The Serpent's Heart
SG-1 stepped out of the stargate and onto a world that was similar to the many others they had visited in the past. The team paused a few meters from the gate and Colonel Jack O'Neill made a quick survey of the surrounding area. "All right campers." he quipped dryly. "It looks like it's gonna be another beautiful day in Paradise. Let's split up and search for any signs of civilization. Major you and Daniel head east. Teal'c and I will go west. We'll meet back here in two hours." O'Neill ordered.
"Yes, sir." Sam replied and gave him a nod.
O'Neill watched them leave and then turned to the man standing beside him. "All right Teal'c let's make tracks." he quipped as he started walking and didn't notice the puzzled expression on his friend's face as he moved away.
Sam and Daniel had only been walking for a short time when they stepped into a clearing. Daniel gasped. "Woah!" he exclaimed when he saw the statue that dominated the center of the clearing. "I've never seen anything like that before." he muttered as he moved to the large object. It was nearly twice as tall as he was and he stopped at the base and studied it intently. It was the towering image of an obviously venomous snake. Its fangs were bared as if to strike at any who would dare disturb it. In the center, about where the reptile's heart would be, was a heart shaped jewel, an iridescent green in color. "Fabulous." he murmured as he stepped up onto the stone dais the statue rested on and reached up to touch the stone.
"Ah, Daniel do you think you should touch that." Sam warned. "It might be taboo or something."
"Nah," Jackson shook his head. "I'm sure it's all right." he replied and turned back to examine the statue.
"BLASPHEMER!!" The booming voice rang through the clearing and Sam spun around to find the clearing filled with very obviously pissed off natives. Each of them held a weapon in their hands, quite prepared to defend what they considered to be sacred.
"OOPS." Daniel quipped as he turned around and stepped down from the dais.
"Oops?" Sam muttered. "That's all you can say?"
Daniel merely shrugged his shoulders as he moved to stand beside her.
"How dare you defile the most revered one!" the man, who was obviously the leader stated as he stepped towards them.
"I'm sorry." Daniel began. "We're strangers to your land and did not know it was forbidden." he apologized.
"It matters not where you are from. No one but one of the true blood can approach the serpent's heart. For doing the forbidden you must be punished. The gods will decide your fate."
"What do you mean?" Sam questioned anxiously.
"The serpents will judge him. If he is found worthy you will be allowed to continue on your way."
"And if he's found unworthy?" Sam asked.
"Then he will die." the man finished and made a motion with his hand. Before either Sam or Daniel could react they were grabbed from behind and quickly disarmed.
Sam and Daniel were led to the village and when Sam was led away from Daniel she protested. She was taken to a small room and shoved inside. She swore when the door was locked and she was left alone.
"Great! This is certainly a fine mess you've got us into this time Daniel." she muttered as she moved to the small cot and sat down.
The allotted two hours came and went. Jack glanced at his watch again and frowned. "Something's wrong." he told Teal'c "We'd better go and look for them." he finished and strode off in the direction that Sam and Daniel had taken earlier.
Sam turned her head and stood up when she heard the lock click and the door swung open. A young girl came into the room carrying a food tray.
"My name is Martia." she said and carried the tray over to the table. "I brought you some sustenance."
"I'm Sam." Carter told the girl and moved to her side. "Please you have to help me. You have to take me to my friend."
"I'm sorry, I cannot do that. Agon has spoken. He is the high priest and speaks for the Gods. Were I to disobey I would suffer the same fate as your friend. "
"What fate? Please I must see him. Isn't there a way?"
Martia thought for a moment and then she smiled. "There is one way. Follow me." the girl said and headed for the door. Sam followed her through the village to a large stadium-like structure on the opposite edge. As they entered, Sam noticed the tiers of benches that were arranged in a half circle around a large deep pit in the center.
Sam followed Martia as she moved to where Agon sat in the front and center position. From his position in the raised benches he would be able to see everything that went on in the central pit.
Agon turned to look at them as they approached. "Martia?" he questioned sternly. "Why have you brought the stranger here?"
"I'm sorry Agon but she insisted. She wishes to take the challenge."
Sam frowned, wondering just what she was getting herself into when Agon turned to her.
"Is this true? Do you wish to face the challenge?"
"Uhm, yes, yes I do."
"Very well. I shall permit it. You will be allowed to take the challenge and try to rescue your friend." he stated and stepped down. "Follow me." he said and motioned for Sam to follow him.
"May the Gods protect you." Martia murmured as Sam followed Agon.
Agon stopped at the edge of the pit. "You may enter the pit." he told her and Sam gasped when she looked down.
"My God, Daniel!"
Daniel was lying at the bottom of the pit. He had been stripped of everything but his boxers and appeared to be unconscious, curled in an almost fetal position.
Agon's earlier comment about the serpent's judging him was made clear as she observed Daniel's surroundings.
The pit was filled with hundreds of snakes. Most of them were curled up in the shade around the edge of the pit beneath her. A few, however, were curled up dangerously close to Daniel in the shade his body provided.
"What exactly does this challenge entail?" Sam asked when she found her voice.
"You will enter the pit armed with only one weapon, a knife." Agon stated and motioned one of his men forward. Sam took her own knife from the man and nodded.
"The only protection against the serpents will be the knife you carry. You can take nothing else with you. If you traverse the serpent's pit without being bitten and can carry your friend to safety you will both be allowed to leave. If a serpent strikes you, you will not be allowed to leave the pit and you will die for the serpents will have judged you unworthy of the challenge."
"I understand." Sam nodded and moved towards the entrance to the pit.
Agon stopped her. "I said you would be allowed no other protection and the clothes you wear are protection and must be removed."
Sam scowled but quickly complied, stripping down until she stood in the hot sun in only her bra and panties.
At the little man's leering glance over her almost nude body Sam shot him a scathing glare. ~Get a good eyeful you little jerk!~ she thought angrily.
"It is enough." Agon stated after a moment. "Lead her to the pit." he ordered as he made his way back to his seat.
Sam was led to the edge of the pit and she looked down. Notches had been cut into the side wall forming a stairway of sorts down to the bottom. She took a deep breath, gripped the knife tightly and took the first step. As she made her way down into the snake pit, Sam surveyed it and quickly analyzed her situation. She didn't have much time judging by the position of the sun. The shade on the one side of the pit where the snakes were sleeping would disappear soon and they would begin to stir and start seeking a cooler spot.
Sam stopped on the step just above the last one. About twenty serpents lay between her and Daniel and three of those were curled up in the shade of his body. The remainder, except for two curled in the shade of the bottom step, were laying out in the sun. It was a mine field but one that Sam knew she could traverse if she went slowly.
Once again she took a deep breath, then leapt off the step in order to avoid the snakes at the bottom step. The sand was hot beneath her bare feet as she cautiously stepped forward. The snakes barely stirred as she passed them and soon she had crossed through more than half the distance.
Sam sensed, rather than saw the snake poised to strike. Acting on pure instinct the knife sliced down in an arc and efficiently severed the snake's head before it could sink it's fangs into her thigh. Gore spattered her bare legs and Sam shuddered as she moved forward.
She was breathing heavily with the heat and sheer tension by the time she reached Daniel. Sam quickly looked him over searching for any sign that he had been bitten. She didn't see any but his shoulders bore the angry red hues of a sunburn and she winced.
She moved slowly around him and sighed with relief when there were no snakes behind him. She knelt and leaned over him. "Daniel?" she spoke softly. "Daniel, it's Sam. Can you hear me?"
Daniel stirred and Sam whispered urgently. "Don't move. You must lay very still."
Daniel seemed to hear her and stopped moving. Leaning further Sam looked carefully at the three snakes. Moving very slowly, she lowered the knife towards the closest snake. Pressing the flat of her knife on its head she grasped it with her other hand behind the head and tossed it to the other side far away from them. She did the same with the remaining two snakes and when Daniel was free she hoisted him up into a fireman's carry. Sam settled the man across her shoulders in such a way that her knife hand would be free.
As she turned to head back, Sam saw to her horror that the shade had disappeared on the one side of the pit and had moved to the other. The snakes were moving and the trek back to the steps would be far more dangerous.
By the time Sam reached the steps it seemed to her as though hours had passed. Her shoulders ached from the weight of the man across them and she was spattered from head to toe in snake blood. Several snakes had met their demise on the blade of her knife as she moved back through the pit. She had made it through the pit without being bitten. The serpents had judged her worthy.
As she climbed the steps, Sam looked up and the two anxious faces looking down at her didn't register in her numbed brain right away. One of those faces moved down the steps and met her, moving to take Daniel.
"Teal'c?" she questioned in an exhausted voice. "How?"
"O'Neill grew concerned when you did not return and we came to look for you. We arrived just as you entered the serpent's pit to rescue Daniel Jackson. O'Neill thought it best to remain silent so not to break your concentration." the Jaffa explained as he transferred Daniel from her shoulders to his.
Sam was too exhausted to think or even care right now and stood watching Teal'c as he carried Daniel from the pit. Suddenly gentle hands grasped her shoulders and eased her up the remaining steps. Something was draped over her shoulders and then she was pulled into a warm and solid embrace.
"Sam." she heard Jack murmur, his voice filled with relief.
Sam pulled back and studied the face close to hers. The warm brown eyes filled with relief and concern for her safety. They were also filled with something she couldn't quite recognize. "Jack." she whispered. "I'm so tired." she murmured and then closed her eyes.
Jack was unprepared when Sam collapsed against him. "Sam!" he called anxiously and shook her gently in order to rouse her, but she remained lip and unresponsive in his arms. Panic filled him as he picked her up in his arms, pulling her tight to his body. "Teal'c, let's get to the Stargate." he ordered. "And if anyone tries to stop us, shoot them!" he stated fiercely and pointed to Teal'c staff weapon.
The Jaffa nodded, adjusted Daniel's weight on his shoulders and followed Jack from the arena. Surprisingly, the natives did not try to stop them and soon they were almost to the edge of the village.
"Wait!" a voice called and Jack stopped. He turned to see a young woman running towards him. "I am Martia." she told him. "Your woman, your Sam is very brave. Very few are able to come out of the pit alive." the girl stated. She reached into the pocket of her dress and pulled out two small cloth bags. "Please give this to her." she said and held out the first of the bags. "It is the Serpent's Heart and is given only to those of the true blood who pass the challenge of the serpent's pit."
"Thank you." Jack murmured as he took it.
"And," Martia continued and pulled a small vial from the second bag. It was filled with a pale green liquid. "Give this to your healer. It will help with the sickness."
"What sickness?" Jack questioned anxiously.
"The one that is inside her. From the serpents." she stated "May the Gods go with you."
As Jack and Teal'c moved to the Stargate, Martia's last words kept ringing through Jack's mind. Her statement filled him with icy dread for holding her close, he could feel the unnatural heat that emanated from her body.
"MEDIC!" Jack bellowed as he stepped through into the gateroom. Seconds later, Sam was taken from him. "Be careful with her!" he snapped as she was transferred to a gurney and wheeled away.
"Colonel O'Neill?" Hammond said as he approached. "I want a debriefing as soon as you're able."
"Yes sir. I'd like to see to my team first."
"Of course, carry on Colonel."
Jack paced nervously outside the infirmary as he waited for news on Daniel and Sam. Several more minutes passed before Janet stepped out into the hall.
"Doc?" he questioned.
"Daniel's going to be okay. He's suffered a nasty concussion, a broken arm and several bruised ribs. On top of that he has heat stroke and 2nd degree sunburn. I could find no evidence that he'd been bitten and there were no toxins in his blood. He should be back on his feet in a couple of days."
"Good. And Sam?" He asked and when the doctor frowned an icy fist closed around his heart.
"Sam's condition is much more severe. Like Daniel, she has heat stroke and a sunburn. What concerns me the most is her exposure to the serpents."
"But she wasn't bitten? Was she?"
"No, thank god. That venom is the strongest I've ever seen. If either of them had been bitten they would have been dead in a matter of minutes. What the natives failed to tell you is that the serpent's blood is also toxic. Sam absorbed it through her skin and it's made her very sick."
"What about the vial?"
"It contained an anti-toxin. I've given it to Sam and it is counteracting the effects of the toxin but she's in for fight. I can do nothing more for her. It's up to her now."
"Can I see her?"
"Not just yet." Janet stated quietly. "Why don't you go and get something to eat, take a shower and report to the General. Not necessarily in that order. When you're done you can come and sit with her for a while."
Jack was reluctant but he nodded before turning away and heading back down the corridor.
It was sometime later when Jack returned to the infirmary. He had taken the doctor's advice and grabbed a hot meal and then a long hot shower. After that he had reported to Hammond and SG1 was on stand down until Daniel and Sam recovered.
The infirmary was quiet when Jack stepped inside. He paused in the doorway and looked around. Janet stepped out of her office and crossed the room to stand in front of him.
"Colonel?" she questioned.
"I came to see how Sam and Daniel were doing?" he told her quietly.
Janet nodded and answered him. "Daniel is much better. He is awake and I'll probably release him in a day or two. You can go and see him if you like."
"Thanks, I will. Uhmm how is Sam?"
Fraser frowned. "She's not out of the woods yet. Although the anti-toxin is helping she has a very high fever. I'm doing what I can, keeping her hydrated, but until the poison has been flushed from her system there's not much more I can do."
Jack merely nodded and Janet could see how hard this was for him. He may not have told Sam how he felt, but Janet could see his feelings for her friend written all over his face.
"I'll be in my office if you need me." she told him quietly then turned back towards her office.
Jack watched the doctor go before taking a deep breath and heading to Daniel's bed.
"I can't leave you alone for a minute without trouble finding you." he quipped as he neared Daniel's bed and his comment earned him a smile.
"S'okay, but you know what they say about curiosity, don't you Danny boy?"
"Yah, but I still have eight lives left." Daniel countered with a grin then his smile faded.
"Teal'c told me what Sam did. How is she?"
Daniel saw the sadness that entered the older man's eyes at his comment.
"She's fighting Danny." Jack replied softly. "She's fighting." he added in a whisper that was barely audible.