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Ac Velut In Somnis

Chapter Text

Ac velut in somnis, oculos ubi languida pressit
Nocte Quies, nequiquam avidos extendere cursus
Velle videmur et in mediis conatibus aegri
Succidimus; non lingua valet, non corpore notae
Sufficiunt vires nec vox aut verba sequuntur:
And as, when heavy sleep has clos'd the sight,
The sickly fancy labors in the night;
We seem to run; and, destitute of force,
Our sinking limbs forsake us in the course:
In vain we heave for breath; in vain we cry;
The nerves, unbrac'd, their usual strength deny;
And on the tongue the falt'ring accents die...

  —Virgil, Aeneid, XII (tr. Dryden)

When she stepped out of the TARDIS, Rose didn't see anything too wrong with her surroundings. The castle looming against the night sky, the half-timbered buildings huddling at the base of its walls, the flagstones under her feet and the mountains in the distance might not belong to Earth, but she'd seen their like on a dozen worlds.

As she hurried forward to catch up with the Doctor, Rose found herself feeling unaccountably light-headed. The buildings closest to her seemed to be glowing with an inner luminance that shone through walls and windows alike. Then when she gave the castle a closer look, the air of menace pouring from it caused her to recoil; its evil nature was an objective fact, as unquestionable as gravity. She turned away and set her gaze on the mountains, trying to take deep breaths, but all she could see was an aura of glowing blue poison clinging to them, like dew on a cold morning.

The next thing Rose knew, she was bent over a horse trough, and water was being splashed in her face. The Doctor's arm was supporting her; she could still hear roaring in her ears, and the moment she opened her eyes the world spun around her.

"Doctor?" she mumbled.

"Yeah. It's me." She felt her hand squeezed. "Wherever this place is, it's somewhere we don't belong."

"You mean you don't know where we are?" As long as Rose kept her eyes shut, she found she could at least talk coherently. "Thought you knew everything."

"Nearly everything. But I'm not sure this place even is a thing." Rose felt herself pulled to her feet. "It's doing something to us and I don't. Want. It. To!"

"Doctor?"

"It's OK. It's OK. Doesn't seem to be as bad for me as you."

"That's a Time Lord thing, yeah?"

"Probably. Can you stand?"

Rose opened her eyes for a second, and screwed them tight again. "Only if I keep my eyes shut."

"Me too." She felt herself spun round. "Take a look. Only for a second. Can you see the TARDIS?"

Rose took a brief glance. "Yeah. Off to my right a bit."

"Turn to face it, and take another look."

Another turn, another momentary impression of the alien landscape — with the worn blue box of the TARDIS dead ahead, the only thing in this world that didn't hurt her to look at.

"Right. Let's get back there and regroup."

Rose walked forward, her hands stretched out in front of her, and the Doctor's hands resting lightly on her shoulders. He must have his eyes closed too, she realised, to shut out the pain that came from vision in this world. But even with her eyes closed, she could feel something being drained from her. Her heartbeat hammered in her ears and her legs were aching, as if she'd somehow run a mile without noticing.

Suddenly, the Doctor let go of her shoulders and shoved her forward with a shout of 'Run!'. Not giving herself time to think, and still keeping her eyes tightly closed, Rose staggered forward at the best pace she could manage. She knew that tone of the Doctor's: there was something around that was not at all nice. Over the hammering of her heart she fancied she could hear the hiss of alien voices and the flopping of damp, slimy feet across the ground.

Then Rose's questing fingers met the wood of the TARDIS door. Keeping one hand pressed to its panels, she dug in her pocket for her key, fumbled it into the lock, and pushed the door open. As she dived through, something snatched at her ankle, sending her tumbling to the floor. She was up again in an instant, her eyes wide open. Inside the TARDIS, everything was just as they'd left it, a few minutes before. The pain and weakness in her body had gone, too.

She spun round. Outside the door, the glowing mountain peaks still hurt her eyes and made her feel dizzy when she looked at them. Closer at hand, the creature that had grabbed at her was a couple of paces away: green, vaguely humanoid in appearance, with large, bulging eyes, and brandishing a trident. Beyond it, she could just make out the Doctor, surrounded by more of the creatures. His hand shot out, holding the sonic screwdriver aloft, and from its tip there was a brief flare of blue light.

As the monster reached out towards Rose, the TARDIS doors slammed shut. With a thump that Rose felt through her entire body, the engines ground into life. A quick glance over her shoulder was enough for her to see that the central column was in motion, and she knew all too well that each pulse was carrying her further away from the Doctor.

"No!" she shouted. "Stop!"

She covered the distance to the console at a run, grabbing at those controls whose purpose she knew. But to no avail; they were locked in place.

"This is Emergency Programme One," the Doctor's voice said.

Even though she'd been half-expecting them, the words still struck Rose like a physical blow. Clinging to the console for support, she turned to see the hologram of the Doctor, seemingly standing beside her.

"If you're seeing this," it went on, "it means I'm dead, or about to die with no chance of escape..."

"I know!" Rose shouted, thumping the console in frustration.

"...And the TARDIS is taking you—"

The hologram flickered, briefly broke up in a shower of pixels, then reformed in the image of a small man wearing a straw hat and a pullover covered in question marks.

"— mantenga la TARDIS oculta que—"

The hologram vanished again. Rose looked around, new fears running through her. Surely the lights had been brighter before? And unless she was imagining it, there was a note of strain in the sound of the engines.

The Time Rotor shuddered, dropped to its lowest position, and remained there. At the same moment, with an almost human groan, the engines ground to a halt, and the lights, one by one, began to wink out. The scanner screen displayed a series of purple Gallifreyan glyphs, their meaning obscure to Rose but their urgency all too clear.

The last telltale faded, leaving Rose alone in utter silence. The only light she could see was shining through the doors from outside. Around her, the mechanisms of the TARDIS stood, immobile and useless. There was nothing she could do in here.

She walked slowly to the door, and stepped out.

Compared to the previous time Rose had left the TARDIS, this place looked reassuringly normal. She stood at one end of a large hall, its walls made of stone, its floor strewn with rushes. Doorways with pointed arches here and there presumably led to other rooms in whatever building this was. Close at hand was a fireplace, containing only half-burned logs, cold and covered with grey ash. A chair, partly covered with a dustsheet, stood beside it. A little further away, a stone object stood, with three tall stools to one side of it. Rose crossed to the object; it looked like a gigantic birdbath crossed with a church font, the bowl at the top broad and shallow. It was entirely empty. The base was covered with carvings, most of which she couldn't place, but with skulls showing up again and again. She straightened up once more and looked up at the ancient timbers of the roof. By the look of things, she was in a castle or palace of some kind — perhaps the one the TARDIS had landed outside a few minutes previously.

"Well," a man's voice said behind her. "This is certainly a surprise."

Rose's heart leapt into her mouth. Forcing herself to move slowly, she turned. A man was standing in one of the arched doorways. He was tall, dark, bearded, with the wary look of an experienced warrior. He carried no obvious weapon, and his leather jerkin wasn't exactly armour, but an air of danger still hung around him.

"To my certain knowledge, the path from your world to this is closed," he went on, letting the words fall deliberately one by one. "And yet, you are here. Who are you? And how did you come here?"

"I'm Rose." Rose swallowed. "Rose Tyler." She tried to display a calmness that she certainly didn't feel. This looked like a feudal society; they set store by titles, didn't they? "Dame Rose Tyler of the Powell Estates."

"Then well met, Dame Rose. Treguard of Dunshelm, at your service." He bowed; whether he meant it, or indeed any of what he'd just said, Rose couldn't hope to guess. "It still remains for you to inform me how you came to be here."

Rose shook her head. "I don't even know where this is."

"Remarkable." Treguard spread his arms wide. "You stand in the Great Hall of Dunshelm Keep. The Castle of Confusion, as it is known to many. Few are the people from your world who have come here..." His voice hardened. "And before today, none have come uninvited. So I ask you again, Rose Tyler, how you come to be the first."

"In the TARDIS." Rose pointed at the familiar shape of the police box, where it stood beside the fireplace. "It travels through time and space."

Treguard walked slowly to the TARDIS, and briefly rested his hand against it. "Curious," he said. "A machine. A made thing. And yet..." He stroked his beard, and his expression grew distant. "Does this machine, this TARDIS, belong to you?"

"No, it's the Doctor's—" Rose broke off, as her memory of the Doctor's plight leapt to the forefront of her mind. "Listen, the Doctor's in trouble and I've got to help him."

"Perhaps I can be of assistance." Treguard pulled the dustsheet off the great chair beside the fireplace, and sat down, as a monarch might take his throne. "Tell me your tale."

"Look, there isn't time!"

"Time here is not as you know it. Come, sit beside the fire." He gestured to a low stool on the far side of the fireplace. "Except there isn't any fire, is there? Spellcasting: F-L-A-M-E."

As he spelt the word, he stretched out his right hand in the direction of the fireplace. Orange-red fire jumped from his hand to the logs, and in seconds they were well alight. Treguard glanced back to Rose, with a meaning that was quite unmistakeable.

"Well," Rose began. "It's like this."