Thought I was gone, did you? Well, yes. I have been. I've thought about coming back to this story a million times, but for reasons I won't go into here, it hasn't happened. The amazing notes I keep getting about Temptation, though, keep making me want to write more. You have all been so wonderful to tell me how much you enjoy this little effort of mine, how much you want to know what happens next. I hate that I've left you hanging so long. And so, on with the show, at least for one more episode….
See, the human mind is kind of like... a piñata. When it breaks open, there's a lot of surprises inside. Once you get the piñata perspective, you see that losing your mind can be a peak experience. ~Jane Wagner
Look both ways before entering the insanity. ~Terri Guillemets
Irial's running feet skidded to a halt before the entrance to the maze. The pale gravel of the path skittered away from his feet. On his face was a look of pure horror and dread. A moment later, Aelfric, too, came to a stop just behind him. Irial heard Aelfric's breathless oath, but he did not turn away from what he saw in front of him. He reached out hesitantly, traced one fingertip over the black stone feathers of one of the giant raven wings that was now completely blocking the entrance to the maze. A shock like a strong electric current seized him as he made contact with the statue, and his body arced in pain, the sensation beginning to overload his brain, a dim greyness beginning to narrow the edges of his vision. He suddenly felt a strong shove, and the connection was broken. He lay on the walk, panting, staring up at the towering black bird above him. With effort, he pushed himself up to a sitting position, waving away Aelfric as the other High Lord knelt beside him to offer assistance.
For a time, neither spoke. Aelfric rose and paced around the statues. Irial stood, pain still radiating through his body. Aelfric turned and looked at Irial, and Irial nodded solemnly. They stood gazing at the shuttered portal a moment more, and then they turned and slowly made their way back to the house.
The Doctor fought against the nausea that had overtaken him as the High Lords who had captured him dragged him unceremoniously through the giant gilt frame on the wall. As he had felt the unnatural bending of time and space, all his Time Lord senses had been temporarily overwhelmed. It was as if the effects of the Ways themselves had been magnified and focused on him.
Once through the Waygate, the High Lords had tossed him into the first available support, a large chair that dominated the middle of the room. They'd something to him that he'd not been able to understand, his mind refusing to wrap around their language and make it make sense, and laughing, two of them had grabbed something bulky from the corner and carried it out of the room. There was something disturbing about the shape of the object they'd carried. He'd wrapped his hands around the arms of the chair, grateful for something solid, for something that was not shifting and tossing, and he'd tried to focus on the words, the actions of the High Lords. They were all leaving him, though, going out the huge wooden door, locking it with a great screech of rusting metal. There was now a heavy silence broken only by the sound of water dripping away somewhere nearby. Bit by bit, the world began to stop its horrid little dancing, and he took a deep breath.
Just WRONG, those. Never should have been…never should…
As the world came back to him, his senses returned and he became aware of the wetness of the arms of the chair under his palms. His hands arched up in instinctive avoidance, fingertips only touching the sodden wood now. Lightly, he stroked the surface, and another wave of revulsion washed over him.
No. Oh no. This…this…THING is…was…has been used to….
Almost against his own will, his hand flattened against the wood again, and the full horror of it came to him, the soundless screams of a hundred, no…a thousand beings in pain as their very selves were sucked out, casually used as a one-time picklock before being sent into oblivion. He shuddered as their faces burned themselves into his brain, one more dark work of art in the mental gallery of terrors he already possessed. His mind suddenly understood the thing the Rishellians had removed from the room was the latest victim of this object upon which he now sat. With effort, he flung himself forward to land face-down on the cold stone floor. Here, too, there was that awful wetness, the tang of blood stronger here. He rolled weakly to his side, opened his blurry eyes a moment, and saw again the terrible chair, shining pink-tinged drops of water slowly tracing down it towards the drain in the floor where he now lay. Then his eyes closed again, and for a time there was only blessed nothing.
Amelia had no idea how long she had been walking. The maze flowed on before her without end, and there was something terribly comforting about the high green walls and the cleanness of the path before her. It felt safe. The light and the song filled her, made her feel whole, made her feel special. She turned a little dancing step as she moved along, arms out, head back.
Along the path were niches carved into the living structure of the maze. In each was a carved statue of something to do with ravens. There were ravens in flight, ravens with wings furled looking gravely forward, and strange figures with the bodies of women but the heads of ravens. She pondered them as she walked but never paused too long. The urge to keep moving was too strong, the pull of the song too great.
There's something ahead for you, Amelia…. There will be time for all that later. (a rippling little laugh that was a music all its own) Yes. You will have understanding of them later. Come along, Pond…
She came at last to a great central node of the maze, a place from which three paths branched off into their own turnings. She paused, unsure of where she should go. All the paths seemed to be equally bathed in light, equally filled with song.
Uncertainly, she called out, "Hello? Are you still there? I don't know exactly where I should go now. Can you help me?"
And suddenly, the light and the song were completely gone, plunging Amy into a suffocating darkness.
Gradually, the Doctor woke. His eyes focused first on the wood of the floor he now lay upon, and relief swamped him as he realized that he was no longer in that room of horror.
Wherever this is, it has to be better than…
The slightest shifting scrape of a sole across the floor cut off his thought in midstream, and his gaze snapped to the black boots across the room from him. He followed the dark color upward as it resolved itself into Irial seated in a throne-like chair against the far wall. The High Lord was watching him intently, and the Doctor had the feeling he had been doing so for quite some time.
Okay. I could be wrong....
The Doctor pushed himself up, rolled into a seated position, and stared back at the unmoving Rishellian in front of him.
Irial was the first to break the silence.
"By rights, I should have you slain publicly in the square of the Citadel on some bright noon in the not-too-distant future, Doctor. You are now a criminal by the laws of my people. I name you spy. An ally of the dragon nation. Enemy of the High Lords of Rishell."
The Doctor smiled.
"Ah, Irial…. Pots and kettles, pots and kettles. Don't forget I've seen your little…experiment…downstairs. Your hands aren't exactly as lily-white as they look, are they? Last time I checked, what you're up to is also a killing offense…"
The High Lord's expression twisted, changed. He leaned forward, spoke fervently. "What I do there, I do for my people, for the return of glory and honor to the Rishellian Empire…"
The Doctor cut him off. "What you do there, you do for your own power and glory. Don't dress it up in fancy clothes and pretend otherwise."
Irial exploded out of his chair, strode impatiently to the chamber's window. "Never! It has never been for me! I only seek…"
The Doctor stood as well, slowly pulling himself to his feet, leaning for a moment against a table for support as the last of the weakness trickled away. "You seek to become the Raven King, a thing that has not been seen on this world in more than two thousand years. An office that was destroyed, named abomination by your people, because of the corruption of the soul that was an integral part of wielding its power…."
Irial turned, his silver eyes flashing. "You know nothing. Nothing! I have safeties and securities in place. I shall not fall into the darkness. I shall reclaim the ancient knowledge, and Rishell shall rise again in victory and strength!"
The Doctor laughed softly, derision lacing the sound.
Irial stepped closer to him. "Should I leave the ruling of my people in the hands of my sister, Doctor? Should I place the wellbeing of this world on her? She is not capable of rule. She is not capable of greatness or honor…."
"And what honor have you found in your quest, Raven Lord? What power?"
"Power enough to bring back the days of old, the glory of the Empire of Rishell. Power enough to bend the Ways to our will." He paused, his voice dropped, hissed, "Power enough even to snare a Lord of Time."
For a moment, the Doctor simply stared back at the impassioned face before him. Then, softly, almost gently, he spoke again. "And what of the cost? Because there is always, always one. That is the truest thing in all the known worlds, Irial. No power comes free, and the greater the prize, the higher the cost…."
Irial froze, and the anger fell away from him, confusion suddenly there as he turned away. "It had to be done. It was made clear to me…. They understand, and they…they… forgive... As I am sure that when she knows, she will forgive…"
Something in the way Irial said "she" made the Doctor's instincts flare. "As who will forgive you?" When the High Lord refused to answer or even to meet his gaze, the Doctor seized his shoulders and shook him hard. An overwhelming sense of dread filled the Doctor's hearts.
"As WHO will forgive you, you ruddy elf? Tell me what you've done. Where is Amelia?"
Irial's eyes met the Doctor's at long last, and a despair bordering on madness swirled there as his hands came up to clutch at the Doctor.
"The Maze took her. I could not stop it. It took her, Doctor, and now she will complete the Three."
The darkness surrounding Amy was complete. Not even the stars, so bright in the sky above her until a moment ago, broke the blackness. Amy could hear her own breathing and the distant, quiet sound of wind through leaves, but the song that had enchanted her, drawn her on, was gone.
"Hello?" she called softly. "Is anybody there?"
Suddenly, walking through this maze doesn't seem like such a fabulous idea….
A light appeared to break the gloom, a soft glowing point of light in the middle of the clearing that grew into a large orb. One of the lightbearing statues she had seen so frequently in the Citadel stood before her. It had not been here a moment ago, she was sure. The place had been entirely empty. She walked over to it and peered up at its stone features.
The light-giving orb was supported by three of the raven-headed women figures she'd seen throughout the maze. Their clothing was incredibly detailed. She walked around the grouping studying them, tracing her fingers over the carved stone patterns in the fabric that draped them. She noticed one of the statues had been damaged. It was headless. There was something disturbing about its graceful body and upraised arms standing there with no head on its shoulders.
A rustling noise behind her made her turn suddenly. The paths that had led out of this node were gone. She spun, heart pounding, as she looked at the unbroken wall of green that encircled her. She wet her lips with the tip of her tongue, and cleared her suddenly-tight throat.
"Okay…you said you had something you wanted to tell me. Are you going to do that now?"
Stupid, Amy, really, really stupid to have come in here…. Stupider still to think that now any good is going to come of…
The sound of stone scraping against stone made her jump, turn hastily back to the statue, memories of Angels filling her mind. The headless raven-woman now supported the orb with only one hand. The other pointed at the portion of the hedge maze wall just in front of her. Amy studied her with a growing unease.
"Well, I guess that's an answer, but I'm not sure exactly what kind, I mean it's not as though there's anything there…."
Bright light washed across the clearing, casting sharp shadows. Amy looked at it, shielding her eyes with her hand as her vision adjusted to the intensity. Then her hand fell away as she drew in a surprised breath. Her feet moved without her thinking about it toward the shining white circular portal that now broke the green leafy wall and the glorious beauty that was just beyond it.
He felt the rage within him combust, a holocaust begging to be released, channeled, used to destroy that which had taken that which was His. Part of him wanted to wrap his hands around the throat of the Rishellian standing stricken before him and end him. It would be so easy, take so little effort on his part, and it would feel so righteously good…. Some tiny logical part of his mind, still functioning due to centuries of hard training, stood sentinel, whispering warnings.
*We need him yet. Without him, we cannot reclaim that which is Ours….*
With the greatest of control, the Doctor forced himself to release Irial. His hands came up to fold around the lapels of his own tweedy jacket to keep them from flying back to the one who had taken his world from him, and he turned and stepped away.
"I need you to tell me everything, Irial. What is this Three you speak of? What exactly is this Maze that is capable of taking Pond?"
Irial's wide eyes came to meet the Doctor's. His face twisted into a mask of despair as he started to laugh.
"Trying to fix it all again? I should let you….I should let you… But it can't be done! Don't you see? It was never supposed to be her. It was always going to be Ainfean!"
"Stop. This isn't helping. You must tell me…"
"Tell you what? Words are useless. Action is futile. She will complete the Three, and They will rise. No proper preparation has been made. They will be impossible to channel, impossible to control…"
The Doctor crossed the small distance separating them, seized the High Lord again, and forced him to face him. "This. Isn't. Helping. You are standing between me and my Mate, and that, Irial, is the most dangerous place in all of time and space to be just now. Tell me what you know."
Irial collapsed in on himself, his fury and his fear drained suddenly. He began to speak.
"For two hundred years, Doctor, I have followed the path set for me by my father and his father before him. I have sought the old ways, chased the powers that the High Lords once had. My house has had but one goal, to restore the might of the Raven King to this world so that he might in turn bring back the days of glory for our people."
"But your people did not want the Raven King. Siofra told me that they hunted down the last Rishellian to claim that title and ripped him apart in the streets for his crimes…."
Irial shook his head. "That is true, but that happened only because…. It would not have happened again. And my people languish and decay under the Empresses. Only the might of the Raven King could destroy the rot at the core of Rishell, cut it out so that what remains can endure, rebuild, grow." There was iron conviction in his voice. The Doctor made no move, merely listened.
Irial continued, "It was during my father's time that the Maze was rediscovered. The old legends and clues my grandfather had chased at last yielded fruit. My father was the birth-brother of the Empress Siofra and acted as I do for Ainfean as her chamberlain. When he told her what he had discovered, she came herself to see it. This estate was in ruins. The forest had reclaimed everything. The raven statues still framed an opening in the tangled hedges, though, and when he first saw them, he had known. Siofra feared the old tales might be true, and she gave orders for the ravens to be pulled down by any means possible, for the entrance to be somehow sealed, but my father, he knew what had to be done.
"He had been searching for the old power for so long, had inherited the hunt from his own father. He could not allow it to be lost, for the potential benefit to all of Rishell to be taken just because of old superstitions. He and the Empress were alone in the glade. He maneuvered her around to stand just in front of the opening, and then he grabbed her and forced her in.
"Almost instantly, just as you have seen tonight, the great wings dropped and sealed her in. My father told me that for a time, she beat upon the stone wings that barred her passage, cried out for someone, anyone to save her. She cried out for him…. Then there was silence. Then the music began…
"He always said that next came something like an earthquake, his senses reeled. When he was in control of his faculties again, the great keep had rebuilt itself somewhat, the forest had receded from the edges of the maze. The singing still filled the air, and he saw just for a moment, the wings of the ravens shift. Siofra was standing there staring out at him, but she was no longer the sister-queen he knew. She was pale even for one of our kind, dressed completely in white, and she simply stared at him for a time with complete lack of recognition. Then she laughed and said, "Accepted. I am One," and turned to walk away down the inner paths of the Maze.
"From that day, my father found that he was growing in power. That he could hear the thoughts of those around him. That he could enter their dreams…. All the powers of the legendary Raven King seemed to be blossoming in him, weakly. The tales, it seemed, were true. And as it became clear that Siofra was gone, his strength facilitated the rise of my branch of the family to the throne."
The Doctor had been silent. "He sacrificed his own sister, sacrificed Siofra, for a few mental party tricks? Siofra was good and wise and noble. She genuinely cared for her people. She deserved better than that…" His heart ached at the thought of the brilliant woman he had known and cared for, of her fear and terror….
Irial gave a bitter smile. "Yes. I had forgotten that you…knew…her when last you were on Rishell. All power demands payment, Doctor. Aren't you the very one who told me that? It was nothing he did lightly. He felt her become, and it almost drove him mad. And yet, now he had the power to foresee, to guide the Empire in all it did, and he did this diligently until the day his foresight showed him his time was at an end.
"Then it became my turn to carry the banner, the burden…." He fell silent, some memory sitting heavily on him.
"How did the power pass to you, Irial?" The Doctor's soft voice broke his reviere.
"In the only way such power can be passed. Through another payment…"
And he told the rest of the tale. When he was done, he covered his face with his hands and wept.
The Doctor stood silent, his mind spinning the pieces of the tale he'd received, looking for a solution. Suddenly, he turned and headed for the door. Irial looked up at him, eyes glazed and hopeless.
"I'm going to need you to take me out to the Maze now. Amy will be waiting, and she's never been known for her patience."
Through the alabaster gate was a garden with every flower in full bloom. A distant sound like windchimes chimed softly through the twilight air. The little motes of light that had been Amy's guides and companions swirled in little eddies here and there.
Around the edges, more light bearing figures held aloft their glowing orbs. The golden radiance fell on three odd, large, smooth rectangular pedestals placed evenly around the perimeter of the garden. Amy could see carvings on the sides of two of them, what seemed to be a storyline in carved relief. The third was completely smooth. She lightly trailed her fingers along the smooth cool stone as she bent to inspect them. On the top of each was the carved outline of a body making the pedestals seem almost like a bed of stone for an invisible sleeper. Amy frowned as she rubbed her fingertip against the groove. A feeling of unease resurrected itself.
These seem like…like…
A noise like a sigh from across the garden made her whirl, and upon the pedestal across from her lay a woman in a white gown, long red-gold hair flowing across the stone.
"Okay. You weren't there a minute ago. I know you weren't there a minute ago…" Amy stepped cautiously toward the still figure.
A soft murmuring came to her ears and the wind stirred heavily through the trees. Slowly, all the hairs on the back of her neck standing up, she turned to find another woman lying on the pedestal just behind her. She, too, was dressed in white, her thick black hair a curling cloud around her serene face.
Amy backed up, eyes darting back and forth between the two stones. Step by step, she slowly edged away from both of them only to have her fingers intercept the cold rounded edge of some obstruction just before she collided with it. A large round stone table with three chairs positioned in alignment with the three pedestals had materialized in the center of the garden. Amy circled it trying to keep the sleeping women in her sight, continued to back away.
Suddenly, she bumped into something large, hard, waist-high. The third pedestal, the blank one. She clutched the edge reflexively as her hand touched it and heard a soft sigh in the air. It was as if the entire garden had released a breath in satisfaction. Glancing back to the center of the garden again, she saw that the two women were now sitting up, stiff as though they were truly only life-like carvings. She tried to open her fingers from the stone, but she suddenly found that she could not break the contact.
In panic, Amy pulled desperately, but as she fought the strange connection that had formed, she became aware of an insidious music filling the air. It was heartrendingly lovely, and she stopped to listen to it for a moment. There were voices inside it…
"Aren't you tired, Amelia Pond? Aren't you tired? Come and rest, little Amy. Come and rest. We've a bed just for you, and your rest will be long and full…."
Amy found her eyes starting to close, an overwhelming need for sleep enveloping her. She fought it, but she felt her body surrendering to the magic in the song.
"Just a little lie down. Just the tiniest rest. And your bed is ready and waiting for you, Amelia. Don't fight it…don't fight us, sister… You are Three, and we are whole…"
Amy slumped forward, collapsing across the pure white surface. As she felt herself rising, turning, gently laid down, as she felt the cold stone press firmly against her back, her mind slipped under the warm tide. She murmured, "Doctor…" and the world faded.
The Doctor stood with Irial in front of the twin raven statues. He was scanning them with his sonic screwdriver, looking at the readings, shaking his head. Irial sat on a bench nearby, slumped in defeat, eyes staring off into nothingness.
The Doctor swore. "There has to be a way. The Maze is still there. Pond is inside. There has to be a way! No door is eternally locked…." A flickering memory of a planet with red skies and silver trees forever lost surfaced. He pushed it away hard.
Not this time. This is Amy. I will not lose her, too….
Dry, harsh, broken laughter greeted the Doctor's proclamation. He heard Irial's feet shift restlessly in the gravel.
"I've already told you. Once they have her, they will make her one of the Three. She will complete them, and then the triple goddess will rise. She will devour all who oppose her. So it was in the days of old."
Another voice, deep, calm, came from the darkness. "Yes. So it was. And so the wise of Rishell and the wise of the dragonkind made sure that even though the place of power itself could not be destroyed that all the Ways and Gates to it were sealed and that none of those the goddess had claimed were of use to her."
The Dragon King silently trod across the gravel. Not one of his steps yielded a sound. He gazed at the Doctor, turned his head to consider Irial.
"It took every resource we had. Every bit of skill, technology…magic..., but finally we forced the power back into its resting place, disconnected every Way from it, set guards against it calling those it needed. And the office of the Raven King, the fools who had sought to enslave a goddess, was abolished. And for a long, long time, there was peace and safety."
"You knew of this place, then." It was a statement.
The Dragon King reached out and brushed a long finger against the plinth at the base of one great raven. Irial made a noise of warning, but the Dragon King continued to trace an invisible pattern there. If he felt the powerful shock that Irial had received earlier, he gave no sign.
"Yes. I was among those who fought to close it the first time. My skills were among those that bound the goddess into her sleep."
"And you knew that Amy…that she was here in this place. With this danger. And you did not see fit to tell me?" Dangerous, dangerous the stillness and reason in that voice.
The Dragon King turned to look at the Doctor. He sighed heavily. "Yes. I knew. I knew the goddess was restless. I knew that some fool," and here he glanced at Irial, "had begun to toy with the power in the heart of the Maze. But Doctor, I swear to you by the trillanium heart of the Dragon of the Morning that I had no idea your lady could become a part of this."
The Doctor studied the solemn masklike face before him, and finally he nodded. "Okay. Okay. But tell me this. You said that you and yours knew of Ways into the Maze?"
The Dragon King nodded slowly. "We did…we….do."
Irial made a sound of frustration and despair behind them.
"All of them have been destroyed or closed, though."
The Doctor gave a grim smile. "That which is closed can be re-opened, can it not?"
A pause. Then a cautious bob of the head. "Perhaps. Perhaps with great effort."
Irial rose to his feet. "It will do you no good! When she reaches the heart of the Maze, the goddess will take her. Then we will all die!"
The Dragon King spun to face him, teeth bared. "And you tell me how it came to be that only one was needed to complete the rising? We left three empty biers. THREE. How is it that now she lies almost ready to wake, Raven Lord? Did you really think you could control her?"
"I did. I was. She was under my power! We have planned. We have prepared for three hundred years to understand her, to bind her…"
The Dragon King turned away. "Fool," he spat. "Only a High Lord could ever be as arrogant as that. She has used you, King of Fools, used you to get her freedom. You were never in control."
The Doctor suddenly stiffened. "Amy…" he murmured, and he stumbled forward as if he would push his way through the barrier of the stone wings.
The Dragon King moved faster than sight, faster than thought, and caught his wrist gently, firmly, before he could touch the obsidian stone. The Doctor shoved at him, but the dragon simply continued to hold him.
"Let me go. You must let me go. I can hear her. She is calling me…."
"No, friend. I cannot let you go until you are in control of yourself again. If you are to do your Mate any good, you must get control."
The Doctor became still. The wildness left his eyes. He raised his hands and gently patted the dragon on the shoulder. The Dragon King released him.
"Thank you for that," he murmured, turning away.
The Dragon King shifted but said nothing.
The Doctor ran a hand through his hair and turned back. "So. We have to go and open door that's sealed shut, do we?"
"Just so," agreed the Dragon King.
"Well, it's good for us all that I happen to be an expert lock picker, then. Time to get cracking. Where might this door be?"
The Dragon King's face split into a most unpleasant smile. "Guess."
Amy's world snapped back into place suddenly. She was sitting at the great stone table, a feast of fruits and dainties spread before her. There was food on a silver plate in front of her, and apparently she had been eating although she could not remember the taste of a single morsel. The folds of her white dress draped gracefully across her wide stone chair; a white linen napkin lay in her lap.
Wait. How did I? When did…What happened to me? I was standing by the stone pedestal and suddenly it… A shiver of fear traced up her spine, a thin finger of panic making icy shapes there.
"Ah, our sleepy-headed sister has finally awoken. You were dozing at the dinner table, dearest. How tired you must have been!"
Amy's eyes snapped across the table to take in the women in the other two chairs at the table. They looked so familiar to her. She couldn't place them, but she knew them…didn't she?
"Silly sister. You should never have waited so long to come home! What a journey you had."
I did? Did I? I traveled…. Where did I go?
One of the women, stunning with her red-gold hair flaming in the light of the orbs, reached out and poured something out of an elaborate teapot into a handleless cup. The liquid was dark, slightly viscous.
"It took you so long to get here, but now you are home. With your sisters. Exactly where you belong." She held out the delicate steaming cup, and Amy took it in reflex, murmuring thanks.
The other woman, her long black hair hanging in heavy curls down her back, smiled. The action brought out dimples in her smooth cheeks and crinkled her silver eyes. She took up her teacup and raised it in a toast.
"To our sister Amelia, who has come home where she belongs at last to complete our little family."
The red-gold girl raised her cup, and both of them stared at Amy.
Some small part of her wanted to tell them that she wasn't their sister, that she didn't have any idea of what they were talking about, that she had no desire to drink the dark liquid that steamed now in her cup.
Shouldn't be rude, dearest. Should just drink the cup when it comes. Never refuse the Cup, dearest….
Dizziness washed over Amy, and as if someone else was directing her actions, she saw her hand raise her cup to match the others, and then she was drinking down the contents of the little vessel. It flowed across her tongue, down her throat, thick, hot, metallic… And then she was screaming…
Hope this update does what you all thought would happen next justice. I know I didn't tell you all of Irial's story. I'm going to let you see if you can guess until I can get another update done. I hope you liked it enough to review…