"When Sarah and I handled the Solon and Morbius problem, I suspected something then," he whispered. The narrow cave tunnel ceiling began to get shorter. "I didn't think much about it at the time. But why all the melodrama? The dancing and chanting didn't make any sense. You have seen how the Carrionites do magic, right?"
"Mostly words and gestures," I said. "Very Dr. Strange-esque."
"Yes, I am strange, thank you."
"No, not you. Gah! You know, nevermind. Words, chanting, hand gestures."
"Yes," he said. "Could it be that the high priestess at the time, was keeping secrets from her own sisters?'
"Doctor, if Earth history is to be an example then yes. Secretive groups like the Masons or Templars often kept secrets from their members. As the member rose in ranks, the member was slowly given one secret at a time. Members had to earn knowledge, making it more valuable than currency. It would not surprise me if the priestess didn't pass on any, for lack of better words, super secrets of her order or important history."
"That is what brought to mind Sarah and Morbius. The High Priestess didn't plan on dying, She had planned on drinking what little Elixir was left. But she sacrificed her portion of the Elixir to save me, instead of herself."
"The Sisters are like Dumbledore?"
"How do you mean?"
"The Elixir, once imbibed, must be imbibed on a regular basis. That is the only way for the immortality to work. If you stop drinking the Elixir, you will age quickly and die."
"Ah, then yes," said the Shadow man. "Funny how things work."
"The planet makes sense now," I said.
"Well, Death is the price we pay for progress, right? No death means stagnation, nothing changes."
The Doctor stopped and turned to face me. "I said that very thing, a long time ago. But I don't think they listened."
"Wait, Doctor. Are you saying that those women are..."
"Yes. Now, Witanira is High Priestess because her predecessor, Ohila, meet an unexpected and unfortunate end. But, for the most part, those women are older than I am."
"And you said they only have one hobby."
"And you say they never change?"
"And you say Gallifrey is gone."
"How many Sisters are there?"
"Under a dozen now."
"Okay, so who drinks the rest of the Elixir?"
"Doctor, these women have been brewing for tens of thousands of years with no one else to imbibe it. Where are they keeping their overstock and why?" The Doctor went very quiet. "And if they are so powerful, how is it that they don't know we are casually trodding through their caves looking for a person whom we are not supposed to talk too?" I sighed. "Did it occur to you that we, also, are being played, right now?"
The Doctor turned quickly and walked ahead faster. "We are being led on, but not by the Sisters. Now, carry on! I have to see a man about a potion!"
We went on for about another minute when a sweet smelling draft of air swept by me. The air tasted terrific, like warm, crunchy, fresh bread drizzled with honey. Suddenly, I was fricken hungry. I speed up my walk, nearly ramming the Doctor in the attempt to rush passed him.
"Whoa," whispered the Doctor. "Slow down. What's the hurry?"
"I smell something good that way, and I am hungry," I said.
"I don't smell anything," he said.
"Hurry up, Beggar man," I wiggled passed him in the narrow corridor, nearly knocking him over. I didn't care to stop and check on him; my belly was rumbling like Thor on a hot summer day.
I exited the tunnel into a warm chamber made of porous stone. The ceiling of the room had four stone arches, made of the same porous stone. It reminded me of a grand, renascence cathedral. In between the columns that formed the arches burned four geysers of natural gas. In the center of the ceiling where the arches met, hung a long stalactite. A pedestal of the same type of stone sat under the stalactite. On top of the pedestal sat a large, wide-mouthed metal cup. The stalactite was long enough that it almost touched the surface of the liquid. Inside the stone pedestal, another smaller flame heated the bottom of the cup, whose liquid bubbled and foamed. The air tasted thick and sweet as if I could dine on it as real food.
I breathed in deep. "Doctor, this is wonderful. This, this has to be the real place."
The shadow man entered the room. "Yes, this is it. This is the place. This is a giant, naturally occurring alchemist lab. The geysers warm the stone and condense the water that filters down from the natural spring above us. It drips down the arches and stalactite and into the cup. Where it continues to boil down into a concentrate." The Doctor walked around the room until he came to the pedestal. He bent down to look at the cup. "Yup, there it is. Jessica, look. The inside is coated in gold."
I walked over and peered into the vessel. It was mesmerizing. I felt light-headed. The bubbling, foamy, swirly, emerald green liquid lulled me into a hypnotic state; sending me into a calm demeanor. Without thinking, I reached up to the stalactite, broke off the tip and ate it.
The Doctor smacked my hand. "What did you do that for?"
I shrugged. "I'm hungry I told you. It's fine." I reached up for another piece.
He smacked my hand away. "No, seriously. What are you doing?"
"Same as you, looking for the Hermit and the Hanging-man." I pointed to a dark passage hidden by the light of one of the geysers. "It should be through there."
The Doctor turned to look. "Where?"
"Just there, silly."I picked off another piece of stalactite and shoved it in my mouth. "You should go. I'll stay here and keep an eye out."
"You will not," he said and grabbed at my arm.
I pulled my arm back. "Yes!" I pulled too hard. My arm went further back than it should. My elbow slammed right into the stalactite. A large chunk broke off and fell into the cup. The hot liquid splashed up my arm and hand. "Ow!" My hand went into my mouth, and so did some of the liquid.
"Jessica! No!" he yelled.
I looked down at my hand in my mouth and remembered Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Salmon. "Oh bother," I said.
The shadow man grabbed me and jerked me away. "I think the gases have got to you."
"I'm fine," I giggled. "I little light-headed, but fine."
The Doctor took a deep breath and exhaled. "No, you're not. Sybiline. You have been influenced by mineral dust and gasses. I need to get you out of here before you become a soothsaying rock lady."
I laughed super hard. "Doctor, you come up with the weirdest stuff!" It was then that the euphoria became real to me. "All right, Doctor. Maybe I am a little...stoned." I lost my cool and started laughing until it hurt. "Get me outta here, Beggar man!"
"Doctor, you get more arrogant with every new regeneration. How dare you!" said the Sister."Ohila might have tolerated such heresy. But your request may as well be imprecation! Vituperation! Profanity!"
"Let's not get carried away, Witanira," soothed the Doctor. "You do want them to leave, don't you?"
"The Doctor doesn't want to you give them the real cup," I said. "Put another in its place. It has to be believable though. It can't be made of gold or have jewels on it. It has to be old, worn, and peasanty. A simple cup made of wood would be perfect."
The Doctor shook his head at me. The Sisters actually giggled. Witanira glared at them. "Does it look like we have wooden cups laying around on this planet?" She said. "Besides, that won't work anyway."
"I don't understand. Why not?" I asked.
"Jessica, shh!" The Shadow man put his finger on my mouth. "Witanira, I can give you a cup. I need your cooperation in the supposed "Waypath Trails." That's not too much to ask. You give them a show; they get a cup. They go home."
I pushed the Doctor's hand away from my face. "Aside from that, they already think the Holy Grail is here. They will keep coming until they get one. You will never have peace."
"Doctor, what should the trails be?" asked a Sister. "Do you have a plan?"
"Me? No," said the Doctor. "But I know someone." The Shadow man pushed me forward towards the Sisters. "I have a Fortune Teller for that."
"What? Me?" I objected.
"Yes, you. You keep saying you are a gamer. So," he gestured at the landscape. "Game! What would you do as a..what did you call it...Dungeon Master."
"She is a Dungeon Master and a Fortune Teller?" asked a Sister.
"And a muggle-wuzzle," he said.
"Doctor, I can't do...well I can..but this is real!" I objected again. "A being might actually die."
"We must do what we must do," shrugged the Doctor.
"They aren't villains. Not really," I said.
"Then, be creative!" He waved his hands dismissively. The shadow man turned and walked away.
"And where are you going?" asked Witanira.
"Back to the TARDIS. We need a cup," he said.
The Sisters looked at me. "Well, Keeper of the Waypath, what do we do?"
"The Trial of Faith, The Trial of Compassion, and the Trial of Humility," I smiled. "Do you happen to have a perception filter module?"
Witanira smiled at me. "Yes, we do. I like it."
"Let's get started," I said.
I gave the instructions to the Sisters. It was a simple premise. The first trial aimed at getting the little blue leprechauns out of the armor.The second trial was to give something valuable away. The third trial was geared to have them surrender rather than fight. I imagine that, as Crusaders, they expected something along the lines of bravery, courage, and strength. But as I explained to the Sisters, all knights have those attributes. To make the trials look authentic, they need to test other virtues, patience, charity, generosity, compassion, temperance, and humility. Not exactly the classic seven, but important nonetheless.
The perception filter made it easier to come up with scenarios. And yes, it was like setting up a live action role play encounter. I was busy being pleased with myself when the Doctor snuck up behind me and pulled me into the shadows. "Be quiet and follow me,” he whispered. ”Don't worry about the Sisters. They are about to be preoccupied with the knight."
I wiggled out of his grip. "Won't they notice I'm gone?" I asked. "I'm supposed to be the Keeper right?"
"Nah, your job is done. Let them have all the glory," he whispered.
"Where are we going?" I asked as I followed.
“What we came here to do,” he replied. “See the Hanging-man and the Hermit.”
“All right, so why are we sneaking?” I asked.
“Because the Sisters would not want me to see him,” said the Doctor.
“This grail thing is a distraction?” I snickered. “I don’t understand all the cloak and dagger.”
“I’m not supposed to know that Hanging-man and Hermit is here on Karn,” he said, turning a sharp corner.
We entered a room with a large basin in the center. A chair sat on a dais, at the head of the room. The half metal, half stone walls were covered in tapestries. To the left of the dais, was a colorful panel, locked by a thick metal bar. “Where are we?” I asked.
The shadow man laughed. “The stage, believe it or not. This is not our destination but the way there is through this room.” The Doctor paced around the room. “Now, where was it.”
“I don’t understand, Doctor. Stage? For what?”
He chuckled and pointed at me. "You have been saying it. I've been saying it; it didn't occur to me until now. Myth! Legends! More believable if you follow the formula." He waved his hands in the air. "This isn't real! It is a Stage. And we, merely the players!” Then, pointed to the panel with the thick metal bar. “Shakespeare knew. What a guy!”
“Ah! Yes!” He went over to the panel, took out his screwdriver, and pointed it at the panel. The lock clicked. “Don’t tell the Sisters,” he said to me and opened the panel.
Behind the panel, there was a rock wall with a hole in it. In the center of the hole, was a burning geyser of flames. The rock surrounding it was hot and dripping liquid. The liquid ran down off the walls and into a small trough, which drained into a metal cup. "Is that it? The Cup?"
The Doctor motioned for me to have a look. “No, but it is made to look that way. Come see. Can you figure out how I know?”
I walked over to the hole in the wall and took a good look. The geyser looked normal. He dripping liquid seemed arcane. The cup, well, there was something nagging about that cup. It appeared to be a normal metal goblet. Pretty standard for a metal cup. It wasn't fancy, made of gold, or set with jewels. That's when my brain exploded. "Doctor! If this were the real cup, the inside of the cup would be lined with gold! The Elixir doesn't just give immortality. It also transmutes metals. This is not the Elixir!"
“Not a mile!” he chuckled. “A very clever charade by the Sisters. One that I believed. But You were right. The lore on Gallifrey is very clear and something I believe that we have forgotten. The Elixir of Life transmutes metal.”
“So, where is the real cup?”
The Beggar man got excited. "That's not the real question! Ask it, Jessica! Make me proud! All that lore and myth floating around in your helmet head; Think! What is the real question?" I could feel his sly fox grin seeping from his face.
It took a minute, but it got there. I let all that myth collide and explode inside my head, and it all ended in one conclusion. I smiled. "Where is the real stone! The cup, the water, the hole in the wall! That isn't the Elixir! It comes from the stone! The Sorcerer's stone or the Philosopher's stone!"
The Shadow man’s face did the montage again. This time landing on a face I had never seen before. This Doctor was debonair, with a Double-0 Seven meets Indiana Jones vibe. My mouth acted before I could engage my filter. “I hate it when you look sexy like that!” I hissed angrily.
“I always look sexy,” he replied, offhanded.
"Oh, I hate you. Go back to normal!"
“Who do you see?” he asked.
“An English Indiana Jones.”
“You think Indiana Jones is sexy?”
“No, but Han Solo is.”
“Laugh a minute with you, is it?” He reached into the hole in the wall, past the flames, and grabbed something.
“Doctor, your hand,” I said. I heard something click from behind us.
He shook his head. “It’s a trick. It’s not real.” He closed the panel door and locked it again. “Come on, this way.” He went to the other side of the room and pulled a tapestry back to reveal a secret passage. “See? Sexy Indiana Jones.” He snickered.
"By the Nine, Doctor, stop showing off," I said and entered.
“What kind of Doctor Who fairytale doesn’t include an enormous amount of showing off?” He asked.