Part Two ))
Still doubled over on the floor, Sulren worked at relating the turbulent history that had eventually led him to this day. Beside him, Nazeh sat and listened without interruption. There was a lot she sympathized with. As for the things she'd heard before, Sulren related them again consistently. The same details were there, in the same places.
Sulren fell silent, and it was only then that he finally turned an eye to Nazeh, awaiting her reaction.
Nazeh had to remind herself not to offer any physical gestures of support. "I'm sorry that any of that happened," she said. "You've had delusions before, but that doesn't mean this is definitely another one."
"You do not think so?" Sulren asked with a note of doubt. "I am inclined to believe I hallucinated everything... except, I still hold echoes of the Dalek's mind." One of his hands strayed to his temple. "We had both been molded by fear and violence, but I managed to reject that path. I showed the Dalek that it could do the same, and I broke through its pain. It understood, it didn't want to fight any longer. I don't know what could have turned it back..." He shuddered. "If all this was my own invention, I am truly lost."
"Well, let's figure out how real it is," Nazeh suggested. She glanced up at the window built into the rear wall of the cell. "Do you remember who was with you when you were attacked today?"
Sulren looked to her, frowning with effort. "Fellow initiates. I lost any clear reckoning in the confusion."
"That's OK," Nazeh said. "Is this the part of the temple where the initiates live?"
"Cool, let's go." She stood, dropped Alef back into her coat pocket, and reached up to fiddle with the window.
Behind her, Sulren rose to his feet. "What are you doing?"
"Relax, jahn-am. Your friend in the hallway doesn't need to know about this," she murmured while attacking the latches she found. "I used to sneak out of boarding school all the time..."
The window popped open without much effort. Nazeh pushed it as wide open as it would go. "There! You first."
Sulren hesitated, then gingerly helped himself up and through the opening to the outside. Once he was on his feet, he turned and helped Nazeh out as well.
The drop to the ground wasn't too high; the bigger shock was returning to the chill desert air. Nazeh reached up and closed the window behind them. Along the same wall, spanning in both directions, were banks of similar windows. Perfect.
"All right, let's see who's home," Nazeh said.
They hastened along, reaching up on tiptoe to sneak a look into each of the windows they found. The cells were all furnished like Sulren's. They were also spotless and vacant, every last one of them.
"It's possible that some are studying or conferring elsewhere, but so many, at this time of night?" Sulren muttered. "Brother Sdaan never leaves his room after sundown..."
It wasn't looking good for the initiates of the temple, but Nazeh didn't say as much. While they were at it, she figured they ought to go for the biggest piece of the puzzle, the one that would prove decisively whether Sulren was delusional, or his remaining order was. "Now, what about those Daleks? Where in the temple did they stay?"
"Deep within the sanctum," Sulren said. "Their existence was a secret to anyone outside our order."
"Can we get there from out here?" Nazeh asked.
"Do you know what else is odd?" Goren posed to Korduc, undaunted. "They've gone and blocked all the bloody exits. If there's a fire, how are we to evacuate?"
Regal and imposing, the elder female addressed them without stepping forward. "Sister T'Nir has always been solicitous to an imprudent degree."
"And I to an impudent one," Goren returned. "Close, but not quite the same, I'm afraid. You'll have to poke holes through someone else."
"Is it the truth you seek, Doctor?" the woman posed. "Then thee will follow us. The Elder desires an audience with thee."
"Ah yes, the Elder... T'Kala by Mr. Sulren's reckoning, Seni by Ms. T'Nir's," Goren said. "Bad form, madam: clearly, neither of us has a choice in following you. All the same, lead on. I'm bitingly impatient to see where this goes."
The Vulcans closed in tight around them, channeling them toward their armed counterpart. This time, the path didn't lead back to the foyer, but down- down a long, meandering slope as poorly lit as the rest of the temple. The air turned hotter and more stifling as they descended. Goren wondered if they were being taken to the first of the hells.
Finally, the tunnel leveled out and opened into a vast cavern. Two concentric circles of column-like stalagmites lined the border of the fire-lit chamber. More white-robed Vulcans were here, walking about or calmly meditating in place. Many of their escorts evaporated to join these bystanders, while others remained to guard the tunnel entrance.
A wince echoed from one of the edgeless borders. It came from T'Nir, who stood transfixed and wide-eyed as one of the white-robed Vulcans probed her mind dispassionately.
Goren moved to confront that individual, but was blocked in by armed Vulcans who had seemingly leaped in out of nowhere. They funneled him and Korduc deeper toward the center of the chamber, where a large ornamented dais rose out of the stone floor. They were brought to a halt just before they could step up to it, and then their escorts vanished.
From the other end of the dais, another robed figure emerged from shadow: a male, heavily ornamented and bearing an air of imperiousness. He spent a moment staring down at the pair of aliens.
One might have expected a long monologue regarding diabolical plans, but this man was far too logical.
"Kill them," he said.
From behind the stalagmites in the room, Daleks slid into view, about a dozen all-told. In a bizarre turn, they were elegantly stealthy, and completely silent as their weapons turned toward the Doctor and Korduc.