This time, Jo was ready for the utter blackness of the portal, and she did not stumble. She did cover her eyes as she emerged, for the sun blazing above was a white fireball half the size of Earth's sun, but much brighter.
"Herne chose a rather interesting world for his hideaway," the Doctor commented. "Photosynthesis here seems to be based on phycocyanobilin and phycoerythrobilin rather than chlorophyll."
"Doctor -- the sea and the grass -- they're purple instead of green!" Jo exclaimed.
"That's what I just said, Jo." They were standing at the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea. At the cliff's base, amethyst waves splashed onto rocks carpeted with violet moss. The Doctor continued his ruminations. "The phycobilins are found mainly in deep-sea algae on Earth, but here they seem to predominate on land as well as sea. Errr... how are you feeling?"
"I thought you would know," Jo said, forcing a smile. "I keep hearing a sort of... whispering in my head, and just when I can almost figure it out, it goes away. It's not bad, really. Doctor, hadn't we better find the tower?"
"Do you mean the one just behind you?"
Chagrined, Jo whirled around. A stone's throw from the cliff-edge was a round tower at least seventy feet high. It was made of a translucent material the colour of ripe apricots, and it glowed richly in the sunlight.
"Doctor, it's spectacular! What is that stuff?"
"The tower is wrought of amber," a voice informed her.
Jo blinked, for reasons that had nothing to do with the sun's glare. A diminutive figure had appeared in the doorway of the tower. It looked like a child-sized version of Taranis: slender, graceful, and fair-haired, but its jade eyes were ancient and weary.
"I am the Guardian of the Tower," the being announced. Its voice was as high-pitched and sexless as the shrill piping of seagulls.
"Are you an Elphin?" the Doctor asked.
The Guardian considered this. "Herne of Elphinesse made me in his image. I am... like the Elphin, but not of them. The Lady Angharad called me a dwarf."
"The Lady Anga-who?" Jo asked.
"Lady Angharad ferch Owain, of Caer Myrddin. Herne created me to serve her. Now I serve by guarding her tomb."
Jo whispered, "Doctor, he's no bigger than a kid. We could rush him-"
"I am not Elphin," the Guardian stated, "but I share in the power of my maker. You cannot force your way past me. I speak the truth; that is part of my making."
"In that case, tell us how to get into the tower," Jo commanded.
"One of you must answer a riddle. The other may not assist, by word or gesture. If the answer is correct, you may both enter."
Jo grinned. "A riddle? Super! I loved riddles when I was little. I was good at them, too."
"Jo, I think you'd better let me handle this one."
"I doubt that the Guardian is going to inquire about chickens crossing roads. I'll answer the riddle. Guardian, proceed."
The dwarfish creature recited:Sweeter than honey,
Dearer than money,
Old as the mountains,
New as the dawn.
He who has it knows it not
Until it's fled and gone.
The Doctor wagged his thick eyebrows. "Hmmn. Very interesting. Mind you don't say a word, Jo, or we'll never get in."
Jo pressed her lips together. Honestly! She wasn't an idiot. At least there was nothing to prevent her from thinking about the riddle. She frowned. What was old and new at the same time, anyway? Something ancient that kept renewing itself... An image flashed into her mind: her cousin Meg cradling her newborn daughter in her arms for the first time. Life was something sweet and dear that was both new and old! Jo's excitement flared up like a roman candle,then dwindled just as swiftly. A person certainly knew if he had life in him, unless-- Jo bit her tongue. She knew! She knew!
But did the Doctor know? Judging from the creases in his brow, he did not. Jo looked at him despairingly. He must get the answer. The Doctor was so much cleverer than her, after all.
"Very ingenious, these Elphin," the Doctor murmured. "Let's see... ummn, no. Or-- no, not that."
Jo was ready to scream. If only she could tell him, but she mustn't say a single word. Jo stifled a gasp. Did she dare? After a moment's thought, she decided that she did. She shut her eyes, inhaled deeply, and let out a thunderous snore.
"Jo, stop that abominable noise. I'm trying to think," the Doctor grumbled. She ignored him. "Jo, please, you sound like--" The Doctor smiled broadly. "Guardian, the answer to your riddle is: sleep."
The Guardian bowed. "Correct. You may enter."
"You took quite a risk, Jo," the Doctor admonished.
"It wasn't cheating," she argued. "He said `word or gesture' -- snoring isn't either."
"Then it's a good thing that the Guardian is as literal-minded as his Elphin makers. Ready?"
The amber blocks of the staircase had a resiliency quite unlike stone, giving their footsteps a soft, hesitant sound. The sunlight streaming through the translucent walls seemed as dense and golden as honey, and they drifted through it like deep-sea divers.
The spiral staircase was too narrow for two people to ascend side by side, so Jo followed at the Doctor's heels. She was glad of that; he couldn't see her face. The voices in her mind were growing louder and more distinct. At times they were accompanied by images. One, more vivid than the rest, kept reappearing: a teenage girl with dark hair and large, worried eyes.
The landing at the top of the stairs was just large enough to accommodate both of them. At the far end was an open archway. The Doctor extended two fingers and probed the air. "The time flux begins here."
Jo saw a round chamber, forty feet across. In the center was a solid block of amber, six feet in length, and half that in width and depth. The tomb shimmered with a radiance that owed nothing to sunlight, for above it lay a small disk that blazed with its own fiery splendor. At the amber's heart was a dim shadow: Angharad ferch Owain, a treasure forever sealed in a coffer of golden light.
Jo drew a deep breath. "That's what we came for, Doctor. Let's go in."
"Not so fast, Jo," the Doctor cautioned. "Once we enter this doorway, we'll be within the field of the time flux. It may feel rather peculiar to you, but don't worry -- my mind will be shielding yours from the effects of the time flux." He crooked his left arm and offered it to Jo. "Shall we?"
Arm-in-arm they entered the tomb chamber. After the first few steps, Jo let her breath out slowly. She was fine, really, except for a numb sensation in her head. It was like being underwater or getting a shot of painkiller at the dentist's. *Must keep... going* Jo thought. Resolutely, she fixed her eyes on the Flammifer that glowed in the distance like the beacon of a lighthouse. *That's not right. The tomb should be in the middle of the room* she told herself. Jo blinked several times before spotting her error. The tomb was indeed in the center of a chamber the size of a football field. *It's just like the TARDIS. It's bigger on the inside.*
"This isn't a case of relative dimensions, Jo," the Doctor corrected. "The TARDIS's interior size is constant -- well, relatively speaking. This room is fluctuating in size. The flux field is warping space as well as time."
"Oh, is it?" Jo said brightly, and then realized that the Doctor had answered her unspoken thought.
They continued to trudge toward the tomb, which never seemed to be any closer. Jo's feet ached miserably. *We're like the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland, running to keep in place. We'll never get there.*
A man's voice clamored in her mind. *doctor, i canna find the way* *the caves run for miles under the research station* *you could easily get lost* *we're here ahead of ourselves* *we must wait until we have arrived* The judge stared down at Jo. *the time has come for you to change your appearance, and begin your exile* *ex-ter-min-ate!*
Jo screamed. *Doctor, help me!*
The little man grinned at her and played a comical tune on his recorder. The teenage girl reappeared, her face contorted with unhappiness. *grandfather, i love england in the twentieth century!* *That's it, Jo!* a familiar voice said in her mind. *Think about twentieth century England -- your own time and place. Concentrate on it as hard as you can!*
"I can't," Jo stammered, but already her mind was dredging up familiar images of childhood and school days. These were followed by newer but equally comforting flashes: the imperturbable Brigadier and Benton, his faithful shadow; cheerful Mike Yates, and the Doctor himself.
The Doctor's image grew larger and clearer in her mind, pushing the others aside. "How do you feel, Jo?" it inquired. It repeated the question several times.
Jo blinked violently, and the image blurred but did not change. This was the real Doctor, not a hallucination! "Am I glad to see you!"
"We've arrived, Jo. You made it through."
The young woman glanced around her. The room had regained its normal proportions, and she was standing within arm's reach of the tomb. "Is the time flux gone?"
"No, it's still there. We're at a null point in what seems to be its center -- the eye of the storm, you might say."
"Doctor, I had the most horrible nightmares. It felt like it took hours to get over here."
"It did, Jo," the Time Lord said quietly. "We entered that doorway about two and a half hours ago. The temporospacial distortion of the room delayed us considerably."
Two and a half hours! "Then I'd better get on with it." She eyed the Flammifer Stone cautiously. It might have been a large opal, but for the eldritch light that radiated from it. Jo held her hand a few inches above the Stone. "It isn't hot!"
"Cool light is common on many planets, Jo," the Doctor lectured. "Phosphorescent minerals glow without heat, and so do certain forms of jellyfish. On the planet Orunjan, the sea-water contains large amounts of phosphosescent chemicals. For several hours after sundown, the ocean is simply ablaze with silver light. The Orunjanees won't go near the shore after dark. They believe their gods come down in a sort of celestial bathing-machine and go for a swim."
Jo laughed aloud. "Doctor, I'm never sure when you're joking." She reached down and grasped the Flammifer between thumb and forefinger. "It's stuck or something!"
"Pull harder, Jo."
"It won't move." Jo tugged. "I can't get it loose." She tried again several times, without success. "Doctor, if we don't bring it back to Elphinesse-- Can't you do something?"
The Time Lord frowned. "I oughtn't try, Jo. Elphin spells can be very unpredictable if you don't fulfill the conditions exactly. Remember, Herne said `one with human blood.'"
"Well, my blood's human enough. They took simply gallons of it for medical tests when I joined UNIT. I think those doctors actually enjoyed--" Jo paused. The Doctor was clearly not listening to her.
"The Elphin," he mused aloud, "are a very cunning people, but also very literal."
Jo looked at him, aghast. "Do you mean I have to bleed to get that thing loose?"
"Oh, I imagine it won't take much. The spell is probably a simple pattern-recognition nexus set for the molecular structure of human hemoglobin."
Jo was already fumbling in her pockets. She pulled out a Swiss Army knife and flipped open a small but wicked-looking blade. She pricked her left thumb and squeezed the fleshy tip. A crimson droplet appeared, quivered for a moment, then splashed across the surface of the Flammifer.
Jo flung her arm across her face as a radiance exploded from the stone. The light blazed silver-white like the heart of a new-formed star, then winked out as if it had never been. Jo stretched out a hesitant hand and scooped up the dull milky stone as easily as a child gathering pebbles at the shore. A feeble light began to flicker inside it. "Doctor, look!"
"I see, Jo." The Time Lord plucked the gem from her hand. Instantly, the light glowed brighter. "Very interesting," he murmured. "I begin to see why Taranis was so desperate to get this back." As he returned the stone to Jo, the light dimmed again.
"Never mind admiring it, Doctor -- let's get out of here!"
Jo kept her right hand in the pocket that held the Flammifer. *I've gone through too much trouble to lose this now* she thought, *though it isn't as lovely as the phoenix rubies of D'shreel or the blue crystals of Metebelis Three. Hmm... Metebelis... I must pop over there after I repair the TARDIS.*
Jo's mouth flew open. *But I've never been to Meta-whatever it is!* she protested silently. *I've never even heard of it.* *never heard of the famous blue planet of the acteon galaxy?* came the indignant reply. *why, it's as well known as the eye of orion!*
*it canna be as bonny as the highlands* The young man in the kilt folded his arms emphatically. *here in the sense-sphere we all live in peace* *we will make skaro a thriving planet again* Her dark eyes pleaded with them. *i was born in another world, another time* *is this some intern's idea of a joke? it isn't human blood at all* *the time has come for you to change your appearance, and begin your exile... exile... exile*
*I'm having a regeneration crisis* Jo decided. The thought seemed compellingly logical to her, although she had not the slightest idea what it meant.
*I seem to be making a habit of this* was Jo's first waking thought. She noted with relief that the grass beneath her was green, not purple. The Doctor was crouched beside her, his face somber.
"How are you feeling?"
"Just great, Doctor!" Jo touched the side of her head. "Nobody in here but me." She stumbled to her feet. "When--how did we get back here?"
"I carried you down to the portal. The mindfasting dissolved as soon as we passed through. Don't you remember?"
Jo shook her head. "I remember getting the Flammifer; that's all." She pulled the gem from her pocket. "Doctor, what's so special about this? I mean, it's very pretty and I suppose it's worth simply thousands of pounds, but if Herne could make an entire tower out of amber, I don't see why Taranis couldn't make one little jewel."
The Doctor answered immediately, "But it isn't a jewel, Jo. It's an organic entity, as alive as you or I." Jo gawked as he continued, "It seems to have some sort of rudimentary telepathic ability." He took it from her hand. "See how it becomes brighter when I hold it? Obviously, the greater mental activity of my brain offers more stimulation."
"Very clever, Doctor!" Taranis stepped forward, hand extended. "Return the Flammifer at once, lest you incur the wrath of the Elphin."
The Doctor waggled his bushy brows. "Don't be so impatient. I'm not some superstitious primitive that you can intimidate with illusions -- I'm a Time Lord."
"Doctor," the Elphin king said, "to recover the Flammifer, I would challenge the entire High Council of Gallifrey."
"Yes, I believe you would -- for this," the Doctor said, regarding the glowing object in his cupped palm. He passed it back to his assistant. "Jo, I think you'd better give this to His Majesty."
Taranis took it from her in silence and pressed the living stone into the hollow in his crown. The Flammifer blazed with light.
"Doctor, what's happening?"
"A miracle of psychosymbiosis, Jo. The Flammifer acts as a sort of mental funnel, channeling psychic energy into something as powerful and precise as a laser beam." The Time Lord looked around him. "This is an artificial world. It requires a fantastic amount of energy to maintain it, and the Elphin don't use machines."
"So the Flammifer was keeping everything running? And when Herne took it..."
"Exactly! Remember those trees you said were thrown at you? That must have happened just at the moment when Taranis was re-forming the portal to bring me through. Without the Flammifer to help him, his attention was temporarily diverted from other things, and the gravity in one localized area went haywire." He looked at the Elphin lord. "It must have been a fantastic strain, trying to hold an entire world together."
"Within a span of hours, the Elphin would have perished," Taranis said simply.
Jo stared at the Elphin king in horror. His whole planet might have been destroyed, and he hadn't said a word!
The Doctor was equally stunned. "But surely you could have evacuated to another world," he protested.
Taranis's face was expressionless, and his sea-coloured eyes met the Time Lord's unblinkingly. "You know our history, Doctor. Once before, we fled a dying homeworld. It would have been better to perish than to suffer another exile."
The Time Lord's expression was unreadable. "I understand," he said in an oddly subdued tone.
"Your task here is completed, Doctor," Taranis continued. "In a moment I will prepare the gate for your return. It is then my intent to close all the portals of Elphinesse, that I may conserve the power of the Flammifer for the healing of our world."
"Will you open them again?"
The Elphin Lord spread his pale hands. "In a millennium or two,perhaps... Farewell, Doctor. It may be that we will speak again."
"Your Majesty." The Time Lord's red cape swirled gracefully as he saluted the Elphin lord with a courtly bow.
The Elphin king faced Jo. "Though it was not of your choosing, you have served us well. Elphinesse is... grateful." He spoke the last word as if it were in an alien tongue. Jo opened her mouth to reply, but at that
moment the blackness of the portal engulfed her.
She found herself standing beside the Doctor in the middle of a blessedly normal, ordinary Northumberland pasture. "I never thought I'd be so glad to see cows again. Do you suppose-- Doctor, look!"
The Time Lord waggled his bushy white brows. "Taranis did say that he would close the portals."
Jo was silent for a moment. "There was a poem I had to memorize at school, `Magic casements, opening on the foam/of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.' Doctor, do you think... will he ever open them again?"
The Doctor smiled sympathetically. Jo was not the first human to be enticed by the dangerous beauty of Elphinesse. "I don't know." His gaze wandered across the gentle greenness of the pasture, then rested on the face of his young assistant. If the Elphin chose permanent isolation, as the Time Lords had done long ago, they would lose more than they could possibly realize. The elder races of the galaxy had a great deal to learn from their younger cousins.
The Time Lord shook himself out of his revery. "I don't know," he repeated. "Jo, why don't you go ring up the Brigadier while I load the equipment into Bessie." He rattled off a short message for her to relay.
Jo trotted towards the farmhouse. She stumbled slightly as she craned her neck to look at the flat barren circle where Seelie Knowe had been, and wondered just how the Brigadier was going to explain to the Ordinance Survey cartographers that they had some erasing to do.
-- The End --