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Part 3

The sound of wind chimes was the first one that Sam heard when she woke up. She moaned quietly and felt something warm and tender next to her left cheek. She opened her eyes softly and saw two fingers almost touching her nose. Moving her head slightly, she followed the fingers to the hand which she recognized immediately. The thumb then moved, but in such a way that it brushed against her skin. Shifting her eyes more to the left, Sam saw Daniel sleeping next to her with his hand unconsciously next to her face; his face turned to his right, enough for Sam to have a better view of her friend whilst in his dreams. In that moment, while he was still devoured by the unconscious, Sam could forget his real age and simply imagined a little boy sleeping next to her. She smiled. Wanting to remain longer in her place, Sam was disappointed when she realized where they were. Carefully, she took his hand and slowly moved it away, placing it on his stomach. The moment she did that, Daniel opened his eyes.

 "Morning," Sam smiled at him.

"Ah." Daniel covered his eyes with his hand and yawned so much that if it were possible to swallow the entire planet with this, he would have done it. "Morning already?"

"Afraid so," Sam replied and sat up. "Come on, Utra's waiting for us." She slapped him on the shoulder and removed herself from the bed.

They met the older woman just outside of the house. "Was your slumber a pleasant one?"

"Yes, it was, thank you," Sam replied.

"I'm pleased," Utra said and smiled. "My apologies if the quarters seemed unusual, but here it is custom for a husband and wife to share the same bed."

"Uh." Daniel lifted his hand. "No, we're not married."

Utra watched them in slight confusion. "Oh, forgive me. I wrongfully assumed that you were. Forgive me."

"It's… quite all right." Sam nodded and exchanged a glimpse with Daniel. 

"Well, now… please follow me." Utra gestured towards her.

-----

What was expected to be a large temple – was instead a small house, almost a hut. Unlike all the previous houses and other buildings that they had passed and which were decorated with numerous paintings on their walls, this little structure was barren of such decorations. Every piece consisted of white wood. There wasn’t even a door at the entrance.

When the three of them stepped inside, the interior was completely different from the exterior. The walls were of course made of wood, but everything else consisted of red stone; the floor - red, a small carpet in the middle also red. A small patch of ground was visible next to a corner from where roots of a thin black tree were settled. The leaves on the tree were bright green with small spider-shaped flowers next to them.

On the left side of the entrance and beneath the opening, that was supposed to resemble a window, was a flat bench made of the tiniest pieces of rock imaginable. Across from the entrance was a glass oval-shaped door and, what could be seen as planted flowers behind it. Next to the door was a small girl with a gold painted ball in her hands. The moment the visitors came inside, her head shot up and her large black eyes darted towards the unfamiliar faces. After a moment of observation, she smiled at them.

"Nezna, could you call her please?" Utra asked the little girl who responded with a quick nod. She carefully opened the door with a gentle push and ran into the supposed garden.

"Why are we here?" Sam asked.

"We arrange this meeting for all of our visitors, Samantha," Utra responded and smiled politely at her.

"What kind of meeting?"

Utra only kept her smile without providing a verbal answer for the visitor.

The door opened again and a younger woman passed through. Her dress seemed not different from those of the other inhabitants of Krasna, but her brown hair, that was in a long, single braid, almost touching the floor, had strange streaks of silver. Her bare left shoulder was decorated with a green-inked tattoo of a snake in a tamed position. She slowly approached Sam and Daniel, speaking to them in Macedonian.

Sam instinctively brought her head closer to Daniel's for a translation of the woman's sentence. "She seems to find it interesting that we were this young," she heard Daniel whisper to her. After few more words, "she… asked for your hand," was Daniel's translation. "My hand? Why?" But she only saw him shrug in confusion. Having no other choice, Sam lifted her right hand which was soon taken between the woman's two hands.

Lifting her right hand to hover above Sam's, the woman focused her eyes on it. A moment later, a glittering, and pale blue beam emerged from her palm and pierced through Sam's hand. Expecting pain, Sam was surprised not having felt anything else but the woman's fingers beneath her palm. It lasted for what appeared like ten minutes when the beam ceased and the woman released Sam's hand.

Leaving her with a look, the woman stepped in front of Daniel and spoke the same words. Understanding her question, Daniel raised his hand and the same 'ritual' followed. Once it was finished, the woman's gaze was longer with his. That followed with a quick glimpse of Sam. Distancing herself from the visitors, the woman was followed by Utra where the two of them exchanged some words. Their quiet conversation was appeared to be uncomfortably long, making Daniel and Sam a little nervous.

When they were finally done, Utra eyed both Daniel and Sam. "Please stay here," she told them and walked out of the house.

"How is it back on Earth?" the woman spoke to them right after Utra's departure.

"Almost pleasant." Daniel scrunched his face in confusion as she had transformed her language into theirs.

"Interesting. I had expected for it to be near death by now."

"It's doing pretty well actually," Sam told her.

"For how long is the question," the woman said and smiled. "I am sorry for my negative views. I am Petra."

"Like the ancient city in Jordan," Daniel's response was almost a whisper.

Petra's smile turned into a knowing one. "Was your night here an enjoyable one?" she asked them.

"Yes," the answer came out simultaneously from both that it surprised Daniel and Sam.

"Excuse me, but why did Utra bring us here?" Sam asked.

"They do that with every visitor which passes through their gates. Call it a security check."

"You scanned us?" Daniel asked referring to the blue beam.

"In a way. The Krasnians have seen their share of hostile races and betrayal so this is an attempt to not allow such hard times to reoccur. I simply help them know if it is safe for them to proceed in a friendly or hostile manner."

"I see," Daniel replied and rubbed his hand with fingers. "You don't seem… Macedonian… o-or Krasnian."

"That's because I'm Qitian. It's a race neither of you have heard of. Knowing you better now, I can tell you that, ten centuries ago, my homeland was destroyed by the Goa'uld. My people fled. We were soon given refuge by the Krasinans. We stayed with them until they were even more generous to provide us with a safe place to live. As a form of gratitude, because of our… unique gift of reading different species well, my mother and I stayed here to help the Krasnians. "

"When did your people leave Krasna?" Sam asked.

"Nine centuries ago." Seeing their astonished expressions, Petra continued. "An average Qitian can live up to 4,000 years. I am only 1, 840 years old, which in your years would be close to twenty-three."

"That's amazing," Daniel said. At that moment, the little girl came into the house with a red flower in her hand. "And who's this?" he smiled at her.

"This is my daughter – Nezna," Petra responded and said something to the little girl with a dialect of the Macedonian language that not even Daniel could understand. Nezna looked up at the two adults and smiled at them. She said something to her mother and then approached Daniel. "Daniel?" she called him.

Crouching down, Daniel was pleased and a little surprised that the little girl knew his name. "Yes?"

"Funny name," the girl said. "Visit again?"

"We sure will."

Nezna looked up at Sam expecting the same answer. "Definitely," Sam replied. 

Nezna smiled again and then brushed Daniel's cheek with her hand. "Pretty," she said and looked up at Sam.

Seeing the little girl's stretched hand, Sam crouched down also and allowed Nezna to touch her cheek. "Pretty, too," she said and ran back to the garden again.

"She is still learning," Petra said.

"Sweet little girl," Sam said and stood up.

At that moment, Utra entered the house. "Come with me," she told them.

-----

Two large pillars on the backs of horses greeted the visitors. Each pillar was held by two black horse statues with white manes, their noses touching in a loving manner. The pillars were painted with images of ravens – some in flight, others standing on a branch with their gaze fixed on who ever happened to pass through. A narrow beam rested on the top of the pillars with engraved letters. Some of them appeared Cyrillic.

“The drawings look incredibly life-like,” Sam noted as she and Daniel had to stop and observe.

“I agree. They seem to have a fascination with art. Especially this kind,” he said and pointed briefly at the paintings of the ravens.

“Is that Greek?” Sam then looked up at the sign.

“Some letters are similar but -…”

“Daniel. Samantha.” Utra interrupted them from the other side. “Are you coming?”

Both scientists quickly walked through the two pillars which led them to what appeared like a wide courtyard. The fence that surrounded it was made of white marble with trees and flowers carved into them. The floor was made of small bricks with a giant portrait of the sun. The intensity of the paint used was so strong as well as the details, that at the beginning it managed to play with their minds, thinking that they were walking on an actual sun. They had to walk slowly. The way the colors greeted them it caused their feet to slow down.

“You are not the first ones to have been overwhelmed by what you see.” Utra said to them.

“It’s just that the details of every picture are amazing. The colors are almost perfect,” Daniel said.

“We like to paint. Almost every Krasnian knows how to make something like this.”

“Wow.” Sam placed her hands on her waist. “Everyone? How?”

“Expression. We like beauty,” Utra replied. “You are from Earth. Not everyone paints?”

“No. Not many have the talent.”

Utra smiled. “It isn’t about talent, Samantha. It is about expression.”

“But to make something this realistic you have to possess something which others don’t.”

“Back on Earth, I can see how that might be true. Here in Krasna – we have come a long way since our ancestors. They loved drawing. We simply reached a higher level over the ages.”    

“Interesting.” Sam grinned.

While walking, Daniel and Sam captured looks from passing Krasnians. Some smiled at them, while others chuckled. It was puzzling to the visitors why the latter happened.

“Do not be uncomfortable by the laughter,” Utra said. “They have seen visitors from many cultures, but they still find their clothing amusing.”

“Not very different from Earth,” Daniel said.

After passing the stairs, they reached a wide hallway. On the brown walls were images of rivers, forests and lynxes. The floor had a painted grass and pebbles. “You seem to enjoy painting nature themes,” Daniel noticed.

“We do. Unlike others, we do not limit which themes we place in which buildings. Everything not made artificially is beauty to us,” Utra responded.

They soon reached a square door where a female guard was standing in the same uniform as the guards at the desk, but instead of a hammer, a small knife hung from her belt. Seeing Utra with the visitors, the guard stepped aside and the door opened.

The corridor seemed to continue into a large hall. It appeared empty. There were no tables, chairs, bookshelves. A single statue of a horse sitting down presented itself as the only object in this space.

“You are fortunate. Had it not been for Petra’s observations – you would not be in here. Especially you, Samantha,” Utra said, giving the major a disturbing glare, and walked over to the wall with a picture of a light-hared man holding a star-shaped box. “You are an archeologist, Daniel?” Utra asked.

“Yes. I am.”

“With a great knowledge of Egyptian mythology?”

“That’s right,” Daniel said and approached the older woman.

Utra pulled out a thin silver pin and inserted it into the center of the box. As a response, a combination of male and female whispers echoed throughout the hall with an unknown source. Utra uttered a few words in Macedonian and almost immediately at the center of the hall, a wide table materialized from nowhere.

When Daniel approached it, he found the table to be a an odd combination of pallets, sheets of green paper, small pen-like silvery objects and other things difficult for an outsider to correctly describe. “You will find what you need here,” Utra told them and began walking away.

“Wait. You’re not staying?” Sam asked.

“We trust Petra’s judgment. And Daniel, I have opened the records written in the dialect that are the easiest for you to read.“

When Utra left the hall, the door closed, leaving Sam and Daniel alone. “For a people with strict security rules – they let us in pretty quickly,” Sam said. “Petra did a good scan.”

“She sure did. Who knows what she told Utra if she allowed us to come here.”

“And now the question is: where are we?”

“Let’s find out.” Daniel clasped. “Okay, Sam. Let’s get started.”

“Yeah,” Sam agreed and picked up a tablet.