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God in the Box

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The corridor was lit by torches that cast only a flickering, patchy light, in between which were wells of darkness that could conceal anything, including booby traps for the unwanted intruder, so Cassandra would have preferred to make her way forwards with care. On the other hand, she was currently being pursued by a bunch of wargs who seemed ravenous, and that called for speed. Cassandra took a deep breath, psyched herself up for the effort, and sprinted forwards, heading for the steps up to altar at the corridor’s end and hoped for the best.

As she ran, the ground started falling away behind her. With another yell, she leapt for the altar steps, scrabbling for a grip on them before she slid back into the pit rapidly opening up behind her. Once she’d steadied herself, she stayed there, breathing hard from the effort. Then she sat up, looking back at the significant lack of corridor now stretching out before her with dismay.

“Oh, great,” she said. “Still, on the plus side, the wargs can’t eat me and the artefact ought to be here somewhere.” She frowned. “On the downside, the wargs might be eating Ezekiel instead and I’m not sure how I’m supposed to get out again even if I do find the thingamajig.”

She wasn’t even sure if this place was real or not, which was the sort of occupational hazard that tended to plague a Librarian. The objects, architecture and carvings she’d passed so far in this so-called ancient temple had been rifled from multiple conflicting sources in a way that would have caused Jake to implode on contact. Most of it seemed to be vaguely Norse, but she and Ezekiel had found a puzzle wall full of inscriptions written in something that wasn’t exactly Egyptian Hieroglyphics but wasn’t runic writing for sure. Jenkins had said that, being a new artefact, nobody knew precisely what the Sacred Pen of Ryan Hicks Morley was capable of, but it might be able to make dreams of fiction written with it into reality, at least temporarily. The gentleman in question, he’d said, had been possessed of a particularly vivid and lurid imagination.

Cassandra thought it would explain a lot if all this had been dreamed up by someone for a Dungeons and Dragons session or an epic fantasy trilogy. If that was true, though, exactly how long temporary reality was likely to last was another good question that she probably didn’t want to think about right now. Best to grab that artefact and worry about it after if the whole place disappeared.

She dragged herself up and made her way up the remaining steps to the altar, where a battered-looking fountain pen in a mahogany case lined with plush velvet had been laid reverently in the centre.

“You know,” she said, addressing the unseen mastermind behind all this, “you really don’t need a whole puzzle wall if you’re just going to put the thing in the most obvious place anyway.”

She held out her hand, closing her eyes, her senses be on the alert for any sign of magic and felt nothing specific, but as she reached for the pen it nevertheless vanished, and when she drew herself up, she saw a tall man wearing classic wizard’s robes – ominously dark-coloured – holding the Sacred Pen aloft. In his other hand, he held a magic wand.

“Seriously?” said Cassandra, and then ducked down behind the altar as a bolt of blue magic went over her head. “Now, that,” she said, “was definitely not real.” She drew in her breath and poked her head over the edge of the altar again. “You don’t exist,” she told the newcomer, presumably idea of a Dark Lord. “So, give that right back and I won’t zap you with my own magic. Which is real, by the way.”

Except, of course, Cassandra didn’t know what the consequences might be if she used actual magic in an unreal place created by a powerful magical artefact, except that she was pretty sure Jenkins would think it a very bad idea to try and find out. In this case she thought he might have a point. And the Dark Lord’s unreal magic seemed pretty convincing from where she was crouching.

The non-existent Dark Lord fired another bolt over her head, leaving a smouldering hole in the wall. Cassandra ducked down again, closed her eyes, and wondered if there was anyone she could pray to here, or if maybe Ezekiel might have escaped those wargs, or –

“Prepare to die!” roared the unoriginal Dark Lord, but before he could try any harder, he was interrupted by a hideous wheezing, groaning sound that filled the unreal chamber, causing it to shake and flicker. Cassandra, still hanging onto the altar rail, raised herself by it in time to see the Dark Lord dissipate and a large blue box with the word POLICE on it appear in his place.

“Hello,” said a blond man, emerging in time to catch the Sacred Pen of Ryan Hicks Morley before it hit the ground and exploded. He held it out to her with a bright, friendly smile. “Is this yours? You and it seem to be the only real things around here.”

Cassandra took it. “Yeah. I’d kind of worked that out. Thanks, er –?”

“Doctor,” he said, doffing his hat to her. He was wearing, she noticed, a stick of celery against his lapel. “I think the TARDIS may have disrupted whatever field was holding the, ah, illusion together.”

Cassandra stared around her as the underground temple wobbled and shivered in a disconcerting manner that made her blink, but it also revealed certain spots that were real, and if she could just calculate the math –

“Ahem,” said the Doctor, as Cassandra lost herself in her three-dimensional calculations, rearranging patterns and numbers.

She started, and looked up. “Oh. Yeah. Sorry. I got this. I can get us both out.”

“That won’t be a problem,” said the Doctor. “The TARDIS can take us anywhere you want, if you’d like a lift?”

Cassandra considered the lure of a magic box that had materialised out of nowhere and could apparently travel about randomly at will, but also reflected that she still didn’t know where Ezekiel had got to and how much damage unreal wargs could inflict on a Librarian, and that was something she really ought to find out. Besides, they already had a magic door anyway. “Thanks again, Doctor, but I’ll see myself out.”

“Oh, and this place doesn’t happen to be anywhere near Heathrow, does it?”

She wrinkled her nose. “Heathrow Airport? In England? I shouldn’t think so. Last time I was anywhere real, it was definitely Minnesota.”

“Ah, well, yes,” he said. “Better not to mention this stop, then, Miss, er –?”

She smiled and held out her hand. “Cassandra Cillian. I’m a Librarian.”

“That explains it, then,” he said, and grinned at her. “I’m the Doctor and I’d better be going. I feel sure we’ll meet again some day. Good luck!” He disappeared back into the box, and it vanished in front of her eyes.

The temple around her broke up as the TARDIS went, but Cassandra was holding the artefact and, using her earlier calculations, was careful to keep in exactly the right spot and –

Two seconds later, or maybe no time at all, she was back in a wide green and sunlit field.

Deus ex machina,” she said to the air. “Who saw that one coming?” Then she gave a shrug, tightened her grip on the Sacred Pen of Ryan Hicks Morley, and hurried away to check that Ezekiel hadn’t been eaten by those imaginary wargs, because you could never be too careful about those sorts of things.