I felt a jolt and stumbled backwards, hitting against warmth. Arms hastily wrapped around my shoulders, holding me close and tight so nothing could drag me away again. I held my breath, listening for screams or the sounds of struggling, straining my ears to catch whatever sound the shadow creatures might make - if any.
The darkness was absolute.
As was the sudden silence.
"Shit, shit, shit," muttered someone, Bor?
"They let go." A simple statement that tumbled from my lips, almost whispered. I couldn't feel the cold anymore and the silence was proof enough that Bor also was free.
"Yeah, they did." This time it definitely was him.
"I want to see, damit!" called Meyla.
"Don't you touch that light, girl!" scolded Donna as some rustling resounded through the darkness. "'S bad enough those creepy things are still around, but at least they're not attacking anymore."
"Might feed on the luminesce energy of the devices," mumbled the Doctor and a whir from his screwdriver accompanied his words. Not the blue light though, he had probably deactivated it. "Can't get any readings. It's as if they're not even here."
"Shadows," grumbled the Master. "What do you expect? How about we move? I'm not a fan of standing amongst those things, attacking or not."
"Yeah, me neither," I agreed, but only dared to move when he did, letting go of my shoulders.
"The corridor ahead was relatively free of debris," came Darwil's voice. "Let's move slowly. And stay together as much as possible."
No one objected. Because, there was no better option. I felt a hand slip into mine and was confused for a moment, because it didn't feel like I had expected. It was softer and smaller and…
"I really hate not seeing anything here," mumbled Donna. "This is ridiculous. And scary. Really is scary, isn't it? Why don't they attack in the dark? Can't be literal shadows, now can they? And if they are, who or what is casting them?"
I smiled at the gesture and held on to Donna, weirdly happy about having her as my support. I wasn't able, nor willing to accept that she might actually be a friend to me, yet, too scared of the possibility of her faking it, or using my trust to gain some benefit. Not that it would be like her to do so, but it wouldn't be the first time my judgement in a human was wrong. It would be nice, though. Just knowing that I maybe wasn't cursed to be alone. Or stuck with only people who accepted me because I was useful to them.
Speaking of whom, I was wondering where the Master was. In the darkness I couldn't pinpoint where the other people were and only heard the noises their steps made, the rustling of their clothes and gear and their breathing. My main focus was on moving forward without tripping, so it was extra hard to make out anything else.
After a while we came to a fork and we decided to make light for a few seconds to see where we were heading to.
"They haven't attacked again, so I assume they are literally bound to light in some way," said the Doctor, his tone by far too casual for the situation. "Might not be fast enough to get to us. And if they do, we drown them in darkness again. Worked the last time."
"I really don't like this," whimpered Meyla. "What have they done to Ulkta?"
"Might be best to never find out," sighed Donna. "I do wanna find the poor woman and help, but not if we have to endanger everyone else in the process, yeah? Maybe send out a bunch of people afterwards, get a rescue mission going."
"Alright, be quiet now," demanded Darwil. "I'll make light at the count of three and as soon as they get too close I'll turn it off again. Everyone agrees?"
We all confirmed and I waited anxiously for the coming moment.
At first I had to squint because of the sudden brightness, but my eyes adjusted rather quickly, searching for anything out of the ordinary. We were in another room, empty except for some wooden debris, that might have been furniture once. There was some mould on the walls, but almost no other plants, except for a few tiny mushrooms in one corner.
"Over there," whispered Donna, pointing at a pile of wood.
Now I saw it too, a figure sitting on top of the debris, almost in a relaxed pose. It sat still for as long as Darwil was looking around and only turned its head after a while. It was enough to make our guide kill the light and usher us forwards.
Donna held my hand the entire time, but we barely talked anymore, too focused on moving. Darwil repeated the process of looking around each time we reached a new corner. Sometimes there wasn't even one of the shadow creatures, other times we had a bunch of them nearby.
And once I heard someone squeak and found one of the creatures standing right among us, not moving an inch. Everyone immediately scrambled away from them, preparing for whatever might happen. Everyone but me, who stood frozen, reacting too slow to get out of reach as fast. Donna tugged at my hand when she got aware, but all I did was glare at the dark figure ahead, because it… wasn't moving. Wasn't budging even a little, like all the others had at first. As if they needed some time inside the light to even be able to move. Like in a trance I reached out a hand and poked inside the darkness with a finger, finding nothing but freezing coldness and swirling void. The shadow moved.
And the lights went out immediately.
"It's like they are eating it," I said, a little surprised by the thought. It made sense, though.
"Wouldn't they keep attacking then?" asked Bor. He sounded sombre. "If they charge themselves, then it would last for another while, wouldn't it?"
"Depends," I pondered. "If they need the light itself, then they can be as charged as they want. As soon as the light is gone… it's gone. Speaking of… is there a crack over there?"
"Maybe I'm hallucinating already, but it looks a tiny little bit brighter a little to the right there."
"Ohhhh, I see it too," said Donna. "Hurry up. They don't go outside, do they? Didn't dare to last night, we might be lucky."
Some murmured an agreement and we continued to scrambled forward, Donna tugging at my hand enthusiastically. The glow was so faint it wouldn't have shown at all had we used our torches. Someone stumbled, cursing, Meyla was whispering with someone who didn't answer. The Master was silent, as was the Doctor, bare the noises his Sonic made from time to time.
With each step the glow got slightly brighter, revealing a faint orange tint.
Everyone came to a halt, glaring at what lay ahead.
"It's lamps!" called the Doctor, clapping his hands together. "Marvellous! Look at those designs and let's not forget the fact that it's still working. Amazing."
"Not a crack then," whined Donna.
"Not a crack, no." The Doctor sounded way too cheerful for my taste. "But look around."
"No shadows," noted Darwil. "Not a single one."
"You'd think they would all gather here," drawled Bor.
Another whirr from the Sonic sounded through the abandoned halls, the blue light now active again. And in no time there was a faint darkness appearing in the light glow, barely a full figure, but there anyway. The Doctor stopped, made the shadow vanish and then nodded his head towards the lit corridor. "Sunlight. They made lamps that imitate the wavelength of sunlight. Don't seem to like that, those things. Guess we'll be safe there."
It turned out that the Doctor was right. Wherever the orange lamps were present there were no shadows at all, but as soon as someone shone a light into the darkness they reappeared again, standing there, waiting.
This part of the large building we were in turned out to have been an apartment complex once. There were countless apartments, some with remnants of furniture in them. Desks and beds and kitchen counters, broken devices no one had a clue what they had been used for. We found bookshelves with actual books in them, but they were all rotten and unreadable. There were broken children's toys, surrounded by patches of mushrooms or covered in mould, old photographs that didn't show pictures anymore.
We set up camp in one of the lesser destroyed apartments. The walls were broken, but barely any mould had gathered. At least not visibly. Bor made a fire and we ate some rations, not talking much. And then Darwil decided to stay the rest of the day, even though the clock showed that it wasn't evening yet.
It was a good excuse to go wandering about and exploring a little. Since it was safe within the boundaries of the light it wasn't as spooky as expected and I got a lot of great photos. Until I found a very special room, one that made me almost yelp.
Hiking is great and all that, but there is nothing better than finally getting a good scrub after days of walking and climbing. And to my utter joy, the place seemed to be still functioning. It was a large room with four rectangular basins, all of them pathed with small slabs of light brown colour. The whole room was basically waterproof and when I dipped a hand into the water it was definitely not only crystal clear, but also had a really nice and warm temperature. Curiosity peaked, I looked around the place and found pipes and valves and the heating system. All of it was fully functional, although I had no clue how that was possible. Maybe it got fed by the same energy source the lights were using.
Needless to say, I didn't care about the details.
"There you are."
The familiar voice tore me out of my daydream and back into reality. The warm water had made me a little sleepy, but now I was wide awake again and paddled the small distance to the pool edge.
"Found something nice and had to use it," I simply said, grinning up at the Master, who had squatted down near the edge, doing the same I had done before and holding his hand into the water to test it.
"Just because it's warm doesn't mean it's clean, you know?" he drawled and grinned. "Wouldn't be surprised if you'd catch some alien pox or something worse."
"The Doctor gave me a vaccine," I retorted, trying not to sound concerned. I folded my arms on the tiles in front of me, lazily paddling my feet in the water below me. "How'd you get here? I only found this by accident."
The Master produced a small device from his pocket and held it into the water for a few seconds, pursing his lips when he saw the result. "No pox for you, I'm afraid. The water is as clean as it gets."
I giggled and poked my tongue out at him. "Told you."
"Actually, you didn't."
I shrugged, poking his shirt with a wet finger. "Come in. It's really nice."
His eyebrow shot upwards and his eyes wandered over what little he could see of me. "You're completely naked," he remarked.
"Didn't want my clothes to get wet." I giggled and poked my tongue out. "Why so prude all of a sudden? Got anything you don't want me to see?"
"I was more under the impression that you wouldn't want me to see you naked." He gave me a crooked grin. "Humans are horribly squeamish about those things. And when I patched you up from the dragon you didn't even want me to see your chest."
"Cause you're a prick."
"And I was sure you'd be one about seeing me topless, too."
There was a barely visible smile turning his lips upwards, eyes sparkling with an unspoken comment. I sighed and tapped against the tiles, looking down.
"Which you weren't," I mumbled. "So I don't really care. Don't get why people are bothered so much, anyway. 'S not as if they have never seen a human body before."
"Don't ask me." The Master barked out a laugh. "Your kind worries about the dumbest stuff."
"So, coming in then?" I teased, poking the tip of my tongue through my teeth. "I can look away if you want."
"Will you now?" The smile got cheekier by the second. "I've got nothing to hide, lil' lumin." And while he spoke he already started to slip out of his jacket, tossing it to the ground next to my own pile.
"You know," I drawled, while he continued with his shirt. "I can't see much anyway, right now. Don't have my glasses on."
Luckily, I might add. Who knows if I would have been able to stay so calm, otherwise. Not that I didn't know what men looked like; I've visited by far too many nudist beaches not to. But this was something else, be it mainly because I was hellishly curious if there would be a difference to a human. It hadn't felt like it, although I did my best to quickly divert my thoughts from that memory.
"And you're daydreaming. I should be offended."
I looked up just in time to see him dive into the pool, feeling stupid and inappropriately disappointed to actually have been lost in thoughts for a moment too long.
And right then I felt grabbed from behind and dragged backwards, suddenly being pulled down below the water. Confused and surprised I struggled to get free, only to realise that no one was holding me, and a moment later my head broke the surface, my lungs filling with air again. The Master swamm next to me, on his back and giggling like a complete idiot.
"Damn you!" I called out, suckling in more breaths. "That was not fair."
He let himself drift next to me, sticking his tongue out. I scowled at him, but was still more surprised than really angry. And I couldn't help my eyes wandering.
He was wearing boxers.
And, of course, he was aware of me looking.
"Och, I thought I could, for once, adhere to human customs." The grin couldn't be any meaner.
I turned away and shrugged, lazily swimming to a more shallow part of the pool, where I could actually touch the ground and lean against the edge. Giving him the pleasure of even looking disappointed was not in any proximity to my intentions. I didn't even look at him when he came near, staying right in front of me.
The Master, on the other hand, let his eyes obviously wander over me, taking in seemingly every detail. I squirmed a little, trying not to do anything to hide myself, knowing he only did it to make me feel uneasy. Successfully.
"Found anything new?" I asked eventually.
"Nope," he answered with a wide grin, popping the 'p' with a smack of his lips. He giggled and slid next to me, leaning against the tiles with folded arms.
"Nothing to hide, still." I huffed and tossed a site-glance at the Master. "Well, seems you do."
"Me?" He hardly managed to suppress another giggle.
"Obviously," I taunted. "Must be really bad if you don't want anyone to see."
"Curious, aren't you?" His hand weaved through the water in front of him, then he splashed some in my direction.
I laughed and splashed back. "You're an alien. 'cause I'm curious."
"And not even denying it. How insolent." The Master splashed some more and ended up in front of me, suddenly grabbing my wrists as I was about to have my revenge. He leaned down, getting himself so close we almost touched. Almost. "It's funny to have you at my mercy with such an unimportant thing." He chuckled and leaned in, dripping on me. "Maybe I left something on just to see you get your head in a knot."
Well, that certainly was a full success. And the way held my wrists and was near enough for me to feel the heat of his almost naked body… I swallowed hard, trying not to think about it at all. Not even a bit, not letting my body react to him in any way. But when he leaned further down and brushed his lips against mine, letting me taste a droplet of water from them, my breath hitched noticeably. It was incredibly hard not to move, not to arch forward to feel just a little more skin.
He let go of my wrists that automatically landed on his chest and he moved, ghosting his breath over the shell of my ear, making me shiver. "But if it makes you that curious… I'm close enough." His words almost made my hands slide a little deeper down, only a little, just… He captured my lips lightly, diverting my attention for a moment, a spark of his mind slipping into my consciousness just enough to feel his taunting mirth. He was mocking me and my human body, showing me nothing but how controlled I was by it, how he could play me like an instrument.
For a moment I felt disgusted at myself for all of those things, but then I pushed my own mind against his, remembering that I wasn't entirely defenceless and reminding him that I wasn't to be played with that lightly. The little practise I had was enough to dig into him, sharp and quick like a knife and just pouring all of my anger into the created space, all of my frustration that he treated me like that, all of my confusion because in one moment he behaved like he did now and in the next he pushed me so far away that it seemed impossible that he would ever even so much as look at me again. I heard him gasp and my hands did wander south, dipping below the water and finding the waistband of his boxers. I felt something in his mind change, a spark of something I couldn't name although it felt incredibly familiar.
And then I was thrown out, smashing back into my own head with a force that made me sway and left me feeling sick for a moment, long enough for the Master to back away and regard me with a venomous look. His breath was faster than before, but slowed fast and with it the darkness faded from his eyes and left only the shadow of a teasing smirk on his face.
"Stop doing that," he said, dripping with mockery. "You barely manage the very basics. All you do is hurt yourself with those pitiful attacks."
"Then don't play with me like that," I brought out, voice higher than I wanted it to be and slightly quivering. I didn't know if I wanted to smack him or if I wanted to cry or whatever else. I was so confused and shaken by whatever the hell had just happened. "If you don't want me anywhere near you, stop getting close. I'm only human. I can't control my body." This was all just to prove how superior he was, wasn't it? He was rubbing the fact into me whenever he could and now he had found a new way of doing so, had found a new string he could pull.
Fuck, I was not crying, or was I? Maybe it was water.
The Master glared at me, not saying a word, but almost radiating contempt and something else I couldn't name. He swallowed and finally looked away, switching to a sulking face and tapping fingers against his arm, suddenly being more agitated and unsure than a moment ago.
"Why're you making a fuss? I was just playing with you a little. I didn't hurt you."
"You did," I whispered, not even sure how to explain it, sinking deeper into the water.
His face fell.
"Humans really are fragile, aren't they?" He muttered.
"Maybe. What's it to you?"
He gnawed on his bottom lip, actually appearing uncertain.
I didn't know what to make of it and right now I also didn't care. "How would you feel if someone would poke around in your weaknesses and rub them in your face at every occasion? I know you're superior to humans in probably every way possible. Doesn't mean…" I choked on my own words, barely managing to get more out. "Doesn't mean I'm useless."
"Oh, just shut up," I grumbled, not caring if he'd get mad at my boldness.
I just let him stand there, swiftly swimming away some distance and sinking below the surface to dive for a short distance. A thing I always love to do while swimming. Everything is muffled below the water and looks so different. Another world altogether.
There was something glinting at the bottom. It was hard to make out with being double impaired by the lack of glasses and the water's distortion. I contemplated if I needed to take a breath first, but then decided to dive down without, getting closer quickly and plugging the small thing from the tiles, before pushing my feet against them to shoot myself back to the surface.
I gasped, sucking in some air and needing a moment to adjust, before I glanced around.
The Master was gone.
I didn't care at that moment. I was still pissed and hurt. Or maybe just utterly confused, because I had no idea what the hell he was even doing. Pushing me away, then getting closer than he even wanted, just to show me how pathetic I was to him. And then looking as if I had punched him in the guts when I said that his behaviour was hurting me.
I sighed and swam to the edge of the basin to take a look at what I had found. It seemed to be a coin of sorts. A small metal disk that might have had engravings at some point, but was now completely smooth. In the middle, however, was a hole and it was made out of a translucent substance, holding something in it that looked like golden dust.
A pretty thing. Not more than a souvenir, but I took it with me anyway when I left the bath, determined to tell Donna about the place, who had already been complaining a lot about being 'too smelly'.