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The Casket of Saint Tardis

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Abbot Hugo frowned across his table at the Monk who stood opposite. Then he looked down at the letter of introduction the man had brought with him. It was all very well for the Archbishop to "recommend this excellent brother" to him and the casket bearing the bones of Saint Tardis (whoever that might be, not that it was terribly important) and Hugo couldn't deny that the accompanying donation to his funds would be most welcome but, even so, he could have done with some forewarning and few more details.

"So who exactly are you?" he asked the man.

"Oh, no one of importance really. People generally call me the Monk."

"Everyone here is a monk," Hugo pointed out.

"Ah yes, but I am the Monk, not just a Monk."

The man beamed at him as if that settled the matter. Hugo fancied he detected an air of smugness about him.

"I can, of course, always try Sharholt Abbey. I understand they are always keen for new recruits," the Monk added, reaching for the small box of gold coins.

"No, no, it will be fine, I'm sure," said the Abbot hastily. "Now, what shall I do with you?"

"Well, I'm told I read and write with exceptional fluency and I must confess to an eternal fascination with manuscripts. Perhaps you could find a place for me in the library?"

Now that wasn't a bad idea. Brother William, the Abbey's librarian, had inconsiderately died only last month and Hugo had been struggling to find a replacement. Half the monks couldn't read and the other half seemed to have decided that the library was haunted and were coming up with various improbable reasons why they couldn't possibly do the job. A volunteer would solve all those problems.

"Very well," Hugo said, "and we can store that casket in the library until we can find a proper place for it."

"The funds are provided with the intention of building a chapel," the Monk pointed out.

"Indeed! Indeed! but chapel's don't build themselves overnight. Until then, we'll keep the bones in the library. Tell Brother Anselm you are the new librarian. He'll make all the arrangements."

Hugo waved a hand to dismiss the Monk before adding, "Oh, but best leave the gold here. We'll want that stored under lock and key."

Hugo pondered the gold as the Monk went away. It was more than enough for a chapel but it might nevertheless be worth seeing if some extra could be raised from the local nobility. After all a proper relic would benefit them all and a little money to ensure that the saint was appealed to on a noble's behalf wasn't much to ask. Abbot Hugo began planning.

"My dear Hugo," Robert de Rainault, the Sheriff of Nottingham, said three days later as Hugo dined with him at Nottingham castle. "I have absolutely no intention of wasting money for prayers to some saint I've never even heard of. You know as well as I do that it's probably just some random peasant's bones in a fancy box and even if it was a saint, your monks will just fall asleep after mumbling a short benedictus."

"We could reserve pride of place in the chapel for your memorial," Hugo wheedled.

"Don't be morbid," Robert picked at a piece of meat that had got stuck in his teeth.

Hugo had expected asking his brother would be a bad idea, but he'd been going to dine with him anyway and frankly almost any topic of conversation was preferable to hearing an extended rant about Robin Hood.

"No one's immortal," Hugo said and he could tell he was sounding condescending, "why several monks have died only this week."

"Damned inconvenient," Robert muttered. "I hope they weren't your brewers. What did they die of? You haven't bought some kind of plague with you, have you?"

"No signs of infection and it wasn't the brewers, don't worry. No mostly they just died. Brother Osric says sometimes that happens."

"Brother Osric is a quack," Robert growled.

Hugo shrugged. In his experience all physicians were effective less than half the time. At least Brother Osric, being somewhat squeamish, was not over-enthusiastic about the application of leeches.

"Well the alternative is that they died of fright. A stupid rumour, I wish I knew who was spreading it."

"Died of fright?" Robert openly scoffed. "What makes your silly flock of incompetents say that?"

"People claim to have been seeing things around the monastery. To be honest I thought I saw some kind of shape in the cloister this evening, just in the corner of my eye, but when I looked nothing was there."

Robert snorted, but Hugo, who knew him well, could sense that the Sheriff was now watching him more thoughtfully. "Are you sure there wasn't anything there. We've enough of demons with Robin Hood and his Herne worshipers."

And they were back into familiar ranting territory.

The question of demons weighed on Hugo's mind though. Ten years ago he would have scoffed at the notion. There was much that was strange and mystical in the world, but demons and monsters stalking the establishments of Nottinghamshire were not among them. However some of his encounters with Robin Hood made him question that. It would be good to know that there was nothing in the Abbey itself.

How to go about it though? It wouldn't do to have a rumour get abroad that there was any kind of devilish activity, particularly not when he was planning the construction of a new chapel, the installation of a reliquary and donations and pilgrimages from the nobility. That meant he could not afford to take any of his monks into his confidence since they had a distressing tendency to gossip.

Which really just left him. It was probably nothing, the Abbot told himself as he walked around the cloisters the following evening with a candle. It was just that most of the deaths had taken place in the cloisters or in the adjoining library so if there was anything to be discovered then it was probably here.

He paused by the door to the library. He could hear a strange rustling noise, not unlike the pages of a book being turned, only magnified as if it were several pages or several books. It was coming from somewhere behind him. Hugo turned and raised his candle to see.

Behind him the cloister was filled with the body of a serpent straight out of one of the Abbey's more fanciful bestiaries. Its body seemed to shift and shimmer in the tiny light from the candle as it it were constantly being rearranged, sheets of skin sliding across one another.

The candle fell from his nerveless fingers and promptly went out. Hugo pressed himself up against the wall of the cloister, his breath coming in short gasps. It was a full moon and he could just make out the shape of the creature framed against the arches.

A hand gripped hold of his.

"When I say run! Run!" someone hissed. "Run!"

The hand on his pulled and Hugo found himself pelting through the doorway to the library. The sound of rustling followed hard on his heels as the person dragged him across the library floor, in between the tables. Hugo could make out nothing in the dark but he knew they must be heading towards the casket containing Saint Tardis' bones. He desperately tried to figure out where they could go. The library was a large room, but not that large and there was nothing beyond it except for a couple of small bedrooms where the librarian and his assistants could sleep if they chose.

Someone clicked their fingers. A strange beam of light appeared from somewhere. Hugo was pulled forwards into the light and he felt a faint kind of pressure as if the air itself around him had gained substance. Then he was somewhere else entirely. He bent over panting with his hands on his knees. He was in a chamber. It was brightly lit, though he could see no candles or sconces in the walls which, themselves, looked like no walls he had ever seen, not made of stone, nor wood, nor concealed by tapestry.

"There, there, my Lord Abbot. How are you doing?"

Hugo glanced up to see the Monk grinning down at him, though with faint satisfaction he noted that the Monk's own breathing was coming somewhat fast and there was a sheen of sweat on his forehead.

"Where are we?" Hugo asked.

"Well, that is a little difficult to explain. Let us say that we have been transported to the celestial sphere where we have been granted succour."

Hugo straightened up and glared at the Monk. "You're lying."

"What makes you so sure?"

"I know a liar when I see one. Have we been transported to one of the circles of hell?"

"Oh no! no! no! nothing like that. This is my heavenl.. well my vehicle anyway. You may choose not to believe it is divine in nature, but I can assure you it is not devilish."

Hugo narrowed his eyes at the Monk but if the man was dissembling, he was trying harder than he had been the first time.

"I see. Does this vehicle have any place to sit?"

The Monk waved at a door in the far wall. "There's a refectory through there. I'm sure you'll find any comfort you could wish for. I have work to do!"

The Monk bent over the strange table that stood in the centre of the room. Hugo was not used to being ignored, even Robert mostly shouted at him rather than ignoring him. He spared a moment to feel indignant and then he went in search of the refectory.

The refectory was devoid of servants but remarkably well stocked. Hugo was just enjoying the second glass of an extremely fine wine, a bowl of stew he had found bubbling on the hob and some wonderfully soft bread when the Monk appeared.

"I see you've found the wine," the Monk said.

"And very good wine it is too."

"I am going to need your assistance to get rid of the monster that is currently lurking in your library."

Hugo had completely forgotten about the monster amid all the other wonders.

"What is a monster doing in my library?"

"I am not entirely sure though I have some theories. However it seems to be made of paper."

Hugo scoffed. "There surely can't be enough paper in the whole monastery to create a thing that size."

"Yes, your library is a little on the small side. Still the nature of block transfer computation is that matter can be made out of mathematics and, in this case, the matter seems to be paper. I suspect some bleed through from the surroundings."

"You're not making sense."

The Monk sighed. "I don't know how the Doctor puts up with this kind of thing, I really don't. Do try to pay attention my good chap."

"I am paying attention. You just said that something had made a monster out of paper in my library."

"Exactly! The something is block transfer computation. Now have you heard of De Matematicis Facientem?"

"No. Wait a moment, was it one of those new books Brother William was so excited about before he died?"

"Almost certainly, I've been tracking that book across half of Europe. I need it to repair my Tar.. my vehicle."

Hugo glanced around him. "What's wrong with this place?"

"The directional stabilisers are shot. I ended up in half a dozen ever more inhospitable places before I ended up here."

"Is that why you arrived by cart and horse?" Hugo asked since he had been wondering.

"Yes, I arrived at the Vatican quite by chance and it occurred to me to check out their archives, just in case. There, I came across a description of De Matematicis and guessed it was a rogue text from... let's call them the Time Lords, might as well. I always thought the name a little pompous but it seems to work in this context."

"Who are the Time Lords?" Hugo interrupted. At the moment he was working on the assumption that everything here was theologically sound, or at least nothing a few prayers could not exonerate, but deep down he was a little uncertain about this.

"Stuck up bunch of self-satisfied layabouts, if you ask me, which you did."

Hugo concluded that he was unlikely to get a good explanation. "Very well. So why do you want this book?"

"Combined with the computational power of my vehicle, I can almost certainly synthesize a repair to the directional circuits."

The Monk paused looking expectantly at Hugo. Hugo took another mouthful of wine, tore off some bread and dipped it in the stew before saying, "do go on."

"You haven't understood a word I just said, have you?"

"You need the book to find out how to repair your vehicle."

The Monk looked vaguely put out.

"Right well, this book isn't any old instruction manual. Block transfer computation has very real power to turn mathematics into objects. I suspect your Brother William was trying to read the book and spoke the words out loud."

"Like a spell."

"No, not like a spell, nothing devilish about this remember?"

"Like a spell but not devilish," Hugo amended.

The Monk sighed, "If you must."

"So Brother William summoned the creature?"

"That is one way of looking at it. I think he must have been in his cell with several books including De Matematicis. Unfortunately I can't get into the cell because of the monster."

"So this paper creature my previous librarian created. What are you going to do about it?"

"Me, why me?" The Monk affected a look of innocence.

"You want the book don't you?"

"Well yes, which is where you come in."

"I'm not going anywhere near that thing. It's your problem."

"With respect my Lord Abbot, it is your monastery it's inhabiting. It's already killed four of your monks, I don't think it will stop there."

Hugo glared at the Monk, but had to concede there was some logic in his words.

"What do you expect me to be able to do?"

"Ta da!"

The Monk placed a brightly coloured object in front of Hugo with a flourish.

"What's that?" Hugo asked.

"A super-soaker. It won't take me a jiffy to show you how it works."

The principle behind the super-soaker was indeed simple, though Hugo was damned if he could work out what it was actually made out of. He was mildly concerned that he was damned anyway, though the Monk continued to insist there was nothing devilish about any of the business. Hugo decided to make the new chapel extra lavish, if he could, just to be on the safe side.

They left the Monk's vehicle. Hugo had the super-soaker while the Monk was carrying a large coil of metal wire. They were both wearing a device the Monk described as a head torch. The concept was alarming, but Hugo had to admit that the reality was very useful and did not appear in danger of singing his tonsure.

They stepped out of the Monk's vehicle. Hugo looked back on it in surprise.

"We've been inside the casket containing the bones of Saint Tardis?"

"Not now! Watch out for that creature."

They crept forward across the floor of the library, their head torches illuminating the empty desks and somewhat empty shelves. Hugo had long ago decided that his predecessors had been entirely correct not to get too carried away with filling the place with books. They inched towards Brother William's cell. Just as they reached the door the rustling noise started up. Hugo whirled around to see the dragon-like beast once more bearing down upon him. Now that he had been forewarned, he had to admit the strange movement of its skin did indeed seem reminiscent of sheets of parchment gliding over each other.

Hugo fired the super-soaker at the creature. It didn't have any immediate effect, though Hugo fancied it began to swell a bit. He fired a second shot for good measure. It paused its assault giving the Monk time to duck into Brother William's cell. Hugo backed in after him, pointing the super-soaker at the door, waiting for the beast to attack again.

There were several books on a little desk in the cell including, Hugo noted, the monastery's bestiary open at a page containing an illustration much like the creature out in the library beyond. The Monk was bent over the book next to it, some kind of black square held up to his eye which was connected to the metal cable which now trailed across the floor of the room and back into the Casket of Saint Tardis. The Monk was flipping the pages one after the other.

"What are you doing?" Hugo asked.

"Transferring the information in the book back to my Tardis so it can reconfigure the equations."

"Your Tardis?"

"Yes, my vehicle."

Hugo was about to ask if there really was a Saint Tardis at all but then, recalling that he had already sung the saint's praises to most of his monks and half the local nobility, opted for plausible deniability.

"Will that get rid of the creature?"

"Well, yes, why else would I be doing it?"

Hugo didn't know, but he understood so little about what the Monk was doing that he didn't like to make assumptions. The beast suddenly charged for the doorway and Hugo fired again. The creature was distinctly misshapen now, but Hugo's super soaker was feeling lighter. He wasn't sure how much water he had left in it. He looked around Brother William's cell and was pleased to note a water jug by the bed. Hurriedly Hugo set about refilling the super-soaker.

"How does it kill people anyway, if it is made of paper?" Hugo asked.

"Some kind of localised electrostatic effect, I think."

"I don't understand."

"It stops their hearts if it gets close enough. Ah ha! Done!" The Monk snapped the book shut and tucked it under one arm. "Has the creature gone yet?"

"No!" Hugo said and fired another shot, forcing the beast back from the door a little.

"That's odd. The Tardis should have deconfigured it. We should get back and see what is going on."

Hugo heartily agreed with the idea of returning to the safety of the Casket. They edged out of the room. The light from their head torches revealed that there was no longer a casket where the Monk's Tardis had stood. Hugo couldn't quite describe what he did see there. There was something but it was twisting and reshaping before his eyes - sometimes it looked like a bear, or a wolf, or a dragon.

"Ah! It's possible I may have miscalculated!"

At that moment the paper creature came at them again.

"Shoot it! Shoot it!" The Monk cried pulling Hugo between him and the creature.

The monster looked swolen and bits of parchment appeared to be dropping from it to the floor. Hugo raised the super-soaker and fired as many times as he could. To his pleasure the whole thing disintegrated under the onslaught, until it was a sodden mass of pulp on the floor of the library. Hugo breathed a sigh of relief.

"Well, that's sorted out, no thanks to you and your Saint Tardis," he commented.

Almost instantaneously, a vast snake like head emerged from the spot where the Casket of Saint Tardis had been and snapped at them. Without thinking Hugo pushed over one of the library desks and ducked behind it. The Monk ducked in next to him.

"This is all your fault," the Monk said petulantly.

"No it's not," Hugo snapped back. "I have nothing to do with this, this thing, you have bought into my monastery."

"It's your book that is causing all the trouble."

"I've shot the book monster. Now the problem is your Casket of Saint Tardis."

"Well, at any rate, we are in a pretty pickle here," the Monk said grumpily.

He shook the black square he was holding petulantly. "Something must have gone wrong with the link."

He shook it again and then held it up to his mouth. "You stupid machine. You're not supposed to start taking on the form of a monster too. You're supposed to fix yourself!!!"

The table at their backs shook where something hit it.

"Why are you talking to your vehicle. It won't help," Hugo grumbled at the Monk.

"Oh Tardises are well known for being semi-sentient."

"And it can take different forms?"

"Almost any form, to be honest. It's supposed to blend in with the surroundings which, obviously at the moment, it isn't. I suspect it's doing this deliberately. It's been grumpy ever since 1066."

"1066?" Hugo revised some of his opinions about the Monk.

"It's a long story, and there was interference, but I think she's been sulking ever since. I actually thought I'd got most of it sorted out, apart from the dimensional stabilisers of course. She's been much better behaved otherwise the past few weeks."

"Since she's been disguised as the Casket you mean?" Hugo asked.

"Now you mention it."

"Popular with the peasants was it? You and your holy relic coming through their villages?"

The Monk eyed Hugo narrowly. "Why do you ask?"

Hugo decided it was probably time for a good grovel and he doubted the Monk had it in him to grovel with any real conviction.

"Oh benevolent Saint Tardis!" Hugo leaned over towards the black thing the Monk was holding. "We humbly beg of you not to kill us."

"Don't be ridiculous," the Monk snatched the black square aware. "Don't talk to it like that. It'll get ideas."

"I think it's got ideas already."

Hugo held up a hand. Everything in the library was silent. "Do you think it's stopped trying to be a monster?" he said.

"I don't know. Why don't you look?"

"Why don't you look?"

"It was your idea."

Resigned, Hugo struggled to his knees, turned around and peered over the top of the table. The Casket of Saint Tardis was still shimmering, flashing between different appearances, but it looked somewhat more benign.

Hugo struggled around the table and dropped to his knees before the vehicle, wincing a little at the hardness of the floor.

"Oh benevolent Saint Tardis," he repeated. "May I humbly suggest that you adopt the form of a chapel. A small one, well any size you like really, perhaps on the west side of the church where access for pilgrims is less restricted. I suggest you place the casket you previously adopted the form of somewhere central but behind a screen or rail so the peasantry can't come too close. It will need a convenient place for donations..."

"I need this Tardis you know!" the Monk hissed in his ear. "You can't have it as your new chapel."

"It would get lots of attention," Hugo pointed out. "Perhaps for a few years only and then it could mysteriously vanish in a Holy miracle and we would have to raise funds to erect a second chapel on the same site."

"A few years!!!" the Monk sputtered.

There was a moment's silence followed by something Hugo felt compelled to describe as a wheezing groaning sound. The Tardis vanished.

"Well that's just wonderful," the Monk said. "Where's it gone now?"

"Perhaps we should check the west side of the church."

"This is ridiculous," the Monk complained as he knelt in prayer in the new West Chapel.

"I don't find it so," Hugo told him smugly. The miraculous new Chapel was the talk of the county and donation levels were high. Even his brother had put in an appearance, though he had not, Hugo noted, made a donation.

"I refuse to pray to my own Tardis."

"You're not praying to the Tardis, you are praying for Saint Tardis to intercede on your behalf with the almighty."

"My Tardis does not have a connection to God."

"Well, you can explain that to her when she decides to let you in."

Hugo smiled to himself. The previous day the Monk had had to pray for a full hour before his vehicle deigned to let him enter and Hugo had a feeling the miraculous West Chapel would be there for a while.