Yellow Brick Road
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As Christian threw the last of the paper money into their campfire--it hadn't been hard finding spare wood and a pilot light, but it had been difficult tracking down a temple in the ruins--Chase was forced to admit there was something moving about the tradition. Embers flew into the wind, rising and fading like the lanterns released on the Empress.
The courtyard was an eerie place to spend the night. The once towering walls had been reduced to foundations barely a foot high, but they remained, a reminder of what once was. Charred carvings of dragons, gods, and demons lay all around, staring blindly from mutilated faces. The stoves where offerings had once been burnt where themselves melted down, barely recognizable save for being twisted scrap metal in a place where iron was otherwise rare. Chase suspected Christian took a perverse pleasure in forcing Maria to sleep in the graveyard of gods she'd killed--he himself certainly did--but if the priestess was bothered, she did not show any sign of her discomfort.
"I don't see why you bother to uphold heathen practices," she said, holding her hands to the fire. The unseasonable chilliness had persisted into the night, perhaps due to the sheer amount of smoke that had been released into the atmosphere. "There is no one to see except him"--she didn't even bother glancing at Chase as she spoke--"and we will kill him in due time."
"I've learned to respect differences," Christian replied, staring into the fire.
"Once she's no longer useful, you'll eat the nasty priestess, won't you, Joey?" Chase said as loudly as he could. The tiger barely opened one eye before rolling over and falling back asleep.
Maria sniffed while Christian didn't respond. His gaze was far away. Strangely, Chase's first reaction was jealousy. Someone I love could be kidnapped by Persians too, he thought. But that was silly. Why would he ever love Cameron? Sure, he respected her as a colleague, and after their body-swapping experience, as a woman as well, but why would he ever have a relationship with her? She was gorgeous but needy in a way Chase could never live with. Yet, had there been something brewing between them before the aliens attacked? And what did she see in Owen? Chase was better than Owen, surely. His hair was better anyway.
He shook himself. Stop being silly. "Who needs romance anyway?" he muttered.
"I concur," Norrington replied, causing Chase to start. He hadn't realized anyone was close enough to hear, but sure enough, when he looked over, the skull was in his backpack.
"How'd you get in there?"
"I think I look rather dashing surrounded by these pink warrior princesses. Returning to your original thought, even though Davy Jones cut out his own heart because of love, I do believe my favorite contemplation of love comes from a syphilitic pirate on Tortuga. He said, 'Love leaves sores on more than your heart.' "
Chase thought for a moment and replied, "I bet I can come up with something even worse"
"That's the lesson you took out of that?"
"I once had patient who told me, 'Love is like a dragon--elusive until it sets you on fire.' He tried to burn down the ward. We should've seen it coming, but House ordered a shipment of lab mice that week, and they 'got loose' in Wilson's office."
"Dragons inevitably lend a certain amount of prestige by association. Your attempt to outdo the syphilitic pirate has failed."
"That wasn't my attempt! I was just commenting."
"I also like 'Love takes your breath away like a hangman's noose.'"
"Too easy. How about: 'Love is like cancer. It starts small, and then it grows and kills you.'"
"Blunt and unrefined."
"Because sores are so sophisticated."
"It is crude enough to possess a certain grace."
"That's what I said about monkeys throwing feces at each other, but then I realized I was just fooling myself."
Chase and Norrington looked over (well, Chase looked over, and he rotated Norrington with his hand). They'd finally gotten Christian's attention. "Done thinking about your prince in distress?" said Chase. "You should get some sleep. It'll be morning soon."
Christian nodded. Dropping onto the ground, he was snoring within a minute. The priestess eyed them a while longer, then once she was sure Christian was asleep, curled up next to him.
The fire burned low, and Chase and Norrington watched the orange glow of the embers undulate. Finally, as he felt his eyes drooping, it came to him. "Love is like a savings account!" Chase exclaimed. "You think you're investing in yourself, but your kids end up getting all the benefits."
Joey's tail lashed up and smacked him across the back of the head.
The Doctor found Calypso standing on the beach, submerged to the waist as the tide came in. Three-foot waves smashed against the shore, but the sea nymph stood still as a statue, immovable in her own element. Yet something was wrong. The Doctor saw a tightness in her posture that signaled she was not at ease.
"Head back to the ship," he told Olivia. "I don't think she'll be happy with any human who hears what I have to say."
"But the pirates--"
"You're better off taking your chances with the pirates. She's a god."
"And you're a time traveler from space with a magic box."
The Doctor knelt down and patted the sand as the surf retreated after the last wave. He licked his fingers. "Wet, yes. Now Olivia, look closely. What is the sand doing?"
She crouched, taking care none of her clothing touched the ground. "It's just sand," she said after a period of inspection.
She glared at him but obeyed, leaning forward with her head while angling her arms behind her to maintain her balance. There were several post-modern sculptors who would love to meet her, but the Doctor thought it best not to mention modeling jobs just as he was getting her to behave somewhat like a proper traveling assistant. Rose never had a problem sticking her face in wet sand when he noticed something interesting.
"It's moving!" She gasped. "Bouncing."
Wet and compact though the beach appeared from afar, the individual particles were leaping up and down like sand on a Chladni plate.
"How can it do that?" Olivia asked. "It's wet and sticky."
"Olivia, I appreciate your help and loyalty, but sometimes, I need my friends to take orders too. Go back to the ships. I swear nothing bad will happen to you."
Staggering back to her feet, she nodded and ran off. The Doctor watched her leave and felt oddly abandoned. He wasn't used to people actually doing what he asked, and he wasn't sure whether he liked it.
As soon as she was out of sight, Calypso turned and began walking toward him.
"Hello!" he said, giving her a wave of his arm. "Lovely waves."
"Thank you." She smiled, showing rows of teeth that would make a dentist cringe. "So few mortals have a proper appreciation of the seas."
He decided to cut to the chase. She wouldn't have let him find her if she didn't want to have this conversation. "Who was the captain of the Flying Dutchman before Davy Jones?"
Calypso gave him a long look, as though she was reconsidering her decision to grant him an audience. He reached for his sonic screwdriver, considering setting 7842 and 1670 as possibilities for keeping her from fleeing, but he came up empty and had to suppress a grimace at its absence.
At last, she spoke. "Her name was Doris," Calypso replied, closing her eyes and tilting her head back as though experiencing her memories as raindrops. "She was kind. She did her duty, like Will Turner does today."
"And you killed her." The Doctor could feel the anger, the bitterness that survived on the island, amplifying his own sense of the wrong that had been committed.
"She had a choice. It was him I was after."
"But after fighting her, you were too weak to finish him off. You locked him away, but now his power grows. His anger festers. I can feel it in the sand. There must always be a captain, but there must also always be a sea god. The two are linked! You usurped the position, took Doris' lover away from the water he loved and left him in a prison of sand and ashes."
"His time was over! I had the power, so I took everything. That is the way things are."
"What was his name?"
"What does it matter?"
"It matters because every life matters!"
Without opening her eyes, she grabbed him with one hand and pushed toward the sea with the other. The water fell still, the waves vanished, and the surf neither advanced nor retreated. For a second, the ocean was as quiet as the smallest reflecting pool. "You dare challenge me?"
"I'm the Doctor. I'm a Time Lord. Compared to me, you're a child playing in an inflatable pool."
They stared at each other. Calypso huffed a couple times, trying to distract him with her fetid breath. Her eyes stared into his, and what she saw there made her raise her hand and return the ocean to motion. "Nereus."
"There," he said, stepping out of her grip, "that wasn't so hard, was it? You're lucky. I'll help you. The damp and the terror on this island, that's not your doing, is it? You take credit for it to maintain your aura of power, but you're having trouble fighting back. Those villagers you killed, they worshipped him, didn't they? You killed them because if you hadn't, they would've killed everyone else up there who followed you. I'll help you because whatever quarrel you have with Nereus, I will not stand by and watch innocents suffer. If locking him back up is what it'll take to secure this world's safety, then it is a compromise I'll accept, despicable though you are."
"How do you know all this?" Calypso asked with something approaching awe.
The Doctor grinned. "That's what happens when you have a psychic link to a machine that translates languages in everybody's heads. It's hard to calibrate the content filter when Jack's around, but don't tell him I said that."
Singapore's heat and humidity were back with a vengeance when Christian woke. Stuck between the smoldering fire and Maria clinging to him like a drunk Olivia, the change in weather did not improve his mood. Ever since accepting Maria's offer to take them through the tunnels, he'd been second-guessing the decision. He didn't like that. When he made up his mind, he liked to keep his mind made up. Yet something seemed wrong, and he felt like he couldn't breathe. Anxiety pressed on him harder than even when he'd been dealing with his feelings for Olli.
He sat up, gasping. Maria stirred at his sudden motion, and he tried his best to suppress the surge of anger at finding her so close to him. He knew Chase thought he was being too nice to her, but he couldn't help it. If he let down his guard even one moment, he'd grab her and shake her and yell until she gave him Olli's exact location, only she wouldn't, and he'd be a monster.
The sky was navy blue, growing brighter but not yet light enough to be dawn. He guessed he'd slept five hours, but in truth, he couldn't tell. He was neither refreshed nor tired. He just felt numb. Chase was still asleep, back pressed against Joey while his arms held Norrington and the backpack to his chest.
Halfway across the courtyard, the temple vanished and a gaping crater began. He walked to the edge and was startled when the edge began crumbling. "Whoa!" he cried, leaping backward as the ground beneath his feet collapsed.
"Child!" Maria snapped as he rushed back. The din of caving rock continued in the distance as the entire rim began disintegrating.
"What's going on? Is it a trap?" Christian dashed back to where the others were sleeping and eyed the ground nervously. "The ground was pretty solid when we were in the crater yesterday."
"In a sense," Maria sat up and yawned, stretching like a cat. Her lack of panic suggested there wasn't much to worry about. "It is standard practice to seal our entrances by collapsing the tunnels. I did not think they would begin so soon."
"So how do we follow?"
"The process takes several days to complete. We have about four hours before the tunnels become impassable."
"Huh," Chase said, rubbing his eyes. "Guess we should get started then. I've always had a bit of a fear of being buried alive."
This time, Maria led the way, and she strode straight through the debris Christian had left. Their fast passage seemed to strain the ground less. That or Maria's constant muttering was having an effect on whatever was bringing down the tunnels. In any case, they reached the center of the crater without further incident.
Once there, Maria knelt on the ground and removed two quartz wands from her bag. Raising one in each hand, she began muttering as she waved them through the air. For about a minute, nothing happened. Then the earth trembled, and Christian tensed, thinking she'd been wrong about how fast the tunnels beneath were sealing, but then cracks appeared in a perfect circle around them, transforming the ground into a sinking platform. An eerie moan accompanied the gust of wind rising around them as they descended through a shaft with dirt walls so smooth they might have been polished.
Maria kept chanting, and the tunnel continued on and on. They soon fell into shadow, and the opening shrank above their heads into the size of a quarter. At last, the platform shuddered to a halt, and the priestess lowered her arms. "Proceed," she announced, pointing toward an arch in front of them.
"We've got to be hundreds of feet below ground!" Chase exclaimed.
Christian had another scare as they entered the underground network and the earth rose up behind them, sealing the way out. Chase gave the new wall an uneasy look but didn't say anything, so they pressed on, neither wanting to say anything about how their lives were now in the hands of an antagonistic priestess. I guess being nice to her was a good idea, Christian thought.
Just like the shaft, the walls of the tunnel were smooth as glass, arcing together into a semi-circle. Only the floor was rough, and rocks littered the path, possibly debris left by drilling, though Christian couldn't imagine any drill cutting the walls so cleanly. On the other hand, very little of what had happened since the Earth was stolen made sense.
Though they'd brought lanterns, five yellow strips ran along the ground, glowing like halogen street lamps and making any other form of lighting unnecessary. The walls glistened in their glow, like X-box graphics. Before long, the strips began flickering, and he doubted it was a graphical processing problem. When Christian threw a questioning glance at Maria, she replied, "These tunnels will be gone soon. Why would they need to be lit?"
As if her words were a trigger, the earth shook, throwing them against the walls before settling down again. They glanced at each other and, as one, began walking faster.
One after another, the lines of light blinked out. They lit the lanterns when two were left, and the new sources of light swung from their hands, casting frantic shadows across the walls, as though they were catching glimpses of a hundred demons stalking them. The debris on the ground jittered in the wake of their passage like they wanted to flee as well. Though they were inclined to start running, the quakes grew more and more frequent, putting them in danger of falling if they moved too fast.
"Are you sure we still have hours?" Chase yelled over the din of the latest and longest shaking as they staggered onward.
"It was my best guess!" she replied.
"And what's your best guess now?"
The earth steadied, and Maria gave Chase one quick glance before saying, "Eight and a half minutes."
"That's rather precise," Norrington said.
She pointed behind Chase. "Oh," he and Christian said.
"Oh what?" Norrington demanded. "Some people can't turn their heads, you know."
In the dying light of the last strip, they saw motion at the furthest end of the tunnel, a sort of fluttering that resembled an approaching dust cloud. It was the ceiling caving in.
"RUN!" Christian roared. At the same moment, the last strip went out, and they were left with the bubble of light they carried. There was no way to guess how much further they had to go, but there had been no end in sight.
The next few minutes were the most nerve-wracking minutes of Christian's life. Thankfully, the quakes seemed to have stopped now that the tunnel's destruction was imminent, but a distant rumbling told them that imminent was becoming more so. Even if he could see the approaching wall of rock, he wouldn't have been inclined to look over his shoulder, but knowing that even if he did look, he wouldn't be able to see it coming, that bothered him. No, it terrified him. Like childhood noises in the night, each creak or groan out of the ordinary was a monster you couldn't see, a creature breathing down your neck that you dared not look at.
"Stop!" Maria cried. They skidded to a halt at the edge of precipice. The walls of the tunnel kept going, but the ground ended, descending straight down into darkness. If it hadn't been for Joey, Chase's momentum would have sent them all over, but the tiger dug into the ground and refused to budge, giving them something to grab onto.
"Can we jump over?" Norrington asked.
"Sorry, I can't see the other side," Christian said, holding his lantern over their heads.
"Well?" Chase said to Maria. "You're the guide!"
"This tunnel is supposed to lead to a large cavern, a hub. This isn't the entrance!"
A stone the size of a human head tumbled from the darkness behind them and rolled to a stop by their feet. "Too late! Go!" Christian said, pushing Maria and Chase over the ledge as the ceiling collapsed on top of them.
No one yelled "Geronimo!" as they fell. At least, Christian didn't hear if they did, because he got knocked out by a rock.
Calypso danced in the surf, and she had never looked so much like a goddess of destruction. Her robes were bare rags, wrapped around her body like blood red seaweed. Droplets broke around her in a furious spray such as would be found in the passage of a waterspout. Her feet thundered, thump, thump, thump, pounding plumes of sand into the water and beating the ground like a drum. Will watched as she whirled around and around, arms spread wide but slowly raising into ever-tightening circles. Her head fell back and her mouth opened in a silent wail. Her dreadlocks flew like thunderheads spinning around her head.
Then her movement slowed, and her strength seemed to fade. She sank toward the waves, arms hanging loose and head rolling side to side. As she fell to her knees, Will thought he saw sorrow in her posture, like the drooping of a tree after a downpour, lamenting the birds shaken from its boughs, ashamed at its broken strength. Even now, she remained a force of nature, but Will had to wonder: did nature feel remorse for the damage it wrought?
Sensing his gaze, she looked up and caught him staring. He fought the urge to look away--he was doing nothing wrong, after all, and besides, she needed him to perform his duty. They were equals, goddess though she might be, and he suspected she was here for that very reason.
“You hear it too, don’t you?” he told her. “The hissing, like the tide retreating off sand. What is it?”
Her eyes narrowed. “It is dangerous to make new gods. Only so much power in the world. Make, and you must take. All are weaker in the end.”
“That... doesn’t help.”
“When I made Davy Jones, I shared my power with him. I gave him part of me. That part lives in you now. But when the Brethren Court made the Pirate King--”
“Wait, are you saying Elizabeth is a god now too? That’s impossible!”
“I say she have part of me too. Part of my power, part of my will. Parts the Brethren Court took when Davy Jones betrayed me.”
“But you have your power back.”
“So many souls, so many parts of a shattered whole yearning to be one again. That is the sound you hear, Will Turner. It is the tugging of power against the grain of your being.”
“Are you saying--”
“I leave you to your Calypso, Will Turner. Remember, when you touch her, you touch me.” Calypso strode into the water, vanishing into an ephemeral patch of foam, leaving Will to contemplate the return of the shore party. Barbossa went to the Pearl and Ianto headed for the Empress, leaving Elizabeth alone to deliver news of their mission to him. He watched her approach with concern. From words alone, Calypso’s statement may have been a threat, but as she vanished into the sea, her eyes had not carried anger or even that much jealousy. He may have only been in her service a month, but a sailor learned to read the sea’s moods or he wasn’t a sailor for long. Calypso was sad, but mostly, she was afraid.
But Will didn’t have time for her right now. Elizabeth was here. Elizabeth, whom he hadn’t expected to see again for ten long years. Elizabeth, a woman of incredible contrasts, who would jut her chin and stare down her nose at anyone who dared challenge her but who was soft in his arms, her skin supple and smooth as the Singaporean robes she now owned, who smelled like the sea and the pirates she so clearly belonged with but who also smelled of home, of East Indian perfumes and apple blossoms. Elizabeth, who loved him always, whom he loved until the day he died and after, when he came back to life as captain of the Flying Dutchman after Jack Sparrow gave up his chance at immortality and used Will’s hand instead of his own to stab the heart of Davy Jones. Elizabeth, who now searched for the fountain of youth so that they had a chance to be, if not together, at least alive, waiting for each other for all eternity. What were ten years in the face of forever? Their lives would be those days in between, but they would never run out of them. If they found the fountain. Only if they found the fountain.
If they didn’t, he would find someone to stab his own heart on the day she died.
Unable to wait any longer, he leapt over the railing and landed in the surf some thirty feet below. No more teleporting to Elizabeth, he vowed, because that was so... creepy.
Upon his descent, Elizabeth’s expression broke into a wide grin, and she quickened her pace toward him. He ran to her. Water rose around them as their feet beat the sand. Droplets whirled and glimmered in the dying light of the sun. They spun in each other’s embrace, laughing and kissing as they spun in their own waterspout.
She threw him on his back and landed on him, wrapping her thighs around his waist. She tore his shirt open, and he pulled her close, burying his face in the nape of her neck, kissing her behind the ear, down her collarbone and into the ridge between her breasts. The entire world trembled in time with her body as she moaned.
Suddenly, a wave broke upon them, tossing them closer to land. A shot of salt water filled his nostrils, and he fell back coughing. The shock brought him back to his senses as he realized what they were doing.
“No, no, stop,” he muttered as Elizabeth tugged at his pants.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“You’re still mortal. Do you know how dirty the water is?” He clenched his fists and felt sand grind beneath his fingers. When he opened his hands, his skin was sticky and coarse. “Having sex in the ocean is absolutely unsanitary. There’s all sorts of dead things, not to mention the waste of all sorts of animals.”
Elizabeth threw her chin at him. “Thanks for ruining my romantic fantasies.”
“I don’t want you catching anything! And what if we got closer to dry land? Do you have any idea where all this sand might go after we take off our clothes?”
She squeezed her eyes shut. “Please stop.”
“Besides, the kraken is watching.”
“Shut up and get back on board. We will take a bath together, and then we will make mad love to each other until the sun comes up, or I will ask Barbossa for a divorce.”
His jaw dropped. “Yes, your majesty.”
She grinned. “Good.” Taking his hand, she began dragging him toward the Dutchman when all of a sudden, she froze.
At first, Will thought she was going to pounce again, which made him re-evaluate whether having to scrub sand from his unmentionables was worth making Elizabeth happy for half an hour when he noticed she had turned ashen.
He drew close, throwing an arm around her. “What’s wrong?”
Her eyes met his. “Do you hear that?”
“A hissing sound?”
“No, the crying. The ocean is crying.” A single tear fell from her left eye and landed over her heart.
He cocked his head. “I don’t hear anything. Wait, the ocean?”
Before he could question her any further, a hand brushed against his ankle. He gasped and leapt back, pulling Elizabeth with him. They stared as the naked body of a young woman drifted past them, pushed up and down by the waves but drawing ever closer to land. Elizabeth seized his hand. When he looked at her, he saw she was facing the other direction. Turning, his heart sank as he saw the tide throw another body against the hull of the Dutchman.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“They’re the bodies of the islanders Calypso killed,” Elizabeth snapped. “But more are coming.”
“How do you know?”
“The people of Singapore--they’re following me. Even in death, they wish to follow me, and the water will grant their desire.” She strode further into the ocean and kicked, splashing an oncoming wave but doing little to impede its progress. “Why?” she screamed. “Why are you doing this.”
“Elizabeth, calm down!” Will hurried behind her and put his arms around her waist. “It’s ok, it’s ok.” He kissed her bare shoulder, and she fell back against him, leaning her head against his.
“I thought you took their souls,” she whispered. “I thought you ferried them away.”
“Then why are their bodies following me?”
“It’s just the currents. You know that.” That wasn’t what concerned him at all. Why did Elizabeth hear voices in the ocean?
Minutes passed. No hordes of bodies began washing ashore beyond the few that had already arrived. Finally, Will broke the silence: “So are we still on for passionate love-making?”
“I’m sorry! You’re a pirate and I fish dead people out of the ocean all day. Corpses aren’t exactly the mood-killer they used to be!”
“You have a point.” She paused. “About that and the sex in the ocean too.”
There was a soft plop as the kraken sucked out one of the dead woman’s eyeballs and dropped back into the water to digest. Elizabeth and Will didn’t hear it, though, because they were already climbing back aboard the ship.
The plummet was shorter than Chase expected, which was good because if they'd fallen much farther, even the fact that they landed in water wouldn't have saved them. As it was, they fell into a raging underground river with massive chunks of rocks raining down around them.
"JOEY!" he screamed as he surfaced, but he got a mouthful of water as a boulder splashed down inches ahead of him. Kicking as hard as he could, he spun around trying to get his bearings. He could feel Joey rummaging in his head as she projected a hallucination of her scan of the environments. Specks of light illuminated the cavern like glow worms and even outlined the underwater hazards for about two hundred feet all around. Debris continued to fall like burning meteors, and Chase's conclusion from all this new information was that they were screwed.
"Christian!" Maria's voice echoed from the walls.
Chase searched for where she was but couldn't see anything. Quickly, Joey highlighted the outlines of the priestess and Christian as well. When he saw Maria was just ten feet away, he called out to her. "Grab my hand!" he cried, half-disgusted that he was worried about her survival and half-pleased that he valued life enough to overlook the fact that she intended to kill him.
Christian was in a more precarious situation as he was underwater and, from the lack of movement, unconscious. Joey dove under the water and surfaced with him on her back. "Norrington, you still there?" Chase cried as he swam toward Maria with all his strength. Her hand was cold and slippery but clamped down tight on his so that there was no danger of losing their grip. They began treading water, letting the river take them where it willed as Joey paddled over.
"Yes, I'm still here," Norrington replied, sounding not the least hurried. Chase had stuffed him back into his backpack as they fell but all the tumbling prevented him from closing the zipper, and he'd been worried he'd slipped out.
As Joey approached them, Chase and Maria separated until their arms stretched straight. The tiger sank just enough to come up between them, and they climbed aboard her back. As soon as Maria had a firm grip around Joey's neck, Chase let go of her to check Christian's vitals. He was breathing, but Chase suspected a minor concussion from a blow to the head that would require more attention once they were on solid ground.
"Joey, can we get to shore?" he asked.
The tiger growled and shook her head. A wave of imaginary glow worms lit up the cavern walls like the reflections of a sonar blast, revealing no place to rest. Chase sighed and settled in for a long ride, consoling himself that the water was, while cold, at least not an immediately life-threatening temperature.
The minutes dragged on as they swept through cavern after cavern of raging currents and whirling eddies. The ceilings were low enough in a few to cause some close calls, but with Joey keeping them afloat and navigating, they never came in real danger of drowning. After a long enough time to make Chase swear off water parks for the rest of his life, a sudden jolt brought him out of the blank haze into which his mind had sunk from the lack of anything to do except thinking, Oh my god, oh my god, we're going to die! Oh, maybe not. Joey was paddling harder than any time before, and when Chase looked in the direction they were going, he spotted a piece of land above water level.
"Land!" he cried and sputtered as water splashed over Joey's body and into his face. Hacking, he still managed to get out in his excitement: "We're saved!"
The tiger clambered onto solid ground with humans trailing off her like seaweed. Chase didn't think he had the energy to unclench his fingers and let go, but the next instant, he found himself facedown against cold stone with water running up his neck and pooling around him as his backpack emptied.
Recalling he had a patient, he forced himself back up, shrugging off the dripping backpack and crawling over to where Christian lay on his back. Christian's vitals remained strong, but Chase needed some light to check for pupil dilation in case his suspicion about a concussion was correct.
"I don't suppose we can get the lanterns to work," Chase said aloud.
Joey padded over and showed him the bag on her right side. He unzipped it and found all the contents dry and intact. "Whoa, that's an impressive bag." He struck a match and lit one of the lanterns. The cavern ignited with an orange glow, giving it alternately a homely feel and a hellish flicker.
Maria pointed at some writing on the sack that they hadn't noticed before. "Look, what does this say?"
"Louis Vuitton," Chase read. "Oh, guess that explains it. Elizabeth did say some pirate lord of the Mediterranean named Chevalle gave her these."
"This man sells bags?"
"Very good quality. We will have to keep him alive when we take over the world."
Chase returned his attention to Christian, forcing open one eye and peering at his pupils. "No dilation. He must have a thick skull or gghhhkkk!" He flailed as Christian grabbed his throat and threw him to the ground.
"Take cover!" he yelled. "Wait, where are we?"
"Hrrgghhh," Chase replied.
"Oh, sorry." Christian let go. A thought occurred to them, and they looked over at Joey, who paused in the middle of licking her paw to stare back, tilting her head to the right, before returning to her routine.
"Thanks for the protection," snapped Chase.
Joey's eyes glowed as they turned into projectors that established a holographic screen flickering in mid-air. Maria gasped, but Chase was intent on the pictures and text scrolling in front of him. It was a profile of everyone in the Doctor's party, complete with snapshots of each person alone and in action. The information stopped at the header "Christian Mann." Under a picture of him looking disgruntled right after falling into Cameron's perfume collection, there were two words: "Mostly harmless."
"Thanks... I think," Christian said.
"What do you have for me?" demanded Chase.
The screen blurred for a moment before Chase's profile appeared: "Permission level granted: Root user. Reason: Harmless. Addendum: Nice hair."
Maria fell on her back laughing. Chase glared at her and realized that Norrington had been speaking the whole time they were engaged with Joey. Now, the urgency in his voice broke through as he screamed: "Help! I'm being abducted!"
Chase swung the lantern about, searching for Norrington and catching a glimpse of white as the skull vanished behind a ridge. All four of them dashed after him, though it took only three steps before Norrington came back into view being carried away by a mottled white crab. Noticing them coming, the crab began scurrying faster, and Chase saw it was heading for the river. "Stop!" he cried, and to his surprise, the crab did.
Perched atop a rock, the crab rotated in place until its two eyestalks faced them. Something about its movement made them freeze in place, and then Chase realized what it was doing. The rock sat where the ground began to slope into the water. The crab didn't need to scuttle the rest of the way--all it had to do was roll.
"We don't mean you any harm," Chase said. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Christian circling around toward the river. The crab followed his movement with one eye while the other remained on Chase. It was a disorienting sight (for him and the crab). "We just want our friend back."
"For the king's sake, it's a crab!" Norrington snapped. "Grab it!" In response, the crab tilted one claw until Norrington balanced on its tip, rocking back and forth over a tumble into the abyss. "Never mind, listen to its demands!"
"Are we supposed to have it tap in Morse code?" Chase asked.
"Tap once for yes, twice for no," Maria suggested.
The crab lifted one of its left legs and tapped against the rock once. Clack.
"Why do you want to steal Norrington?" Chase asked.
"That wasn't a yes or no question," Christian told him. Joey thumped her head against the ground.
Deciding it'd had enough--or maybe because Christian was drawing closer to cutting off the path between it and the water--the crab flung Norrington toward the river, retracted its legs against its underside, and bounced away after the skull. Chase screamed, dropping the lantern and lunging after Norrington, jarring his shoulder against the ground before rolling down the slope himself. Christian did the same but was closer and closed his fingers around Norrington's jaw just as he hit the water. The crab bounced off Christian's outstretched arm and into Chase's palm.
They both scrambled to their feet, backing away from the river that threatened to sweep them away, raising their prizes into the air.
"Got you!" Christian told Norrington.
"Aha!" Chase cried right before the crab extended one pincer and closed it on his thumb. "OW!" He shook his hand, trying to shake the crab off, and the crustacean flew into the river. It made a rude gesture with its claw as it hit the water, and a few seconds later, Chase saw it swimming away. "Damn it."
"You wouldn't have gotten any information out of it," Maria said.
Chase glared at her as he nursed his bleeding thumb. "How do you know?"
"Because you've done a terrible job interrogating me."
"What'd it want with you?" Christian set Norrington atop the Powerpuff Girls backpack.
"Maybe it needed a home. Like a hermit crab. But with a skull." Thinking about what he'd just said, Chase decided he should stop talking for a while.
"Do you think I speak crab?" Norrington snapped. "It rummaged through Chase's pack and went straight for me, so I imagine there was a reason, but I am in the dark. I suggest we continue onwards."
At that point, Joey tapped Chase on the foot and sent out another sonar blast, revealing nothing but stone ahead. "There's no exit," Chase said. They'd been lucky to find a foothold from the river, but that was all it was.
"That is not a problem," Maria said. She opened her pouch of stones and withdrew a green carving of a jaguar. Shades of green sat atop each other in rounded layers like a contour map. "Your next lesson: malachite. It is a spirit stone. This one permits the soul to leave the body and wander the earth."
"You're saying I'll have an out-of-body experience if I touch that stone?" Chase asked.
"No. Training and meditation are required to leave the body, but without a spirit stone to guide you back, your soul will be lost forever."
"You have no more blasphemy to throw my way? No more insults about my false religion?"
"I don't think now is the time to argue the point."
"I don't think it ever was," Christian said.
Chase sensed amusement from Norrington's direction as he said, "How about we agree not to argue until Christian is dry?"
"That'll never happen!" Chase retorted.
Christian ignored them. "How will the malachite help?" he asked Maria.
"I sense drilling nearby," she said, and Norrington grunted confirmation. "I can redirect one of the drills toward us. Don't worry, they work by themselves, and the priesthood has permission to alter their course as we see fit, so I will not bring any soldiers upon us."
"How long will it take?"
"Ten minutes to redirect the drill, fifteen hours for it to reach us."
Christian nodded. "It's a better idea than floating down the river."
"But in exchange, you'd get peace and quiet," Chase told him.
Maria sat cross-legged and cupped the jaguar between her palms. Rocking back and forth, she began chanting, then fell still. Chase settled down to wait, but Norrington broke the silence.
"Since we have nothing else to do, perhaps we should begin training."
Christian's expression lit up. "Yes, of course!" Opening one of the sacks, he removed the leather-bound carrying bags Elizabeth used to store the swords and drew one out. Setting it aside, he pulled a second one and offered it to Chase.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
Christian furrowed his brows. "Don't you want to learn too?"
The sword got shoved into his possession anyway. It was heavier than he expected, and solid and cold. His heart beat a little faster.
"Don't tell me you've never imagined yourself as a musketeer."
"I have," Chase said. "But then I think about getting stabbed."
"Good, because that's the first lesson," Norrington said.
"How to prevent other people from stabbing you? That seems rather high concept."
"No, how to avoid stabbing yourself."
"Maybe we should put this off on the basis that if someone stabs Maria, we're all out of luck."
"I don't think so. We'll just stand far away from her." Christian pushed Chase over to a spot at the edge of the lantern light.
For once, Norrington's grinning skull appearance fit the occasion. "And now, we begin."
The lock turned with a click, and Cuddy sighed as she followed Jack Harkness into Barbossa's cabin. The pirate's pigeons flapped their wings at their sudden entrance, rattling the cages.
"When I asked for help to inventory our supplies, I didn't mean Barbossa's personal belongings" she told him.
"How do we get the upper hand when we don't know what he's planning? You're not going to take his word, are you?" He wandered over to Barbossa's desk and started riffling through the drawers. “Besides, he’s been going on and on about the meeting with the islanders. Now’s the perfect time while everyone’s still away. I should’ve thought of this when he first got back.”
“I’d have liked to hear what sort of deal we made with them.”
“We can always get details from Ianto.”
She eyed the dining table, which looked heftier than it needed to be, even considering the quantity of food Barbossa liked to serve. "Speaking from personal experience, I don't keep my most important documents in my office unless I want House making photocopies of all of them and blackmailing me." Getting on her knees, she snuck beneath the tabletop to examine its underside. Sure enough, she found a stack of papers tied to one of the supports. She was about to dislodge them when Jack dashed for the door.
"I think I hear someone coming!" he said. "We need to get out of here!"
The door creaked open and Jack snuck out with barely a sound. In her rush to follow, Cuddy straightened up a little too soon and cracked her head against the side of the table. "Ow!" she said, pulling back and smacking the side of her head against one of the table legs as she did so. Stars flew across her vision as she blacked out.
When she awoke, two pairs of boots stomped around the table as male voices argued.
"--Pearl be mine!" a voice she recognized as Barbossa's snarled.
"Last I recall, I was the one who got eaten by a kraken for this ship. That's commitment." The other person had to be Jack Sparrow. Were they arguing about who was the captain, yet again?
"And I rescued you and this ship. By rights, that makes her mine!"
"What are all these birds for?" Jack's tone changed as quickly as his focus. "Pigeons shit everywhere. I can't imagine that's sanitary, knowing how much you love feasts."
Jack's boots thumped over to a window and the sound of flapping feathers and frantic cooing led Cuddy to guess he'd poked one through the bars of its cage. "They're not stuffed."
"Of course they're not stuffed."
"This reeks of overcompensation, Hector. Couldn't find a parrot capable of surviving your body odor?"
"It's the apple bits between me teeth," Barbossa replied. "Ferments. Knocks the damn birds right out."
No wonder he needs a toothbrush, Cuddy thought as she glanced toward the door and saw they'd left it ajar. She tried crawling toward the exit and was stopped by a tugging on her bodice. Glancing back, she saw the hem of her dress had caught around one of the table legs. "Damn dress," she muttered under her breath. She gave another tug at it, and the table swayed, creaking ominously.
She froze. Silence fell over the room, so the pirates must have heard.
"Is it me or did that table just move?" Jack asked.
"Must have been a big wave," Barbossa replied.
Cuddy let out a sigh of relief.
"Aren't we beached on an island?"
"Shit!" Cuddy cursed.
With a roar, Barbossa kicked the table, overturning it into a bookshelf which fell, disturbing five birdcages hanging from the ceiling. Freed, Cuddy sprang to her feet and made sure to position herself between the pirates and the door.
"What do you be doing here!" Barbossa exclaimed. "Eavesdroppers walk the plank!"
"Where to, the beach?" Cuddy snapped.
"Answer me question!"
The Doctor's request that she encourage Barbossa sprang through her mind and then fled with the same agility the Doctor displayed when he ran away from her and snuck off the ship. "I broke into your cabin to look for documents hinting at your true motives because you're a ruthless scoundrel whom I wouldn't trust further than I could throw you even though I also wouldn't want you closer to me than I could throw you."
She drew a deep breath and waited for his response, which she supposed would involve some form of violence and require an answer in kind. What she didn't expect was for him to puff out his chest and take off his hat.
"Ah, now I understand. But Lisa, now is not the time or the place." He leered a little. "Come back when I be alone and you can explore my motives all you want."
Her jaw dropped as she realized what he was hinting at. "In your dreams!" Turning on her heel, she stormed out.
Sweat streamed down Christian's face as he fought off Norrington's assault. The man was relentless, his blade forming a wall of steel that closed in on him as relentlessly as the garbage compactor in Star Wars: A New Hope.
"Parry, swing, draw back and block!" Norrington barked as he advanced. The man wasn't even breathing hard. While that wasn't a surprise, it still felt demoralizing. "Watch your footing, be careful of the wall! Don't let yourself get caught in a corner. I'm going to give you an opening, watch for it! Remember what I said--thrust but don't lose your balance."
A few seconds later, one of Norrington's swings went too high, giving Christian a split second to counter. However, Norrington had backed him against the water. If he stepped to the side to take advantage of the opening, the wet rock would make him slip, but if he didn't, he couldn't initiate a proper attack.
So he took a step forward and threw a jab with his left hand instead. Not expecting hand-to-hand combat, Norrington toppled back, and Christian circled around him to get away from the river. Once a day is more than enough, he thought about the chances of falling in.
"End hallucination!" Norrington snapped.
Norrington's body flickered out of existence along with his sword, and Christian turned to the rock beside Joey where his skull had been placed during the entire fight.
"You backed me into a corner!" he preemptively accused.
"You responded better than I expected, but the lesson is that you shouldn't have gotten cornered. You must think beyond your opponent's next move. If you do not understand your environment, do not see your path to victory, you let your opponent control the course of battle."
Christian nodded. "I understand, but right now, I'm just trying not to get stabbed."
"Practice will hone actions that today take thought into tomorrow's instincts. At least you are not terrified of the blade like our good doctor."
"Hey!" Chase exclaimed. "Excuse me if I don't like the idea of getting skewered."
"Your fears will become reality if you cannot rein them in," Norrington replied. "Unless you believe you can escape our adventure without entering combat once."
"Running and screaming has worked pretty well for me so far. Though I did put Cameron in a wheelchair..."
"And as great as Joey is," Christian added, "she might not always be able to protect you."
"I get it. I promise I'll try! But unlike Muhammad Ali," he said, indicating Christian, "I do not come from a fighting background. Just cut me a little slack."
Maria laughed. "My brethren will not cut you any slack when they slice your limbs off and pour out your blood to power the stone golems."
"I liked it better when you were chanting. Maybe I should've stolen that spirit stone while your soul was away."
"You are touched by water, like the stone, but the stone is much older." She revealed her teeth, and Chase was certain she was not smiling. "In such a tugging contest, who do you think would win?
"Stop bickering!" Christian said. He picked up Chase's sword and nudged him with the handle. "It's your turn again."
Grumbling, Chase took the blade and walked to the location he and Christian had marked out with stones as the practice arena. Joey wasn't supposed to let them move beyond those boundaries lest a wild swing injure the spectators.
The lessons had begun with a disastrous two hours of Norrington attempting to instruct without any visual aid. They all agreed to take a break because the session devolved into Norrington screaming at them and everyone cursing at each other, which Maria had watched with amusement and Joey, bemusement.
After a meal of dried rations and a nap, they were girding themselves for another miserable few hours when Norrington complained yet again about not having a body and Chase suddenly had a bout of inspiration.
"You and Joey are somehow linked. You both use a variant of BRAIN technology!" he said. Everyone stared at him, not sure where this line of thought led. "Joey can project hallucinations into our minds, everything from visual and auditory cues to touch sensation. If she can peek directly into Norrington's mind, maybe she can create a body for Norrington. She'd feed what Norrington's body sees and feels into his mind and use the link with Norrington to receive his thoughts on how his body should behave. If all works well, it would be exactly as if Norrington did have a body for everyone involved. Can you do that, girl?"
Joey purred and nodded confirmation.
And so it came about. Chase was so excited he proposed creating elaborate training scenarios in medieval castles, Japanese dojos, and every other action movie cliché he could think up before Christian asked him to demonstrate a little patience and wait until they'd actually learned something to use in more complicated situations.
As for Norrington, they gave him some time to get over the shock of suddenly having a body again.
When Joey first began the hallucination, Norrington remained so still they thought it hadn't worked. Then he raised a hand before his face, staring as his fingers moved one by one.
"I realize this is temporary," he spoke each word as though pulling teeth, fighting to keep his voice from quavering. "For training only. It's just a hallucination."
Christian didn't know what to say and was a little surprised when Chase did.
"You did your duty."
Norrington nodded slowly. "I gave in to my ambitions once. Betrayed everything important to me because I confused what I wanted with what I needed. Never again." He extended his right hand and demanded: "Sword, Joey!" A blade appeared in his hand, and he hefted it, feeling its weight. He smiled. "Perfect. Now, to work! En garde!"
Norrington pushed them harder than before, but this time, they worked with a purpose and a vision. No matter how much Chase protested that he wasn't a fighter, Christian saw the glimmer of excitement in his eyes as he raised the sword. It was the rush of adrenaline so familiar to himself, that moment before a fight when you felt invincible.
Chase let out a shrill scream as the cavern shuddered and the air roared. The next moment, the wall behind him burst like a collapsing dam, sending stone and dust flying. He dove for the ground, rolling out of the ring and under Joey, who leapt to her feet to get between him and the surprise arrival.
Christian's first instinct was to reach for the club-shaped piece of driftwood he'd found (what it was doing in an underground river, he wasn't sure). His second thought was to glance at Maria, and seeing her remain still, guessed she knew the disturbance was coming. Third came the realization that he had a sword he'd just spent six hours learning to use. Finally, he added up all the hours that had passed and realized the drill had arrived right on time.
Joey moved away from the hole as Chase had the same realization and clambered to his feet, too busy to stare at the massive drill winding down in front of him to admonish Maria.
The machine towered twice as tall as Christian. It was a box on wheels with a drill bit attached to the front, a spiral cone of death that extended over six meters forward, only a little shorter than the body of the machine itself.
Behind the contraption was the all-too-perfect tunnel they encountered when they first come underground but with one crucial difference. Instead of the churned up floor of the collapsing passageway they'd narrowly escaped, the ground was smooth and polished, reflective like glass and etched with intricate gold lines, each of varying thickness. The patterns looked like the wires of a circuit, one layer on top of another, so many they were a fine weave laid atop the rock.
"Is that... real gold?" he mused aloud.
"Must be." Chase said. "That's why the ground was so torn up. They must recover the gold when they abandon a tunnel. I'd guess they wire the ground as a grid to conduct power and electrical signals to the drills." He took a step into the tunnel, treading softly, arms half-raised, as though he expected to be shocked for touching it. When nothing happened, he shrugged. "Shall we go?"
They gathered up their bags, and Maria once more took the lead. Once they were some fifty meters down the tunnel, she turned and tugged the air, as though pulling an invisible rope that attached to the drill. It roared to life and began rolling toward them, churning up a low-lying cloud of dust as it reclaimed the gold lacework it’d just laid.
Progressing down the tunnel, the lights on the walls eerily constant--though Christian supposed that was better than the roof collapsing on them again--they didn’t seem to be embarking on an adventure or a mission so much as an endless journey trapped in a twilight zone. His thoughts must have shown on his face, because Chase took one glance at him and gave him far too cheerful a smile to be anything but forced.
Clutching Norrington’s skull to his chest, he proclaimed, “I don’t think we’re in Singapore anymore, Toto.”
“Squeeze me again and I’ll bite your chin off,” Norrington replied.
But Chase just started whistling (“We’re off to see the wizard...”), and onward they went.
Back to Chapter 27: The Shadows of Greatness
Summary: The tunnels below Singapore don't go to Kansas and Calypso freaks everyone out.