‘Am I?’ the Doctor said, slowly. Rose looked into his face, searching desperately for a hint of hope in his eyes… and, to her utmost surprise, found it. She opened her mouth… and closed it quickly. If the Dark One detected a whiff of confidence in them, he could kill them instantly.
The Dark One frowned slightly, and brought down one black boot with a near silent swish. ‘Do I detect a hint of sourness in your tone, Doctor? Tut, tut!’ The Dark One pointed at the Doctor, and the Time Lord shot into the warlord’s arms like an unwilling child swept up by the crushing embrace of its father. Rose forced back a cry, and tried dizzily to haul herself upright without alerting the Dark One to her movements.
‘Tell me,’ the Dark One hissed, low and throaty, his empty eyes staring into the Doctor’s panicked, twisted face, ‘how you escaped from the Szaborgs.’ The warlord traced one cold finger up the line of the Doctor’s windpipe.
‘All right. You want the truth?’ The Doctor’s eyes were wide, his hair was scraggled like the fur of a rat, as he leaned in towards the Dark One. ‘I already said — they let me go!’
‘Lies, lies and lies again, Doctor!’ The warlord released his grip on the Doctor, who crumpled to the ground… but his face was still hot with defiance.
‘Something is going on here,’ the Dark One said, taking a step sideways, his cloak swirling about his armoured knees, ‘and I need to know what it is, so, for the last time, tell me!’
Rose was standing before the TARDIS doors now, and was frantically trying to batter them open. This did not go unnoticed by the Dark One, who vanished in a whirling of his cloak. The next moment, he was beside Rose. A claw shot upwards to grab her neck and twist. Rose crumpled, lifeless.
The Dark One turned again, his face now soft, calm and menacing. ‘I’m going to kill you, Doctor,’ he said maliciously. ‘I’m going to destroy you. No more teasing, no more merry hunts. Just your death.’
A red line of light arched from the Dark One’s hand… and snapped the Doctor’s neck. He fell.
From behind, in the cover of the tall trees, the freed Black Wolf watched with mixed emotions. The Doctor and Rose had just died. He couldn’t have prevented it — the Dark One was too powerful by a long way. But it had happened so fast… just a flick of the Dark One’s fingers, a surge of power…
But it was not his place to wonder, to dream of what could have happened. All he knew was that he must face the Dark One, for whatever reason. To join with him or to fight. And Black Wolf knew which one he would choose.
He glided from between the brown, rugged pillars with silent grace, and floated behind the Dark One. Something about that impossibly towering metal form made Black Wolf want to run and hide, but he continued forward. No birds called. The air was flat and grey.
‘Hello, Black Wolf,’ the Dark One intoned. The wolf was not surprised that the warlord knew of his presence, and straightened himself, plastering a grin of domination upon his face. He could not appear frightened. Not as if he was, but still…
The Dark One turned. His mask was cold and emotionless as usual.
‘How come I know you, and you know me?’ Black Wolf asked, carelessly, his neck stiff with pride, his claws carrying deadly power.
‘My reputation proceeds me,’ the Dark One replied. ‘I am the warlord of the night, the champion of the dark.’
The first strings of jagged hate curled like snakes inside Black Wolf’s brain. How dare this Dark One creature be so… smug?
Black Wolf hovered before the Dark One, black smoke spewing around his body, condensing into tasting, flickering tongues of power. 'Well then, warlord of the night, champion of the dark... are you going to attack me or just sit there like a lump of lard?' The ethereal wolf burnt as much venom as possible into his taunt.
The Dark One's response was quiet, sorrowful. 'You waste your strength on me... I am the Destroyer, and I cannot be defeated.'
Black Wolf shot back, 'Oh, then how come Sunradin managed?'
The Dark One's hands gripped Zangaradrim like thin, wiry vices. 'You dare speak of the Battle of Balance, of powers beyond your understanding?'
'Yes, I do!' Black Wolf cried angrily. With that, he sprang forward, his claws locking around the Dark One's neck. The Dark One threw him off effortlessly, and the shadow wolf was hurled backwards… when their eyes connected once more, Black Wolf saw there was a glint in the Dark One’s face now, a spark of wrathful, all-consuming rage threatening to ignite.
‘Beware, Black Wolf,’ the Dark One said, balefully. ‘I have been toying with you up to this point, leading a long, happy chase though woods and plains. But now the Destroyer is calling. The side of me which will incinerate you all without hesitation. Go home, back to your cage of souls.’
Black Wolf spoke through Sophia’s mouth, trying to be defiant but desperately failing to conceal the uncertainty within his voice. ‘Well then… set free the Destroyer. I’d like to see a bit of a challenge.’
The Dark One hissed, a sound which shook the hearts of all who heard it.
‘Come on,’ urged Black Wolf once more. His eyes were like stars shining in the forest. His claws clicked at the ends of slender, padded hands, thirsty for battle. ‘Show me why you’re called the Dark One!’
Instantly the warlord’s face exploded. Slivers of red metallic light danced across his steel face — Black Wolf looked round for an object that might be reflecting this light onto the Dark One, but there was no such thing. The Dark One’s mouth-hole flashed into a different position, then another, and another, and soon his entire face was a sequence of blurred, jerky images. The chain movement spread down his entire body…
Black Wolf watched as the Dark One became a whirlwind of changing postures… then the world bent, as if the laws of the universe were struggling to keep up with his constant motion…
The warlord sprang. Black Wolf tried to dodge, tried to parry with his claws, but the Dark One was too fast. One moment his sword was above Black Wolf’s head, and splitting his skull… then it was embedded deep in his stomach. The wolf cried for help, but there was nothing… only the unconscious forms of the Doctor and Rose, slumped beside the TARDIS.
The Dark One screamed in triumph as Zangaradrim bit deep into Black Wolf’s arm. The following second, all traces of the scream were gone from his mouth-hole, replaced by another. The Dark One’s flashing face was now dominated by a series of ecstatic cries. His arms were spinning as fast as light around Black Wolf’s head, slipping Zangaradrim into weak points — the neck, the shoulders, the eyes… ghostly blood poured from every nameable position on Black Wolf’s body… He was now just a living mass of agonised screeches, incapable of resistance or escape. He simply watched as the Dark One slowly began to cease his lunging, and his blows became less frequent, until at last they stopped all together. The warlord stepped backwards to admire his handiwork. Only there was nothing to admire.
There was no more skin to stab — all of Black Wolf’s former spirit-flesh was scattered upon the unforgiving grass, either dissolving or already vanished. There was no blood to draw — it was lying forlorn and trickling on the ground. Similarly, there was no bone left on him, no sinew and no soul. The Dark One had destroyed it.
Black Wolf had been obliterated.
Still not giving up, Black Wolf watched the Dark One. Somehow. He had no eyes and no brain to process the visual information, but he managed. And, in that instant, the moment when most creatures would have given up hope, the many splattered fragments of his spirit body started to float together. Black Wolf roared in triumph as his form steadily became whole once more… but his jaws closed when he saw two things.
The Dark One’s white eyes were dimmed as if invisible eyelids were clamped over the jagged holes, and his claws were swinging from side to side as if moving pieces of the air to and fro. With a jolt, Black Wolf realised that his revival was nothing of the sort. The Dark One merely wanted to restore his body so he could be killed again!
But this was not the sight that really shook Black Wolf. The real cause for his surprise was that behind the Dark One, the Doctor was standing up!
The wolf’s jaws opened slightly… but the Doctor drew a finger across his own lips. ‘Shhhhh…’ the Time Lord breathed, and swung forward one leg. His sneaker-clad feet made no sound when they slid onto the grass. He crept forward. The Dark One was oblivious to his enemy’s motion. Two TARDIS keys dangled temptingly from a strap inside the warlord’s cloak.
The Doctor’s hands locked around the two keys, and pulled gently. They came loose. Black Wolf’s mind raced… and then a grin of satisfaction swept up his face, wrinkling his muzzle. ‘Dark One,’ he intoned. ‘The Doctor has just stolen your keys.’
The warlord snapped from his trance, and whirled round to face the Doctor lividly. Black Wolf’s newly formed body rippled with excitement and contentment at the confirmation of the Dark One’s stupidity.
As he ran, he called backwards towards the Dark One: ‘I shall see you again, warlord of the night, champion of the dark, etcetera. Hopefully, next time, you will be less easily distracted.’
The Dark One turned yet again, and yelled, empowering the scream with every drop of his ancient might. ‘OBLITERATE!’ The entire forest erupted into flame, the leaves spiralling down in a blanket of sudden cinders, red skeletons of light shooting like blades of fire at the fleeing Black Wolf. Trees crumbled in seconds, piles of flickering ash marking the points where their towering trunks once stood. Branches crashed down in ruin, to be incinerated moments later. Birds gave operatic bursts of song and took flight, plume and beak and beady eye shattering, living fireworks.
Amidst the chaos and tumult, the Doctor fitted his TARDIS key into the Yale Lock upon the dark blue door, and pushed it open. The familiar green and white space greeted him, a nexus of light and warmth and snaking pillars. He threw Rose onto the floor, waking her with a start.
But he did not follow. Instead he stood there in the doorway, a block of solid defiance, looming against the shadow of the Dark One who whipped around, casting despair deep into the Doctor’s single heart.
‘I am not the Doctor,’ he said, and in his eyes flickered primal joy at letting the truth fly free at last. A shard of purest white shot from his hand, hurtling at the Dark One, blinding him. Then he was in the TARDIS… and gone.
‘CURSE YOU!’ the Dark One thundered, and faced the devastation he had created, and, in the distance, the small black shape of the spirit wolf he had fought. ‘BLACK WOLF!’ he screeched. ‘RETURN!’
A second blast of energy ripped from the warlord’s very being, but this time it was not fire or lasers. It was a key. The key slashed at Black Wolf, it penetrated his soul, reaching the cage of emptiness that lay within. The tip of the key pulled loose the door, and two souls screamed together. Separation. Sophia flopped to the burning ground, and Black Wolf was dragged backwards. ‘Sophia!’ he screamed.
Like a spear, Black Wolf hurtled away, straight into the clutching arms of the Dark One. Leaving Sophia lying upon the ash of destruction, her eyelids firmly closed, her soul dreaming, floating free upon the air of autumn.
There were no rhymes.
The Dark One’s arm swung of its own accord. His claws mashed into Black Wolf’s brain with a crunch. ‘You have…’ the Dark One sliced across the wolf’s throat with Zangaradrim… ‘no idea…’ the sword dug and twisted into Black Wolf’s stomach… ‘how much I am going to…’ the warlord ripped out the wolf’s tongue… ‘punish you…’ and cast him onto the ground… ‘for this!’ The Dark One spat upon Black Wolf’s tattered yet still breathing body, and picked up the shard of whiteness that the Doctor had thrown at him, now lying dejectedly upon the barren, mangled earth.
It was a paper aeroplane.
While his mouth-hole formed a deep, confused frown, the Dark One tore at the edges of the aeroplane, unfolding it with much anticipation.
There was a message scrawled upon the creased paper.
I am not the Doctor. I am a doppleganger created by the Szaborgs to assist their plan of universal domination. I am willing to co-operate with you and pilot the TARDIS to Lilula if you will leave Klindex alone for the time being. I know a place at which we could meet — Mount Ookan, one day exactly from now. I hope you enjoy torturing Sophia, Rose and Black Wolf or any combination of the above, depending on which of them you manage to capture during our fake escape attempt.
If I am forced to take some of them on board the TARDIS I shall deal with them. You will unfortunately not have another opportunity to capture them. In letting you take them I risk their escape and their notifying others of the plan.
P.S. Remember. One day from now, Mount Ookan.
TO BE CONTINUED…