A/N: Nothing that you recognize belongs to me! Penultimate Chapter! :D
Chapter Seven: The War that Never Ends
The Doctor bent over, his nose not-quite touching the strange door that was carved into the rock in front of him. Not human technology, not even close. The cuts were too smooth and the edges too sharp. It was more like the rock had been—melted, and even then he would have expected a bit more erosion. The carvings themselves were interesting as well. The door was outlined by a pair of trees whose branches wove together to create the arched top of the door, while the sides were defined by their trunks. Strange swirling designs covered the door, and interspersed were bipedal figures and glyphs that might have been words. The Doctor frowned as he studied them. Without the TARDIS he didn't quite have five billion languages at his disposal, but his knowledge of alien tongues was still fairly impressive. He did not recognize the carvings, a fact that worried him.
"Familiar at all?" Rose asked lightly.
He shook his head. "It's not a language I know."
"What about the little TARDIS?"
He straightened and examined some of the higher carvings. The door was about a foot taller than he was, not counting his hair which seemed bound and determined to stick up wildly no matter what he did. "She's too young yet. It'll be at least five or six years before she has enough power to create a bond that would allow her to translate for me."
"So how are we supposed to get in?" Martha asked from her place on his right. She gestured at the door. "There aren't any hinges—it looks like just a carving."
"Why do you think it isn't just that?" Abby's voice was skeptical.
Martha shrugged. "This is where the trail ends, and it's conveniently next to a mysterious door." A corner of her mouth tugged upward in a rueful smile. "I've been at Torchwood long enough to appreciate the likelihood of a coincidence, which is approximately zero."
"There's any number of possible entry triggers," the Doctor responded absently. "A hidden pressure plate, a key, a vocal trigger…"
"What, like 'speak 'friend' and enter?'" Dominic quipped.
The Doctor shot him an amused look. "Something like that, yes. Didn't peg you as a Tolkien fan, though."
The other man grinned. "Oh, not me, but Abbs loved him growing up. She was gonna marry him and everything."
"That's quite enough, little brother," Abigail growled, but the amusement in her eyes softened the harsh tone of her voice.
As usual, Martha reached out and dragged him (metaphorically speaking, Rose was the one who did the literal dragging) back to the task at hand. "Look at this, Doctor." She pointed to one of the carvings. It was a bipedal figure facing what looked to be a rough representation of the door. The next carving depicted the same figure halfway through the door. "What do you think that means?"
He was frowning as he studied the puzzle before him. Something was off. Something in the air tasted—odd. Metallic, almost. A grin grew as inspiration dawned on him. Of course! He was getting slow in his old age, or maybe it was just the human bits that were messing with his phenomenal Time Lord brain.
"Figured it out, then?" Rose asked with a matching grin.
"Oh yes!" he said triumphantly. Then he grabbed her hand and stepped through the door. There was a brief sensation of warmth, and then they were through. There was a tunnel in front of them, long and almost pitch-black. He stuck his head back out and everyone jumped.
It was very strange, seeing only the Doctor's beaming face and hopeless hair sticking out from what looked like solid stone. "It's a hologram!" he crowed. "Quite brilliant, actually. Probably solar powered."
"That's a first," Arthur commented. "Environmentally friendly aliens."
The Doctor snorted. "I'm not even going to dignify that with a response." He looked at them expectantly for a moment. "Well, what are you doing hanging around out there? The adventure's this way!"
It took a moment for their eyes to adjust to the much dimmer light of the tunnel. Even with the torches that the produced from their packs the darkness seemed to press around them.
"Any idea where we're headed?" Tosh called from the back of the line.
"No idea!" the Doctor responded. "More fun that way." Several poorly-muffled groans were the only response he gained. They walked in relative silence for a few minutes, and then the tunnel widened and branched and they were left staring at two possibilities. Rose glanced at Abby, who nodded.
"We split up," she said firmly. "We can cover more ground separately."
"Do the walky talkies still work?" Rose asked.
Daniel shrugged. "Off and on."
She nodded. "We meet back here in two hours. That should give us enough time to explore. Any sign of trouble and you run, got it?" She stared at each person until they nodded, albeit somewhat reluctantly. None of them were comfortable with the idea of leaving potentially injured teammates behind, but they wouldn't do anyone any good if they were dead.
"Arthur, Alexis, Daniel, and Martha, you're with me," Abby said. "Tosh, Dominic, and Greg, you're with the Doctor and Rose." She glanced at their options. "We'll take the left." She gave the others a cheery wave as her group started down the tunnel. "See you in a bit!"
Rose shivered and kept a tight grip on the Doctor's hand. She knew that she had to be strong for her team. They were relying on her to stay calm and in control—but it was hard. The darkness seemed to wrap around them and she could almost feel the persistent tug of the Void. If she closed her eyes she knew that she would be back inside the thick blackness. She struggled to keep her breathing even and fought the urge not to blink. The Doctor was here, her team was here, and she was nowhere near the Void. The walls had closed. There was no more possibility that she would be sucked into the space between universes—hell, some people called it. They were right. It was complete and utter nothingness, a separation so intense that it burned. When they got out of this, she decided, she was never going in a cave again if she could help it. Then she sighed. Knowing Torchwood, she'd be back underground within a week. Never boring, her job. Sometimes she wondered if that was good or bad.
The Doctor squeezed her hand, and she knew that he'd noticed her skittishness. Telling him about her experience in the Void had been one of the hardest things she'd ever done. She hated feeling weak or helpless, and she was terribly afraid that he would find her lacking if she let him see her when she was at less than her best. It was an unworthy thought, really. He'd seen her in far worse situations when they were traveling together in her original universe, but things had changed between them. A rock skittered in front of them, dislodged by someone's foot. The harsh sound of rock against rock brought her out of her thoughts. She frowned. It had been a while since she was oblivious enough to be distracted on a mission. Rose took a deep breath and forced herself to focus.
The Doctor glanced at Rose surreptitiously. She was pale, but seemed determined. He knew she was thinking about the Void. Now that she had shared the reasons for her aversion to dark, enclosed spaces he couldn't fault her. What she had described on the train was enough to give anyone nightmares, and she had been subjected to that for three years. He turned his eyes back to what little he could see of the tunnel in front of him. The air was—odd. It tasted off, metallic still. He had assumed that whatever he had tasted was the result of his proximity to the hologram, but maybe not.
"D'you feel that?" Rose asked suddenly.
"What?" he replied.
She searched the tunnel around them, but there was nothing. "Like, like a pressure on the back of your neck." She paused. "Like you're being watched."
He started to shake his head when an overwhelming pain blasted itself through his mind. TIME LORD, something roared as it cut through his mental shields. There was pain and fire and death swirling around him. He opened his mouth and screamed.
Rose caught the Doctor as he stumbled and fell. He was clutching his head and his eyes were screwed tightly shut with pain. He screamed and she held him, trying to stop him from hurting himself as he thrashed. The others stared at them.
"What's going on?" Greg's eyes were wide.
"No idea," Rose responded quietly. She touched his face, cupped his cheek with her hand as he relaxed slightly. His breath was coming quickly, almost in pants. "Doctor. Doctor, can you hear me?" He shuddered and opened his eyes. "Doctor, what happened?"
"They're coming," he said hoarsely. "They're coming, Rose. We need to run."
"Who?" she asked as the rest of the team scanned the tunnel in front of and behind them.
He shook his head. "I don't know—but they know me. They know what I am." His eyes went distant, and then he scrambled to his feet. "Too late!" he cried. "They're here." He grabbed her hand as a gust of wind howled through the tunnel. It was a strange, sour burst of air that kicked up dust and dirt and pelted them with small stones. The Doctor was pulling her forward, pulling her away. She tried to reach out, to grab one of her teammates but her hands met swirling air and nothing else. Rose pulled her shirt up over her nose and closed her eyes to keep out the dust. Was it just her imagination, or were there voices on the wind? Strange, taunting voices that couldn't belong to anything human.
Run and hide, they whispered. Run and hide little human. We're coming to find you.
White-hot pain cut across her side and she cried out. Next to her the Doctor grunted as something hard and heavy connected with his shoulder. "Come on, Rose!" he yelled. "We've got to run!"
The Doctor froze. Rose kept walking until their joined hands yanked her almost off her feet. "Doctor?" she asked softly. He stood in the tunnel, his eyes closed and practically radiating tension. He looked like a dog searching for a scent. "Doctor," she asked again, "what is it?"
He remained motionless for a few moments longer. She'd never seen anyone be so still as he was. Then his eyes snapped open and he turned to her. "Can you feel it?"
She blinked at him. "What?"
He gestured impatiently at the empty air around them. "The voices, can you feel them? There's something else there, something I can't quite—" Then his eyes went very wide and his lips pulled back into thin lines. "Oh," he said softly. "Oh. Oh no."
"What?" she asked impatiently. She didn't like the look on his face.
"There's something here, Rose. Something that shouldn't be." His eyes closed and pain washed over his face. "Something from the Time War."
They were running again. Well, the Doctor was running. Rose was just trying to keep up with him. He was following something in his head, some extra sense that humans didn't have. He tried to explain how it felt, the instinctive knowledge that his species had about time—its movements and order, when a point was fixed and when it was in flux. She had grasped the edges of the concepts, but in the end she trusted his knowledge, his abilities more than her own understanding. There were some things that couldn't bridge the species gap. Time Sense was apparently one of them, along with his fascination with jam.
They encountered Thwrestles twice more, but were able to dodge them. Once she knew what to look for Rose was surprised that she hadn't noticed earlier. Of course, she had been injured and slightly panicked and trying to get away from whatever it was they were looking for. It felt good to be running toward danger again, even if her side was paining her and her lungs burned from exertion. She listened to her body reminding her that she wasn't exactly fighting fit. She'd lost blood and fluids in general to their first encounter with the Thwrestles, and the cut on her side wasn't horribly deep, but it was painful.
She was almost ready to drop when they finally stopped running. The tunnel opened up into a huge cavern and Rose blinked, almost blinded by the sudden return of light. Veins of quartz ran up and down the walls and carried sunlight with them, magnifying and refracting it to fill the space. In the center of the cavern a strange, crystalline structure was half-buried in the dirt. Panels of clear stone were covered by a spider-web of silver colored metal. Circular designs in a darker metal were inlaid over the panels. They looked—familiar. She gasped when she made the connection. The designs looked like the writing on the display in the TARDIS.
"Doctor, is that—"
"Yes," he interrupted. "Yes it is." He was very pale, she noticed, and he seemed tense, like a coiled spring.
"What is it?" Her voice was gentle. She hated to bring up the war. She knew that it still tortured him, and that it probably would until the day he died, but she needed to know what they were dealing with.
"It's a weapon," he responded flatly. "A weapon that manipulates time itself. It was a Time War, after all. Oh, there were regular weapons, artillery and missiles, but the worst, the deadliest, ripped apart time with the power of the Vortex."
The air seemed to thicken, and Rose thought she could almost see figures in the empty space—strange, twisted shapes that were almost too horrible to look on. "Doctor?"
Pain and guilt and disgust warred for expression on his face. "They're trapped out of time. That's why you can't kill them, why they can get through solid stone and locked doors without setting off any alarms—they're not quite here, not quite there."
"What about that other stuff, the flower petals and all that?" Her eyes were wide as she tried to avoid looking at the things.
"There are species that can manipulate matter around them," he replied. "You'd call it magic, but it's just a different form of science. Like the Carrionites, I told you about them, right?" She nodded. "They chose words and you chose numbers." He gestured to the shapes. "This lot chose something else."
A wind stirred in the cavern, sour and heavy with malice. It blew around them, not as fiercely as it had in the tunnel, but somehow more menacing. Rose was sure she heard voices—threatening, accusing, railing against the Doctor.
He blinked, and realization hit him. He knew what they were. "I'm sorry," he whispered, "I'm so sorry."
Not good enough! The voices replied.
He turned to face her but he could not meet her eyes. "I know them, Rose. It was—it was necessary. Collateral damage, Romana called it." He laughed bitterly. "The Daleks were conquering their planet. It was the last stronghold—the last defense between Davros and Gallifrey. If we allowed them to take it—" he swallowed. "And in the end it didn't matter. Everything burned, their whole planet, ripped out of time to buy us an opportunity to end the war." He finally looked at her and his eyes were tortured. "This is all that's left of Arcadia."