Christina screamed, not in terror, but in malice. Suddenly her face was transformed from that of a pretty young girl, to that of a hideous old crone, cackling with glee! Whilst the other two hags swooped to attack she turned to Lavallier. 'Captain Lavallier,' she cackled, 'you are our pet, now do our bidding!'
Lavallier’s eyes glazed over and controlled by the hags’ foul enchantment, he drew his sword and with a fierce cry lunged towards the Doctor, Jack and Katherine.
Katherine screamed with fright as Jack also drew a rapier and held it before him, readying himself for the inevitable attack.
One of the hags that floated in the air laughed with contempt at Jack. 'You poor boy, do you think you can hurt us with that?' She pointed to the weapon and it suddenly began to glow red hot. Jack dropped it to the floor with a gasp and the crone cackled with malicious glee as he grabbed his hand in pain.
The Doctor dodged Lavallier’s clumsy charge and then noticed a pair of rapiers above a fireplace. He pushed Katherine behind him and turned to defend her, grabbing one of the rapiers from the wall and flicking it expertly upwards.
The hag that had worn the face of Christina the maid hissed at the Doctor as she pulled a crystal from her robes. 'You cannot stand against us Doctor. Now you will die!'
With a stroke of luck however, Lavallier’s troops who had been waiting outside the chateau, had heard the noise from within and came crashing to the rescue through the open French windows. One of them screamed in terror at the witches and cowered in abject fear, but the remaining four took up their weapons, even against their former captain, and charged into the battle.
Lavallier turned and charged into his men as if possessed, and cut down one instantly with a vicious stroke of his sword. One of the hags laughed as she impaled another of the troops on a wicked looking dagger after casting a glimmering haze upon him.
The other hag that floated in the air also produced a small crystal from her robes. She muttered a strange incantation and the globe glowed with an unearthly purple light. The hag pointed a finger at one of the troops, and the purple glow grew in intensity and shot towards the man like a lightning bolt. The soldier collapsed to the ground as she cackled with malicious glee.
atherine looked around the devastated room, tears welling up in her eyes. She had led a sheltered, gentle life and had never before been exposed to such violence and destruction. 'Why did those things attack us?' she cried. 'And the Captain, he helped them!'
The Doctor knelt by the fallen figure of Lavallier and then reached down and plucked a small rag doll dressed like a soldier from inside Lavallier’s tunic. It had a strands of human hair wrapped around it; clearly Lavallier’s own. 'I’m sorry,' he whispered as he closed the dead man’s sightless eyes. 'I’m so sorry.' He straightened up, his face hard. 'He was their puppet I’m afraid! The Carrionites are mistresses of charm and deceit. They must’ve known every move we made!'
Katherine was distraught. 'They were witches! We have been cursed by their black magic!'
The Doctor shook his head. 'No, they’re not witches. They’re called Carronites; creatures from eons ago.'
Katherine looked at the Doctor in alarm. 'And who are you to talk of this?'
The Doctor put his hand on her arm. 'Don’t worry,' he said reassuringly, 'I’m here to help.'
Jack was checking that the remaining soldiers were coping with the supernatural attack, but they waved away his assistance with grim faces. 'What do these Carrionites want Doctor?'
The Doctor scratched his head and looked about. 'I don’t know Jack.' He noticed the crystal that had been dropped by the fallen Carrionite and picked it up, hefting it in his hand. 'I wonder?' he mused, before putting it in his coat pocket. He turned to Katherine. 'You said your husband mentioned the solstice? When’s that?'
Katherine wiped her eyes. 'Tomorrow night.'
The Doctor was taken aback. 'Tomorrow? That’s no time at all! An important night if you want to harness psychic energy!' He started speaking to himself as he wandered about the room, his hands in his coat pocket. 'But you’d need a lot of people to generate enough to do something spectacular,' he took a breath, 'and I’m sure it will be spectacular!' He reached a table. 'So what are they planning?' He paused and reached down to pick up a small piece of paper with impressive handwriting and wax seal. 'What’s this?'
Katherine crossed the room to stand next to him. 'It’s our invitation,' she explained with a shrug. 'The Vicomte is holding his annual summer ball at his palace.'
The Doctor groaned. 'Why didn’t you tell me!' he shouted.
Katherine took a step backwards, shocked at the Doctor’s sudden outburst. 'I didn’t think it was important,' she replied defensively.
The Doctor turned to Jack with exasperation. 'You knew?'
Jack nodded sheepishly and shrugged. 'I guess I didn’t think they were connected!'
The Doctor sighed. 'Of course they were connected, everything here is connected!' He began to pace around the room thinking furiously. 'The Carrionites are an ancient race from Rexel. They were banished from this universe by the Eternals eons ago. The lights you saw in the sky……of course!' He turned to face Jack and Katherine. 'It must’ve been a dimensional portal. Some Carrionites have found a way back into our dimension! Why? What do they want here?'
Jack and Katherine glanced at each other and Jack shrugged 'I don’t know.' Then his face cleared. 'But the Time Agency must know - that’s why they sent me!'
The Doctor nodded. 'Then whatever’s at stake here must be incredibly important.' He started towards the door. 'Come on, we’ve got to get back to the chateau!'
The ruined windmill that stood alone on the hill had remained empty for nearly ten years. A terrible fire had ravaged it one night, killing the miller and his young family. The villagers of Dabarre had found their poor smoking bodies the next morning and had ever since avoided the windmill thinking it accursed. Local rumours and whispers of it being haunted had given the local children plenty of nightmares, so it had made the perfect place for the Carrionites to hide and hatch their demonic plot
In their dark chamber in the mill’s cellar, the cauldron bubbled and steamed as usual. Morgwyn, the leader of the Carrionites, paced angrily up and down whilst the other two that had escaped the battle wailed and sobbed. 'Our sister has been destroyed!' one of them cried.
Morgwyn turned to face the other alien. 'Be quiet!' she snarled. 'This Doctor is more dangerous than we thought. And he smells…….different as well! I sense a time dweller!'
Both the other Carrionites eyes widened in fear. 'But they were all destroyed!' they whispered in unison.
Morgwyn nodded but gave an evil smile. 'I know, perhaps it is time he joined the rest of his race. Never fear, nothing can stop us now. We will be avenged!' She turned to the motionless figure of Remy de Gallois sitting in a nearby chair. 'Come my sweet, it is time for you to perform!'
The Vicomte de Gallois sat at a magnificent mahogany desk as he put the finishing touches to his speech for the summer ball. He put the quill back in the ink holder and sat back in his chair, picking up the paper to read it back. The Vicomte smiled in anticipation; he hoped it would be as well received as last year!
He had always loved the summer ball as a child, ever since his late father had started it over thirty years ago. He remembered the important visitors that had visited the chateau; royalty amongst them. They always told such amazing stories that had fascinated and excited him as a boy.
His gaze wandered to the window and he watched the birds whirl in the summer sky. Ever since his wife Marie had died from fever during pregnancy twelve short summers ago, he had been denied both a spouse and an heir. What it would have been to have his own son attend the ball as he had done?
When his brother had given his son Remy some land near Dabarre, and had asked the Vicomte to keep a watchful eye over him, the Vicomte had been quietly pleased. He had always liked his nephew, and saw many of the same qualities in him that he thought he had possessed at that age – a strong will, a hint of stubbornness and great passion for life. Then Remy had married his beloved Katherine, a clever and thoughtful girl and the daughter of the squire of Dabarre. The Vicomte had known Katherine since she had been an infant.