WARNING: This fic is a sequel to my two previous stories "One Moment in Time" and "Portal of Eternity". If you haven't read them, this one will not make much sense to you.
Quite a few people have asked me for a sequel to "Portal of Eternity", so here it is, my "story for another time"...
Disclaimer: I do not own Doctor Who or anything remotely related to it.
Summary: Tejana is now travelling with the Master, despite the odds stacked against them. But when they are forced to return to Earth, the past comes back to haunt them. Will it destroy their future...or does the Universe even still have a future?
The well-worn, pebbled path shone white in the pale silver moonlight, winding its way through the dense green forest before finally rising on a gentle gradient to climb the inviting slopes of the hill which loomed like a shadow on the indigo horizon. The air smelt as though a summer storm had just passed over, clean and crisp, pure and still.
The Master walked slowly, listening intently to the sound of the silence. Even though it was over four months since he had lost the drums, he was still not used to the complete and total absence of the relentless rhythm in his mind.
Here, all was peace and tranquillity, spread over the land like a soft, warm blanket. No murmuring breeze disturbed the air, no leaves shifted restlessly in the trees, no small nocturnal animals scuffed subtly in the undergrowth. The only thing he could hear was the sharp crunch of his own footfalls on the loose gravel of the path.
Up ahead, he could see a faint, golden glow illuminating the purple twilight beyond the crest of the hill. He knew what he would see when he reached the top. He had been to this place before. Nevertheless, even knowing what to expect, the scene below still took his breath away.
The pearly path continued to wend its way down the other side, leading on to an immense, flat plain, which stretched almost as far as the eye could see, fully encompassed by a circle of rounded hills, including the one on which he now stood.
Spread endlessly across that great plain, millions upon millions of small flames glimmered, twinkling in the sea of darkness like a lost firmament of heaven. The sight was stunningly, achingly beautiful. It was also incredibly poignant. These were the Plains of Orion. Once a thriving holiday resort, it was now a shrine commemorating the Last Great Time War, a haunting place of ruins and grass and mist. Each of the glowing beacons of light stood for a life lost in the bloody conflict, an everlasting shining memorial representing the people of all the time-sensitive races across the constellations, great and small alike, all equal now in death.
After the end of the War, many pilgrims had come here, to pray and to grieve. But that was long ago. Generations had passed and the War had slipped into legend, as the deeds of the living began to take precedence over the memory of the dead. There were few now who remembered this quiet sanctuary on the Eye of Orion and fewer still who found reason to visit.
But a Time Lord is blessed, or perhaps cursed, with a very long life span and a very good memory. Sometimes the Master's recollections of the War seemed clearer to him than some of the more recent events in his life.
Maybe I'm getting old, he thought wryly.
He began to follow the path as it meandered its way through the endless, lambent rows of flame. These candles never went out. They were not made from wax or tallow, but from the wood of the unique trees on the planet Umbeka – the heat from the flame made the wood grow as fast as the fire consumed it and therefore the candle never burned down. And on the Eye of Orion, due to the constant atmospheric bombardment of positive ions, the weather never varied – there were no seasons, no changes in temperature, no rain or wind threatening to extinguish the flickering stars of memory – just day and night, the same over and over again, in an eternal round of unbroken serenity.
At the end of the path, at the heart of the labyrinthine ocean of light, stood a simple stone monolith overlooking the lonely shrine like an ancient guardian. It was engraved with a single, inelaborate inscription. To the Master's eyes, it read in Gallifreyan script - Rui nuimhic lhiom. To a visitor from any other race, the words would read in their own native language, a result of the lexicographic translation circuits incorporated into the monument. However, to all who came, the meaning was the same – We Remember.
She was there, as he had known she would be, kneeling at the foot of the rough cenotaph. She was dressed in a simple, white cotton dress, her long black hair curling loosely down her back. For a moment, he just stood quietly and watched her, taking advantage of the fact that she was unaware of his presence. In any other place in the Universe, she would have sensed his approach long ago. But on the Eye of Orion, the positively charged stratosphere acted as a psychic dampener, completely blocking any use of the Gallifreyan sixth sense.
The Master had always been a solitary traveller, wandering the stars alone ever since he had left Gallifrey. Occasionally he had teamed up with different individuals on a short-term basis, usually in an alliance to defeat the Doctor or to take over a planet or something of that nature. Then, of course, there had been Lucy and that one trip to the end of the Universe, but that hardly counted. Other than that, he had never had a companion – had never wanted one. He had always sneered contemptuously at the Doctor for taking on board an endless, ragtag array of assistants and sidekicks. Emotional attachments made you weak and vulnerable. Only hate made you strong. Hate helped you to survive when there was nothing else, the Master was the living proof of that.
But now there was Ana.
At first, he had told himself that he wanted her to spite the Doctor. But that wasn't true – deep down, he knew that it had nothing whatsoever to do with the Doctor and everything to do with Ana herself. Then, he had told himself that it was because their physical connection was so strong. But that wasn't it either, even though the desire he felt for her was more powerful than anything he had ever experienced before.
Then he had taken her to Katria Nova, his favourite place in the Universe, to show her the whirlpools of gold. Sharing it with her, watching her face light up with wonder and delight, the realisation had hit him like a bucket of ice cold water – he had gone and done the one thing he had sworn never to do...he had begun to care for someone.
Idiot, he told himself now. You really are getting old.
Shaking his head as if to dispel his dangerous train of thought, he stepped forward to touch her lightly on the shoulder.
Tejana was used to running.
Travelling with the Doctor, there had always been plenty of it. So much so that it had become an ongoing joke amongst his companions – if you travel on board the Doctor's TARDIS, you'd better be prepared to run. But it wasn't funny, not really. Oh, you could outrun explosions, monsters, people with guns – that was easy. But the one thing you could never outrun was yourself. As a wise man had once said, Remember, no matter where you go, there you are.
The Doctor tried, he tried so hard, always running, filling every second with action, with movement. Travelling from place to place, never stopping, never staying, saving this and saving that, making things right. Always talking, always saying something, anything, to avoid the silence, to hide from the memories. But sometimes, it was not enough. Sometimes, whether you wanted to or not, you had to turn around and face yourself, to see who and what you were, to take responsibility for the things you had done.
And that was why she had asked the Master to bring her here, to the Plains of Orion. Her original intention had been to light individual candles for her own dead. But when it came down to it, she had realised that there were just too many. So instead she had lit just one, the single dancing flame representing everyone she had lost – the entire population of the planet Trion, every man, woman and child ruthlessly exterminated by the Daleks before the War had even officially begun; the thousands of Time Lords who had given their lives in defence of Gallifrey, especially her own elite team, who had fallen honourably at the Battle of the Ramah Phalanx; and lastly, Gallifrey herself, the ancient Shining World of the Seven Systems, dying in a holocaust of fire and brimstone, the ashes of her people scattered now to the four corners of the Universe.
So many, so very many.
Kneeling here on aching knees in the unbroken silence of the most tranquil place in the Universe, she thought she could hear their voices, their ghosts sighing and weeping in the distance. She could hear the screams as they died, in pain and fear and agony – would always hear them, in her dreams.
She had been here once before, with the fifth Doctor and Tegan and Turlough, long before the War began, when the Eye of Orion had only been a pleasant tourist spot. Gods, she had been so young. Turlough had been so young, just a boy, so different from the strong leader he had eventually become. Tears came to her eyes as she remembered the last, loving look he had given her before the Daleks had executed him right in front of her.
In her mind, she could hear the echo of the Doctor's voice: I'm old enough to know that a longer life isn't always a better one. In the end, you just get tired. Tired of the struggle. Tired of losing everyone that matters to you. Tired of watching everything turn to dust. If you live long enough, the only certainty left is that you end up alone.
Here, amidst the shifting sea of glimmering flames, she understood better than ever before what her father had meant.
At that moment, she felt the hand on her shoulder, startling her. Looking up, she saw it was the Master.
"Thought I'd find you here," he said gruffly.
She forced a smile. "You won't be able to sneak up on me once we leave here, you know."
"Getting used to doing without the sixth sense yet?"
Tejana shrugged. She would never admit it to the Master, but at least with the psychic link blocked, she was unable to feel the Doctor's ongoing anger in the back of her mind, which was definitely a big relief.
"Actually, it's really strange. It feels like I've lost an arm or a leg. Funny to think that this is how humans have to manage all the time. It must be so limiting."
"Mmmm, been there, done that, got the T-shirt," the Master said sardonically. "Wouldn't recommend it."
Tejana shook her head ruefully. The Master had never made a secret of the contempt he felt for everything human, even though he had used the Chameleon Arch to become human himself to escape the long reach of the Time War.
"How's the TARDIS?" she asked, purposely changing the subject.
"Not so good," he replied. "She's ancient. She needs a complete systems overhaul. Even with two of us working on her, it's going to take a couple of months. Looks like we'll be here for a while."
She nodded, unworried by the information. Although she was sure it would eventually become very boring, the enforced peace of the Eye of Orion was just what she needed right now.
Then, to her complete astonishment, the Master quietly knelt beside her. Reverence had never been one of his strong points – she found it difficult to believe that even this solemn shrine held any meaning for him. But when she stole a sideways glance at him, there was no mockery in his face. Instead, his eyes were distant, as though he too wandered the far off paths of memory.
Tejana found herself wondering what was going through his mind. She had almost lost him to the Time War too, on the Last Day of Gallifrey, fighting Rassilon in the Heart of The Matrix. To her surprise, the thought was now intolerable. She could not even begin to imagine being without him.
Involuntarily, her hand slipped into his. For a moment, he started, as though he had forgotten she was there. But then his warm fingers curled protectively around hers, her smaller hand swallowed by his larger one.
Suddenly, however, he seemed to stiffen, as though in shock.
"Koschei? What is it?"
"I...no, it's nothing," he answered distractedly. "I...just thought I heard something. But it couldn't have been."
Tejana tightened her grasp on his hand in sympathy, thinking that he too was hearing the murmuring of the sorrowful war-dead of Orion. But as the ghost-laden night deepened around them, she failed to notice the fingers of his other hand compulsively tapping out a deadly four-beat rhythm on his thigh...once, twice, three times...before faltering and relaxing once more into stillness.