They are in a market on Hjorongaja. A nice place, admittedly. So many exotic things to look at or to taste. They both have different opinions on what corners might be interesting, so they split up. The Doctor is certain the cuff will do its job.
The Master, for once, isn't even out for trouble. It's just nice to have the drums drowned out by all the noise around. And without his dungeon keeper he can freely hypnotise merchants when they belong to a susceptible species. He wants to try the street foot, mostly. This time around he seems to have quite the sensitive taste buds.
As he munches on something without a name he gets aware of staring eyes and turns around. There is a small, bipedal species, an eralomea, judging by the fluff of feathers that grow out of the collar and up to the pointy ears. The small hands have only three wrinkled fingers that end in yet soft claws. It's small, maybe seven or eight years old, not much more than a child, even though their kind matures quickly.
Hungrily it looks at the piece of meat on a stick the Master holds.
"What?" he spits. "Get your own food."
The creature keeps staring. And it's annoying the Master in a way it shouldn't. He turns away and walks down a road with fewer booths, gnawing the meat from his sticks. When he reaches the last he sees movement out of the corner of an eye and frowns.
"Get lost," he grumbles.
But the kid doesn't. It comes closer, hesitantly, stands in front of the Master and just glares up. He sighs and tosses the last meat stick to the ground, watching as the child reaches for it quickly to swallow it down without even removing the dirt. It does look rather malnourished.
"No mom, eh?" he concludes, remembering that their species are raised by the mothers alone.
The child stares, wipes its mouth and smiles. It hadn't heard anything, too occupied by maybe the first food in who knows how long.
The Master shrugs and walks away. The market is huge and he intends to find at least something useful here. Maybe a weapon, although they are banned from selling in this sector.
He nicks some small trinkets. A small figurine of a flying fox-like creature he finds pretty, a crystal in the shape of a flower, a few microchips that are hard to get anywhere else. A few times he uses hypnotism to get parts that are too big to steal.
Good thing he has modified his coat pockets.
In the end he finds more street food and can't resist trying some more things, even though one or two of them look rather disgusting. He decides to try them out in a corner without people, some back of a building. He likes the noises, but after a while even they start to irritate him.
Some distance away he gets aware of a ruckus, people are shouting and containers get thrown over. He sees a small figure running away, followed by two heavily armed men in brown, tattered coats. Humans by the looks of it, maybe tzorelians. They aren't better.
The small thing seems to be the child from before. With a nasty smirk the Master assumes it has annoyed those men and begged for food. None of his business.
Except when it is. The feathered child runs straight towards him. In his direction, at least. And the men are shooting at it now.
For some reason this pisses him off.
The Master starts to walk towards the group, let's the kid run past him and smashes his fist right into the first man's nose. He stumbles backwards, in shock and pain and only manages to let out an indignant grunt before he crashes to the ground. The Master swiftly drops to his haunches, rips the gun out of the other one's hand and shoots a bullet right into the second man's shoulder. That one hadn't even noticed a thing before the pain - or the shock? - hit him.
"Come on," the Master drawls, watching both men writhing in pain as if nothing happened, "That kid can't be so dangerous that you have to chase it with guns."
"Wou, mloody ibiot!" the one with the broken nose grinds out, holding his hand over the blood flow. "Ids our bossession!"
"You what now?" The Master leans down a little, holding a hand to his ear.
He hears the second man crawl up behind him, knows that one still has a gun. For a Time Lord it's not hard to hear the subtle sound of metal. Without even looking he reaches behind him and shoots another bullet. A wet sound gets followed by a thud. The one in front of him screams, scrambles away and tries to get up, but the Master follows and steps on his hand.
"What did you plan to do with the little creature?" he asks sweetly, "Is it of value? Dangerous? Anything?"
"Ib's… a slawe!" the man cries out while he tries to free his hand from under the boot. "Amd ib's ours! Why hawe you killd Threron? You imsane bastard!"
"Insane?" A nasty grin appears on the Master's face. "Yeah, I've been called that before. Might have been right, those. Might… mhm?" And with that he let's a last bang ring through the air before he throws the empty gun into a pile of waste nearby.
Slavers. How boring. He had hoped for something more exciting than that. His eyes follow the trail in the dirt, left behind by naked feet. At its end sits the child, cowering near the ground. The Master treads closer and sighs.
"You'd just eat anything someone drops, eh?"
He had lost a few of his snacks, which were now lying on the ground, smeared with dust and waste. He wrinkles his nose and pokes the kid with his boot. It jolts upwards and takes a step back, but then halts and fixates him with big, almost black eyes that allow for only a small ring of purple on the edges.
"A slave, hm?" The Master cocks his head to the side. "Skinny thing like you. You're not even fully grown. Did they really think they'd get something for you?"
The child only stares.
"Hey, can you even talk? You should at your age."
It blinks. Then slowly steps forward until it stands directly in front of the Master, eyes big and curious. The child mimics the Master's tilted head, only to the other side, then points at his face.
It's all it says.
"Sad?" the Master repeats, puzzled.
The Master grimaces and turns away. "No. I'm not. Now get lost. They won't bother you anymore."
With that he strides away, back towards the market to get a refill on exotic food. He notices a shadow following him, but doesn't look behind. The little one will get lost eventually.
It's easy to get more snacks, he even pays for some of them. From stolen money, but who would care? Maybe he could try them in peace this time, strides towards a small broken wall. A remnant from a long destroyed house. Hasn't this place been a war ground some centuries ago?
His mind mulls over the details as he gets aware of movement nearby. The Master grunts annoyed then calls, "Come here. I see you."
And out of the debris climbs the youngling again. It has gotten new clothes already, stands there with their shrivelled hands pressed into the hips, an expression on the face that's proud and challenging at once.
The Master can't help but laugh." Smart one, aren't you? How long have they kept you?"
His follower tilts their head, then looks around and grabs an old rusty metal stick. With it they draw a pattern into the dirt. A crude word.
The child looks up to see if the Master understood and when he nods they continue. It's a mixture of letters and badly written words and even some drawings in between. It takes the Master some time to decipher the meaning. He even let's the little one steal some of his snacks while he does so.
And then it makes sense, the pattern clears, forms in his mind to meaning. The Master blinks at what he sees, then watches the child munching away on something with tentacles.
I came from the dark, never to be seen by eyes.
The sound of my voice never reached an ear, so I stayed what they call mute. But I speak in the whisper of air and the mumble of the river. And I speak in what I gathered from their writing.
They took me when my being was liquid in a hard shell and waited for me to escape into light. They made me do what they hated and gave me milk and bees as my only reward.
I knew no different. But I listened and heard and learned.
I yearn for the darkness I came from. I yearn for the light in that sky. I feel the air and it calls me. So I can't be their toy now.
And below all that is a single word the Master cannot translate.
"Miljak," he mutters. "Is that your name?"
The child nods.
He lets out a huff and shakes his head. "What a mind you have, little one," he mutters. "What you've written there… many species would almost call it poetry."
The small mouth tries to form the word, but the accompanying sound doesn't quite match. They had spoken, however. Only one word, but the Master had heard it. Sad. It's no wonder this is the only word on their tongue.
"You know you have to pay me for all my snacks you just devoured?" he asks, with a mockingly raised brow.
Miljak drops the last tentacle thing and glares with wide eyes. Panic starts to settle in them, but the Master only laughs and sits on the broken wall again.
"I didn't pay for them, either," he tells and winks.
The child relaxes visibly and smiles back, making a gesture as if they were closing a zipper over their mouth. They then point at another paper bag with a half questioning half pleading look. The Master gets it. Their owners probably kept the child fed on the bare minimum. This nasty street food must be the best thing the child has ever tasted.
With a grin he tosses the paper bag to the ground and watches as Miljak snatches the food from the dirt. Maybe he should kill that little thing. The world had nothing but bad to offer from here on.
"Any plans?" he asks.
It's none of his business. He doesn't even care, does he? Why even? It was only a stray. It would die out here, unable to speak, unable to survive.
But it had already stolen clothes, was able to beg for food. He should kill the kid. He really should. Simply because it had made him share his tuff. And he never shares.
Miljak grabs the rusty stick again and starts their ritual of drawing and writing. The Master doesn't kill, he waits. And then he reads.
I dreamed of the sky and the wind and the stars.
I heard them whisper in quiet nights and I hear them sing to me when I can't sleep.
There are so many lights, they burn in my eyes with their beauty and make me cry from longing.
Have you ever felt like this?
Have you ever wished to roam free and without chains?
Have you ever wished you could touch one of those stars and hold this pretty light inside your open palms?
The Master stops and glares at the bird-like child, sensing that it had not a clue what their words created, what images they could produce in a mind as ancient as his. Their species hadn't developed space travel yet, that much he remembered. They also weren't known as great poets.
Those words. He has to close his eyes to dampen the pain in his chest and dispel the images in his mind.
He hadn't been free since the war, could never be free from the drums and the urge to drown them out with whatever works in the very moment. With all that pain and madness they washed over him… how much had he done already, simply to make it just a little quieter? How often had he barely remembered those episodes?
He gets aware of Miljak standing before him. For a moment they simply look at each other, then the child stretches both hands out, palms facing upwards. The Master has no idea what they want and squats down to their eye level. He really should… Miljak gently touches his face and makes big eyes.
It's been a long time since he allowed someone to simply touch him. Such an endlessly long time since he had felt hands so small. Something bubbles up from too deep inside of him, memories that don't belong into this time.
He raises a hand and pokes a finger against the child's nose, smiles when they do.
"I'm not sad. Just pissed. Really pissed. I'm a prisoner too, you know. And I hate it. I hate him. I hate this stinky place and every other place I'll end up while he is there too."
Miljak purses their lips, an expression that could mean anything. But above all else it tells the Master that this little life form in front of him will make it. Survive. Grow.
"Don't startle," he says, "I wanna see if they left you intact."
A nod is all he needs and his hand wanders to the small back, traces along the shoulders until his fingers hit two bumps. Round and smooth.
"They didn't cut them off."
The kid's stare is a huge question mark. Do they even know? Chances are high no one ever told them what they even are.
"Listen," he says firmly, locking eyes with the creature, "Hide. Go unnoticed for… mhmm…" The Master tilts his head and senses the flow of time, the planet's rotation speed. "Two years. Maybe a bit longer. Don't let yourself be caught. If you manage, you will find that the bumps on your back will grow into beautiful big wings. And those will carry you. To the sky and to the ocean and to wherever you want to go. Be patient."
And in opposite to me you will be free.
He doesn't speak out that last part. It gnaws too much on his insides.
Why doesn't he just kill it? That's what he does, after all. He's the one who sows destruction and fire and death. He's the monster everyone should fear, the-"
The Master's awareness snaps back to the present. His eyes rest on the small being that somehow manages to get to him, merely by existing.
Miljak nods and points at what is still written in the dust. They then wave, grin widely and run away so fast the Master can't even call after them. Not that he would.
The writing in the dust. He hasn't finished reading the poetic lines of a child too young to understand what beauty is. Now that he sees the pattern in the words and drawings it is easy to make out the rest.
You went there, beyond the black veil behind the shining stars. You saw forever and it burned your hearts. Now they only sing of pain.
Thank you for freeing me from the hands of my captors. I hope you find your stars again. And someone to hold your hand when their sight hurts too much.
He glares at the last lines for a long while. There is only one reason this child has written something like that. It doesn't know who the Master is. And what. Doesn't know about his past and the blood dripping from those hands.
He should have killed it.
The writing stays there, in the dust. No one will be able to read it properly, no one will see.
The Master returns to the market and meets back with the Doctor, enduring his ramblings and babbling. With half an ear he hears him telling that the locals have found some dead men, but he doesn't even suggest the Master might have his hands in this, too trusting of the cuff around his wrist.
He doesn't hear the rest, doesn't speak for as long as they walk, can't help but occasionally look around to maybe spot a small figure, can't help his thoughts wandering way back into his past and to days he'd rather not remember.
The Doctor's voice finally tears him out, makes him realize he hasn't moved and just stands there, trying to calm his mind. But as soon as the thoughts ebb there is the sound of drums again, gnawing on his sanity, trying to shatter the last strands of his consciousness. He wants them to swallow him, wants them to wash away… everything.
"How many?" he asks, voice barely more than a whisper.
They reach the TARDIS and the Doctor fumbles for his key, throwing a questioning glance at the Master.
"How many children lived on earth during my rule?" the Master clarifies.
The Doctor almost drops the key, his hands starting to tremble ever so subtly. Is that rage in his eyes or is it sadness?
"Why do you ask?" he presses out between clenched teeth.
"I don't know. A billion. More."
The Master nods. He isn't even sure why he asks. He has never wasted a single thought on such things. Never…? Not since so, so long ago.
"Your Toclafane had killed half the world's population by the end. There must have been… hundred thousands. Not to mention those who lost their homes and families or got crippled and starved or… or… " The Doctor's body is trembling now, but it's still impossible to say what exact emotion causes it.
The Master replies nothing. Doesn't even know what. The Doctor knows the numbers anyway and after a moment of silence this number is the only thing that leaves his lips.
Only then does the Master react again, the drums cutting into him like small knifes. He looks up into the Doctor's devastated face and puts on a grin, one he hopes can hide the madness that's creeping through his mind like a snake.
He squeezes past the Doctor and pushes open the blue door. Before he enters he leans closer, the grin still in place. "Good," he says, savouring the shocked look for a second and then vanishes into dark corridors.
He can't stand it. Can't cope with the drums and with the feeling that is twisting his guts in impossible ways. He can feel his mind slipping, knows he will lose himself to the drums at every moment if he doesn't fight it. A part of him wishes for them to be quicker, to keep him from thinking and remembering.
They shall swallow those images, shall finally take them away from him. Of a small hand in his and a bright smile and big eyes, full of admiration as a request tumbles out. For him and only him to hear.
Tell me a story, papa.