Tales from the Dungeon
Gord grunted as he hauled on dungeon # 6's ceiling hatch. It opened with a screech of rusty hinges, and he let it fall back with a dull thud. Putting hands on knees, he leaned over the opening and squinted myopically down.
"Are you dead yet?"
Two pale blurs of faces looked up at him. "Sorry!" the man's voice floated up. He sounded rather cheerful for a person in his situation.
Gord narrowed his eyes further, focusing on the pale white blob moving about near the prisoners' feet. The girl let out an exclamation of disgust and kicked at it, leg chains clinking softly.
The guard ran a practiced glance around the cell. When he saw what was emerging from the cistern opening in the far corner, he let out a short bark of laughter.
"Won't be long now." The door shut with a clang.
The Doctor and Sam looked at each other, then quickly around.
"Great. Here come all his friends." Sam's voice was terse as she stared over at the dark opening in the corner from which a stream of glowing blobs was slowly but surely emerging. Beside her, she heard jingling.
"Mmmm..." The Doctor managed to sound both preoccupied and optimistic. She looked over to see him wriggling his chained hands. Looking up at her own hands, she tried to copy whatever he was doing.
It didn't work. She glared up at her uncooperative hands.
"Ah...there we go!" The Doctor's hands were out of his manacles.
Sam blinked. "When are you going to teach me how to do that? Better yet, just take me to meet Houdini - I'll ask him myself."
He was still preoccupied, leaning forward and staring at his leg irons as he rummaged in one pocket of his rust and dirt-streaked Loden velvet coat. His chestnut tangle of curls looked a little bedraggled, and his finely-shaped nose had a smudge on it. "Houdini?" he muttered, distracted. "Of course, Sam. When...I can...recall...a performance I...haven't been to yet."
He yanked his hand out of his right-hand pocket and continued the hunt in his left pocket, a look of intense concentration on his face.
"What're you looking for? Sonic screwdriver?"
He shook his head.
"Get out of jail free card?"
"No. Well, actually, there are several items which could be useful; I just..." His voice trailed off, and Sam, staring in horrified fascination at the approaching slugs, decided that now was not the time to distract him.
Only a few meters away, now -- little buggers were faster than they looked. Must be hungry. She kicked at the early bird that kept bumping hopefully against the soles of her shoes.
The Doctor paused in his search to scooch forward, leaning to the side to slap the slug away from her feet, propelling it into its brethren. The front line of slugs paused to roil around a bit in confusion as the Time Lord drew back his hand with a hiss of displeasure and waggled it.
"Doctor! You okay?"
He nodded. "It's nothing; just a bit of the acid...stings..." He stared at his hand for a few seconds. "Acid!"
Back went the hand into the pocket. Moments later, he pulled forth a fancy stoppered little bottle. It looked like a Victorian perfume vial.
Staring at it suspiciously for a few moments, he then scooched forward again on the seat of his pants, leaned forward as best he could, carefully unstoppered the vial, and proceeded to lay a trail of closely-spaced drops in a semi-circle around him and Sam.
"There! That should hold them off for a while."
Sam wrinkled her nose as the smell of lavender wafted toward her. As the first slugs drew up to the barrier of drops, they slowed, then stopped, rearing up and waving about in agitation.
Sam laughed aloud, so great was her relief. "Good! Now show me how to get loo--"
The front-runners surged forward over the 'barrier', faster than before. They seemed angry, somehow. Sam's chains clinked as she twitched in horror. "Doctor--!"
Her friend seemed to be mesmirized, staring at the on-coming slugs.
He jerked as if stung, looked over at her, astonished. "What, Sam?"
She was grinding her teeth, her voice strangled. "Slugs!"
He turned his head back to look. A white blob was attempting to climb onto his black oxford, and he frowned. "None of that, now!" he scolded. "Off off get off." He swatted at it with one hand, pulled an altogether different vial from his pocket than he'd removed before with the other.
This one was undecorated. Pulling out the stopper, he let several drops fall onto the chain running between his ankle manacles, and with a faint hisss the link corroded away and dissolved.
In a flash the Doctor was on his feet, trailing the loose chain ends as he skipped among the slugs, pushing them gently away with his feet, herding them back. Sam jingled her chains.
He glanced over amiably. "You want that lesson on escaping manacles now?"
She gave him a polite smile. "I'll take a raincheck, thanks. Just use the acid."
He glanced up from where he'd just knelt down to melt her leg chain. Nodding up at her wrists where they hung directly overhead, a flake of rust dropping onto her short blonde hair as she wriggled impatiently, he said, "Vexan acid is deadly to organic tissue Sam - I don't dare use it to melt those - if a drop were to fall on your head..."
The chain running between her ankles suddenly parted, and the Doctor pointed at a dark splotch on the floor. Squinting to see, Sam realized that it wasn't a stain left by the acid drop - it was a hole.
She shuddered. "I, ah, see your point. Okay, I -- Wait a minute - you were carrying that stuff around in your pocket? What if the vial had broken?"
"Broken? Why would it-- Oh. You think this is just a glass vial." He twirled the slim clear tube in his fingers, and Sam winced as the pale green fluid within sloshed vigorously about. "Remember: deceiving appearences, Sam. It's made of a more stable material than that."
"Great. Fine. Lesson." Inside, though, she shivered again. Sometimes she wondered how much of the Doctor and his home and accoutrements were really as she saw them. A vial capable of containing deadly corrosive disguised as simple glass. A fantastically-advanced time machine disguised as a Gothic palace.
An alien Time Lord disguised as a man.
The Doctor showed her how to free herself, pausing every so often in his coaching to shoo the front line of slugs back. "Poor mites," he muttered sadly. "I'd recommend they feed them more often, if it weren't for their diet..." The digestive biscuits he'd found wrapped in waxed paper in a pocket lay scattered about on the floor, untouched.
Sam found that being menaced by acid slugs concentrated the mind wonderfully. She took a deep breath, twisted her hands, wriggled them, winced at the discomfort, and wonder-of-wonders, barely managed to squeeze free of the cuffs.
The Doctor beamed as she stared at her chafed hands, astonished, a smile breaking out over her face.
She looked up at her friend as she scrambled to her feet. "I still want to meet Houdini, though."
"Certainly. But first, we've some malice in the palace to thwart."
The Doctor stood, hands on hips, staring upward through the dungeon ceiling. A man with time to ponder, not a desperate imprisoned wretch. Sam joined him, peering up. "D'you think we gave Morrica enough time?"
"To find where Aribel is being held? I should say so."
Rather than ask the Doctor how they were going to get out, Sam decided to guess for herself. Climb the walls to the ceiling hatch? The stone surrounding them was slick with a thin coating of an evil-smelling sime. Left by the slugs, the Doctor had hazarded. And the hatch was bolted from the outside, and just meters away from the guard's station.
She glanced around. No other doors she could see. That left--
Sam's gaze turned unwillingly towards the gaping hole in the corner. Out of the corner of her eye she saw that the Doctor had turned his head to peer in the same direction.
"You have got to be kidding!" she blurted out involuntarily.
"Sam, when everything else has been disqualified, what remains, no matter how unbelievable, must be the answer." Butchering Arthur Conan Doyle for his own ends. Sam sighed. Geeze, she hated going into sewers...
"The slugs came from there." And some, frustrated, were going back, too, disappearing over the lip into the blackness.
"They won't bother us, if we don't bother them. Or stay still too long," the Doctor ammended, already striding over to the edge to examine the well.
"Oh; there's a ladder!" the Doctor exclaimed cheerfully. "This should be relatively easy."
Relative being a relative term.
The Doctor supplied pentorch, clamboring over the well's rim and onto the metal rungs as he waved the thin but intense beam around to plan his descent. Fortunately, the slugs moving down inside seemed to be ignoring his presence. Turning to look up, he told Sam this.
And down they went.
Following the first rule of traveling with the Doctor, which was to ignore how dodgy whatever they were doing at the moment was, Sam followed him down into the darkness. Thank goodness the ladder rungs weren't slimey...
She heard a sudden hiss. "Sam! Stop!"
She froze. "What?"
A pause. Then: "It's... all right. Just slow down a bit."
It might have seemed forever, that descent, but it was actually probably more like five minutes of careful climbing. She joined her friend on the stone floor of what she saw was a tunnel stretching away on both sides.
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" she asked brightly.
In the thin glow of light cast by the pentorch, the Doctor looked bemused. "That the quadruple root of the synergistic second level kinteric equation is twenty-three?"
Sam blinked. "Erm... not quite."
"Oh. You mean that the Regent is going to be very sorry that he hasn't had these tunnels underneath the palace boarded up?"
Her answering grin matched his. "We still don't know where this ends up, though," Sam mused aloud, as they plodded down the tunnel, the Doctor scanning ahead with the torchlight so that they could avoid treading upon the occasional slithering blobs.
"I suspect it's accessible from spots all over the castle. Any self-respecting secret tunnel system is."
"Great," Sam said, breezily. "So long as we don't just end up in one of the other dungeons."
When the faint gleam of pentorch disappeared, she walked into the Doctor, recoiled, then stood very still. "What is it?" she hissed, craning to peer into complete darkness. Reaching carefully forward, her hands came into contact with velvet. His back.
After a few moments she reluctantly withdrew her hands and waited for an answer.
"Somebody's coming this way."
Her friend could hear things a lot sooner than she could. And he'd said 'somebody', not 'something'. "Guards?" she whispered.
She imagined his head waggling from side to side. "Friends."
Now she envisioned the grin. "How can you tell?" she asked.
The Doctor switched the pentorch back on, its wan pool of light startlingly bright after its absence. Now, Sam heard the scuffle of footsteps from up ahead, a sound which suddenly stopped.
"It's all right! It's us! The Doctor and Sam!" he called softly.
There was a pause, then more scuffle. Two dim shapes came rapidly into view, their arrival heralded by their own small pool of torchlight.
"Morrica! Aribel!" Sam exclaimed in delight. "You found her!"
"And these tunnels, I see," the Doctor added approvingly.
Funny; the two girls didn't look vey happy to see them; you'd have thought--
"So did the guards!" Morrica gasped. "They're right behind us!"
Aribel was leaning on her cousin, favoring her left foot. "Don't tell me," Sam said, closing her eyes momentarily. "You twisted your ankle...."
Aribel glared at her. "It's not my fault that my bloody step-brother always leaves his toys lying about!"
Never having been able to use that particular excuse to get out of trouble with her parents, only-child Sam remained unimpressed. The Doctor glanced around, tutting at the profanity as he herded them all back down the passageway. When it became evident within a few steps that Aribel could not keep up, the Doctor scooped her up in his arms, much to her surprise (and delight, Sam noticed critically).
"Quickly, now!" he ordered, and they hurried back down the way Sam and the Doctor had come.
They passed the metal ladder the Doctor and Sam had descended from and scurried on, goaded by the faint echoes of the searching guards. The tunnel began to slope upwards, becoming dryer, with fewer blobs about, then none to be seen.
"There is way out of here," Sam said, low voiced.
"Good. It's just that it's been quite a long time since you were here last, and--"
The Doctor's startled hisss cut her off. Everyone froze, Aribel's grip around his neck and shouders involuntarily tightening.
There was a long moment of tense silence. Then: "The TARDIS. Someone tried to hurt her. She's moved. The HADS system." Sam heard a gusty exhalation as held breath was released, and felt a creepy shiver roll down her back. It took a lot to frighten the semi-intelligent time ship. What--?
"My stepfather." Aribel's voice was grim. "His pet demon - it had to be."
The Doctor's terseness matched the princess's. "I'm afraid you may be right. We'd better hurry."
Gradual usurption of a young princess's inheritance, growing madness, and a powerful, malificant alien barely held in thrall...
Not exactly the right mix of ingredients for her Sweet Sixteen party, the day on which she should have been readying herself for a magnificant bash and her Reconfirmation as the Heir to the kingdom.
Which in this case was a whole planet.
But Father was dead, and Mother had had an accident...
Stepfather had adjusted to his loss well. Too well, but as they say, hindsight is twenty-twenty. And a new son born shortly before his wife's 'accident' had clinched the deal. Bye-bye, Aribel. Thank you, but your services will no longer be required.
Actually, she'd merely been shunted aside to a boarding school/prison, as her stepfather had begun the legal manipulation that would have changed the law of the land to allow his own son, her half-brother Owek, to become the official Heir with a minimum of Constitutional Stress, with the Regent ruling in his stead until his coming of age.
The Doctor and Sam's arrival had changed all that, accelerating events to such a degree that Aribel was still dizzy with the momentum of it all.
Now, her stepfather seemed possesed by mania, as he raved about the Doctor, ordered guards to and fro, threw people into old, long disused dungeons, and threatened to unleash his 'demon', as he called it, upon any who opposed him.
Aribel sighed. Well, at least she was getting a free ride out of it all. She clutched the Doctor's neck and shoulders, leaned close, and smiled inwardly as she ignored Morrica's envious and Sam's displeased glances.
The Doctor was a Hunk...
The tunnel deposited them outside the castle, in one of the city parks. Mindful of the pursuit still behind them, they lost themselves in the crowds moving towards the city center.
"I was going to have an accident, I think," Aribel told no one in particular.
"At school." Her voice was bone-dry. She was past the initial shock of recent events. She'd never been satisfied with her stepfather's explanations at the time of her mother's death, but to see one's worst paranoid suspicions confirmed...
"If you two hadn't arrived there, I mean. I'd never have gotten home for my birthday. There'd have been no need for him to cancel my Reconfirmation due to 'Security Concerns'."
Sam glanced at her, opened her mouth as if to say something, then shut it again.
And so, his careful machinations brought to naught by the Doctor's almost inadvertant exposure of past and future plottings, Yexic had panicked and launched into a full-blown, badly-planned coup. By this time, he was probably planning to feed them all to his pet 'demon' or something... Aribel stifled the urge to cry onto the shoulder of the Doctor's frock coat. That velvet would absoarb a lot of tears... Enough for her whole betrayed family, perhaps.
The princess blinked her eyes several times, flicking away any moisture. Then, taking a deep breath, she pulled away. "Doctor," she said softly, "I'm okay; I can walk now." In any case, they were drawing unwelcome attention with him carrying her.
He turned his head to peer at her. Rather closely, in that funny oblivious way of his. "Eh? Oh, yes..." He carefully put her down. She winced and hobbled a step or two, then, gritting her teeth, took more confident strides. "Yes.... I'll be all right."
Sam looked at her a little doubtfully, then, when Aribel looked right back at her, glanced down, smiling slightly in comprehension.
"Doctor," Aribel said, "we need to go to the Pleurim."
Her companions all looked at her with varying degrees of curiosity, doubt and interest.
"I need to put my case to the Pleurim before my stepfather's men find us, or he does anything else rash. It's our only hope."
The Doctor gazed at her for a few long moments, then nodded. "Yes," he said. "Of course."
"Doctor," Sam muttered as they made their way to the colorful mosaic-covered Pleurim Hall in the center of the city, "does she know what she's doing?" Slightly ahead of them, Aribel was conferring with her cousin, their heads bent close, one dark, one light.
"Do any of us 'know' what we are doing, Sam?" he said, rhetorically. Then he shook his head as if clearing it. A smile spread. "She's claiming her heritage, Sam. Becoming a Queen. And if I'm not mistaken, her cousin is in the process of becoming a First Minister. Before our very eyes."
Sam gawped at him. "You mean-- You already knew what was going to happen? Then why--"
"Nonono, Sam - I don't know exactly how this is all going to turn out, but-- Well, just look at them!" He indicated the two young women with a flourish of one hand.
The shout behind them snapped their heads around. A gaggle of guards was closing in - the Pleurim Hall had been surrounded. They were trapped.
The Doctor grabbed Sam's hand, as the quartet plunged forward and through the side doors into the Hall, barging past the security pages on guard at the entrances. "And I don't know exactly how we're going to get out of this, either!" he added cheerfully.
Oh. Well that was all right, then. Business as usual.
Yexic's dramatic arrival at the Pleurim with pet demon in tow somehow managed to be an anti-climax, Sam decided.
But Aribel's stunning announcement of her stepfather's treachery, the way she took the floor of the Pleurim, stirring the members into an uproar, then admiring attention as she declared her right of Reconfirmation... It was one of the most amazing things Sam had ever seen - and travelling with the Doctor, she'd already seen quite a lot.
But it was because she knew Aribel... Well, as much as you can know someone you've been hanging out with for the better part of a month, slogging through mud with, running from soldiers with, travelling cross country with... Aribel seemed a lot like her. Just a year younger, determined to do the right thing, some of the same interests, including a not-so-secret admiration of the Doctor...
Not that he'd noticed. Not that he ever noticed that sort of thing.
They'd worked together, grieved together, quarreled a few times...
Aribel was no angel - but she was a Queen, Sam realized with a kind of shock. Just sixteen, but she was somehow ready to do what she'd been raised to do, despite all the obstacles that had been thrown in her way.
It was awesome. For a moment, Sam felt a surge of envy at the young woman's self-possession...
Then reality reasserted itself. The guards were still closing in, though some had stopped, entranced by Aribel's words. The entire Hall was in flux, people rushing about, ecstatic reporters filming the scene for the news networks with their holo-cams...
And Sam was who she was supposed to be right now - a traveler, an adventurer, and just where she needed to be.
Which was at the Doctor's side and where was he?! She looked wildly about--
That was when Yexic arrived in grand style, his wrinkly-faced 'demon' glaring furiously and flexing scaled wings, looking like nothing so much as a bipedal bat-man.
The pandemonium got even worse.
It was a sight, to be sure: A fulminating Regent and a large demonic creature appearing out of nowhere... teliported?
"Ah-HA!" The Doctor, letting out a shout of recognition. Sam looked and found him - a little below where Aribel stood at the speaker's lecturn, the lights making her blonde curls gleam. Dark-haired Morrica stood behind her cousin, urging her to flee. But Aribel stood her ground.
"As I am your rightful ruler," she cried, "seize that man!" She pointed unwaveringly at her stepfather.
"Destroy her! And the Doctor! And everyone else!" Yexic shrieked, spittle dotting his beard as he pointed in various directions.
Well, at least it was now plain to all that the Regent was unhinged, Sam thought, as she scrambled through the press of panicking delegates towards where her friends had gathered in a self-protective gaggle. Few should oppose Aribel's birthright now.
Now they just had to survive this last confrontation.
Sam had almost crossed the rapidly-clearing Pleurim hall floor when something snatched at her from behind. She let out an involuntary yelp and kicked, thinking that a guard had managed to grab her, then gasped as her feet left the floor and a pungeant odor hit her nostrils.
The demon had got her.
He leapt into the air, ascending with strong flaps of his wings. Sam didn't even bother yelling or trying to twist round to see exactly how hideous he was up close. She took a shakey breath and stared down at the dismayed faces of her friends, then swept her gaze around the hall. The Doctor was scrambling down from the speaker's dias, about to attempt something heroic, most of the Pleurim speakers had already left the building, and Yexic, Yexic was--
"Doctor!" Sam shrieked, flailing and pointing. "GUN!"
He heard her, spinning around to see where the danger was, but still moving. Yexic's gun emmitted a flash of light, and the corner of the wooden bench the Doctor had just scrambled past disintegrated into powder. On the speaker's dias, Aribel was shouting her outrage. Face contorted, the Regent turned towards his stepdaughter--
Morrica yanked her out of the way just in time, and the two tumbled out of sight behind the podium
Sam gurned in dismay. Well, this couldn't get any worse, could it? All it would take were a few well-placed shots, and her friends were as good as powder, while she dangled uselessly up here... "Let me go!" she shouted, wriggling furiously.
The Doctor was below, shouting something up to them. It wasn't English; she couldn't understand it. But the 'demon' holding her evidentally did. They began to descend, and within moments had returned to the floor.
The Doctor displayed empty hands - a gesture of non-threat, Sam decided, as he continued to babble, incomprehensibly. Her captor suddenly snarled something back at the Doctor, whose face fell. When he answered, though, the demon leaned forward, as if eager. Hopeful?
Suddenly Sam was free. She blinked, began to turn--
And they were someplace else.
They were back in the dungeons. Before Sam could even ask what was going on, she saw that they stood before a rather more modern cell set into the stonework, the two guards before it gaping at them in shock at their sudden appearance.
Comprehension began to dawn, as the demon blurred past her. The two guards went flying, and she heard a muffled shriek, a groan, and then silence.
"They had the key--!" the Doctor snapped in frustration. His hand dipped into a pocket for his sonic screwdriver. "No time!"
A whirr and a click later, and the Doctor was flinging the door open and dashing inside. A continuous electronic whine suddenly issued from within the cell.
The demon leapt after the Doctor. Sam followed.
The Doctor was working frantically, no movement wasted. He waved the screwdriver over the medical capsule sitting in the middle of the room, then yanked the cover open with the strength born of desperation. "Yes!" he exclaimed. "Quickly, now!"
The demon lifted the figure within, and turned, another demon cradled in his arms.
"Is she--he -- all right?" Sam asked.
"Yes..." the Doctor muttered, peering over the standing demon's shoulder. "Yes!" he exclaimed again, a relieved smile breaking out as the unconscious demon's ruby-red eyes slowly opened. "We got her out just in time..." The two aliens simply stared at one other.
Then both turned their heads to look at the Doctor and Sam. The standing demon locked gazes with the Doctor, and barked a gutteral phrase.
And then the two 'demons' simply disappeared.
Sam blinked. This instant coming and going took some getting used to... "Where did they--?"
"Back to their ship. 'Getting off this be-nighted excuse for a planet as soon as possible' was the exact phrase, I believe."
"He sounded angry with you; for a moment I thought..."
"Angry? Oh, nono. That was as heart-felt a 'thank you' as I've ever heard from a Niffen."
"No - Nif'n."
"Ah. Well.." Sam paused. "The Pleurim! Yexic! What if he--?"
"I doubt it... Not now that he's been seen for what he is, and not without his pet 'demon' to do his dirty work. In fact, I expect they're mopping up now."
And so they were. The 'demon' having disappeared forever, and a Pleurim delegate with initiative (and old loyal ties to Aribel's family) having dis-armed the frothing Yexic, order had been restored in the grand old hall in which Aribel had just undergone the first public trial of her reign. The Regent's personal guards had quickly taken the opportunity to abandon the mad despot, and had rounded up and imprisoned Yexic's few remaining armed supporters. And the raving Regent had been locked away, under 'psychiatric observation'
It was all over, bar the traditional Oath of Loyalty at the Pleurim session scheduled for first thing the next day, and of course, the Coronation.
The whole planet was a-buzz. Current Popularity Rating: 98.3 %. Aribel had been dubbed 'The Warrior Princess', much to her bemusement.
"Not a bad way to start one's reign, you Highness." The Doctor was in a fine fettle.
Safe in the palace, away from the cameras and the reporters begging for interviews, Aribel made a little moue, then laughed. "Whatever shall I do for an encore?"
"Those poor... what was it you called them? Niffin? Are you sure they're all right?" Morrica asked.
"Well enough, now that Yexic isn't holding one hostage and forcing the other to be his hench-being. I suspect they're long gone by now. And now, Sam and I, we must also be on our way..."
"Oh! But won't you at least stay for the Coronation? After all, we couldn't have done it without you two..." Aribel wheedled.
The Doctor paused to consider, his smile broadening. "Yes -- of course."
And so they did.