to take more than that single word to allay his worries, “Don’t worry. I’m healin’.”
Daniel doesn’t look away from her as though a stare-down is going to help clarify things between them or make her Ancient DNA given abilities heal her body faster.
The rest of the group however is staring at Doctor Meredith Rodney McKay. Still wide-eyed… slack-jawed… still ‘What the hell?!’ It’s a couple of moments before McKay realizes that his friends are staring at him not to mention how they’re staring at him. He looks back at them, “What?”
Sheppard starts shaking his head, he doesn’t know where to begin…