“Harry,” said Sarah, stopping abruptly and freezing in her current position. “Harry – is there something on my back?”
Harry turned around, nearly blinding her with the light of his torch as she screwed up her face in reaction. “What was that, old thing?”
“Harry,” said Sarah, through gritted teeth. “Something’s touching my shoulder.”
He walked around her, shining the torch in her direction, and then, to her mingled relief and annoyance, he gave a small smile. “Nothing to worry about – just this ferny sort of stuff hanging down. Must have brushed against you. I must say, it’s an odd sort of plant – looks more like a green cobweb, but it’s not.”
Sarah closed her eyes momentarily and breathed out again normally. “Thanks, Harry.” She had imagined for a minute in the darkness of the unknown that it had been a spider-like creature, and she was jumpy about spiders these days, especially alien ones. That was life with the Doctor for you – how to face your fears and pick up new ones daily.
“I think we’re nearly there,” Harry said, pointing his torch ahead of them again. “Can you see that?”
Sarah stepped forward to stand level with him, moving a little too carelessly over the uneven, damp ground of the tunnels, and putting out a hand to the cave wall to steady herself. She squinted, following the beam of his torch, and then gave his arm a quick, excited squeeze with her other hand. “You know, Harry, I think you could be right. What does the map say?”
“Well,” Harry said, slowly as he got the article in question out of his jacket pocket. Sarah took his torch from him and shone it onto the paper as he examined it, and then hastily turned it the right way round. “It’s a bit hard to be sure; it’s not like a proper Ordnance Survey job, but that squiggle there could well be that chamber – and if so, the Golden Chalice will be inside. Just as well we’re honest burglars, isn’t it?”
Sarah shook her head at him.
“And I suppose we should be thankful the quest hasn’t been half as bad as it would have been if we’d been after the Holy Grail.”
Sarah had no time for pointless musings on mythological objects they weren’t trying to find. She had her eye on what should be a more practical and immediate prize. “Yes, well, come on – the sooner we get this back to Jenris, the sooner he’ll finally have his power source, and everyone in the city ought to be all right.”
“I hadn’t forgotten,” said Harry.
Sarah poked him. “Well, I thought you might have done, standing there and going on about King Arthur. Anyway, once that’s done, we might even be able to get the Doctor to answer the Brigadier’s distress call.”
“Oh, now wait,” said Harry, and she could hear his smile in his voice without needing to look at him. “Let’s not hope for miracles, shall we? Saving a civilisation’s one thing, but getting the Doctor to answer his telephone…”
Sarah grinned. “Good point. Now, come on, Harry,” she said, and put her hand in his as they went forward.
When they neared it, they found that the light ahead was indeed coming from the chamber they were after, and Sarah had to stifle a small thrill at the discovery. There was something about treasure-hunting, even when that really wasn’t the point of the exercise. Before they’d started out on this quest, they’d learned that the Arvarians had traditionally stored many things down in these caves, but since then the cobweb-like plant she’d had a literal brush with earlier had thrived a little too well, spreading increasingly rapidly throughout the entire network of tunnels, as they fell into disuse. It was perfectly harmless to Harry and Sarah, but lethal to the Arvarians. A century or so ago, they’d attempted to clear the tunnels, but too many other issues had distracted them from the task. Some of the Arvarians speculated that the plants had been deliberately seeded by their enemies, but it seemed to have more likely arisen through an accident – an encounter with a more advanced race who’d sold them various goods for a while and accidentally transplanted it.
Despite the difficulties the planet’s main inhabitants had in accessing the deeper levels, Sarah was dubious about whether something that had been left in an underground chamber for the best part of two hundred years could really still be here, but on reaching the open chamber, it was visible in front of them, exactly as it had been described: one triangular power source, named the Golden Chalice for its cup-like shape.
“Well, that’s something,” she said. “It’s there. I thought after all this time somebody was bound to have gone off with it.”
“Not everyone’s as mercenary as you,” said Harry and didn’t quite manage to avoid her light kick in his direction. “Ow. Sarah!”
Sarah turned to answer, but heard a sound somewhere nearby and caught at him. “Harry, do you think this place is guarded?”
“Could be,” he said in a whisper. “Suppose it’d only make sense.”
They shone their torches around them, keeping close as they did so but there didn’t seem to be anything around other than the two of them, the cobweb plant, and the tantalising open chamber ahead. They then turned off their torches and stood still, listening closely, but Sarah couldn’t hear anything other than their own breathing.
“Well, if it is, it isn’t anything obvious,” said Harry, switching his torch back on even though they barely needed it now, not with the light emanating from the chamber. He stepped forward.
Sarah grabbed at his hand and hauled him back. “One last thing,” she said, and released him to bend down and pick up a couple of stones to throw at the chamber. The first one missed.
“Let me try, old thing,” said Harry. “You’ll never make a first class bowler like that, you know.”
Sarah pointedly ignored him and threw the second into the chamber, and then pressed herself back against the wall, waiting for an explosion – something – but nothing came. She looked at Harry. “Well, all right. Maybe it is safe. Best be careful, though.”
“Yes,” said Harry, with a nod. “I’ll go in first. At least that way, if one of us gets zapped or something, the other can still carry on.”
Sarah gripped his wrist and shook her head, setting her mouth in a determined line. “Oh, no, you don’t,” she said. “I go in first. If one of us is going to get hurt, who’s the medical expert round here? And I’m not going to try and carry a lump like you back to the surface, thanks.”
“I say, that’s a low shot, Sarah.”
Sarah had to laugh. “Caught between logic and chivalry. Never mind, Harry. Now – here goes!” She walked forward with Harry following a short way behind and slipped in through the open door.
The wall of the chamber seemed to be made of a thick, solid metal rather than hewn out of the stone; a piece of still functioning technology and civilisation at odds with its surroundings. It must have some kind of self-renewing battery, she thought. Either that or – unpleasant thought – despite her checks, it wasn’t anything like as abandoned as everybody had believed. Inside, the room was utterly devoid of anything but the chalice positioned on a central stand. There were no buttons, nothing that looked as if it might operate anything, and nothing decorative whatsoever. It was a cube made of metal, designed for one purpose only.
Sarah drew in her breath and stepped towards the chalice. “Here goes,” she muttered, steeling herself, because if anything bad was going to happen, it was bound to be when she lifted it out of its place. What self-respecting piece of treasure wasn’t booby-trapped by some means? She reached out for it, reminding herself what it could mean to the waiting people above and that it was worth the risk. And since the Doctor had gone galloping off to deal with the enemy, it might mean the difference between life and death for him, too.
Harry wasn’t standing quite as far away as she thought was advisable, but she didn’t bother to turn back and argue again, merely picking up the chalice, heaving it out of its resting place with an effort – it had been slotted into a hole clearly designed for it and wasn’t easy to dislodge. She looked down at it in her hands and let out her breath, allowing herself to feel a growing sense of triumph before she noticed the light in the chamber was now dimming fast and the open door was edging closed.
Harry was ahead of her, however, and caught at her arm, dragging her through the door just before it closed behind them.
Of course, she thought. The chalice was the chamber’s power source. That should have been obvious, but it hadn’t occurred to her until nearly too late. But they’d done it, she thought, turning towards Harry in the darkness, giving him one of her biggest smiles.
“Now we’ve just got to get back,” said Harry, keeping hold of her arm. “Uphill all the way, worse luck!”
Sarah poked her tongue out at him, even though there wasn’t much chance that he could see her. “Spoilsport,” she said, but without any real emphasis: she could hear the matching relief and excitement in his voice, if not in his words.
“Come on,” said Harry, turning on his torch and ushering her forwards.
She stopped suddenly, hearing the same noise she’d caught before – a sort of slithering, accompanied by the eerie sense of there being something else nearby.
“Harry,” said Sarah. “Does this planet have snakes?”
He didn’t reply, instead giving a yell and dropped the torch, casting them into sudden darkness and confusion; the light shining in the wrong direction only worsening matters.
Sarah let go of the all-important chalice, flailing about in the blackness until she caught hold of Harry, and then fished out her own torch. He was nursing his hand and looking rather pale.
“Something bit me,” he said.
Sarah stood still, only moving her torch, shining it round her methodically. She could still hear something – a soft shuffling and shifting of the loose stones on the ground – but no matter how hard she strained her eyes, she couldn’t see the wretched thing.
“I don’t want to worry you,” said Harry, “but I think it might have been venomous.”
She turned back towards him. “Harry!”
“What I mean is, be careful, old girl. You don’t want it to get you, too.”
Sarah swallowed. She had only one idea, so it had better work, she thought. “Don’t move,” she whispered to him. “Don’t make a sound.” Then she picked up the largest stone she could find, turned off the torch and waited.
She could hear the unseen thing moving towards her. She kept herself still, listening as hard as she manage, and trying to get herself to trust instinct instead of her questioning mind and –
She brought the stone down as heavily as she could and felt something underneath it crack and wriggle. The creature gave a sound somewhere between a hiss and a yelp, but she ignored her fast-beating heart and pressed the stone down harder still, even as she hated the idea of a creature in pain. Still, she reminded herself grimly, the rotten thing had bitten Harry and she wasn’t going to let it get away with that, or get a chance to snack on her, too
Harry shone his torch at the spot, illuminating her murderous handiwork, and she immediately wished he hadn’t. The creature was snake-like in length and shape, but it had legs rather like a giant millipede. What was worse, it was still pitifully wriggling.
Oh, well, thought Sarah, because there was no going back now. She managed the semi-contortionist feat of standing on the stone while picking her torch up again and, that done, she crouched down and bashed it on what appeared to be its head and it finally gave up the ghost.
“Horrible thing!” she said, standing again. “Are you all right?”
Harry was still nursing his hand. “Well, I’m sorry, old thing, but I don’t think I am.”
Sarah swallowed back a small but growing feeling of panic. You could fight monsters, she thought. You couldn’t fight poison, not in the same way. “There must be something we can do.”
Slowly, Harry sat down. He nodded. “Look, Sarah,” he said. “Best thing is – if you can find something to make a bandage strip out of, tie it around my arm – not too tightly. And if I sit still here, while you go for help – well, it may not be that bad. We don’t know what it was, and I’ve not keeled over on the spot, so that’s something.”
“I’m not leaving you!” said Sarah, but she knew it was an emotive response that had nothing to do with logic. First things first, though, she thought and struggled to come up with something she could use, before giving a slight grin and kneeling down beside Harry to remove his tie.
Harry started. “Sarah!” he said, and then evidently realised what she was up to. “Yes,” he added, and he sounded worryingly fainter now. “That should – do it.”
“Shh,” she said. “Okay, so if I tie it around your arm – here?”
He seemed to be finding it an effort even to stay there leaning against the wall. “Yes. Just a little higher – not too tight. Slide your finger under it afterwards to check.”
“Got it,” said Sarah, doing as he instructed. Then she looked at him. “Harry. I’ll be as quick as I can, I promise. You just hold on or – or – well, I’ll find some way to do something awful to you, if you don’t!”
He managed a slight grin. “Bet you would, too.”
“Too right,” said Sarah. “So, you hold on – I don’t want to waste my time and effort coming back down here –” She found she couldn’t joke about it any further, so she merely squeezed his arm through his jacket before carefully picking up the chalice and setting off along the tunnel again, heading for the surface.
“Hey,” said Harry weakly from behind her, and she swung back round immediately. “Wrong way,” he said. “Better take the map.”
Sarah stuck her tongue out at him, but she took the piece of paper he held out, and studied it with her torch. She’d turned completely around in her fight with the creature and not really thought about it. This wasn’t the moment for arguing, though. She nodded, pocketed the map, and set off again as fast as she could.
She had her mouth set in a tight line as she marched on, determined to waste no time. She wouldn’t let Harry die down here, even if it was mostly his own fault – she had told him not to do anything silly like this, hadn’t she?
The way back was fairly straightforward now, although she had to stop and double check with the map at the rare points where the tunnels diverged, but for the most part she could keep up a reasonable pace. All the same, down here in the dark with few significant markers to make her feel sure of her progress, it was all too easy to imagine that she might be lost after all, and then what would happen? She shivered at the thought. Harry would die somewhere down below her and she might well follow him, alone and already buried in a maze of tunnels on an alien planet. And without the Chalice, a whole lot of other people might die, too – maybe even the Doctor.
Well, she thought, sticking her chin out as she forcibly ignored her fears, it was just as well she wasn’t lost, wasn’t it?
As she walked on, she realised suddenly that she could see a light ahead – just a bright pinprick in the darkness as yet, but definitely not her imagination. Her heart gave a leap of hope – she’d made it out already! – before common sense caught up with her and reminded her that that simply wasn’t possible, not yet, not even if she’d taken a serendipitous wrong turning somewhere, and that meant she had company.
Sarah bit her lip, turning off her torch and pressing herself back against the wall, holding her breath and hoping the newcomer wouldn’t see her. None of the Arvarians could come down here, and it couldn’t possibly be Harry, so that meant the chances were it was the enemy. She held onto the Chalice, prepared to use it as a weapon if needs be. Whoever it was wasn’t going to beat her now, not without a fight.
The figure moved forward, but though she strained to see, she couldn’t make out who it was, blinding by the beam of the torch.
She sagged back against the rock wall, smiling in silent relief. It was the Doctor. She should have known he’d be wherever she least expected him to be, shouldn’t she? She shook herself and turned her torch back on, stepping out into his path, waving wildly at him.
“Doctor, it’s me! Over here!”
“Sarah,” he said, in return, and suddenly, was right beside her, taller than ever, with a big grin, and his improbable scarf catching in the strange hanging fronds of the plants.
Sarah tried to get her breath back from all the walking and sudden excitement, catching hold of him as she did so. “Doctor! Oh, am I glad to see you!”
“Well, it’s nice to see you, too, Sarah. You came down here after that Golden Chalice of theirs?”
She nodded. “Yes, and Doctor, we found it, but that’s not the important thing – the thing is – it’s Harry!”
“Don’t tell me,” said the Doctor. “Harry’s been bitten by the Warder and he’s in trouble?”
“Yes, Harry’s been bitten by –” Sarah stopped and fixed the Doctor with a look. “Wait, what? How can you know that? And I don’t know what it was called, but it looked like a snake, only with legs, and the vicious thing just went for him –”
The Doctor considered this. “If it had legs, it couldn’t possibly look like a snake. And, as it happens, I’ve been learning quite a lot about these so-called friends of yours and their Chalice.”
“I still don’t see –”
“They seemed to think you two had gone down here to find it and they told me about the Warder – I expect it’s the same creature. And I said that if anyone was going to stumble around in the dark and get bitten by it, it would have to be Harry Sullivan, so they let me have some of the anti-venom and here I am.”
Sarah tried to be stern, but she was still too relieved to see him to carry it off. “That’s not fair – that’s not how it was. It should have been me – but, oh, never mind standing around here arguing, we need to help him!” She was ready to turn and run back down, but then stopped, catching at the Doctor’s arm. “Oh. The Chalice. They’re waiting for it.”
“Well,” said the Doctor, “I think, from what I hear, it might be as well to keep them waiting for a bit longer. Harry, on the other hand may not have the time to spare. Don’t you think?”
Sarah opened her mouth to defend her belief in the Arvarians’ story, but then shrugged to herself, and pointed the Doctor back down the tunnels. She wasn’t going to simply forget about people in trouble, but when it came down to it, she wasn’t prepared to stake Harry’s life on the Doctor being wrong, either. “Okay, then. Follow me – and hurry!”
The journey seemed somehow to be much shorter now that she was with the Doctor, but Sarah was still afraid that they’d get there too late. She didn’t want to think about having left Harry down here to die like this. That wasn’t how any of it was supposed to go.
“Harry,” she said, as they reached the chamber again. She shone her torch around, picking him out, still where she’d left him, only now slumped back against the wall. “Harry!”
He didn’t answer and she and the Doctor exchanged a glance, then the Doctor crouched down beside him, checking for a pulse while she kept her torch on them, fighting to hold it steady in her anxiety. The Doctor looked back up at her. “He’s alive.”
Sarah nodded, not trusting herself to speak, and watching as the Doctor pulled out what must be the anti-venom. It was in a round holder of some kind, not like a syringe, although the Doctor pulled up Harry’s sleeve and administered it in what looked like much the same way.
“I hope you know what you’re doing,” she said.
The Doctor put the container away, and stood. “I always know what I’m doing! Well… ninety-nine point nine per cent of the time.”
“That’s what I meant.” Sarah handed him the torch, and knelt down beside Harry. She put her hand to his forehead lightly, finding that he still had a temperature. He hadn’t so much as stirred yet, either. “Isn’t it working?”
The Doctor started examining the rest of the tunnel, shining the light away from them, much to Sarah’s annoyance as she was still trying to watch Harry for any signs of recovery. “Well, Sarah, it isn’t magic, you know. And we may have been too late.”
“No,” she said, as if her determination could make all the difference, keeping close to Harry as the Doctor continued exploring their surroundings. “No. I won’t believe it!”
“What won’t you believe?” said Harry suddenly from somewhere in the darkness beside her. His voice was so quiet she wasn’t sure the Doctor could have caught it, and even if he had, it certainly hadn’t distracted him from his investigation of the tunnels and the chamber.
Sarah squinted in what little light there was, and found his hand, giving an unsteady smile. “It doesn’t matter now, Harry.”
“You’re back already?” he said, trying to prop himself up against the wall. “Good.”
She smiled more widely, relief flooding through her, as she watched him moving about and being most definitely alive. “Yes, yes we are. The Doctor’s here, too. He found the anti-venom. You’re going to be all right now.”
“The Doctor?” said Harry.
Sarah nodded. “He’s –” She stopped and turned around as the light of the torch vanished altogether. “Well, he’s here somewhere. Probably getting into trouble.”
“Might have known,” said Harry, but he was already beginning to sound stronger. “What about that Chalice? Shouldn’t one of you have taken it back to Jenris?”
She smiled. “The Doctor seems to think maybe not – but it doesn’t matter anyway. You’ve got to see to the important things first, haven’t you?”