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Part Three: Of Daemons and Flame
 
Autumn wind of eve,
blow away the clouds that mass
over the moon's pure light
and the mists that cloud our mind,
do thou sweep away as well.
Now we disappear,
well, what must we think of it?
From the sky we came.
Now we may go back again.
That's at least one point of view.
Hôjô Ujimasa
1538-1590

he Doctor and Vastra arrived just as the High Priests ascended the dais.  Other than Vastra’s green, scaled skin, they fit in perfectly in the sea of black before them, though they did notice their clothes seemed a bit richer than those of the majority.  That must be one of the perks of being a friend of the late King’s trusted advisor, thought Vastra.  She looked on with increasing curiosity as the priests began intoning songs and passages.  The words were mostly alien to her, but here and there she would hear a word or phrase she would understand.  She wanted to ask the Doctor about this, but when she turned and opened her mouth, he quickly reached over and placed a hand over it, shaking his head no.

She remembered then.

Kichu-fuda

24 hours’ silence.

Her questions would have to wait.

She found, much to her surprise, that time passed quickly when there was nothing but silence.  She wandered the area, taking in the still new to her, building style, the sculptures; the flowers that scented the air with fragrances she’d never experienced before.  She noticed that people would bow to her as she walked by, and she took to bowing in return as she passed, not noticing the looks of shock on their faces as she did so.

She walked beyond the city’s gates, along an old path, and found a small pool surrounded by a copse of low hanging trees.  She carefully hung her robes over a branch and dove into the pool in a single effortless gesture.  It felt good to swim again…some of her favourite times before the hibernation were racing her sisters in the underground pools, heated by the earth’s hidden energies.  Her sleep had not dulled her skills one whit, and she flipped and turned in the cool water, silently revelling at the sensation.

After a while, she felt herself start to slow down.  The water was cool, and she knew what that meant.  Sadly she pulled herself from the pool and lay out on the grassy bank she dove from.  She felt the sun beat against her skin, drying the water and warming her blood once again.  She had missed much in her sleep, she thought.  So much had changed…including the apes.

Humans, she corrected herself without a thought.  They’re humans, and not at all what I remember them being like.

She heard a rustle across the pool from where she lay.  In a flash she grabbed her robe and pulled it over her.  She quickly and quietly slid around to the back of the tree, placing it between her and the source of the sound.  She waited a few moments then peeked around the side.

‘Are we enjoying ourselves, Vastra?’

She walked out from behind the tree.  ‘Some warning would have been nice, Doctor,’ she said.  She tried to look cross, but could not find it in her to remain so.  She reached up in the tree, pulled down the black silk sash that had been tied around her waist, and set to recreating that intricate knot.  When she finished, she looked up to see him sitting on the opposite bank.

‘This was one of my favourite places to come and sit, and think,’ the Doctor said absently.  ‘No one ever comes here, it’s peaceful, and sometimes that’s what you need.  Peace.’

Vastra nodded.  At one point she would not have understood, would not have believed, but her mind was slowly opening up to many new things.

‘In there…the hall…I started to hear words I knew.  How do they know my language?’

The Doctor laughed.  ‘It’s actually sort of the other way around.  I think.  OK, not really.  Well, it is, but…’

He paused.

‘Let me start over.’

Vastra nodded.  ‘I think you had better, yes.’

‘It’s called the TARDIS translation circuit.  It gently modifies your brain’s ability to understand languages.  It’s one of the reasons I can speak anything.’

Vastra looked at him.  ‘So it is in my head, changing me?’

The Doctor shook his head slightly.  ‘Not so much changing you as opening up pathways you always had, but never had to use.  Anyone can learn a new language if they really try, but it can be hard.  The TARDIS kind of makes it…well…automatic.’

Vastra looked at him, unconvinced.

‘Think of it is a…gift,’ he said, smiling.

‘It is certainly a surprising one,’ Vastra said.  She walked around the pool and sat next to the Doctor, gathering her robe beneath her.

‘What are they doing now?’

The Doctor picked up a small, sooth pebble and tossed it into the pool.  ‘Right now everything is silent, which is to be expected.  King Eisō’s family has gathered, and Taisei has offered his final farewell to his father.  He will remain sequestered until the funeral itself, lest he show any untoward emotion.’

Vastra looked at the Doctor in shock.  ‘But he was the King’s son?  Should he not be sad?’

The Doctor nodded.  ‘Of course he should be, and he is.  But his people must not see that, or else they may fear that he will be a weak leader for them.  They will expect him to be kind, and compassionate…but also strong of mind and body.  This is a delicate time for the kingdom, and should someone wish to do these people harm, there would be no better time than now for that to happen.’

Vastra nodded.  ‘I certainly can understand that.’

She thought for a moment, and then spoke again.  ‘Why are you here, by the way?  With how close you seem to be to that advisor, Tsugu, I’d have thought you would remain at the hall.’

The Doctor smiled and waved a hand dismissively.  ‘Oh, I’d just be in the way right now.  Besides, if I know Tsugu half as well as I think I do, I expect he thinks you have questions that need answering.  He’d have expected you to take a walk, and when you left the city gates, he…might have gently nudged me in the right direction.’

He paused for a second, wincing.

‘Nearly ninety years old, that man, and he can still leave a bruise with that walking stick of his.’

Vastra reared her head back and laughed heartily.  By the time she finally got her outburst under control, she could see the pout on the Doctor’s face.

‘Enjoy my misery, go ahead,’ he muttered.

Vastra patted him on the shoulder, a move that shocked both of them.  ‘Oh, I am sure you will survive, Doctor.  Certainly you must have had worse before.’  She turned away before seeing his face drop, sadder than she could possibly have conceived.

‘So?  What do we do the rest of the day?’

 
                   

artwork by ANDY LAMBERT
used with permission
 
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