I'm a firm believer that a story doesn't need to be long to be good, and hopefully this demonstrates that. Just a one-chapter story, but quite major/dramatic. Hope you enjoy!
This could be my last story on FanFiction for a while, though I'll still read and reply to reviews.
Anyway, there might be a few characterization issues in this story, but I'm portraying the Trickster a little differently to how it is in SJA, so there have to be a few differences. Not to mention, the way I see it, it'd have to vary its personality depending on who it was trying to bargain with.
This is set immediately pre-End-of-Time.
The Doctor stood alone in his TARDIS, standing lightly on his feet and nimbly whirling around the central console: he was almost dancing, moving with each shudder of the coral.
He was alone, now. So alone. And so, he wasn't concerned with getting anywhere, wasn't concerned with landing. Instead, he sailed through the turbulent time vortex, occasionally pulling the scanner-screen across, peering into it, grinning. There was a surprising amount of debris among the red aurora; not a crash, not some shattered prototype time machine, it seemed to be almost naturally occurring. Rocks, plants, torn apart by the time winds.
The Doctor didn't know how such things could appear in the vortex; yet he simply put it down as a mystery. No one fully understood the time vortex; perhaps such things happened naturally.
The Doctor was, however, enjoying the challenge: piloting the blue box through the eerie debris field, not just as a challenge, but to explore; see outside with the scanner. What lurked here?
Staring outside, the Doctor blindly felt his way around the controls, relying on memory; he manoeuvred between two moon-sized rocks, twisting the scanner to examine one as he whizzed past. It seemed for a moment that there'd been a flicker of black on the surface-
The lights went out.
Everything, for an instant, stopped. The TARDIS fell into pitch darkness, the soft hum of the engines stopped, not even grinding; and even the scanner blacked out.
Once the instant had passed, the lights lit up once more; illuminating the control room. The Doctor fell back from the console, righting himself quickly; the engines had not restarted, though the scanner had. It still showed outside; that same patch of the time vortex, rocks slowly moving: yet the TARDIS appeared to be staying still. Well, that was impossible; with the engines and stabilizers off, it should be whirling around like mad.
Unless he'd landed. But that was impossible: he was in the time vortex. Unless…was he on one of those rocks? And how? Why had he landed? He hadn't told the TARDIS to.
Hesitant, the Time Lord turned around, facing the strangely distant doors. With slow strides, he covered the distance to them, long coat flapping around his legs. He rested one hand on the door and, hesitant, carefully, pushed.
The scanner was wrong.
Outside, it was glorious. The time vortex did not dominate the skies, and neither was the ground the box rested upon made of that crude rock.
He was in a courtyard. A courtyard within what appeared to be a castle: a grand castle composed entirely of, seemingly, glass. There was a waist-high, ornate, archaic altar of the same, glassy transparent material a matter of metre sin front of him, in the centre of the clear courtyard.
The sky was black. Just black; a void, the emptiest possible, empty with infinity. Light came from just eight stars; pinpricks, yet inordinately bright. Those eight shone down; and where their light caught the glass of the castle, a translucent, impossible reflection of the whirling reds and blues of the time vortex appeared.
The open courtyard appeared to be like a normal castle; awe-inspiring, large, several entry points visible around the four surrounding, transparent walls. And opposite the Doctor, just beyond the altar, stood a figure.
It was garbed in black; deep sable, silken robes, over a thin, humanoid form. Almost humanoid. Its whole body was concealed beneath hat robe; gloves of the same velvet concealed slender hands, and a thick hood was drawn over its head: yet a face was visible. An inhuman face.
It had no eyes. Instead, ancient skin covered the sockets, sunken in, darkened; the skin was stretched over a possibly-human skull. It did however, have a mouth; a maw, tight, thin crimson lips with rows of small, pointed teeth within. Fangs.
"Doctor," the creature spoke with a slow, hissing voice. Once more inhuman; perhaps it made an attempt at being reasonable, it was hard to tell. Any such emotion was wiped away by the sheer malevolence emanating from its tone.
The Doctor could but stare across at it. He shut the TARDIS door behind him, unwilling to let that being enter it.
"Trickster," he replied, simple: the word dropped like a weight. Mistrust resplendent in his voice; the veiled figure gave no sign it cared.
"Welcome to Citadel Cachexia," the Trickster spread its gloved hands, openly; "Where time has wasted away. Its inhabitants bargained with I and my kind so often that even this world's name was lost to Chaos and paradox. And so I may manifest here."
The Doctor remained silent for several seconds more, watching carefully. He had no one with him; no one to impress. He didn't need to pretend civility to a creature that dissected, brutalized time itself. The Trickster craved chaos, the absence of order: it desired destruction. To do so, it could change time: make bargains with people to change an event in their past, apparently to improve their lives. But there was always a price, and always a twist. Sometimes such a bargain resulted in greater chaos: and sometimes the price was servitude.
The TARDIS stood within arm's reach; a comforting presence. Warm. Humming.
"So, what do you want?" the Doctor said, tiredly, "Blackmail? A twisted deal?"
"You misjudge me, Time Lord. I bear you no enmity: we have opposed each other many times, have we not? I seek only Chaos, and our interests have been at odds. No more. You Doctor, you are a truly Chaotic element, I believe you would be…happy to listen to me."
The Time Lord tensed at that description of him; yet found himself hesitating. It was true, the Trickster and his Brigade didn't have enemies, as such. No real foes: they simply revelled in chaos, and supported whatever would achieve chaos. There'd been legends of a war among two distant worlds. For one year, the Trickster bargained with one side; and by the next year, it spoke to the other, for some unknown price. Then again, they were but legends: all things were however, in the end. If they spoke to the Trickster, it was wholly possible the deal made may have resulted in the species being wiped from time.
"So, what do you want?" the Doctor asked again, meeting the Trickster's eyes sockets. Neither moved.
"Nothing but words. Is that not what you preach? Words over combat. We will speak, I will make an offer. Reject it and leave, or accept it and…" the Trickster's voice trailed off; it waved one gloved hand. "There is no deceit."
"That'll be a first." The Doctor muttered, cynical. He rolled his eyes, sighing. Well, he had plenty of time. The Ood had summoned him, sure; but he'd already delayed plenty. And he had a time machine. He could take as long as he wanted. Then, slowly: "So, what is it?"
"Victory," the Trickster's response was simple. "I am of Discord, I have powers beyond anything you could create: I am capable of, with permission of course, travelling along your personal time stream, so far into your past. In such journeys, there are no barriers; for those barriers have already been circumvented by your journey through them." The Trickster made a remarkable attempt at civility; he kept his hands to his sides, wide apart; open. "And so, should you accept my offer, I may change any event in your past. If the change seems beyond your powers, I may add mine; if you do not trust me to do so, I will give you the knowledge to make the change. Any change." The Trickster's thin maw curled in what was perhaps a smile: "And so, victory. That is my offer, Doctor: I offer you the victory of the Last Great Time War."
At that, the Doctor froze. Shaken.
"Not possible," the Time Lord replied, all too quickly. His voice shook.
"Is it not?" the Trickster lowered its hands. "I may give you the power to successfully wipe away the Dalek race; even those who attempted to flee. You could heal the Degradations and banish the spectres: I have heard of what happened within the Time Lock, yet I may not journey inside without your acceptance. Simply agree, and we may journey back along your personal time stream, into the Lock: the Time Lords shall be saved, the War will be won, and the Daleks shall be no more."
"It wasn't the Daleks I was afraid of," the Doctor shot back, mind working hurriedly. He wanted to believe the Trickster was telling the truth: and it was for that reason he had to think up as many flaws with the creature's statements as possible.
"The corruption of your own people," the Trickster replied simply, not even querying. It knew every response the Doctor could or would make: "Then you may simply redeem them. I may give you the power for that also, if it is your wish."
The Time Lord froze once more. He'd be lying if he said it wasn't what he wanted. Because he did want it; he wanted it oh so much. The Time Lords as they were of old; haughty, imperfect perhaps, lazy and sometimes corrupt: but they were good. At least, they tried to be. And they were his people. The world of his once-home, where good friends resided, and home to the most exotic and impressive sights in the universe. Perhaps even the Time Lords as they were when they prized justice, before their society stagnated and decayed.
The Doctor was heartbroken, he was disbelieving. But above all: he was tempted.
"And the price?" He didn't sound scathing or cynical. He knew of the Trickster's abilities, knew it was theoretically possible: and he knew how the Trickster was tied to contracts. It would not be able to break a deal once made.
The Trickster reached out with one hand, spread the fingers; trying to show lightness. "One hour of your life. There was a time when you landed in deep space: in doing so, an asteroid contacted your TARDIS, and it shattered. Had you materialized elsewhere, the asteroid would not have hit your TARDIS and would have continued along its original course, where it would drift into the path of a ship. The ship would not be destroyed, merely delayed by a matter of but seconds: such precious seconds. No lives will be lost, but that ship would then be forced to rush. As it rushes, it will displace much matter, not life, merely inanimate matter. Yet incredibly large quantities of this will move; the ship will be damaged as it moves at higher speed, but will survive, and the matter it contacts will be forced to move quickly. So quickly. For months, years to come will the chain reaction spread. No one will be harmed: but there will be chaos. Glorious chaos in such a small gesture. That is all I desire: are those unimportant seconds more important to you than your people?"
The Doctor could once more do nothing but freeze.
No lives lost? No one harmed? Just the simple reaction of matter on matter, chaos without loss of life. Of course it was possible, and there was no reason for the Trickster to desire death when he could gain chaos through other means.
The life of Gallifrey, the resurrection of the Time Lords of Old, and the death of the Daleks. All for the movement of matter? If no one would be harmed…
Could it really be so simple? The Doctor didn't know. For once, he didn't know; and it scared him.
The Trickster watched the Time Lord's indecision; before lifting a sable-gloved hand. It gracefully pulled off a ring; a brassy, diamond-shaped accessory, and let it drop onto the glass-like pedestal.
"Take the ring, when you are ready to choose."
With that, the black-robed being vanished. There was no way to describe its departure; one moment it was there, the next it had faded. Emptiness; leaving the transparent castle wall behind it visible. The ring rested on the altar.
And the Doctor could not bring himself to move.
Should he get in the TARDIS? Just get in the TARDIS and flee? He'd never find this place, never find Citadel Cachexia again. Not if it was as wrecked as the Trickster's manifestation implied.
That was surely a good thing: if not for hope. Simple hope. What if, for once, there were no strings to the Trickster's bargain? That which the creature promised would have to come to pass: no lives will be lost as a result of the change. That was good; and the Time Lords in all their majesty would return, that grand civilization back, and redeemed. No longer waging war against all the universe, and no longer decaying. As they were of old, when they rarely interfered; and when they upheld justice, should they be called upon to do so.
Paragons of the universe. Would they thank him for dealing with the Trickster?
It was true, that his people had decayed as time went on They'd gone from almost the embodiment of justice to indifferent tyrants: first a race he was proud to belong to, to a stagnant, decaying people. They lost their power, and their order; and so began the spiralling descent of what may have once been the greatest civilization of them all.
And then they went to War: became murderous, bloodthirsty, genocidal: willing to do anything, to sacrifice anything.
And yet, if they could be redeemed from that: if the Trickster's bargain would allow him to raise Time Lord society to how it was before he fled… When they cared about justice; when they upheld their Laws of Non-Interference, yet accepted deviation: on worthwhile occasions, even encouraged its breaking, if that race was back in the universe, could it be anything but good?
And what was the catch? The Trickster's trick, that unavoidable detail which could damn the universe.
Sighing, the Doctor stood; walked forwards. He passed the clear pedestal, and moved on, into the glass-like corridors of Citadel Cachexia. Exploring.
If he couldn't decide on a course of action, he may as well entertain himself as he thought. This world, apparently its inhabitants had dealt with the Trickster until time itself became so corrupted that it existed closer to the vortex than it did to the rest of the universe: time had decayed. Perhaps here, he would be able to see more, discover more about the Trickster's bargains.
He needed a reason to say 'no'; needed a reason to abandon Gallifrey. Yet, as far as he could tell, there was none.
Could it be, for once, that the Trickster was telling the truth?
The universe might well be better off. Daleks erased, the Cybermen left where they were, a universe away (and he couldn't right the wrongs of every universe, not without Time Lord help in any case. They made travel to parallel universes so much easier), and the Master living away his life at the final end.
So, what was it the Trickster wanted? There was the chaos of the matter: but was that all? Beyond that, the Doctor could not fathom what discord the resurrection the Time Lords would cause.
Unless… was it the Time Lords themselves?
A whole new race in the universe; a new race to corrupt, billions of beings the Trickster could bargain with: and those bargains could have disastrous consequences. There came a point in almost every Time Lord's life when they could affect galaxies with tiny choice. The Trickster could change those choices; it could corrupt so, so much with barely any effort at all.
Yes, it could achieve chaos. It was wholly possible that that was its motivation: to find more victims, people who could bring so much discord to the universe. Yet, the Doctor hesitated: was that any different to the universe now? There were always bad choices to be made, always corruptible, power-mad beings. It was unavoidable: it was a fact of life.
So, why be afraid of them? Why be afraid of a few bad choices? If the Doctor could succeed in redeeming his people, maybe using the Trickster's bargain to achieve that; to make the Time Lords be as they were of old, then there'd be little prey for the black-clad creature.
The Doctor continued to pace outwards, reaching a transparent wall of the castle and staring out: a flicker of the time vortex in the glass, and beyond there lay some great sea. Grand, awe-inspiring: and composed of the same aurora as the time vortex, only translucent, barely noticeable unless he focused. Then there was a flicker of colour in the vast emptiness; and a wave of pure temporal energy crashed down.
The pure black sky above was oppressive, muffled the piercing light of those eight stars: or rather, the Doctor realized with a shock, the same star. The exact same star, in appearance, in intensity, in shade, in everything: except position. So, the Trickster had again spoken the truth: the people who'd once lived on this world, they must have made so, so many bargains with the Trickster and his ilk. Time was wrecked, decayed around the planet: even its star existed in eight different locations. So many little changes, resulting in that. Schrodinger's Star.
It was a tenet of quantum theory: place a cat inside a box with poison, and until the box was opened to see, then the cat could be both alive and dead at the same time. This was the same principle, only on a much larger scale: on a stellar scale. A star which was both here, and there, and there… even while seen.
A pang of fear ran through the Doctor: did the Trickster intend Gallifrey to end up like this? Cachexia: time decayed until cause-and-effect and even space was warped, distorted beyond recognition.
Or was that too much? Was he trying to find flaws, to find mistakes? Though the Trickster was hardly benevolent, it could hardly be called evil: chaos could be both good and bad, depending on the situation. Sometimes order was the greatest threat: order was what lead to the decline of the Time Lords. Order was stagnancy: it was chaos from which the proudest civilizations emerged.
The Doctor was desperate.
Slowly, he turned back; winding slowly through the transparent corridors of Citadel Cachexia, through the glass-like castle. He needed to choose soon: he couldn't spend forever in the castle, and neither could he leave without thinking it through. If the offer was genuine, if he really could resurrect and redeem the Time Lords, it was worth it.
Soon, he stood by the pedestal: the last of the Time Lords looked down, reaching out. His hand hesitated just above the Trickster's ring, and then-
He reached down, hesitant, and grasped the metal between two fingers. Then, with sudden quickness; tentative, he slipped the ring onto his finger.
In an instant, the world was wiped away. The glass of Citadel Cachexia became blankness, whiteness; emptiness. Before him, sable robes a stark contrast to the preternaturally pale surroundings, stood the Trickster.
"Promise me," the Doctor said, firm, before the Trickster could speak: "Promise me no one will be hurt because of my deal."
"I give you my word," the Trickster took a disconcertingly graceful step forwards; "None will be harmed by the changes we make together, save for those you choose to harm."
He hesitated. Was that as good as he'd get? He couldn't ban harm utterly; else the Daleks would pull through. If only the ones he chose to harm suffered, then surely…
Choose to harm? What right did he have to choose that? They were going to go back along his personal time stream, to the Moment: the power he'd wielded then was enough for anyone, more than enough.
The whiteness around them momentarily shimmered; gold, red, blue. They were beginning to shift back in time, it seemed: along the Doctor's time stream. He felt a dull pounding in the back of his head; but that was to be expected.
"The words 'it will be' will complete the oath," the Trickster spoke again; "Now, Doctor, kneel, and repeat me."
The Time Lord obeyed, falling to his knees. He barely felt it; in the white around then, echoes of the past seemed to appear. The Ood in the snow, Mars, a huge desert… Translucent images.
And then the Trickster spoke. The light around them dimmed; the echoes of the past became almost substantial as they flashed by. His own past, his own time stream, rewinding at the Trickster's command. Daleks whirled, planets span…
"I, the Doctor, last Time Lord of Gallifrey," the Trickster spoke softly, raising a black glove to gesture the Doctor to repeat.
"I, the Doctor…" the Time Lord did so; seeming almost reluctant, unwilling, heartbroken: yet oh-so desperate.
"Do swear by all that is held as sacred," the Trickster continued to speak the oath; watching carefully as the Doctor echoed each phrase, each word.
Simply enough, the Time Lord wanted it: wanted to bring back his people, especially as they were of old; when they were a race anyone would be proud to belong to. He'd fled them, but that was because they were different to him, not because they were evil.
Not as evil as the Daleks, at least: and with the Time Lords again present, the Daleks may well prove less of a threat.
"By the Sash of Rassilon, the Key of Rassilon, the Rod of Rassilon and the Eye of Harmony," the Doctor continued, remembering.
He remembered Agatha Christie for a moment, watching her house, for an instant, around him. And then he remembered the Eye of Harmony: didn't see it, they weren't that far back yet, but he could still recall: more than once the galaxy had been threatened by that Eye. He'd saved it.
The Trickster could change that. If it met the right people, asked for a different outcome: moved the Doctor elsewhere, or changed time just the tiniest bit…
And then he remembered the Panopticon, a proud structure towards the heart of Gallifrey. The true Eye of Harmony rested deep below; he remembered the beauty of the chamber itself, remembered the way light caught the glittering walls; and he remembered the science, the sheer knowledge put into the construction of that one building.
"Top uphold the Trickster's covenant," the black-garbed being spoke, voice little more than a rattling exhalation.
"To uphold the Trickster's covenant," the Doctor repeated, almost zombie-like. A deal with the devil; he didn't want to be forced to work with an envoy of Discord, didn't want to bargain with a being he'd fought against so hard. And yet what was there for him to do?
The potential rewards were immense. And the losses? Nothing, in the end: there was the chance that Time Lords could be corrupted by the being's deals, but there was the same risk among all the peoples of the universe. And if he could redeem the, bring back the Time Lords of old…
"I will gain victory of the Last Great Time War," the Doctor continued, hesitating to listen to the Trickster. He spoke slowly, weighing, thinking in depth about each word: about the vow as a whole. If there was one break, one crack, one flaw; if there was but one sliver through which the intent could be corrupted, then he'd stop. Take the ring off, and throw it away, fling it into the illusions of his past.
The Daleks rose around him, almost completely solid: Rose stood there, her eyes glowing, shining, as she reached out with one hand-
The image flashed away.
"And lead to the resurrection of the Time Lord race," the Trickster paused there, watching the Doctor through eyeless sockets; awaiting the line to be repeated. "For better or for worse, the consequences will be those I desire. Only those I wish to hurt shall be harmed. I am the victor."
"For better or for worse," the Doctor hesitated over those words. The 'worse'; that kept coming back to haunt him. It could be worse, it could be so, so much worse: and he could quite possibly make it worse.
Corrupted Time Lords. That idea kept coming back to haunt him; no matter how much he wished for redemption, there would always be corrupted Time Lords. The Master; and now, even him, the Doctor. Was he not bargaining with Discord?
But. That infernal 'but': and 'if', a fearsome combination of words. But if… But if he could redeem the Time Lords, could bring them to their previous heights: to the level where they savoured justice, and when they would not break the mind of one of their own through selfishness.
There were still some more; still some corrupted. He could remember them. Even when his people were in their prime, still, some turned away.
Like he had.
"I am the victor," the Doctor paused as he finished that sentence. The victor. He knew how that ended: with hubris. Winning once, he'd thought he could win again, and again: until losing was unbearable, impossible. He changed the laws of the universe to fit him, to fit his needs.
No, he didn't want to be the victor, not like that. Trying to make good of evil?
But was the Trickster evil? Even Chaos had its place, its uses. Was that evil? Discord was vital to the universe: without discord, everything would be identical, stagnant.
And with too much, then the universe would end up like Citadel Cachexia: decayed. Damaged irreparably.
But if… those words again.
But if the Time Lords were redeemed, if only he could manage that. That one thing. Then the Trickster stood to gain nothing.
"It will be," finished the Trickster. And it waited in absolute silence as the Doctor's lips struggled to form the words.
They signified the end; the end of the vow. Was he ready to do that, to bring back his people and all that it entailed?
His last life was echoed in the void around them. The end of the planet Earth; soon fading to plastic mannequins wandering the streets. They were so close to that point in his time stream now; so very close.
"It," the Doctor began, hesitating once more.
Could he stop the Time Lords bargaining with the Trickster, stop catastrophic exchanges from taking place, deals which could bring destruction to unheard-of amounts of the universe? Could he redeem them that far: so that justice reigned in their minds, so that they'd give up almost anything rather than serve Discord?
He could. He knew he could. He hoped he could.
It was what he wanted, in a way. He hadn't thought of it, believing it to be impossible: yet now the Trickster offered it… A chance to bring back the Time Lords of old.
The Trickster perhaps wanted the Time Lords back too: a new race for it to corrupt. The Doctor was now certain of that. And if he could make them perfect, make them honest, unalterable, immune to the lure of the Trickster.
"Will," the Doctor froze at that, froze suddenly.
How could he expect that of them?
How could he expect them to be immune to the seductive offers of the Trickster, when he himself was falling for it right this instant? If he brought them back by means of discord, they may forget just how much of a threat chaos could be.
Gallifrey could be another Cachexia.
Slowly, his hands moved towards each other, lightly touching just in front of his waist as his lips began to form the last words. He struggled to speak, struggled to say them: emotions battled in his mind.
Desperation, heartbreak. He didn't want to be the last of his kind. He wanted them back; wanted the Time Lords of old, of justice back: and wanted to see the Time Lords he knew again. Romana, Drax, her…
He also wanted the universe to be safe, to not have the fate of billions held in an instant's choice of a possibly-unstable Time Lord. He didn't want the Trickster to bargain and wreath the universe in pure Chaos.
The void around them suddenly fell into darkness; and there was, for the first time, noise. A juddering, a shaking. Friction, powerful friction, like an earthquake. They were journeying back along his time stream; along something which already formed a thread through the Time Lock. Yet the journey through that Lock would not be pleasant.
And that was where they were now. Emptiness; darkness. So, so close to the Time War itself.
One second. Two. The Doctor's lips formed the last word of the oath; his fingers tensed over the Trickster's cool ring.
"Be," the Time Lord whispered.
The ring fell to the floor. Released. He'd let it go; in the last moment, the Doctor had found that he couldn't go through with it. Couldn't risk everything on Time Lord's resisting the Trickster's silver tongue.
So he'd removed the ring. Let it fall; and now the void had been wiped away, replaced by the glass castle of Citadel Cachexia.
The brassy ring lay on the transparent floor. The light glinted; the time vortex swirled eternally below.
A pause. The Doctor knelt on the glass, for once in his life honestly afraid. Terrified. How close had he come? He'd never faced such temptation before: and he had almost relented.
His eyes wandered down; he watched the ring, seductive, oddly resolute against the swirling infinities beyond.
And then the Doctor stood. Didn't even blink; he turned, ran back to the TARDIS. A mere few steps yet he moved as fast as he could, sprinting; unlocked the TARDIS doors, entered, and slammed them shut.
And froze. The ring was still out there, lying on the glass: he just had to pick it up, put it on and repeat the vow. Risk it. Risk the Trickster's influence for a chance at restoring the Time Lords to grace. And, on a more personal level, being able to see his closest friends once more.
They were out there. Just metres away. He could pick up the ring, risk the Trickster bargaining with corruptible Time Lords, and-
And so, so much…
The Doctor sprinted forwards, as fast as he could; up to the console in a race against himself. He reached out; gripped the lever and pulled back, hearing the engines wheeze and grind.
He'd never find Citadel Cachexia again. The Trickster's ring may lay unclaimed for eternity, or maybe it had already been picked up.
As for him, the Last of the Time Lords stepped hesitantly back, collapsing onto a seat with the knowledge that he could never return. That was his last chance: to see his people again, or to damn creation.
The Doctor did not know what to feel. Triumph or despair?
That question haunted him. Could it be, could the Trickster have been genuine, honest for once in its life? Had his prejudice killed the Time Lords once again?
He did not know what to feel.