He carried the Doctor all the way back to the TARDIS, through burning debris, heaps of ashes, splinters of glowing wood and a snowstorm of glimmering embers. I followed behind silently, not daring to speak a word to disturb the strange image in front of me.
Only in the console room did the Master drop the other Time Lord into the jump seat.
"Not the med bay?" I asked, eyeing all the scratches on the Time Lord.
The Master glared at me, his look so angry as if he wanted me to dare speak up ever again, then bent down to lightly touch the other one's temple. A second passed in silence. The Doctor groaned, lifted his head. Soot and blood covered his face and clothes. Groggily he blinked at the Master, his hand twitched upwards, enclosed the one on his temple, but only to guide it away from him.
"Oh good," the Doctor murmured. " TARDIS. Don't want humans to- ahh!"
The Master smacked him right across the face.
Only his surprised outcry disturbed the otherwise silence that followed. It hung in the air so heavily, I was almost certain to never hear a sound again. The Doctor seemed equally shocked, held his cheek.
"Auuu…" he eventually murmured defiantly and shrunk together when the Master bent over him, both hands on the jump seat next to his head, a murderous glare in his eyes.
"What were you thinking, you bloody idiot?" the Master growled angrily. "A perception filter! As if that would work on a freaking dragon!"
"Well, it did… for a while." The Doctor's voice pitched to a defiant squeak under the other one's glare.
"And it almost killed you!"
The Doctor opened his mouth, but shut it again, quickly. Somehow he managed to sink even deeper into the seat.
"N… nice of you to be so concerned, Master, but.."
The Master snorted and rolled his eyes. "My only concern, Doctor…" He spat the name as if it were something disgusting. The closer he bent down, the further the other man sunk together. "...is that you let yourself be killed by something else than me!" Almost sweetly he added, "And we'd both be disappointed by that."
The Doctor let out a weak groan, but if of annoyance or because he was in pain was hard to tell. Parts of his coat were scorched, there were scratches and dirt all over him. Otherwise he seemed surprisingly well.
"Are you alright?" I dared to ask, almost feeling the Master's anger, but ignoring it.
"Yup," the Doctor somehow brought out, despite his crumbled together pose. "Kind of. Just... my head's a little messy." Finally the Master straightened himself and let the Doctor sit up, what he promptly did. His hands quickly were busy dusting himself off. "I think it's an egorlblak," he told, not looking at either of us. "Ancient species that is said to have inhabited many planets. No one knows how they get there, just..." He spread his fingers and finally looked up, only at me, though. "Appear. One day they are seen. And one day they are gone again."
"So... it's not a dragon?" It was hard to hide my disappointed tone.
"Weeell..." An adventurous smile spread on the Doctor's face. "Of course it is! Egorlblaks are said to be the source of every dragon legend there is." He sprang up from the seat and produced the Sonic Screwdriver from his pocket. "His DNA matches that of other recorded sightings. Never seen one with my own eyes, though. Brilliant, isn't it? We can finally learn something about them!"
"Looked more as if it learned something about smacking you into a wall," the Master grumbled with folded arms. "Let me guess... you want to find the thing and cuddle with it?"
The thought made me snort, earning myself a pout from the Doctor.
"I actually think I can trace him to his hideout," he confessed with a shrug. "There was something... I guess slightly telepathic about him." One of his hands wandered to his head, his eyes closed for a moment. "An intelligent creature. And old. Oh so old, Master, you wouldn't believe it." The hand sank down. "Eh, not that you'd care. I'll see if I can make out anything useful from what it left in my head. Don't think that was intentional. Just a little annoying... bit like having a mental tinnitus."
A dark look clouded the Master's face. Once more he stepped in front of the other man, fixating him. "Like you know what I care about," he growled. "And then you run off with everything, not even asking!"
"Asking?" The Doctor huffed. "For what? You want to help saving people? Hardly."
"One thing – the only thing – you're right about. I don't care shit about those humans. But this dragon... You were not the only one laying awake at night, listening to stories about them." The Master lowered his voice. "You're not the only one who knows the spark of excitement at seeing what most haven't." He stepped a little closer, raising his hands to the Doctor's head, but not yet touching him. "And I know so very well how it is to have something in my head."
The other Time Lord swallowed, not averting his gaze. "That's different," he muttered.
"It's not," the Master snarled. "You just like it easy."
The Doctor's gaze hardened, he completely ignored the hands hovering near him. "There is nothing easy about this. I'm running tests on you since years and have found nothing!"
"But you might!" the Master now almost whispered, his tone strangely pleading. "If you would just listen. Only once... Doctor."
His fingers slowly closed around the other one's head. The Doctor's eyes widened slightly and they remained, locked in an eternal second. My own breath caught in my throat, heart thudding rapidly in a weird and vague hope that... The Doctor slapped the hands away and stumbled backwards. His look was defiant and angry.
"Stop that!" he called out. "I'm not listening to anything! Because there is nothing! Nothing!"
Those heavy words hung in the air, hands fell down in defeat. The Doctor spun around and sped away into the depths of the TARDIS.
In the dim light of the control room the humming of engines was the only sound in the otherwise silence. Like in slow motion, the Master turned his back to the control table and slid down to the ground, hands clawing into his hair.
This was all beyond my understanding. Why did the Doctor turn his back at the Master like that? His distress was almost palpable. But then again… only because Time Lord's were telepathic didn't necessarily mean they could feel things like that. Most humans couldn't either, after all.
Hesitantly I stepped forward and dropped to my knees in front of the Master. His eyes were shut tightly, his breath slow and forcefully controlled.
"Hey," I said softly. "You okay?"
The Master's head snapped up, his gaze fixated on me, darkened even further than any madness would have allowed for.
"Do I look okay?" he snarled, eyes pinching shut again. "Bloody drums. Way too loud since days." His hands lowered. "And what are you still doing here? Shouldn't you run and see if your friend is still alive?"
At first I was simply confused at what he meant, but then it sunk in and I gaped at him, not sure what to even feel in this moment. In the end, all I managed to do was to sigh and shake my head slightly.
"Like you said… I barely know him. You two were a little more important."
A small, humourless chuckle came from the Master, his gaze hate-filled. "You also barely know us."
His response hit me straight on. It was almost the same as I had said outside. Great… Using my own words against me. Before I could think of an appropriate response, the Master straightened himself, rose to his knees and grabbed my collar.
"Stop doing that," I protested.
"Oh, I will." There was no smile, no teasing, only a deep darkness that swallowed him whole.
Forcefully he threw me backwards, let me fall to the ground. Only with sheer luck did my head not collide with the floor. He jumped to his feet and glared down at me.
"Get lost," he growled deeply.
"Hey, I only wanted to help."
I tried to sit up, but the Master shoved my hand away with his foot, letting me fall right back.
"You know…" His head tilted a little. "Maybe I should just take back my life force from you." He made a step away, but his eyes never left me.
Is that it?, I wondered, strangely detached from the thought. And still it scared me to know I might die now. Now, where some part inside of me had chosen to…
"Yeah," the Master continued, as if he had heard my thoughts, as if he had come to the same sudden conclusion that went through me like a shiver. "You finally chose to live. What a pity… Because, you see…" Again he shoved my arm away, letting me land back on the ground. "You're pretty useless to me if you stay with those primates."
The Master dropped to his haunches, grabbed my collar once again and tore me into a standing position with him, only to slam my back against the nearest coral pillar. The hard material dug into my skin, the impact made me gasp.
While the stars faded from my vision... I quietly started to laugh, head thudding backwards, lids closed.
"That's hilarious," I mumbled. "No… no… You know what? That's insane."
And insane was the grin that answered. Thumbs pressed against my throat, slowly decimating my air. I didn't struggle, didn't speak another word. He was right… and he was not. But it didn't matter. Nothing mattered anymore, did it?
Had it ever? As the air got lesser my body started to react on instinct, pumped my blood more rapidly, begged me to finally take another breath, to fight!
But nothing else happened. The Master kept me in that state of almost dying, made me weirdly aware of the pulse that ran through his veins. The four beats of his hearts, rapid, painful, unbearable. He wanted me to react, to fight, to prove that I wanted to stay with the living. But even though some part in me had chosen so, I simply couldn't bring the rest of me to go along with it. Not when there was silence waiting for me, peace. And an end to all the loneliness that hurt so much more than anything he could ever do to me.
"Master! Let her go! Have you gone mad for good?"
There was air in my lungs again. Suddenly, unexpected. I gasped and stumbled away from the pillar, because there were no hands to hold me in place any longer. The Master only regarded me with his darkest look, while the Doctor dragged him away from me.
"Get lost," the Master growled towards me. "Don't you get it? No one here needs you! No one wants you here!"
"What the hell are you saying there?!" the Doctor squeaked, tearing at his arm. "Stop the nonsense. Of course she is…"
"Oh yeah?" the Master tore himself away and shoved the Doctor roughly against the control table. "You were the one who tried to get rid of her from the very first day. And I no longer have a use for a pet."
I rubbed my throat and found myself smiling grimly. His words hurt like nothing else ever could, a hot knife slicing through my chest. But at the same time... it came without much surprise. After all, it had only been a matter of time. Same as always. Without even looking at the still fighting Time Lords I simply left. There was a weird little electric nudge, when my hand touched the door, as if at least the TARDIS wanted me to stay, but I ignored it and wasn't hindered any further from leaving the box.
I returned to the village. The part where the forge had stood was destroyed. Some flames still licked the smoking wood beams, all surrounding snow was melted away. I couldn't find Gerion anywhere, but soon was instead found myself by a woman.
She took me to a long building, where the wounded people were kept. There weren't so many. The forge was situated at the edge of the village and only a few had been around. Here I found Gerion, a bandage around his head and unconscious.
"He will live," the woman told with a sad smile. "There is nothing you can do now. But if you want to help, there are others."
I nodded and lent a hand as good as I could. After that I went outside with some of the men to put out whatever fires were still lingering. No one asked about me, a stranger among them. The help was appreciated, though, and it kept me from thinking until I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned around.
"Now you know," was all Ivar mumbled. "We're facing something not even axes and swords can fight. We tried, believe me."
"I do." I nodded and was glad to see him alive and well. He probably had been out hunting all day. "I… I saw in which direction the dragon vanished…"
Ivar arched a brow and finally smiled. "It would only eat you."
I shrugged numbly, sensing all the repressed feelings from before coming back.
"Doesn't matter... if I'm alive or not… same difference. But maybe I can at least be of help. For once. Maybe…" A weak smile appeared on my face. "If humans and... others have no place for me, maybe the gods want me in their halls if I prove to be worthy of it."
Ivar fixated me with his warm blue eyes, thoughtfully. He lay an arm around my shoulders and guided me away, not speaking a word until we reached his place. Inside he started a fire to dispel the dark and the cold.
"Tomorrow," he finally said. "The earl said we will fight when the dragon dares to attack again. And now it has."
"Then I will join the hunt. Don't even try to talk me out of it."
"I would never." Ivar chuckled and enveloped me in his strong arms.
I wrapped my own around him, feeling all the tension melt away from my heart. Despite the still cold air it was so warm, comforting, to just stand there, feeling another living being so close. My hands clawed into his jacket, my head buried at his chest. This wasn't real – I knew it all too well. But in that moment it was all I had, and maybe also everything I would ever get.