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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.