And so we started our way to the library. At one point we managed to leave the huge building, finally walking among plants and in the light of the sun again, smiles and sighes on our lips. It was good to be rid of the forced darkness and it was a relief to know that the shadows could not follow us here.
"Someone seems to be in a good mood, today," said Donna, walking next to me. Sometimes she struggled with the plant life, but it was again and again astonishing how well she managed.
"Oh, definitely." She smiled. "Slept well? I haven't seen you til morning. Been a little busy annoying our Doctor, but when I went looking for you, I couldn't find a trace."
"Uhhhhh… yeah… I was…"
"With me," said an unusually chipper voice. "And I had no intention to be found, human."
I glared at my feet, hands clinging to the straps of my backpack. Don't blush, idiot!
"Oh, stop it, moon-boy, had she been with you she'd have to be in the worst mood possible."
I snorted at the nickname and could almost feel the Master getting angry, but he stayed uncharacteristically calm.
"How else do you think I could have had a look at her lovely dreams?" His voice was challenging. "And oh boy, those were some dreams."
"Master!" I warned, elbowing him in the side.
He chuckled and winked at me. "Don't worry. I'm not going to spill the juicy details."
Right, not blushing was no option here. And to my dismay he picked up speed and walked ahead with more silly laughter. Bastard. Of course he couldn't skip the chance to claim dominance. Even if it was only delivered in hints.
I could feel Donna's glare on me, sensing that she definitely had her own interpretations. "What in the world did he do?" came her surprised exclaim.
I probably was glowing red by now, although I usually never felt it until someone else pointed it out. I had no idea what to tell her, truth or lie. Both were bad ideas in their own way and yet there was no chance I would tell her what had actually happened.
"I… wanted him to have a look at those nightmares."
"Yeah, I heard about that." She eyed me sceptically. "D'you really think it's a good idea to have him snooping 'round in your head? Who knows what he planned to damage there."
"He… didn't. Really not." How did it happen that I always ended up defending his stupid arse? It was his own fault that literally no one was willing to trust him with… well, anything at all. "He was just… really bold." Alright, that's at least not a lie.
"Mhmmmm," made Donna, not at all convinced. Then she sighed and laughed a little. "It can't have been too bad, seeing your good mood today. Slept a little better without those nightmares, I guess, didn't you?"
"Yes," I eagerly confirmed her thoughts. "That… that helped a lot."
"Good. Great! He's useful for something at least."
If only our luck would have lasted.
There were more of the enormous houses the further we got into the heart of Jir. Some were completely devoured by trees and other plants, their walls and roof long caved in and barely more but an ensemble of decorated debris. But others still stood tall and unmoved, overgrown and yet stable, as if time could not touch their stones.
We climbed one of the skyscrapers as far up as possible to get an overview. And since I wasn't afraid of the height it was my questionable honour to climb to the highest point to take a few photos there. A rope was attached to my belt that I could wrap around some stones so I would be secured while climbing down again - the one thing I still was truly bad at.
From the top of a half crumbled balcony a view of the city presented itself to me that was hard to put into words alone. I stared into the heart of a forest, the innards of a giant, spilled out and spread over the entire place. And amidst the split open ribs of dying houses, bent and stretched to reach for the sky above, sat the meteor. An almost perfectly rounded shape of stone that allowed nothing to grow on its surface, that seemed to be of a black so pure it swallowed every bit of light before it could get close. Almost like a black hole.
I don't know for how long I was fixated by the sight, but eventually I managed to take out my camera and take some pictures that couldn't even closely capture the alien sight ahead. But it was as good as it could get and it would have to suffice, so I carefully climbed down again.
"Just a bit more," said Donna from below. "I got you." She supported me by actually lifting me down the last bit. Damn she's strong. And when I was safe and sound before her, there was a wide smile that made me return the expression. "Look at you, climbing up there. I could never do that! That's too spooky for me, almost more than the ghosts."
"Eh, thank you," I mumbled, blushing lightly. "'S no big deal, really."
"I wouldn't have done it," said Darwil, glancing up to where I had been.
Bor tugged at the rope to get it down again and I took the camera from around my neck to show everyone the pictures.
"That's the meteor?" Meyla asked, astonished. "It looks so eerie."
"So… alien," added Donna. "Well, 'cause it does. It's from space after all, but still… Doctor, do you think the shadows come from there?"
He looked at the pictures, head tilted.
Bor answered first, "I think it creates them. Just look at the thing. I bet it's completely filled with that particle stuff your friend mentioned."
"Yeah," mused the Doctor. "It does appear to be, doesn't it? We'll see. Hope we will. Should find a way to the centre soon." He smiled widely and clapped his hands together. "We definitely won't find anything out by standing around. Chop chop! On we go!"
The mood was surprisingly lighthearted for another hour and only sobered when we had to enter another one of the large building blocks. It wasn't too bad at first, sunlight finding its way through various cracks and broken walls, illuminating the way and securing us from unwanted encounters. But sadly this didn't last forever and we found ourselves back in the darkness far too soon again.
By now we had gotten quite used to our method of stumbling around, which, however, didn't help with the silence.
It also didn't help when we entered a corridor that was illuminated by something else than the usual orange lights.
The difference was visible immediately as we entered the lighted space. The term corridor wasn't extremely accurate, although I couldn't find a better one. Before us lay a long patch of concrete way, elevated in the middle to build something like a bridge of stone, and to both sides it sloped steeply downwards into quite some depths.
Depths that were brightly lit and filled with what seemed to be thousands of slowly swaying shadow creatures. A mass of moving darkness, fed by a constant source of energy, steadily moving, quietly shuffling, never holding still. Only the bridge itself was dark, allowing safe passage.
At least that was what the builders seemed to have in mind when they had constructed the place. Time and decay had had other plans, however, and some of the lamps had shifted somewhat, had given way to gravity or whatever it was that had held them in place previously. And now there also were large spots of the bridge itself that were illuminated. The biggest one at the very end, right in front of an exit.
"Can you sonic them off?" asked Donna, her voice clear in the darkness. "I'm not gonna walk over there with those many shadows 'round."
"Wood casings," mumbled the Doctor, grunting disappointed."
"Oh, not the wood thing again! Please tell me you've updated your screwdriver."
"It… it's just how it works. Sonic technology. Not compatible with wood. Isn't. Just isn't. I can try… a few might be hanging just right."
There was a sound as if she had slapped his arm. A shuffling and footsteps followed, the Doctor's figure now visible as black contrast against the small beam of light in the distance. He himself stayed unilluminated as he stepped close to the sharp edges of the nearest light cone and pointed the Sonic upwards. This one was easy and the light fizzled out seconds later.
Slowly we followed, careful not to slip down the slope to either side. We reached the next light spot without a problem and stayed out of the radius, watching as the Doctor tried to find an angle to point at the light inside the wooden casing. Several attempts later there was a small crash and we were engulfed in darkness again, following the path to the third and the fourth lamp.
And then there were only two left, both hanging in an angle that allowed their light to be cast over the bridge, but also were not reachable by the Doctor's sonic.
"See, that's what happens when you take my laser screwdriver all the time," came the Master's sour comment from somewhere next to me. "I could have shot all of those lamps down in the blink of an eye."
"Yeah, and who knows what else. Or who," answered the Doctor, tone weary.
"Then get a laser setting into your useless Sonic."
"So you can steal and use it?" The Doctor snorted. "Not ever."
The Master shrugged. "Make it isomorphic."
"Nah, can't. What if I have to pass it to some else?"
The other man snickered, but the others started to become agitated.
"What do we do now?" asked Meyla. "We can't go down. There are too many lights. We can't go forward either."
"We have to," muttered Darwil. "The meteor is so close."
"What do you suggest, then?" Bor gripped the straps of his backpack tighter. His silhouette was visibly unnerved. "Should we go back?"
"And have this all been for nothing?" snapped Darwil. "Look, boy, if you're scared, stay and we'll get you on the way back. But I have not searched for this place for all of my life, I have not endured all their hateful looks and comments just to give up now."
The speech left us silent for a bit until Donna sighed. "What do you suggest, then?"
Darwil took a few more moments to answer and when he did, his voice was quiet, but determined. "We run."
"That's insane!" called Bor. They will get us in no time. Have you lost your mind, old man?"
Instead of getting angry Darwil only laughed quietly. "Might have, yeah. The offer stands. Everyone can stay behind. But I won't let this chance slip."
And before anyone could reply he dashed forwards, sprinting the few metres through the bright lights and the mass of shadows within them. At first they didn't even seem to notice him, but halfway through the shadows all gathered to a waving mass, reaching out with countless black hands, gripping and grabbing without getting much of a hold. Whatever weird strength they seemed to possess was not enough to stop his run. And eventually he was swallowed by darkness again, his panting and coughing the only signs that he had made it.
"Well…" The Doctor shifted from one foot to the other. "Risky. But why not. Those things seem to be rather slow."
"I'm not… I can't do this," whimpered Bor.
"You know," Meyla said, "Darwil is right. We either do this or we don't. And I certainly won't sit around here while everyone is discovering the big secrets."
Meyla ignored him and repeated the other man's wild dash through the shadows. The effect was the same. Maybe because there weren't as many on the bridge as there were down the slope or maybe it was the speed, but the girl came out the other side unscathed and let out a small triumphant squeak.
I swallowed hard, contemplating to just stay behind. This was insane, although it didn't scare me as much as it should. Ever since I had that last dream there was something dark tugging at my inside, something that told me that, maybe, it would be better to get swallowed, dragged away, to melt with the nothingness. The void. It resonated with me too much to be ignored.
"So… anyone staying?" asked the Doctor. "We could meet at the last spot with orange lights. Might take some hours, though. Maybe a day."
"Not gonna happen, space man. I've come this far, I'm not waiting'round, getting bored out of my mind while you lot have the fun! Right, Lucy?"
I winced at hearing my name, glancing up at Donna, although I couldn't actually see her. She had said it as if she was certain I would follow, or as if she had simply decided that I would. Was that all I could ever do? Just tagging along. Just moving forward, stumbling, stumbling through the darkness until I would reach a light. A light that wasn't even my own, that had been planted there, inside of me, against my will and was now burning me from the inside.
Again I winced as a hand suddenly squeezed my shoulder. "You're not staying behind, little one," muttered the Master. "Not while your mind is so dark."
"Let's run, then!" cheered the Doctor, sounding by far too adventurous.
And run we did. Sprinting had never been one of my strengths and more than once could I feel a cold hand reaching for me. The others were faster, every single one of them. And already I felt the tug getting stronger, the urge to just stop and let myself be caught. But right as the thought got too tempting, I got grabbed by the wrist and pulled forwards, into the safety of the darkness and into warm and strong arms that held me tight until my head calmed down.