Prologue: The XTC of Gold

Pictures.

The Master wanders down a hall filled with them.

Their gold frames grunt along the walls, tired of being unhung, of lying on bruised corners in the dust of centuries.

"Raise me up!" they seem to sing from the moldy shadows of pedestals, "Put me in my place again!" they cry, to his embattled ears.

He is disused to quiet. To silence. At least, he used to be.

Him.

Koschei of Oakdown, the Time Lord formerly known as Harold Saxon, Prime Minister of Britain. The Master.

"At least the drums are gone," he murmurs softly, inhaling the scent of paint and restorer's glue, "Did you come to bed last night? I can't remember."

His head tilts slowly upward from where it's been gathering his feet; his chin adjusts leftward, rightwise, grinding itself like a sword at the stone in the back of his jaw. Dithering upward, unwilling to be cold, he looks up at the ladder standing in the center of the museum's domed ceiling, and, shows some interest.

"What is that?" he asks, covering his eyes at the bright glint peeking from a dabbed on application of plaster.

"It's nothing, just some old fresco I found; it'll be done soon."

Flamina's voice, fluttering down to him like a butterfly on a high seawind.

"No, I mean, what is that shiny bit? It blinded me, for a moment."

The shadow of her brush pauses along the rungs of the ladder, the thin stick of darkness breaking in half-radials along each step- it reminds him of the opening fan before a red and black dance.

A movement, above, after the brush has retracted, a careful withdrawal, a swipe.

The glint retreats a little, slower to call his attention now, slower to breathe in the light.

Koschei looks up, his hand quivering over his face, in case the glint returns.

Flamina calls down, her voice sudden and coiffured as she answers him. She doesn't see him grab the ladder and start up.

"It's nothing. Something I couldn't save. Just a bit of foil decoration on the ceiling. Faded. I'm covering it over and replacing it from memory. Don't look at it yet till I'm done. I'll let you know when I've-"

He grabs a rung, halfway up. The rough wood is cold, like old windowsills after a long rain. He feels his shoulders quiver a little, and takes another step up, reaching for the next rung. But the glint breaks his focus on the climb, and he stops.

Then his eyes widen, and he looks at the floor.

The clean marble slides like glass under the old wooden ladder, interrupted only by the occasional sweep of air. There is a clear disruption in the entry area from which he came, but the dust layer leading into the hall shows only one pair of shoes.

He looks again toward the high ceiling and his lover, and begins his climb again, opening his eyes on the fresco and her hand poised below the white and the gold.

Her eyes are on him, looming like black stones. They flick to the floor, then to his widening gaze, and relieve themselves a little, turning a bit lavender around the edges as if to make up for something.

Too late, he thinks, applying the back of his mental hand to his mental face.

He feels his skin blanch despite himself, like a colander of overwashed celery.

"Celery? Oh god," he murmurs, creeping his arms around the sides of the ladder poles, leaving himself a wide berth.

Then he is looking up again as he turns himself on the ladder rung to face outward and away. He cranes his neck though, to stare at the gold on the ceiling.

The glint fills his vision, forcing open his iris so softly he barely notices as he leaps from the ladder and cracks a marble tile in a one-foot landing.

His footsteps shatter the silence of another hallway as he runs from the madling white avalanche of a woman's pursuing laughter.

His girlfriend. Ambition.

"Bitch!" he screams, trampling over a bit of pedestal here and there, a stone head, a half-eaten staircase as he throws his voice from every possible direction, creating a smokescreen of sound, "I know a place you can't go, because she's never been there!"

Then he reaches down, feeling his finger for the Rose Ring.

But it's gone.

Perfect.

The seven Mirrors appear before him, summoned by the seven echoes he just created.

Because, after all, he created Them, too.

His woman's footsteps fill the back of him, tromping slowly serial. They march, those footsteps, soft and comforting and red, clip-clop clip-clop, up to the middle of the hallway.

She must have seen the Mirrors, he reasons, as he steps forward into the welcoming arms of the Seven, who gleam like slabs of moonlight to his eyes. He concentrates on the visual- a milky dawn on two-sunned Gallifrey, red grass floating on the hills like clouds of fish. A boy with a rock in his hand. A body. A crying accomplice.

He turns round, his back to Them now. He can see her out the corner of his eye, shifting like white cancer in the half-light of the Dream museum.

There are lavender tears running from the pools of her black eyes, and her lovely arm has grown a wicked shard, much like the piece of glass that stabbed him in the TARDIS console room.

She lurches forward in a lunge through the air, her shard-arm tearing rents in two paintings facing opposite each other across the hall- a wild-eyed woman in a blue dress, and a nervous girl in a blue pant suit with a pin on her lapel.

He touches his eye, and a hot tear sits there, not quite dropping onto his skin as he flings himself backward into the memory, through the Mirrors.

Her mouth makes the words of a song...

"Baby, it's cold outside..."