The Doctor operated the controls at the console, and the doors swung open. He walked toward them and then stopped. Instead of the surface of a new planet, he found himself staring at the lab interior. He went back to the controls and hurriedly checked them.
A voice from the lab called to him. "Doctor?" Lethbridge Stewart walked up to the doors but did not enter. "What's this about leaving? We need you here."
"Lethbridge Stewart, Sarah Jane may be in danger. I've got to go get her. You have the magnetic field devices. You ought to be able to keep that creature at bay if it's still here."
The Brigadier lifted an eyebrow. "If it's still here? Where else would it be?"
"It may have gone back to the place where it came from. Back to the planet where those two little adolescents took Sarah Jane. I traced their route and followed it. But for some reason the TARDIS failed to land properly. She brought me back here."
With caution, the Brigadier stepped into the doorway of the TARDIS. "This thing is always blowing a fuse, Doctor."
Such observations never pleased the time lord. He stalked back to the console. "She is not always blowing a fuse, Brigadier, and this is not a mere fuse. Look, there goes that light again." The red warning light flashed for a moment and then stopped.
"What is it old girl?" the Doctor asked. Then, to Lethbridge Stewart, "It's as though we were hurled back--forced out."
"What did that light mean?"
"That there's a malfunction in the power core, but I've double checked. The power supply has maintained its integrity." He re-set the drive controls. "All right. Nothing to do but try again." He glanced over his shoulder at the Brigadier. "Did you want to come along?" His voice was annoyed.
"Of course not. I've got to see to things here." And the Brigadier stepped back so that the Doctor could close the doors.
* * * *
The two satyr-like creatures had indeed brought breakfast, and Sarah Jane managed to remain cheerful and composed as she ate with them. Toliman was not present. She decided that it would only be normal to ask about him.
"Where is Toliman today? Does he sleep nearby?" she asked.
Achernar nodded. "He sleeps, but not much. The Master has a little cave further up the path, where he stores his medicinal herbs and the accounts of his knowledge. He watches the heavens when we have night, and in the early morning he gathers herbs to make wisdom for us, and sometimes he carves his knowledge onto stone. That is laborious work for him."
"Alphard taught him," Nitham added.
"But I thought Alphard was his enemy." She had to be careful in how many questions she asked, but she decided to explore this matter of the absent Alphard.
Achernar answered openly. "Alphard was a friend at first. He was to be the keeper of the wisdom that Toliman decreed."
"Did he have a mate?" Sarah Jane asked.
"Alphard required no mate," Nitham told her. "Progeny would not issue from him. All he cared about was the wisdom he recorded and came to understand. And at first he loved to give it to us and have conversation with the Master."
"We were happy for a long time," Achernar said. "But then Alphard read the sky and saw its decree: that when Toliman transformed, all wisdom would be passed to me, and I would commune with Toliman on high. 'The setting of Alphard is fierce and glorious and the waxing of Toliman even more glorious, with bounty forevermore.' This is the poetry written into the sky. But when Alphard deciphered it, he stole the sacred plant before Toliman could consume it, and he ate it for himself. And then this world was nearly undone."
"And Alphard died?"
"No." Achernar shook his ruddy head. "It only began for him. He transformed immediately, which was what he had expected. But it did not work for him as it would have worked for Toliman. For Toliman, when he ate the plant at the proper time, would have taken his heavenly form and blessed us anew from both heaven and earth. But Alphard had no heavenly form etched into his bodily pattern. He did not comprehend that Toliman is different altogether from us. Toliman alone could have benefited from the sacred plant. Alphard became a creature of air and wind."
"He tried to make storms," Nitham added. "And then we saw how mighty Toliman was even without his heavenly form, for Toliman threw him down from the skies with lightning. They fought many days. Alphard could not overcome our master, but he wounded Toliman, and then he fled into the heavens."
"Somehow he came to your world," Nitham said. "We don't know if he sought you purposefully, or stumbled onto you, unknowing, by the design of heaven."
"Certainly when he smelled the scent of the Merciful One on you, he knew you had traveled the heavens." Achernar took a drink of water.
The reminder of Fomalhaut sent a thrill into Sarah Jane. Jeanne had promised to meet her here, on this planet. Suddenly the thought of escape, which had seemed only a futile postponement of her ultimate fate, now seemed more hopeful.
Nitham added her own commentary on Achernar's words. "When Alphard smelled the hope of Mercy and healing on you, he hunted you with terror. His transformation is a torment to him."
This did raise a question that had occurred to her much earlier. "In my world, I know Fomalhaut as the Mouth of the Fish, and she explained to me that she's got a lot to do with Mercy," Sarah Jane said. "But how do you know her here in your world? Do you have constellations that you see at night?"
"Your heavenly brocade tells the story of your world, Sarah Jane Smith," Achernar said. "Though there seem to be few on your world who can read it accurately. We see the brocade of heaven from a different perspective, and the pictures take on different forms for us, pictures that tell us about our world."
"You have the Virgin, the Scales, the Scorpion and Eagle, the two-natured Archer," Nitham said. "We have the Flower, the Horn, the Tower, and so on."
Achernar nodded. "But each piece of the brocade, though it may be woven into different forms for different worlds, is still true to itself and its own name. On your world, the one you call Fomalhaut is part of an image of a fish receiving the water of life from the One who has procured Mercy. On our world, this same person is found in an image that we call the Door. She is the Handle of the Door, the Means of Entry. But even as you know her as One who receives mercy, so do we. For the names that your people and that we apply to her are descriptions after each world's fashion of giving names. But she has her one true name, which only she knows, and which she is ever fulfilling."
Nitham nodded. "Where ever you find her, she is the one who receives the flow of Mercy."
"And do you believe in mercy?" Sarah Jane asked.
"Oh yes," Achernar said.
She changed the subject. "I would like to walk the path there and explore. Is that all right?" She took up one of the small plant bulbs that they had given her for breakfast. "Where did you find these? They're very good."
Achernar held up the remains of a plant for her to inspect. "These grow in clumps on lower ground and hollows," he said. "Nitham and I can eat the stems. When the world is transformed, they will flower and be more abundant."
* * * * *
The Doctor kept his hand on the drive control and his eyes fixed on the coordinate display. The rotor pumped up and down, and the landscape of his destination came into focus on the viewing screen. Just as the engines stopped, the coordinates slipped back, spinning on the LED readout like a timer gone mad. The lush landscape that had been pictured hazed out and was replaced by the blank of the vortex.
"The engines aren't even operating," he said to nobody. "Like a great hand is pushing me off!"
A contest of wills was always irresistible to the Doctor. He frowned, and manually set the coordinates, then operated the drive control. The rotor started again, and the coordinates adjusted to the proper destination..
"Oh no you don't!" he exclaimed as the engines would have shut down. He tried to keep them running, seeking to force the TARDIS into spatial presence on the planet. But the engines cut off.
Just as he was about to try something else to stabilize his landing, the red emergency light went on again.
"How can there be an emergency in the power core when the engines aren't even running?" he exclaimed.
But whatever the cause, the LED display of coordinates suddenly locked into place. The surface of the planet came into focus on the view screen and stayed there. He waited, but the TARDIS did not slip back into the vortex.
"I wish somebody would tell me what's going on," he muttered. "She's never acted like this before." He glanced at the warning light, but it had gone dark again.
* * * * *
While the two mates saw to tidying up the clearing and the cave, Sarah took up her water gourd and hurried down the path. She was wise enough not to run blindly, and she was wise enough to plan what she must do. There was no real place to run, for now she realized that they were alone on the planet--or at least that any other intelligent life was far away. And Toliman knew the terrain well. Her best hope was to remove herself out of his foraging range, where he might be less familiar with every available hiding place. But once on new ground, the job would be to simply hide and try to stay alive until Jeanne found her. Sarah Jane was mindful of the Centaur's ability to hurl lightning. The prospect of being killed that way was not inviting, but her value to him for his darker purposes might delay that type of attack.
Supper the night before had been light, but the breakfast had been substantial enough to keep her going, and she soon found herself at the foot of the mountain. She followed the footpath into the low shrubs and foliage where they had foraged. The morning sun was before her. It was rising above a pinnacle of trees on the horizon. When the path twisted off in another direction, she broke away from it and followed the pinnacle, moving towards terrain unfamiliar to her captors.
* * * *
The Doctor operated the door controls from the console and turned as the doors swung open. He saw an uninterrupted vista of leafy plants and dark trees.
"May need a machete to get through this lot," he muttered.
He strode to the doorway and saw that he had set the TARDIS down at the foot of a stone ridge that rose up to a great mountain peak far above. Some great engineering effort had carved a wide, straight stairway into the ridge. The stairway was wide, and the steps narrow. They would be easy for a human being to climb, but they traveled in a straight line up the entire steep ascent of the mountain, and the distance was so great that from the level ground, he could not distinguish any noteworthy structure up at the top. He considered the option of exploring this amazing stairway and gaining a great height to observe the terrain, or else plunging into the forest and trying to find a path. Just as he decided on the stairs--at least to get to a good observation point--and would have strode out, something like a small hurricane struck him in the back.
Sharp nails cut through the cloth on his shoulders and pierced him.
With a yell, he ducked forward and tried to throw off whatever was attacking him. This attempt suited his attacker, however, for it shifted off of his back and as he rolled across the floor to grapple with it, it slammed onto his chest and raked sharp nails across his face.
The Doctor shouted and grabbed the long arms before they could seize his throat. The creature that was attacking him was dark and its form tricked his vision. He could not entirely see it. Parts of it shimmered and were nearly transparent, and the rest of it was dark. The face was almost impossible to define, but he was certain that there was a face there. But the body, though he could not see it clearly, was burning hot. And the jagged nails were real enough.
It was a two-legged creature, with long arms. For a moment they struggled as the Doctor desperately held onto the wrists to prevent it from choking him or ripping his throat open.
It was astride his chest, and it moved up and dropped its knees onto his shoulder to pin down his arms. He shouted and---with his feet flat on the floor--he swiftly bucked his hips straight up as the creature shifted.
The impact of his hips into it threw it forward, off balance. He rammed his right knee up into its crotch, released one arm, and grabbed its other arm with his own arms. Though its free hand raked his face again with another burning swath of scratches, he rolled it off of him. He nearly managed to get on top to control it.
Instead of wrestling with him, it raked its claws down his jacket and shirt, shredding the material. Not comprehending this, he got astride it and slammed his fist into its head. Instead of fending off his blows, it ripped away most of his shirt front and the lapels of his coat.
Just as its hand touched the bare skin of his exposed chest, he realized his danger. With a shout, he tried to jump away. But the palm of its hand touched him over one of his hearts, and his strength vanished. He fell to the floor of the TARDIS, helpless, as his heart lost the ability to beat.
Enraged, it leaped on his back. It cuffed his head several times and slammed its weight into him, but he couldn't resist. He lay still, eyes closed, not breathing, his heart stopped from the chemical change worked by the creature.
It leaped up and kicked him. But then it stopped as he lay unresponsive. It seized him by the shoulders and rolled him onto his back and then again pressed the palm of its hand against his chest. His eyelids fluttered, and he started to breathe. It took its hand away and kept its face close, as though watching him.
* * * *
The day on Toliman's planet was longer than an earth day. Sarah Jane was able to keep going until the alien sun was directly overhead in the opaque sky. She was more footsore than tired, for fear was spurring her on very well. But even though the terrain was fairly soft and her shoes good, her feet were not used to so prolonged a forced march. And now hunger pangs began to trouble her.
She stopped and took cover under an overhanging cluster of the grass-like ferns that doubled over on themselves and formed fringed canopies. Crouching under this cover, she looked back the way she had come. The foliage had not been so dense nor so heavy that she had ever had to struggle to break through on this pathless part of the terrain. In fact, the planet was quite clear of anything like brambles, thorns, stickers, or anything that made travel difficult.
She sat very still and listened, but there did not seem to be anybody pursuing her. Though the nimble Acheron and Nitham might be able to move almost noiselessly through the forest, Toliman himself could never be very silent, not with those great hooves. And Sarah Jane was not sure that Acheron and Nitham could restrain her by force. It was clear from the things they had said that they were inexperienced with things like pain, physical struggle, and fighting. This thought reminded her that a single weapon might be the determination of her freedom. She rested for a few minutes, and then she resumed her journey. But she hunted carefully for something that would work as a club or switch. Then she realized another amazing detail about this place. There was almost no ground litter: no dead leaves, no old trees, no fallen trunks. This was one reason that travel on unbroken ground was comparatively easy. But it also meant there were no handy old branches lying around that could be taken up and used for attack and defense.
She continued as the day began to wane, and thoughts of food again began to concern her. Breakfast was just a memory. She began to look for anything edible. A few occasional berries offered themselves to her, and as she got more interested in finding food, she wandered off track from her straight line direction. There was no sign of the more leafy plants that offered the bulbs that were so much more sustaining than the other foods. She was on terrain that was too high and dry. She saw that the ground dipped off on her left, and she followed this slope downward.
There were more trees here, and for the first time she did see broken branches on the ground---hard, black boughs. When she took one up, she realized that it was black, not from the darker coloring of the trees on this world, but from having been charred. Keeping it with her, she pushed her way further, and she came out into a wide, barren clearing, charred and desolate. She was on the far side of the great burned patch that Toliman had showed her from the hilltop sanctuary.
The sight of the barren, blackened ring, which was nearly the size of a football field, but more like a circle, dismayed her when she realized the power that had made it. But from this point she could look up and see how distant the cave was, and the high hill looked safely far away from here. On high ground, this ring of blasted earth had seemed near, but on low ground, the hilltop seemed distant.
The air was not acrid here, but the dryness reminded her of her thirst. The gourd she carried was empty. She had to find water, and that would be some distance. The mighty river ran roughly along the same line she had followed for most of the day, and so she had to get back to it, with or without food.
She turned to go back into the cover of the forest, but as she did, she heard a great and solemn horn, as clear as a trumpet call. She ducked back into trees and tall fern-like grasses, but the call was repeated. For a moment she thought it might be an alert or signal as they tracked her, for surely by now they knew she had run away. But as it sounded for the third time, it was so mournful that she thought it might be a call to her. They might be thinking she had gotten lost, and they were trying to signal her back. As it sounded again, she was suddenly filled with unexpected sorrow. The innocence with which Achernar and Nitham would have handed her over to be killed---even participated in her death from what she had overheard---troubled her, for violence seemed unknown to them, and they had actually liked her. The horn sounded its mournful call again, and she remembered Toliman's indolent playfulness and the way he had shaken his horns at her to tease her. She suddenly burst out with two tears and one or two short sobs. When the horn sounded again, it was all she could do not to fall down and cry. She even fleetingly considered going back and surrendering, for it was almost unbearable to think that they had meant to be so cruel to her in the end. Her sorrow nearly overwhelmed her, and she thought she might as well let them kill her at once, before their dismay turned to anger and hatred.
But the horn stopped its calling, and she forged ahead as the sun declined towards twilight.
* * * *
"Wouldn't you like a piece of this delicious cake?" the chef said to the Doctor. The Doctor and Sarah were at an expensive restaurant, away from London, out in the country. They had a table to themselves, but in the background, other people spoke softly, and there was a clinking of silverware and china.
The cook, a squarely built man wearing a white tunic, placed a square of chocolate cake before the Doctor. It was ringed with a crown of moist cherry halves that lay partially buried in the thick icing.
"No, I couldn't have another bite," he said. But he wanted it.
"Oh, I'm sure you would like to try it," the cook said.
Around him, a sweet and delicate fragrance rose up. He lifted a hand to his face, and he realized that he was scratched and bleeding. His face was raw, and his shoulders sore. But the sweet fragrance seemed to ease the pain.
"That's what I want," he said. "Not the cake."
The cook gestured at Sarah Jane. "But how do you get that healing for yourself, Doctor? How is it extracted from her?"
The Doctor fixed his eyes on Sarah Jane, and he remembered the first time that he had smelled that heavenly fragrance on her, when he had tracked her down to the planet in the Fomalhaut system. The mesmerizing scent would have overwhelmed him if he had not moved away, and for a moment he remembered how it had filled him with a longing that he had rarely felt in his entire, long life. For a moment, he was embarrassed to be looking at Sarah Jane, with the cook looking at him, as he remembered the longing he'd felt to take her in his arms, comfort her tears with soft words and assurances, lie down with her, and be lost in the sweet, heavenly fragrance, and her tears of gratitude. Even her tears had been sweet and beautiful. When he had discovered her on that planet, it had seemed as though all of heaven had been invested in Sarah Jane, and yet she would have given herself to him, if he had chosen to yield to the fragrance.
By now he was staring at her, his mouth slightly open in either wonder or dismay.
"I have to have that," the cook said to him. "To live."
The Doctor looked up at him and tried to answer, but he had no answer. He had spent weeks rationalizing the experience away. He had told Sarah Jane that she had perhaps dreamed her experiences on the planet in a delirium, that she had been hypnotized, that her mind had blocked out the real events, or that the person of Fomalhaut had been planted in her mind to spare her from whatever horrors she might have really endured. And he had shrugged off his own brief moment of longing, telling himself it had just been a trick of the fragrance, and then telling himself it had never been as overpowering as he had first thought. But now he knew that it was. And part of him cursed himself for not having yielded when he'd been given the power to yield to that sweetness. For he sensed that in rationalizing it away, he had cut himself off from whatever had nurtured Sarah Jane on that planet. Through her, it might have found and cherished him, both of them.
"What have I done?" he whispered. And yet, he realized, to give in to that sweetness would have meant abandoning his own comprehension of the universe. The thought of being that openly incorrect, of handing himself over to be remade, was unendurable. His comprehension of the universe had a great deal of validity. He had accomplished a great deal of good.
"You know how painful it is," the cook told him. "Yet you passed on the sweetness because you have enough. But I need her to live. But how is the power of the fragrance extracted?"
Helplessly confused at this rush of conflicting memories and feelings, the Doctor stared up at the cook. "I suppose she would have to want you to have it," he said. "Maybe that would be the way. That sweetness has to be imparted. It's like an invitation."
"How?" the cook asked him, and now the cook's face was harder to define. He was dark like shadow, and transparent in places. He leaned closer to the Doctor. "How?" he asked again. Behind him, the Doctor saw the TARDIS walls and ceiling.
"How did you create a body for yourself?" the Doctor asked. "How did you get into my TARDIS?"
"If you are telling me the truth, there is a reason to let you live. If you are lying, all hell will not hold the agony I unleash on you," it said. And then the Doctor saw only the TARDIS, the open doors that let in the sunlight from this new planet, the stone steps that led up the steep ridge, and the leafy vista all around.
* * * *
The twilight walk was punctuated by occasional discoveries of the low plants that afforded edible bulbs at their roots. Getting them unearthed required some struggle, as she had no tools whatsoever. But she set down the empty gourd and the club and work at unearthing each bit of food that she could find. The small bulbs, about the size of an onion, were crisp to bite into but broke apart quickly when she chewed them. They were easy to digest and reminded her faintly of the taste of rice pudding. She needed only a few to keep going.
It was the lack of water that began to concern her. The twilight deepened to darkness, and the forest thickened. She realized that she was likely very close to water, but in the forest, where the dark trees were close together, it was impossible to see.
She stopped and rested again, and everything around her was silent. But within a moment, the forest had become an impenetrable black wall as night fell. She put her hand before her face, and she could not see it. And so she waited. She drew up her knees and listened.
Hours must have passed when she awoke again, and she saw that silvery and faint golden splinters of light, coming from two different angles, spangled the dark forest. The eerie illumination gave it a "black light" appearance, and for a moment the velvet texture of the trees created by the odd mix of darkness and thin light rays made her wonder if she were dreaming. It would have been garish if she had seen it rendered in a painting, and it would have been lovely if it had been a trick with lighting done for a stage production on earth, a sort of faerie forest. But here on this planet, where she was all alone, the black boles of the trees, the slivers of gold light from one angle and silver light from another, the sharply cut shadows that were cast, made her feel how alien this world was. Obviously, it had two moons. Lovely and rare, but not hers. Why had she ever come here?
And then, as she was sitting very still and looking from beneath the fringe of foliage cover, she heard the unmistakable sound of heavy hooves. Toliman's inarticulate voice uttered a call: a questioning call. He was looking for her. He was still at some distance, and she moved as quietly as she could and pulled herself as far under the cover as she could get. There would be no out racing him if he discovered her, and so she tried to make herself invisible. She lay down on her stomach under the leafy and fern-like cover and crawled into the densest part of the foliage. It was plenty thick enough to cover her. All that she could see was a few inches of height above the forest floor.
The hoof steps continued far longer than she would have thought necessary as he approached towards her hiding place. He called every few seconds, his tone one of questioning. At last after thinking he was right upon her several times, she realized that at last he really was, for she could even here his breathing. The great spatulate hooves appeared before her in the moonlight, out where the way was clear. He stopped for a long time. And then he called again. She held her breath. Again he called, and as he heard nothing, he waited. She was trembling, and she felt an urge to exhale and breathe again, but she was too frightened to allow it. Sweat trickled down her face and down the center of her back. Then, finally, the hooves started moving again. They passed on. She breathed.
She waited for a long time, too frightened to move. But gradually, a sleepiness stole over her. She felt that she had been hiding long enough to give him a good lead. And the forest afforded hiding places. She would have to move carefully and be ready to duck down, but she had to find water. She peered out at the strangely lit forest, and at last she ventured out, the club in her right hand and the gourd in her left.
She did not follow his route but instead stayed close to the boles of the largest trees, where the shadows were better able to hide her. And she stepped carefully, thankful that there was almost no litter on the forest floor.
The thickest trees formed an almost perfectly straight line, as though they had been laid out by some knowing hand. She moved from tree to tree, following this line. Soon, much to her relief, she heard the rushing of the mighty river. Instead of running to it, she stopped and surveyed the river bank. By now the moons seemed to be declining, but the silver and gold light washed the roaring water and seemed to make it glow. She moved to the cover of another tree and surveyed it again. The way seemed clear.
She crept out. The water rushed with great force, and the easiest thing to do was lie on her stomach and dip her lips and tongue in to the roaring cascade as it swept the bank. This manner of drinking took some time, as she had to dip her head again and again and never got more than half a mouthful. But the water was clean and cool. It rinsed her head and shoulders as she bowed and drank, bowed and drank.
At last when she'd had enough, she rolled to her side, took up her stick and the gourd, and stood. As she did, she saw that Toliman was right behind her. He reached towards her to take hold of her.
Sarah Jane screamed, dropped the gourd, and swung the stick. Her instincts were better than her mind, and the stick struck across his leg wound with a loud slap of hard wood against open flesh.
The great centaur roared with pain and reared back, his great hooves above her, his gargoyle face contorted with agony. She screamed and threw herself back, overbalanced on the edge of the bank, and fell into the rushing river. The wild current dragged her under and smashed her into the flat rocks that lined the bottom, then she came up, gasping for breath, and smashed into another rock and was flipped right over it and into the wild water again. Stick and gourd were gone, and she was helpless in the rushing water.