As usual, the TARDIS simply had the luck of landing in the wrong place at entirely the wrong time. Only thing was, they didn't know it at first.
The seven occupants stepped out into a lush forest. JD smiled. "Doesn't look like a bad spot!"
Chris looked around. "No, but it smells a little off."
"That's the slightly higher methane content in the air," Ezra said as he finished rolling down the sleeves of the plain green shirt he wore. He sighed as he rolled the cuffs back up over his wrists, turning and glaring at Vin as he did so and finished buttoning it to just under his collarbone. "And the next time I ask you for a shirt, go to the wardrobe instead of handing me the one off your back!"
Vin spread his hands and grinned before pulling on the buckskin coat to cover the white T-shirt and jeans.
Buck doubled over howling with laughter, as did JD. Josiah chuckled and Nate just shook her head, grinning at their antics.
"All right, ladies," Chris chided, but he was grinning too. "Ezra, how long before the solar batteries charge?"
Ezra looked back toward the Corinthian column the TARDIS appeared to be and sighed. "About six hours, give or take a few minutes. She took quite a battering in that ion storm."
"So did we," JD said without thinking, then belatedly blushed as he remembered Ezra, Buck and Vin working without a rest for several hours to get the TARDIS fully functional after that storm.
They'd succeeded, but had drained the batteries and quite literally sacrificed the shirt off Ezra's back to do it.
A sound from above drew their attention. All seven groaned and pulled up their collars as it began to pour down the rain.
"Eight hours!" Ezra amended in a shout to be heard over the tumult.
"C'mon," Chris called, waving a hand. "I see a bridge -- maybe there's civilization there!"
Wet and tired, they sprinted for the bridge. Indeed, a town was on the other side.
Welcomed into the main hall to dry off and eat, the Seven soon found themselves peppered with increasingly personal questions. At last, Chris put down his fork. "Why the third degree?"
The man asking the questions stopped, tilting his head. "Third... degree?"
"Why are you asking us all these questions?"
He smiled. "Merely a precaution. You did, after all, arrive in a place of peace armed."
"We go everywhere armed," Buck smiled.
"Still. One can never be too safe." The man smiled at the guards who had taken up positions around the room.
"Yes," Chris said dangerously. "One can."
The man rose to his feet. "If you are innocent, you have nothing to hide."
"Sir, it was that sort of fal--" Ezra winced in pain as the translator surged him. "It was that sort of twisted logic," he tried again, meeting the man's eyes, "that led to innocent people dying in a small town called Salem!"
"If they died, they were innocent," the man smiled.
JD slapped the table as he stood up. "They still died!"
"I think you are spies," the man said suddenly. "Armed and protesting. Proof enough of your guilt."
"You're mad!" JD exploded. "Stark, raving mad!"
"No," the man scowled. "I am practical." The guards suddenly drew their arms and pointed them at the Seven. "Your weapons, if you please."
Chris rose to his feet. Those who weren't already standing stood by his side. He met the man's eyes and asked in a deadly calm voice, "Why?"
The man blinked. "Why, merely to see if they are legal and--"
"Why would we be doing that?" Vin drawled coldly. "Seein' as how you've already tried and convicted us."
The man shivered, and naked rage flew over his face. "Why you arrogant--"
A flaming arrow shot into the table in front of the sputtering man. All eyes raised to the shooter of that arrow--
--A young woman, balancing easily on the tree limb above the crowd. She spoke in the same accent as the questioner. "You seven -- this is Stravian." She nodded toward the man. "Appointed to power by the High Council, and subsequently driven paranoid and deranged by the position."
"You know nothing of power, girl!" Stravian snarled.
"I know that I hate what you've become, Father!" she cried. "And that your scheme won't work!"
"What won't work?" Chris asked.
When no answer was forthcoming from Stravian, his daughter said, "It was foretold that a group led by a black-clad man would depose him." Her eyes softened. "He has killed every black-clad man that has come through this city."
"It hasn't happened yet -- and it won't happen!" Stravian pulled his sidearm and fired.
Without a sound, the woman toppled from the tree.
"Bastard!" ripped from four throats simultaneously as six guns were drawn. Nate had been male in case they needed strength. Now she shifted to the smaller, quicker female form and ran to find the fallen woman.
The woman was sitting up, hidden by bushes. "Get out of here," she whispered to Nate. "He will kill you all...."
"Not goin' anywhere. Where you hit?"
She smiled. "Side. Just a graze. Our healer will take care ... you go. We'll handle him!"
Nate sat on her heels and touched the garnet at her throat. "Guys, we need to leave -- she says our lives are in danger!"
Chris's reply was a snarl in their minds. /We STAY./
The woman growled and touched Nate's garnet. "Listen to me, you stubbourn klargh! We can not finish this unless you are gone!"
For a long second, there was only the sound of laser fire, then Chris's mental bark, /Regroup at the TARDIS!/
Nate smiled at the woman. "You're sure you'll be okay... uhm...."
She smiled. "Desiree. I'm sure. Go!"
Nate squeezed Desiree's shoulder before she sprinted down the path to the river.
One by one, the Seven broke off. Stravian just had time to bellow, "After them!" before Desiree gave the signal.
The square emptied of all save Stravian -- who took an arrow to his heart a moment later.
The seven pulled up short, shocked exclamations coming from each of them.
The heavy rain had turned the gentle river into a high, rushing torrent. The bridge was now mere splinters of wood.
"We gotta swim for it!" Chris called over the current's noise.
Five heads nodded. JD shook his head. "I...I can't!"
Josiah turned to him. "You have to, son!"
"I can't!" he clutched Josiah's sleeve. "You know why I can't! Please!"
Buck took JD's shoulder and spun him around. "We don't have a choice, kid. Hear that?"
JD's eyes widened as the sounds of soldiers marching their way became audible. "Buck...I-I can't cross that water...." he licked his lips. "At least...no-not consciously...."
Buck looked over at Chris, and saw his and Vin's heads dip in perfect unison. Licking his lips, he said, "Kid, ya know we all love ya like a little brother, right?"
"No hard feelin's?"
"No hard feelings," JD agreed. "Do it, Buck."
"Well, all right," Buck whispered. "See ya on the other side." With that, Buck doubled up his fist and hit JD on the side of the head.
JD's eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed into Josiah's arms. "Much obliged, Buck," he said, scooping JD into his arms. "Now we can get across."
One by one, they crossed the river. Josiah and Buck went in tandem, holding JD. When they were nearly across, Chris and Nate -- in stronger male form -- reached out and lifted JD to shore so Josiah and Buck could struggle unencumbered up the slick bank.
The soldiers shot into the open and took aim at the Seven; who, all but JD, took aim in return. Suddenly, arrows flew and the soldiers all fell. They were replaced by young men and women dropping from the trees. They turned to the Seven, smiled, and lowered their weapons.
When Desiree walked up, smiling though her eyes were sad, the Seven lowered theirs. "Desiree?" Nate asked.
"It's over," she said, holding her side. "The despot is dead." She stood a bit straighter. "And the High Council no longer rules here."
"We will see to it," a man said as he checked her side.
Chris nodded. "Good luck, my friends!"
"Thanks," she laughed. "We'll certainly need it!"
Hours later, JD smiled his thanks as he took the tea and sipped it, swallowing the painkillers as he did so. "Thanks."
"You sure you're all right?" Buck asked, sitting down beside him.
"I will be," JD smiled at him. "You did what needed to be done. I'm not angry at you."
"JD?" Ezra asked as he keyed the take-off sequence into the recharged TARDIS. "Why are you so frightened of high water?"
"Same reason that idiot's warped logic made me so angry," JD sighed. "The Ordeal."
"Ordeal?" Vin asked, frowning.
The ex-prince nodded. "When I was very little, my father made another bid for his rightful throne. He was subjected to a Water Ordeal. If he survived, the Council reasoned, he was the true king." He lowered his head and sighed.
"And you lost your father," Ezra whispered softly.
"The man we deposed? He cheated. My father was unconscious before he was lowered into the water. He never had a chance."
Buck's eyes went huge. "But you let me...?"
JD met his eyes and smiled. "Like you tell me over and over again, we're seven brothers. I trusted you to get me home safely." The smile grew. "And you did."
Six smiles were returned to the youngest, and Ezra threw the switch.
With a wheezing rattle that Ezra still hadn't found the cause of, the TARDIS shimmered out of sight.
Return to The Realm