My prediction had been right. Morning came and went, followed by noon before we actually reached the bottom of the crater. Donna and I weren't completely guiltless of this, since we both were the least experienced people of the group. But no one blamed us and they helped whenever the need arose, so we would all arrive safe and sound.
The Doctor immediately started to jump around and analyse some of the black stone. It had molten with the ground, leaving an uneven seam to the lighter stone. In front of us, however, now loomed the city of Jir, abandoned and crumbling, partially overgrown and slowly decaying. And yet it was as majestic as an old queen, lounging on her fading throne and watching the world go by while slowly withering away herself.
It's hard to describe what it felt like standing there. The atmosphere was heavy with time and lost memories. The air filled with dust and the moaning of dying metal giants, the creaking of rotting wood and the occasional crash from something falling from high above our heads. There seemed to be few animals, if any, or all of them were hiding. Only some insects buzzed about, but they weren't of the stingy kind. Not even the singing of beards was present, and barely any wind to rustle the plants that had made their way over and through buildings.
What finally broke the almost silence were the voices of our group, first muted by sheer awe, then let loose by joy and excitement.
"It looks like those old telly documentations of war zones," babbled Donna. "Gramps sometimes watches those. But they have fewer plants. And no bridges. And… well… the buildings aren't so modern. I can't believe they just left it behind like that. Or maybe it was cause of the dragons. Doesn't look burnt though. I mean aside from the mountains."
The others were talking about similar things, tossed around theories and were collecting bits and pieces of stone and wood and metal so the Doctor could scan them. We moved over as many roots as over piles of rubble and more than once through the carcass of a toppled skyscraper. Inside was almost nothing that could tell us anything of the past. Furniture and everything else was long rotten or overgrown.
As evening neared once again we came to a part of the city that was too overgrown to move any further without entering the buildings, so we decided to stay there for the night.
"It's hard to say how old the materials are," said the Doctor, glaring at his Sonic. "The decay is too far advanced, cellular structure is a complete mess. The plants make it almost impossible. Too damp, too… plant-y." He scrunched up his nose.
Darwil hummed thoughtfully. "Well, it needs no expert to see that the place is ancient."
"It's everything we've ever imagined as children," said Ulkta. "More than that. Imagination can't even begin to make this up."
Meanwhile I tried to find a good spot to roll out my backpack and ground mat. Out here and between all the plants and rubble it was hard to find a place that was flat enough to lie halfway comfortable on. I ended up staying a bit away from the others, valuing the comfort more than the company and the light of the fire. The hike had made me tired anyway, my muscles were aching too and I didnt even have much of an appetite. Listlessly I munched on some protein bars and let my eyes wander over the broken building around us. It seemed we had set up camp on a kind of crossroad and if it weren't for the countless bushes it would have been easy to cross from one site to the other. Now we would have to fight our way through the thickage or maybe take the more dangerous route through the buildings.
So far we hadn't found any that resembled a library. The Doctor had suspected that it might be near the meteorite, so instead of blindly stumbling around, we would first try to reach the centre.
I glared up at the sky far above my head. The sun was setting fast here, vanishing behind mountains and buildings alike. It took maybe half an hour and all we were able to see was inside the radius of our fire. More stories were told, theories tossed around and excitement had filled the hearts of everyone.
Well, maybe not everyone.
The Master sat outside the light, playing with something in his hands. I couldn't make out what he was holding or what he was doing and didn't bother anyway since I was almost falling asleep already. The light played tricks with my tired eyes, drawing shadows where none could be. Was someone standing there? No, there was no one. Ulkta got up and dragged her sleeping bag inside one of the destroyed houses. Just enough to have something over her head and still be inside the fire's shine. The others, the Doctor included, stayed and wrapped themselves in for the night.
My eyes closed while I was still sitting, arms wrapped around my knees, chin resting on top. It was so incredibly quiet, despite the occasional moaning of the dying city.
And then I jumped and almost let out a squeak. Something had bumped against my back, a weight that was no animal, but…
"For fuck's sake!" I cursed. "I almost had a heart attack. Don't sneak up on me like that."
The Master giggled behind me, his back leaning against mine, or maybe the other way around.
"I wasn't even trying to be stealthy. Your ears are just bad."
"Noooo. 'M just tired." A yawn escaped me. "I'll go to sleep."
"Not a fan of the light?"
We were indeed almost outside of the radius, almost completely swallowed by the darkness. If I hadn't been so tired I would have found it creepy.
"Dunno," I mumbled and crawled inside the sleeping bag. "I can't sleep when they are all talking. And here it's somewhat flat at least. Good night."
There was no answer, but after a while, when my mind was almost gone, I heard a shuffle and felt the Master lay down behind me, still back to back, offering a little warmth and comfort.
The shadows were still moving, cast in strange forms against the cracked and crumbled walls around us, stretching and bending in impossible directions and inside their eyes lay even darker shadows, blacker as every night could ever be. Hands stretched out, coming off the walls they had been clinging to, gaining mass and substance as they climbed up the jagged round surface beneath them. Round and dark and burst open to reveal an inverse glow. And as the figures reached the top, colourless arms stretched out towards the sky; there was a roar and the flapping of enormous wings and then…
I shot up, immediately getting dizzy and having no orientation whatsoever. The shuffling in my back reminded me where I even was, my eyes wandered around and I could hear more screams? Or calls? Panic lay in their voices and everyone was running.
"What the…?" I mumbled.
"There is something in that building," said the Master. "Over there. Where that woman slept."
He was standing up, but staying next to me and I got to my feet as well, watching as the Doctor scanned the stones and the others were seemingly searching everything for something. Or someone.
"There you are!" shouted Bor as soon as he saw us. "We thought you'd gone missing too."
"What happened?" I asked, confused. "I was asleep and there was a scream, I think. Not sure I didn't just dream it."
"Yes, there was. We heard it too. And then Ulkta was gone. Meyla swears she saw how she got…" He gulped and fidgeted with his hands. "She says she saw how she got sucked into the walls. But that can't be. It's not possible, is it?"
"Mhmmm…" made the Master, neither denying nor confirming the statement.
"Lucy! Thank god, you're safe!" called Donna, jogging towards us. "I didn't see you anywhere and was already scared you… but here you are. Pheeeew. I hope Ulkta is alright, really hope. But where's she gone? No one can find her and then that scream…"
"Probably got eaten by something," said the Master, nonchalantly, shrugging his shoulders.
"Oi, don't be such an insensible twat again. What if she's got kidnapped and is scared for her life?"
The Master just shrugged again. "Just be glad it wasn't yourself. So keep your eyes open. Or don't. I won't shed a tear if anyone murders any of you."
Donna was ready to lash out again, but got interrupted by someone shouting. It wasn't a surprised scream like before, more a warning. We hurled around and suddenly I saw what got the others so shocked.
There were shadows.
Looming inside the broken buildings, peeking through long shattered windows and hovering in untrodden doorways. Formed like humanoid figures, but with no visible sources and standing in places that no shadow could be cast on. But no doubt, those were pitch black, cut out of the sparse light.
They didn't move.
Neither did any of them stand outside a building. Something was obviously keeping them from leaving. I got out my flashlight and shined it inside a dark, overgrown corridor, revealing another figure there. This one, however, did move. Like a broken record or more like a lagging figure in a video game, the movements jittery and unnatural. Quickly I turned the light away, awaiting the thing to storm outside and grab me.
But nothing happened.
The Doctor did the same, a bit further away and we all gathered in one spot again, feeling safer that way.
"They only seem to move when a light is cast on them," mumbled the Doctor. "But why don't they come outside? Plenty of light here. The fire, the moonlight."
"What are they?" whispered Donna fearfully.
"Have they… what have they done to Ulkta?" asked Darwil, although he must have known that no one would have an answer.
"They're not coming out," concluded the Doctor.
"They're watching from the other site… cause they can't ever be part of life again," I mumbled, more speaking out my thoughts than actually telling anyone in specific. "Trapped in the darkness. For they are shadows and damned to cease in light."
And then that dream.
"They don't vanish in direct light, though," reminded Meyla. "Quite the opposite."
"We need to have guards," decided the Doctor. "As creepy as those might be, we need to sleep. All of us." A pointed look wandered over to the Master. "We need to stay focused and that's best accomplished by being awake."
"You're right, Doctor." Darwil let out a sigh and let his eyes wander over the buildings and all the cracks and openings where shadows were watching. "I'll be first and wake the next in two hours."
"That'd be me, then," said the Doctor. "I don't need as much sleep."
Darwil nodded and we all skidded closer together, trying our best to go back to sleep, although most probably couldn't anyway. Donna lay close to me and seemed to be appropriately frightened.
"We're going to be okay," I muttered towards her. "They would have attacked already if they could."
"Maybe. I don't like them. And I hate that we can't look for Ulkta. Maybe she's still alive and alone and scared, somewhere out there. It's not right."
"We can't risk losing more people," said Meyla, her voice sounding as if she had a hard time fighting back tears. "It would all be in vain if we all die now."
"I know," answered Donna, but looked miserable. "It's still horrible. I don't want that."
"Yeah," I mumbled, turning on my back and watching the patches of sky that were visible above us.
After that we were all quiet, but I was unable to sleep, my eyes wandering towards the shadows over and over again, although I could not see them anymore now that I had put down my glasses. A shuffling from behind made me jump and turn, but it was the Master again, laying down back to back, only on a ground-mat he had thrown there before.
"Not snuggling with you," he grumbled as he felt my movements.
"Mhmmm, okay," I just answered and turned back. Him being there made me feel a lot safer already, no matter what. Especially considering the fact that he could have chosen literally any other place to lay down.
Well, and he hadn't really forbidden me to turn and huddle a little against him. It wasn't possible much anyway, without leaving my bag. And I'd be damned to do that while those creatures were around.