06 March 2007

The Desert of Einfuhlung - Chapter 4, Part 1

Consciousness came back to the Doctor in a crashing moment of light, noise and pain. He winced under the onslaught, trying desperately to process all the sensations at once. The noise was a man shouting, a familiar voice that seemed to believe anything less than a bellow was a sign of weakness: Jackson. The pain resolved itself into a sharp knife-like stabbing in the ribs and a throbbing ache in his head. The light seemed incredibly bright even through his closed eyes. He struggled to open his eyes, finally prying one free of whatever had gummed them shut. Cautiously he raised his right hand to his head and brushed his fingers over his eyes. He put his fingers in his mouth and tasted blood – his own. He moistened his fingers and rubbed at his right eye, just managing to free it of the dried blood that encrusted it as the bellowing voice stopped.

"You're awake then," said Jackson a few moments later.
"I wasn't exactly asleep," the Doctor pointed out acidly. He squinted up at Jackson, who was standing over him as he lay on the ground. The Doctor realised he was lying on sand and that the bright light was the desert sun. "Had a change of schedule, did we?" he asked, and was pleased to see that Jackson seemed affronted by the calm manner in which he was reacting to the situation.
"Yes we did," Jackson answered. "I've finally found what I've been searching for the last three years."
"Presumably that's something other than the fabled Lost City of Eupatoria, then?"
"Something much better," Jackson answered, a look of greed on his face.
"Which is what, exactly?"
"The Grimoire of Delmoro."
"And who's he, when he's at home?" the Doctor asked.
"I wouldn't expect an ignoramus like you to have heard of Delmoro," Jackson snarled.
"Oi! Be fair," the Doctor protested. "I've barely been on your planet for three days."
Jackson looked contemptuous. "This is not my planet!"
"Isn't it? Then which is your planet?" asked the Doctor in surprise.
"I'm from Abneigung," Jackson answered.
"Never heard of it, I'm afraid." The Doctor eased himself into a sitting position as he spoke. "So where is it?"
"It's a backwater of a planet. Einfuhlung's 'twin' planet," Jackson answered, still contemptuous. "Only it's the weaker twin. Very little of it is habitable. The early attempts at terra-forming went wrong." He scowled. "Anyway, it doesn't matter where I come from, I'll be staying here, once you help me get what we came for."
"Ah yes, the Grimoire. I presume you're going to sell it and make yourself a fortune?"
"Sell it? Are you mad, man? I'm going to use it!"
The Doctor raised his eyebrows. "To do what, exactly?"
"To make me rich and powerful. Richer and more powerful than anyone has ever been."

The Doctor ruffled his hair, looking thoughtful. "Somehow I get the feeling that you're not going to use your riches and power to help anyone except yourself."
Jackson snorted. "Only a weakling would think that's what power and money are for."
The Doctor didn't try to hide his contempt at Jackson's words. "And where do I fit into your masterplan?" he asked, as nonchalantly as he could.
"We need you to guide us to the Grimoire," Jackson answered. "Only a Time Lord can get us through the Crack in Time."
"I'll give you a crackin' time in a minute," the Doctor muttered under his breath. "I've no idea what you're talking about," he said aloud.
Jackson nodded to someone behind the Doctor, who found himself hauled to his feet. He guessed it was one of the two thugs who'd jumped him near the TARDIS. He remembered Jeff then, and hoped that Saskia hadn't waited too long to get Jeff some medical help when he hadn't returned with the TARDIS. He wondered if she thought he'd abandoned her and broken his promise to return. All these thoughts flashed through his mind as Jackson's thug shoved him forwards. His eyes flickered over his surroundings, trying to take in everything at once. They seemed to be at a makeshift campsite. Ahead of them rose a towering wall of rock, carved by centuries of wind-borne sand into a fantastic cityscape. The Doctor suspected that more than sand and wind had carved the rock, but what or who else was responsible, he couldn't guess. The towers, arches, battlements, and other architectural features were too regular to be the work of nature alone. He wondered if Jackson knew its history.

The thug behind him gave him another shove as Jackson walked away. The Doctor winced, his muscles cramped from what he suspected had been several hours of unconsciousness since he'd been ambushed. He wished Saskia was with him. He couldn't sense Jackson or his thug at all. He wasn't sure how they were able to mask themselves telepathically, but he felt sure Saskia would have been able to sense them, her telepathic powers had become so strong.
Jackson stopped in front of a narrow archway. "It's through here," he said with a gesture. "If you cross through, we'll be able to follow you."
"And if I refuse?" the Doctor asked.
"Put it this way Doctor, you're going through that archway one way or another. Either you walk through of your own free will, or Gordon here will beat you senseless and toss you through. I don't care which."
"You'll never get away with this, you know," the Doctor said conversationally. "Because I will find a way of stopping you."
He turned to look at the archway, ignoring Jackson's snort of contempt and the angry glare from Gordon. He closed his eyes, the better to concentrate, and walked forward slowly and carefully. As he reached the archway itself, he sensed something alien in the rock, but he couldn't identify it. He moved forward again, eyes still closed, concentrating on his other senses.

After a few minutes, he sensed a change in the light and air, and opened his eyes. He felt his jaw drop in sheer astonishment at the view before him. Shuffling footsteps behind him told him that Jackson and his group of men had come through the archway, but he didn't turn his head.
Before him was the most intricately wrought rock palace. A towering edifice at least three hundred feet high, and about two hundred feet long. If the cityscape he'd just seen was not wholly natural, then this palace definitely wasn't. Someone or something intelligent was responsible for such exquisitely detailed carving. The Doctor felt as if he could stand and gaze for an hour and still not take in all the details before him.
Jackson stopped beside him. "Right you lot!" he bellowed, causing the Doctor to wince. "Get searching! If you find the Grimoire, shout, and no one, I repeat NO ONE, is to touch it!" He turned to the Doctor. "And you," he said, gesturing at the palace, "you can look in there."
The Doctor gave him an ironic half bow, then walked away, glad not to be in Jackson's immediate vicinity for now.
He walked across to the flight of steps that led up to two massive doors at the entrance to the palace. There must have been fifty or sixty of them, he reflected, wondering how many hundreds of hours had gone into creating the palace. Who had designed and built it? He paused at the foot of the stairs. He had the strangest feeling that someone was watching him, but when he looked around, he could only see the half dozen men who had come with him. He saw Jackson berating his obsequious little PA, Jones. Gordon and the other thug who'd ambushed him were near an ornate fountain on the west side of the courtyard, and the other two men were near the eastern corner of the palace. The Doctor tugged at his right earlobe, wondering why he felt watched. Then he shrugged and sauntered up the flight of steps to the doors. He pulled his left hand out of his pocket and placed both hands, palms flat, on the doors. They seemed, to his senses, to be humming with power, and he suddenly knew that he didn't want to be the one who tried to open them. He shoved his hands back into his trouser pockets and had half turned to go back down the steps, when he suddenly caught the whisper of a voice calling his name. He turned his head back again, straining to hear it, then got a double shock as he realised that the voice was Saskia's and that she was talking to him telepathically. He stood stock still.

"Doctor! Thank goodness you can hear me at last! I've been trying to reach you for the last ten minutes." Her voice sounded strained, but he could also hear suppressed excitement in it too.
"It's good to hear you! But where are you?" he asked, not troubling to hide his relief at hearing her, or his bafflement at her telepathic presence.
"At Jackson's camp, looking at the rock wall you disappeared through a short while ago," she answered.
"How ever did you get here?" The Doctor was consumed with curiosity, not least because he could sense that Saskia was holding back something. He had a mental image of a locked door, much like he'd seen in Madame de Pompadour's mind when he'd been reading it. He clearly remembered telling her to think of a locked door if there was anything she didn't want him to know.
"Never mind that now," Saskia answered. "Can you get somewhere out of the main courtyard, where you're not in anyone's line of sight?"
The Doctor swallowed a host of questions that sprang to mind, the first of which was a demand to know how Saskia knew he was in a courtyard if she was at Jackson's camp, and looked around carefully. "I don't think I can, at the moment," he answered.
"OK. We'll just have to wait for an opportune moment then," Saskia said.
"For what?" the Doctor asked, feeling slightly frustrated by her cryptic manner.
Before Saskia could answer, Gordon gave a triumphant shout and the rest of Jackson's party ran across the courtyard to the fountain. The Doctor approached more slowly. Everyone was staring at a figure on the centrepiece of the fountain. It was a humanoid figure and it was holding a large stone book. Jackson smacked Gordon across the back of the head, sending him stumbling away.

"Of course that's not it, you idiot!" he yelled. He turned to the Doctor. "Did you find anything?" he demanded.
"Nope, sorry." The Doctor grinned with a cheerfulness he didn't feel. Even though he was relieved to know that Saskia was nearby, he had no idea how she was going to help, and he was slightly worried by the thought that she was holding out on him. He trusted her 100%, but apparently she didn't reciprocate his trust in her, otherwise why wasn't she telling him everything? How could she have reached Eupatoria, and so quickly? He was fairly sure he'd only been unconscious for three or four hours. Another thought struck him. How had Saskia known he was here in Eupatoria? He scowled at his feet, annoyed at having so many unanswered questions.
Jackson's voice broke in on his thoughts. "Make camp," he snarled at Gordon and the other thug. They hastened to obey, rushing over to the stack of tents and packs that they had brought through the archway with them.
The Doctor wandered to the far side of the fountain, eyeing the central figure.
"Doctor." Saskia's voice was as soft as before.
"The Grimoire of Delmoro is in the central chamber of the rock palace."
The Doctor just managed to stop himself from gaping like an idiot. "How do you know what we're looking for?" he asked in astonishment.
"I – overheard – what Jackson told you earlier," she answered.
Something about the way she paused at the word 'overheard' caught the Doctor's attention. "What do you mean, overheard?" he asked, trying to rein in his suspicion.
"I've been eavesdropping on you telepathically since you woke up," Saskia answered. "I'm sorry I didn't ask your permission – I didn't even realise what I was doing at first, and then I couldn't get through to you."

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