’Everything’s broken, and it’s beautiful.’ — the Dark One in ‘Dawn’
The Dark One’s terrible figure stretched like a black tower up towards the broken sky of mirrors. And the Doctor forgot everything. He forgot his lover Rose running towards him, he forgot Jimbob lying in a bruised heap upon the ringing floor, he even forgot the demons, staring around in panic-stricken disbelief.
‘You,’ he rasped.
Rose mistook the motion, and, with her eyes shining with liquid light, walked forward. ‘Yes, it’s me, Doctor,’ she said. She brushed back a strand of hair shyly, looking up at him.
‘YOU!’ the Doctor exclaimed. With a churning, corrosive stab of fright, Rose realised his words were not meant for her. She spun round — her vision settled on the Dark One, and a gasp was torn from her throat. She tried to scream, but found herself incapable of further speech.
‘WHAT HAVE I DONE?!’ the Doctor screamed. He fell to his knees, his harsh voice rattling the thousands of glass shards scattered across the hall. As if in time to his outcry, a cold wind fluttered across the hall, twining its shimmering slipstreams around his legs and face, as if eager to carry him away into the depths of guilt and despair.
‘Oh, I don’t know?’ shrieked Ligmant, in a surprisingly high voice for a demon. ‘You’ve only gone and bloody well SHATTERED TIME?!’
Rose, her mind reeling, whipped round to face Ligmant. Her eyebrows drew together like a pair of thin, musky curtains. ‘Is this a dream?’ she asked, confusion rippling through her voice, which was now high and sharp with suspicion, all fear discarded.
The Doctor sank even lower, his body wracked with emotional agony. ‘IT’S ALL MY FAULT!’ he shouted, almost incoherent now.
Jimbob slipped up behind Rose, breathing heavily.
‘YES, IT IS!’ Ligmant roared back.
‘WELL, THEN, YOU SHOULD NEVER HAVE GIVEN ME PERMISSION TO BE IN HERE!’ thundered the Doctor, raising his face, features livid and twisted. ‘YOU SHOULD HAVE LOCKED ME UP, WHERE I BELONG!’
Total silence. The air thrummed with tension. Slowly, the Doctor bowed his head once more. Jimbob gently took Rose’s hand and pulled her backwards towards the comforting shadows of the demon group. Rose did not object — she simply stared at the Doctor, eyes pale and bulging, reflections from the mirror shards playing across her face. Her hand was limp in Jimbob’s firm grip.
The Doctor broke the silence at last, with a cold, tightly spoken question. ‘Has anybody here ever felt LOVE? If you have, then you would understand. The days I spent in the dark and the cold, haunted by fragments and visions. Of her. Spinning into oblivion.’ He looked up yet again, and his eyes and lips were curled, the first tears coming. ‘I would have done ANYTHING.’
‘Doctor.’ Rose wished she hadn’t said it, for every head in the hall turned to her simultaneously. She forced herself to continue. ‘I’m here now.’
‘I know,’ the Doctor said coldly. ‘And I wish you weren’t.’
Rose froze. It was like a blow — a blow to the guts and the heart and the head, all at once. She stumbled backwards, tripping over a large glass splinter. ‘But you can’t mean that,’ she said dumbly, dizzily.
‘Doctor,’ Jimbob ventured, his throat and tongue tight with nerve. ‘I can understand your vow. I can understand you...’ his eyes flicked round, unsure of what to say... ‘breaking time. I can even understand you hurting me.’ He winced — this was the biggest lie he had told. ‘But if I had to choose one thing I can’t understand, it’s this.’
The Doctor was silent for a long time. Then he finally said, ‘Just go away. Leave me alone with the darkness.’
‘Quite right.’ The Dark One stepped from the shadows. Jimbob’s fists curled into pale, skeletal spheres of panic, but he stood his ground, shielding Rose. Ligmant and his demons cocked their guns, and the Dark One’s face rearranged itself into a small smile.
‘Peace! Peace!’ he taunted.
‘Who are you?’ Ligmant growled, his deep yellow gaze flicking from the hunched form of the Doctor to this new threat.
The ethereal flames in the eye-holes of the Dark One’s mask seemed to gutter, as if invisible eyelids had fluttered in ecstasy. ‘Oh, I love it when people ask me that...’ the warlord hissed, then drew himself up to his full height and began to chant.
‘I am the fear of every living thing, the unknown land beyond the sky. The beast that lurks in the night outside the threshold of the house. The sucker of life, the Implacable One, ancient as days.’
‘Quite finished?’ Jimbob chipped in.
The Dark One laughed. ‘You are quite the funny man, Jimbob Price.’ Without even looking at his target, the warlord flicked a scarlet beam at the space captain, who fell over with a cry. ‘But not funny enough to be spared.’ Jimbob crumpled to the floor next to Rose, glass digging into his spine, bursts of bright blood erupting across the crawling flesh of his back. He groaned.
The demons, who had seen every second of this attack, swung round now, their eyes blazing, the barrels of their chunky guns pointed straight at the Dark One. Without a split second’s hesitation, they fired.
The Dark One held up one dark, gauntleted hand. A whirlpool of light erupted into existence before him, and the bullets spiralled into it like water down a plughole.
‘Enough,’ the Dark One intoned. It was not a question.
The demons looked wild-eyed and furious.
‘After all, reality is shattering, Ligmant,’ the Dark One continued, a hint of a smile creeping into his sinister voice. ‘You cannot afford to waste time. You have roughly a billion portals and rifts to close now. How you will do it, I am not sure. All I know is that you must.’
The full scale of this disaster struck Rose, and she breathed in harshly. She wasn’t sure of how it had happened, but she knew she and the Doctor — if he would ever accept her back into the TARDIS — were in for a lot of trouble.
Jimbob was in too much pain to notice what the Dark One was saying — or anything else, for that matter. But the demons shared Rose’s confusion and despair, and they all bowed their heads, knowing that the end of days had finally come. All except a few, whose piercing stares were now fixed to the Doctor, still kneeling on the stone slabs of the ruined hall’s floor like a fallen angel, still heaving and twisting in anguish and rage at himself.
‘Aww...’ the Dark One mocked, catching sight of the demons’ accusing glares. ‘It’s not totally the Doctor’s fault, you know. You may find one Karlon Gashbar in your number, is that not right?’
One large, scarlet, horned head suddenly popped up from the midst of the demon group. ‘Master!’ cried a deep, resounding voice.
And before anyone could act, Karlon’s gigantic white wings had unfurled like sheets of light, and were beating. The demon soared into the air, and arched down, to land in a servile position at the Dark One’s feet.
Ligmant’s face rippled in confusion and shock, but before he could speak, Karlon had started to hiss breathless messages at the Dark One. ‘My Lord. My Lord and Master! I was good, wasn’t I, wasn’t I good?’ Karlon tilted his face up, reveringly. His eyes widened in shock as the Dark One’s face twisted into a sneer of contempt.
‘No, you weren’t, Karlon. You were absolutely abysmal.’
Karlon’s features contorted. ‘But, Master...’ he was cut off when the Dark One clicked his fingers, and Karlon’s lips physically sealed.
Ligmant’s face, which, just moments ago, had been the very image of confusion, was now riddled with disgust and loathing. ‘You... WORSHIPPED HIM! This monster!’
Karlon nodded, again and again, obviously proud of what he had done.
‘So... it wasn’t you, Doctor!’ Rose spoke out, suddenly realising. ‘It was this... thing... this demon... and... hey, Ligmant! You’re real, aren’t you?! We haven’t met for ages!’
Ligmant flashed her a quick, tight, insincere smile. ‘Yes, hello, Rose,’ he said. The Doctor gave a small, sudden, bitter laugh in the centre of the curled circle his body had created. In the midst of an intergalactic disaster — a cataclysm — they were still making small talk. He supposed it was the only thing they could do.
The Dark One raised a hand, and for some reason, this small action commanded complete and utter silence.
‘Poor Karlon. He worshipped me from the very start of his miserable life. He is the son of the Demon Lord Karazt — evil runs in his bloodline.’ The Dark One stroked one cold claw down Karlon’s arm, his fingertip alighting on a bulging, purple vein. The demon stirred underneath him, shivering. The Dark One continued to speak — his white eyes had a faraway look.
‘As with all my servants, he knew when I was sucked into the quasar at the edge of reality — and he also understood that Rose Tyler had suffered a similar fate, through my thoughts. He knew about the Doctor, as all demons did, and do. He understood that the Doctor would put himself through anything to return his precious companion to life.’
Karlon nodded fervently, his face looking rather odd without a mouth.
‘So he lured him here. During his many travels with the Versers, setting up Mirrorverses throughout the world, he came upon a volcano in Mongolia, where the remnants of a deserted underground base lay. He found a summoning beacon there — a beacon that had been deactivated.’
‘But that was us!’ Rose cried, gesturing at the Doctor. ‘Me and him, we did that, when we were still...’ a shadow passed over her face, ‘together.’
The Dark One laughed. ‘Indeed, it was you who deactivated the beacon. And since it was Karlon who reactivated it, the beacon locked onto its previous set of coordinates, and dragged the TARDIS straight to him.’
The Doctor didn’t want to listen, but he had to. For Planet Earth’s sake, he had to hear the explanation. The Dark One might let slip a clue which would enable the Doctor to sort things out. At this thought, hope blossomed in the Doctor’s heart... before it guttered out at the realisation that this was extremely unlikely.
‘Now dear young Karlon began to play on the Doctor’s weaknesses. His sentimentality, his burning desires that consume everything else...’
From his agonising position, Jimbob panted. ‘You’re wrong. The Doctor... doesn’t have... any weaknesses.’
The Doctor gave a small smile within his cocoon of pain. How like Jimbob, to be loyal to the very end, and at the same time unbearably incorrect.
The Dark One turned his blank, blazing eye holes to Jimbob, and Jimbob regretted his outburst instantly. Staring into that face was like looking into hell itself. He turned away, groaning.
‘But he does!’ the Dark One exclaimed, malice giving his voice a hard, throaty edge. ‘The Doctor will say so, won’t you, Doccy? Tell me I’m right!’
All eyes fell upon the Doctor. He remained still and silent.
‘Oh, no, we can’t have that,’ the Dark One said. ‘No more of this hiding!’ He flicked one finger upwards gracefully, as if he was conducting an orchestra. And the Doctor felt his spine bending, twisting, arching upwards, pulling him from his hunched posture.
Pain beyond endurance. The Doctor felt his vertebrae rearrange, scraping against each other — it was like a hundred slipped discs at the same time, and for a moment everything turned white.
When the flash passed, he found himself lying in a puddle of vomit, his spine no longer searing but still aching... Rose was screaming at the demons, he noted groggily. ‘DO SOMETHING!’ she yelled.
Ligmant shook his head, anger in his eyes, the rest of his face unbearably impassive. ‘It has nothing to do with us — this is all the Doctor’s work. Perhaps he should choose his friends more carefully!’ The demon leader glanced at Karlon, who had a hint of an otherwise inexpressable smile in his eyes.
Jimbob felt anger writhing and churning in his gut, and his whole body tensed and squeezed. ‘For God’s sake!’ he cried out, desperately. ‘This isn’t the time for arguing! We’ve got to stick together on this, or we’ll have no chance!’
‘How true,’ said the Dark One.
Rose caught sight of Karlon’s grinning gaze, and a fresh wave of untempered emotion forced its way past her lips. ‘IT’S HIM! THAT THING! HE DID IT!’ She pointed a blood-stained finger at Karlon. The Doctor, still in the throes of pain, seemed to nod.
‘Oh, don’t get too angry at poor Karlon,’ the Dark One replied, smoothly. ‘That is my job. Karlon, tell me now, why did you leave it so long? I was chained in the Void for aeons before this portal opened...’ The Dark One touched the space where the treacherous demon’s mouth used to be... and then it was back there as if it had never vanished. Karlon instantly began to babble an explanation.
‘My Lord... I promise you... Void-time is warped, you must know... I did not realise...’
‘You did not realise?!’ the Dark One’s voice was a spitting snarl now. ‘Of course you did, Karlon. You are a failure. A complete failure!’
Karlon looked genuinely terrified now, and resorted to all-out begging. ‘My Lord... please... just give me one more chance... I’ll serve you... I’ll love you...’
‘LOVE?’ the Dark One hissed, contemptuously. ‘What would I want with the thing? It taints, it stings, it creeps, it coils. And I destroy it, as I destroy you!’
Ligmant gave a cry — he could stand it no longer. ‘Leave him alone, you MONSTER!’ The lone demon launched himself into the air and fired round after round of hard, flickering bullets at the Dark One. The warlord ignored the onslaught completely, and the capsules bounced off his armour, ricocheting off to explode in the air.
Rose was sobbing now, glittering tears falling down her cheeks. ‘HELP ME!’ she cried, desperate. ‘HELP ME! JUST GET ME OUT OF HERE! EVERYTHING’S BROKEN, IT’S ALL FUCKING BROKEN!!!’
Jimbob’s stomach lurched as the Dark One manipulated Karlon’s arm towards his own neck. ‘I shall enjoy every second of this, Karlon,’ he smirked, ‘forcing you to break every bone in your body!’
Ligmant screamed. ‘GET OFF HIM! YOU WILL NOT TOUCH HIM AGAIN!’ He led his demons at the Dark One, and they smashed into him — but he flung them all away with a murmured word of power.
The Doctor watched, helplessly, as the Dark One forced Karlon’s hand upwards, towards his eyes. Karlon unwillingly clawed at his own pupils, blood spurting from the tattered spheres, screaming all the while.
The Dark One began crying out in ecstasy, bathing in the demon’s agony. The Doctor joined in, and soon everyone in the Mirrorverse was screaming, for different reasons but connected.
The blood red sun rose over the spindled horizon of London, marking the dawn of the day, and the beginning of the Cataclysm.
TO BE CONTINUED...