- The Horsemen – Episode 1 – Breaking the Seal
- Rough Draft
- Work in Progress
- Character Bashing
- Death - Minor Character
- Discussion - Murder
- Discussion - Rape
- Discussion - Sexual Abuse
- Discussion - Torture
- Explicit Sex
- No Beta
- Violence - Canon-Level
- Alternate Universe
- Rule 63
Laura Cadman rubbed her forehead, fighting the perpetual headache since they’d captured the wraith. His mind was like a sucking cesspool and she had to keep her empathy locked down when she was within a fucking football field of one. And since it was right next door, she felt like she was being tortured.
“You okay?” Major Lorne asked, and she looked up and met his gaze. He wasn’t in any better shape, lines of stress and fatigue around his eyes. Cadman had been a guide before the expedition, but Lorne had come online practically the minute they walked through the gate. The few other guides on the city had done their best to help him while they’d been stuck out here in Pegasus but the sheer level of stress and high emotions had taken its toll on him.
“Same shit, different day, sir.”
He gave faint smile, but before he could say anything, the sound of the city’s self-destruct alarm began blaring. They both jumped to their feet, exchanging horrified looks. They’d known it might come to this, but had that cunt forgotten she’d stuck them in the damn stockade?
Laura banged on the door, furious beyond reason. “Hey! Did you assholes forget we were down here?!”
“The self-destruct is only ten minutes! It takes five to get to the gate.” She banged harder on the door, ignoring the pain. “Weir! You fucking whore!” She’d never hated anyone in her life until Elizabeth Weir. The mission had gone pear-shaped from the beginning but it should have been okay, could have been okay.
After Sumner died, Lorne had tried to take command of the expedition, but Weir had refused to surrender control, with a huge percentage of the military choosing to back her. Laura still couldn’t make sense of that shit. The position of military CO had gone to Lt. Ford, even though both Lorne and Cadman outranked him.
The two of them had been relieved of command and ‘allowed’ to participate on AR teams, but otherwise had very little function in the city.
Early on, they’d tried to get some of the military assets to get their head out of their ass. Two of the people who’d sided with them had wound up killed when they’d tried to re-take command of the military. Bates called it a mutiny, and the only reason Lorne and Cadman weren’t in lockup full time was that they didn’t have the manpower to staff a stockade.
But it had been irrelevant because neither of them had been willing to risk more of their rapidly dwindling personnel being fucking murdered and had fallen in line with doing trade runs, and rejoiced in being off-world as much as humanly possible. Laura had entertained the idea of staying on one of the planets she’d visited, but she hadn’t been prepared to give up on the idea of going home. Not yet.
But then the wraith were seen on long-range sensors. Lorne had assumed they’d want some sort of experienced military consult, but they’d been ignored until Ford had eventually gotten annoyed and had them both sent to the stockade. Again.
An arm came around her waist and pulled her away from the door. “Laura, stop. You’re hurting yourself,” Lorne whispered.
She didn’t fight the hold, eventually sagging into it. Guides were tactile by nature and it’d been too long since she’d had something as simple as a hug. “We’re gonna die out here and no one is ever going to know anything other than that revisionist shit Weir’s science squad sent.” McKay and Zelenka marched to Weir’s tune and edited every word Lorne or Cadman had written, so no one would know about what most of the military on this expedition had done.
Lorne just held on tight, and Laura finally turned in his embrace and hugged him back.
“This sucks,” she whispered.
“Yeah,” he said, sounding impossibly tired.
The alarm cutting off caused them to jerk apart. “That was only a couple minutes,” she whispered, wondering what was going on. She tried to extend her empathy again and winced. Damn wraith.
About a minute later, the door opened and Rodney McKay was standing there, looking as tired as she felt, but seeming oddly elated despite everything going on.
“McKay,” she snapped. “You assholes forget we were down here?” Worse than the betrayal by the military was that other guides like McKay had turned on them, too.
McKay held up a hand. “We don’t have time for this. I was never on Weir’s side, but I couldn’t afford to let you think you had an ally or she wouldn’t have trusted me. Zelenka, Miko, and I made sure your reports got to General O’Neill in the databurst. Unedited. So pick your jaws up off the floor and move it. We haven’t got a lot of time.”
Not prepared to question providence, Laura scrambled out of the cell they’d been in for two days. They’d been able to shower and change clothes this morning, but hadn’t eaten in over twelve hours. She’d barely made it into the corridor before she stumbled to a halt.
“Sentinels,” she said on a breath. Sumner had only brought three low-level sentinels on the expedition and they’d died early on, so she hadn’t felt the presence of a sentinel in months. The only reason she hadn’t felt them sooner was she had her empathy dialed down to block out the wraith.
There were two standing outside the door leading to the cage they’d set up for the captured wraith prisoner. And two more obviously acting as escort to the trio of guides. All of them inclined their heads to her and Lorne.
Sentinels were on Atlantis! Sword-carrying ones no less. She’d never even seen that in real life. Military sentinels had stopped carrying swords almost fifty years ago.
“Yes, yes,” McKay said impatiently. “There are about sixty sentinels pouring through the gate from Earth right now. We have to get up there. ASAP. And before you think I didn’t say something, yes, of course I told Weir that putting you two so close to that wraith was akin to torture. But she wouldn’t listen.”
“What’s going on, McKay?” Lorne demanded as they headed briskly for the transporters.
“Walk faster. I want some distance from that wraith. I don’t need a worse headache,” McKay nearly snarled. “O’Neill sent reinforcements in the form of a lot of sentinels, guides, and Force Recon Marines. Someone said something about some SEALs, too. They’re still coming through. There’s twenty minutes left on the gate.”
“I take it you weren’t successful on the satellite?” Cadman prompted.
McKay’s shoulders tensed. “We got one of the ships. Kavanagh died.”
Laura made a face. Kavanagh was an ass but she didn’t wish him dead. Still, she couldn’t really find it in her to mourn him. They entered the transporter and the two sentinels stayed behind. As soon as they exited, two more sentinels, also with swords strapped across their backs, met them and began a brisk pace toward the command room. They were now far enough away from the make-shift stockade that she felt her head starting to clear and could open up her empathy a little.
Miko Kusanagi ran up and met them. “Why am I needed, Rodney?” Kusanagi was another guide who Laura had felt betrayed by all this time, and it was taking her a moment to readjust her world view that these two weren’t really her enemy.
“I don’t know. The four of us were ordered up to Weir’s old office.”
“Old office?” Lorne blurted out.
McKay shot a scathing look over his shoulder. “Did you seriously think they wouldn’t relieve that twat of command? Now hurry up.”
“Why just the four of us?” Miko asked. “The only thing we have in common, other than some form or resistance to Weir’s plans, is that we’re all level-6 guides.”
“I’m sure it has something to do with the sentinels pouring through and our status, but I was told to get you and get up there. And I’d rather actually get there than talk it to death since I’d like some damn answers, too!”
“Rodney,” Miko said on a sigh and just shook her head.
They made it to the control room and Laura wanted to jump up and down with excitement. It was chaos, but it was military chaos. Well-ordered, sentinel-regimented, chaos. The room was swarming with badass Marines, some of them sentinels, some guides, more than half mundane. There were stacks of crates with RPGs and rail guns and boxes labeled C-4. And Laura was half tempted to hug that crate of C-4.
“Come on, Cadman,” Lorne whispered in her ear. “You can play with the munitions later.”
“Right.” She trailed up the stairs towards Bitchface’s office, looking back longingly at the explosives still coming through the gate. She finally gave some focus to their destination as they were crossing into Weir’s old office.
Training took over her shock and she snapped off a salute. “General Sheppard, sir!” What in the world was the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Lieutenant General Patrick S. Sheppard, doing on Atlantis?! Then she registered the woman in the room sitting at Weir’s desk.
Dr. Emma Sheppard. Which made sense since Laura couldn’t imagine the alpha guide letting her sentinel go to another galaxy without her. Laura sure as hell wouldn’t let her sentinel traipse off to Pegasus without her—if she’d ever found her sentinel.
“At ease, Colonel, Captain,” he said briskly to her and Lorne. “Shut the door, Dr. McKay.”
Lorne shared a look with Cadman then cleared his throat. “Respectfully, sir, Lieutenant Cadman and Major Lorne.”
Sheppard tossed a small box at Lorne and then one to her. She caught it deftly. “Not any more.”
Laura opened the box to find Captain’s bars staring up at her. She sucked in a breath through her teeth.
“Congratulations on your promotions,” the general continued. “And well done. I’ve read all the unedited mission reports and I know you two did your best. You couldn’t have known that Sumner and Weir had primarily selected Marines who would be loyal to her.”
“Sir?” Lorne asked, echoing her need for clarification.
“We’ll get to the clusterfuck that Weir and Sumner created later. There’s a more pressing issue at hand. Em?” He glanced at his guide.
She pushed back and got to her feet. She was tall, had striking features, green eyes, and light brown hair. She practically oozed guide aura. “I’m Emma Sheppard, and I’d dearly love to give you all time to rest and recover but by my estimation we have about ten minutes before the jig is up. I’ve read about each of you while we were preparing for the mission and ask that you pardon any forwardness on my part as I feel I know each of you.”
McKay made a little impatient gesture. “Yes, yes. I have things I desperately need to be doing, so if we could get to it.”
“Rodney,” Kusanagi hissed.
He signed and crossed his arms over his chest.
Dr. Sheppard just smiled. “Sam told me all about you.”
“Oh, god.” McKay rolled his eyes.
“It was mostly good,” Dr. Sheppard assured.
“Em,” General Sheppard prompted.
“Yes, dear. I’ll get to the point.” She smiled at all of them again and Laura couldn’t help but smile back. “Patrick and I have four children, that’s fairly well known. They’ve all been online sentinels for time periods ranging from one year to twenty-one years. The minute the gate closed behind the Atlantis expedition, all four of them went feral.” She looked angry but continued to project calm. “For now, I’ll skip the details of the hellish few weeks that finally brought us to the SGC. But what’s important to know is that the former Secretary of Defense has been tampering with the sentinel and guide records sent to, well, our SGC—the sentinel and guide center. No one in the program was ever going to be matched. I can fill you in on that some other time.”
Cadman just stared. She’d come online after joining Stargate Command and had never had a good match from the Center. And now she knew why.
“You’re saying that the four of us are the guides for your children?” Lorne asked, sounding bewildered and exhausted.
Whoa. Really? She looked sharply at Dr. Sheppard, who was nodding.
“Yes, each of you is a perfect genetic complement to one of my children. Dr. McKay, on paper, you’re a match to my oldest, John. Dr. Kusanagi, you are a match to David. Then there’s my fraternal twins, Matt and Alex. Lt. Colonel Lorne, Matt is your sentinel match. Captain Cadman–”
“Are you saying Alex Sheppard is my sentinel?” Laura blurted out.
“On paper, yes. Is that a problem?”
Laura pressed a hand to her stomach, feeling the butterflies. “She’s my idol,” she whispered. Alexandra Sheppard was the most badass woman in the entirety of the armed forces, in Laura’s opinion. Last Laura knew, she was a Lt. Commander, and before becoming the first female Navy SEAL, she’d been a weapon’s engineer. To add to that, she’d been an online empathic sentinel since she was eleven years old with the kind of control that was unheard of in an unbonded sentinel.
Dr. Sheppard smiled broadly. “She’s very eager to meet you. But the reason I called you all here immediately when there is so much to do to ready the city for the wraith is to prepare you for the fact that the people who may be your sentinels will be the last thing through that gate. Certainly they wanted to come through first, but if any of you had been in jeopardy or injured, we’d have had feral alpha-level sentinels to deal with. The best option was to make certain each of you were safe and give you this brief warning.”
“We can’t exactly bond with the wraith looming,” McKay bit out.
“Bonding or not is the choice of each of you. The wraith are three to four days out. What the eight of you do with that time will have to be decided by you.”
“Are you the Pride alphas?” Dr. Kusanagi asked.
“For now,” General Sheppard replied. “John and Alex are both empathic sentinels and it will be one of them after they bond. Assuming they bond,” he amended. “We all, even John, suspect the Atlantis Pride’s alpha will be Alex.”
“They’re coming to stay?” Lorne asked cautiously.
“That depends on their guides,” Dr. Sheppard replied. “They’ve each said that if they bond, they’ll go where their guides want to go. If that’s Atlantis, then they’ll stay here. And each of you will be given the option to stay or return to Earth.”
“Who’s going to be in command, sir?” Lorne asked.
“Me,” General Sheppard said immediately. “By the expedition charter, under the conditions the expedition has been in since the first day, the military leader is in command. The civilian administrator of the expedition is…” he gestured to Dr. Sheppard, who inclined her head.
“Before you ask, Dr. McKay,” Dr. Sheppard began, “I have no interest in being Chief Science Officer or butting into your work. But let’s work out the details after we kick some wraith ass.”
Laura couldn’t help but snort in amusement. Even Lorne smiled.
Dr. Sheppard was flashing Lorne concerned looks, and Laura actually felt herself relax a little. Emma Sheppard was a trained empathic healer and finally Lorne would have someone to look out for him who knew more than Laura did. Laura had all the necessary training for a guide of her level, but she’d never taken advanced training in things like healing because she’d been more interested in her work.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Dr. Sheppard said brightly. “How would you like to proceed?”
“When he comes through the gate, I’m going down there and seeing if we’re a match, of course,” McKay said sharply. “If we are, and we survive the wraith, we’ll see about bonding.”
“Well, the shield will be up soon, so we just have to hold out while we wait for the Daedalus.”
“Shield?” McKay asked. “We can’t power the shield until the ZedPM arrives on the Daedalus.”
“Well, I may have misled you slightly,” Dr. Sheppard said with a faint smile. “I needed you here and not fussing with ZPMs, so I sent you off to get the others and turned the second ZPM over to Dr. Zelenka.”
“What?! You found two,” McKay yelped, nearly vibrating with excitement. “I need to get down there. Zelenka might–”
“Dr. McKay,” General Sheppard said sharply, “it is being handled. You are not required to bond with my son or even talk to him, but you will stay here until he can see you’re safe. All of you smell of exhaustion, grief, and pain. I’ll not have John haring all over the city trying to find you to insure you’re well.”
McKay seemed to be trying to shake it off. Laura felt a moment of sympathy for him, which was new since she’d been resenting him for months. He’d been running on the edge since they’d arrived, trying to keep as many people alive as possible, to protect the city. But she knew from well before they stepped onto Atlantis the first time how much McKay wanted to find his sentinel. In the next breath he’d say ‘and he better not be an idiot,’ but it was still a deeply profound longing they all shared.
“Right. Of course.” He ran his hands through his hair, making it stand on end. “How many minutes did you say?”
“We have three minutes left on the dial-up, and they’re coming through last, so it could be any moment. As soon as they’re through, and we have confirmation the ZPM is functional, we’re dialing Earth and sending Weir, Ford, Bates, and her merry band of outlaws back to Earth to face a military tribunal.”
Laura felt a vicious satisfaction at that. She hoped every one of those assholes went to jail.
“What about the scientists?” Kusanagi asked.
“We’ll decide on a case-by-case basis after the wraith are dealt with,” Dr. Sheppard promised. “They aren’t accountable in the same way the military assets are, so it’s not a matter of the mutiny against Major Lorne that’s at issue, but rather some unethical practices that have come to my attention. And believe me, I’m fully aware that Weir hamstringed you in that regard, Dr. McKay.”
McKay and Kusanagi just nodded, and Laura wondered what the hell that was about.
Dr. Sheppard was about to say something, but the general held up a hand, head cocked to the side. It made Laura smile. She hadn’t seen sentinel behaviors in a long time.
“They’re coming through after this MALP.”
McKay was already out the door with Kusanagi following, but Laura and Lorne looked to the general.
“Go,” he said with a faint smile, waving them away.
“Colonel Lorne,” Dr. Sheppard interrupted. “Do you mind if I walk with you?”
“Of course not, Ma’am.”
Laura watched as Dr. Sheppard threaded her arm through Lorne’s and, almost immediately, he seemed to relax. A healing aura practically radiated from Emma Sheppard. He met Laura’s gaze and they exchanged faint smiles. It was all going to work out.
They made it to the stairs as the first two Sheppard sentinels came through, quickly followed by the twins. They looked like War. In that moment, Laura privately dubbed them the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
All four had P-90s, standard issue handguns, and swords strapped to their backs. To Laura’s utter delight, Alexandra Sheppard had two of them.
All four sentinels immediately looked to the stairs. The gate shut off as Laura met the eyes of her sentinel for the first time. And there was no doubt in her mind that was her sentinel.
And holy crap, Alexandra Sheppard was hot. She was nearly six feet tall, with stylishly short, spiky hair. She had insane green eyes and light brown hair. She had a wicked scar that ran from her right temple to her jaw. Laura found everything about the sentinel hot like burning.
In a way, Laura’s empathy was overworked from blocking out that wraith for the last two days, but she could help but let her aura flare and empathically reach for the sentinel watching her so closely.
The sentinel’s hard expression relaxed and she smiled, and Laura’s stomach flipped over. Oh, yeah, she was a goner.
She wasn’t aware that she’d even decided to move, but somehow, she found herself at the bottom of the stairs, close enough to her sentinel that she had to look up to account for the half a foot height difference.
“Sentinel,” she whispered.
“Guide,” was returned immediately in a low voice. “Laura,” she amended, “I’m so pleased to finally meet you.”
“We’re a match,” Laura said immediately.
“I know.” The sentinel cocked her head to the side. “Are we already at the red pill/blue pill conversation?”
“I’m only ever interested in red pills,” Laura shot back.
Alex Sheppard grinned, and it made Laura’s breath catch. “But I brought courting presents and everything.”
“I don’t need persuasion, but I do like presents,” she said happily, feeling all the horrors of the last few months just slide away.
Sheppard slid a bag from her shoulder and passed it over. “We each brought our prospective guides something personally minded and something professionally oriented.”
“And which is this?” Laura asked taking the bag, noting it was really heavy.
“Professional. The personal gift is in my gear.” Alex waved to the bag. “Go ahead.”
Laura had to take a small step back to open the bag. Inside, she found a lot of compartments, some of them completely separated from others. “Oh my god!” The bag was filled with det cord, micro fuses, detonators, and everything else she could think of, and a few things she’d never seen before. She could make a damn good guess though and was delighted by the cutting edge advancements those few items represented.
Carefully, she set the bag down then flung herself at her sentinel for the biggest hug ever. To hell with the fact that everyone was watching. There could be no clearer message that Alexandra Sheppard wasn’t the sort of asshole sentinel who expected her guide to stay safe.
Touching her sentinel, even with the P-90 between them, was the most amazing thing in Laura’s life. The connection flared between them hot and bright and everything she’d ever wanted. She registered the faint sounds of her sentinel’s deep breaths, but was surprised when Alex pushed her away, peering at her closely.
“There’s an alien scent on you. What is it? Is that what a wraith smells like?”
“Probably. Weir had Lorne and me in a cell in the room next to the wraith prisoner.” Laura hadn’t been in contact with the wraith at all, but she could imagine that being so close to one for two days, with the same guards for both sets of prisoners would transfer some of the smell.
“Did she now?” Sheppard said in a dangerous tone, glancing to the side.
Laura looked over and found Kusanagi actually sitting on David Sheppard’s lap. They had their arms wrapped around each other and were just sitting quietly on the stairs. Lorne and Matthew Sheppard were standing up near Dr. Sheppard, their foreheads pressed together, with Matthew’s hands framing Lorne’s face. The two were apparently talking softly. John Sheppard had McKay backed into a wall and was sniffing his neck for all he was worth. All she could see of McKay was his hands fisted in the back of Sheppard’s tac vest.
But on the opposite side of the room she noticed various Marines, some of them sentinels, standing guard over a lot of people seated on the floor with their hands seemingly bound behind their backs. Among them were Dr. Weir, Lieutenant Ford, and Sergeant Bates. And none of them looked pleased to have Alexandra Sheppard’s attention focused on them.
Alex pulled further away from Laura, taking two steps out into the chaos of equipment and people. She was clearly sniffing the air, which seemed to get David’s attention, and then General Sheppard stepped up next to Laura, obviously watching his daughter closely.
When Alex closed her eyes, tipped her head back, and took a very long inhalation, the reaction was not what Laura expected. David was immediately on his feet, putting Miko behind him. Matthew put Lorne next to his mother and stepped in front of both of them, and John whipped around and stood directly in front of McKay.
Alex took a second deep breath, and the other sentinels in the room all stiffened and came to attention. By her third slow, eyes-closed, deep breath, the oddness of sentinels at attention had affected everyone in the room and everything went still and quiet.
“Alexandra?” the general finally prompted.
She turned her head slowly, eyes unfocused. “There are wraith on the city.”
“Yes, we found out there’s one in the stockade. I want it executed immediately,” the general said.
“That one is 200 yards that way, eight levels down,” she said, sounding far way and pointing in the exact right direction of the stockade. “I’m talking about the six others.” She pointed a different way. “Five that direction twenty levels down, alive, but… I think they’re in stasis. One that way,” she pointed a few degrees to the left, “three or so levels down, five clicks out. Definitely awake.”
Laura realized all the sentinels were attempting to locate what Alex had found. She’d heard rumors that the most acute sense of smell ever tested on a sentinel was Alexandra Sheppard, but she’d always dismissed the idea, because Alex wasn’t a bonded sentinel. But she just witnessed her new sentinel sniff out seven wraith on the city and obviously piggyback sound onto her sense of smell.
A bump to her arm made Laura start in surprise and realize that she had McKay and Kusanagi on one side and Lorne and Dr. Sheppard on the other, with the Sheppard sentinels all standing around them.
Alex stepped up in front of the entire group and she made eye contact with each of the guides. “I’m not the sort of asshole sentinel who tells guides to stay back and keep safe. This isn’t about your status or who your sentinel might be some day. You’re all running on the edge. Some of you haven’t eaten in more than half a day, you’re all exhausted, and most of you are radiating empathic pain. The people who brought this upon you will be dealt with, you have my word on that. But none of you are fit for duty at the moment. You will stay here in the command room until the city is cleared of wraith. Am I clear?”
Inevitably, McKay had to say, “We could return to our labs. I need to see to the ZedPM.”
“Rodney,” John Sheppard said on a sigh and those two were weirdly in sync already.
“I’m afraid that’s not an option, Dr. McKay,” Alex said tersely. “Get comfortable, get food, hang out with my mother.”
Laura could hear John murmuring to McKay, “Alex is the commander of the four SEAL fire teams we brought. The new charter says she has tactical command in a foothold situation. If my dad has to do what she says right now, so do you.”
“Fine,” McKay sighed. “Go kill wraith. I want to check on that ZedPM, so don’t make me wait too long, Sentinel.”
“Really? ZPMs?” John groused.
“I just want to check it. I didn’t say I would stay with it.”
“Flirt later, you two,” Alex said.
“Commander Sheppard?” General Sheppard prompted.
“John, David, you’re with fire teams Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie on the five hibernating wraith. Delta team is with me on the roaming wraith.”
“You always pick the fun ones for yourself,” John teased as he moved to stand with his sister. Laura realized the SEAL fire teams were already assembled and waiting by the exit from the command center. Where they’d come from she had no idea.
“Where do you want me, Commander,” Major Matthew Sheppard asked briskly.
Alex met her brother’s eyes. “Here.”
Matt’s expression didn’t change, but Laura could feel his relief. She had a feeling Lorne had been hiding how close to the edge he was from her, and the long exposure to the wraith had obviously hurt him more than he’d let on. The major felt relieved to not be parted from his guide yet.
“No gate activations until all the wraith on the city are dead,” Alex ordered.
“Why’s that?” McKay asked.
Alex looked up at McKay. “Dr. Sheppard has speculated that they can use the open gate to boost their telepathic range. So the gate is locked until they’re all without their damn heads. Besides, I need to have words with Dr. Weir for her participation in the torture my and Matt’s guides by sticking them in a cell next to a wraith prisoner. Want to be sure they don’t kick her ass back to Earth before I’m done with her.”
“Alexandra,” Dr. Sheppard said on sigh.
Instead of replying, Alex gave a dangerous grin, passed her P-90 to a Marine, and pulled both katanas from her back. The sound of the blades leaving their sheaths almost made Laura weak in the needs. Oh yeah, Alex was definitely Death. John could be War, David was Famine, and Matt was Conquest. She nodded decisively. Yeah, that worked.
“Alex,” she called out, darting over to her sentinel, “kill ‘em so hard.”
Alex grinned. “As you wish, Guide.”
Laura reached up and pulled her sentinel down into firm press of lips.
Her sentinel blinked a few times. “Right. Hard.” She cracked her head to the side, letting the bones pop. “But fast, I think. Definitely fast.” Alex smiled at Laura as she stepped away. A badass warrior sentinel with two fucking swords. “Delta Team, on me. My guide wants the city wraith free by dinner.”