It was a good thing that lord Cole didn't keep any guarddogs on his premises the Doctor thought, as he watched the arrival of the first guests for the Cole's Christmas party while hiding in the hedges. The Doctor liked dogs, and he was confident that if Maximillianus had kept any, he would eventually be able to come to a mutual understanding with man's best friend, but it would draw some rather unwelcome attention to himself and distract him from his current mission. He had left the Master under the shimmer cloak with Lucy. The plan was that he would search the house for anything strange, and that later that night, the Doctor would pick him up and change him back.
To his embarrassment, it had actually briefly crossed his mind to leave him like this just a teensy-weensy little longer. The cute little ball of fur version of the master was just so much more pleasant to handle.
When more of the guests had arrived and the party inside seemed to be in full swing, the Doctor sneaked out of the bushes, straightened his blue bowtie and white dinner jacket, and plucked a bundle of mistletoe from the garden before heading for the entrance.
"Ello there." He smiled cheerfully. "Sorry I am a bit late. There was some terrible traffic all the way from London." He waved the psychic paper in front of mister Peeves.
"Welcome sir." Peeves answered, reacting slightly overwhelmed. "I'm sorry, I didn't quite get your name from your invitation."
"It's doctor John Smith. I could go for a cup of eggnog." He pushed the bundle of wet twigs in Peeves's hands and strolled inside as if he owned the place. "Oh and put these in a vase will you? They're for Max. A little something to spur on the holiday spirit."
He left the baffled butler at the door and went inside to look for the Master. He entered the drawing room where a good crowd had gathered around a beautifully decorated tree. They were nursing their drinks and busying themselves with casual chitchat. The Doctor retreated to the side of the room. Albeit the Master was disguised as a cat, he could still smell him, and the trail led him right up the large staircase. He was about to head upstairs when lord Cole descended, catching the attention of the crowd, who cheered and raised their glasses up to him.
"Hello my friends! I hope everyone is enjoying themselves." Lord Cole told them, gesturing that they shouldn't mind him and could resume the party. He bumped into the Doctor. "Ah. You're that interesting young man from the Infinity Corporation, aren't you? Doctor John Smith right?" He pumped his hand enthusiastically. "I never forget a face. What are you doing here? I can't remember asking my secretary to invite anyone from your company?"
"Oh I am here to apologize sir." The Doctor answered, working his brains quickly. "We were horrified when we heard about what happened to one of your priceless paintings. It's such a shame."
"Oh yes, that's horrible business what happened to the Grimm Reaper. The work wasn't that famous. I had not expected that there will be a nutter out there who wants to sneak past the security in the middle of the night to have a go at it."
"Did they find out what actually happened?"
Lord Cole shook his head. "The police have absolutely no clue. How they managed to get the figure to disappear while leaving the rest of the canvas intact is also still a mystery for the curators. The incompetence of all those involved just shows how well-worth my tax money is being spent." He added with a hint of sarcasm. "But you don't need to apologize. Although, I guess I could blame your office for coming up with the bloody idea of holding the exposition in the first place."
"Dad, have you seen Kate?" Lucy came up the staircase. She was dressed in a stunning red dress with thin spaghetti bands. Although she kept smiling politely at the other guests, she looked worried when she approached her father.
"No my dear. What's wrong?" Her father inquired.
"I haven't seen her since the late afternoon. She was helping me to look for Harry."
"Um, our new pet. I will show you later when I find them."
Lord Cole wrinkled up his face. "We've got a new pet? Since when? It's not a cat is it? You know that I'm allergic to them."
"Are you sure your friend just didn't went to mingle with the other guests?" The Doctor asked curiously.
Lucy shook her head. "She left her evening gown hanging in the closet. She has been longing to wear it for weeks. It's just too strange."
The house butler appeared at the bottom of the staircase. "Sir, another four minutes and it's time for your speech."
"Ah." Lord Cole mumbled. "Thank you Peeves. I almost have forgotten about it. Lucy my dear." He gave her arm a little squeeze. "Don't worry too much. She has probably just locked herself up inside one of the bathrooms upstairs to do her hair. For God's sake, you know how long that can take. Entire lifetimes are wasted on grooming by the fairer sex."
"If you don't mind, I'm going upstairs to look for her." Lucy told him.
"You do that. It's not like you haven't heard daddy's speech before. Besides, there's always next year, and the next." He grinned, and headed in the direction of the drawing room.
"I could help." The Doctor offered. Lucy turned and looked at the tall stranger.
"My name is John Smith by the way. An acquaintance of your father." He told her to ease the awkwardness.
"Well, I guess two pairs of eyes see more than one." She shrugged, granting him a hesitant smile, and led the way up to the second floor.
"The guest rooms are this way." Lucy told him. The Doctor pointed his nose in the air. "You said she was looking for your pet?" He asked, gazing up the staircase leading to the third floor.
"Um. Yes, my cat Harry. I've only got him since this afternoon. I was afraid he had trouble with settling down and that he might have run away." A thought hit her. "Do you think she's out in the garden, still looking for him?"
"Oh no, it's cold and wet outside. I don't think our furry friend would venture beyond the threshold of the backdoor. He's probably hiding somewhere in a quiet spare room, and if your friend was looking for him, then that's where she is too." He rushed up the next flight of stairs, taking two steps at the time till he picked up the coppery scent of the Master's blood halfway through. His hearts skipped a beat in alarm.
"Are you sure that they are up there?" Lucy asked hesitantly, following the Doctor as he suddenly spurred up the staircase.
"Mr. Smith! Is there something wrong?"
The Doctor stepped on the landing and ran up the corridor. He almost rushed by the chamber that Kate had entered, but he backtracked when he noticed that the door was left slightly ajar. Lucy went over to the Doctor, and gazed through the opening into the dark empty room. A strange chill ran over her body, as if an icy finger gently stroked over her back.
"Is she inside the old storage room?" She asked, gazing the Doctor in the eyes.
The Doctor, who had felt his senses tingling as well, took in a deep breath, and pushed open the door.
They entered. The Doctor noticed the stacks of furniture, half hiding the painting at far end of the room. Then his eyes picked up the strange dark spots that left a trail over the floorboards. It led to a small, quivering bundle of fur lying against a dresser.
The Doctor dropped on his knees, his hearts trembling. "Master?" He whispered. Gently, he stroked his fur. The hairs were sticking together with blood.
"Master? Master! Talk to me. Please!"
An awful silence followed that lasted a little more than a heartbeat, but for the Doctor, it was almost unbearable. Then the relief finally came when the injured animal uttered a string of weak mews.
"Oh." The Doctor replied with relief. "I'm sorry that I've let this happen to you. I should have come for you earlier."
"Mr. Smith!" Lucy called. Her voice was strained. She was standing near the painting, her hand covering her mouth. She was staring at something that was lying on the floor.
"What? What's the matter?" Carefully, he picked up the Master and came over to her.
"Her shoe. This is Kate's shoe. There's blood all over it." She said, visibly shaken. Then she saw the pitiful bundle of misery that the Doctor held in his arms. "Harry!" She shouted in horror. "What's happening here? Who did this to them?"
Suddenly, as if caught by the wind, the door slammed shut, leaving them standing in total darkness. Lucy gasped but the Doctor put his finger on his lips, and listened.
Someone was coming near. He could hear the soft whistle of shifting fabric, gliding past solid structures.
"Is it a burglar?" Lucy asked, really frightened now.
"I'm afraid not." The Doctor answered. He perched his ears and he picked up a second, strange scraping sound, like something heavy and made out of metal was drawn over a wooden floor.
"Master?" He whispered. "Master, what's going on in here? What happened to Kate?"
"To whom are you talking to?" Lucy asked. "Who's the Ma-"
"Ssst! I can hardly hear him as it is!" He gentle nudged the cat's little head, urging him to regain consciousness. "Come one, what did you want to tell me?"
It's the painting. Something dark lives inside. It took the girl. I couldn't...
"It's alright. There was no way you could stop it." The Doctor comforted him. He felt with his fingers over his spine. It was broken, and the injury should have killed the Master stone dead if it wasn't for his accelerated healing capacity that kept protecting him, even now he was a cat. "You'll be all right." The Doctor told him with relief in his voice.
"Are you talking to my poor cat?" Lucy asked with wide-eyed fear and confusion. All of a sudden she realized that she didn't really know this strange young man that well. Hastily, she took Harry over from the Doctor.
"What are you doing?" The Doctor asked.
"I'm not staying here with you in this creepy room." Lucy replied with a terrified but resolute expression on her face. "Something horrible has happened here. I'm going to call the police to help me find Kate." She turned and was halfway across the room when a shadow of a tall lean figure leaked from the painting like an oil spill and covered the distance between her and the door with great speed, till it reached the fleeing girl.
The shadow caught up on her and separated from the floorboards, expanding till it stood erect right in front of Lucy. She stopped, frozen on the spot when it the darkness assumed its real physical form.
LUCY COLE. He told her in a graveyard voice.
Death's eyes glowed bright blue when he raised his scythe up high and was about to strike her.
"Who are you?" She breathed, right before the scythe swept down. A strong pull moved her backwards, as if she was but a little spider being sucked up by a vacuum cleaner hose. She was slightly aware that she hit and went through something semi-solid before her bum hit the surface of a well-polished floor. She slid over it with quite some speed till she smashed with her back against a wall.
"Lucy!" The Doctor's scream came to her from a distance. Blinking her eyes, she gazed dizzily around. She found herself in a dark, unfamiliar corridor, with a line of doors on each side. At the other end was this huge painting. She stared at it in shock when she recognized the scene. Inside that painting, like a framed window into another world, was the spare room where the Doctor was left on his own to face the demon. Harry jumped out of her arms and started mewing loudly.
"What have you done to her?" The Doctor shouted, having just witnessed Lucy disappeared in front of his eyes.
SHE WILL BE CORRECTED. Death stated, observing the Doctor with cold indifference.
"What are you? Tell me! Are you a Reaper? Did you come here to correct the time line? You don't need to kill Lucy Cole to do that! I am a Timelord, I would know if she is out of place, but she belongs here! You cannot remove her without injuring time!"
IT IS NOT LUCY COLE, WHO IS MY TARGET.
"But why kidnap her? Why her? What has she done that threatens you so much?"
SHE BECAME LUCY SAXON.
The Doctor breathed out deeply as he realized what the dark creature was telling him. The Grim Reaper was not after Lucy. He was using her as bait to get to the Master.
Lucy's cry was muffled by a thick coat of paint and varnish, but the Doctor was still able to hear her. He turned and saw her trapped inside the painting, banging her fits on the canvas, begging him desperately for help.
"Stand back!" The Doctor told her, and sprinted forward, determined to get inside the cursed painting and get her out. He was about to jump over the frame when the canvas altered. The corridor vanished, but before he could stop, his sneakers touched ground on the other side, and the canvas was sealing itself behind him, leaving the Doctor trapped.
"Mr. Smith?" Lucy breathed. She stared anxiously at the painting when only a second ago, she had seen the Doctor rushing towards her to her rescue, but just as he was about to reach her, the canvas had turned black. She moved her hands over the surface, trying to push into it, searching for weak points, feeling like a rat stuck inside a deadly trap. Harry kept circling around her legs, mewing constantly. Caught in a blind panic, she didn't realize that he was trying to get her away from the picture. She held her breath in fear when the canvas bulked up.
A human form was trying to enter.
Lucy snapped out of her paralyzed state when harry dug his claws in her leg. She looked down, distracted for a moment. Harry mewled loudly at her and headed for one of the doors. Lucy, finally realizing that the emerging figure was too tall to be the Doctor, followed him.
"What do you want? Do you want me to hide in here?" She tried the doorhandle. It was unlocked. She pushed the door open and cautiously, looked inside.
Beyond the threshold was a gray field of black earth. Intimidated, she took a few steps back, but Harry was not having any of that. He pushed his flank against her calves, urging her to step through the portal. Behind her, the eerie sound of ripping canvas announced the return of the Grim Reaper into his realm.
LUCY. He called to her. LUCY SAXON.
She ran into the fields, clumsily staggering forward as she sinking away into the soft damp earth with her high heels. The door closed shut with a loud bang. It startled her, but when she looked back, the structure had disappeared, leaving a barren winter forest.
"Oh God." She took in her surroundings, still cherishing some hope that the bizarre entrance had led her into a part of land that she could actually recognize. A part of her father's estate perhaps, but the landscape was completely unfamiliar, alien even. It was either dawn or dusk, leaving very little light, but what there was revealed to her was a land ravaged by a recent fire. Everywhere she looked, the ground had turned black by the layer of ashes and sooth, and some of the larger trees were still smoldering. "Oh God." She muttered, feeling hot tears stinging her eyes.
A nasty cold wind cut through her thin dress and she hugged herself to stay warm. Not far in the distance, a flock of birds was circling around a small mound. She headed towards it, followed in her steps by her cat.
When she noticed that Harry had problems with keeping up with her, she carefully picked him up and carried him.
"I guess I owe my life to you." She told him, cuddling him for comfort. "You're my lucky Harry."
It puzzled her that he seemed to have recovered quite fast considering that his injuries had looked much more severe, but she didn't have the luxury of dwelling too long on it, for as soon as she was close enough to smell the stench, she became aware of what had attracted the birds to the site.
The small hill wasn't an ordinary heap of damp earth. It was a pile of dead soldiers, cut down in full armor. Some were missing legs, arms, hands, or heads, others were just a torso sitting in their own pool of blood. Amid this carnage, three emaciated figures dressed in layers of rags moved around like vultures, stripping the dead bare from their more valuable belongings and tossing their treasures onto a handcart. They were so foul that their skin looked grey, and their long hairs were spider webs of tangles. Lucy stifled a cry of horror when she saw how one of them drew a short knife, and cut a finger from a hand to remove a silver ring.
The three of them stopped with scavenging, and gazed at the strange woman in the red ballroom dress with three pairs of most curious, bloodshot eyes.
"Oh." One said, pointing a withered finger at her.
"Oh." Repeated the second one, struggling down the pile of corpses to study her more closely.
"Please." Lucy said, backing up. "I didn't want to disturb you. I am just – I am lost. I don't know where I am."
"You? Oh but you're not lost my child. You're the future queen of England." The second one said, and chuckled hysterically.
"Oh hail Lucinda Cole, the darling daughter of the lord of Duncaster!" Greeted the first.
"Oh hail Lucy Cole, the slayer of the dark lord!" Said the second one, as they all started to circle around her.
"Oh hail Lucy Saxon, who shall be queen hereafter!" Cheered the third.
"Wait a minute." Lucy muttered. "I know this. This is…" She shook her head in bewilderment. "This is insane. It can't be happening. Why are you calling me that? How can I be queen?"
"Oh but you will be. Once you're by his side. The most powerful woman in England." The first one assured her.
"Lucy, Lucy Cole, Lucy Saxon, who murdered and will murder the man she wedded and will wed, who was and who will fall in love with the man she met and is about to meet." Driveled the second one, who stretched out her hand to stroke over Harry's coat, but received a claw over her brittle skin in return from the animal. Angered, she was about to grab him by the neck when Lucy moved him out of her reach.
"Don't you touch him." She warned.
"Vicious!" The old witch spat. "Vicious and vile. Vindictive little creature. Vindictive little man."
"Vindictive, victorious lord. Master of time." The third one muttered, shaking her grey lion's manes.
"I know you creatures." Lucy mumbled. "I know this place. I recognize it from my father's study. There is a painting hanging above the woodstove mantel. It shows a scene from Macbeth. The one with the three witches on top of the heath, waiting for Macbeth to come to tell him his fate." She swallowed and stared at the three women standing around her. "I don't know how I ended up inside a painting, but you three are not talking about me. You're talking about Macbeth here. You're predicting his fate. Not mine."
"We are what we are."
"And we see what we see."
"Today is not the day for lord Macbeth. Today is the day of lady Saxon."
"Stop this, please!" Lucy begged. Their eerie predictions were spooking her out. "Listen, I know I must be mad to ask three fictional characters for help, but I'm in trouble. I'm being chased by some sort of demon. Help me, please. I think he wants to kill me."
"You will survive."
"But I've just barely managed to escape." Lucy replied desperately.
"He will not harm you."
"He wants to save you."
"Just like the others."
"Who do you mean? What others? Do you mean doctor Smith?" Lucy opted.
"Three of them in total. There is Death."
"There is the Doctor.
"And him, Harold Saxon." The second witch hissed, pointing at her cat with her injured hand. "Nasty little bugger!"
"Harry?" Lucy let go of her cat. "My cat?"
"He's not what he seems." One told her wisely.
"Shimmer shimmer on the wall, who is the most haunted lord of all?" Chuckled the second. " I didn't kill my father, the drums told me to do it!" She mocked him, and burst into spiteful laughter.
" Maybe we should help her." Opted the third.
"Unveil the shimmer." Ordered the first. "Together."
"Straighten the back, cut down the coat, chop off the tail, and stretch out the nose –" Chanted the third.
"Pull out the claws, trim down the whiskers, return his own tongue, though it may be malicious -" Joined the second.
"Let him appear in his human form, before his past and future wife, a man reborn." Finalized the third.
The expression on Lucy's face was something between amazement, fear and utter shock. Suddenly, the Master stood in front of her, naked as the day he was born, and looking dazed for a moment as he had to adjust to the loss of a whole a bunchof feline senses while quickly regaining his own.
"You." Lucy stuttered, looking him up and down. "You are a fully grown man."
The Master looked down over his body. "Oh thank Gallifrey." He breathed in relief. "I'm back to normal. I was afraid I was going to be stuck like this till I ran into that idiot Doctor again."
"But…I've just held you in my arms." Lucy muttered weakly. "I've cuddled you and kissed behind your ears." She added with her cheeks flushing bright red.
The Master searched for a kind word to say to the poor startled girl. "And I really enjoyed that." He finally told her, and returned a weak smile. "Didn't you hear me purr?"
Lucy covered her mouth and spun around.
"Lucy!" The Master stopped her. " Calm down now, and listen. It wasn't my intention to let you see me like this."
"Are you a cat or a man?" She asked in confusion.
"I was disguised as a cat. It was a shimmer cloak. It's really not that strange."
"Not strange?" Lucy gasped. "This world I am in right now is not making any sense to me at all!' She told him, close to becoming hysteric. "If this is normal to you, if this -" She pointed at the three witches and the heap of dead men behind her. "Is your world, then I really don't want to have anything to do with it!" She turned away from him and headed back the way she came.
"Lucy!" The Master shouted after her. "Don't go that way! He's searching for us. Let me at least go with you!"
"I don't want you anywhere near me, who ever the hell you are!" She warned him, and struggled further. He was about to head after her when a strong icy wind reminded him that he was not exactly clothed. Shivering like a wet dog, he earned another round of vicious laughter from the weird sisters. Grudgingly, he returned to them.
"That shirt." He pointed at a dead soldier who was about his size. "Take it and hand it over to me." He told one of them in a low voice.
"Why would I serve you? Fallen Timelord?" The second witch chuckled, but she quickly stopped when the Master drew out a sword from another dead soldier's belt and pointed the sharp edge at her thin bird-like throat. The others squealed in anger and were searching for weapons to attack him.
"Because." He told them, raising his voice. "You bunch of withered old crones may know the seeds of time, but you weren't able to stop it. You're old and slow, whereas I am quite quick with the knife. Reflexes like a cat, you see." He stared at the others, who were slowly lowering whatever sharp objects they were holding in their hands. "So, I would also need a pair of trousers, and shoes. If you ladies would be so kind to provide me." He added, and grinned.
Lucy was becoming desperate. She didn't know where she was going. The battlefield went on forever, and she had lost her left shoe at some point after the heel got wedged between two large cobble stones. She had tried to hobble onwards with only one, but it was a lost cause. Now she was stumbling forward on bare feet over thick bushes with vicious thorns, leaving her with a dozen of tiny little slash wounds on her soles. To make matters worse, the last of the daylight was quickly fading. Soon the unfamiliar, ravished landscape would be swallowed up by total darkness. She was sure that she had heard wolves howl in the distance. The thought of wandering into them in the dark was absolutely horrifying. Perhaps, she should have let Harry or who-ever that man was accompany her. It was always better than to travel alone in this weird nightmare.
A wolf howled frighteningly close by, and she stopped walking, frozen on the spot by fear. When she picked up the crisp sound of leaves and snapping twigs, the noise slowly growing louder, she could literally feel her heart thumping in her throat.
"Didn't get far then." The Master told her, appearing from behind a tree.
Lucy finally dared to breathe again. "Oh my God, I though you were a wild animal." She told him with great relief. The Master was dressed in a soldier's outfit that was here and there stained with blood of the previous owner. He also carried a rapier under his leather belt.
"Me? No I only do the cat thing. Obviously." He smiled awkwardly at her. "Here, I thought you might need this." He handed to her a cloak made of out of horse hairs and a pair of soldier's boots. As she was freezing, she accepted his gifts without hesitation and hastily draped the course fabric around her shoulders.
"You shouldn't travel on your own. You'll get lost." The Master remarked when he watched her try on the boots. They were a bit too large, but still she was thankful.
"I was looking for the door where we came through." Lucy explained. "I went back to the exact spot, but it wasn't there anymore."
"The door was a temporal portal, a highly unstable one is my guess, since the Grim Reaper couldn't reopen it right after it was shut. I certainly won't expect it to reappear any time soon." He gazed at the horizon in contemplation. "It will be dark within an hour. We need to find a safe place to settle down. You don't want any wild beasts to pick up our scent."
He headed up hill into the direction of a small woodland at the edge of the field. Lucy hesitated for a moment before she decided to follow him.
Behind a low bed of moss-covered rocks and a fallen tree, the Master set up camp, building up a small fire to keep them warm throughout the night. Lucy settled down and watched how he removed the sword and stabbed it into the ground next to him.
"Do you think we really need that?" She finally dared to ask.
"No, I am just dragging this heavy thing around for the sheer fun of it. Of course it is necessary." He muttered, warming his hands by the fire.
"I suppose we will need it to keep the wolves at bay. But you can't use it against him." Lucy replied grimly. "You can't kill death."
"That hooded creature who went after us was not really death in person." The Master explained to her, suppressing a sigh. "Use your common sense. How could a metaphysical being suddenly become real?"
"Maybe it's magic?" Lucy opted in her naivety.
"Maybe that's preposterous." The Master snorted.
"Why not?" Lucy furrowed her brows in irritation. "The three stargazing witches became real, and we're inside a 18th century painting. How would you explain it otherwise?"
"Those toothless hags weren't real. Look, whatever that cloaked thing was, a Morterian, or a Timereaper, it's obvious that he has pulled you through a portal into a dimension out of time and space in which he could manipulate every parameter. He's like a fox who corners all of his chickens to one side of the coop to make the kill easier, do you understand?"
"Time and space? Morterians and Timereapers? What are you talking about, what are these things?"
"They're aliens. Just like me."
"You?" She lifted her pretty eyebrows in astonishment. "You are an alien?"
"Yes." He said rudely, feeling remorseful or not, he still got irritated by her, annoyed by the slowness of the human mind.
"And that's less preposterous than explaining this with magic?" Lucy wondered.
The Master sighed, recalling how long it took the first time to explain to her his identity. Unfortunately, he had no Tardis at his disposal this time around. It crossed his mind to hypnotize her, but he quickly dispatched the horrible idea.
"For the last time, there is no such thing as magic." He told her instead.
"Alright then, I guess I could believe he's an alien, but this is the backdrop from one of Shakespeare's most famous plays. Why would he chose to bring us here?"
"He didn't. The whole problem with making up your own dimension is that it is one hell of a job to maintain. He has very little control over the portals that connect his world with ours. We escaped through one of them, but have ended up in some forgotten corner of his realm." A though struck him. "How long ago did your dad acquire the Grim Reaper's painting?" He asked her.
"I am not sure. He used to keep it in storage all the time. It's been here since I was little girl, but, 16-18 years perhaps?"
"18 years." He mused. "That's more than enough time for him to try to dig himself out. Only he's not tunneling through walls. He has made escape tunnels through your father's paintings. I saw him move through a whole row of them, going up the staircase and into the spare room."
Lucy came to sit down next to him and studied the Timelord's face. "But if it isn't magic, how come you were a cat?"
"You know, I wish your father had the decency and the common sense to teach you to stop believing in the miraculous workings of fairy dust at the would-be appropriate age of 6." He mocked. "I was using a shimmer, initiated by a shape-shifting device. Normally, it only functions as a cloak, altering the light and therefore the perception of the viewer, much like a cheap optical trick. But this one is a little different. It also alters your biology, all bending backs and growing whiskers." He added sourly. He made a mental note to repay the good Doctor one day for this most wonderful experience. The use of a hot fire and a glowing stoker sprang to mind.
"So you really were a cat then?"
"Yes I bloody well was, now would you stop asking questions all the time?" He responded moodily.
Lucy stared back at him with widened eyes.
"Sorry. I didn't want to shout at you." He replied gruntingly.
"It's alright, I guess." Lucy said, but she was visible taken aback. "Are you always such fun to be with?" She replied without malice.
"Only when I'm with you, apparently." He gave her a sad smile. "Forgive me for my rudeness, but I had been turned into a cat, had my spine broken, been chased into a 18th century painting, and been goggled at by three toothless old hags wearing nothing but my birthday suit. Really, the day couldn't have turned out any better."
"I fully agree on that." She smiled back at him timidly. "I'm sorry for pestering you. It's just…everything is so overwhelming and strange. You have to understand, the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life, was that I fell from my riding horse when I was about ten and my broke arm. Compared to this…" She paused and gazed at the frosty starlit sky. "This is completely mad."
"Welcome to my world." He said, and gave her a reassuring wink.
"Really, is this the dangerous world of Harold Saxon?" She spoke the name with much curiosity.
The Master's mood darkened. "You should forget about that name."
"Well, it's you, isn't it?" She asked innocently. "I overheard the three witches call you by that name. Funny coincidence that I named you Harry when you were a cat." She moved closer to him, still studying his face. The gaunt cheekbones, the restless eyes with its cold piercing look, it evoked a strange sense of familiarity in her, as if she had been waiting for someone like him all her life. "Or is there also no such thing as coincidence?" She finally whispered, moving her hand up to his cheek, eager to touch his face.
"No." He replied. He grabbed her wrist and forced down her hand.
"They called me Lucy Saxon." She said, looking at him for an explanation.
"Don't ask any further."
"They said I was going to meet my future husband."
"I said, no more questions." He responded firmly. "And don't ever call me by that name again." He told her, his eyes shimmering with self-hatred.
Before she could reply, he stood up, pulled the sword out of the mud and left the campsite.
"Where you' re going?"
"I'm going to stand guard. Someone has to stay awake to keep the hungry beasts away." His face softened when he noticed the concern in Lucy's eyes. "You must be tired, try to catch some sleep."
"Don't you need to sleep?"
"My dear girl, even if I would force myself to lie down and shut my eyes, sleep would not come to me now." He answered with a haunted look, before he disappeared behind the stone bedding.
Meanwhile, the Doctor was struggling with his own private little Shakespearian drama.
"For the last time!" He shouted, holding up a chair to shield off the thin but lethal tip of his raging opponent's rapier. "I am not the prince of Denmark!"
"Oh hold your tongue Hamlet! Don't mock me by shielding your cowardice behind that fake mask of madness. I can see through it like a pike through murky waters." Laertes answered.
"I'm not pretending to be mad! Do I look mad to you?" The Doctor backed away while Laertes kept attacking him, yielding the poisoned weapon in front of his face. "I'm perfectly sane, but presumably wasting my breath on a raging madman like you." Another swoop with the rapier and the Doctor jumped away on the platform where the royal elderly couple were seated, and landed with his backside on the queen's lap.
"Your majesty, surely you would actually recognize that I'm not your son?" The Doctor asked her urgently. "Tell him to stop!"
"My dear boy, let Laertes have this one attempt to restore his family's honor. He's in poor shape and already out of breath. You're winning." She told him, basking in misplaced motherly pride.
"Does it look like I'm winning? I'm barely surviving here!"
"I have full confidence in you!" Gertrude told him, and with a gentle push, urged him to stand up again to face his opponent.
"No help from mum then." Muttered the Doctor, glancing aside at the king. "And I can forget about dear uncle Claudius ever lending me a hand."
"Stop acting like a drunken jester." Laetes said angrily. "Pick up a sword and fight me as a honorable prince!"
"Not in a million light years." The Doctor replied, and jumped off the platform to dodge him. Leates swung his rapier at him while the Doctor still held the little chair in front of his chest as if he was trying to subdue a wild animal.
"If you choose to remain a coward, Hamlet, then by all means let me grant you a coward's death." Laetes told him, and swept his rapier down at the Doctor, who was just in time to raise the chair above his head to shield off the blow. The impact shattered the blade, leaving Laetes with a useless blunt metal stump. The Doctor watched with relief how the poisonous tip clattered on the marble. "Finally." He sighed, lowering the chair. "Time-out! No more of this!" He signaled, and leaned against a pillar to catch his breath.
Claudius clapped his hands, laughing like a man with severe toothache. "Wonderful. Well done you both. We will call it a truce for the first round." He rose from his gilded throne and picked a goblet from a servant's tray. "My dear cousin, this is to your good health!" He gestured to his servant. "Give him the cup."
The servant offered him the drink but the Doctor refused to accept it.
"Oh no." He breathed. "Not in this court where poison is king!" He was still ranking his brains for the reason why the hell he had ended up inside the last scene of Hamlet when Laetes, impatient to avenge his father and sister, took another rapier from the crossbeams and charged at him with his weapon raised. There was no poison this time, but sever the right artery with the sharp edge of the blade, and it still could be deadly.
Laetes was about to hack into the defenseless Doctor when the air in front of his target trembled like a mirage in the desert and River Song materialized in the Danish court. She grabbed the Doctor by his arm and immediately activated her transporter. Laetes's blade hit nothing but air as they both vanished from the scene.
They materialized in lush green woodlands in the middle of a starlit night.
"Oh, my back!" The Doctor groaned, twisting his neck to straighten out the kink. "That thing is a killer!"
"Well you gave it to me." River told him, seemingly unaffected. "Don't be such a wuss. It's not that horrible. Even I got used to it."
The Doctor gazed at her with a perplexed expression on his face.
"Oh I almost forgot, hello sweetie." She smiled and greeted him with a couple of kisses on both cheeks. "Did you miss me?" She beamed.
"River, River Song, what are you doing here?"
"Oh getting you out of trouble, getting into trouble, you know, the usual." She noticed the startled expression on the Doctor's face. "You look spooked. What happened? When is the last time you've seen me?"
"I..." Looking at her, the Doctor remembered how he had lost her in the Vastha Nerada-infested Library. Suddenly he felt a wave of relief and happiness wash over him. Without another word, he took her in his arms and hugged her tightly. River reacted a little amazed to the Doctor's response, but let him express his joy.
"I guess we are not going to compare diaries then?" She asked after he had somewhat composed himself.
"Not this time." The Doctor told her. "If you don't mind."
"Right. Spoilers." She mumbled, before she checked her teletransporter. She furrowed her brows after she took in the readings. "Shit. I don't think it has worked!"
"What? What hasn't worked?"
"The teleporter of course." She took the device from her wrist and starting fiddling with it. "It was supposed to bring us back into the time stream. This isn't right. We're somewhere in Great Birnam Woods according to this thing."
"Ah." The Doctor mused, gazing up at the stars. "That's Macbeth! Oh I love that part with the witches! Macbeth shall never vanquished be until, the Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill, shall come against him." He quoted in a dramatic voice. "The sky doesn't make much sense though." He scrutinized. "It's like someone has gathered up all the stars and scattered again them at random."
She gave the teleporter another twist and a tap, but instead of activating it, the lights switched off completely. "It's dead." She concluded in disappointment.
"You shouldn't have done that twisting bit." The Doctor pointed out. He was only trying to help, but decided wisely not to go in on that once he had seen the look she gave him. "Anyway. It doesn't matter."
"Great! Now we're both stuck in here, stranded inside one of Mr. Bones's Shakespearean escape tunnels. I do hope you have something brilliant cooking up inside your head because I've no idea how to get us out now."
"Your teleporter shouldn't have worked outside our time space continuum anyway. I was surprised that it lasted as long as it did." The Doctor wrinkled his brows. "Wait a minute, did you just say Mr. Bones? How come you know about Mr. Bones?"
River winced and bit on her tongue.
"Actually, how did you know where to find me? It wasn't like the last time, I didn't receive any distress calls."
"Well, I did try to contact you. Didn't you receive my message?"
"R.S. River Song. The warning about the Nightmare Child, that was you?"
"The Shadow Proclamation sent me after you. They've been trying to track you down since you vanished with the Master from the 21st century." She gazed at the Doctor with a serious look in her eyes. "Doctor, I have to warn you. You're traveling with a very dangerous man."
"You're with them?" The Doctor turned agitated.
"They only recruited me because they knew I would be the only one who was able to talk some sense into you. I didn't mind, since it was in your best interest. Plus I get to wear some really cool outfits." She joked.
"Look, I know how the Shadow Proclamation still sees him as a potential threat. Whatever they have told you, he has changed. He is a better man now." The Doctor responded firmly.
"He's a murderer." River Song told him strictly. "And he is going to be your undoing if you don't let him be apprehended to allow justice take its course."
"Last time he was led to court, they executed him. That's not my kind of justice."
"Oh, you can be so stubborn sometimes!" River responded. "That's not some harmless, innocent man you're trying to protect! Why can't you put your misplaced sympathies for this monster aside and see him for what he truly is?"
"If you're working for the Lady Shadow Architect and the Judoons, I am not going to listen to you."
"It's not just about what is the right thing to do. He's a real danger to you." She paused, hesitating whether she should tell him. She had sworn not to reveal what she had seen to anyone, but she had known the Doctor for a very long time, and that determined look on his face told her that it was impossible to change his mind otherwise. He genuinely believed that the Master was good, and he would defend him till his very last breath. Unless…
"The Lady Shadow Architect, she took me to the planet of snow and ice to see the Ood elders. They showed me, Doctor. They showed me traces of the future, the horrible things that are about to become reality if the chains of events that will lead to it aren't stopped in time. The symbol of the three, the Restoration of the Four…the Rise of the Nightmare Child." She gazed the Doctor in the eyes, and begged him to listen. "Doctor, the Master is going to kill you."
"You're not a killer."
The Master glared up at Lucy. She had left her spot by the comfortable campfire and found him sitting on a cold bed of raised rocks overlooking the fields.
Lucy pointed at his sword. "You're not really going to use that thing."
"And what makes you come that glorious conclusion?" The Master scoffed, raising his eyebrows at her.
She shrugged. "You don't look like a murderer to me." She told him gently, hugging the cloak tightly around her body against the freezing cold.
"Ah." He muttered. "First impression can be deceptive sometimes. In this case it's just completely and utterly wrong."
"After you just left, I had some time for myself to think things over."
He rolled his eyes and sighed deeply. If there was one thing he dreaded more than a horde of rampaging Daleks or one of his current Timelord companion's endless prattle sessions, was his ex wife having a though of her own. It wasn't that she was stupid. Lucy was naïve, but certainly not dumb, and that was exactly why he found her questions often so bothersome.
"It can't be all just coincidence. Even if those three witches were just fictional characters, what just happened has to mean something." She tried. "Why did you come into my life? You and your friend, that doctor Smith, why did you want to protect me? What am I to you?" A hesitant pause followed. "Tell me, and please be honest. Were those witches right? Am I going to be your future wife?"
A sad smile crossed the Master's face. He gazed back at those gentle, hopeful eyes, and realized that it was too late.
Lucy had once told him, just after they were engaged, that although she had admired him before they met face to face on that fateful afternoon at the bookshop in Regent Street, the moment she had laid eyes on him, she had fallen hopelessly in love. It had been love at first sight, as if by some cruel twist of fate it had always meant to be that Lucy Cole would one day become Lucy Saxon. He couldn't bare the thought of that, knowing what he knew now. With pain in his hearts, he wondered if she would still make the same, unlucky decisions if she realized who he truly was. If he told her what kind of hardship and grief lay in store for her, would she not chose differently, and abandon this foolish crush and stay away from Harold Saxon for the rest of her life?
"Yes." He admitted to her. "You will become my wife, but not if I can prevent it."
Lucy had certainly not expected this answer from him. "Why would you want to do that?"
"I'm not a good man Lucy." The crude smile turned into a grimace. "I've killed. Hundreds of men, women and children. In fact, I've murdered so many that I've lost count by now. All those savage years of murderous madness, melting into one blood-soaked fevered dream." He gazed into the distance as he made this confession to her, feeling to shameful to look at her. "You're lucky that I've just woken up from it, or even you would not have been spared, knowing how keen I was on revenge."
She blinked her eyes in bewilderment. "You risked your own life to save me. You came to look for me after I ran away from the witches. You can't be such a bad person."
"I've destroyed the lives of millions, and I am going to destroy yours, if you still decide to marry me. It will be your undoing." He added, giving her a firm look.
She shook her head. "How do you know all this?"
"I'm a not just some sad middling alien species, I am a Timelord. Our race can travel through time and space. What I am telling you now, has already happened. In a way, I am only here to make amends."
"You're serious? You're telling me not to fall in love with you?"
"See it as a friendly warming. That's more than any of us ever gets." He told her coldly.
"I wasn't, you know." She said after an uncomfortable moment. Her cheeks were flushed red. "I mean, I barely know you." She added timidly.
There was a long silence between them as they both gazed over the frosted fields, the silhouettes of dead trees, and watched how the night's sky in the eastern horizon retreated for the frail mist of dawn.
"The sun will be up soon." The Master finally told her, and rose to his feet. "We better be moving on."
"I don't believe you." The Doctor said, staring back at River with a shocked expression on his face.
"It's true. I saw it. Doctor I saw it with my own eyes. The Master will rise as the Nightmare child and bring destruction to the whole of the universe." River told him.
The Doctor shook his head in denial. "I would not allow that to happen."
"You will not be able to stop him."
"He won't change back to the way he was. Not now, not after everything he has gone through."
"But the Ood elders -"
"What they have shown you is just the potential outcome, a possible future, it can be prevented, even reversed if we act quickly and wisely. And the dumbest thing to do right now is to abandon him and allow this alternate fate twist and mangle him into the very monster that you fear." He told her determinedly before he turned around and walked away.
"Doctor!" She called. "Doctor! Where are you going?"
"I need to find him. If you know where we are, I bet the Judoons are after him too."
"Let me come with you. Let me help."
The Doctor glanced back and returned her a most skeptical look.
"It's not like I suddenly agree with you or anything." She answered, marching ahead. "I just want to stick around to make sure you're not going to do something stupid."
"Promise me that you're not going to report him to the Lady Architect." The Doctor urged her.
River gazed at him agitatedly before she finally agreed with a slight nod.
"Right." The Doctor smiled, somewhat relieved. "Come on then. Professor River Song, running with the Doctor, it will be like old times."
"And like the times that are yet to come." If there is still a future left for any of us after the Master is done. She added in her thoughts, determined to fulfill her secret mission.
The light of the stars started to fade. Dawn was soon to arrive. As they ventured through woodlands, and made their way between barren trunks and prickly undergrowth, they were greeted by the frail birdsongs of the very first morning birds.
"Listen. Beautiful, isn't it?" River whispered. "It's like the ancient forests of Shadunshi." She glanced back at him, hopeful to see a sign of recognition on his face. But this was a much younger Doctor, one who had not known her for so long to remember the good times they had on the little dwarf planet.
"What did the Ood elders exactly tell you?" The Doctor asked. He had been so caught up in his own troubled thoughts that he had not even heard River's remarks.
"Not much. You know how they are. Oh come sit with the elders of the Ood. Come share the dreaming. Don't sit too close to the flames, your hair might catch fire, that sort of stuff. When it comes to the interpretations of what was shown, they could explain very little themselves."
"Well, they've always been a race of very few words." The Doctor answered, remembering his own dream session went quite vividly. "What did they show you? Can you recall any of it?"
"It was all a bit hazy really. " River shut her eyes for a moment, trying to dig deep inside her memories. "I saw the symbol of three, marked as a merging between the Greek letters alpha and omega in a triangle shape. It has started showing up everywhere. Not only here on earth in the 21st century, but also in space, throughout the entire history of the human race. It hasn't been there before."
"That's exactly the same symbol as on the Infinity." The Doctor muttered. The Infinity Corporation, does it have anything to do with that?"
"I…I don't know. All I saw was a spaceship, apparently abandoned except for a little girl. A human girl."
"That's Rachel." The Doctor told her. His hearts were sinking as he realized that the prophecy of the Ood elders had already begun to shape their time stream. "What else, what else did you see?"
"A woman, red hair, feisty attitude, a bit too noisy for my taste. She is going to get married, and on her wedding day, she's wearing a pearl earring. Only, it's not really a pearl. It's something else."
"Wait a minute. Red hair, loud mouth, Donna! I could be Donna! But why? Why Donna?" The Doctor muttered to himself. He racked his brains but couldn't figure it out right away. "Alright, go on, tell me more!"
"A young man, a scientist perhaps. Certainly a bit nerdy looking, dark rimmed glassed, a pale complexion as if he hardly ever sees daylight. I saw him sitting behind a microscope, conducting some kind of experiment. Outside the lab, there is a marble slate mounted on the walls commemorating the founder. He's working in the Rachel Boekbinder's Institute for neurological science."
The Doctor mouth dropped open when he realized what this meant. By saving Rachel, the Master he had helped to create this future.
"The elders told me that these three people were somehow connected, they said they were like the fine threads in a web, feeding the black spider in the middle. They were key to the events that will follow."
"Tell me more." He said, with growing anxiety.
"The Restoration of the four. The drums shall rise again. I saw another woman, chestnut hair, piercing green cat-eyes. She is lost in time and in great trouble. She's standing on a scaffold, facing the guillotine in front of an angry crowd. Her head is pushed down and her hair pulled back by the executioner. While her neck rests on the blood stained chopping board, dozens of decapitated heads stare back at her from the grimy basket underneath. The blade drips red droplets over her pale skin."
She looked at the Doctor, who urged her to continue.
"The elders told me that she would be the spark that lights up the inferno. The Master of old will return, the bloody rise of the nightmare child, bringing with him the drums, the destruction of all of creation, and ultimately…your demise." She paused, and studied his face. "Do you know her?"
"No. Not yet." The Doctor replied worriedly.
"And the others?"
"Some. Well, actually, most of them. Oh this horrible! I was there all the time, right by his side. It was staring me right in the face and I didn't notice. Didn't think it could do any harm to let him tweak the timeline a little. Well that's what you get if you pretend to be lord victorious, just for a second. You destroy the bloody universe!" He stopped rambling and gazed back at her in shock as the realization hit him. "I've done this. All that the Oods have shown you, I'm to blame."
"Doctor. It's not your fault."
"I've let him save Rachel. I should have stopped him."
"You can still prevent it from happening. If you would just let me –"
"No! I know what you are going to say, but no! Let me help him. Let me do this my own way." He picked up pace, eager to find Lucy and the Master. Soon, he recognized a familiar scent, coming from the edge of the forest.
"Doctor, wait!" River yelled as she watched him ran out into the fields. In the dim morning light, she could see two figures approaching. One was dressed like a 16th century soldier of fortune, while his companion was wrapped up inside a thick cloak. The pair looked exhausted. The Doctor turned to her before they were in hearing distance.
"Not a word about this to Master. Do you understand?" He told her directly.
River sighed and rolled her eyes. "All right." She grudgingly agreed.
"Finally, there you are. We've been walking for miles now." The Master complained when the Doctor showed up. "Do you have any idea how bloody frosty it gets in these highlands?"
"Sorry. Sorry. I was stuck inside a scene from Hamlet. They though I was the prince of Denmark and tried to kill me. Why is the shimmer gone?" The Doctor asked, regaining his breath.
"We ran into a couple of witches. They were so kind to remove it. If I had to wait for you, I would have already choked on a fur ball."
"Doctor Smith." Lucy gave him a hug. "Oh I'm so relieved. I was afraid that the Grim Reaper might have taken you."
"Actually, I'm just called the Doctor. There is no point in keeping pretence now." The Doctor sighed.
"You don't say." The Master replied sarcastically. "Hang on, what's that sound? Did I just hear a very bad plan being flushed down the toilet? And didn't that little gem of ingenuity came from you?"
"Don't be so smart." River told him sharply. "If it wasn't for the Doctor, you'll still be imprisoned on the dead planet of Gallifrey."
The Master took in the Doctor's new recruit. "And who is this? Hamlet's mother?"
The sinister expression on River's face triggered the Doctor's sweat glands.
"I'm River Song." River answered. "The Doctor's companion. A very loyal one." She gave him a cold look. "You're the Master. The man who is wanted in seven intergalactic regions of the universe, with a death-sentence hanging above his head in more than 12 different time periods. You're what they call a villain."
The Master smirked. "You seem to know an awful lot about me."
The Doctor and I, we go way into the future." She replied. "There are no secrets between me and him."
"Apparently. So tell me Doctor, what else does she know about me?" The Master asked him, crossing his arms over his chest. "Anything that amuses you endlessly and is horribly embarrassing to me, perhaps?"
"Don't look at me. I didn't tell her anything." The Doctor defended himself. "Well, maybe I will. She's has a time manipulator. It's very difficult to keep track of things."
"Why is she here?" The Master asked disapprovingly.
"I came to rescue the Doctor." River answered for herself. "And you." She gazed at Lucy. "You're Lucy Cole. I must say, you look more lovely in real life than in your photographs."
"Yes well, glad we had time to get all acquainted." The Doctor said, clapping in his hands to draw attention away from River. "Now let's try to get out of here before skelletor shows up again, shall we?"
"Why are you so nervous?" The Master asked with suspicion.
"I am not nervous. I just don't want to hang around here too long. Didn't you just complain you were cold?" He pulled River away from the Master and Lucy. "So come on, let's get a move on."
"Do you actually have any idea where we should be going?" The Master asked.
The Doctor fished his sonic out of his breast pocket. "The sonic screwdriver has a homing function that can track down the portals." He held it out in front of him while the tip of the device already started flashing. "It's receiving a signal, coming from over those hills. So that's were we're heading."
"You know." The Master told him while they crossed the field under the watery afternoon sun. "I've never seen you with older women before. Are you sure she is the right type for you? I imagine it would be like traveling with your own mother."
The two girls were walking in front of the Timelords. "Hey! I heard that!" River snapped, glancing over her shoulders.
"It's just that you're so much more used to younger specimen." The Master continued without so much as pinch of consideration. "I though you had rather good taste with the last girl you were with, that Martha Jones. Such a fine figure and pretty as a picture. I don't know what to make of this one, other than to question whether the taste for riper, plumper women comes with advancing age."
"If you want to insult me, could you at least have the decency to lower your voice? I can hear every bloody word you say." River fumed.
"Harry. Please don't be so rude." Lucy begged. "She risked her life to get here to help us."
"Oh please, she's here to rescue you and the Doctor. Judging by her thoughts, she couldn't care less about getting me out of peril." The Master remarked with a grin.
"Are you reading River's thoughts?" The Doctor asked him. "Don't do that! You can't!" He told him urgently.
"What's the bloody harm in that?" The Master chuckled. "It's not like I'm picking the brains of some genius here. It's all just a muddled mess of womanly emotions and suppressed sexual tension towards a certain Timelord. Oh, and a good dose of gut-wrenching loathing towards me of course, let's not forget that." He smirked and winked, earning him another hostile look from River.
"I am serious. Stop it immediately!" The Doctor barked, fearing he might find out about the predictions.
The Master just pouted his lips. "You spoil all the fun of dragging that gorgon along Doctor."
They reached a dead tree on top of a hill. A family of crows was nesting in the branches and looked down over the strange company with much curiosity.
"It should be here." The Doctor muttered, keeping his eyes on the readout of his sonic. "Were standing right in front of it."
"I can't see any doors." Lucy remarked.
"The readings are accurate." The Doctor muttered. "Which leaves us two options. Either the portal has already come and gone, or…"
He stepped back when the air in front of the tree started to tremble, and a white blinding light washed over them. The Doctor shielded his eyes and kept staring into the glow.
"It is about to appear." He added, when a wooden door materialized out of nowhere.
"Is this going to bring us back?" Lucy asked.
"It could do that." The Doctor nodded. "Or I could also lead us right into another painting, but we'll never know if we stand around looking at it. These things are highly unstable, another minute and it might just disappear again." The Doctor stepped forward and opened the door to take a peek. A warm wind stroked his cheeks when the doorway opened to a beach. He stepped through, followed by the others.
"Ah, warm Mediterranean climate, sunny skies, oh, I even got sand pouring inside my shoes." He beamed a silly grin at his companions. "We're still inside a painting, but things could be worse."
"Where are we?" River asked, gazing around.
"Where ever we are. We're stuck again." The Master commented, pointing out the quickly vanishing door. "Let's just hope this place is not swarming with cannibalistic Macras who are going to invite us for lunch."
"The last time I met them, they weren't exactly capable of holding a conversation." The Doctor muttered, remembering the reversed form of these crustaceans hiding out as scavengers in the underground of new New York. "I think we might be on a island. Look at this beach, it is turning around the corner on both sides within our view."
"A bloody speck of an island where we're bound to starve instead of freezing to death. Now that's a great improvement." The Master remarked mockingly. "Although, we could start eating each other. In which case my preference goes to get rid of her first." Nodding in the general direction of River Song. "That should lighten up the mood."
"We're not going to starve. Another door should show up soon." The Doctor noticed the alarmed look on River's face. "Don't listen to him. He doesn't mean a word he says."
"Oh I do actually." The Master responded, grinning evilly. "Did he ever tell you about how I came back wrong and had to constantly sustain myself with human flesh? The liver was my absolute favorite, all bloody and raw."
"You are a monster." River said, genuinely appalled. "Rassilon should have gotten rid of you."
"Oh such a wicked tongue your companion has Doctor." The Master mocked. "You really should teach her better."
"Enough of this!" The Doctor said firmly, rubbing his temples to soothe an upcoming headache. "You two, stay away from each other as far as possible!" He pointed out. "And no! I'm not picking any sides!" He added, before either of them could vent their objections to him. Frustrated, he moved away from the group, and went to sit on a rock on the other side of the beach to think things through.
"What's wrong with him all of a sudden?" The Master muttered, surprised by the Doctor's anxiousness. "He's awfully moody since you showed up." He glared at River. "Now I can imagine that women like you can drain the fun of out of every male of about any species, but that's the Doctor we're speaking of, the man who thinks the phosphorous carousel of the great Mingelinga Stat is a most excellent theme park ride, and whose human equivalent would have invented the casual Friday concept just to be able to wear his collection of silly cartoon ties." He approached her, crossing his arms as he stared her in the eyes with an air of contempt. "So tell me, what's going on?"
"Oh how I wish I could tell you. Right in the face." River hissed, hardly making an effort to shield her own scorn. "But I promised not to. So for now, I will hold my tongue."
"Did you mean what you said?" Lucy sounded quite upset. "Did you really eat someone?"
"I told you, I am not a good man." The Master responded, glancing over at her.
"No, he's a monster. And you better stay away from him, Lucy." River said with a bitter smile on her lips. "Or you might get horribly hurt."
A dangerous sneer of a smile crossed the Master's face, and he was about to do something really stupid when the air above the sea suddenly turned dark, and high waves splashed over the beach, reaching as far as their feet. From the foam of the sea, a spirit appeared. He was almost naked, with strings of seaweed draped around his torso. His features were fine and chiseled, while his eyes glittered like stars.
As if he was greeting his superior, the creature bowed deeply before the stunned Master.
"All hail, great master, grave sir, hail!" The spirit exclaimed.
"Although I do like to be greeted with such enthusiastic servitude, I must ask, and what are you supposed to be?" The Master replied, cocking an eyebrow.
"Oh but I am Ariel, whom you have rescued from my dire wood-bound prison. I have sworn to serve you, great magician, till the day you set me free."
"Of course, and how would that translate in any normal language?" The Master asked.
"That's Ariel, the spirit of the air." Lucy muttered. "Oh, I must have seen him a thousand times when crossing the little corridor between my bedroom and the nursery. He's one of the characters in the Tempest, in which he aids the great sorcerer Prospero to revenge his banishment by his brother. My father used to tell me that story when I was a little girl." She stared at the spirit with eyes wide with wonder. "Incredible, you look exactly like in the painting."
"I've come to answer to my master's best pleasure milady; be't to fly, to swim, to dive into the fire, or to ride on the curl'd clouds; to thy strong biddings, Ariel and all of his qualities, present himself to you."
"Well, that's quite interesting." The Master replied, amused.
"It's a recipe for disaster! Don't you have anything better to do than to offer your service to a evil megalomaniac?" River lectured the spirit.
"Why don't you start with removing this obnoxious Earth woman? Just pick her up and drop her into a volcano somewhere. There bound to be one active on one of these little islands." The Master smirked, earning him a disapproving look from Lucy.
"What?" He grunted and was rolling his eyes when thunder cracked the sky, followed by a bolt of lightening that split the distant horizon.
On the other end of the beach, the Doctor jumped up from his lonely spot and was running back to them with his hands waving in the air.
"No!" The Master told him. "Whatever you're going to say to me, I want to keep this sparkly little fellow. I have never had a companion who was so keen on serving me before, well not without conducting a little mind alteration anyway."
"He's not a stray dog you can pick up from the street." River said in an indignant voice.
"Well, the Doctor gets to keep you, you crazy malicious bitch. There should be a compromise here."
"Where is it?" The Doctor asked anxiously, and started checking the Master's pockets.
"What? What the hell are you looking for?"
The sonic, it's picking up a second signal." The Doctor breathed. "It's like a beacon, leaking coordinates into the dimensions. That's what's causing the disturbances in the atmosphere right now. It's just screaming at the Grim Reaper to come and get us. Come on, where is it? What did you do, try to make another laser screwdriver behind my back?" The Doctor asked, looking accusingly at him.
"Do look like I've anything on me that's more advanced than this metal toothpick?" The Master spat, pointing out his sword. "You turned me into a bloody cat, you idiot. How was I supposed to carry anything?"
The Doctor suddenly froze. He gazed at River.
"No Doctor." River replied, but her face was betraying her guilt.
"Your sonic screwdriver. It's not broken, is it?" The Doctor said in a soft voice.
"I was only trying to protect you." River justified herself.
A hostile wind rose up. A storm was in the air, blasting sand into their faces. Another portal appeared in the middle of the sea, forcing the waves to crash on shore with increased might. The strange rectangle of wood hovered above the watery peaks, giving the seagulls great trouble to avoid to be blown into it. The door slowly opened, and Death passed through.
"She's led him right to us!" The Master spat. "That evil serpent! I knew she couldn't be trusted!"
Lucy stepped back in horror as she watched Death gliding over the water, the waves splashing the tail of his long robe.
"Lucy, get out of here!" The Master shouted, and pushed her towards the higher regions of the island.
"No Master!" The Doctor warned. "Listen, he's after you! Get out of his way, now!" He was about to make a mad dash to get to him when River held the Doctor back with her sonic screwdriver aimed at his chest.
"Stand back!" She shouted. "The Judoons have upgraded my sonic, just in case this might happen. If you take another step further, I will shoot."
"River, have you gone completely mad? The Doctor asked, perplexed. "What are you doing?"
"I'm sorry, but I can't let you intervene." River explained, her voice trembling. "Too much is at stake here. You'll have to let the Grim Reaper take him!"
With the solemn grace of an experienced undertaker, Death strode on shore, and with his robe still dripping with seawater, he reached the Master and raised his scythe, ready to cut down his target.
Sorry about the cliffhanger. The chapter is getting a bit too long so I'm cutting it up into two. Next chapter is coming up next week. I hope you've enjoyed it so-far. Please let me know if you did!