The mass of shadows below us was nauseating, making my stomach twist and my head hurt by simply watching. There were more of them than had been in the corridor, crawling above and below and within one another. All of them were caged within a sort of bowl in the ground, with a single door at one side that led into the safety of darkness. The way to the door wasn't even far, not more than a short sprint. But it was down there in the light of yet another set of lamps the Doctor couldn't reach with his Sonic Screwdriver.
Again I felt the shadows tugging at me, somehow resonating with the part inside my memories that hurt the most. Maybe I should have been more insistent on learning how to set up a mental barrier, but now it was too late anyway. If it even was anything from outside of me. Ever since the last dream I was slowly consumed by all the darkness that had once made me decide to end everything. Maybe it had simply never truly gone away. Maybe I had only suppressed the darkness, had hidden it below adventure and danger and the illusion of warmth I stole from the Master. Maybe it had simply been enough to point out the facts that I wasn't more but a toy and that there was nothing waiting for me at the end of everything. Would I be forced to leave… to go back to where I came from… There was no place to return, no family or friends to wait for me, nowhere I could go to and nowhere I would ever belong.
Sure, I could simply enjoy the moment and take whatever was offered to me, but my brain refused to do that. Stubborn thing.
"Isn't there an alternate route?" asked Donna. "God they are so… so… I can't believe how many there are. They can't all be dead, can they? Those poor souls."
"Ergh! You're too soft, woman," sneered the Master, scowling down at the mass, his hands gripping the low metal bar that separated us from the hole. "A hindrance, that's what they are. The rest doesn't matter."
"You said they remember. They know they were people at some point."
"Or maybe they are just bundled and totally random memory fragments."
I glanced down, mesmerised by the sheer uncountable number, the frantic movement, the longing as they got aware of us, one by one, hands raising upwards, reaching, grabbing, wanting.
Just like me. Desperate not to be forgotten, not to be a prisoner of being lonely within the mass. Part of it and yet as separate as one could be.
Only that those weren't only longing, they also were destructive, maybe without even knowing it, wanting to drag us down to them, with them, into the darkness… Give them anyone and they will be pleased for a moment.
"A sacrifice," I mumbled, more to myself than to anyone.
"Not going to leave anyone behind with those!" objected Donna. "I'm glad we didn't lose anyone in the corridor. T'was close enough." And with that she strode away to the Doctor, leaving me alone with the Master.
At first I didn't even notice, too busy watching the mass below us, not quite sure what exactly it was I was feeling at the sight. The run from before still sat in my bones. We had all done our best to get away from the creatures only to now have our way blocked by them.
"A sacrifice," repeated the Master, stepping behind me. "A distraction. Not a bad idea. I bet they'd attack all at once and leave the rest a small chance to slip away.
"Mhmm… Or maybe not."
The Master moved closer, his chest touching my back as he placed both hands on the metal bar to either side of me. His breath ghosted over my ear, voice low and almost excited when he spoke next. "Who shall we throw down, then?"
I huffed, trying to suppress the shudder that went down my body from having him so close to me. "This might not even work, mind you."
His lips caressed my ear, making the hair on my skin raise. "Or shall I choose?"
"We're not going to throw anyone down there." I chuckled. "Except someone volunteers, but-ouch!"
I held my ear that the Master had just bitten into, giving him a venomous glare. He only grinned, though, but it wasn't a playful expression, which confused me. There was more to it, a malice underneath, a hint of madness and something dark.
And suddenly there was a hand around my throat and I got hurled around, my lower back pressing against the metal bar, barely providing enough stability to keep me from falling. I could still breathe, I could still struggle, but it took every muscle in my body to keep myself from falling into the waiting mass of shadows below. Frantically my heart hammered against my ribs and my brain tried to comprehend what the hell was even happening.
I glared into the manic grin before me, barely seeing a leftover of the man I thought I knew so well. Now there was only a swirling fire of insanity burning deep within the sockets of his eyes, swallowing, consuming, devouring whatever was left of him.
But he hadn't gone insane.
I just had stopped being careful.
"What about someone who's dead already?" he asked with delight in his voice. "Do you think they would even accept a half corpse like you? They tried before, maybe they still want you. Make you a part of the collection." He giggled. "Nice and hollow. Just as you think you are. Don't you?"
I swallowed, feeling his hand squeeze just a little tighter. Not to threaten, but to hold me, keep me from falling.
"You said it counts," I rasped out. "You said I'm alive."
"That I did."
"Whoa, what's he doing there!" screamed someone.
I heard running.
The Master didn't mind. He only leaned closer.
"Do you still want to die, lil' lumin?" he almost whispered. "Do you still think you're so disposable, so replaceable?" His grip loosened just a little. "Shall I let you fall and become one with the darkness?"
"Master, let her go!" shouted the Doctor, running.
"What's gotten into you?" squeaked Meyla.
He ignored them all. There were only the two of us, eyes locked. I swallowed another lump. What was the point of this? Why cling to me when all he wanted was to see me dead?
"Then just let go," I muttered, feeling tears well up. "I know you don't need me. Get someone else. Get your stupid life force back." A sob shook me. "I don't need it. I don't want it."
Someone started to tug at his arm, but I couldn't see who it was, didn't actually care. He was strong enough to be unaffected by the effort. He leaned even closer. "Tell me, little light. Tell me you want to stay. Tell me and I'll let you live."
"Let her go, you monster!"
I couldn't find it. I just couldn't. There was nothing inside of me, not a single little thing that could scream or beg or even wish. I barely heard the others shout at the Master. If only they knew. If only they realised that this was the best option. They could run and get away from this place. And I would become what I always had been anyway.
Tears burned in the corners of my eyes, hot and searing and unstoppable. Everything we had experienced together shot through my head, and now he was willing to sacrifice me like it was nothing, like none of it had ever happened.
"Let me die," I whispered.
And something cold shot through me. An icy needle of rage and hatred and fear. The grip around my throat loosened and I dipped backwards, closing my eyes, accepting.
Only to get caught a second later, the Master's fist gripping my shirt tightly to stop the fall. And in the same moment I felt him move, saw out of the corner of my eye that he reached out and did something without even moving that much and it was followed by a scream and then some more. The Master hauled me towards him while everyone else ran towards the forming gap and the door. His eyes bore into mine with the most dangerous glint in them and suddenly he caught my lips, pouring a single thought into my mind, so clear and sharp that it vibrated through every fibre of my being.
And then, "Run!"
He pushed me forwards, pointing at a gap in the mass of shadows. I turned my head to see Meyla among the figures, limping from the fall and screaming and kicking and trying to get away while they all chased after her. He had thrown her down instead of me.
It made no sense
The thought circled in my head as I ran after the others, storming towards the black corridor ahead, the safety of utter darkness, where the monsters could not reach.
"We need to get her back!" shouted Bor. "I can't leave Meyla with them."
"You'll kill yourself, if you go, son," grumbled Darwil, breathing heavily.
"We don't know! She could still be alive."
"He's right," objected Donna with so much empathy in her voice that I was sure she had tears in her eyes. "If you go…"
But the young man wouldn't have any of it, his pained face was invisible in the darkness, but what we could hear carried enough of his desperation. "No. No, I can't. I love her! I have to!"
He hurled around, storming back into the light and the waiting mass of creatures before anyone could hold him back. There were no screams, nothing to indicate what happened aside from the sound of his running feet getting quieter.
"What an idiot," taunted the Master.
"And what did you think to throw the poor girl down?" asked Darwil, voice hard.
"And why did you hurt Lucy?" exclaimed Donna. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
The shuffling sound of cloth indicated that the Master probably shrugged, saying nothing to the accusations. Instead, he started walking further down whatever corridor we had ended up in.
And only then did I notice that the Doctor wasn't with us. Had he run, too? Was he still in the other room?
He was alright. He had to be. And yes… there he was. Some steps ahead I heard the sound of his Sonic and sighed in relief.
"The meteor is behind this door," came his announcement as soon as we came closer.
"Screw that bloody meteor. Two people just died, Doctor!" whined Donna. "And guess who's responsible!"
"You mean for us to progress and not be stuck forever?" sneered the Master. "No one had a better idea."
"You could have sacrificed your own girl, instead," Darwil tossed in, but he sounded strangely amused I stead of angry. "I saw you weren't far from doing so."
I gulped, asking myself the same question. I had told him to do it, had denied him the answer he had wanted to hear. And still…
"Stop fighting," said the Doctor, tiredly. "I'll deal with him later. They might still be alive, after all. We don't know."
"As long as we reach the core," muttered Darwil. "They knew what could happen. They always did. On every single of our expeditions."
Why was he suddenly so hard? In the beginning he had appeared to be kind and a bit adventurous, but the closer we came to our goal the colder he seemed to grow. And why was the Doctor so unfaced by everything? Usually he raged and cried about every bit of harm done to whomever, and now he didn't even seem to care all that much.
And what about myself? All of those dark thoughts and feelings, even though good things were happening to me. It seemed to get worse the closer we got to the meteor.
I stepped back slightly, bumping against the Master. I knew he stood there from when he had been talking. And when I felt him in my back I reached out to grab his hand, to which he didn't react immediately. My fingers moved over the palm of his hand, fumbling blindly in the darkness, but, eventually, he closed his own fingers around mine.
And I used the opportunity to carefully reach out with my mind, just nudging, knocking basically. Surprise washed over me in a short flash, then I felt the Master open up and we poured into each other as far as we… as I… was able to with my current level of practice.
Something's messing with us, I sent. With our thoughts and emotions.
There was a moment of silence, then, I know. I felt it too. He squeezed my hand tighter. You're not allowed to go, little one. I don't care what you want or what this influence is telling you.
I tensed, dragging out a breath while listening to the sounds of the Sonic and the conversation Donna had with the Doctor. She was still behaving like she always did, seemed to be unaffected by whatever was gnawing on some of us, but I didn't really manage to catch what they were talking about.
Even if I'm influenced, right now, I started, unsure what to make of everything, Why me? You could train every other person to find those drums. One that's more skilled. You should have thrown me down to the shadows.
Shut up, came the immediate reply, making me wince. I couldn't stand those people anyway.
There was nothing I could reply. He never cared much for others. Maybe this was why he wasn't affected by the darkness around us. There was so much of it in himself, that it couldn't change him. And Donna? Maybe there simply wasn't anything dark in her that could be strengthened. She certainly felt like a beacon of light.
"I think I'm in," mumbled the Doctor as a clicking noise rang through the darkness. "Let's be careful. We can't know what we'll find in there."
No one said anything, although I could feel the Master's anticipation shortly before he let go of my hand. After all the troubles and dangers and after all the losses… we had finally reached the centre.