"You know the stories, don't you, Doctor?" Their footsteps echoed eerily in the desolate halls of the Capital. The Master was still smiling in a way that made the hairs on the back of the Doctor's neck stand on end.
"You remember what they taught us? About Rassilon and Omega and the Other? I know you remember the stories about the Other. You and your brother. Come on, now. I asked you a question!"
Once again, the Doctor resisted the urge to flinch. "You know I do."
"Very good," the Master replied, his tone a mocking imitation of a teacher praising their pupil. "So come on. Out with it."
This whole thing felt off. Of course, there were a number of very good reasons for that. "They taught us at the Academy that Rassilon, with the help of Omega and the Other, founded Time Lord society by constructing the Web of Time out of the chaos of chance. By fixing in place a linear timeline. That they anchored this web with fixed points in time. And that they rewrote the biology of Gallifreyans to allow us longer lives and the ability to regenerate.
"But I know all of that's a lie. I've known that for years. We both have."
They had both spent a great deal of time during their years at the Academy down in the Lower City, amongst the Outsiders. Gallifreyans who weren't Time Lords and didn't share the same regenerative abilities. Then there was the Sisterhood of Karn. Almost just a fairytale on Gallifrey, although they were very real.
"So what's the truth?" the Master prompted, pushing the issue.
The Doctor closed her eyes for a couple of seconds and almost tripped over a piece of stone from one of the walls. When she spoke, there was a tightness to her voice. "Rassilon stole Omega's research and destroyed the Other. He slaughtered the seers who had ruled Gallifrey before the Time Lords were created, and the ones who escaped fled to Karn. The Sisterhood. They're still there. I've met them. They still practice the old ways."
"Well, it's a start," the Master commented snidely. "Keep going!"
Stormy eyes settled on him once again, a quiet pleading in the back of her mind going unacknowledged by her old friend. "He killed the Great Vampires. All of them. Or nearly all. I've met some of their descendents. He was insane. He destroyed anyone who dared oppose him."
When she nearly tripped again, she focused back on the floor, on picking her way through the rubble of the city where she had spent her childhood, if one could call it that. She felt as though she was being tugged along on a tether. "Why are you doing this Koschei?"
She had hoped that using his old name, one only those who knew him as a child would know, she could get through to him on a level she hadn't been able to so far. Instead, he just grabbed her arm painfully hard and yanked her around in front of him, snarling, "DON'T call me that! If you're going to speak to me, use my name!" He shoved her away, making her stumble once more. "Go on. Say it! Call me by my name!"
Once she regained her balance, she looked back at him, expression shuttered, and spoke so quietly that had he been anything but a Time Lord, he likely wouldn't have heard her.
"Master." The word tasted bitter on her tongue, like ash and charred bone. And the way he smiled made something inside her recoil.
The Master reached out to curl his fingers under her chin, forcing her to meet his gaze straight on. "Oh come now, Doctor. We both remember a time when you would have loved that."
"That was a long time ago," she told him, eyes hard as she pulled away from his touch.
The Master made a noncommittal noise in response. "If you say so, Doctor, but I saw the way you looked when I made you kneel.
"Now, where were we? Ah, yes. Rassilon stealing Omega's research, destroying Omega and the Other, driving the Sisterhood off of Gallifrey, tampering with the biology of one class of Gallifreyans, systematically exterminating the Great Vampires… Keep going. Surely you know of more."
"I dunno what more you want me to say," the Doctor objected. "Rassilon was an unhinged lunatic, and a genocidal one at that. I've no fondness for him. Knew him personally. Fed me a bunch of malarkey about being 'Gallifrey's chosen son' or some equally idiotic nonsense and then tried to kill me. Twice. Tried to have someone else kill me on a few other occasions besides."
"No, no, no!" the Master barked. "Not about Rassilon. About me. About Braxiatel. About you. Think bigger. Come on! I know you love a good conspiracy."
The Doctor turned away from him, moving to one of the doorways off the hall they had been walking. This section of the Capital's dense network of walkways led to the Academy. And through the ruined door, the Doctor could see the rubble where once the school had stood.
"Never was much good at school," she said quietly.
The Master moved to stand behind her. "Stay on topic."
She sighed. "I am. Never was much good at school. Sure, engineering and history, loved them. Could barely pass a course to save my lives. But the subject matter itself…
"I know Rassilon was a lunatic. I know some of what he did. Know it's probably not the whole of his crimes. But I'm not sure what you're getting at."
"Then perhaps you need a lesson in history," the Master told her, boxing her in. She could feel him close against her back.
In front of her, the walkway dropped away no more than a couple of meters out. It wouldn't be the longest fall she'd ever survived, but she'd been forced to regenerate by less. And if she were honest, she'd become rather attached to this self. But he wasn't pushing, just blocking her way back into the hall. So she settled in and kept quiet, waiting for the speech she knew would inevitably come.
"Let's start at the beginning, shall we?"