"This book mentions a planet called Isz… da…. Iszdareth," I said, trying to pronounce the name in the book I held correctly. "It's said to have had many dragon sightings in its course of history, so maybe we'll find out more about the little one, there."
"What kind of place is that?" asked Donna curiously and watched over the Doctor's shoulder to look at the screen.
He activated the controls and manoeuvred the TARDIS to our destination, wheezing and tumbling assured.
"Bet you'll like it." He shot up from where he had landed on the ground, all grin and excitement. "It's a rural area in the mountains. Lots of farm lands. A small city is nearby and they are said to have quite the impressive archive. You know, like a library but digital."
"Oh, yep, sounds awesome. Hope they'll have a few good crime novels."
"Uhhhh…. Prooooobably not. But I have an idea for that… afterwards." The Doctor clapped his hands together and beamed at us. "Alons-y!?"
"Auf geht's!" I called.
Donna looked at me. "Was that German?"
"Yeah. I lived there for a while."
"Oh. Neat. Let's go!"
"Please don't come back," grumbled the Master from his corner of the console. He was busy fiddling with a pyramid shaped device that was somehow responsible for whatever the TARDIS was pranking him with again.
"Weeeeell… actually…" The Doctor rubbed his neck. "You need to come with us."
"What?!" The Master almost bumped his head against the console when he shot up. "I'm not going to run around with you idiots!"
The Doctor took a cautious step backwards. "There's… a malfunction I haven't quite figured out yet. Can't leave you on your own with that. Might be dangerous…"
The other Time Lord knitted his eyebrows together and then grinned all of a sudden. "Ah, I see. You're scared I might break your seal and run away on my own."
"Tha… that… I never said that!"
"It's written all over your silly face, dear Doctor."
"Aaaanyway… you need to come with us. You too want that dragon to grow, don't you?"
The Master threw his wrench to the floor and stepped into the other one's personal space, tapping against his chest. "I won't help you play hero."
"Didn't demand that. Would never." A happy grin formed on his face. "So, you coming?"
"I don't have a choice, do I?"
Donna stemmed her fists into her hips. "Well, I'm not going to stay here just because of you. So you better behave yourself."
The Master rolled his eyes. "Be glad the Doctor would know it was me if you would go missing all of a sudden."
Donna's mouth fell open. "Was that a threat? Did you really just threaten me, you grump?"
The answer was a wide, dangerous grin that made Donna look even more indignant. And as if she could hardly contain herself from slapping him - hard. A tiny part of me really wanted to see that happen and I had to suppress a grin.
"Can't you just put him in a cell or something?" Donna glanced at the Doctor.
"Like what?" spat the Master. "Like some fucking animal?"
"Certainly not like a decent human being!"
"Well, I'm not!" He glowered at the red head. "I'm far above you, as is he!" His finger snapped in the Doctor's direction. "So who should be put in a cage?"
"Stop that." The Doctor's voice was soft, but demanding as he grabbed the Master's arm. "Both of you."
The other one tore himself away with an angry stare, shoving the Doctor away roughly. "I'm neither staying in some dungeon, nor do I allow you to take me along like some dog just because you can't let go of those apes!"
"Oi! We're not apes!" complained Donna, but I held her back and shook my head. This wasn't a moment to interfere.
"Master, stop it. Please." The Doctor's voice was still soft and it seemed to enrage the Master even further. "No restraints. I promised, didn't I?" he continued, holding eye contact with his fuming counterpart. "Just come along. You don't have to do anything." Finally he averted his gaze, looking uncertain all of a sudden.
"Fine. If this is all so bloody important to you, I'll stay in the back." The Master was more sulking than angry all of a sudden, crossing his arms in front of his chest.
I carefully tugged at Donna to manoeuvre her out of the TARDIS already. We seemed to have landed somewhere in the mountains. Snow covered peaks surrounded us, but down here it was rather warm and there was a small village of wooden huts nearby. Due to the low temperatures I went back inside to quickly grab my hoodie from the jump seat. The Doctor didn't seem to even notice and stepped to the Master, taking his hands into his own.
"The fylake conductor is leaking and it's better if the TARDIS takes care of that while we're outside. That's why I want you with us."
"It's more dangerous for humans than for me," growled the Master. "It's always about them. They are always more important to you."
The Doctor sighed. "You know the fumes can get dangerous for us too. And you're wrong… You are…" He looked down at their hands. "You are important to me. More than you think."
A moment of silence hung between the two, then the Doctor suddenly let go of the other one's hands and looked at his shoes. And I could only roll my eyes at his reaction.
"Geez, Just kiss him already," I said irritatedly. "This is getting ridiculous."
The Doctor twirled around, glaring at me with a shocked expression, then quickly looked back at the Master, who seemed as perplexed, but also somewhat amused.
"Wha… what're talking about?" stammered the Doctor. "Whhh-y would I?" With that he took a step back, a hand shooting to his neck to rub it nervously.
"Yeah… why would you," mumbled the Master, venom dripping from his voice.
"Aaaanyway…" evaded the other Time Lord. "Let's have a look outside. Can't leave Donna waiting forever, can I? You coming?" And he rushed outside without another look back.
We stayed behind with the faint engine humm as the only noise in the room. The Master wore a look of contempt and fury, but there also was a hint of sadness. His head snapped around, directing all of the chaos in him towards me.
"I told you to stay out of this," he growled.
I pursed my lips and grunted, stuffing my hands in my hoodie pockets. "Yeah, but even my dummy autistic self sees he's into you and this whole running away thing is pissing me off."
With a single step the Master was at me and I backed away. He still grabbed me by the collar and dragged me to the doors, ignoring my protests. I only stopped struggling when I heard him laugh quietly.
"He's good at that, you know?" he said, dragging me outside. "Running away."
"Guessed so. Let go of me."
He finally did, not looking at me as we followed the other two who were already a good distance ahead. But a second later I felt his hand slip into mine and I glanced up in surprise, not having awaited this at all.
"'m not running away," I said.
The Master let out a snort. "You will. Eventually. Everyone does, in the end."
He wasn't wrong about that. My own life had taught me the same, so I stayed silent and just held his hand a little tighter.
We wandered along a mountain path, green grass and hills surrounding us. The sun hung high, spreading its warmth and brightness and making me regret the hoodie fast. The temperatures were still low, but that didn't help the sun's heat. A fact I admired for quite some time. I had never been that high up in any mountains before.
After roughly half an hour we reached the small village that consisted of a collection of wooden huts. The place was far from primitive, however, as it was adorned with lots of pipes and wires and machinery with unknown purposes.
As soon we caught up with the other two, the Master let go of my hand and wore his usual look of unwillingness. I stuffed the now free hand inside my pocket, trying to preserve the nice feeling of warmth. And suddenly my heart beat faster, seemingly for no reason and startled me. A small thought like that shouldn't do that with me. Get your act together, I scolded myself, frowning at the ground.
We did the usual, asking people, snooping around and admiring everything that was foreign to us. Well, Donna and I did. The Doctor was the one questioning, whilst the Master stayed uncharacteristically silent and in the back.
We ended up at a market, sitting around a fire pit with warm drinks in our hands.
"It's always so fascinating how many species look like humans," Donna babbled, excitedly. "Just look at them. Their ears are a bit square, if you ask me, but that's it. Small, big, thin, fat, they have it all."
"Nothing fascinating about it," grumbled the Master. "Your tiny brain just isn't used to variety."
"And yours could certainly do with a bit more decency, Mister."
"Not calling you that. Period."
They glowered at one another until an older woman joined us at the fire. She was clad in a simple dress and a hood, hair grey and face wrinkled. Her skin was a tad bit more purple than that of a human, but that was it.
"You're strangers, aren't ya?" she asked with a knowing smirk. "Travellin' folks, eh?"
"Yes! Yes we are," said the Doctor enthusiastically. "We're looking for some archives. Should be here somewhere."
"Archives? What'ya mean with that, son? It rings a bell, but…" she tapped against her head, smiling, "that old head of mine's not what it used to be."
"Oh, well, that's too bad. Can't really help with memories… I can of course, not me, but I know…"
Donna slapped his arm. "Give the lady something, stupid. Bet she'll remember then."
The Doctor opened his mouth in sudden realisation, but got interrupted by the Master, who quickly pulled out his laser screwdriver to point it at the woman's head. "Spit it out, old hag. I don't have time for your nonsense."
"Master!" exclaimed the Doctor, then turned to the woman, his hands up on a soothing gesture. "He's not shooting. Won't let him. Don't worry."
At that the old woman started to laugh with her raspy, crackling voice and everyone looked at her, perplexed. She tapped against the laser screwdriver and cackled some more.
"My time's already up, son. 'S' is only a matter of days. Ye can't scare me with that." She smiled, the expression weary. "I'm not asking for money. No need for that. But would any of you youngsters get me a nice mulled wine from that stall over there? The owner's not giving me any. Says it'll kill me." Again she cackled. "Doesn't matter now, does it?"
"I… uh… just don't have any money," mumbled the Doctor, earning himself a sigh from Donna and an eye-roll from the Master.
The latter got up, dusted himself off and wandered over to the stall, shortly after coming back with two mugs of steaming content.
"There, have it. If I have to be dragged along, at least let us get it done." The other mug ended in my own hands and my puzzled look was met with a shrug. "You looked cold. And you're annoying when you're cold."
I pursed my lips in protest, but didn't mind something warm. Sitting around made one definitely remember the low temperatures and to my delight I discovered there was mead in my mug. Or something that tasted like it, at least.
The Doctor was scowling the whole time, knowing perfectly well that the other man had used hypnotism to get the beverages - again. But, for now, he didn't verbalise his disapproval and instead turned to the elderly woman. Only Donna looked as if she was bursting to learn how the Master had managed to get the mulled wine, probably not knowing about his skills.
"So… you know anything about old archives, then?"
"Mhm… oh, this is good. I thank you, son. I needed this. My old bones feel better already." She gave the Master a smile, which he completely ignored, and answered the Doctor. "Well, there are stories. Twice as old as I am myself, probably, but who can tell…"
Another sip, a content humm. The woman closed her eyes, a half smile on her lips as if she were lost in almost forgotten memories. Then, finally, she spoke up again and her voice was firm, used to telling stories to whomever might be willing to listen.
"Once upon a thousand moons ago, or maybe many more, there was a people whose minds were strong and wild. They used their wisdom to think up ways to travel the skies and the oceans without harm, they knew of the secrets to plant food in ways that could fill everyone's plate and leave no lack. They collected all wisdom from every place they reached and learned from everyone who wanted to teach. They were collectors, curious minds. And for many cycles there was neither war nor other harm done on this planet."
The Master snorted, but stayed silent otherwise, when he got hit by several venomous looks. After a short pause and a few more delighted sips from her wine the old woman continued.
"You might wonder why we live such small and simple lives these days, and why there are so few machines left. Truth be told, we don't even fully understand a lot of them. They keep our water clean and our houses warm when the mountain's snow creeps down to us. But when they break… " She sighed and cast a wary look at some pipes and gears nearby. "One day we will have to adapt. Or maybe we will learn fast enough to uncover the secrets we need to rebuild what we once had."
"What happened?" asked Donna, voice small and eyes wide like that of a child. She was fully engrossed in the story. "Why did everything vanish?"
"Because in the blackest of nights we were attacked by the monstrosities from our children's fairy tales. When everyone was sound asleep and securely wrapped in their blankets," her voice got lower, more ominous, "they heard the sound of wings above their heads and nightmares plagued many dreams."
A cold shiver went down my spine. Instantly I remembered the night in the Viking's guest house and the haunting images that plagued my dreams for days. Those had stopped after the adventure and I had assumed they had stemmed from the atmosphere, my love for pagan stories and then the excitement. But maybe… maybe the dragon also had something to do with them.
"From this night on the people were attacked over and over again by horrid winged beasts. We call them Erdras, although most don't dare to speak of them much. It is said that some of them could spit fire and others were large as mountains, with glowing eyes and screams to chill your bones."
"How were they defeated?" asked the Doctor and I glimpsed a worried glance he tossed in my direction. "Or were your people able to make peace with them?"
"Peace? That's ridiculous, son. They couldn't speak and didn't listen. And I'm afraid this is where the stories get vague, because no one knows what exactly ended their attacks." She looked into her now empty mug and pursed her lips for a moment. "All we know is that all knowledge is now lost, burnt down and hidden in long abandoned ruins. Will ya gi'me another one, dear?" the old woman suddenly interrupted herself, falling back into her previous accent. The question was directed towards the Master.
"The hell will I. I'm not some errand boy for you, old hag."
"Mhm… petty." She chuckled.
"So, there are no archives left," concluded Donna. "Did we land in the right… place?" She glared at the Doctor and the way she had emphasised the last word made clear she actually meant time.
"Only legends, kid. Only that. But if ya wanna follow those, there's said to be one of the lost cities here in the mountains. No one's found it, of course. But no one's looking for it either." Again she cackled. "Folks are scared. Think that ghosts are livin' there. That's what we were told as children. Cause some claimed to have went there and they brought nothing but creepy stories."
With that she ended and proceeded to have a staring contest with the Master, who tried to shorten her last days living with his glare alone.
"We'll, thanks for the great story," said the Doctor with a wide smile. "We've never heard of it in the… uh… village we're from."
"Eh, don't bullshit me." The woman gave her a toothy grin that almost looked dangerous. "Yer folks aren't from this world. Look at those ears. Too round. And those clothes!" She shook her head, clearly amused and did a slight bow with her head. "Doesn't matter. Fare thee well, oh weary travellers."
With those last words she heaved herself up and slowly walked away on her cane, vanishing in the market's crowd and leaving us behind with more questions than answers.