The Doctor's eyes were open, Rose noted, but appeared unfocused, and his voice was low and gravelly from not being used. In fact, Rose thought, this might have been the longest stretch of silence from him in quite some time, considering the gob he had. She grinned at him, squeezing his hand. "No, and it's good to have you back!"
"Oh, that's good." He released her hand and rubbed at his eyes, blinking. "Things can't be that bad then. Although...I appear to have misplaced my shoes." He sat up, wiggling his long toes. "And my jacket, it seems. And a perfectly good tie." He craned his neck upward, taking in the numerous glittering stalactites. "I loved that tie. It had those lovely little swirly things on it...what were they called?"
Rose cleared her throat, bringing the Doctor's attention back to herself. She raised her eyebrows and inclined her head toward Lyra, who had a worried look on her face.
"Oh, sorry...hello. Lyra, isn't it? You haven't aged a day." He lowered his voice, leaning in and speaking quietly into Rose's ear. "And I mean that quite literally."
Lyra had the decency to look slightly uncomfortable. Rose saw that she was nervously twisting a small, stoppered green vial in her hands. "Doctor," she started, desperate to warn him of Lyra's previously stated intent. "Sister Lyra here is supposed to drug you again now that you've woken up." She pointed a finger to the vial and the Doctor's gaze followed with mild interest.
"Really? Whatever for?"
"Why don't you tell him then, Lyra?" Rose could tell that Lyra was wavering, and she hoped that she could help along her indecision. Surely the fact that the Doctor seemed to remember her from his previous visit would help.
"We..." Lyra hesitated, continuing to twist the green vial. "We need to extract some of your artron energy, Doctor...to create a substitute elixir. We have performed the procedure before on other Time Lords, and the process seems to be more...pleasant...if the Time Lord has been given our soporific."
The Doctor swallowed, absorbing this information. "Other Time Lords? There have been other Time Lords here? How long ago?"
"I am not sure, Doctor, but I believe it has been nearly half a century since any other Time Lord has been brought to Karn," Lyra replied.
Rose saw the Doctor's slender form sag slightly at this news, his head bowed. He'd obviously been hoping, and her heart went out to him.
"And what do you mean by 'substitute elixir'? Your flame should burn for millions of years - I put it right the last time I was here."
"The Sacred Flame has not burned for over a century. It wasn't long after you and your companion left Karn that the ground shook...and the Sacred Flame once again burned low. No elixir was produced after that - and eventually the Sacred Flame extinguished completely." Lyra held up the vial, gazing into the emerald glass. "The High Council of the Time Lords was unwilling to help us, they said they had more pressing matters to deal with. We were forced to help ourselves...by learning some of your Time Lord science."
The Doctor raised an eyebrow at this. "Time Lord science? Are you referring to how you mix your 'substitute elixir'?"
Lyra nodded. "Yes...the main ingredient would be the small amount of artron energy extracted from a Time Lord - without harming him, of course," she hastily added. "The artron energy is collected and channeled through the rock of this chamber," Lyra waved a hand indicating the vast space around them. "Then, some of the medicinal water and a bit of powdered rhineweed is added. It is a fairly simple formula, but almost as effective as the Elixir of Life itself."
"But...that's brilliant!" the Doctor exclaimed, his face lighting up. "It's almost as if the artron energy replaces your flame in the whole equation. Your 'Elixir of Life' is formed much in the same way, you know. The volcanic activity underneath your shrine forces the gases from deep below up to the surface to feed your flame, which interacts with the rock here - heats it up, condenses the water vapor in the air from your 'medicinal pools', so to speak..."
Rose watched as he absentmindedly reached for his ever-present glasses, frowning at not finding them readily at hand, as his jacket was still missing.
"...Thus producing your elixir. With the artron energy, you can replace the flame entirely! So simple, it's brilliant!" The Doctor stood up slowly on shaky legs. Rose jumped to steady him. "So just how do you get the artron energy without...harming...the aforementioned Time Lord then?"
"You are as clever as Sister Ohica has said, Doctor," Lyra said quietly, staring at the floor of the chamber. "Time Lords may be sterile, but you are still able to emit artron energy...if properly stimulated."
"Oh," the Doctor said in a small voice.
After a moment, he moved away from Rose and began to carefully pace in a small circle, his legs appearing to grow stronger with each step, even without the benefit of his trainers. Rose thought briefly about grabbing his hand and making a run for it right then and there, but the Doctor turned back toward Lyra.
"You can't. Take any of my artron energy, that is," he said, coming to a halt in front of Lyra and crossing his arms.
Lyra looked up at him with what appeared to be mild amusement. "And why is that?"
"My artron energy levels would be off the scale - I've been in the vortex for too long." He nodded, as if that would close the matter.
Lyra regarded him curiously. "Sister Valna has become very proficient at mixing the substitute elixir, Doctor - I am sure that she would be able to compensate."
"No. It won't work. We'll just have to think of something else." He sat down heavily on a flat rock, determination written on his face.
Rose sat down beside him. "But Doctor...I thought you said their substitute was brilliant. Why couldn't they just...um, dilute the artron energy or something like that?"
The Doctor hung his head. "You don't understand, Rose..." he trailed off, staring into space. Rose grabbed his arm and squeezed, encouraging him to continue.
"Back before the war, most Time Lords never left Gallifrey - they had what would be considered 'normal' artron levels. They were able to schedule their regenerations, some could even pick out what features they wanted their new bodies to have. I do envy that - I'd pick out ginger hair for sure...ow!" He rubbed his side where Rose had just elbowed him. "All right, getting to the point. You've probably noticed that I can't...well, control...my regenerations? And that I might be ill for some time after the process?"
Rose nodded. "Yeah, Christmas wasn't very fun, was it? But I still don't understand why you can't help..."
"Rose, I've been in and out of the vortex for well over five hundred years. The build-up of my artron energy would be enough to be dangerous to someone without Time Lord physiology - it could very well kill them."
Rose felt a chill go up her spine as she tried to comprehend what the Doctor was telling her. "So just by traveling in the TARDIS, your...your artron energy increases? What about me, then? Am I carrying this artron energy too?"
The Doctor picked up a small stone from the ground and pitched it into the pool, following with his eyes as it skipped along the surface. "Well, yes. Yes and no, really. You carry a small amount, but you don't actively absorb it. Only Time Lords have the physiology to do that. Allows us to bond with a TARDIS and be able to pilot it. You, on the other hand, are one-hundred percent human. For humans, artron energy is just a bit of harmless background radiation. It's enough to wake up a sleeping Dalek, but that's about it."
"So what happens to the artron energy if maybe you're not a one-hundred percent Time Lord?" Rose inquired, her gaze trained on the Doctor's face as he turned to regard her, one eyebrow raised in question.
"Sounds like we might have a few things to discuss...later," the Doctor said in a low voice, holding Rose's gaze. Rose shivered.
"I am sorry to interrupt, Doctor, but Sister Ohica and Sister Valna will be returning soon." Lyra sounded nervous, and her eyes kept darting to the wooden door leading out of the cavern.
"Well, we'd best be finding the TARDIS then." The Doctor helped Rose to her feet, his eyes scanning the room. "Has anyone seen my shoes...ah!" He bounded over to where the wooden chair sat by an outcropping, his jacket and tie folded carefully over the back. He sat on the chair, pulling his trainers on. "That's much better."
A low sob from across the room distracted him and Rose turned to see Lyra crumple to the floor, her face covered by her hands. She went to her side, and began awkwardly patting her hand, not sure what to say.
"How many have you lost?"
Rose somehow managed to suppress her body's response to hearing the Doctor's low, quiet tone voice from so close behind her. Remorse for her entirely inappropriate thoughts flooded through her as Lyra looked up, her eyes glimmering with unshed tears.
"Only three so far - but there are many who have voluntarily gone without the Elixir for so long," she murmured, her voice wavering. "They won't last much longer. Please," she implored. "You must help us."
The Doctor had dropped to one knee at Lyra's side. Like a knight in shining armor, Rose thought.
"I promise - I'll be back. I just need to get some equipment from the TARDIS to see how the seismic activity beneath your sanctuary here has affected your flame's outlet. Then we can get to work on putting it right again. I'll be as quick as I can."
As Rose watched, Lyra wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her robe and nodded, avoiding the Doctor's gaze. "I'll guide you through the secondary passage. You'll have to find your way from there. And Doctor, you'll have to hurry. Sister Ohica will not be pleased."
The Doctor helped Lyra and Rose to their feet, dusting off the knee of his trousers. "Thank you, Lyra."
Rose breathed a sigh of relief as they began to make their way through the rocks and stalagmites toward a partially concealed passage in the rear of the chamber.
"And...you will have to be careful. The terrain you will have to cross to reach the entrance to the city will be most treacherous - especially in the darkness," Lyra warned as they made their way through the corridor, the Doctor nodding in acknowledgement. They eventually arrived at a massive wooden door, barred with a heavy slab of metal. The Doctor lifted the bar and Lyra tugged the door open. They were greeted by flashes of lightning in the darkness, and a steady drizzle. Rose sighed as the Doctor grabbed her hand and led her out into the storm.
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