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The Master knew how it felt to be haunted by dreams. He had experienced it almost every night for the last 2000 years ever since that vindictive bastard Rassilon was so very inconsiderate to remove the drums from him. It was a rare blessing if he could sleep one night through without being preyed upon by one. But ever since his last encounter with Lucy, he had suffered from the most horrid nightmares, stuff that his otherwise excellent memory had forgotten for a good reason, but were now resurfacing. All the putrid rotten mess at the bottom of his once dead conscience, floating up to the surface to poison his mind.
Sometimes, these bad dreams weren't always about his villainous past.
He found himself once again in the audience of the strange puppet show on the central market square, sitting on the wooden bench in the front row, while wild organ music piped cheerfully behind the stage. The public cheered when the tiny curtains were raised, and clapped enthusiastically when the Master puppet went on stage. The tailor-suited villain bowed graciously towards his fans with a content smile painted on his perfect round face. He clapped in his wooden hands when he saw the Master. "I knew you would be back!" He cheered enthusiastically. "You liked the first show so much that you came back to enjoy another round of spouse-abuse and domestic violence, hey?"
The Master tightened his jaw, but didn't fall for it this time.
"Oh well." The Master puppet said, a little disappointed that the Master wouldn't snap so easily again. "Lucy is not around today. I accidently dislodged her head when I tried to feed her into the butcher's grinder. She really needed a visit to the almighty toymaker. Now now, calm down, people!" He shushed, pouting his little lips, as the rest the audience loudly vocalized their disappointment.
"I know! Poor Lucy will be dreadfully missed by us all. However, it doesn't mean that we'll have to do without a proper punching-bag from now on." The Master puppet went behind the left wing and reappeared, holding a real-size handgun, which he waved at the puppet behind him, gesturing that he should get on stage.
"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, humans and the occasional mad Timelord, let me present to you, the one and only truly valiant and completely huggable Timelord from Gallifrey, the Doctor!" The Master puppet cheered, and swung the barrel of the hand-musket in the other puppet's back, pushing him forward. The Master couldn't believe his eyes. There on the stage was a puppet version of the Doctor, complete with his ridiculous pointy hairdo and dark flexible eyebrows, flaunting around in his striped brown suit and long coat like he owned the place. He stared at the audience with wide happy eyes, completely oblivious of the fact that that there was a gun aimed at him.
"Say hallo to the kiddies, Doctor." The Master puppet grinned.
"Ello there!" The Doctor puppet waved with a chippy cheerfulness that was truly nauseating, and glanced around with a most moronic smile on his face. "I am the Doctor."
"Yes, we already know that." The Master and the Master puppet sighed, rolling their eyes almost in unison. Honestly, even for a dream this was a boring waste of time, the Master thought, but the audience around him loved it and cheered and laughed as if this was the most fun they had since they discovered how to get rid of Crabs. The Doctor puppet turned around and glanced shortly at the Master puppet before he turned back to the audience. He seemed to be about to address them, when he changed his mind and turned back to the other puppet Timelord.
"What is that?" He shouted, as if he had just noticed the bloody weapon. "Is that a gun? Are you pointing a gun at me?" The Doctor puppet rambled, more offended than he was worried. "Why are you pointing a gun at me? Are you crazy? Put that thing away!" He slapped with his wooden hand the barrel out of his face, but the Master puppet raised it back up again, aiming it at his hearts while he performed his second eye-roll in a minute, which must be, the real Master thought, a whole new record.
"This gun, you marshmallow brain idiot, is completely necessary, because this is my only insurance that you're going to do exactly as I say." The Master puppet whispered in a low, dangerous voice. Combined with that sudden sinister look that appeared on that cute round face, it made him resemble an evil demonic doll from a cheap horror flick, but the Doctor puppet wasn't the least impressed.
"Put that thing out of my sight." He corrected him, and forced it down.
"No." The Master puppet objected, and raised it back up again.
"Yes." And the gun was down.
"No!" And the gun was up again.
"No! No! No! No!" Whined the little Master, like a kid who wasn't allowed to play with his favorite toy.
"Yes yes yes yes!" Responded the Doctor puppet, who was like the Master, rapidly regressing into a six year old. "Yes to the infinite! HA!"
"No to the infinite plus one!" The Master puppet grinned slyly.
The real flesh-and-blood Master yawned endlessly. If he wanted to re-experience a domestic quarrel with the Doctor, he could have just as well stayed awake and reminisce his long list of heated arguments that he had with him ever since he woke up from his catatonic state. The really annoying thing about this was that even in his dreams, that bothersome twat was still trying his best to correct him, even if he was but 30 cm tall and had a hand stuck up his cotton ass. The humans though, just loved it and laughed their stupid heads off.
On stage, the two of them wrestled with the gun till the Master puppet accidentally pulled the trigger and fired a loud shot. A man in the audience suddenly stopped laughing immediately and dropped back from the bench with a look of stupendous cheer still frozen on his face. The real life Master glanced over at him with the same interest one would muster for a news report of a deadly accident in some far-away country and sighed miserably. That was the whole problem with live show acts like these. There was just no remote control to fast-forward the real insufferable bits.
"Oops." The Master puppet chirped. "Sorry old man, butter fingers."
"You shot him!" The Doctor puppet was, as to be expected from the little twat, completely horrified. "You shot the man, and now he's dead! I told you not to swing that gun around! You cannot even be trusted using the microwave, let alone a bloody weapon!"
"Well that's because it never works, even when do you follow the instructions." The Master puppet objected, shaking his head at the Doctor. "It's a rubbish invention anyway, everything you put in turns out either too cold, too hot, too wet or too dry. It's simply not made to prepare food." The Master puppet concluded.
"Oh am so sorry." The Doctor puppet said to the dead man in the audience, turning really sad. "I truly am."
"Yeah, let's drop the drama shall we?" The Master puppet opted, putting the gun out of sight after deciding that they had played enough with it for now. "I didn't bring you into the show to express your sincere condolence to one of my freak accidents." He rested his wooden finger on his painted lips for a second, as if in contemplation. "Doctor, I have a problem."
"Oh, you do?" The Doctor swung around. "Do you need my help?" He asked, a bit too eagerly.
The Master puppet bowed his head in what seemed to be utter embarrassment and gave the tiniest of nods.
"Oh that's good!" Chirped the Doctor. "I love to help! I am good at helping. Absolutely brilliant at it! Now tell me, what's wrong?"
"Well…" The other Timelord puppet hesitated.
"Come on. You can tell me." The Doctor puppet said, looking at him kindly. "We've been traveling together for years now. There are no secrets between us." He encouraged.
"It's my head, Doctor. Lately I've been suffering from such headaches." The Master puppet complained. "I had them before, actually I had them quite often, when the drums were still around, but I though I was better now. Well, you said I was better." He gazed accusingly at the Doctor, unconsciously and irrationally blaming his illness on him. "You said the drums made me ill and that I was better off without them."
"And you are." The Doctor studied him worriedly. "When did it start?"
"Ever since we brought Rachel back, I had them occasionally, but it really got worse after we met up with Lucy last Christmas." It seemed impossible, but the color on the wooden puppet's face became as pale as a sheet of paper. "I can no longer sleep. Every night I lay awake, my head pulsing with pain, and if by mercy I do find sleep there is no comfort in it. I dream Doctor." The Master whispered, his eyes haunted by memories. "The most horrid nightmares come to find me, the relics of my past lives, the dust of the bones of my victims who I have crushed underneath my feet." He shook his head warily before he stared up at him. "Why can it not just be forgotten? I've done all you've asked of me and still…I cannot find peace."
The Doctor stared back him with kindness shining in his eyes, and he was fully determined to help his friend. "Come here." He said. "Let me take a look."
A memory flashed through the real Master's mind. It was a mercilessly cold winter night of a Christmas long ago, and both exhausted after their initial stand off, they lay sprawled out over the floor of an abandoned warehouse. The Doctor, still heavily injured, but so very determined to help, allowed the Master to share his nightmare mind with him. And as the Master took his head between his cold, trembling hands, and guided him to his own, he remembered thinking that whatever the Doctor may find, and whatever may happen afterwards, at least there would now be someone in the universe who understood him, and who had shared in his suffering, even if was only for one short moment in time.
For the puppets, this magic moment of bonding perhaps didn't quite happen.
"HA!" The Doctor cheered in a pantomime manner. "I know what's going! You have a very bad case of woodworm!"
"Wood-what?" The Master puppet said, cocking a serious eyebrow at the Doctor. He clearly did not expect this.
"Wood-worm." The Doctor puppet replied, and knocked on the Master's head a few times. "Or better still, wood-worms, plural, you've got what they call in semi-medical terms a real maggot-noggin." He smiled, content about his own brilliant diagnosis. "You've got wriggly wormey things tunneling inside your brain. That's what's causing the headache and probably the nightmares as well."
"How do they get inside my head?" The Master puppet asked.
"Well you're not going to be glad to hear this, but it is your known stupid fault really." The Doctor puppet replied, hopping up and down nervously. "It's what you get when you decide to take the right of existence in your own hands and plot your revenge behind my back. You end up killing the one true friend you ever had." The Doctor paused. His expression had suddenly turned grim and ominous.
"I didn't kill you." The real Master whispered, clearly upset by the revelation.
"Oh, but you will." The Doctor turned to him, no longer a doll made of wood and cotton, but a man of flesh and blood. "And after that happens, I won't be there anymore to protect you."
The real Doctor faded into the darkness, and the Master woke up, not in his own bed on board of the Tardis, but lying tied down on a hospital cot with his arms crossed over his chest, and secured tightly within the unyielding fabric of a straightjacket. He glanced around in panic. He found himself in an operation theater, surrounded by bleeping machines that monitored his every vital parameter. His head was secured inside a metal cage, and he could not turn nor speak or even blink. Above his head, an IV bag with a green substance dripped lazily down into a tube that was connected into his own bi-circulatory system.
A woman loomed over him, her face showing very little sympathy for his plight, if anything, she appeared bitter and vindictive.
"There you are." River Song said. "All prepared."
The Master grunted when he saw her slowly screw off the lid from a small glass vial. The content inside wriggled and crawled impatiently, like a colony of dark nimble fingers with razor-sharp teeth.
Knowing very well what they were and realizing what she was about to do to him, the Master fearfully shook his head at her, begging her silently with his eyes to stop. River only smiled.
"Oh it's a little bit too late for that, don't you think?" She held the vial right above his right eye, and slowly tilted it to let the creatures slide through the opening. Like a thick drop of oil, they clung onto the rim for a moment, before they let go of the thinning threads of slime and dropped right into the Master's eye. He fought against his bonds when the creatures crawled inside his tear-duct, leaving a trail of agonizing inflamed flesh in their wake, and screamed inwardly as they ate their way into his brain tissue, severing neurons, and mauling through his cortex like maggots tunneling through a corpse. And as he was suffering, River Song kept smiling down coldly at him, and savored every moment, every instance of his agony, just like Rassilon once had through the blackened bars of his burning prison.
He struggled awake, trembling all over and bathing in sweat. With his eyes wild and fearful, he took in the shadows of his unfamiliar surroundings.
He was lying underneath a moist and hot blanket on a straw mattress in the kitchen of a French townhouse that was close to falling apart.
Recent memories started to resurface. Worn out by his nightmare, the Master sat upright and wiped his hand over his face to calm himself. He glanced over at Wilf and Donna, who were both lying peacefully asleep in front of the open fireplace. How I envy these humans, he thought bitterly. He would give up everything just to own that one precious moment of peace in the night. He then shook his head tiredly to clear the last memories of his eternal boogeyman from his mind.
A bitter grin crossed his lips. Even now, his venerable lordship was still tormenting him from beyond his cold dark grave.
He waited in silence for a while till the light that came through the tiny kitchen window turned a hint of dark blue. He than stood up, walked over to Donna and kicked her in the backside. "Wake up, both of you!" He grunted. Although they still had two hours left before the break of dawn, there was some spiteful gratification in forcing these two humans to get up unnecessarily early. If he was not allowed to rest, no-one else in his chagrin company was going to enjoy a good night sleep.
"Oh you gotta be kidding me. It's still the middle of the night." Donna complained as she gazed sleep-drunkenly around, before she cuddled back against her granddad again.
"I said, move your lazy asses! " The Master told her and tossed a bundle of clothes to her. "And get out of that dress you're wearing, it's just screaming to the mob to get you killed."
"Where we are we going?" Wilf asked, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
"We're going to pay a visit to the market." The Master answered. He flung the cloak over his shoulders and fastened the cords underneath his chin.
"The market? But that's not open yet, is it?" Donna asked. She knew from her own weekend visits to the London farm-markets that they could start quite early, but this was so ridiculous early that if she had been London, this was the time of the day when the last drunks still needed to get pried off their stools and be kicked out of the pubs.
"You know what they say about early birds." The Master said, faking a smile. "And what's better in the morning than having a big fat juicy worm for breakfast, hey?"
The three of them ventured outside after the Master had locked the owner of the house away in the cellar, and had made a promise to Wilf to not beat him up too badly. Outside in the fresh morning air, Paris was largely devoid of human activity, with the good citizens of the French capital still fast asleep, leaving the alley cats and sewer rats to dominate the streets.
"Why are we heading for the marketplace? Is that were we can find the Doctor?" Donna asked, trying hard to keep up with the Master.
"I've got some information where he might be." The Master said, grumpily giving in to answer her. He didn't want to explain too much, fearing it might encourage her to ask more. Ever since he had rescued that woman, she had been talking his ears off, constantly firing questions at him like a demented red parrot. Although Wilfred had been posing the same kind of no-brainer inquiries, it somehow was vastly more irritating that the loudmouth redhead was now doing it. It probably had something to do with Donna's total incapacity to even notice how bothered he was with her.
"Yeah, but how do you know for sure this is going to lead us to him?" Donna continued. "Gramps told me how clever you are, but still..."
I am not the Doctor. The Master finished her sentence in his thought. Oh how he hated it to be compared to his goodie-goodie two-shoes companion. "Look, if I could have picked up the Doctor's scent in this well-used but unflushed toilet bowl of a decade, I would have long since done so, but alas, I cannot trace him by smell, and have to reply on my wit to bring us to him. I just know this is going to work because your granddad is right, my brain does function on a vastly higher plane than yours, so you better shut up and just follow my well-considered plan instead of doubting its rationality, understood?" He leaned into her, his eyes blazing.
Donna wisely pressed her lips into a white line in response.
"Good." He muttered, turning around and assuming that the subject was now closed.
"Okay. All right. Let me get this straight." Donna tried, following the Master on his heels. "The Doctor can smell you. And you can smell him?"
Donna stared at the Master with a look if she had just opened the fridge after a month of being on holiday to find a strange fury growth on the bottom of the vegetable larder.
"You mean really properly smell him? Even when you're miles away? Like some sort of spaceman pheromone?"
A few meters in front of her, the Master shut his eyes and groaned inwardly.
"Well, that's kinda…" Donna paused, trying to find a fitting word for it. "Weird…isn't it?" She actually wanted to say suspicious, but somehow managed not to. "I mean, two grown men, sniffing each-other, sensing each-other's presence, that's just a little bit…disturbing really."
"That's what I said." Wilf pointed out.
"That's probably because the both of you share one communal brain-cell. It's only such a shame that you can never quite find out whose turn it is to use the poor little walnut." The Master sneered.
"Well I was just asking. No need to get all cynical." Donna said lightheartedly. Although Wilf had told her everything he knew about the Master's past, she wasn't afraid of him, and she was still blissfully unaware of how dangerous his mood-swings can be. It was just too impossible for her to imagine that this man, who she had saved from the rhino-head aliens and who had rescued her in turn from the sinister mister Fox, who had restored her memory of the good Doctor, and plucked her out of the clutches of a blood-thirsty French mob, could be in any way capable to do her harm.
"The Doctor and I used to have these sort of silly conversations." She shrugged, and smiled when a fond memory came up in her mind. "Once we argued all the way to the 11th solarsystem of Gondwarnia, because the he didn't want to admit that Myspace is really useful to keep in touch with friends you don't really want to keep in touch with. Still, you have to be careful of course. You will not believe what kind of things people put up on the internet nowadays." Donna rambled on. "I had this friend of mine called Nerys, well…sort of friend, we're really not that close and sometimes I just hate her guts, but she bought a webcam to chat with her boyfriend online and…"
"Donna my dear, maybe you shouldn't talk to him for a while." Wilf tried, reading the poisonous look from the Master's face as a final warning.
They finally reached the market square. To the aggravated Master, this wasn't a second too early.
The square was empty, except for a few stands that were left behind from the previous day, but were cleared from any merchandise for obvious reasons. Slippery piles of rotting fish guts and decomposing vegetables that had finally reached the point of being unsellable were also left behind, scattered over the cobble stones with a few fat rats scuttling through them. Like in daytime, the horrid smell that hung around this place was enough to make the Master's eyes water.
"What are we looking for?" Wilf asked, glancing over at the Master, who put his finger on his lips.
"Patience." He muttered, moving his companions behind a corner of a nearby warehouse to get of sight. "Our ride will be here soon."
A few moments later, just when a black cockerel nesting in a nearby bell-tower had appeared on the roof and ruffled its feathers to prepare himself for his first call, the sound of hooves clattering on the road cut through the morning fog. A large cart pulled by two dark horses appeared through the stone archway that led up to the city's square. Two hooded figures dressed in plain robes stepped off. They looked like monks. They knocked on the door of a nearby inn and talked shortly to the man who answered. Then they returned to the cart and started to unload the cargo, rolling huge wine barrels down a wooden ramp into the town house, and came back with equally large vats that no longer seemed full, for they were carried easily by each of the men onto the cart. When they were finally finished, they covered the barrels with a large white canvas and entered to house to finish the transaction. This was the moment the Master had been waiting for. He beckoned the humans to follow him while he sneaked pass the inn and climbed on the back of the cart.
"Get on." he whispered, offering Wilf a hand to help him up. "Quickly, before they get back."
Donna followed after her granddad, and as soon as she had clambered on, the hooded men reappeared. One of them threw a leather pouch that jingled with coins in the air before he put it away carefully.
"Move to the front." The Master whispered urgently and dove under the canvas.
Wilf and Donna went underneath as well and crawled behind him, moving carefully in order not to blow their cover, till they reached the Master who sat half-hiding behind a stack of empty barrels.
"Now what?" Donna asked, getting irritated that the Master was not revealing much of his so-called plan.
"Now we sit and wait." The Master simply stated.
It took not long before they heard the crack of the whip from one of the men on the driver's box. The horses started to pull the cart away from the market square, taking the three stowaways with them to a yet unknown destination.
The cart drove up to Chateau Fontainebleau two hours later, and crossed the courtyard to get to the stables at the back of the magnificent main house. After the cart had entered the building and as soon as the horses had come to a full standstill, the Master and Donna jumped out from underneath the cover and each went for one of the men sitting on the box. Donna had found a shovel in the back of the cart, and put it to a good use. She smashed it on the side of the head of the first monk, who dropped forward and tumbled to the straw coated floor. The Master, however, didn't have a weapon, but took the second man's head in his bare hands and with a violent twist, broke his neck. He then kicked the lifeless body of his victim off the cart, breathing in deep in relief that they had succeeded in disposing them without raising alarm.
For moment, Donna stood frozen with the shovel still in her hands. A look of horror was etched on her face. "What did you do?" She gasped. "You snapped his neck."
The Master glared at her, not truly understanding what the fuss was about. "Yeah. And?"
"He's dead." Donna said. "You killed him!"
"Well that was the plan. To dispose of them. Didn't you kill yours?"
"Of course not!" Donna answered, appalled by the very question.
The Master grunted. If you wanted to get things done around here, you better spare your breath and go do it yourself. He jumped off the wagon and stooped over the unconscious monk, lifted his head from the floor and with one clean sweep, twisted his neck till he heard a reassuring crack. Donna pressed her hand against her mouth to dampen her scream, while the Master whirled around and looked at her with a most puzzled expression on his face.
"Is the coast clear?" Wilf asked, and slowly emerged from underneath the cover. "Do you need any help?"
"It's done." The Master told him. "You can get out of there now."
"There was no need." Donna told the Master, her eyes were glistening. "These men were unarmed!"
A vindictive grin appeared on the Master's lips when he finally realized what this was all about. "Oh of course. You're not used to all this bloodshed with the Doctor. Both of you." He gazed at Wilf who had stepped off the back of the cart and was gazing down at the two bodies with a remorseful look on his face.
"Well let's just say that I have an entirely different method of operation. So get used to it!" He added heartlessly, and showed her a big fat smile.
"This isn't a plan. This is murder." Donna objected fiercely. "And you're laughing about it." She stared at the Master in disbelief. "Is a human life nothing more than a joke to you?"
"Look, I did what I needed to do." The Master said. "These men would have sounded alarm as soon as they regained consciousness, and keeping them as prisoners would have been a great pain in the ass. This was the most logical solution."
Donna pressed her lips tightly together and shook her head. "The Doctor wouldn't have done this. Never." She told him with conviction in her eyes.
"Oh the Doctor!" The Master mocked, and spun around, quickly loosing his temper with her. "The good and moral Doctor, of course." He slapped his forehead with a flat hand. "You know what, the Doctor got his saintly ass kidnapped by a bunch of men who just tried to murder your granddad and me and would probably not think twice to put a fine bullet hole in that red head of yours, so how is that for compassion?" He came real close to her, his anger radiating heat from his skin. Who the hell did she think she was to judge him?
"Anything else to say, Donna Noble?" He told her, his dark eyes piercing into her soul.
Suddenly frightened, Donna shook her head and looked away.
"Thought so." The Master muttered, he turned around and walked back to the bodies. Wilf sat crouched down next to one, and had pulled up the men's hood to reveal their faces. They were heavily deformed by illness and extremely old age, but still, the gentle old man could not help himself from feeling sorry for them.
He gazed up at the Master. "All these years." He said, holding his grey eyes accusingly on him. "All this time that you've spend traveling with the Doctor. Didn't you learn anything from him, anything at all?"
The Master tightened his jaw and sucked in a deep breath, but otherwise remained silent. He took out the Doctor's sonicscrewdriver, and studied the deformed faces closely. Lifting the hood further up with the sonic, he noticed the Infinity symbol that was carved into their foreheads. It had left them marked with a large putrefying scar.
"What are you doing?" Wilf asked, watching how the Master switched on the sonic and whirred it over the faces of the deceased men. "What, is dead not good enough for you? You want to disfigure them as well?"
"Look at them." The Master said, while he continued to scan them over. "They already got faces that only their dear mothers can love. Now what can I ever do to make it worse." He was finished and switched off the sonic before punching in a couple of buttons to set it to function 28. "No, I need to make imprints of their facial structures so I can create the perfect shimmer."
"What's a shimmer?" Donna asked, but her granddad already knew and was moving a couple of paces away from the Master. He slowly raised his hands when the Timelord approached him with the sonic aimed at his chest.
"Is it going to hurt?" Wilf asked warily.
"Only if you want me to." The Master replied with a grin, and switched on function 28.
Although its original purpose was to serve as a mere hunting lodge for the Sun king, the chateau was vast, with long corridors that connected the left and right wings with the main-house building. For two intruders who had never set foot here before, this enormous place with its kaleidoscope of quarters, ball-rooms, and hallways was a confusing maze in which they easily lost their way.
"I can't believe he did this to us." Donna whispered to her granddad. They were crossing a corridor that was made to resemble the great hall of mirrors at Versailles. On their left, there was an endless row of mirrors that caught their reflections as they walked by. The shimmers that the Master had provided worked perfectly. Both Donna and Wilf looked exactly like the dead monks in the stable, and it had actually given them an awful fright when they first caught sight of themselves in the mirrors. Donna studied the bulbous nose and the red, inflamed wounds on the corner of her lips. She found it incredibly weird that whenever she made a movement, that this old and festering body would just follow her actions as if it was her own.
"Why do we get to look like Golemn after he has crawled out of mount Doom? He didn't even shimmer himself!" Donna complained, lowering the hood over the hideous face so she didn't have to see it all the time.
"Well, we had only two monks to replace." Wilf tried, although he must admit that he himself had great trouble to follow the Master's dubious rationality.
"And he just ran off without us. Without even a word of explanation what we should do. He's not really into teamwork, is he?"
"He told us to keep our eyes and ears open."
"Yeah but for what? What are we supposed to find out?" Donna exclaimed, growing ever more wary of the Master's strange tactics. "Even if we did come to know where the Doctor is, where are we supposed to find him? He didn't say anything about where we should meet up again."
Wilf just shrugged. He could give him a ring but he had left his one and only decent jacket in the Tardis. But he wasn't that worried. He had dealt with the Master before. Perhaps that's why he could bring up a little more faith in the seemingly reckless Timelord than his granddaughter could. "Don't worry too much dear. He will probably just show up when the time is right."
"I sincerely doubt it." Donna sighed. Her heart leaped into her throat when a man shouted at her behind her back. Glancing nervously at Wilf, they both slowly turned around. Antoine was standing at the entrance of the mirror hall, and was gazing at the two hooded brethren with a look of discontent.
"Brother Mathieu and brother Alphonse, where have you been?" He asked, raising his chin up as he approached.
Donna took a deep breath to calm her nervous heart. "We just came back from the stables sir." She replied in what she hoped was a steady voice. "We went to the city to sell the wine, like every morning."
"I know you two went to town for the delivery." Antoine answered. "I've sent you myself because brother Arnaud claimed he was down with the flu." He came closer and studied the monks for a moment, without knowing he was putting Donna's and Wilf's sweat-glands hard at work. "Why aren't you both at the chapel?" He asked, and Donna noticed how he brushed his hand over the butt of his musket that hung from his belt. "You were supposed to sell the wine and get back right away. Why did you delay?"
"We didn't." Donna shook her head, fervently trying to make up a plausible excuse. "We lost the money." She blurted out.
"You what?" Antoine grabbed her by her robe and lifted her from the ground.
"No no no! We didn't really lose it. We dropped it on the road and we had to go back to look for it, but we retrieved it! Didn't we?" Donna gazed desperately down at Wilf, who hurried to produce a small pouch of coins.
"Here it is, now let him go!" Wilf said. He recognized that scar, recalling that this was the gunman who had shot at him and the Master, and it made him fear for Donna's life.
"It's a little light." Antoine remarked as he took the bag of coins and weighed it in his hand, but to Wilf's great relief, he did let go of Donna.
"Well, that's all we got for it. People these days are turning every penny before they are willing to part with it. Hard times hey." Wilf told him, hoping that he sounded convincing enough.
"I'll take this to the treasury." Antoine grinned, and pocketed the coins away. "You two. Hop along now and join the others in the chapel. You wouldn't want to be late for the morning mass. The Watcher is an exceptional masochistic mood."
"Right away sir!" Wilf answered, and dragged Donna away from the scary gunman.
"The other way!" Antoine told him, suppressing a sigh. "The chapel is in the east wing. No wonder you're late. You both have the directional sense of a bunch of three year old toddlers."
"Right sir!" Wilf repeated, heading the way Antoine had pointed out while pulling Donna behind him.
"What is this morning mass thing?" Donna breathed. "These guys don't look like the religious type to me. Well, at least not your normal type of religion anyway." She added, for she could clearly imagine them busy drawing pentagrams on the floor and sacrificing chickens in order to raise the devil or something.
"I have no idea, but we better go and have a look." Wilf answered. Now if he could just find his way to the chapel.
Meanwhile, in an entirely different part of the complex, the Master was roaming the abandoned quarters. Without a shimmer, he was relying on stealth alone, although he did have shortly considered asking one of the human companions to turn him into a cat again. But then he realized that in case he didn't find the Doctor in time, he had to rely on the Donna or Wilf to turn him back. He wouldn't trust the old man or the redhead with an ordinary screwdriver, let alone the Doctor's sonic. So he had dismissed that idea and filed it under the "bone-head" category, which left him only his trusted Timelord nose to sniff out the whereabouts of the Doctor. It puzzled him greatly that he could not find his scent. If the other Timelord was indeed held captive by the Order of Watcher, he should be here. No doubt he was probably dwelling in the less posh rooms, but there was not even a trace of him to be detected. All he could pick up was the frail sickening odor of stale urine and ancient human waste that came wafting through the floorboards.
He dived behind the curtains when he heard footsteps approach. Glaring through a gap in the fabric, he saw a young woman in a pink French dress swoop by, her blond hair covered by a long gauge veil. The Master's hearts stopped beating when he caught a glance at her face. He knew those piercing green cat eyes and that will-full look. He had kissed those soft velvet lips so many times in a previous life.
"Anne." He whispered, and the phantom image of her standing underneath the tree of Transcendence appeared in his mind's eye, while he recalled what the eerie puppet version of himself had told him.
"Your other wife. The one you've left behind when your fantasy world of wish-full thinking and should-have-beens blew up in smoke when Rachel whispered the truth into your ears. Better to find her before it's too late."
He was mesmerized and confused by her presence, and his current mission was forgotten for a moment. He had to find out why she was here.
Like a man obsessed he went after her. He followed her, synchronizing his steps so she would not hear him approach, and hid behind statues and dived around the corner as soon as she gazed back in his direction. She went up a flight of stairs and moved to a more secluded part of the west wing, where she disappeared inside a room. The Master, after making sure that there was no-one ner, tried the door. It wasn't locked, and he slipped inside soundlessly. As soon as he had entered, he turned the lock. Anne stood in her bedroom in front of the window that overlooked the courtyard. When she turned around and saw the Master, her eyes grew wide and she opened her mouth just when he reached out and pressed his hand against her lips to silence her screams. While Anne struggled, he forced her backwards till she stood against the vanity.
"Sit down." The Master ordered her, his voice kept to a whisper. "Do as I say and I promise that I won't hurt you."
Anne followed his orders and sat down on the plush stool while she stared at him with fear in her eyes. The Master took a long scarf from the table and used it to gag her. Then he tore a long strip from her veil and bound her hands behind her back.
"Now." He sighed, and lowered himself till they met at eyelevel. "Look at you." He muttered, astonished that his vision had turned to flesh, and gently brushed his hand over her soft cheeks.
"You look exactly like I remember you." He whispered, caught in a rare moment in which he gave in to his hearts. Anne sat frozen on the spot, her whole body tensed as she followed his movements with sheer dread. The Master, realizing that he was scaring the girl senseless, retreated his hand, and kept it by his side while balding it into a tight fist.
"What are you doing here?" He asked, letting reason to regain control. "Who are you?" He studied her for a moment in contemplation. You're the blond bride who replaced Donna at the wedding." He concluded correctly. Anne shook her head and begged with her eyes for her release.
"Oh no." The Master said, wagging his finger at her. "Oh no no no no. I know that look. If you're anything like the Anne I knew you're not going to make it easy for me." He took a chair and sat down opposite to her with a knowing smile on his face. "As soon as I remove that gag, you're gonna scream. You're gonna make sure that you'll be heard by the others, and you're gonna spit and bit until you can fight yourself free. Am I right?"
The pleading look in Anne's eyes quickly faded, and was replaced by a determined, livid gaze.
"That's my girl." The Master said admiringly. "Never go down without a fight."
Anne mumbled something incomprehensible behind her gag that the Master trusted could hardly be anything flattering. There had to be a way to get some answers from her without risking blowing his cover or losing a finger.
"Right." He rubbed in his hands to warm them up. "Close your eyes and clear your mind, then it might not hurt too much." Anne flinched when he placed his fingers on her temples and shut his eyes. Anne and the Master gasped in unison when the mental link rushed into existence, bridging between the Master's memories and that of hers.
He was walking through her memories. Even in her short 38 years of life, there were many. Some ugly, some wonderful, but all precious, but what stood out was one in particular.
It was the last night she had spent in the tower of London alone, right before her execution.
She had let her ladies in waiting dress her up in her black execution gown well before dawn. Left on her own, she had stayed up the entire night, gazing occasionally out of the tiny barred window of her prison cell, waiting for the lights to return in the east.
After witnessing so many of her friends and kinsmen succumb to the executioner's blade, her fighting spirit was long since extinguished. She also no longer believed in the salvation of her own soul, not after she had realized that she had the blood of the innocent who had been dragged down with her in her downfall on her hands. The only thing she had left to pray for, was that Henri would forgive her for her so-called sins, and treat their daughter Elizabeth kindly. She truly cherished the one thing she had left of her daughter, the small silver locker that contains a portrait of her sweet baby-girl.
It was in the first hours after midnight, when she was ruefully staring at the tiny picture of Elizabeth, that a knock came at her door. She turned around, and told who she presumed was one of the guards that it was not yet dawn and that she still had every right to be left at peace. A second knock came. Followed by two more, but there was no sound of a turning key that followed, and no-one entered the room. Finally, she stood up and approached most guardedly.
"Who's there?" Anne asked. "Speak to me! I beseech you!" Her invisible visitor replied with four loud bangs that gave her an awful fright. Fed up with this torment, she peeked through the keyhole to see who was playing such a cruel game on her in her final hours. Outside, the torchlight revealed a deserted corridor. There was no-one there. Not even a shadow. Anne's breath stalled when the four knocks returned, louder than before, shaking the wooden panel in front of her.
"Anne Boleyn." A cold and dark voice whispered through the keyhole. "Do you fear death?"
She scrambled back, fearing that the devil himself had come to claim her, and watched with dread how a thin sliver of black smoke came through the keyhole into the small prison chamber. It moved towards her, curling like a snake around a pole. It elongated to form a ghostly skeletal claw. She took a deep breath of air, and noted the foul smell of burnt flesh and dusty ashes lingering around the frightful vision.
"Tell me!" The voice ordered her. "Are you afraid to die?"
Anne's suppressed a scream when the claw extended towards her and brushed over her cheek. It felt so incredible cold, as if she was touched by frost.
"Answer me human child!" The voice roared.
"Yes!" Anne cried out. "Yes I am! Now please, wandering spirit, I beg of you, leave me to my wretched self."
"Foolish queen! If I would grant you your wish I would send you off to meet your greatest fear." The voice replied. "However, if I decide to act." The claw moved over her silver locker, and for moment, the portrait of her sweet child was hidden in a cloud of white shimmering mist. When it retreated, it revealed a white pearl, perfectly round in shape. It sat on the one half of the locker, glistening to her as if it had just emerged out of the retreating waves. "I will give life." The voice told her, and the dark smoke swirled around his gift like the foam of restless sea. "Take it. Take my gift to you, queen Anne of England, and you will not die…"
Anne stared at the gleaming sphere that seemed to be emmit an unnatural bright light. Although she feared this strange but magnificent vision, she also had nothing left too lose. Slowly she extended her hand into the glow.
"Take my gift my human bride, my royal companion, listen to my voice and hear it call out to you over the stars. Take it, and from now on, let me be your Lord and master."
"Yes." Anne closed her fingers around the pearl. "Yes." She shut her eyes and let his melodious call enter her, a strange rhythm of four sequential taps. The ancient heart beat of the universe. "Please, save me! Milord! Please save my life!"
The lights that swirled around the pearl lying in her hand grew brighter till she was blinded by it, and could no longer see the gray walls of her prison. Then it swallowed her whole.
The Master let go of her, pulling back his hands as if he had just been burnt. "That can't be true." He shook his head in horror, trying to forget what he had just heard, but the sound of the drums kept ringing inside his ears.
"No! Not you! Why you? Why did it chose you?"
Anne looked equally shocked, and tried desperately to remove her gag. In an act of panic, the Master pulled it down her chin and watched wretchedly how Anne took in a deep breath of air. To his surprise she didn't scream for help, and then he realized.
"You looked into my memories." He muttered, finding it hard to believe that a mere human could enter a Timelord's mind, but nonetheless drawing the right conclusions from the strange look of recognition and confusion in her eyes. "While I was digging in your memories, you used the link to sneak a peak into mine."
"It was not just a mere peak." Anne admitted, her eyes shining with a new, dangerous knowledge. A smile of utter disbelief crossed her face. "I was there with you, in a settlement among the stars, a strange Utopian place of a thousand worlds. We were husband and wife." Her mouth dropped open with this realization. "I loved you." She muttered, half in disbelief. "And you…you loved me."
The awkward silence that followed was broken by several knocks on the door.
"Milady?" Antoine enquired. "Are you all right? I was just passing by and heard the commotion in your private chamber."
The Master breathed in deeply and gazed at Anne, who looked back at him strictly. "Aren't you going to threaten me to keep my silence?" Anne whispered, not without reproach.
"Milady?" Antoine called. His knocks on the chamber door grew more impatient.
"Yes Antoine." Anne said, keeping her gaze on the Master. "I am fine. It was my cat. He jumped on the vanity and swept some of my perfume bottles on the floor." Anne answered in a clear voice.
"Do you help? Do you need me to come in to fetch the animal?"
"No." Anne told him after a short pause. "I'll be fine."
"Well, if you need me for anything else my good lady, I will be at the chapel." Antoine said, and even thought his mistress was behind closed doors, he took off his hat and bowed to her before he left.
Anne sighed deeply. "If he had seen you in my chambers, he would have put a bullet straight through your brain before he even thought of asking questions. He's very protective."
"The question is why didn't you let him?" The Master asked, incapable of understanding her act of kindness.
Anne gazed back at him. If she had once felt real fear towards him, it had now all vanished from her heart. "How can I betray you, after all what you've shown me." She told him with sincerity in her voice.
The Master was surprised when she took his gaunt face in her soft hands, and slowly turned it from side to side while she studied him.
"So this is how a Lord of time looks like." She said inquisitively.
"Well not everyone is as good-looking as I am." The Master replied with a flirtatious grin.
"This is what you are." Anne said. "The 15th regeneration of the Master, a remorseless man who does not love anything in this universe because he claims he has forgotten how."
The smile disappeared from the Master's face. "How much have you've been probing inside my memories?"
"I've seen enough, heard enough and felt enough to know you." Anne's eyes shone with the deepest of sympathy. "You are lonely, and scared, and haunted by your own nightmares to the brink of sanity, but you don't want anyone to know. Not even the Doctor."
"Stop it!" The Master told her angrily, shaking his head and putting a finger on her lips. "Don't say anything more."
"It's the truth. Why still try to hide it if I know everything about you?" Her voice filled with sadness. "My poor fugitive from the stars, constantly fleeing from the past in search of a place of silence where he can no longer hear the drums."
The Master grabbed her hand. "What more do you know about the drums?" He asked, fearing that she got more out of their short liaison than he got out of her.
"I know as much as you." She told him with a sad smile. "And they are indeed poisonous…Ever since I survived my own execution I wish that I had never taken my Lord's gift. His voice…it's calling inside me every night. An endless onslaught on my sanity."
Her eyes shone with the beginning of tears, and gently, she caressed his face. "So I know Koshei." She told him.
"I know how it feels, and I understand why you need to be free of it."
His stone heart melted when he heard her speak his name. There were only two people in the entire universe that he trusted enough with his true name. It brought out every feeling he once had for her in that strange would-have-been world, and he was unable to let her go.
"Anne, listen to me." He begged, taking her hands into his own. "Let me help you. I know how to get rid of the drums."
"You told me you loved me more than your own life." She whispered, gazing at him with hooded eyes. "Just before we parted, right before the Doctor took me away to flee from the Daleks. You said…"
"If we survive this. I promise." The Master whispered. "I'll find you."
"Milady!" A coarse voice suddenly called that stirred both the Master and Anne. "You're summoned at the chapel by the Watcher."
"Let her know I shall come soon." Anne replied firmly, keeping her eyes on the Master.
"She said, at once!" The hooded monk waiting at her door replied.
"Go." She whispered to the Master. "Hide behind the mirror and wait till I am gone. Quickly, before he gets impatient and unlocks my chamber. He has a key."
"I'll come back for you." The Master told her.
"I know." Anne replied, smiling shyly at him. "You made a promise."
"And that I will keep." He answered with all the sincerity in his hearts.
"Milady?" Came the impatient reply.
"I am coming!" Anne rose up and crossed her bedroom. Before she opened the door, she glanced back to make sure that the Master was out of sight. Then she unlocked her chamber and stepped outside, immediately shutting the door behind her.
"What are we suppose to do in here?" Donna wondered. "It would hardly be like attending church at Sundays." She took in the congregation that had gathered in the small private chapel. There were at least 100 monks, just standing around and waiting. Each of them was so hideously scarred that it was impossible to for her to determine their age or even their gender. The large cathedral-like windows with the colorful leaded light patterns were half obscured behind a huge tarpaulin that hung behind the altar. It was spattered with dark crimson stains whose origins were too grisly for Donna to think about.
Raised high above her followers and standing in front of her sedan chair on a platform, the Watcher, a half-mummified woman who could possibly be as old as Methuselah himself, gazed down upon them with an indistinguishable look in her ancient eyes.
If we start singing Amazing Grace right now, I would probably not be able to keep myself from giggling like an idiot, Donna thought.
"Silence!" The old woman screamed, unexpectedly producing an awful lot of sound out of her dusty lungs. She looked down at her flock with a sudden alertness in her eyes. "We have gathered to receive the word of our Lord, our almightily shepherd." She raised her withered sticklike arms to the ceiling. "Listen. He is calling. His voice growing stronger and stronger."
Donna and Wilf gazed around and noticed that the all of the brethren were extending their hands upwards to receive whatever that was supposed to be send down to them, and to keep in character, they attempted to do the same. It was quite hard though to completely mimic that almost intoxicated expression of brain-dead spiritual elevation if you didn't exactly know who you were worshipping.
"Stronger, and stronger still." Murmured the Watcher, closing her eyes. "Prepare the contraption." She ordered.
Donna glanced up to the ceiling where a huge structure that looked like telescope aimed straight upright to the sky dangled from a web of thick robes. It was slowly lowered down by eight strong looking monks using a primitive pulley system. The eyepiece was centered right above the altar where the Watcher stood.
"Open the window to the stars." The Watcher ordered next, and a hole opened up in the ceiling, that grew larger as panels in the roof shifted to make an open space. The brethren below shielded their eyes when the harsh afternoon-sun shone through and cast the gloom out of the chapel.
"We're almost ready to receive our Lord." The Watcher moaned, and blinked her sensitive eyes against the blinding light. She too was not used to be exposed to the sun, having not stepped outside her temple for more than over two decades. When she was finally struggling to keep on her feet, two of her men came to her aid and slowly lowered her down into her sedan chair.
"Soon." She croaked. "Soon I will be strong again. Once my wretched body has received our Lord's spirit, He will restore my youth. He will cast this wickedly burned skin from my flesh and replace it with a new, far better coat, and I shall be his beautiful bride." She gestured to one of the monks. "Where is that Tudor queen?" She asked, narrowing her eyes and casting an impatient glance over her worshipping minions.
"I am here." The rows of monks parted, and Anne came forward. She curtsied politely. "Your most honorable abbess, you summoned me?"
The Watched held out one mummified hand. "The jewel." She whispered. "The white diamond that had adorned the necklace of Marie Antoinette and that I've commanded you to collect. Do you have it?"
Anne hesitated for a moment, but finally took her silver locker and opened it. A perfectly cut, round diamond the size of a pearl dropped in her hand.
The eyes of the Watcher widened in anticipation. "Hand it to me!"
Anne offered the jewel to the old woman, who took it greedily, and held it between her thumb and finger up to the light. "Behold this blinding jewel!" She gasped. Anne's efforts and sacrifice were completely forgotten, she only had eye for her treasure.
"The brightest most noble star." The Watcher spoke. "That's what was lacking! That was what we still needed to finish our Lord's greatest work!" With the aid of her servants, she shuffled to the monster telescope, and with her claw-like hands trembling uncontrollably of excitement, she was about to fit the diamond in the specially carved niche that would place it directly in the path of the lenses, when a hand reached out from above and snatched from her.
The old Watcher gazed at her empty hand and screamed, as the robber swept over her head, dangling from one of the ropes used to hold the telescope contraption in position. Donna and Wilf held their breath when he cast his red robe aside and revealed himself to the audience below.
"What is he doing up there?" Donna hissed.
"Told you he would show up." Wilf muttered, gazing with a wide eyed look up at the ceiling.
Her granddaughter shook her head as she watched how the Master rushed down the rope and landed next to the raging Watcher. "Is he mad or what?"
The Master had just his feet back on the ground and had let go of the rope, when the old woman fixed her eyes on him in astonishment.
"Rope burn!" He said with a mad grin, blowing on his hands to cool them down. "I hate it when this happens!" Before the Watcher could say anything, he had grabbed hold of her and had tossed the cord around her frail birdlike neck a couple of times before tightening it with a firm grip.
"Stand back!" He yelled down at the monks who were already scrambling over each-other to get on the platform to rescue their mistress. "All of you! Come any closer and I'll turn this walking corpse into a real one." He shouted, smiling about on own morbid joke.
Even now, the Watcher was furious that the precious diamond was taken from her. Her hands clawed wildly at the Master, trying to pry the jewel from his fingers, but she lacked severely in strength to succeed.
"What are going on about, you crazy bat?" The Master smirked, clearly enjoying the violence. He brought with his free hand the jewel closer for inspection. "Let's see what you're little treasure is." He muttered and glanced fleetingly at the shimmering object.
The white diamond was not just an ordinary diamond.
The diamond was a perfectly cut, unspoiled white point star.