Everyone had different stories to tell when we met back at our camp. We sat around the fire, preparing food and sharing bottles of water.
Bor had found a room that was almost fully preserved, full with cabinets with jewellery that he had taken along. He put one of the necklaces - one made out of delicate silvery links - around Meyla's neck, trying to be playful about it, but when she gave him a kiss on the cheek, he visibly blushed and went silent for a while.
Meyla and Donna had found a room that could be responsible for the central heating and maybe even the energy supply for this building. They had no clue how exactly anything worked, but Donna assured that there were lots of things moving and making noises.
And Darwil had found what might be a map of the building and had followed a few paths to make sure it was accurate. The Doctor had been with him and now they had their heads over the map, discussing several interesting routes.
"This says library!" he suddenly exclaimed, stabbing a finger at the old paper. It was a miracle that it hadn't crumbled already. "Let's check that out tomorrow. Might still have some interesting stuff."
"The corridors here," Darwil pointed at a few places, "are blocked, though. We need to find a way around. Can your sonic device help?"
"Mhm… yeah. Can scan for empty spaces nearby, holes in the walls and all that."
"But don't forget the shadows," tossed Donna in, sounding concerned. "I've seen some of'em again. Everytime you shine a light in a dark corner there's at least one. Creepy things, those. Wonder what they are."
"Mhm, I hope to find a clue in the library," answered the Doctor. "Someone probably left some info about them."
"If they didn't wipe out everyone in a single night," whispered Bor, shuddering lightly at his own words.
"What do you think are those lights for, boy?" grumbled the Master. He was poking a stick around in the fire, sitting far away from me. "They knew about them for quite a while. Long enough to install defences."
"He's right." The Doctor nodded. "They don't look as if they were built spontaneously. I'd rather say they're quite intricately included into the architecture around. So they knew."
"But why would anyone in their right mind build a place somewhere where there are such horrendous creepy ghost things!" exclaimed Donna. "Must have been mad! The whole bunch of'em. 'N if not mad then certainly suicidal."
"Naaah." The Doctor chuckled. "They were smart. Look at this place! It's still functioning."
"Yeah," agreed Darwil, sounding almost in awe. "This place must be several thousand years old and still works."
"Some places at least," mumbled Meyla. "Didn't help…" She swallowed and glanced away.
"If she's still alive, we'll get her somehow," promised Darwil. "Let's concentrate on the task first. We need to stay focused. And I think we should place a guard again. Just in case. Let's switch every three hours so everyone can rest."
They continued to study the old map for some more time while the fire crackled through the empty room. Even in the eerie environment the sound managed to calm me down quite a bit and I had barely trouble finding sleep.
Although, in my dreams, I still found myself within the walls of this large building, stretching through almost a quarter of the old abandoned city of Jir. My form was floating through corridors with no end, gliding through a darkness that was eternal and unyielding, unable to see, to hear, to speak, to… touch. Until there was a roar and a crash, screams and shrieks and the flapping. Oh that flapping. As if the wings of the ancient gods were spreading above the clouds. And then the fire! My limbs started to move, started to gain weight, where there had been none before. And I walked, walked so far and so long, walked through the fire until my eyes got burned by the searing glow of sunlight. And there were the others, shapeless, colourless, pouring outside to finally die in the light of the fire above. One by one, letting out their last scream, unheard, dissolved into clouds of black dust as they climbed the black stone on which an old god sat and called out to them, calling, calling, calling us to move and move and walk ahead until nothing would be left…
I could almost smell the flames and hear the wings when I awoke from the strange dream, having a taste in my mouth that made me want to spit it out. I reached for my water bottle and took a long sip, glancing around to see if anyone was awake yet. I saw the Doctor sitting nearby, having taken the job as a guard again. The campfire had burned down to embers and was probably what I had smelled. There was nothing to make a sound like dragon wings, however.
It made me wonder what my fletching might be doing, right now. No one was there to feed it, but maybe the TARDIS could provide something. Would the small creature grow up to be a monster? Would I have to put it in a cage or even… kill it?
The thought made me nauseous and so I quietly got up to search a quiet corner to relieve my bladder, then went back to the others and grabbed a flashlight.
"What're you flippin' doing there?" called Donna out from behind me. Her voice was ful of disbelieve and terror. "What if it attacks?"
"Don't think it will," I mumbled. "Probably can't even."
Donna sat next to me on the sleeping bag I had dragged here. It was the end of a corridor that led into one without the orange lights. My flashlight was positioned to shine its light into it and reveal one of the shadow figures.
For a while it had only stood there, not moving much, not even indicating in which direction it was looking. Eventually it had started to slowly walk towards me, but stopped right at the border where the orange glow bled into the darkness. Now it stood inside the torches' radius, sometimes tilting its head, sometimes slightly bending in this or that direction. Once it had started pacing, but that quickly stopped and it returned to staring at me.
And I at it.
"Wonder what they are," pondered Donna for maybe the hundredth time. "You think they might be ghosts? Like… literally ghosts of people?"
I switched the light off, waited a few seconds and switched it back on. The shadow hadn't moved.
"I don't know." If they really were, it would be sad to know they had no way to escape this place.
"Never believed in'em," said Donna. "Not much of a fan of creepy stories here. Most of the time I even thought Gramps was a bit silly with all his talk about aliens." When I looked at her she had a soft smile on her face. "But he was so dedicated and it always gave him something to keep his mind busy. A sort of… purpose, you know?"
I hummed, confirming. It was good to have purpose. Something else I had always lacked in my own life. Again I switched the light off and on again, absently staring through the shadow. Had it tilted its head again? Was it listening?
"Oh! I almost forgot to tell you," Donna suddenly exclaimed. "I know it's not nice to gossip, but I think you were right about our Time Lords."
"Huh?" Momentarily perplexed, I glanced at the other woman, trying to get what she was referring to.
She leaned a little closer, as if there were anyone to hear us talk. "I heard them fighting before you came back. And I thought to myself, if that Master idiot is trying anything, I'm so going to kick his shins!"
"Don't think he actually would harm him… much," I objected. "He'd be stuck, after all."
"Yea, yeah. But right as I got around the corner they stopped talking and I thought I was busted, but no!" She glinted at me with eager eyes.
"Ha!" She giggled. "They were snogging each other."
"No!" I laughed.
"Yes! I swear they were. Didn't stay, of course and got the hell away, but they were. 'S true."
"Too bad you vanished." I giggled. "Would really love to know if the Doctor ran away again."
"Ha, yeah, would be him, wouldn't… wait… again?"
We were full on gossiping already, so there probably would be no harm done from telling a little more. "Isn't the first time. No idea how often that happened already… but the only time I witnessed I had the Doctor running away so fast you could barely make him out."
"Oh my. What a mess. You think the Master does it only for fun, or… I don't know. They don't seem to get along too well, you know? The perfect opposite, actually."
"It does seem like it, doesn't it?" I muttered. Why was I feeling bad all of a sudden? Wasn't I myself the one who tried to get them together? These stubborn idiots who refused to accept… that they… I was maybe feeling more than I wanted to.
"Did I say something wrong? You're not listening at all."
"Uhm…" I glanced at Donna, blinking and realising she had been talking the whole time. "Sorry. No. No, you didn't. I was just… just thinking." I ran a hand over my face and rubbed my eyelids under the glasses. "Maybe I'm an idiot too."
Donna shuffled a little closer and lay an arm around me. "Hey, you're no idiot. Why would you think that?"
"Because…" I sighed, "I have no idea what the heck I'm even feeling."
"What d'you mean?" coaxed Donna softly. "You can tell me, you know that."
"Yeah… I know." She got a warm smile from me. It was good to have her. "But I can't. If this is even remotely what I fear it might be… Ugh. It wouldn't even make sense. That would be so… useless. In so many ways."
"Well, as I see it-" Donna now hugged me with both arms, even slightly rocking back and forth. "No feeling is useless. It wants to tell you something. And maybe 's not always what you expect."
I sighed and let her squeeze me. She had a hard grip, which I liked. Sometimes it was just good to feel pressure like that, to feel as if someone was pressing the thoughts that were all over the place right back into a proper form.
My eyes moved to the shadow again, watching fascinated how it now stood there with its arms wrapped around itself. Maybe they felt lonely too, maybe all they wanted was to feel light and warmth and comfort. But we couldn't give that to them if it meant that they dragged us away and sucked us into the walls of this crumbling place.
We followed the map for hours, using the same tactic as before whenever we came to a part without the protecting lamps. Moving through utter darkness never got easier, though. Knowing that we weren't alone, the uncertainty if we were really safe, the deprivation of one of our most important senses. All of this didn't help with staying in a good mood.
Bor and Meyla stuck together like glue, sometimes holding hands and releasing them as soon as the lights went on again. Darwil and the Doctor had taken the lead and were following the map as well as the scans from the Sonic Screwdriver. Donna and I also stayed close and the Master was always somewhere where I either couldn't talk to him or somewhere out of my vision.
The situation from the evening before seemed to have, once again, driven a wedge between us. If only I knew what the hell he even wanted from me; if it was just funny to him to tickle a reaction out of me or if there was anything else behind it. And here in the darkness I had way too much time to have my thoughts rotating in a circle.
And then, so suddenly that it startled us all, Bor tripped and accidentally dropped his torch. I heard the sound of metal landing on the stone floor and then saw how its light flickered on while it rolled several metres away, illuminating the eternal darkness we had been in for what felt entirely too long. The relief from finally being able to see once again mixed with the icy fear of what the light would reveal. Bor had no time to reach the flashlight. Three shadows at once started to attack us before he was close enough, one grabbing Donna's ankle, another one wrapping its icy arms around my torso from behind. It seemed to have no substance at all and still was able to drag me backwards until I bumped against a wall. I remembered how Ulkta had been literally sucked into the stone and tried to struggle free from the creature's grip, kicking and hitting and even trying to bite to no avail. The shadow had no substance to battle with.
And suddenly I was grabbed by another pair of hands and was hauled forwards, only seconds before we all were swallowed by darkness again.
"Oh no, you don't get to vanish," growled the Master against my ear, holding me so tight it almost hurt.
My heart wanted to burst, wanted to crack open and spill out everything inside, whether it had a name or not. I wrapped my arms around the Master and squeezed back, held him tight to me in fear he would regret having saved me.
"'M not leaving," I muttered, barely audible and only loud enough for him to understand. "so, don't push me away all the time."
To my surprise, he suddenly chuckled and I felt it vibrate through me. He buried his head in the crook of my neck, murmuring something as quietly as I had before, making me wonder if I had truly heard it right. "Sorry, little light. Don't know how to handle this."
And before I could think about a retort, he let go of me and was gone, had vanished into the darkness and left me with Donna again, and the uncertainty and way too many swirling thoughts.