Chrístõ set the TARDIS to drop out of the time vortex on the edge of the Gallifreyan solar system and turned on the viewscreen. It was a long time since he had actually viewed his home system this way. He looked for a long time at the distant sun that warmed his home world. From here Gallifrey itself was just a black dot against the sun. The innermost planet, Demos, was invisible to the naked eye, although his schematic showed it there, a burning hot desert inhospitable to life. Karn was another dot, nearly as distant as Gallifrey. Polarfrey was a far off disc that he could cover with his little finger when he held it up to the screen. The Fibster, not even that.

The nearest planet, Kasterborus, was a blue globe hung in space. It was, as outer planets so often were, frozen. The sun didn’t warm it enough to defrost the surface even on the side that faced it. The Time Lords had a scientific research base there, in an artificial habitat that was visible as his TARDIS passed close and the cold, blue planet filled his view. He had visited it on an educational tour in his junior days at the Academy. Although he was scientifically inclined, he had been unimpressed. The Time Lords were one of the most technologically advanced civilisations in the universe, yet they seemed to have given up on advancing further. The research being done was so dull and slow it deserved to be done on a frozen planet that most people on Gallifrey generally forgot about.

It had certainly put him off pure research as a career option, though he knew a few people from his science classes who DID work there now. He thought fondly of them as his TARDIS moved on by steadily and Polafrey slowly loomed in his viewscreen.

Polafrey was a mineral rich planet with mining communities who lived in more of the artificial habitats, because it was still too far from the sun to be above freezing for more than an hour a day. He had never visited there. Few people of his class had. He knew his family owned shares in the mining company and he understood that the habitats were made as pleasant to live in as an artificial place could be, but he had no desire to visit.

Polafrey was much more interesting from space than actually down there on its surface. It was uniquely beautiful. It had ring systems on its longitude and latitude. There were five beautiful, wide, concentric rings around its equator, graded in colour from pale pink to azure, depending on the mineral content of the frozen particles that made them. And then, running from pole to pole was a thinner, glassy set of rings that were only visible when the rotation of the planet’s orbit caught the sun’s light in a certain way. The thin circle passed through the equatorial rings causing a fantastic ripple effect. Chrístõ knew of no other planet with such double rings. If there was, he had never seen it. He felt a curious kind of pride that his home system had such a gem within it.

The Fibster was essentially a dead asteroid. It only qualified as a planet because it was big enough to have gravity and hold an orbit. And it was an orbit that had given the astronomers of Gallifrey millennia of observation and plotting to see if it would ever be the cause of disaster. Its orbit began right out on the edge of the system, where for one year in ten by Gallifreyan measure it was the outermost planet. In the course of the other nine years it was a curious erratic, its orbit crossing the orbits of Kasterborus and Polarfrey before it swung out again, but always when those two planets were on the other side of the sun. The astronomers had calculated eventually that there was no danger of collision, though they had speculated that a twin of the Fibster had broken up in Polafrey’s strong gravitational field to form the rings.

Between Polarfrey and Karn was a wider area of space than between the other planets. In it was nothing but a huge nebula, an unmoving cloud of space dust that was held together by its own strange internal forces. It was known as The Face of Rassilon, for reasons that were not apparent to anyone travelling through the system this way. It only made sense when night fell on Karn.

Night on Karn was Chrístõ’s destination on this trip. He watched as Gallifrey’s sister planet came into view. One hemisphere of it was mining and industry and had a population of about half a million, mostly Caretakers. The other was left natural, and was a favourite tourist attraction for the wealthy classes of Gallifrey. The climate was more temperate than Gallifrey and there was no great desert, but a whole continent was covered in a rolling grassy plain where an entire bestiary of fascinating wildlife lived. Safari holidays on Karn were the furthest many Gallifreyans ever travelled, but when they did they were enchanted by views through the safe exo-glass windows of the tourist hovercraft. They gaped at Karn Leonates, the great cats of the planet, the primary carnivores of the plain, or Wild-Beest, leather-hided herbivores that roamed in great herds and whose role in life was generally to be Leonate lunch. The Kallikai were another herbivore that would share the same fate if they were not slender, long-limbed and swift moving creatures with sensitive hearing that even the most cunning Leonate couldn’t fool. As a child, visiting Karn with his father, Chrístõ had once advanced the idea that the Wild-Beest should watch the Kallikai and get ready to move when they saw their silver-backed herds dart away. But the Wild-Beest never seemed to catch onto that method of self-preservation.

Lamigurs were another wonder of Karn, a simian-like creature which lived around the great cliffs beyond the Luna lake. Chrístõ’s absolute favourite of the Karn wildlife lived by the lake, too. Luna Pelis were beautiful wading birds that ate the plankton whose natural phosphorescence made the great Luna Lake glow in the dark and thus, themselves, glowed in the dark. When a flock of them flew across the night sky it was like watching a living meteor shower.

“You’d like the caves, Humphrey,” Chrístõ told his shadowy friend as he thought about Karn’s topography. “We’ll explore them some time. But we’re going to do something else tonight. You’ll enjoy it just as much, I hope.”

Humphrey purred and bowled around the console room, excited at the idea of a field trip with his special friend. Chrístõ was never completely sure how much of his conversation Humphrey actually understood. His own spoken vocabulary was very limited. But he did seem to get the general sense of what was told to him.

Chrístõ smiled happily as he set the co-ordinate for the Plateau of Rassilon, singing along to Ella Fitzgerald’s How High The Moon on his CD player while Humphrey bounced in time to the tune. It took till the end of the song to materialise in the spot he wanted, near the top of the great cliff.

The TARDIS had disguised itself as a bird watching hide, he noted as he stepped out, Humphrey by his side. It was right on the edge of the great cliff. He went to the edge and looked down. It was a dizzying drop straight down to the dazzling Luna lake, which really did look like a misshapen moon from here. He saw a flock of Pelis rise up and fly away into the starry night sky. Humphrey’s satisfied purr summed up his own feeling. The phosphorescent glow didn’t bother Humphrey, he noted. Nor was he worried by moonlight. It was only direct sunlight or extremely bright artificial light that affected him. So Humphrey was safe to accompany him on this adventure.

He turned and let his eyes adjust after looking at the shining lake. Now he could see the standing stones, only a few hundred yards away, dark against the horizon, flickering light visible between the stones.

The great stone circle was a very exclusive part of the Karn experience. Visitors were restricted and even an ordinary daytime visit had to be arranged in advance. For this night in particular there was a waiting list, and even having an Oldblood name was no guarantee of a ticket. The last time Chrístõ had seen the phenomenon he was here to see tonight was fifty years ago when he was still a student. He tried to remember the girl from his class who had been his plus one and wasn’t too bothered that he couldn’t recall her name. He was more sorry that Julia wasn’t with him this time. Herrick and Marianna were being VERY strict about her schooling right now and insisting that Christmas was his next visit.

She would be twenty-three by the next Opening of the Eye. He hoped they could get tickets. Maybe they could come here on their Honeymoon?

He strode towards the entrance. As he drew closer he saw more clearly that the flickering lights were flaming torches that lit the inside of the stones for the guests. They gave the scene a wonderfully mysterious atmosphere. Not that there WAS a mystery to the night. Everyone knew what to expect and was looking forward to it.

He was among the first to surrender his ticket and step under the portal. He didn’t take one of the comfortable, cushioned, reclining seats arranged in concentric circles inside the huge arena. He was rather inclined to agree with the purists who said that cushions and recliners were cheating. A crick in the neck from looking up was part of the experience. Besides, Humphrey wouldn’t be happy right out in the open, even if the prospect of so many people around him was making him hyper.

He sat right against one of the standing stones, a great slab of Karn granite, about thirty feet high and fifteen feet wide. The solidness of something that had been standing for two hundred thousand years was reassuring against his back as he watched the other guests coming in. They represented many of the big families of Gallifrey. He saw a whole group of Mírraflaex, and wondered if they had pulled some strings to get that many tickets allocated. The Newblood Mírraflaex were sharp businessmen, and knew how to work a ‘perk’.

His stepmother, Valena, was there, accompanied by Madame Lundar, Romana’s mother. Chrístõ allowed himself a fond thought for Romana and wondered if his life would have been different if SHE had been the girl he brought to the Opening of the Eye fifty years ago.

Valena had Garrick with her. Chrístõ watched her steer the anti-grav-buggy towards their seats in the middle circle and wondered if that was a good idea. He was too young to really appreciate what they were here to see. But Valena was very attached to him. She had confessed the last time he talked to her that her son was growing up too fast for her. Two years old now and walking and talking, and developing his latent telepathy. Another year and he would be given the brain-buffing sessions which would equip him with the skills of reading, writing and mathematics as well as beginning to develop his telepathy. A year after that and he would be ready for daily lessons from a private tutor, preparing him for his first rite of passage as a Child of Gallifrey, at the age of eight, when he was presented to the Untempered Schism and his fitness to be a Time Lord measured. After that, even more intensive tuition until he was old enough to enter the Academy and embark on the path to Transcension that all Gallifreyans aspired to.

Yes, Chrístõ agreed with Valena. He WAS growing up too fast. But there was no way to stop it. Soon Garrick would not be her own, exclusive baby any more. He would belong to Gallifrey. Let her have every precious moment she could with him.

He didn’t let them know he was there. He no longer resented his stepmother or his half-brother as much as he used to, but he had come here with the intention of having a quiet, solitary experience, excepting Humphrey’s presence. Valena in combination with Madame Lundar and the group of ladies they had met up with, would be talking about balls and ballgowns and society luncheons, and he didn’t really have any interest in those things. If his father had been there, too, it might have been different. Two men had a defence mechanism against feminine gossip. But The Ambassador had been called from Adano-Ambrado to a peace conference that was in danger of being wrongly named without his experienced hand to guide it.

The torches were put out and it was suddenly darker and quieter as people settled down to watch the ‘show’. Chrístõ heard the footsteps of security guards outside the circle. A certain kind of uninvited guests had started to be a nuisance in the past few decades and they were taking no chances. Inside, everyone was still, even Humphrey. Everyone looked up at the sky. He slid down until he was lying on the grass and looking up at the Face of Rassilon.

The circle had been built so that the nebula was directly above it on certain nights of the year. And on one night only, once every ten years, what was already remarkable became even more so.

From here, on Karn, looking up, it really DID look like the face of a venerable old man looking down upon the people with a faint smile. Whether it looked like Rassilon was another matter. But it WAS a face even to the most unimaginative viewer. There was a dark line that was a mouth and two ‘holes’ in the nebula that were eyes. The left eye was clearly a hole all the way through. Stars could be seen in it. The other eye was blank, being not quite so deep.

The Face was lit from behind just now by the reflected light of the Fibster. The rogue planet was close enough to Karn to look like a small moon, and its surface, which contained a reflective quartz, shone brightly. While it was behind the nebula the light was diffused and just made the face more visible in the darkness. But slowly the planet in its orbit moved across the face, and a sliver of it appeared on the lid of the left ‘eye’. Then in the course of a breathless hour the planet moved around until it actually filled the eye - that was the ‘Opening’ of the Eye. And it was breathtaking. It was as bright as a diamond and made it look as if Rassilon was winking while the light shone straight down on the stone circle and bathed the onlookers in what was almost, but not quite, daylight.

“Fantastic!” Christo murmured to himself. Of course, he knew the scientific reasons for it, the orbits of the planets and angles and distances. But it didn’t take away the magic.

Humphrey hunched against the shadow of the stone, but the light would not have hurt him and it fascinated him. He whispered incoherently, although Chrístõ got the idea that he regarded the Face as something like a father figure to him. That made a kind of sense. The nebula was as insubstantial as he was, a shadow thing. He hadn’t thought of that when he decided to bring Humphrey along, but he was happy for his strange friend to find an added bonus in what he regarded as another wonderfully unique thing about his home solar system.

He lay there, perfectly warm on what was a balmy summer night, and let the Eye of Rassilon dazzle his own eyes until it began to move on, the Eye closing again as slowly as it had opened. For a little while after the Fibster’s light had retreated once more behind the nebula there was darkness before the torches were lit again.

Then a scream split the air. Chrístõ sat up quickly, banging his head on the standing stone behind him. He ignored the silver stars in front of his eyes as he stood and began to run.

Because he recognised the voice.

“Valena!” he said as he reached her through the crowds that were milling around uselessly. He grabbed his stepmother’s arm. She didn’t even seem to recognise him as she continued to shriek with terror and throw out disjointed words from which he grasped the salient point.

Garrick was missing.

Whatever his ambivalent feelings for his half brother, fear gripped his stomach icily.

“Valena,” he said. “Calm down. Think. How long has he been gone?”

She saw him finally and caught her breath. She tried to remember.

“Before it got completely dark. He was beside me, in his buggy. I thought he was asleep. Then I turned to look at him when the torches came on. And…”

The buggy was empty. The straps that held the child in were still fastened but he was gone.

Around her people were beginning to understand the nature of the crisis. There were shouts as the security guards pushed their way through, then another cry of fright as Madame Lundar remembered the cliff edge.

“No,” Chrístõ assured her. “Garrick couldn’t have walked THAT far on his own, even if the guards at the portal were stupid enough to let a toddler wander out of the circle by himself.” He glared at the guards as if daring them to admit they WERE that stupid. “Besides, there are anti-grav cushions along the whole edge. He wouldn’t fall.”

Two guards ran off to check anyway. Meanwhile the portal was guarded and everyone told to remain where they were. Valena turned around and around, trying to see if, somehow, somebody else had picked up her child by mistake, expecting, hoping, at any moment that somebody would shout ‘he’s here’ and run to her with him in their arms.

Nobody did, and the minutes stretched as the guards confirmed that the entrance HAD been watched at all times. Nobody went in or out with a child.

“Then WHERE IS HE?” Valena demanded angrily. “He couldn’t have just vanished into thin air.”

Well, yes, he could, Chrístõ thought and he pulled out his sonic screwdriver and scanned the area around the buggy for traces of a transmat beam. There were none.

“I know who it might have been,” Madame Lundar said out of the blue. “Savang Hadandrox. I am sure I saw her earlier. And I thought it odd…”

“Savang Hadandrox?” Chrístõ tried to remember why he knew the name.

“You knew her when you were a very young boy,” Madame Lundar said. “When you were all attending your preparation classes before you went to the Untempered Schism with your mentors. My Romana was there, too. And your cousins, Rõgæn and Rani. You all went together on the same day. And… and we hoped you would come back.”

“She didn’t come back?” Chrístõ couldn’t remember. Not clearly, anyway.

“She didn’t come back…whole,” Madame Lundar answered with a shudder. “It broke her mind. That’s why you don’t remember her. The rest of you went on… to become students at the academy and then Time Lords. She…”

Madame Lundar stopped speaking. There was nobody there to speak to. Valena looked down at something that had fallen. She picked it up from the grass.

It was Chrístõ’s sonic screwdriver.

But Chrístõ was gone.

Valena screamed again.

Chrístõ woke dizzily, wondering how and why he had fainted. It wasn’t something he usually did. He was aware of sounds around him. A child was screaming, an adult was trying to hush him. Somebody else was swearing. And the sound had an echo as if they were in some kind of room. A deep room. It felt as if he was underground.

He opened his eyes and saw a cave, lit by a single torch on a bracket that reflected off the walls, which seemed to be made of the same kind of quartz-embedded surface as The Fibster.

He wondered why he had made that connection, then his mind cleared and he remembered where he had been and what he was doing before. He realised that the screaming child was Garrick. A sort of relief came over him. He had found his missing half-brother.

The fact that he appeared to be lost, too, was another matter.

“Garrick?” He stood and went to the boy. “It’s ok. I’m here.” He picked him up. His robe was slightly damp and there was a puddle where he had been standing. He was six years from being selected as a Time Lord candidate, but he was still only a baby who was terrified out of his mind and wanted his mother.

“I’m sorry,” Chrístõ told him, telepathically. “Your mama isn’t here. But you know me. I’m Chrístõ. I’m… I’m your brother… Half-brother. I’ll look after you. I’ll get you back to your mama.”

Garrick stopped screaming. Chrístõ doubted he fully understood him. But their DNA was close enough for the child to subconsciously recognise him, to see a comforting familiarity in him.

Chrístõ held the boy as he looked around at the other two people in the room.

“Hext!” He gave a half laugh as he recognised the one who had tried to calm Garrick. “Parenthood doesn’t seem to be one of your natural skills.”

“Not my fault,” he answered. “I didn’t snatch the child from his mother and scare him half to death.” He paused and grinned. “Do you think one day me and you could meet up in the Capitol and go and have a quiet lunch at the Conservatory, instead of always being in the thick of something sinister?”

Chrístõ laughed. “Are you asking me out on a date, Hext?”

Paracell Hext laughed, too. The concept would puzzle most Time Lords of Gallifrey, with their insular lives and strict moral code. But Hext had travelled the universe as much as Chrístõ and they shared the joke before turning to the other occupant of the cave. The one who was still swearing in Low Gallifreyan. He was lying down and seemed to be in pain.

“Can you stop cursing like that in front of my baby brother,” Chrístõ told him. “My stepmother might think I taught him words like that.”

“My &~@%$# leg!” the man groaned.

“I tried to look at him,” Hext added. “But he screamed louder than the baby.”

Chrístõ set Garrick down on the floor and looked in his pocket. He had half of a bar of chocolate he had bought on the last space station he stopped off on. He gave it to his half brother and that seemed to comfort him for the moment. He went to look at the other man.

“Malika Dúccesci!” he said. “That’s your name isn’t it? Haven’t seen you since… Since you were the Captain of the Arcalian Senior Lacrosse Team in the inter-Academy competitions. You were rather scathing about the Prydonian captain being a ‘half-blood’.”

“Chrístõ de Lœngbærrow!” Dúccesci intoned through gritted teeth. “So now you have your revenge.”

“The man who seeks revenge should first dig two graves,” Chrístõ answered. “Old Chinese proverb. Fascinating place, China.” As he talked he examined Dúccesci’s leg with a practiced medical eye. “You’ve got a fractured tibia. But how come it isn’t mending?”

“I was born with a defective regenerative gene,” he answered. “I can’t self mend without a special drug.”

“Ah!” Chrístõ recalled that schadenfreude was also frowned upon by the Chinese philosophers. “Ok, I’ll see what I can do.” He searched in his pocket for the sonic screwdriver and remembered he had been holding it when he was spirited away. He must have dropped it.

“Never mind. There are other ways.” He put his hand on Dúccesci’s forehead and reached in mentally to stop his pain receptors. Then he looked closer at the broken bone. It was a clean break. He might be able to fix it by telekinesis. It was not his best skill, but he could try.

“I’ll help,” Hext said. “I AM good at telekinesis.” He knelt beside him and put his hands on Dúccesci’s leg above the break. The patient was still making a fuss as they both concentrated and forced the bone to fuse together again as it would do in the ordinary way after a long time immobilised in a plaster cast. He wasn’t in any pain. He just resented being helped by somebody he thought inferior to him.

“Reminds me of you,” Chrístõ told Hext.

“Just a bit,” Hext answered knowing that he deserved those sort of comments from Chrístõ. Then he let go of Dúccesci and turned. Chrístõ glanced behind without breaking his concentration and saw Hext grab Garrick. He had toddled on his baby legs towards the cave entrance.

“There’s a forcefield,” Hext said. “I tried it earlier. I got a blinding headache from the shock. He’d have been knocked senseless.”

“Thanks,” Chrístõ replied, genuinely grateful. He felt Dúccesci’s tibia finish mending. He took his hand away and stood up. “You’re ok now. Sit up and stop moaning.” He turned and went to the edge of the cave. If there hadn’t been a forcefield, Garrick would have been in worse trouble. It was a sheer drop of at least eighty feet into a vast cavern that was lit by more torches, the walls reflecting their light.

Far below he saw a round, stone altar in the middle of a circular floor that was in no way a natural cave formation. Around it a group of women in deep red robes and headdresses were walking, chanting in low voices, the sound barely reaching him.

“The Sisterhood of Karn?” He turned and took Garrick back from Hext. He sat down on the floor with half brother in his lap. The other two sat with him in a rough circle. He found another bar of chocolate in his inside pocket and shared it equally. The sweet taste was comforting to them all, not just Garrick. “So… does anyone know HOW we got here and WHO took us and WHY?”

“Savang Hadandrox,” Hext said. “She grabbed me. I saw her prowling around the circle. She wasn’t wearing the witches robes, but I remembered her. She reached out and grabbed me and… I don’t know how she did it. It wasn’t a transmat or anything like that. but the next thing I knew I was here. So was he. Then she brought your brother. And then you.”

“I didn’t see or hear anything,” Chrístõ admitted. “But Madame Lundar mentioned seeing Savang. She was about to explain about her. I’m still trying to remember who she is.”

“We’re not supposed to remember,” Hext told him. “The ones that don’t make it. They’re forgotten. The only reason I remember… Ok, I’m going to get a whole lot more sarcasm from you for this… There were bets on among my crowd at the Academy, about which of the candidates wouldn’t make it. And I lost. I put my money on the ‘half blood’. But it was Savang, the pureblood daughter of Hadandrox and the daughter of the House of Patriclian who came back with her brain fried.”

“What DO they do with the ones…” Chrístõ asked. It was a question he had never dared ask. Nobody DID.

“I always thought they were quietly euthanized,” Dúccesci commented.

“Well, Savang being here would prove that theory wrong,” Chrístõ answered. He shuddered at the very thought and hugged Garrick close to him.

“There’s an institution in the Capitol,” Hext answered. “You being a country boy, you probably don’t know the Capitol so well. They keep them there. They try to get them to respond to stimuli, try to give them some quality of life. Savang was one of the lucky ones. She got better. Her parents were able to take her home. She was never seen, of course. Never went to parties, never went to school. But her parents cared for her, I suppose. But… it was the year that YOU transcended, Chrístõ. She was the same age as you, but there was no question of her transcending. She ran away from her family home. The rumour was that she had gone to Karn on a freighter, and joined the Sisterhood.”

“That explains why she’s here,” Chrístõ said. “But if she’s responsible for us being in this place, then I think they might have been wrong about her being sane.”

“I rather agree with that,” Hext told him.

“Have you thought about why she took us?” Dúccesci asked. “Why the four of us…”

“No, I hadn’t got around to that,” Chrístõ answered.

“We’re the first born,” Dúccesci said. “I’m my father’s eldest son. So is Hext… and you...”

“But what about Garrick then?” Chrístõ pointed out. “He’s not…”

“He’s your father’s first PUREBLOOD son,” Dúccesci said.

“It’s not that,” Hext replied. “It’s not just that we’re firstborn. We’re all HEIRS to Oldblood lines. Chrístõ is the Lœngbærrow heir, of course. And the Houses of Hext and Dúccesci. And Garrick… He’s the late Lord Arpexia’s heir. Your father holds the Arpexia estate in trust for him, doesn’t he?”

“Yes,” Chrístõ confirmed. “I’d almost forgotten. This is about ransom then? We’re being held for the wealth we stand to inherit?”

Hext shook his head.

“If it was anyone else, maybe,” he said. “But those witches don’t care about money, wealth. What they care about is power. We represent power. You and Garrick are the future of two of the Twelve Ancient Houses, Dúccesci and I are from other Oldblood Houses. If it was just about money they could have grabbed the Mírraflaex heir as well. They’ve got more money than our four families put together. But they’re Newblood. They don’t have the POWER.”

“That makes sense,” Chrístõ admitted. “But there’s something that doesn’t add up, still. Power… what does that mean? How can they USE us?”

He stood and went to the cave entrance again. Below, the strange ritual was picking up its pace. The chanting was louder now and they were more frenetic in their strange dance around the altar.

Garrick wandered up to him. Chrístõ put his hand on his shoulders and held him back from the forcefield. Hext came to his side, too. Dúccesci was still acting as if he was an invalid. They were both a little irritated by him. But they were far more concerned with what was happening below and just how they might be involved in it.

“Witches,” Chrístõ murmured. Hext had used that word for them. On the rare occasions that they had been spoken of in his home, his father had gently told him not to use such a term. They were, he had said, simply a sect of women who chose to use their Time Lord powers in different ways, and to call them by such a pejorative term was unfair.

But what he was looking at now was sinister and unpleasant enough to be called witchcraft with all the prejudice the word suggested. It had all the hallmarks of a dark ritual to summon devils or demons.

Except that even renegade Time Lords like the Sisterhood didn’t believe in devils and demons.

“I suppose it IS possible this is all just hokum and we really have been kidnapped for money?” Chrístõ suggested. But there was something about the noise coming from below that seemed to reach into his hearts. He felt there was something more happening than a Danse Macabre. Some kind of energy was being created.

“That’s Savang,” Hext noted as one of the sinister women climbed on top of the altar, her hands raised and shouting out mysterious words as if casting a spell.

Chrístõ looked at her. She was clearly much younger than most of the others, yet she seemed to be the centre of attention.

Four of the women broke from the ranks and stepped forward into the inner circle. Then they VANISHED. He barely had time to register surprise or to wonder how they did it before Dúccesci gave a yelp of surprise and he and Hext found themselves grabbed from behind by strong, yet female arms in loose red sleeves. Garrick was pulled from his grasp by another red-robed woman.

A moment later they were all standing around the altar, flanked by their captors. He reached out and snatched Garrick from the one who held him. Savang looked down at him and nodded as if that much resistance was permitted. He tried to run with him, pushing the women aside. It should have been possible for them to escape. These were unarmed women, after all. Even holding onto Garrick he knew martial arts kicks that would do to get past them. Hext was useful in a fight, and even Dúccesci must have learnt something from playing Lacrosse!

“No!” Savang told him. “You cannot escape. Our combined minds are too strong.”

Chrístõ was not one to believe statements like that without testing them. He lunged towards the ring of women. Savang raised her hands. The women did the same. He felt as if he had been hit by a double decker London bus. He was thrown back against the altar and slid to the floor. Garrick cried out in sympathy with his pain. He stood up, clinging to his brother and watched as the ritual took on a new and even more sinister and malevolent turn.

The ring parted as four more women were led into the inner circle and placed between the captives. They were clothed in red robes and veils that covered their faces. When they were in position the veils were removed and the robes loosened. All three of the adult hostages stared in horror. He felt Hext’s voice in his head.


They were women only in the sense that they had the shape of women, the mere outline of femininity. But they were just a shape. The faces were blank. There were indentations where the eyes and mouth should be and a semblance of a nose. There were curves in the places young women usually had curves. But they looked like dolls pressed from a mould and yet to be finished.

“Oh!” Chrístõ groaned aloud and in his head. “We’re the final ingredients.

Homunculi was the right word. Flesh created in a pattern of life but without a soul, without a mind of its own. Without everything that makes a person. And, Chrístõ was willing to bet, without any unique DNA pattern.

“That’s right!” Another voice forced its way into his head. He knew it was Savang. She was looking at him with eyes that burned with hate. “They are my children, created of my flesh and the mental power of the sisterhood. But they are incomplete. They need a second parent DNA. Without it they fail and die. They will have your DNA, your lifeforce. They will have that thing you call a soul! And you will die. Your fathers will be forced to accept them as their heirs when their sons are dead and these daughters with their DNA are presented to them instead.”

“I’ve got a brother,” Hext pointed out. “If I die, he’ll be primogeniture of the House of Hext. My father will never accept THAT as his own flesh and blood.”

“Your brother will die. We will crush the life from his body with the force of our minds. And do not doubt we have the power!”

“You are INSANE!” Dúccesci said.

Chrístõ thought that was the most constructive comment he had yet made. He knew for certain his own father would not accept these unnatural children in place of himself and Garrick. But what could he do to stop it? He could feel the power of the collective minds of the Sisterhood pressing on him like a physical force as the sinister ritual continued. He saw the women raising their hands and their chants reaching a crescendo. A glow surrounded him and Garrick, and the two homunculi that were meant to receive their lifeforce. The same was happening to Hext and Dúccesci. He saw the faces of the homunculi already beginning to look more real. Eyes snapped open and stared menacingly. Lips formed on the simulacrum of a mouth and opened to reveal mouths that were just dark holes without teeth or gums, or a tongue or palette, from which a ghastly wail emitted. At the same time, he could see Hext and Dúccesci succumbing. Their faces were less distinct. Dúccesci’s scream was cut off as his mouth froze and seemed to dissolve into blank flesh. He didn’t dare to look at what was happening to Garrick. He thought of Valena and knew she would be destroyed if her child died in such a horrible way.

He alone was resisting. He knew why that was. His was not a single soul. He had the essence of Li Tuo within him. A Time Lord who had lived a full life and had a wealth of experience behind him. Li Tuo’s soul was strong and it was holding onto him.

But how long could he hold on? These women were VERY powerful. They had been rejected by the Time Lords but they had taken Time Lord power for themselves and enhanced it, taken it beyond anything taught at the Academies, further even than the Brotherhood on the mountain or the most powerful Time Lords Chrístõ knew of. They used their power in ways that he could hardly believe.

If they only used it for good, what could they achieve?

He screamed as he felt Garrick’s body go limp. He knelt on the ground and held the boy close. He was alive, just. His hearts still beat, his lungs still breathed, and he could feel some brain activity. But Garrick was slowly being taken from him. He looked up at the homunculus that was stealing his life force. It was almost fully formed, and he was shocked to see that it actually looked like him and Garrick. It had their eyes and hair, features that, though feminine, were like the two of them. It was almost their SISTER.

No!” He pushed that word for such a creature out of his mind and held onto his real brother. He tried to use some of the strength he had to protect him. For all he had resented his birth, his very existence, Garrick was his father’s true and natural child, not a creature spawned from evil and at cost of an innocent life. He had to protect him.

He felt a slight change. He felt Garrick’s hearts beat a little stronger and he breathed a little deeper. He looked at the homunculus and it seemed a little less substantial. He was beating it. He was saving Garrick, even though it might cost his own life.

Then the Sisterhood cried out in unison. At the same moment almost all of the torches went out and the cavern was plunged into near darkness. Only one light, high above the dark entrance tunnel remained burning. Chrístõ knew by the way they screamed hysterically that it was nothing to do with their plan. And there was something else. A dark shadow bowled through the ring of women and hovered over the altar, enveloping Savang, who crumpled into a terrified heap, hiding her face.

The shadow had a friendly face, and as Chrístõ looked at it, the one remaining light shone through its left eye like the Eye of Rassilon.

“Humphrey! He cried out. “How did you find us? Can you help?”

Humphrey didn’t answer. Not in words, at least. He responded by drawing in the darkness around him and expanding in size as Chrístõ had seen him do before when he and his friends were in peril and needed him. He expanded to envelop the altar and those around it, the homunculi and their victims. The homunculi screamed and seemed to melt like candle wax, collapsing into quivering masses of formless flesh. But he saw Hext and Dúccesci struggling to their feet and he felt Garrick actually laughing as Humphrey’s positive emotions filled his baby mind with pleasurable feelings.

Humphrey kept on expanding, feeding on the darkness and enveloping the circle of sinister Sisters. And they seemed to be feeling a very different kind of vibration from him. Chrístõ knew he could exude extremes of emotions, but he had never known him to do both extremes at once. While he protected his friends with good feelings of safety and joy, he was putting the Sisterhood through the tortures of hell judging by their screams and cries for mercy. A few of them tried to fight back. He caught flashes of minds hitting out. But Humphrey didn’t have a body, or a brain in the usual sense, and he was impervious to their attack.

Then the cavern was full of Chancellery Guards. Their stupid uniforms and cumbersome helmets were a welcome sight. Chrístõ heard the captain’s telepathic signal to ‘get down’ and he flattened himself on the floor, protecting Garrick with his own body. He saw Hext pull Dúccesci down as the Guards fired at the Sisters. They were using Sonic Disrupter guns. They were powerful and effective stun guns, not lethal weapons, but he certainly didn’t want to be in the path of one of them. He noticed Humphrey slowly retracting back to his normal size as the Guards took over the situation, handcuffing the Sisters before they came around.

“You won’t take ME!” Savang cried. She had been hit at least three times, but she had managed to stay conscious, and now, as Humphrey leapt down from the altar and came pinwheeling around Chrístõ and Garrick she stood up defiantly and laughed before she disappeared into thin air.

“It’s not a transmat,” Chrístõ said to the Guard Captain as he tried to trace the source. He stood up, lifting Garrick in his arms. “I think… I think they’ve perfected some kind of advanced form of time folding. They can move so incredibly fast it looks like they have disappeared. That’s how they grabbed us all. It’s how they moved us from the cave to here… It must be local, even so. She is still somewhere around the plateau.

The Guard Captain spoke into his wrist-held communicator and ordered a search for her before telling his men to take the other Sisters into custody. They seemed to have no will to try to escape the same way. They submitted to being marched in handcuffs through the tunnels of the cliff, gradually going upwards towards the plateau.

“How did you find us?” Chrístõ asked the Captain as he and his companions walked behind the prisoners. “These tunnels are like a maze.”

“We followed THAT,” the Captain replied, pointing to Humphrey, who was now sweeping along beside Chrístõ like a dog who knew he had done well and deserved a treat. “It was going crazy up above. Madame de Lœngbærrow said it was your ‘pet’ and suggested we let it search for you. I thought it was a wild goose chase, but it led us to the cavern! We couldn’t get to you at first. There was a kind of forcefield. But THAT…”

“Humphrey,” Chrístõ said. “He’s called Humphrey.”

“Right… Well.. Humphrey… just went right through the forcefield and… well you saw…”

“Humphrey saved us all!” Chrístõ grinned. “Well done, old thing.”

Humphrey purred loudly and enfolded Chrístõ and Garrick in one of his ‘hugs’. Garrick laughed out loud and Chrístõ was glad to hear him do so.

“What do you think of that, Dúccesci?” Chrístõ asked. “You owe your life to a creature so obscure even our Immigration Control have classified him as ‘unknown’.”

“I….” Dúccesci shrugged and ignored the question. “My father will have that woman hunted down for what she tried to do. And those ones will go to Shada for their crimes. As for the rest of these women… He’ll see them banished.”

“Rest?” Chrístõ queried.

“These are not the whole of the Sisterhood,” the Guard Captain told him. “There’s only a dozen or so here. I think this was some kind of breakaway sect, led by the Hadandrox woman. But there are about two hundred of them living on Karn.”

“They will be banished,” Dúccesci insisted. “They will be sent beyond our solar system, never to return.”

“I think that’s harsh,” Hext said.

“So do I,” Chrístõ added. “I feel sorry for them in a way. If Savang is an example, OUR society let them down in the first place. And now you want them cast out?”

“Won’t happen,” the Captain said. “No matter how much Lord Dúccesci rants about it. The High Council never do anything about the Sisterhood. Too many of them ARE their sisters.”

“One day.” Hext said to Chrístõ in a private telepathic message blocked from Dúccesci and from the Captain. “One day, you and me and Dúccesci will be High Councillors with the power to banish a whole section of our people. Or do something useful to stop them being outcasts. We can CHANGE the system that turns children into twisted and insane creatures like Savang. We have a duty to try to do the latter, and overrule the prejudices of the likes of Dúccesci.”

“I hope so,” Chrístõ answered him. Then his attention was distracted by a scream of joy and the Chancellery Guards at the entrance to the tunnel could not stop Valena running towards them. Chrístõ let her take Garrick from him and allowed her to hug them both.

As they stepped out together into the cool, refreshing night air, under the benevolent gaze of the Face of Rassilon, Chrístõ thought he saw, out of the corner of his eye, somebody standing there. A figure in deep red robes. Before he could point her out to the Captain she was gone.

He had a feeling he hadn’t seen the last of Savang Hadandrox.