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Shadows of the Past

Chapter Text

 

Unknown Date and Time

 

Professor River Song made her way through the jungle, using a machete to clear the trail ahead, the sounds of birds and insects and other animals a strange sort of music in her ears.

The very atmosphere was so thick with moisture that it felt as if she was swimming through it.  The small hairs at the back of her neck and around her face were practically stuck to her skin, and her clothes were saturated with sweat.  Her pony tail was so bedraggled her normally curly hair was practically straight.

She was loving every minute of it.

Something stung her on the bare neck, and she reached up and slapped at the bug that had to have been the culprit.  River was most likely covered in bites by now, and no amount of repellent seemed to have any effect on the bloodthirsty buggers.  Well, she certainly hoped they were enjoying the meal she was providing, because 51st century plasma would have been hard to come by, there in this primordial place.

When and where she came from, archaeology had become an almost clean profession.  Sure, there were still digs and expeditions, but they rarely got as down and dirty as she was in that moment.  And, normally, River would have been complaining about it constantly; it wasn’t that she was averse to a little filth, but her particular brand of science usually had more to do with time travel than slogging through jungles, being on the look-out for anything that might bite her.

River glanced up the overgrown trail; in front of her was an impressive mountain, thrusting out of the jungle like some sort of beacon, calling to her.  According to the map she’d ‘borrowed’ from the Library of St John the Beheaded, that mountain was where a mighty king had been entombed, along with all of his treasures…as well as a few dozen of his wives he’d chosen to take along with him into the afterlife.  Which meant it sucked to have been married to that particular king.

It would be a coup if she could get there before anyone else, and she’d managed to pull this expedition together rather quickly.

It helped that she’d had a very generous backer.

River could make out the grumbling of the native bearers she’d hired to carry all the gear she’d needed for this expedition. None of them were best pleased at where they were heading and weren’t afraid to complain about it, although they should have been happy with the amount of credits she was paying them.  Their leader, a tall woman whose name River had somehow forgotten – and River had seriously considered seducing her at several points on their journey, only to hold off because the last thing she needed were complications on this trip – had explained that the majority of the people living in the area considered the mountain sacred, and to set foot on its slopes was inviting disaster.

Well, when hadn’t River invited disaster along for the ride?  She and Disaster were on a first-name basis!

The trees were so thick the sun was barely penetrating the canopy of leaves overhead.  River slashed at the undergrowth with her machete, her arm pleasantly sore from the exercise.  Yes, she could have used the blaster that was in its holster at her hip, but this was far more satisfying. 

She’d first heard about this place from a Patrian trader through a contact she’d had at one of the seedier spaceports in the Damascene Cluster.  Even in the Patrian Wastes they’d heard about the reputation of this planet and its inhabitants, and it had intrigued River enough to go hunting for more information.  The research she’d done had given her some insight into how the natives viewed the mountain, but that hadn’t stopped her from getting the only map she knew existed, hopping a transport, and then heading toward the place as if it was a siren song.  And maybe it was, because it certainly seemed to have called her out of the realms of academia she’d been content to exist in for the last several years. 

Another insect, this one as large as her thumb, practically flew right into her face, and she had to wave it away before it could land.  Its gossamer blue wings flashed as it dodged her hand, darted toward her once more, and then was gone to harass someone else. 

River wondered just what they lived on when they couldn’t get omnisexual archaeologists.

If she had to guess, it would be another day before they reached the foot of the mountain.  Then, it would only be a matter of time before she found the hidden entrance to the tomb.  River could feel the adrenaline high already; the buzz she got from the adventure of finding something ancient and valuable.  She could only imagine what it would be like when she did find the actual tomb.

After that…then she’d decide what she wanted to do with any treasure she happened to find. 

River might have been a trained archaeologist, but there were times when she wasn’t afraid to help herself.   After all, there were scruples…and then there was being able to make a living.  Of course, on this particular job, she did have backing, but there were a couple of rumoured items in that tomb that she had an interest in.

One happening to be a dragon egg.

She’d hunted dragon eggs before, and had a large amount of success at it.  River was determined to make sure that anything like that got to its rightful – so to speak – owner.  Not that anyone would have been able to get into such an egg without magical help, but the idea that a baby dragon was stuck in an egg…well, River didn’t like that idea very much.  And if the egg wasn’t viable any longer, then at least she could make certain they were laid to rest in the proper fashion.

There was some debate on just how a dragon egg had gotten into an alien treasure tomb, but that was neither here nor there.  There was no way, if it existed, that it was going into some rich man’s hands.

The bearers she’d hired were back to grumbling.  It was all River could do not to roll her eyes.  Superstitious idiots, one and all.  It wasn’t that she didn’t believe in curses…after all, she did have a magical son, and he knew all about that sort of thing.  But she also knew ancient civilisations, and was well aware that ninety-nine percent of rumoured curses were just that…rumours, set up to keep grave robbers away from the burials of the wealthy dead.

Alright, there was that whole thing with Tutankhamun, but River knew for a fact that ancient Egyptians were some of the strongest mages ever known. Not as strong as her Merlin, of course…her boy was something special in that regard.

River allowed herself to feel a pang of guilt for not seeing him more than she did, but she also knew that he had his own family now, with his mate and the Harkness-Joneses. Maybe after this she’d take a trip to Hubworld…

Maybe she’d also look up her wayward husband.

Another insect bite broke her from her melancholy thoughts, and she smacked at it hard enough to make the skin of her neck tingle.  Damnit, she was going to need to bathe in anti-itch cream after this was done and she was back home!

They’d need to find a place to set up camp soon.  The party wouldn’t be able to continue on for much longer; it got far darker under the trees the closer to sunset it became.  The thick branches of the trees didn’t help, cutting down the light way sooner than River was prepared to stop.  The bugs would get far more voracious at night as well, and it was bad enough that there wasn’t an inch of skin that didn’t have a raised welt on it. 

Some of the more dangerous animals came out at dusk as well, and the last thing River wanted was to become the snack for one of the more carnivorous of the beasts that hunted at night.  Getting a fire started would be their first priority, in order to keep most of the wildlife away, but River couldn’t wait to get into the climate-controlled tent she’d packed with their gear.  A little air conditioning sounded heavenly at the moment!

River would have given anything to have a real, water shower, but that would have been impossible to bring along.  She’d have to settle for one of the handheld sonic cleaners to get most of the sweat off.

“Start looking for a good place to camp,” she called back over her shoulder as she hacked yet another tangled bunch of shrubs to pieces.  There was an affirmative from behind her.

Ironically, River herself found one about two minutes later.

Cutting through another batch of thick vines, River practically stumbled into the clearing. 

It was a circular space, about ten foot in diameter, the trees opening up overhead enough to let the sun shine down into the area.  The grass was short, and there was an honest-to-goddess pond in nearly the exact centre, with its own tiny shoreline almost choked with various types of reeds and flowers.

River stepped farther into the clearing, stretching her arms over her head in order to ease some of the tiredness in her shoulders.  This was perfect, and they were lucky they’d come across it.  They could get the tents up around the pond, and build a firepit on one end…

She was about to give orders to do all of that when someone else entered the clearing.

It was a young man, with dark hair and blue eyes with circles of gold around the irises.  He was tall and thin, and wiry, with pale skin and ears that were just a little too large for his head.

His clothes, though, weren’t fit for the environment.  He wore a blue shirt and black trousers, with boots that were sturdy but not made for trekking through the jungle.  There was a scarf around his neck, red with gold thread embroidered through the fabric in a pattern River couldn’t make out. 

He didn’t fit in there.

River had her blaster out and aimed in his direction.  “Who the hell are you?” she snapped.  If someone was jumping her claim to the treasure…not that she had much of a claim, but it was the principle of the thing. 

The young man’s eyes widened.  “Mum?” he asked, his voice trembling. 

What?

Wait…no, it couldn’t be.

“Merlin?”