The Doctor and his companions buried the two men at the foot of the hill near the village. When the sun finally touched the horizon and brought an end to this long and horrible night, Donna sat down on a rock near the freshly dug graves. She didn't know what got into her, but something tense and fragile snapped inside her and she just broke down in tears.
The Doctor wrapped his arms around her shoulders, and started cradling her softly.
"I can't take this anymore. All this death…when does it end?" She hiccupped, weeping her eyes dry in his shirt. "And the Master. He's just…gone."
"We will hunt him down." Ser Titanis swore, his eyes starving for retribution. "I pledge on my father's name that their deaths shall be retaliated."
"She didn't say that it was him." The Doctor replied sternly.
"Neither did the lady deny it." Ser Titanis said accusingly. "There was no-one else in the woods other than her and your traitorous companion. It must be the Master who has butchered my unfortunate men. "
"Oh come on, if that's all you're gonna need to draw your conclusions, you might as well say that Donna killed them. Not that I am accusing you of murder or anything." The Doctor added quickly after he noticed the look Donna was giving him. "Just trying to make a point here."
"The difference between him and lady Noble is that she is not the bloodthirsty reincarnation of the Scourge of the Northern lands." Ser Titanis objected. "Stop trying to protect your murderous kin Doctor. That wolf in sheep's clothing is not worth redeeming, nor does he deserve your misplaced compassion."
"I said I didn't see him kill those boys." Donna said, backing the Doctor up. "And…I don't think he did. He just showed me a whole bunch of horrible stuff, that's all. My head is all jumbled up."
"If he did not murder my brothers in arms than who did?" Gellard spat.
"Look, I know what you think, but he is not the same man who brought down your civilization. Yes the Master was once the Dark lord, but that was lifetimes ago. He's a different man now." The Doctor said it with such conviction that Donna could no longer hold her tongue.
"Doctor…I know this is hard, but…he did betray you." She said softly. "He used the star to lure us here. He told me so himself. He has fooled us all."
"No he didn't." The Doctor lifted his eyebrows at her. "Well maybe he fooled you, but not me. Still, don't feel embarrassed about it, happens to a lot of people."
"What?" Donna's mouth dropped open. "You knew?"
"Yep. Ever since we arrived at Saltsea. Well, a little bit earlier perhaps, maybe since we left your wedding. I had an inkling, a little hunch, but I needed more time to fill in the details. "
Donna couldn't believe this. "Are you seriously telling me that all this time you knew that this was a bloody trap?" She fumed. She looked like she was about to slap him, and the Doctor hurriedly took a few steps back. "Hold on there. Not so quick. It's true that I knew that the Master was the Nightmare Child before we came here, but I didn't put one and one together till I saw that the white point star was pointing out the Hydra Galaxy to us."
"But if you knew, why didn't you prevent him from coming here in the first place?" Donna asked.
"You don't know him like I do. We've been friends and enemies for centuries. If you stay close enough to a madman, you get to know how his mind works. Ever since the Master became aware of Rassilon's existence he was out on revenge. I knew he was up to something. Something big, but I needed time to find out exactly what it was. I finally realized that the Master wanted to come back to Saltsea to retrieve what he has failed to collect, all those lifetimes ago. He's after the Dagontomb. He believes that getting his hands on whatever power that lies dormant there is the only way to stop Rassilon."
"Oh you got to be kidding me…" The haunting visions of the two dead lordlings in the tree suddenly returned to her. "Doctor, please tell me that you're not going to let him get to Dagonmourn to dig that doomsday thing up."
"I know what the world will look like if he succeeds." The Doctor told her gravely. "And that's exactly the reason why I am going to stop him." His eyes turned hard with determination. He started packing and tossed his backpack over his shoulder before he shook ser Titanis's and Gellard's hands.
"Ser Titanis, young master Gellard, it's been an honor to travel with the legendary men of the Midwall, but your quest to find your comrades has ended. You two should go back, Donna and I will continue north. With a bit of luck we will find my mad companion before his mindless tactics brings down upon us the end of the universe."
"But…surely you will need help." Ser Titanis objected.
"Not with Donna around." The Doctor beamed a proud smile at her. "Don't you worry. It's not like the Master has never been evil before. Au contraire, it's just going to be like old times. Ha! Piece of cake!" He joked with a silly grin, but behind the smile, he had a hard time to keep up the pretence of cheerfulness.
Ser Titanis tightened his grip on the Doctor hand. "If your battle is with what lies beneath the Dagontomb and what threatens us all, than I have little choice but to bend the rules and aid you in your quest."
"Are you sure?" The Doctor asked, somewhat surprised. "It will be dangerous."
"Duty before my own life." Ser Titanis replied, drawing his sword. "You'll have my sword Doctor."
"And mine." Gellard added determinedly.
"Yes, well, for now there is very little need for something this sharp and pointy, so I would prefer you keep them out of my sight." The Doctor said strictly, but he couldn't hide a smile. "Blimey, if I get a penny every time some idiot draws a sword around here, I'll have enough money to buy myself a carousel."
"What do you want with a carousel?" Donna muttered as she followed the Doctor's example and started packing up their stuff.
"What do you mean?" The Doctor replied innocently. "I like carousels, particularly the early 19th century ones. They have real craftsmanship, all those brightly colored lights and wooden horses galloping up and down. I could ride those for ages." He stopped rambling and clapped in his hands, getting back to serious matters. "All right then. Now that everyone has made up their minds, let's get to Dagonmourn before the Master gets there first."
With the last of his strength, the Master dragged himself onto drier land, and continued to crawl on his stomach over the moss covered ground till his legs were finally free from the bog that clung to him like thick glue. Exhausted, he turned on his back and stared up at the grey sky while he struggled to regain his breath.
"Curses." He repeated. "I curse you Doctor." He breathed. "You and that red head know-it all."
After a short rest, he scrambled back on his feet and brushed the mud from his trousers and shoes. The lands that surrounded Dagonmourn were damp and lifeless, with a scattering of shallow pools that were still and deep. One wrong step, and the land here would swallow you whole. Yet, he could already see the walls of the ancient castle loom on top of the foggy mountain in the far distance. If he hurried, he may reach the gate of the battlement by nightfall. Determined to do just that, he ignored his tiredness and struggled on.
This traitorous marchland was once the battlefield of the Battle of Dagonmourn. Countless of men had lost their lives in this place, from the soulless soldiers that had followed the Nightmare Child into battle to the brave Saltmen defending Dagonmourn. Their bodies still lay where they had fallen, unburied and unmourned, they were left to the acids in the ground to transform them into grotesque, mummified imitations of their once living selves. It was a doomed place, and it was filled with ghostly whispers.
Shadows. They are nothing but shadows. The Master kept reminding himself as the mournful howling became louder with every step he took in his lonely journey across the wetlands. Don't look back. Don't acknowledge their existence, and they might just leave you in peace.
It was not long before he came across the skeletal form of a Timelord rider still mounted on his beast. A spear was lodged in the dead man's skull, and weed covered most part of the long line of the Mauler dragon's neckbones that were long since picked bare by hungry scavengers. Even now, the scales that covered the mummified body of the dragon had kept its ghostly white sheen. Seeing this morbid display darkened the Master's already depressing mood.
"What is a life, but a brief moment of order before the darkness returns and chaos comes to reclaim us all." He muttered to himself, succumbing to a deep sense of loss in ever fiber of his being.
Where are you going Timelord?
The whispery voice that called out to him was that of a woman, and he did not need to look to know who it was. "Lady Gwendolyn." He murmured and wondered if it was her who had tricked him to walk into the black bogs a few moments ago. "Now that I've lost all of my other travel companions, it is good to know that you're still here by my side."
The white translucent shape of the late lady of Dagonmourn drifted in the air as if she was floating underwater, her hair swaying in invisible currents. When she spoke, her words cut like a dagger into ice. "My kin has not known peace since the salted earth has claimed our bones. We will not suffer idly the return of the Dark lord to our lands."
"You are dead my dear lady." The Master snorted. "There's nothing you can do, even if my presence here does insult you."
The green flames that shone in her eyes became wild and restless. "The way to Dagonmourn is closed. You may not pass."
The earth around him began to stir. Thin skeletal hands broke through the surface and stuck out of the dead reeds as the fallen knights of Dagonmourn began to claw their way out of their unmarked graves to respond to their lady's call. They were no more than grinning skulls wrapped in tar-black skin, but still they clutched onto their spears and swords with fighting rigor.
"You can summon as many of your men as the fiery pits of hell can spit out, but you're not going to stop me." The Master spoke defiantly, and stepped forward, getting so close to her face that he could see the icy flow of blood run through the veins underneath her translucent skin. "You are nothing but an meaningless imprint with an echo of consciousness." He hissed. "You are a footstep in the snow, fading fast from existence. You cannot harm me."
He pushed through lady Gwendolyn. Her ghostly form dispatched in a misty fog before it drifted back together and reshaped itself into her two dead sons right before his eyes.
"Where are you going tyrant?" Robert Dagonmourn asked. He and his little brother suffered from horrible burns and still wore the strangler's nooses around their necks, but the eyes in the young boy's face burnt with the same hatred and deep seeded loathing that he had witnessed on the very day when he had threatened to kill his kin.
"Leave me in peace you little brat. You're as dead as your mother." The Master sneered. Nervous and eager to move on, he tried to walk through them as well, but the two boys kept drifting backwards right in front him.
"You took me down from that tree. Do you remember? You made me and my father watch your men rape my mother, then you slit her stomach and threw her in the river." The eldest of the two boys said accusingly. "You broke every bone in my arms and legs and hoisted me up, waving my ruined limbs into the branches. I screamed and begged, but you were as deaf to my cries as the stone statues of my father's Gods."
"I was a different man then." It was becoming harder and harder for him at those maimed hateful faces. "I've suffered for my crimes." He shook his head and grimaced. "Stop blaming me for what cannot be undone. Stop haunting me!"
"You came back for a reason."
"It's not what you think. This time my intentions are good. Like I said, I've changed."
The boy looked at him with cold dead eyes. "Into what?"
He did not know how to answer him. Even with the Doctor by his side to keep his insanity at bay, he had managed to get blood on his hands. He couldn't call himself a good man in front of one of his victims.
"Into something a little less scary than a monster?" The child answered for him. "Should my brother and I be less frightened of you now?"
"Please, I beg of you, leave the past be. What is done cannot be undone. What matters now is that I need to get to Dagonmourn and reclaim what should have been mine. Only then will I have a chance to stop Rassilon. For Gallifrey's sake, don't you see? I am fighting on your side, I am actually trying to do something right this time!"
"The road to the Hill of Sorrows is shut." The two boys told him in unison.
"You cannot stop me. I know the way to the heart of the tomb. I went there before. I remember every passageway and every trap that your father had set out for me."
"We won't let you find it." Little Walder's face lit up with the cruelest of smiles. A cold wind swept up and the voices that had followed the Master all the way from the Weeping Woods to the Valley of Abundance to the Marches of Dagonmourn suddenly grew much louder.
"With every step closer to the tomb, your mind grows weaker and the whispers stronger. Can you hear them, Timelord? Can you hear what they say?"
Have they only been faint murmurs in the dark before, the voices now spoke clearly to him, their identities no longer hidden.
My love, why have you failed me?
The Master looked over his shoulder to see a white shape in a golden glow floating above the marches. A heart-shaped face appeared, and piercing green eyes gazed at him longingly. It was Anne.
Why did you let Rassilon take me as his bride? Oh my love, it is so cold where I am now. So bitter, bitter cold. I am imprisoned in an endless winter. Where are you? You've promised that you will find me. You promised!
Her face changed and the eyes became larger, and turned a deep shade of blue. A blond woman dressed in a blood-red dress stood before him and looked at him with mournful eyes. In her hand she held a glass phial with a green liquid.
"Lucy?" The Master muttered, his heart aching with grief.
I've made my choice, for better or worse.
Before he could stop her, she drank the potion. The phial slipped between her fingers and shattered on the ground. She clutched her throat as the liquid burnt her from the inside. Then her doe-like eyes looked up and met his gaze.
I chose you Harry. I drank the potion to save your life, and how did you repay me? You corrupted my innocence and poisoned my soul. You took my love for you and turned it into something so ugly, and dark. Oh how I've suffered in silence, watching you kill and murder, and bring an endless string of whores to our wedding-bed. Did you ever love me Harry, or was that all just a convenient lie to save your own rotten soul?
He could not take anymore of this. The memories of his dead wife had haunted him relentlessly in his nightmares, but to see her in here in his waking hours was more than he could endure. "Make it go away." He said, his voice trembling voice. "Stop playing these cruel tricks on me."
"What's the matter? Can't you face your own conscience? Didn't you just say that you have turned over a fresh leaf and had become a better man?"
"She's not here." The Master told himself, and he shut his eyes firmly and turned away from the cruel vision. "None of this is real. It's all inside my head."
"Are you so sure?" The boys laughed. "Poor man. I promise, soon you will no longer be able to tell apart what is real and what is not."
He backed away in horror and confusion as the two dead children slowly closed in on him.
"It is very dangerous to lose your head in a place like this." Robert whispered.
"You could fall into the bog and never come out again." Little Walder grinned.
"I am not…I am not losing my mind." The Master stuttered.
"Real or not real. Mad or not mad, it doesn't matter." Robert said with a hateful grin. "We won't let you make it through the night."
He caught something sharp and shining, hidden in Robert's hand. The dead child suddenly flung himself onto him and dug his greedy little fingers into his eyes. Then he felt a red-hot slash cut through his right shoulder blade. The Master screamed in agony and grabbed blindly at the boy. This can't be happening. He can't be real! But the searing pain was definitely real, so was the blood that squirted down his neck.
""No one escapes their past. No one escapes judgment!"
The child's voice contorted into a terrifying scream filled with mindless hatred. His attacker tore the blade down, further opening the wound. "You've ruined my life! You've ruined everything!"
The dull pain that was caused by the pressure on his eyeballs became so great that he started to see colors. Finally he managed to grab hold of Robert's hand that felt dry and lean, and twisted it till he heard the wrist bones pop, sending the child howling like a wounded beast. Through the haze of his ruined eyes, he saw dirty strands of grey hair, dangling in front of a hideous wrinkled old face. "My wrist!" The wildman cried. "Oh you brutal beast! You broke my wrist! You will pay! Oh you will pay!"
The Master hollered when he pulled the blade out of him. Just before the wildling could plunge the warm steel back into his neck, he let himself fall and smashed his attacker into the carcass of the Mauler dragon, before turning swiftly and pulling the spear out of the rider's mummified hand. He drove it over his wounded shoulder right into his opponent's arm where the spearhead locked itself between the hard scales on the dragon's chest.
Exhausted, the Master rolled off the crying creature, who was now pinned down like a skewer of roast onto the dragon's remains.
"Stop squirming, you pathetic little worm!" The Master told him. He had great trouble speaking with the gorey mixture of blood and saliva bubbling up his throat. "Your jittering is only going to make it worse."
He wasn't too well either. The horrific gash on his shoulder had bled his back crimson and his head felt dizzy of blood-loss.
"You won't live Timelord!" The injured wildman spat. "I've opened up enough arteries to drain you dry. Finally after all these years I've taken my revenge! The scourge of Dagonmourn will soon be no more."
"I am not going to die." The Master muttered dryly.
"You cannot survive this! No one can!"
"I am cursed. Just like you are. I won't…I won't die." He swallowed hard and gazed at the wretched creature through hooded eyes. "Who are you old man? Are you one of lord Dagonmourn's bannermen? Did death forget about you?" He started to chuckle madly as he rested his bloodied back against a fallen treetrunk. "You Saltmen are a doomed race. My kind has exploited you to near annihilation, and still you won't give up on your pathetic oaths…your disastrous sense of duty." He stared at him, while his blood started to pool under him. "You can't stop me." He whispered. "I came back to claim what is rightfully mine. I will not fail this time."
"No! No!" The wildman raged. "Even if you survive, you won't be able to find your way! I made sure of that!"
The world was indeed turning dark at an alarming speed, but the Master still managed to struggle back on his feet and stagger over to the dragon's carcass. He remembered that the rotting head of the beast was harnessed with a bridle. Following the straps with his fingers, he found the reins and used his long sword to cut it free.
"What are you doing?" The wildman shouted with alarm in his voice.
"I need a pair of eyes to get me around these stinking bogpits. Not exactly being spoiled for choice, I will take yours. Don't you even think of trying anything funny." He held the sharp edge of the blade under the old man's chin. "Put your hands on top of each-other over the dragon's chest. Cover the right with your left. Do it!"
Terrified, the old man did as he was told. As soon as he had laid down his hands the Master stepped on them with his full weight and drove the sword right through their backs.
"That's much better." The Master grinned while ignoring the cries of agony from his prisoner. "Now I can tie you up without risking another knife in my spine."
"Oh you malicious fiend!" The man lamented, staring wide-eyed at his ruined hands. "You cruel heartless monster! By the righteous Gods of old, your crimes shall not go unpunished!"
"Oh just shut up. There are no righteous Gods, only bastard Timelords like me." He bound the man's wrists so tight that it made the broken bones snap, before he pulled out the sword and the spear. Holding on to the other end of the reins, he dragged the sobbing old wreck to his feet.
"Now you will lead me through this wasteland." He coiled in the reins to keep it short and pointed the sword in the back of his prisoner. "And remember." He warned in a low voice as he shoved him forward. "Where ever you go, I'll always let you go first."
She found herself alone in the empty chamber.
The huge doors that had granted her access to the tomb had fallen shut behind her with the damp old wood shaking the rusty hinges. From uutside came the sounds of a bloody battle, of clashing swords and the dreadful cries of men dying, but inside the vast chamber, there was only the sound of repetitive pounding. The sound of the drums, calling to her like a wounded heartbeat.
The tomb was vast with a high arched ceiling. It was dimly lit with rows of torches, and niches had been carved on both sides. In each of them stood a statue on a pedestal, a line of grim faces with mournful eyes staring into an underground world that had not been visited by the living for centuries. At the other end of the chamber, raised on a stone platform inside an arched alcove, stood a manlike figure. It wasn't a man of flesh and blood. Not anymore. It was a standing skeleton with its mouth wide open, it faced her with it arms raised and hands stretched forward.
She felt her heart pounding inside her chest as she walked towards it. The air was cold and moist, difficult to breath, as if the weight of the many tons of earth above her was pressing on her lungs. You shouldn't be here, a little voice at back of her mind whispered to her. You should turn away and run. There is something wrong with this place. Something horribly, horribly wrong.
But she couldn't decide for herself, for it wasn't her own feet that moved her closer to the skeleton, the central point of gravitation to which all things inside this room, alive or made of stone like the statues and even the walls itself, were constantly pulled. It wasn't even her own heart that rattled like a frightened rat trapped inside a metal cage. She was walking on borrowed courage. Her actions were those of someone whose motivations were much stronger than hers and who had come down into this dangerous place determined to only return with his price.
"Come on then." She whispered, or rather he whispered, for it was a man's voice, low, dark and strangely familiar. "I came from so far. I have sacrificed so much."
It was only when she came very close that she realized that the skeleton was not really in the chamber. It was standing behind a mirror. It was a reflection of something that did not exist in the real world.
Her heart turned to ice when he stretched out his hand towards the skeleton.
No! She screamed, sensing a great evil residing inside. "Don't touch it! "But even her inner voice was stolen from her. Trapped as she was inside a stranger's mind, she could only watch with horror how the mirror split like gelatinous fog as he reached out his hand for the skeleton.
His fingers administrated only the slightest of touch, but it was enough to make the bones fall apart and turn into dust. As the ghostly remains drifted to the ground and settled on his clothes and face, a large golden circular disk was slowly revealed to him.
The surface was smoothly polished and resembled that of the many stagnant black pools of the Dagonmourn marshlands. Cautiously, he placed his hands flat on top. Being so close, Donna could see the man's reflection. A dark haired youth with a gaunt long face, skin as pale as snow, and piercing eyes so very blue that they seemed to be made out of winter frost. They stared back at her with eyes wide and unblinking. Although he did not want to show it, she knew that very much like her, he was absolutely terrified.
The circular structure was cold at first, but soon became warmer, than hot, almost feverish. Then it moved, becoming wet and soft, like it was turning into a living thing, like a tongue, or a mouth of a hungry beast.
Why are you still here? She shouted. Run you idiot! Run while you still can!
He sucked in a deep, ragged breath and shut his eyes to calm himself. He could hear chilling voices, not coming from the men fighting outside the locked chamber, but from behind the mirror and the golden circle itself. Voices of men, women and children. All of them crying. All of them screaming. Lost souls condemned to the eternal fires of hell. The drums had devoured them.
"I won't leave." A light tremor was in his voice. "You can't scare me away. I am not like the others. All those greedy fools that you've taken, and have left screaming in the dark for mercy. They were weak. They did not deserve your brilliance. They were not worthy of your magnificence, but I am. I am worthy of you." He caressed the slab of stone almost as tenderly as he would be touching a lover. "You may try to swallow me whole, but I will make you choke on my bones."
Circular waves rippled over the disk and the surface shifted, revealing markings that had not been there before. In the dim light of the torches, she recognized that they were hand prints. Only they were not indentations, but were raised above the surface, as if some-one, or something was pushing outward from inside. The handprints belonged to his reflection, and her heart stopped when she realized that the man inside the stone mirror was smirking and he was not.
"Come on then." The reflection replied. "If you're so sure about yourself, what are you waiting for?" He began to push on the stone, and the surface of the disk and the mirror stretched outwards into a thin membrane like sheet. A chilling grin flashed over his face.
"I like you." He purred. "You look…delicious."
No! Don't! Don't do it! Donna warned, but she had no tongue or mouth to articulate her anxiety. She was still stuck inside his mind, and could do nothing, and change nothing.
He lifted his hands and placed them on the handprints. The wave of energy that immediately came rushing through was as violent as it was unstoppable, and she screamed when she felt the cuts of a thousand daggers slicing the flesh from his bones. She watched in horror how his face melted away like fat in a hellish oven, the eyes bubbling and bursting, the lips peeling away till the teeth were bare. The heat of the energy released was so intense that it shattered his jaw. His bones shifted into new positions, changing his face, altering his features. His black curly hair fell out, and was replaced by a new growth of hazel locks, only to be burnt off his scalp as soon as they had sprouted. His skin and flesh gurgled restlessly as if they were boiling and growing at the same time, caught in a horrific race of decay and renewal. He was dying. Dying, and regenerating. Faster and faster. Over and over again.
Amid the horrible agony and the terrible realization of the complete destruction of his own body, she caught his last thoughts. I have only thirteen lives to lose. I have to let go or I will die. I can't. It's too strong…My Tardis. I need her…she is my only hope…
She broke out of her trance with a scream, and flinched away from the hand that had touched her.
"No! No!" She rambled on. "Why didn't you listen? I told you not to get near that thing! Now it's too late!"
"Donna! It's me!" The Doctor grabbed hold of her and shook her wildly. "Snap out of it!"
She gasped and a surge of icy air hit her lungs. She was no longer inside his mind, locked up in the darkness inside the tomb, but was standing at the edge of the marshlands under a cold starlit sky. The Doctor held on to her with a concerned look on his face.
"Donna, are you all right?"
She gazed back at the Doctor, shivering from head to toes. Gellard and ser Titanis watched her from a distance with a mix of alarm and worry on their faces.
Slowly, she nodded.
"You were so far gone." Gellard said softly. His face was quite pale. "You just kept ignoring everyone around you like you're not even here, and that weird noise you made…Forgive my Lady but you barely sounded human."
"I was inside his head again." Donna muttered, rubbing her eyes. "It was horrible. I thought they would stop."
"They're only echoes." The Doctor tried to explain. "A human mind works slower than that of a Timelord. Yours has not yet processed all that the Master has shown you during your last contact. You'll be experiencing some of the more powerful visions from time to time."
"I was facing a bloody skeleton! His face…I had to watch it while it was melting away…"
"The Master is not well. What you have seen could just be a distorted memory, or nightmare derived from one of his many phobias and delusions. Your mind is still in shock, but the effects won't last. It is normal to feel scared."
"Oh don't say it's normal." She muttered in frustration. "It's NOT normal to be mind raped by a terrifying psychopathic alien!" She paused, composing herself. "I am sorry. I don't know what got into me…but…I don't think it was just one of the Master's nightmares. I think that what I've seen was a real memory of him when he was younger. He was standing inside the Dagon's tomb, and was about to release whatever that was imprisoned inside that slab of stone…" She stopped and winced, cradling her head.
"You saw it? You saw the beast that was released from the tomb?" Ser Titanis came closer her. "How does it look like?"
"I- I don't know. I am not sure. It was still stuck inside the mirror, but it looked like…" She struggled to remember. The visions that only seconds ago had such a terrifying hold on her were quickly fading away, scattering into fragments. "It looked like him. It looked like the Nightmare Child…And I know him." Her eyes lit up and she looked at the Doctor with a shock of realization.
"What? What is it?"
"That face." She told him in an unsteady voice. "That man in the mirror… I couldn't quite place him at first. It was as if he was in the wrong time and the wrong place, but now - now I do remember him. I am almost sure that it's really him." She was tired and lightheaded, drunk on the ominous prophesies that spilled out of her mouth in feverish ramblings. "Doctor, I know it sounds crazy, but you have to believe me, but I know that man, I've known him all my life. He's…He's…"
Her eyes rolled back and she blacked out. The Doctor was only just in time to catch her before she hit the ground.
The entrance to the castle that the wildman pointed out was half-hidden behind a wall of decaying ivy. No more than a slit in the outer walls, it was surrounded by tons of rock and debris from the crumbling structure. Although the Master was slowly regaining his vision, it was difficult for him to see in the weak light of the moons how deep the narrow passage went.
"After you then old man." He told the prisoner, and jerked on the rope to get him on his feet.
"But-but I can't go through there." The wildman sputtered.
"It's too narrow. I need to use my hands. If you want me to get through it you will have to untie me."
"Really?" The Master smirked. "I saw how you squirmed at the pointy end of my sword. Don't tell me you can't worm your way through this."
"Please I can't! I-"
He pushed him down on the pile of rubble where he landed roughly on his knees.
"Crawl like the maggot you are." He ordered him.
The old man did what he was told. He managed to get inside the gap on his elbows and pushed his body through the debris that obstructed the passage with his feet. Soon he had completely disappeared inside the wall, leaving only the end of the rope behind in the Master's hand. When the rope ran out of slack, he pulled it tight and shouted down the tunnel.
"Are you there yet?"
There came no reply from the other side. He pulled the rope even tighter. Now a choking sound could be heard, followed by the rumble of stones and debris tumbling down.
"Answer me!" The Master yelled, loosing his patience.
"Yes!" The reply came quickly, if not a bit nervously. "Yes, yes I am!"
"Do you see anything?"
"I can see…I can see the towers…and the great hall…all in ruins."
That wasn't much of a surprise since the whole place was trampled by a barbaric horde of inter-dimensional warlords. The Master climbed on top of the rubble and started scrambling inside the passageway. "Stay where you are. I am coming in."
The old man's efforts to force himself through the narrow opening had made the tunnel slightly larger, and the Master, although still suffering from his injuries, went through it relatively easy. When he emerged at the other end, he found his prisoner waiting for him, cowering at the foot of a pile of rubble that had spilled out over the courtyard.
He could see far more now. His remarkable healing capacity had quickly restored his eyesight. The shivering figure before him was no longer only a dark outline against the scarce light of dawn. He could see the old man's face contorted in pain and fear, but his grey faded eyes kept staring at him without blinking. If this spineless dog in human disguise still had teeth, it would have gone for the jugular as soon as he turned his back on him.
"What are you looking at me for?" The Master brushed the damp mud from his clothes. If looks could kill. He grinned and pulled on the rope, forcing the old man to come stumbling over, and kicked him back on his feet. "Stop wasting my time. Show me to the entrance of the tomb."
They crossed the courtyard where the remains of the victims of the last bloody battle still lay shattered all over the ground, their dry bones crunching beneath their feet. Gazing up, the Master noticed that one of the great corner towers had collapsed on top of the great hall, splitting the roof in two, while the walls of the ruined kitchen and the stables still bore the black scars of fire. At the east side of the castle, under a long stretch of covered parapet walk, they finally found the entrance of the tomb. It was just like he remembered it, with the narrow passage way guarded by two immense stone figures of the Great Salt God. As he glanced over their cold stoney faces, he suddenly realized that they resembled Rassilon.
"He sees you." His prisoner whispered, looking up at the statues in awe. "He sees everything. He knows you're here."
"Let him watch. I am not afraid of him." The Master sneered back, and he was about to venture down into the chambers below when the old man grabbed on to him. "Don't go down that road." He pleaded. "I know what you want. I know why you are here. It won't work. It won't stop him."
"What are you playing at you old fool? Suddenly the lunacy has passed and you are foretelling my future now?"
The Master might ridicule and consider him mad, but the look on the old man's face was one of clear sanity. "Mark my words Nightmare Child." No good will ever come of this. You seek revenge but all that this will bring you is death and sorrow. You will lose Timelord. You will lose everything."
The cautionary words of the old man only raised the fire in his belly. Enraged, the Master pushed him away and kicked the poor wretch in the side to make him shut up. "From now on, hold your tongue if you wish to keep it." The Master dragged the yelled whimpering prisoner back on his feet. "Walk! Get down the stairs!"
Sharp light shone through her closed eyelids. It made them flutter lightly. Donna was aware that she wasn't awake, but she wasn't dreaming either. She wasn't even sure that she had dreams left of her own. But she was safe. She was inside a soft, warm cocoon, in a place inside her head that was still hers, sealed off from the Master's nightmare visions.
She heard voices coming from far. They want her to wake up. She wasn't sure that she was ready yet. If she was to regain consciousness, her mind was no longer hers alone. She didn't want to see those things that were still hidden inside her memories.
But even inside what should be her safe-heaven, she wasn't completely protected.
She picked up a smell.
A light, delicate scent, airy and sweet, like the flowers in the summer in a hot Mediterranean country. Ripe fruit on the trees.
She smelled orange blossom.
Orange blossom…and something else.
They were following the winding staircase that went deep down into the catacombs. The old man led the way. With each step, it became darker and colder. The air became more suffocating, and was filled with the stench of damp mould and decaying leaves, of wet soil and…something else.
It's orange blossom. He thought. The smell unnerved him. It doesn't belong in this place, so far buried under the earth where the sun can never reach.
Just when he was about to take another step, the old man suddenly turned and grabbed hold of his leg. It happened so fast that there was no time to respond and he lost his balance. Falling forward, his chin landed hard on one of the stone slabs below and he tasted blood when his teeth snapped shut, biting off the tip of his own tongue. Then he was rolling, landing on his elbow, on his side, and on his back, tumbling down fast. He rolled over the side of the stone steps and plummeted straight down into the darkness till something soft caught him in mid-air. Leaves and branches broke his fall and cradled his head and injured body. They fold his limbs around him in awkward angles and left his feet dangling over his head.
He immediately sensed danger. The air around him was so thick with that strange intoxicating scent that he had trouble to breathe. He had to free himself. He searched for his sword to cut himself down, but realized that he had lost it during his fall. He struggled frantically, his instincts warning him that he had to get out fast.
Under the cover of darkness, an army of air-roots and tentacle like branches began to slither into his direction.
Even if you survive, you won't be able to find your way in dark. They always move around in the dark.
"Who said that?" Donna eyes flew open. "Where am I?" She stirred, trying to get up. The scent was still there, lingering in her nose with that sickening sweetness.
"Donna! You're back! It's me. You here with me." The Doctor supported her and let her sit upright. "You've fainted."
"There is this strange smell." Donna muttered. "Oranges and flowers. Orange blossom. And something else."
"What is she on about? I can't smell anything but rotten bog air." Gellard remarked.
"She's having another vision." The Doctor explained to him. "For some reason, the link between the Master and her is still there and growing stronger."
"It's like the good lady is possessed." Gellard looked alarmed.
The Doctor looked worriedly at her. "The question is why? Why is it happening? It's even stronger than I have ever seen before with any other Timelord. The Master couldn't have done this on purpose. It makes no sense."
"Maybe he wants to slow us down, knowing that you will pursue him, but won't leave lady Noble on her own."
"No it's not that." The Doctor shook his head and turned back to Donna. "What else do you smell? It's not only orange blossom, is it?"
"It's…like that smell in the hospital. I've worked as a temp at the registration desk a few years ago, and down in the cellar of the hospital, they used to keep the archive of the patients next to the morgue. I went down there at least twice a week. It's like…"
"Embalmment fluid." He immediately knew what it meant. "Orange blossom and embalmment fluid. The scent of the deadly nightshade."
"But that plant is poisonous." Gellard noted. "Besides they don't grow here so far south. They only flourish in the icefields further up north where there is at least nine months of continues darkness each year."
"Or they can grow underground, where it's always dark." The Doctor said, getting up. "What Donna has seen is not just another one of the Master's old memories. It's happening right now. He must have entered the tomb." He dragged Donna back on her feet.
"Can you stand on your own?"
"Good. Now listen, I need you to run for me. Can you do that?"
Donna nodded again.
"Are you sure?"
"I am suffering from scary hallucinations, but I am not crippled, am I?" Donna reacted defiantly.
"Come on then." The Doctor took her hand. "We have got no time to lose!"
Her face unfurled like a flower, and her breath was all sweetness and honey. "Are you not tired, Harry?" She asked, her ruby lips curling into a sad pout. "You look so very tired."
"Lu-Lucy." His mouth felt numb, his tongue useless. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he registered the millions of tiny little needles that broke through his skin as the purple plant-leaves wrapped themselves tightly around his chest. They injected him with a green narcotic substance that turned his senses numb and his muscles into jelly. Lucy's hand that felt so soft and loving as she stroked gently over his face, spread the icy numbness over his cheek.
"Why don't you rest? Close your eyes. You don't need to fight anymore. You're here with me. It's over. All over."
"Lucy." He whispered. "You hair, it smells… of orange blossom."
"Do you like it? If you stay here you can smell it all day." He was half-aware that a thick bundle of air roots with thick thorny spikes were crawling over his back and he flinched a little. "Hush now." She shushed. "Don't struggle. Let me help you. If you want to stay here with me, you will have to let me do this. It won't hurt, I promise."
The tip of the root buried itself into the back his neck. He felt a vicious sting and gasped in agony.
"Don't struggle." She whispered. "You're only making it worse."
"There is something else."
"Hush now, forget about the world. Close your eyes and sleep."
"Something…something….begins with an F. Form. For. Fork…" He sucked in his breath as the root began to slither around inside the gaping wound. "Form…Formaldehyde."
Orange blossom and formaldehyde.
"So you do remember. Very clever Harry, but it's too late." She whispered. "Far too late."
He could still use his left hand. Clumsily following the line of his coat, he tried to find his pocket. He broke out in sweat when he forced his palm to close around the laserscrewdriver inside.
"Sleep now Harry." Her voice was luring him into unconsciousness. He feared that his trembling fingers had become too stiff to be of any use.
"Sleep with me in eternal darkness."
Darkness, they can only grow in total darkness.
With the very last of his strength, he slapped the laserscrewdriver onto the side of his leg, activating it. A radiant light burst into life. Lucy screamed and threw her branches in front of her eyes, but that could not shield her from the deadly glow. Her lush purple leaves curled up into brown crisps and her deadly air roots shriveling in the fierce glow. The last thing he saw before he fell was her face, withering away like a flower in a fierce drought. Then he dropped straight down for at least ten feet before hitting the hard ground below.
"It's gone." Donna muttered, struggling to keep up with him. "Doctor it's gone. I can't smell it anymore."
The Doctor hardly looked back as they continued to run across the last stretches of wetlands. "We're nearly there. I can almost see the castle walls. Don't stop!"
Whispers in the dark.
"Are you…still breathing?"
He opened his eyes and stared into the diminished red glow of his laser screwdriver. A shadow moved at the border of the small circle of light, stalking the injured Timelord like a hungry predator in the deep dark forests.
"Still unable to move?…Unable to feel?"
A sharp sting went through his calf and he cried out in pain.
"So you can still feel…Lucky me."
The Master was lying on his stomach and stirred weakly when the old man stepped out of the darkness. His reddened eyes were devoid of any empathy, and he had found the Master's sword.
"You believe that this is not just. Believe me, it's better this way, for both of us. You won't like what will happen to you if I don't end this now."
He aimed the sword at the back of his neck. Just when he was about to bring it down on him, the Master whirled around at the very last moment with the laser screwdriver in his hand and fired. The blast hit the blade and turned the steel red-hot from the tip down to the hilt. It burnt the old man's hands and he dropped the weapon on the ground. He was still screaming when the Master grabbed his thin turkey-like neck and pushed him out of the circle of light and into the darkness where the hungry carnivorous plants were waiting.
He forced him into the foliage till the sharp spikes pierced through the wildman's back. Tasting blood, the air roots immediately started to tunnel into the fresh wounds, crawling underneath the skin like rain-worms digging into warm wet soil.
The Master left him there, dangling in a deadly bundle of branches as the plants devoured him, the tentacle-like roots so starved for substance that they did not wait for the leaves to provide the sedative. When the Master retrieved the sword, the leaves were just reaching out towards their victim, but instead of letting them get to him, the Master hacked them down, leaving the old man exposed to the most excruciating agony.
He laughed insanely as he watched with cruel amusement how his victim suffered. "What were you planning to do? Cut off my head? I told you, I cannot die you idiot! Why, I might even be able to grow a new one. It would probably be as easy for me as for a lizard to re-grow a tail." The deranged smile vanished from his face. "You on the other hand, might not be able to grow anything back."
"Please." The old man begged. "Don't…don't leave me like this…"
"Oh I promise I won't. In fact, cross my hearts and hope to die." He dragged the tip of the sword over his shoulder-blade. "But…I am curious though…"
"What? What do you…what are you going to do to me? No! Please NO!"
The Master returned him a dark shark-like grin. "We still have a little time left. So let's do a little experiment, shall we?"
The final chapter will be up next week Saturday. Please review this story if you enjoy it, it keeps me motivated to go on.