"That didn't look like much of a beginning to me." Amy pondered, shooting the Doctor a sideways glance. "Are you stalling, again Doctor?
"I told you!" The Doctor insisted. "That was one of the beginnings. Where it started for me. When I was young."
"Young?" Rory protested. "Could have fooled me."
What can't?" The Doctor teased with a slight grin. "Cause and effect gets a bit," he paused, searching for the word, "Wobbly, sometimes. You can't always trace the string back to one starting point."
"Well, there must have been one thing that started all this off?" Amy pushed. "That meant you ended up in all those places, ended up with you meeting that girl."
"Speaking of which," Rory added, "what happened to her?"
"Later." The Doctor turned away from them. "Maybe." He said under his breath. "You want that first bit of string?" He set the visualiser and turned back to them, a forlorn look on his face. "I guess this is it."
"Keep running Ace!" The Doctor shouted, one hand holding his hat on his head as he looked back to his companion, her footsteps echoing on the stone floor beneath them.
"I wasn't planning on stopping, Professor!" Ace called back, very conscious of the half dozen sets of light footsteps behind her. "And next time you decide to visit an old wreck of a castle, can you at least check it isn't full of vampires first?"
"I've told you Ace, not vampires! Not quite anyway." The Doctor swept around a corner, his dark jacket flapping behind him. "Just a bit further!" He gestured to the blue shape of the TARDIS, visible at the end of the corridor. It was times like these that the Doctor was thankful for his sense of direction. The castle was a maze of sprawling corridors, all entangled together, creating an impassable labyrinth for the less observant. The walls were damp, spots of moisture glimmering in the candlelight, and by the eerie blue glow of their pursuers.
"You never told me you were Scottish!" Amy beamed. "Love the accent." She noted the look from her husband. "Reminds me of home, that's all."
Ace breathed a sigh of relief as she saw the Doctor stop in front of the TARDIS, fumbling for his key. This was meant to have been a relaxing trip, something 'educational', the Doctor had said, but as usual it had ended up with them both running for their lives. Suddenly, the six creatures behind her let out a shriek which echoed down the stone walls. Within moments another joined it, emanating from a corridor to the left. Then from the right. Almost spontaneously, the entire corridor was full with an awful howling. Despite her better instincts, Ace stopped and turned on the spot, and immediately wished she hadn't.
The six creatures that had been chasing them were closer now, their eyes lit with a light blue. Their faces were twisted and deformed; the only recognisable features the eyes and a wicked mouth, adorned with two protruding fangs. They all wore identical black cloaks, covering their entire bodies, with only menacing claws visible from the sleeves. Ace quickly looked to her left, and then her right, to realise that she was being flanked by two more groups of the creatures. She didn't turn and run, but instead started walking backwards slowly, reaching for the handle of her baseball bat which was poking from her backpack.
"Ace!" The Doctor shouted from the now open door of the TARDIS. "What are you doing?"
"Won't be a minute Professor." She replied, a hint of fear in her voice. Still moving backwards, she swung the bat in front of her, as a warning. "Keep back." She said, her voice cracking slightly as she tried to sound as confident as she could. The creatures merely hissed in response, their eyes locked on her intently. She swung her weapon again, in a wider arc this time, before the creatures suddenly pounced at her.
"Ace!" The Doctor bellowed as he saw the creatures attack, the group swamping around her. TARDIS key still in hand, the Doctor raced back down the dimly lit corridor, still keeping one hand on his hat.
"Doctor!" Ace screamed, flailing wildly with the bat, flinching as the creatures clawed at her. Despite desperately struggling for her life, Ace couldn't help but wish she'd listened to the Doctor this time. She knew, however, that the thought would soon leave her once this was over. That was, if she survived this.
"Get back!" The Doctor shouted, pointing at the swarm of creatures, not even aware he still held the TARDIS key in his hand. "I said get back!" He roared again, lunging towards the nearest creature, attempting to push it off of Ace.
Without warning, the key suddenly erupted with a golden glow, radiating from the Doctor's hand. The creature screamed in response, recoiling immediately, shielding its face with its hands.
"Interesting." The Doctor pondered, waving the key around him. One by one the creatures shrunk back, hissing with fear and anger, but not approaching the Doctor. The Doctor ushered Ace behind him, shielding them both with the TARDIS key. One arm around Ace, he started moving back towards the TARDIS, but kept looking forwards, his arm outstretched.
"What is that thing?" Ace muttered, her voice weak. "Some kind of weapon?"
"You should know me better than that Ace." The Doctor scolded, not taking his eyes from the creatures. "Never carry weapons. Not intentionally anyway," he added. "It's a key."
"Just a key? Then what's happening?"
"It's often the last key on the ring that's mightier than the sword." The Doctor responded thoughtfully. "And it's not just a key, it's the TARDIS key. Probably something to do with it."
After what seemed like forever, the pair reached the TARDIS, the hideous creatures still recoiling, repelled by the shining key in the Doctor's hand. The Time Lord pushed the door open and hustled Ace inside, giving the creatures one last look and a wave as he slipped through the doors.
"Proper vampires?" Rory asked cautiously, having been scolded many times by the Doctor for calling the Saturnynians they had encountered in Venice 'vampires'.
"Of course not." The Doctor rolled his eyes. "Just watch." He looked back to Rory with a sad smile. "It'll make sense."
"That'll make a change." Amy shrugged, as the three of them turned back to the sreen.
"Professor." Ace said quietly as she stepped in to the TARDIS. The Time Rotor loomed above her, surrounded by large columns. It had taken a while to get used to, but Ace had to admit she liked the new wooden panelled look the Doctor had chosen for his time machine, even if it did mean he seemed to spend an awful time reading from the vast wall of books.
"Not now Ace." The Doctor said dismissively, standing at the console. "I'm trying to make sure we land somewhere safe, where your foolishness can't get us in to anymore trouble."
"I'm sorry Professor." She replied, holding a hand on her neck. She suddenly noticed how tired she was feeling, more exhausted than she had ever felt before. "Professor," she started, before staggering forward.
"Ace!" he called, lunging forward to catch her. Looking at her young face, he suddenly noticed deep lines forming on her forehead and under her eyes. "Ace." He said again, gently this time. "Move your hand." He guided her hand from her neck, and frowned as his suspicions were confirmed.
On Ace's neck were two puncture marks, glowing a dim blue.
"It's just a scratch." Ace muttered.
"Werewolves scratch." The Doctor said softly. "Vampires bite."
"But you said they weren't vampires Professor?" Ace said as the Doctor helped her to her feet.
"They aren't. They're Chronopires." He led her to a chair in the section of the console room he had designated as his library. "Where as Vampires feed on blood, Chronopires feed on time."
He looked at her neck closely, strange blue energy seeping from it, like blood trickling down her neck.
"How can they feed on time?"
"By sucking it out of you." The Doctor said quietly. "They bleed their victims dry of time, using it to keep themselves alive forever." He rolled the end of the last word, picking up a mirror from the nearby table. "Look."
The Doctor held the mirror up in front of her, and Ace let out a gasp of shock as she saw herself, aged by at least ten years. Her eyes had started to sink, slight wrinkles forming on her face. Her lips started to crack, and her hair lose its colour.
"Doctor." Ace looked up to him desperately. "Help me?"
"I don't know if I can." The Doctor said sadly. "Chronopires normally drink their victims dry on the spot, there is no long drawn out process, but you're bleeding time from that wound."
"Can't you heal it? Stop it from bleeding?" She argued, angry, but gently placing the mirror beside her. All she needed now was another seven years bad luck.
"It's not like a paper cut Ace." The Doctor explained. "It's a temporal wound. I could put a plaster on it you wanted, but you'd still continue to age. Time will literally drain out of you, until," he paused, sighing sadly. "It will bleed as long as you are alive, along as time continues to pass." Suddenly the Doctor shot up straight, throwing his hat to the floor.
"Must have been bad," Amy teased, "for you to treat a hat like that."
"No worse than your daughter does." The Doctor replied. "Who shoots a hat?" He paused. "Twice!"
"That's it!" The Doctor exclaimed, rushing to the TARDIS console. Frantically, he swept around the console throwing levers and pushing buttons.
"What are you doing Professor?" Ace called out, too exhausted to shout loudly.
"The TARDIS can move throughout time and space." The Doctor stated. "Landing anywhere or anywhen on the grand map of the universe."
"So, Ace, all we need to do is move off of the map! Out of time itself! If we exist out of time, the laws of cause and effect will no longer apply to us, or more importantly to you." He cast an eye over several screens on the console. "That should do it."
He threw one final lever, and the TARDIS gave an immense shudder, almost throwing Ace from her chair. The console room was filled with the deep ringing of the Cloister Bell. The TARDIS shook violently, buffeting the interior of the ship, a few books falling from the walls on to the floor. The usual low hum was replaced with a deep rasping, as if the machine was trying to clear its throat.
"Yes, I know." The Doctor said sympathetically, addressing the Time Rotor. "But needs must." He walked back to Ace, her wound now no longer glowing. He gave her a small smile, before turning to one of the large bookcases.
"Is this it?" Rory questioned, recognising the pained noise of the TARDIS. "Is this what happened to her?"
"Not quite." The Doctor replied impatiently. "If it was, how could all of my adventures since had happened? Think Pond!" He paused, correcting himself and gesturing to the screen. "Or just pay attention!
"So we are out of time." Ace said to the Doctor. "So I'm not aging anymore right?"
"But as soon as we enter back in to time, it'll start bleeding again?"
"So we are stuck here, forever."
"Correct again Ace. Three in a row, well done." He flicked through a book, before discarding it. "Intelligence really does improve with age."
"So what are we going to do? I can't say I'm too excited about an eternity spent reading your books." She replied, her usual sarcastic tone returning as she no longer felt her energy seeping away.
"I'm working on it Ace." The Doctor muttered, before excitedly placing his finger on a paragraph in a large leather bound book. "Of course!"
"What is it Professor?"
He turned to face her, book in hand.
"Every civilisation has its monsters, Ace. They all have to come from somewhere. Minotaurs; the Nimon, Adam and Eve's snake; a manifestation of the Mara. Why should vampires be any different?"
"You mean everything about vampires is just based on those things? Stories passed on and changed over time?" Ace asked, cottoning on. She still felt tired, but at least it wasn't getting any worse. Much longer, she thought, and she would have ended up looking like her mother.
"I expect so." The Doctor replied, distracted by the book. "Which means they can be defeated. I just need to make the right logical conclusions."
The Doctor propped the book open on the TARDIS console and leant over it intently, rapidly turning pages and muttering to himself.
"Because I'm guessing garlic and a cross won't work?" Ace suggested after a few minutes. Or what she thought was a few minutes, as she reminded herself that the concept currently didn't exist for them.
"Right again." The Doctor replied cheerfully. "Well, in a manner of speaking. Every story has a source. Remember how they reacted to the TARDIS key? A reaction to the chronon energy coming from it, I'd have thought. A way of warding off Chronopires, just like garlic or a cross."
"So everything else, like a wooden stake, there's an equivalent for the Chronopires?"
"Exactly!" The Doctor grinned. "All I need is a few things, and I can stop them. Neutralise the head Chronopire and the 'curse' is lifted. I hope."
"And you've got all of these things on the TARDIS, Professor?"
"Ah." He paused. "Well."
"Great." Ace sighed. "You know how to save me, but can't."
"I can't right now, Ace." The Doctor replied cryptically, "But I could have done, before." He rushed over to the TARDIS console once again.
"What does that even mean?" She asked, struggling to her feet.
"We might be stuck out of time, with no influence on the universe, but the TARDIS isn't. It always has a link to the time vortex, to its own past." He typed frantically at a keyboard, not looking up.
"So I'm asking for help, Ace. Hindsight is such a wonderful thing, especially when you can use it to your advantage."
"Use it? How?"
"By sending messages back through time, through the TARDIS' personal timeline. Well, less messages, more coordinates."
"To who? How do you know they'll help us?"
The Doctor put his hands on Aces' shoulders, looking her straight in the eye.
"Ace, I've met many people on my travels. A lot of them despicable individuals, who would turn on their own grandmother given half a chance. Others were brilliant, selfless, whom I would trust to the end of time if I had to." He turned to look at her, her old face looking back. "But this is different Ace, this isn't just the end of time; this is your life at stake. And there's only one person in the whole of the known, and the unknown, Universe I would trust with that." He turned away again, concentrating back ok the console. "Do you trust me, Ace?"
"Absolutely Professor." She replied, without hesitation.
"Good," he grinned, "In that case, everything will be fine."