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The Quest & The Key

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The Doctor blinked and looked around.

‘Where….’ He shook his head, then turned around in a circle. ‘Where am I….?’ He looked up and down. ‘Where is the TARDIS? Ace? Ace, where are you?’

He looked around, dread and fear growing in the pit of his stomach. The TARDIS - and Ace - were nowhere in sight, and he did not recognise this place in the least . He had never visited it; never seen it in the Matrix; not learned about it at the Academy, amongst all the worlds they studied.

The Doctor looked at his hands; all his fingers were there, and he had no extra ones - at least, not visible extra fingers. He tried to poke his fingers through his hand, but it was steadfastly solid.
So he wasn’t dreaming, then.

The Doctor closed his eyes and thought . But try as he might, he simply couldn’t remember anything like this place in the history of the cosmos.

He looked around, hoping to find a friendly face, but the only person nearby was a tall, stern-looking elf, walking towards the entrance to a gated marketplace. Desperately hoping they wouldn’t harm a random stranger coming up to them and acting like a confused tourist, he ran after them, not registering fully the fact that he had just observed that they were an elf .

‘Excuse me!’ he called. ‘Excuse me - ‘ the elf turned, and that’s when it struck the Doctor exactly what they were. He stared.

‘Yes?’ they said. The Doctor still gaped, and they frowned. ‘Are you going to say something, or are you just going to stare at me all day?’

‘I….’ the Doctor gulped. ‘I’m very lost….I don’t think I’m even in the right dimension.’

‘Ah.’ the elf looked back towards the Market, then back at the Doctor.

‘Come with me,’ they said. ‘There’s something very important I need to do, but then we’ll see about figuring out your dilemma. Come along; there’s no use in you staying out here alone.’

‘But - ‘ the Doctor started, but he was cut off by a glare from the elf.

‘No; it’s going to be dark soon, and the Outlands are not safe for anyone as naïve as you.’

The Doctor’s eyes widened in shock.

‘I’m not naïve - ‘ he started, but the elf only gave a longsuffering sigh, grabbed the Doctor’s coatsleeve, and hauled him through the gates.

The Doctor spluttered in protest.

‘Now see here - ‘ he said, but was cut off again by the sound of a scream in the distance.

No, not now! ’ The elf let go of his sleeve and started off in the direction of the scream, then whirled around and pointed at the Doctor.

‘You - stay until I get back.’

The Doctor’s eyebrows shot up, but he stood back and watched as the elf dashed off down the path, loose strands of their dark purple hair flying behind them.

As the Doctor watched, a giant green vine flew up into the sky and then whipped back down, and then there was another scream.

He couldn’t stand it; he rushed after the elf.

In the center of the Marketplace, in a large, clear court, an enormous plant, almost looking like a Venus Flytrap, was attacking a young orc, wrapping a vine around her. The Doctor, alarmed, raised his umbrella and was about to charge forward and whack the plant, when there was a crack of what sounded like lightning, and blue electricity shot towards the creature.

The plant made a hideous sound, then crumpled to the ground and instantly withered.

And that’s when the Doctor truly realised he was no longer in his own, safe, solid world.

He looked in the direction the electricity had come from, and was surprised to see the elf, looking relieved and running towards the young orc. They drew their dagger and cut her loose, and returned her to a taller, terrified-looking orc nearby.

The elf turned and saw the Doctor. They rolled their eyes and strode over.

‘I thought I told you to stay back,’ they said.

‘I can’t stand by while someone is in danger,’ the Doctor replied quietly. The elf smiled a little, wryly.

‘No? Interesting.’ They sighed and beckoned. ‘Come on; let’s go to somewhere we can sit quietly and talk. Now that the Fernvine is gone, we have time.’

The Doctor hesitated; something seemed very off about this elf, but he didn’t know what . They started moving away, and the Doctor wasn’t sure if he should follow.

‘Are you coming or not?’ they called over their shoulder.

‘I….yes.’

The Doctor sighed and started after them.

*****

‘So what are you, then?’ the elf asked as they sat at the table. The Doctor leaned back and looked at the ceiling of the tavern.

‘I’m a Time Lord,’ he said.

‘I see!’ They paused. ‘....you’re not from around here, I’m assuming?’

‘No.’ The Doctor looked at them sadly. ‘I’ve lost my timeship, and my friend Ace; I don’t know how I came here, or where they are.’

The elf nodded. ‘I see. Well I’m very sorry about that, but perhaps if we work together, we could find your way back home….?’

The Doctor frowned and tried to pull down his mental defenses. ‘Stop that,’ he said. ‘Kindly stop digging for information in my head.’ Strangely, he couldn’t pull his defenses down like normal. That was worrying.

They blinked, then narrowed their eyes. ‘No, Doctor; I’ve protected this village from enough threats, and if you’re not going to tell me willingly the whole truth of why you’re here, then I’ll have to get the information myself.’

They both frowned at each other.

‘So you don’t trust me?’ the Doctor said. ‘I don’t trust you either; so I suppose we’re even.’

The elf rolled their eyes and looked away, and the Doctor felt the mental tug stop. There was a tense silence, then the Doctor spoke, quietly.

‘Who are you? ’ he asked.

They looked at him sharply, and the Doctor felt an acute sense that he was being watched.

‘No….’ they said. ‘I can’t detect any type of name-stealing magic about you….’ They frowned, seeming to consider.

‘I’m Skýla Fleet,’ they said. ‘I’m….not exactly legal.’

The Doctor raised an eyebrow. ‘Oh?’

‘I….have a bit of a bounty on my head for some….past activities….I made some people rather angry, let’s just say. That’s all I’m going to tell you for now. So. I’ve trusted you with my identity; will you trust me with yours?’

The Doctor sighed. ‘It’s exactly what I told you,’ he said.

‘“The Doctor” - what kind of a name is that? ’ Their voice was incredulous.

‘Rather a chosen one,’ he said.

‘Ah.’ Skýla gave a flicker of a smile. ‘Now that I understand.’ They tilted their head and studied the Doctor a little. ‘From another dimension, eh? Never thought I’d see the day.’ They drained their glass of mead and rose. ‘Well. Come with me, and I’ll get you settled for the time being.’

The Doctor raised an eyebrow. ‘You’re going to trust me? Just like that, after all that fuss?’ he asked.

Skýla smiled. ‘No. And you don’t trust me either. But I’ll be keeping my eye on you’ - the Doctor felt the slightest of psychic nudges - ‘and besides; friend or foe, I make it a habit to help people who can’t help themselves. And you , Doctor, are obviously a fish out of water.’

The Doctor opened his mouth to protest, but realised that they were right.

He stood up and followed them.

*****

‘One set of Cleric gems, if you please,’ Skýla said to the dwarf behind the counter. The dwarf nodded, then disappeared under the counter, soon reemerging with a drawstring bag, which he handed to them. They slid a handful of coins across the counter.

‘Thank you. Next stall, then, Doctor.’

They walked on.

‘What did you buy from him?’ the Doctor asked eventually.

‘Cleric gems,’ they said, handing him the bag. ‘They are for you; keep them with you at all times; they’ll give you all kinds of advantage.'

The Doctor looked into the bag; seven green polyhedral gems all sat in the bottom of the bag, glowing softly, mixed with five dull coins, as well as a glowing white crystal. ‘But I’m not a cleric,’ he protested.

‘That’s what you think,’ came the reply; the Doctor thought he heard the faint hint of a laugh in Skýla’s voice. ‘We have to go to the armoury next; you need supplies, that’s for certain.'

The Doctor’s head jerked up. ‘I’m not carrying a weapon,’ he said.

Skýla nodded. ‘You don’t have to, but still you must come. It is a right of passage of anyone starting a quest in this world. Besides; there’s more kinds of weapons than the kind that harm .’

The Doctor frowned. He couldn’t see where they were going with this, but he supposed for now, the best course of action was to keep his mouth shut and simply observe .

*****

As soon as they were in the armoury, he understood. The walls were packed with not only shelves of weapons, but also medicine and shields.

‘Take your pick,’ Skýla said. ‘Though don’t weigh yourself down too much.’

The Doctor considered the shelves. After a while, he reached for a set of chainmail and a surcoat, and a bag filled with bandages and medicine.

Skýla watched him closely, but said nothing; only paid the mouse-tailed, horned humanoid at the front door.

‘I can pay with my coins,’ the Doctor started, but Skýla waved this away.

‘You really can’t yet,’ they said.

The Doctor opened his mouth, then shut it again.

They walked for a long while; the Doctor wondered why he was blindly following Skýla; he certainly couldn’t sense any kind of psychic influence.

‘Where are we going?’ he asked. It felt strange being the one to ask that question for once.

‘To find your friend, of course,’ they said. ‘We must go West to do that.’

The Doctor looked around at the setting sun and wondered once again if he really should be trusting Skýla like this. He supposed it was a little late now, though.

‘Are we going to rest for the night?’ he asked.

‘In a little while,’ they said.

*****

Skyla watched the Doctor make his tired way up the hill and wondered if he would truly be able to make the journey. He was so unprepared for what this world contained, and they wondered if he would be able to handle it.

And if he truly was from another plane, or ‘dimension,’ or whatever he called it, could it be possible that he was just the piece to their puzzle that they had been searching for all this time? The key to their goal?

It was certainly a thing to consider.

Chapter Text

Skýla drew their dagger and touched it lightly. It sparked with light, then glowed. The Doctor raised an eyebrow.

‘You can do that as well, you know,’ they said. ‘Perhaps you should try it.’

The Doctor sighed, worn out. ‘Not quite yet….is there any chance we’ll be resting soon, perhaps….?’

Skýla nodded. ‘Once we get to the top of this hill, we’ll have a safe place to rest for the night.’

The Doctor wondered why he was so tired; he usually didn’t tire this easily.

After a while, they reached the top of the hill and Skýla stopped. The Doctor breathed a sigh of relief.

‘We probably shouldn’t stay long in the morning,’ Skýla said. They knelt down and started taking blankets out of their pack. ‘You never know who or what might find us out in the open like this, although everyone will be asleep by now, so we don’t have to worry tonight at least.’

‘Who is hunting you, precisely?’ the Doctor asked.

Skýla looked at him askance. ‘Wouldn’t you like to know?’ they said. They snapped a blanket out straight and laid it on the ground. ‘You can use that one.’

They really aren’t going to tell me anything, are they , the Doctor thought as he watched them straighten another blanket and lay it on the ground.

*****

The Doctor stared up at the stars most of the night, memorizing the new constellations. Eventually he drifted off for a few hours, but it was a fitful sleep. He was convinced that he saw Ace in a dream, mouthing words with no sound, but he wasn’t sure if it really was her or not.

Come to think of it, it was strange that he slept.

*****

Skýla awoke feeling what seemed to be a rock in their side and rolled over. It continued to poke them, and they blinked and pushed themself up.

Oh no .

Skýla sprung up and leapt back from the human soldier that had been poking them with his foot.

‘So it is you, Skýla Fleet. Couldn’t be sure when you were on the ground like that.’

It struck Skýla that the Doctor was nowhere in sight, and they subtly looked around for him.

Perhaps he had been a spy after all, they wondered, but then they caught sight of him, gagged and being dragged away by another soldier a few feet off, and they felt their power surge inside them.

Thinking quickly, Skýla raised their hand.

Yes ,’ they said. ‘I am Skýla Fleet, and that should worry you.’

They waved their hand and tried to draw the power from the Between, but they felt it flicker a little, and couldn’t pull it fully into this plane. They heard the soldier chuckle, and scowled.

Very well then.

They drew on the Between, and threw an energy blast square at the soldier. He stumbled back, caught in the blue light, then fell to the ground wordlessly.

Skýla spun and tried to run silently up to the Doctor’s captor, but she saw them and drew her sword. Summoning as much Power as they could, Skýla waved their hand in the air, and finally an electric bolt cracked through the air and formed into a sword. They caught it, and charged at the soldier.

The soldier’s eyes flew open wide and she dropped both the Doctor and her weapon and crouched to sprint away, but Skýla dove at her, striking her with the sword, and with a cry of terror, she vanished into thin air as if she had never been there.

Winded, Skýla tossed the sword up into the air and waved their hand, and it disappeared. They drew their dagger and knelt down to free the Doctor, who was trying to say something and quite failing, seeing as he had a gag tied around his mouth. They cut the ropes around his wrists and ankles, then managed to get the gag off.

‘It was! Hardly necessary! To kill them!’ The Doctor panted.

‘Oh, I doubt they’re dead,’ Skýla replied calmly. ‘Though the one back there is certainly injured. What would you have me do? Let them kill you?’

‘I….’

They grabbed the Doctor’s arm and hauled him to his feet, and he cried out in pain. Skýla quickly looked him over for injuries, and saw his left side was bleeding. They helped him back down.

‘Going to have to do this quickly; we need to get moving again,’ they said. They drew on the Power, but then realised the soldier behind them was struggling to his feet. They looked at the Doctor, then back at the soldier, and with a split-second decision, reached down and lifted the Doctor up, then ran as fast as they could down the hill, almost falling over their own feet.

I’m out of Power , Skýla grumbled to themself as they pelted along the meadow. They could feel it almost dwindling away, and it frightened them.

‘Where...are we going….?!’ the Doctor gasped.

‘To the nearest village; they won’t find us there,’ they panted. They looked over their shoulder and saw the soldier falling behind, still weakened from the blast of energy. ‘It shouldn’t be too long now….’

*****

They reached the village, but it took until nightfall. Skýla carried the Doctor to an inn, but as soon as they put a foot in the door, the innkeeper looked at them suspiciously and blocked their way.

‘Please - my companion is wounded - let us in!’ Skýla begged her.

‘How do I know you’re not thieves? We’ve had a lot of trouble with thieves lately.’ The innkeeper crossed her arms and frowned.

‘Look - the Sefra have been chasing us,’ Skýla said, their voice harsh. ‘Do you think we’re your enemies if the Sefra are on our track?!’

The innkeeper considered them for a moment. If Skýla had had any more Power, they would’ve Charmed their way in, but for now, they supposed this would have to do.

‘How much Coinage do you have?’ the innkeeper asked.

‘Take….take mine, too,’ the Doctor said weakly. Skýla gritted their teeth.

‘Ten coins,’ they growled. ‘Doctor, I’m not spending yours.’ They looked defiantly at the innkeeper, and she laughed.

‘Very well; I’ll let you in for three each,’ she said.

Skýla breathed a sigh of relief as the innkeeper stood aside and let them pass.

*****

Skyla set the Doctor down on the bed and knelt beside him.

‘I’m going to get some rest to get my Power back, and then I’ll see about healing you; just hang in there until then,’ they said.

‘Can’t you….use my medicine?’ the Doctor murmured.

‘Medicine….? Oh, you mean the healing potions, don’t you? I’m afraid they can only be used by the one who owns them.’

‘Oh.’

Skýla rose and walked to their bed. ‘Don’t worry; you’ll be right as rain once I can draw on the Between again.’

They laid down, closed their eyes, and shut out the world.

*****

When they awoke from their trance, they found a glass of mead next to their bed, and the Doctor sitting up. With a growl, they looked around. Nothing other than that had changed….no wait.

There were three new coins on the table as well.

‘I can’t just let you run yourself dry for me,’ the Doctor said quietly.

Skýla rolled their eyes. ‘Thank you, I suppose.’ They reached for the glass and took a sip of the mead; it was delicious.

They pushed out of bed and strode over to the Doctor’s side, looking at the wound.

‘Hmm….not too deep, I suppose….’ they lightly touched the tear in the Doctor’s surcoat and he winced. ‘Sorry.’

‘It’s all right,’ he said, teeth obviously gritted.

Skýla closed their eyes and drew on the Between. They felt the Power coming through their hands, and they placed them on the Doctor’s wound. The Doctor gasped a little, then sighed, and sat up a little straighter.

Skýla opened their eyes and smiled at him.

‘Better?’ they asked. The Doctor nodded.

‘Thank you.’

You’ll be able to do that, eventually.’

‘Will I? I don’t know how, without using up my regeneration energy.’

Skýla frowned and wondered what that meant, but then there was an impatient pounding on the door, and they stood to answer it.

The innkeeper was at the door, looking exceedingly cross.

‘And what is a Warlock doing, weaseling their way into my inn?’ she asked.

‘I’m not a - ‘

‘Shut up!’ She cut them off with a fist waved in their face. ‘You said you weren’t a thief, but you failed to mention what kind of dangerous criminal you really are! One of the wizards downstairs felt your…. powers just now. Get out .’

‘But I - ‘

I said get out!

Skýla scowled. ‘Now hold on a half second!’ they shouted. ‘If I’m such a dangerous criminal then shouldn’t you be simply trembling over the power I could use on you?!’

‘If you don’t get out this instant, I will send a messenger to the Sefra and have you arrested,’ the innkeeper whispered.

Skýla pulled back, shocked, then scowled again.

‘You traitorous fool,’ they hissed. ‘I am leaving - I don’t want to be under your roof any longer than I have to!’

They whirled around. ‘Come on, Doctor; time we were going, I think.’

*****

‘So you’re a Warlock, then?’ the Doctor asked as they walked down the dusty path that led out of the village.

‘No….not really….sort of, I suppose.’

The Doctor cocked his head and Skýla sighed.

‘I don’t draw Power from some pact or anything, but I do draw it from…. Something between the planes, and people tend to not like that.’

‘I see. And these….”Sefra,” was it? Are they some of these “people”?’

‘Yes.’ Skýla nodded, then sighed. ‘They’ve been chasing me for quite some time, part of the reason being because I’m an Esoteric Mage.’ They smiled sadly at the Doctor. ‘You’re so nonplussed about it; it makes a change.'

‘I don’t see any reason to make a fuss,’ the Doctor said simply.

Skýla laughed quietly and looked ahead. ‘Funny, that.’

They walked on, through the gates and out of the town.

Chapter Text

They reached the woods shortly, and the Doctor got the uncanny feeling that they were completely alone.

‘Is anyone around?’ he asked. Skýla shrugged.

‘It’s possible, although unlikely.’

They were both silent for a time.

‘So….’ the Doctor started, ‘....Skýla….why are you on the rrrun from these…. Sefrrrra , did you call them….? Are they chasing you because of your powers….?’

Skýla shot him a look . ‘That’s a rather personal question, isn’t it?’ they said.

‘I only wanted - ‘

‘Doctor, you barely know anything about this world; please don’t try to pry into my “backstory,” or whatever you might think it is.’

‘Oh.’

They were silent again for a long while, then Skýla finally spoke, a little softer than before.

‘Perhaps it’s time you learn a bit more about this world?’ they said. ‘How you can use your abilities, for example?’

The Doctor frowned. ‘But that’s what I keep trying to say - I don’t have any “special abilities,” at least not that I know of.’

Skýla smiled a little. ‘My point exactly,’ they said. ‘You don’t know .’ They looked at him askance. ‘You really aren’t from this plane, are you? You were telling the truth.’

The Doctor frowned. ‘I don’t know what you mean by “plane;” all I know is that somehow I found myself here, and nothing seems to be normal for me; I’m sleeping more - getting tired more - it doesn’t make sense, to put it bluntly.’

Skýla gave a long nod. ‘You see - that’s exactly what I mean. You need to learn how to use your Cleric’s powers so you won’t wear yourself out like that.’

‘But I’m not a - ‘

‘You’ve been sleeping more, you say?’ Skýla asked. ‘Have you had any dreams….? Possibly about someone you know….?’

The Doctor’s eyebrows shot up.

‘Ah. I see you have.’ Skýla stopped, and the Doctor drew up as well. They closed their eyes and focused for a moment. Then they blinked.

‘Your bag of crystals - is there something…. unusual in there….?’

‘I don’t know how I would tell,’ the Doctor said. He unfastened the bag from his belt and opened it.

‘There is one crystal that’s a different colour from the others,’ he said. He reached in and took it out, then immediately felt overwhelmed.

DOCTOR? IS THAT YOU? ’ came a familiar voice.

Ace?! ’ the Doctor cried ‘Ace - where are you?!’

Ace tried to say something, but the voice broke up, and suddenly he felt the stone being pried out of his hand and someone shaking him.

‘Doctor! You can’t just throw yourself in headlong that way!’ Skýla was saying. It took a moment for him to process what had been said, and by the time he did, Skýla was staring at him worriedly.

‘Are you all right?’ they asked.

‘I….I don’t know….something….just happened - I heard Ace - ‘

‘It’s all right....calm down....’ The Doctor frowned, and Skýla took a deep breath. ‘Your friend…. Ace , you said? I suppose they’re your Patron.’

The Doctor’s mind reeled.

‘What does that mean?’ he asked.

Skýla frowned and thought for a moment.

‘It means….it means that whomever this “Ace” is, they’re providing you with any power you need; they’re looking out for you, and can probably give you information if you need it.'

The Doctor laughed a bit and shook his head. ‘Ace giving someone power….it would probably come in the form of fireworks; that’s more her style than anything else.’

‘Why don’t you try it?’ Skýla said. Their face was completely serious, and the Doctor frowned.

‘Try what, prrrecisely?’

Skýla looked over everything the Doctor was holding, then pointed at his umbrella.

That ,’ they said. ‘That’s the only thing that could remotely be used as a weapon. Try….oh, I don’t know...try tossing it up in the air or something.’

The Doctor raised an eyebrow and was about to protest, but then shook his head and walked back a bit. Aiming carefully so as not to hit Skýla, or have the precious umbrella crash down haphazardly, he threw it up in the air like a javelin, and watched .

It fell to the ground a short distance off, completely ordinary.

Skýla frowned and went to pick it up; the Doctor followed.

‘What was it supposed to do?’ he asked.

‘I’m….not sure,’ they said. They picked up the umbrella and studied it, then handed it back to the Doctor. ‘Try again.’

The Doctor looked at the umbrella, looked up at the sky, and threw it hard.

For a moment in midair, it seemed to flicker a little, then it grew solid again, and fell to the ground.

Skýla smiled. ‘I suppose that’s the best we can do for now,’ they said.

*****

It had changed - just a little, and Skýla was determined the Doctor would make it transform all the way .

After all , they thought, as they led the way through the forest, he truly is a Cleric - that much is plain, and since he truly is a Cleric, there is a good chance he is a Key. And if he’s a Key, I won’t stop until he’s reached his full potential.

Chapter Text

Ace paced the console room floor.

‘How am I gonna get to him?!’ she groaned. ‘I was so close! And then that….whoever that was; looked like they were from The Hobbit - they cut me off!’

She sighed and looked at the TARDIS console.

‘If you’re as alive as the Doctor says, can you help me find him?’ she asked.

To her surprise, it almost felt like the hum of the TARDIS said yes .

*****

‘So where are we headed, exactly?’ the Doctor said.

‘Ah….it’s a little hard to explain.’

‘Try me.’

Skýla thought for a moment, then nodded. ‘I suppose some people might say it’s “The End Of the World,” but it’s hardly that. More like….a door .’

‘A door, you say? Hmm.’ The Doctor looked thoughtfully at the path ahead. ‘Where does it lead to?’

‘I’m not - ‘

Without warning, a fiery spear hurtled out of the darkness towards them. Skýla grabbed the Doctor’s sleeve and hauled him out of the way just in time for it to land right where the he had been walking. Before he could react, Skýla lifted him into the air and dove into the forest beside the path, eerily soundless.

Hssshh…. ’ they whispered, a hand over his mouth.

‘I saw you run into the woods!’ came a voice. ‘You’re in there somewhere! You can’t hide in there forever!’

The Doctor looked at Skýla questioningly, but they shook their head and closed their eyes. With their free hand, they waved in the air, and a flash of lightning materialised into a sword, a loud crack of thunder following.

‘Aha! You’re over there!’

There was a rustling of leaves, and Skýla let go of the Doctor and crouched lower.

A horned, mouse-tailed woman burst into the clearing where they were huddled and dove at them both, a fiery dagger in her outstretched hand.

Skýla sprung up and struck at the dagger, parrying it and almost knocking it out of her hand. The woman snarled and dove for the Doctor, who could plainly see it was a feint. His mind flew through all the options in a split second - he wasn’t sure he could really trust Skýla, but they were trying to defend him - and besides, he couldn’t abandon someone in danger - but what did he have - only an umbrella -

Almost without thinking, the Doctor gave a cry and threw the umbrella open. There was a flicker in the air, and then in a flash, the umbrella morphed into a gigantic shield. It knocked the dagger out of the woman’s hand as soon as they collided.

Everyone stared at each other for a moment.

The woman threw a fireball at them; the Doctor raised his shield, and it bounced right off.

They all stared at each other again, then before the Doctor could stop them, Skýla raised their hand and threw a flashing bolt of energy at the woman, who collapsed with a cry on the forest floor and lay still.

The Doctor, shocked, lowered the shield, and it turned back into an umbrella and folded itself.

‘She’s dead….’ the Doctor said quietly.

‘Probably.’

The Doctor threw an angry look at Skýla. ‘And you can say that so casually? We could have overpowered her; taken her prisoner - and you simply…. killed her.’

‘Fen was a bounty hunter and a tiefling; they know all the tricks in the book. She’s been on my trail for almost longer than I can remember; let’s not be naïve. And as I said before: she was trying to kill you; would you rather I just let her do it?’

The Doctor stared at the fallen tiefling and his heart felt heavy. Quietly, he approached her, and kneeling down, he took out one of the medicines from his bag.

It was clear that it had no effect. He sighed and stood.

‘I suppose we should move on,’ he said.

‘I suppose.’

The Doctor frowned, retrieved his umbrella, and followed Skýla back to the path to the End of the World.

‘Death isn’t always permanent here, Doctor, if that’s any consolation,’ Skýla said after a while.

‘That doesn’t mean it isn’t rather serious.’

Skýla nodded and fell silent.

After a while, they came to another gate, and as the Doctor looked up at it, he couldn’t believe his eyes; it was colourful, and sparkling, and full of light.

‘Ah!’ Skýla smiled a little. ‘It’s good we arrived here when we did; we’re in need of a rest.’

‘Aren’t you afraid we’ll be caught by the Sefra here?’ the Doctor asked. They shook their head.

‘No; this city is a neutral zone; no outsiders are allowed to make an attack or arrest on anyone here; we’ll be perfectly safe. Come on; I’ll show you the sights.’

They unlatched the gate and swung it open.

Chapter Text

The Doctor’s eyes grew wide as they entered the city; once inside the gates, more of it was revealed, as if there was a magic barrier that blocked an outsider’s view.

It was almost like Gallifrey, really. There were spires and hovercars flying everywhere, and citizens in robes….but that was where the comparison stopped. Whereas Gallifrey’s Capitol was mostly stiff and uptight, this city was full of children running everywhere, and laughter, and people milling about freely, buying things at the market; dancing; holding hands with a loved one. If he hadn’t any obligations outside this dimension, the Doctor would’ve been tempted to stay for a very long time.

He stopped in the middle of the street, trying to take it all in.

‘You’re enraptured by the City; I can tell.’

‘Yes,’ the Doctor said, not turning. ‘It’s very peaceful.’

He and Skýla stood in silence for a while, taking it all in.

‘I hate to rush you,’ Skýla said eventually, ‘but we should really get to the Ruin soon.’ The Doctor raised an eyebrow.

‘“The Ruin”?’

‘Yes; it’s an abandoned temple that travellers often visit while passing through. It often helps them on their quests.’

‘Oh? Is it sentient?’

Skýla shrugged. ‘Hard to say, really. We should visit there, anyhow.’

‘Then lead on.’ The Doctor put his umbrella under his arm and smiled. ‘I’m interested to see it.’

*****

The Doctor was surprised at the warmth he felt inside as he walked in; it was almost like the building was greeting him. He looked around, and seeing nothing out of the ordinary, sent out a small telepathic wave, trying to see if he could communicate with the abandoned temple.

He felt an uncertain hello….? in response.

That’s interesting , the Doctor thought.

‘Skýla - I really do think the building is alive; I’m getting a telepathic feeling from it.’

Skýla closed their eyes and focused for a moment, then blinked and nodded.

‘I’ve never felt that before….it must like you,’ they said, smiling.

They drew their wand and touched the end of it; it flared with a dim light, just enough to see a bit better with.

The room was surprisingly not very dusty. Skýla walked over to one particular corner and felt around in a cranny for a minute, then smiled and pulled out an ancient-looking skeleton key. They went over to a door on the far wall and unlocked it, then beckoned the Doctor over. He followed them in.

*****

Skýla could feel the hum of magic as soon as they walked in, and they wondered if the Doctor could feel it too.

Seeing the giant panel in front of them, they gestured grandly to it.

‘Behold, Doctor; the reason so many travellers stop here!’

‘What is it?’ the Doctor asked.

‘It grants you one totem to help you on your quest. You simply have to pick a number and press the corresponding button.’

They turned to it and studied it, then reached for button four , and pressed it.

‘Like that,’ they said, as there was a flash midair, and something appeared, levitating near where they were standing. It was a tiny jar, engraved in elvish letters. Skýla took it, and studied it.

‘I’m not sure what it’ll do,’ they said, ‘but we can be certain it will help us on our quest somehow. Now you try.’

The Doctor stepped forward, seeming a little apprehensive. Then he reached out and pressed the button three .

There was a flash, then a tiny bronze moon pendant inscribed in runic letters appeared in front of him. The Doctor gingerly took it, studied it, then put it around his neck. He raised an eyebrow at Skýla.

‘Do you know what it is?’ he asked.

They shook their head.

‘Come on;’ they said, ‘it’s going to be dark soon; we should rest, then get back on the road.’

*****

The Doctor studied his pendant the next morning, waiting for Skýla to wake up. He wondered what the runes meant; Skýla had said last night that they couldn’t read them; only woodland citizens could.

He checked his bag to make sure the medicine he’d bought was still there; it was, as well as the money given to travellers as they exited the Ruin. Then he simply watched the sunrise, wondering what new dangers would happen today.

‘You’re awake, then?’

The Doctor turned; Skýla was sitting up in bed, rubbing their eyes.

‘Did you sleep well?’ he asked. They nodded, yawning.

‘That plus some meditation has brought my powers back up to full.’ They looked out the window as well. ‘It’s going to be a hot day, I see.’

The Doctor paused, staring out the window at the bright light beyond, then spoke.

‘Skýla….if the Sefra are so intent on killing you, and most people hate you outside of the City….why do you leave?’

Skýla gave a grunt of disapproval, and the Doctor thought they were going to say it was too personal a question again, but then they gave a harsh laugh.

‘You’re quite the curious one, aren’t you? Well I’ll tell you, Doctor. It’s because there’s a world out there where people are hurt and in danger and need someone to stand up for them. It’s as simple as that. I couldn’t stay here in safety, knowing that was going on and doing nothing about it.’

They looked at him questioningly, and the Doctor smiled.

‘Perhaps we have a lot more in common than meets the eye,’ he said, and Skýla smiled as well.

‘Perhaps.’

‘Shall we be going, then?’ he asked.

‘Yes.’ Skýla slid out of the bed. ‘There’s a whole day ahead of us, and I don’t want to waste it.’

Chapter Text

They continued on through the short patch of forest beyond the City, the trees on either side of the path still seeming eerily quiet.

‘So…. why is no one in these woods?’ the Doctor asked. Skýla sighed.

‘No one wants to be in them because they’re always afraid; many people different to the common elves or humans live here.’

‘Ah - like the tieflings, or the orcs?’

Skýla nodded. ‘Exactly. Even the ones in the towns are seen as suspicious.’ They paused. ‘....there’s also Dwarves, and - ‘

There was a loud, indescribable sound, and Skýla suddenly stumbled back and threw out a hand; a spark flashing between the trees.

Hey! ’ came a voice from the left. Skýla frowned.

‘Alyx? Is that you? How many times have I told you - ‘

‘Skýla, would you kindly let me go?’

Skýla sighed and walked off the path; the Doctor followed them.

The Doctor was surprised to see a short, humanoid woman clad in a tunic, sprawled on the ground with thick strands of blue light around her. Skýla flicked their wrist and the light vanished.

Thank you .’ The woman stood and dusted herself off, humphing. ‘I was only trying to send you a friendly greeting.’

Skýla raised an eyebrow. ‘Well we’ve been chased by a lot of rather unfriendly people lately, so you’ll pardon my knee-jerk defensiveness, I hope….?’

She laughed and ran a hand through her white hair. Then she looked at the Doctor.

‘Oh! Who are you?’ she asked.

‘I’m the Doctor,’ he said. She bowed.

‘I’m Alyx; a long-time friend of Skýla’s.’ The Doctor bowed as well.

‘It’s good to meet you.’

Alyx turned to Skýla. ‘Where are you two headed?’ she asked.

‘The Door.’

Alyx raised her eyebrows. ‘ Ohh ….’ She glanced at the Doctor quickly, then back at Skýla. ‘Are you wanting the whole gang to get together….?’

Skýla shook their head. ‘No; not quite yet; once we get to the Far City, though, it may be good to start contacting everyone.’

‘I’m quite in the dark on what you’re talking about,’ the Doctor said quietly. They both looked at him.

‘Oh - sorry - ‘ Skýla looked flustered. ‘I’ll….I’ll explain later.’

For some reason Alyx was looking at the Doctor in a dubious way. She opened her mouth to say something, then Skýla cut in.

‘Oh! Alyx! The Doctor has a pendant inscribed with runes - could you translate it?’

Alyx hesitated, then held out a hand. The Doctor took the pendant off and handed it to her, and she studied it.

‘Hmm….it’s a little different from the Hafling tongue….’ She turned it around and studied it from that angle. ‘Hmm.’

‘What does it say?’ asked the Doctor.

‘Something about the full moon rising….I’m not sure….it seems like some of the inscription is lost.’ She handed it back to him. ‘Where did you get it?’

‘The Ruin.’

‘Ah….it probably won’t be translated very easily then, although it will have a special meaning for you.’

The Doctor put it back on. ‘I’ll keep that in mind.’ He frowned.

What are they hiding….? He wondered.

He’d have to be more alert.

‘Well!’ Skýla said. ‘Are you going the same way as us? You could join us, if you want.’

‘Hmm….well I don’t see why not! I - '

There was a hiss from the woods on the right, and almost from nowhere, Alyx flipped out a dagger. She touched its blade and it shone gold, and she flung it out at the giant scorpion crawling onto the path towards them.

It struck the scorpion, which sank to the ground with another hiss.

‘The Stunners are back….’ Skýla breathed. Alyx nodded grimly.

‘Stunners….?’ the Doctor asked.

‘Yes; scout monsters of the Sefra; we better get going.’

Skýla nodded and turned to the path ahead. ‘Come on,’ they said.

The Doctor and Alyx looked at each other and followed them. They ran ahead, surprisingly silent for how leaf-covered the path was.

Chapter Text

They made their way quickly down the path, and after a while, the woods began to thin. Skýla could tell that the Doctor was feeling tired; it was plain on his face, and he was slowing up. They mentally ran some calculations and concluded that they would reach the next town soon enough to take a rest so he could get his strength back.

‘Doesn’t it seem….quieter than normal?’ Alyx said.

Skýla’s ears flattened; the Doctor sighed.

‘What? What did I say?’

‘I was just saying to Skýla, before you arrived, that it seemed eerily quiet; too quiet, if we were to use the cliché.’

‘It’s probably the Sef - ‘

No! ’ Skýla shouted. Everyone stopped and stared. ‘I refuse to believe it! Can everyone just stop?!

Alyx cocked an eyebrow. ‘Believe what?’

Skýla made a frustrated growl. ‘You know what! You almost said it there yourself, and I just….’

They trailed off and closed their eyes, holding it back.

I can’t tell the Doctor…. they thought.

Suddenly, there was the sound of hoofbeats getting closer, and they opened their eyes. They couldn’t see anyone around, but the Doctor and Alyx were staring at a point off the path, and they turned to look as well.

Suddenly, a horse and its rider, in brilliant blue colours, burst from the trees. They reached down passed and snatched up the Doctor as they shot by, the Doctor unsuccessfully trying to dive out of the way.

Skýla froze for a split second in shock, then blasted the intruder with a bolt of energy.

They dodged it and, throwing a hand out behind them, threw the entire area into darkness that even Skýla with their night vision couldn’t penetrate. They stumbled back, terrified.

And by the time the darkness cleared, the Doctor was long gone, and Skýla and Alyx were left staring together into the woods.

‘No….’ Skýla whispered.

‘They got him,’ was the only thing that Alyx said.

*****

The Doctor clung to the horse, which was galloping at quite the alarming speed by now.

‘Where are we….going?!’ he panted, but the visored rider gave no reply.

Probably back to the Sefra camp , the Doctor thought, worriedly. He gripped his umbrella tightly, wondering if he could use it to knock the rider off and get control of the horse, but he was too preoccupied with staying on that he couldn’t feasibly figure it out.

After a long while, the horse slowed, and then came to a stop. There was a sigh within the helmet, and they stopped and lifted their visor, turning to the Doctor with a rueful smile.

‘Sorry if I frightened you; I had to act fast,’ she said.

The Doctor stared; the rider had thick, curly dark hair which almost - but not quite - hid a pair of horns.

‘You’re a….’ the Doctor fumbled for the word ‘....tiefling!’

She nodded.

‘So you’re….you’re not one of the Sefra!’

She threw her head back and laughed. ‘Oh, Zantar no - they’d probably kill me on sight!’ She smiled and extended a hand. ‘I’m Jalis. I’m a knight - a paladin, to be specific.’

The Doctor hesitated, then shook her hand.

‘Why did you kidnap me, then….?’ he asked. ‘If you’re a noble knight and all that?’

Jalis carefully slid off the horse, then helped the Doctor down.

‘Ah - again; I’m sorry about that; it was the quickest way I could get you away from Skýla, and I had to act fast.’

The Doctor raised an eyebrow. ‘And why did I need to get away from them fast?’

Jalis studied him for a moment, head tilted.

‘Tell me - have they mentioned anything about you being a Key? Or told you at all where you’re going?’

‘They said it was a door - ‘

‘Ah, but did they tell you why you were going there?’

The Doctor frowned.

‘What are you driving at?’ he asked.

Jalis smiled sympathetically.

‘Skýla means well, but they can be quite unwise at times. No, Doctor - in their fear, they failed to tell you something that would’ve cost you your life. I know them well, and when I heard they’d gone on a quest, I knew exactly what they would do, so I knew I had to come and save you.’

The Doctor opened his mouth to say something, but Jalis cut him off.

‘I brought you here, Doctor, to save your life, and to tell you exactly what you are in this world. And then, when you’ve learned all you need, and if you’re willing, you and Skýla can continue on your quest. But I refuse to let a life be wasted because a friend of mine refuses to give all the details. Now, Doctor - let me tell you about how you - ‘ she pointed at him ‘ - are long prophesied to unlock an unimaginable power, and stop the forces of evil in this world.’

Chapter Text

‘“Prophesied”? How can I be prophesied to “stop the forces of evil” when I don’t even know what they are?’

Jalis smiled grimly. ‘You do, actually; you’ve already met them, it seems.’ The Doctor raised an eyebrow. ‘The Sefra,’ she said. ‘They will stop at nothing to shape our world to their vision, and only a Key from another plane can complete the chain of power needed to stop them.’

The Doctor sighed; it seemed like there were things about this world that made him different, and he was just going to have to accept that.

‘....how do you know if I’m a “Key” or not?’ he asked. Jalis smiled, and the Doctor suddenly felt a strange psychic sensation briefly ripple over him, then stop.

‘Oh….it’s rather easy to tell,’ she said, still smiling. ‘You’re a Cleric, aren’t you?’

The Doctor sighed again. ‘That’s what I’ve been told, but I don’t know how . My friend that I’ve lost - Ace - and possibly the TARDIS - I’ve been told they’re my “patrons.”’

‘Are they from another plane?’

The Doctor frowned for a moment. ‘Do you mean another dimension?’ he asked.

‘Dimension….? What is that?’ she asked.

‘It’s….another world; it doesn’t work with the same physics as a different one might.’

‘Ohh….I see….that sounds exactly right.’

The Doctor felt relief. ‘I’d say that they are from another plane, then, seeing as how I don’t know how I got here in the slightest.’

Jalis crooked an eyebrow. ‘How can you not know how you got here?’ she asked.

‘I simply blinked , and then I was here,’ he said.

‘Oh, well that’s strange….’

Jalis thought for a minute, head bowed, then she looked up.

‘Would you like to see your patron? For a quick moment?’

‘I’d like that very much, although I’m not certain how ; last time I tried with my crystal, I - ‘

Without warning, Jalis threw out a hand toward him, there was a flash, then he was….

Nowhere.

*****

A bright light flashed above Ace’s head, and she started and looked up.

‘Ace? Is that you?’ came a voice, faintly. She gasped.

‘Professor?! I can’t….I can’t see you fully - you’re like a ghost - ‘

‘It’s the same here, I’m afraid - where are you? Are you all right?’

‘Forget about that - where are you?! Are you phasing back into the TARDIS or something?’

‘I don’t know - I - ‘

There was a flash again, then the Doctor was gone.

Ace gave a cry of frustration.

No! He can’t just disappear like that again!’

*****

The Doctor fell to the earth (no, that wasn’t right; it wasn’t Earth), and immediately Jalis was at his side, making certain he was fine.

‘Did you see them?’ she asked.

‘I did….what was that….’

‘I haven’t quite learned Banishment well enough to effectively send someone permanently to another plane, but I was sure I could send you there for a few minutes, anyhow,’ she said.

‘My head….’

Jalis reached out and put a hand on his head. There was a moment of nothing happening, then the Doctor felt better than he had ever felt, since he had arrived.  She helped him to his feet, then looked at him curiously.

‘Do you need to rest any more, or are you ready to hear about Keys, and all the Sefra are trying to do?’ she asked.

The Doctor nodded. ‘Yes. I’m ready. It’s about time I learned what I’m really in for.’