Their world was fading before them. A vague sense of worry had grown into desperation as the volcanic soil began to yield the new, greener plants. These leafy bushes produced flowers, and the flowers produced endless seeds, and within a few generations the entire planet had changed. It had shifted from a barren, cold world to a lush, semi-tropical jungle, and this new environment could not sustain them much longer.
They would have to find a vessel to take them to a different home. They did not possess the technology to build a vessel of their own, but they understood on a rudimentary level how to operate one. The knowledge was a part of them and had been for eons. It had waited within each one, dormant until needed. Now was the time.
They began to search for transport, understanding that it might not arrive on time but still looking, watching, and waiting. They had no other choice. Their entire species was at stake.
The Erbruca were a thriving, if small, civilization. The elders told tales of the ancestors and their struggle to survive against the endless cold. The spirits, of course, had helped them, answering their prayers with the smoke and heat that sometimes bubbled up from the small springs and lakes. The spirits taught the ancestors magic, showed them how to dream prophetically and understand the messages.
Then the great fires had come, enveloping nearly everything, killing almost all of the people. A few survived, somehow. Perhaps they fled before the eruption, sensing that a terrible change was coming, possibly reading it from their dreams. Those few struggled but persisted with a tenacity born of sheer will and belief in the magic that had saved them. Over time, as the world began to thrive, the ancestors had flourished, too. They learned to love the plants and flowers and fruit, using the leaves and seeds for new kinds of magic. And the magic made their land flourish even more.
The Erbruca village stretched across a fertile valley, where the people cultivated numerous crops and raised small animals. Like the humans on the planet, a handful of animals survived the volcanic eruption years ago. Eventually their numbers grew as the planet's climate shifted and the vegetation proliferated.
A group of nearly thirty elders oversaw the village. They mediated when occasional arguments arose and helped ensure that the food was shared equitably. They advised the youngsters and, when asked, helped them to choose suitable mates. In short, they kept the village running smoothly and peacefully.
The shaman was the most respected of all the elders. He and his predecessors had been chosen to lead the rituals and make the magic that kept the spirits satisfied. The position was not one gained through inheritance. Rather, it was one earned through knowledge and deep spirituality. In each generation one young man outshone the others in his use of the spells and incantations. He was the one for whom the crops grew highest; it was his magic that nurtured the plants beyond the water and care given them by the farmers.
When the village shaman grew old and weak, the most promising among the young men would go to him and taste the elixir. He would dream then, and if his dreams pleased the shaman he would take the position, learning even more from the old shaman before he relinquished his spirit to the heavens.
Cabar had proven to be an exceptional shaman. He was only thirty-six years old, but he was as revered as any elder twice his age. He possessed a wealth of knowledge about the magic that could be made from the plants, and he could help any villager walk with the spirits in his or her dreams. He was also a fine mediator. He seemed able to melt away animosity with a wave of his hand. The crops had never been more lush, and the villagers had never felt as content as they did during the five years since Cabar became shaman.
The shaman rose early each day, before the sun peeked over the hills and blessed the morning with her rosy glow. He bathed his face and hands in one of the clear, cool streams then sat by its bank to await the tendrils of light that crept across the land, sending the darkness away for another day.
One morning, as he sat quietly in the gentle grayness of early dawn, he fell into a light sleep. He had remained awake through most of the night preparing and administering medicine and chanting to the spirits to help a woman who was delivering twins. Her labor was difficult, and the midwives feared that she would die, but, thanks to his magic and the spirits, she survived and delivered two healthy babies. Now Cabar was tired and sore, his palms raw from rubbing the herbs with the mortar, and his muscles aching from the accompanying, ceaseless movements. He permitted himself to close his eyes for a few minutes.
He awoke abruptly as the sunlight hit his face, blinking and squinting in the brightness. Tears prickled at his eyes, and he felt dizzy for an instant. His gaze shot to the water then up into the sky before he stood with a deep groan. Tears still streaming down his face, he walked with heavy steps back to the village.
"Turlough," said the Doctor, not bothering to look up from the book he held, "what do you know about soil?"
"Soil?" asked the erstwhile schoolboy. He sat at a small table in the console room, his hand hovering over a knight on the chessboard that Tegan had set up.
"Yes," responded the Doctor. "Soil, dirt, loam. Did you discuss properties of nitrogen as catalysts to fertilization in any of your chemistry classes?"
"No, not really. But then I suppose I never paid much attention to those lessons."
The Doctor glanced up over his spectacles. "No? Which ones did you attend to, then?"
"Some maths, some history," the Trion lad shrugged. "What are you studying, anyway?"
Tegan had abandoned the chess game temporarily to make a cup of tea, and the next move was hers, so Turlough felt idle at the moment. He stood to saunter over to the Time Lord.
"I'm just reviewing some basic soil science. I've been thinking of expanding my rose garden, but Mr. Lincoln is rather temperamental—he seems to require a very particular balance of—"
"You have a rose garden in here?" Turlough interrupted.
"Oh yes, among other things. The hillocks, for example, are rather charming when the TARDIS switches on the artificial Neraxian night sky."
Turlough was shaking his head in wonder. "I need to get out—or I suppose that's in—more."
"Feel free to wander about, but don't get lost. Tegan can tell you about the pitfalls of that."
The Australian stepped through the doorway. "I wouldn't recommend it," she said. "Take something to mark your way—"
"Ah, but not Tegan's lipstick, please," the Doctor interjected. "The TARDIS had a terrible time removing that from the walls."
Tegan humphed and handed him a steaming mug of tea. He looked at it with a hint of surprise but then smiled. "Thank you, Tegan."
"None for me?" asked Turlough.
"Two hands," Tegan replied. "Yours is in the kitchen."
The Doctor set his mug on the console and lowered his head to the book again. "What I really need," he muttered, "is some rich volcanic soil." He tapped a finger on the rim of the mug then looked up at one of the screens on the console. "I think…" he began, then quickly typed in a set of coordinates.
Tegan rolled her eyes. "Where are we off to now?"
"Someplace that you'll like, I think," he said. "It's all pretty flowers and gentle brooks."
She shook her head. "Last time I was in a place like that I was taken over by the Mara."
Balancing his mug perfectly as the TARDIS shuddered to a stop, the Doctor took a sip of his tea. "I'm familiar, at least by reputation, with the people here. It's nothing like Deva Loka. You'll be perfectly safe."
"I've heard that before." Tegan set her mug near the chessboard then walked to the door. "Well?" she asked, "who's going to open it? Let's see what kind of a place this really is."
True to the Doctor's word, Tegan found that she was surrounded by lush, vibrant flowers as soon as the stepped out of the TARDIS. Birds chirped happily in the trees, and she could hear the pleasant burbling of a stream not far away.
In a few moments the Doctor and Turlough joined her, though the Time Lord quickly wandered away to examine some nearby patches of soil. Turlough soon followed, strolling up a small rise to survey the land below.
"There's a large village down there," he called after a minute.
The Doctor walked toward the rise, looking out over the vista. "Ah, yes, that is the Erbruca civilization. They're a peaceful agrarian society."
"But let me guess," said Tegan as she joined them, "they worship giant spiders."
The Doctor raised an eyebrow at her. "No, Tegan, actually they have a very well-established religion centered around nature and the spirits of their ancestors."
"So they worship trees and dead people," she finished.
"It's much more complex than that," he corrected. "As a matter of fact, religion is a critical part of their lives. Their shaman is among the most revered members of their society."
"Something like the Mound Builders of North America?" asked Turlough.
"Yes, rather," responded the Doctor with some surprise. "I didn't realize that you were familiar with many other Earth cultures."
Turlough shrugged. "I had to write an essay about them last year. It was actually pretty interesting."
The Doctor smiled and clapped him gently on the back. "I'm glad to know that you have an affinity for cultural anthropology."
Turlough nodded toward the village. "Are we going down there to meet them?"
"I hadn't planned on it," the Doctor replied. "I thought we'd just gather some soil and be on our way."
"That's a first!" Tegan exclaimed with a roll of her eyes.
"Hmm, I think I should resent that," the Doctor muttered. "Come along, Turlough. Let's see if we can find just the right patch of soil." He led Turlough away.
Tegan walked a few feet to admire a particularly beautiful bloom. Its fragrance seemed to surround her, and she bent to take a sniff of the exotic perfume. A small rustling behind her caused her to straighten.
"Back so soon?" she asked. "I thought you wanted to find—" She stopped speaking when she saw the five men with spears standing directly behind her.