Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak. ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War


Seated on the rocky ground with the bottom of his cloak tucked firmly beneath him, Cromwell leaned against the rough stone wall, gazing out at the winter landscape. For just a fleeting moment he wished he had a cigarette, then shook off the thought. He hadn’t thought about smoking in well over a year, and hadn’t actually done so in more than a year and a half, since he’d fallen through the stargate.

The only reason it even crossed his mind now, he knew, was that he was worried. And he was waiting for something to happen. Used to be that whenever he got stuck waiting and worrying, he’d have a smoke and try to take his mind off whatever was stressing him. Not that it had ever really worked, of course, although just having something to do with his hands helped. The comfortable, familiar routine of packet and cigarette and lighter, that first satisfying puff… It was ritual, pure and simple, and he knew it, but it was a ritual that he’d used for years to ground and center himself. Just like in Iraq, when he and Jack had waited — interminably, it seemed — for their team to get sent into action. Just like at Ramstein, waiting for what he’d thought would be the tinderbox of Kosovo lighting up but had instead morphed into the 121st’s transfer back stateside, assigned to provide backup for the SGC should the shit ever truly hit the fan. And just like at Peterson, waiting for it to do so, as he’d known it inevitably would. It had all been just a matter of time.

He shook his head to dispel the reverie, resuming his vigil over the frozen landscape beyond the mouth of the cave. Pilot works, abandoned mineshaft… call it what you would, it was still a cave as far as he was concerned. He’d been in his share of them over the years, and wasn’t a fan. The sense of unease left over from his first real experience in one as a young boy tended to permeate his thoughts whenever he had to venture too far underground.

At least when he’d been on mine crew rotation, he’d been too busy to really think about it much. The same held true for his visits to the Tok’bel stronghold of Caer Ynys. And going deep within the bowels of Cheyenne Mountain had been nothing more than an unavoidable necessity if he had ever hoped to repay the debt he’d owed to Jack. He’d taken the assignment and the mission without a second’s hesitation. But here, with little or nothing to do for hours on end but wait…

There were soft footsteps behind him. “Filwriad,” said Armagil, “why don’t you come inside, away from the wind? It’s warmer there, and Tathan’s brought his dice. The men are playing at twos and fives, so why not join them? Or at least come watch and make sure that sly fox Llew plays the game fairly?”

Cromwell turned his head, looking up to face the younger man as he spoke. He caught the look of understanding in his 2IC’s eye. Armagil was well aware of his distaste for caves, he knew, but of course that didn’t stop the younger man from trying to distract him by focusing his mind on the team. He often reminded the colonel of Captain Stuart that way. Stuart had been 2IC of the 121st and had rarely missed an opportunity to at least try to breach his irascible CO’s self-imposed isolation by drawing him into the team’s off-duty activities. The difference here was that Armagil met with success on most occasions whereas Stuart had not, though Cromwell knew that had far less to do with either man’s relative talents than with his own change in attitude over the past eighteen months or so.

“I’ll come back there in a few minutes, all right?” he replied. “I just need a bit of time to myself first.”

“Aye,” said Armagil simply, turning to leave. He glanced down at the lantern in his hand, then set it on the rocky floor just near the bend in the passageway. “I’ll leave this here for you, Neirin. I can find my way back without it. There’s another lamp set just around the next bend.” With that he vanished into the shadows before Cromwell could say another word.

The colonel gazed for a moment in the direction his lieutenant had gone, before turning his attention once more to the world outside. Truth be told, he was grateful for Armagil’s steady presence and quiet concern, not to mention the young rhaglaw’s efficiency. Cromwell had not hesitated to suggest his former clerk when Cadogan had requested candidates for promotion to the ranks of officers. Although he was only twenty-four and thus younger than many of the other Wolves, he was capable, dependable and bright, with what seemed to be an innate sense for situations. He had on more than one occasion displayed the capacity for brilliant leadership in both wargames and on actual missions. The Am Rhyddid wasn’t exactly awash in officer ranks, nor did it need to be, but those who filled what positions were available were some of the best and the brightest men and women the Celtic tribes had to offer. Clearly, Cadogan and his compatriots had chosen well, and Cromwell was confident he’d made a good choice in Armagil.

He watched as a few fat flakes fell lazily from the pale gray overcast above to add themselves to the white blanket covering the landscape. The scene beyond the cave mouth was a study in gray and white, broken here and there by the odd bit of winter color: the deep evergreen of pines at the edge of the forest, the brown of frozen mud in patches along the rutted road that led to the mines. The blue-and-yellow plumage of a tit caught his eye as it streaked past on some errand, likely seeking a meal of seeds in the nearby trees.

Cromwell glanced at his watch, still surprisingly functional after all this time on a single battery. They’d been here a little over an hour, and there were several yet to go before he could expect the first report from Ceinwen. Tesni and the mining crew should have arrived at the mine complex by now and would most likely be getting set up in the worker’s dormitory, preparatory to commencing their labors. Realistically, he couldn’t expect to have any news until evening approached.

Faint sounds of conversation punctuated by occasional laughter echoed from deeper within the cavern as his Wolves entertained themselves with their dice game. Armagil was right, of course; it wouldn’t do to sit here brooding alone all day. The inner room would be warmer with the heat of so many bodies, and later, as the early dusk of winter neared, they could chance a fire. He’d post a sentry near the cave mouth throughout their stay, but taking that role himself the whole time would send the wrong message to his team. So what if you’re in a cave, Cromwell? You’ve been in plenty of them before, and you’ll probably see the inside of others before all is said and done, especially as long as you’re leading this outfit. Anyway, third grade was a long damn time ago. Nick isn’t here, but you’ve got eight men back there who respect and look up to you, so get it together and deal. Besides, it isn’t being in this cave that worries you so much as not knowing what’s going on with Tesni at the mine. And you know damn well that no amount of sitting here stewing about it is going to keep her any safer.

With a sound somewhere between a sigh and a snort, he got to his feet and began to make his way toward the sound of his men’s voices, taking up the lantern as he passed.





“Three Goa’uld and five Jaffa?” Even as he asked the question, Cadogan’s mind raced.

The messenger nodded. “The Goa’uld were dressed as divine warriors of Bel. You know the costume. One wore a golden breastplate, and looked to be the leader of the other two. The Jaffa were in armor, with the horns of the ram on their helmets.”

Cadogan thought for a moment. There was a time when the news of approaching Goa’uld would have sent him and Sabar into hiding, though thankfully that hadn’t been necessary in over three decades. Not since the Tok’ra scientist Kharys had managed to perfect a symbiote-masking drug he called sheta based on preliminary research he’d stolen out from under Ba’al’s nose over a century earlier, just before joining the Tok’bel. Rumor had it that Ba’al’s scientists still hadn’t managed to perfect their own version, possibly through having had to start over from scratch after Kharys destroyed the facility in which their initial work had been carried out, and the research team along with it. Working in a lab at Caer Ynys, Kharys had not only brought the research to fruition himself, but had then genetically modified a common herb, a species of mint cultivated on all of the Five Worlds, to produce the substance in the course of its own metabolism, thus ensuring a steady supply.

Sheta masked the particular biosignature that under normal circumstances allowed one mature symbiote  — the larvae carried in Jaffa pouches lacked this capability in any reliable form — to detect the presence of another within a host body. The Tok’bel had tested the altered plant’s effects by drinking a tea brewed from its leaves and discovered that indeed a symbiote whose host had ingested a daily dose of this infusion for several days no longer generated a detectable biosignature. Apparently the drug did take some time to build up in the system but once it did, the masking was total and without side-effects. Moreover, the drug took a long time to clear from the body; if one’s host had been using it consistently for several weeks, the effect persisted for at least two to three weeks afterward before beginning to wane.

I wonder whether this visit has anything to do with Coll, or if this is mere coincidence? mused Cadogan silently.

{That’s a good question,} Sabar replied, his mental tone thoughtful. {If the Jaffa at the mine managed to get any kind of information from Coll — not that he’d give it willingly, I know that — then we’re in serious trouble here. Then again, I’d almost expect a much larger party in that case, so this might be something completely unrelated.}

So would I, to be honest. Still, we can’t rule it out.

{No, that’s true. Of course, we don’t even know for sure that this party even belongs to Bel. For all we know, it could be more of Moccas’ rogues.}

Good point. None of his raiding parties have included Goa’uld, though; only Jaffa.

{There’s a first time for everything, I suppose. At this point it’s still a possibility we have to consider.} Sabar’s tone was firm.

Oh, agreed. We’re going to have to brazen this out, but I also want our people to be ready.

The scout was watching him, her green eyes fixed on his face. She was very young, in only her second year in the Am Rhyddid, if memory served. “Have you any orders for me, cadlywydd?”

He wished Gerlad were here, but his aide had gone to Dinas Coedwyg to brief the rebels there in case things were about to get tricky, and wasn’t expected back for several hours. “For now, go and find Nenniaw, Dynawd and Aeronwy and tell them to get over here immediately. Then alert their teams; you know who reports to whom.”

She nodded, standing. “Does this have anything to do with Coll, do you think?”

He wanted to be able to tell her no and mean it, but there simply wasn’t enough information. “I’ve no idea, which is why I want everyone on the alert. If it does turn out there’s no connection, then I suppose Idris and I are about be called to task for something or other.”

“Aye.” She gave him a sympathetic look as she moved toward the door. “I’ll have the filwriadau in your office soonest, sir.”

With her departure, he began to pace the room, pausing to glance at the mug resting on his desk. At least he and Sabar would be able to deal personally with whatever was about to happen. Sheta had been developed to allow Tok’bel operatives to move about freely among the human populations of the Five Worlds, rather than restricting undercover operations only to those posing as Goa’uld, and he and Sabar had availed themselves of it on a daily basis along with most other Tok’bel as a hedge against being discovered should they find themselves present on any of the Five Worlds at the time of a Goa’uld visit. It also allowed the Tok’bel to easily take an active role in combat operations where Goa’uld were apt to be encountered, because they could pass for purely human. The mainline Tok’ra had been happy enough when Sabar had shared the fruits of Khary’s labors with them, although according to Nasara they didn’t make nearly as much use of it as did the Tok’bel.

He forced himself to stop pacing and picked up the mug, carrying it with him out of the study and into his bedchamber, where he placed it on the dresser after draining half the remaining tea. Opening the large wooden wardrobe that stood against one wall, he studied its contents thoughtfully.

His routine of drinking sheta tea daily had left only the problem of disguising himself sufficiently to prevent any Jaffa or Goa’uld from noticing the presence in Llanavon or elsewhere of a man whose name and features never changed over decades of time. Neither Jaffa nor Goa’uld paid much attention to individual humans on a normal basis, but the chiefs and priests of any given group were better-known. Not that any Pridani currently living believed the Goa’uld to be gods, but still it was the official function of Clan Branoc’s chief family to intercede with Bel and his minions on behalf of the people, and so they observed tradition in the interest of maintaining normal appearances and thus hiding their clan’s rebellious hearts.

Cadogan had been born the second child of then-chieftain Cynan ap Maugan some thirteen decades earlier, and had been known to Bel and his servants as a scion of the Pen-Branoc for almost fifty years prior to his blending with Sabar. Upon that blending, he had of necessity done as had Berwyn before him and limited his presence on Tir Awyr to those times when the System Lord and his lackeys were least likely to pay a visit, lest they detect the presence of a symbiote where there should be none. Bel generally kept to his capital world of Bohan and visited the others only on the twice-annual festival days when tribute was due, so it was relatively easy to avoid contact, especially as the tribute ceremony was carried out at the compass circle itself. Still, there were occasions when Bel’s servants or even Bel himself had been known to make an unanticipated visit to Llanavon or one of the other settlements nearest the chappa’ai, so they’d had to be careful. A mature symbiote could detect the presence of another at distances of up to as far as the width of the village square and a bit beyond, meaning that if a Goa’uld showed up unexpectedly, he and Sabar had to rely on scouts or the village watch to provide advance warning, and take to the forest or else risk discovery.

{Remember, we don’t want to tip our hand and make it known that we’ve had advance warning,} Sabar cautioned him.

Cadogan continued sifting through the wardrobe, pausing to consider several garments before pushing them aside. I know that. Still, I need something that will allow for action if necessary, without saying ‘here is a military man’. Something that’s also formal enough for receiving ‘divine’ emissaries while not looking as though I’ve taken all day to dress for the occasion. Best it be thought I just ducked off to change once I heard who was here.

Since the advent of sheta he and Sabar had been in the presence of Bel and various of his subordinates at least a dozen times, with none the wiser. Of course, this had necessitated a bit of subterfuge. At first, it had been easy enough to simply grow a smart beard, carefully trimmed, and go about in his own face under an assumed name. Shortly after his blending with Sabar, they’d seen to it that Bel and his officers were informed that Cadogan ap Cynan trwy Hafgan was dead along with the known rebel Berwyn, and the entire rebel movement dead along with them, since they’d been its leaders. A clever ruse some ten years prior had the System Lord already convinced that the Tok’bel had been destroyed in the raid on their first stronghold, and Bel was provided with firm if erroneous evidence to support the claim of the rebellion’s end. The Tok’bel had gone underground more deeply than before, with even Sabar limiting himself to only rare excursions into any action where Goa’uld, rather than only Jaffa, were likely to be encountered.

The next five decades had seen little outward progress against Bel, although the Tok’bel did manage to position several additional operatives within the System Lord’s court and ministries. They also labored to collect and consolidate resources during that time, including stocks of naquadah skimmed from mining operations, and the ger’tak and the al’kesh now housed at Caer Ynys. When it came, Kharys’ pharmaceutical triumph changed the game considerably.

Given the gap of half a century between blending and the next time he’d deliberately allowed himself to be seen at close range on Tir Awyr by Bel or any of his minions, Cadogan had reasoned that none of them would have cause to suspect he was the same man they’d known, no matter how much he might resemble the old chief’s son. Thus he’d been ‘Brychan ap Bryn’ for a time in the eyes of Bel and his Jaffa, eventually disguising himself when in their presence by the means of a long grey wig, powder in his beard, and a pair of spectacles as ‘Brychan’ aged beyond Cadogan’s own apparent fifty or so years.

About twelve years ago he’d shaved his beard, put aside wig and spectacles, and reverted to using his own given name and patronymic when Goa’uld or Jaffa were about, passing himself off as a son of Cynan the Younger, his own nephew by way of his sister Aderyn. The younger Cynan had held the seat at Bennaeth Bod for twenty years before his death without surviving adult children caused the mantle of leadership to fall upon the capable shoulders of his brother Matho, Tesni’s grandfather. He  knew his outward appearance placed him around the proper age to have been born within the last few years of Cynan’s life, and any living offspring of the dead chief would have been accorded courtesy and given a position of responsibility within the clan in adulthood. Thus did Cadogan’s current pose as adviser and right-hand man to Idris mirror his true status to a large degree even as it formed the perfect cover.

For the first few years of this new masquerade he’d darkened the hair at his temples with a tinted pomade for these encounters, but more recently he’d stopped, reasoning that the silver he’d borne there since before his blending with Sabar was appropriate to the fifty-odd years now ascribed to the false persona he presented to the Goa’uld. Cadogan knew he looked little changed since the day he’d become Sabar’s host, but in a few more years it would become necessary to begin powdering his hair and perhaps to once more grow and powder his beard to disguise a face that did not age at the expected rate.

Settling on his choice of garb, he drew from the wardrobe a fine woolen tunic the color of wine with knotwork embroidery in deep blue and gold at cuffs, collar, and hem. Laying it carefully upon the bed, he glanced down at his grey woolen trousers, noting a smudge. Reaching into the wardrobe again he found a clean pair in dark blue and laid them next to the tunic. A glance at his reflection in the looking-glass reminded him that he’d not yet shaved. There was water in the ewer; it was cold, but time was of the essence and it wasn’t as if he’d never shaved using cold water before. Unlike some hosts, he found daily shaving to be a soothing ritual — cold or hot — and had never asked his symbiote to slow or stop the growth of his beard even when he wasn’t using it to disguise his features.

{That might have been convenient at the moment,} Sabar observed as Cadogan poured water into the basin and took up soap and shaving-brush.

We’ll manage. We’ve some time yet, and I still need to brief the others. There’s no reason I can’t do it while I shave and change. He abandoned further comment as he heard the front door open, followed swiftly by footsteps on the stairs.

“Cadogan?” The voice belonged to Nenniaw, though there were two sets of feet audible in the hallway.

“In here! Come on in; I’m shaving.”

His nephews — Nenniaw and Dynawd were the great-grandsons of his sister Ninnocha — entered the room. “Gwen tells us there are Goa’uld coming. What do you need us to do?”

Below, the door opened and closed again, and another set of footsteps sounded on the stairs. “That’ll be Aeronwy,” he told them. “Give her a moment to get up here and I’ll brief all three of you as well as I can.”




Tesni slid her small rucksack of personal items beneath the cot she’d been assigned in the women’s section of the long, barracks-like dormitory. Other women bustled around her, stowing their own belongings and talking quietly among themselves. Some were from Llanavon, while others belonged to contingents from other nearby communities. Low conversation in Pridanic and Alban floated on the air.

Not everyone here was a new arrival, of course. The crew rotations were staggered, so that some were entering their second week of a two-week turn at the mines while others were just beginning a one- or two-week stint. The group with whom she’d arrived were scheduled for one week. Not that she’d necessarily be here for the entire week, depending on what she learned regarding Coll. She would have to be careful about asking too many questions, although a certain amount of curiosity would be natural on the part of someone from Coll’s own village, since it would only be normal for word of his imprisonment to have spread upon the return of his neighbors to Llanavon. The fact that the other Llanavoni had been permitted to return home without incident indicated that merely being associated with the lanky man wasn’t grounds for detention in and of itself, which gave her hope that the reasons for his own situation were completely unrelated to anything having to do with the Am Rhyddid.

A woman appeared in the doorway. She was solid-looking and appeared to be perhaps forty-five or fifty. “All right, ladies, it’s time to get to work, Finish stowing your gear and assemble in front of the building in five minutes for shift start.”

There was low murmuring as the shift manager departed. Tesni was familiar with the Eiluned, having encountered her on previous work details. She was one of those who only pretended loyalty to the Goa’uld as a means to hold a position of some privilege and advantage. Eiluned was secretly committed to the rebel cause, but her position here at the mine allowed her to access information that the general run of mine crew personnel could not, and she was also responsible in part for the steady, if small, trickle of naquadah ore that made its way from the mine to the Am Rhyddid and eventually to the Tok’bel.

After checking to make sure that she had both gloves tucked into her belt, Tesni straightened and joined the flow of women moving toward the door. She fell into line beside a woman who looked to be in her mid-fifties, with gray-blonde hair plaited into a single thick braid that hung down her back. “You’re part of that new lot who’ve just come, aren’t you?” the woman asked. Though the words were in Pridanic, her voice carried the distinctive lilt of a native speaker of Alban.

Tesni nodded. “Yes, just now.”

“I’m Sorcha. Just finishing up week one of a two-week, and week two can’t be over soon enough to suit me.”

“I don’t blame you,” said Tesni. “I’m only here for one week, and I’ll be happy to get back home to my husband.”

Sorcha grinned. “Newlyweds, are ye?”

“Just over half a year.”

“And he didn’t join you on the rotation?” The older woman gave her a sidelong glance.

Without missing a beat, Tesni responded. “No, he had other duties.”

“Ah.” Her companion nodded. “I’m sure he’s as eager for your return as you are to get back to him then.”

“Without a doubt.”

Conversation ceased as they reached the door and the line dropped to single-file in order to pass through the narrow opening. The corridor outside was filled with miners of both genders. Tesni spotted Aeddon ab Amig and Cornan ap Derfel in the crowd. Cornan was scanning the line of female miners, and Tesni knew he was looking for his wife, Enfys, who had also come with this contingent. The young couple had wed at the same Midsummer feast as she and Neirin.

Up ahead, the miners were briefly silhouetted as they filed out into the overcast daylight that washed the broad court between dormitory and mine entrance. Tesni knew that the Goa’uld would have been perfectly happy to situate the entire complex, including the dormitories, belowground if not for the fact that their human slaves tended to do less well at their jobs if not provided at least some small measure of access to daylight and fresh air. So did their Jaffa, except that the warriors who also served as incubators for Goa’uld young were perhaps more stoic about the lack of such things when indeed they were lacking.

Emerging into the wan winter sunlight, Tesni blinked, looking around. A courtyard of sorts, roughly the length of Llanavon’s central square but narrower, separated the dormitory building from the main mine entrance. A blocky building containing the mine’s administrative space and barracks for the Jaffa stood on one side of the entrance while the sorting facility occupied a low building on the other. At the far end of the complex were additional sanitary facilities and the stable, both backed up against another arm of the rocky hillside into which the mine entrance itself was set.

Perhaps eighty miners, men and women, stood in the courtyard. She glanced about, noting familiar faces and many that were unfamiliar, ranging in age from about eighteen all the way to sixty or more. Most were looking about as well, appearing to savor their last view of sunlight for the day. Tesni knew it would be dark by the time they re-emerged from underground, and in the morning they would see daylight for no more than half an hour — if even that, given winter’s still-short days — before being herded below once more to mine the naquadah seam.

She breathed deeply of the crisp winter air, watching as Eiluned moved to the front of the haphazard line the miners had formed. Jaffa guards flanked both her and the assembled miners.

“All right,” Eiluned called out loudly. “Tools are on your left as you enter; pails will be on your right. Those of you who are new, let the others guide you. This isn’t complicated work, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Get inside and grab your kit — and you experienced hands, help the new folks. Let’s move.”





Cadogan stepped onto Bennaeth Bod’s front porch, fastening his cloak. In the forty minutes since the runner first arrived in his office, he’d shaved, changed, and simultaneously held a briefing with three of his four top officers. It wasn’t the first time he’d changed clothes in front of his officers — even Aeronwy — and it wouldn’t be the last. Hosting a symbiote lent itself to a certain lack of body modesty, although the Pridani weren’t a whole lot different. He’d then reviewed the situation with Idris, who as the currently acknowledged clan chief and village leader could expect to be called front and center by any visiting Goa’uld. As they were speculating on possible reasons for the visit, another messenger had arrived with the news that the party of Goa’uld and Jaffa were at the village gates.

“I don’t think I’ve ever hoped for a dressing-down before, but at this point it would be welcome, compared to the alternatives I’m worried about,” said Idris from beside him.

Cadogan gave his nephew a sidelong glance. “Agreed.”

Together they stepped off the porch, making for the village square. Around them, people moved through the street, converging on the square lest they be forcibly rounded up to attend their visitors, as had been known to occur on occasion when Bel or some other Goa’uld dignitary deemed the populace too slow in coming to render proper worship and respect. Apprehension was plain on their faces, mixed with resolve on those of the active members of the Am Rhyddid units.

Turning the corner, Idris and Cadogan approached the square itself. A line of Jaffa, their ram’s-horned helmets closed to conceal their faces, stood ranged along the far end. Cadogan could see figures moving behind the Jaffa, but he couldn’t make out their identities either. The Goa’uld visitors, no doubt. A small, subdued crowd of villagers had begun to gather in the square, keeping a safe and respectful distance from the Jaffa. He noted several Am Rhyddid personnel already placed strategically among their neighbors, and knew they carried zat’nik’tels concealed beneath their cloaks and coats. If things turned ugly, they had at least a chance of putting up a fight and possibly even winning, although to do either would irrevocably reveal the existence of the rebel movement. On the other hand, it might serve to buy them some time — however brief — in which to come up with further options and possibly to safeguard the truly innocent.

He risked a glance at Idris, who shrugged and then squared his shoulders. “Let’s get this over with.”

Cadogan nodded. {No other choice,} Sabar commented silently.

The crowd parted to let them pass, and he and Idris moved forward to stand before their visitors. A broad Jaffa, clearly the captain of the guard detachment, drew himself up and addressed them. “Kneel before the Divine Emissary of your god!”

At moments like these, Cadogan reflected on his gratitude that so many years with Sabar had given him the acting skills to pull off the role of worshipful subject. Given the number of times he’d had to play it over the past three decades, he slipped into it far more easily than he’d ever suspected he might. Sabar himself had played a similar role on many hundreds of occasions over the more than two millennia of his own lifetime, on undercover missions that involved posing as a member, often minor, of this or that System Lord’s hierarchy. Still, the faint aura of distaste that colored the symbiote’s emotional reaction was unmistakable even now, and echoed his own.

He went to his knees; beside him, Idris did likewise. Before them, the line of Jaffa parted in the center, and two Goa’uld — middle-ranked officers, to judge by their armor — stepped forward, leaving a gap between them.

“Bow your heads before the Emissary of Bel!” said the one on the left.

There was nothing for it but to comply, at least not without risking all-out confrontation, and Cadogan wasn’t willing to do that right now that unless it became absolutely necessary.

A moment later, a familiar voice spoke from above his head. “Behold him who brings the Word of Bel. Look upon me and tremble.”

His own shock of recognition was just slightly less than Sabar’s as he looked up to find the owner of that voice regarding him with the dispassionate gaze of one who had the ear of the System Lord and carried out both his ‘blessings’ and his retributions. In his persona of General Kasol, Sholan wore the ceremonial gold-washed breastplate bestowed upon him by the unsuspecting Bel. The rest of his armor, or at least that portion not apparently constructed of hardened leather, had a copper patina.

Cadogan caught Sholan’s eye, saw the rapid double blink of acknowledgement. If the Tok’bel operative were surprised to find them here today, he hid it well. Then again, according to Sabar, Sholan had always been the consummate actor. It was a necessary part of the job, for all of them. It appears we aren’t the only ones taking the stage at present.

Sabar’s mental tone was dry as he responded, {Indeed.}