"So, what are we gonna..." I turned and froze, again confused.
The Master sat there, cross legged and with both hands over his head. He was bowed down so deep he almost touched his legs.
"Are you alright?" I asked once again and touched his arm.
Immediately his head snapped up, eyes wide. Hastily he crawled back a few inches, then stopped abruptly as if he remembered where he and who I was. A heavy and shaky breath found its way out of his lungs and he shook his head, groaning.
"Not good," he muttered, burying his face in his hands again. "Resonance. Frequency. Not good. Never good. Should have known."
"Hey, what is it?" I started to worry. Had all that energy done something to him?
"Too much of a strain," came the answer, pressed out between laboured breaths. "Cracked my barriers, 'n now they're… loud. Ugh… so loud… it huuurts."
Carefully I inched a little closer. "Can I help?"
"Stay away," he muttered. "Don't..." He groaned and sunk together even more. "Don't want to hurt you. Stay away."
"Hey, don't be daft. There has to be-"
He shot forwards. A hand forcefully closed itself around my throat and I found myself staring into the hazel depths of evil itself, feral and raw and so full of pain that it was no wonder he was driven mad by it. A grin split his lips, or was it a snarl? When he spoke, his voice was barely audible.
"I could just snap your neck like nothing," he said through clenched teeth. "It's so… so hard not to kill you."
The Master's fingers squeezed my throat even more, still barely enough to cut my air off, but in a way that hurt nonetheless. He pinched his eyes shut and let go, once more hiding his head under both arms.
"Stay away," came his muffled voice. "Please. I don't want… can't..."
It took a few controlled breaths to calm my racing heart.
"Alright," I mumbled and got to my feet, perplexed by his plea. It still hurt where he had gripped me, but I understood that it had been a mere warning. Not a threat.
Someone really has to do something about those drums, I thought absently.
The surroundings didn't give much information about where we even had ended up. Not that I would know anyway, but after some minutes of wandering there was no sign of the burial ground. The horse also hadn't been teleported with us. There was only rock and pebbles and a few thorny shrubs that grew out of tiny gaps. Not even enough to light a fire.
And all of it illuminated by the eerie light of the blue moon.
I kept wandering for a bit, careful not to lose the starting point out of sight. Moving was better than standing still because the temperatures had dropped quite a bit. My thin clothes were now nearly useless and I kept searching for something to burn. Without any success.
Grumbling to myself I meandered back, evaded the Master and sat down at the cliff, letting my feet dangle into the depths. Ages ago I used to be afraid of heights, but somehow that fear had vanished. There still was always a weird tug on my insides when looking down something as high as this, though. Never before had I been to an actual canyon and it was beautiful and frightening at the same time, made me feel small and insignificant, especially in light of the huge moon above my head.
I couldn't completely enjoy the view, wrapped my arms around my torso and tried to make myself smaller to condense my body heat. It didn't help much.
Was there a river below? Something seemed to move there, glistening in blue and white specs. No sound made its way up to my ears, however, and water surely must be loud enough? Acoustics wasn't a thing I had much knowledge about.
My breath formed thin clouds of vapor in front of me. Was there really nothing to make a fire with? Stupid question. It was bright enough to see properly and there had been nothing at all. I sighed out another cloud and dropped my head to my knees, hoping that maybe the night might vanish as unnaturally fast as it had started.
Something dropped over my shoulders. I was startled and looked up, seeing the Master sitting down next to me. His jacket was what was now dispelling at least a little of the cold and I drew it closer around me.
"Better?" I asked, although my voice was shaking and making the question sound silly.
"You should be more worried about yourself, idiot." The Master chuckled and looked up at the moon. "With that frail human body of yours it's a true miracle you're not frozen already."
"Tch, it's not even that cold, you know. Besides, what should I have done anyway? There is nothing here to make a fire. So… no source of heat." I nudged him. "And I'm sure you'd have thrown me off that cliff, had I just snuggled up on you."
He grinned at the moon. "That possibility never stopped you before."
I pursed my lips and fought the urge to slide away, even though it was a dumb idea, given the temperatures.
"In fact," the Master continued, eyes still glued to the moon, "You used me as a pillow when we were in that train. And there you thought I would kill you afterwards."
Surprised, I peeked at him. I hadn't expected that he would remember this.
"And now-" his head turned towards me, eyes trying to pierce through my skull to reveal my thoughts within- "you seem to be scared to even sit next to me."
The unspoken question lingered between us like a trap, ready to snap close. Or was he really curious about it? I swallowed the lump in my throat and glared at the edge of the canyon.
"Yeah, thinking I'd die anyway was a lot easier to handle," I grumbled and drew the jacket tighter around me. It didn't help much.
"You really make no sense sometimes." The Master laughed at the moon. He laid down on his back, hands folded behind his head.
I shot him a dark glare, poking my tongue out. It didn't have much of an effect, with me practically shaking. "W-what's happening here aa-nyway? Did you hack the moon or something?"
A grin widened on his face. "Not so far from the truth as you might think. But not now. Wait."
I grunted, shaking. It wasn't fair that it could be so cold when the day had been so hot. Not that it surprised me, but that didn't change the fact that it sucked.
"How're the dr-rrums?" I probed, deciding to use the time for something useful. "Seemed pr-retty bad just now."
"Still is," the Master ground out. "I need a bit time to-"
"L-let me help."
Silence. It lingered between us like a lurking predator, as if those words were a threat. I cleared my throat and looked the Master in the eyes that were fixated on me and had an uninterpretable look to them.
"Let m-me help find them," I clarified.
The Master shot into a sitting position, suddenly tense. "And how would you do that?" he spat, contempt dripping from his words. "Just because you heard-"
"Shut up," I hissed and turned to sit facing him. "I kn-know I'm just human and useless and wha-atever else you want to say 'bout m-my inadequacies." Now I even got to my knees, the cold not forgotten, but shoved away behind the bubbling anger. "I know I'm untrained a-and have no skill and I know you don't trust me. I know you don't even like me… And yes… I heard them once. Who else did? Tell me!"
The Master blinked at me with a surprised expression that slowly morphed into a grin again. "My, what an outburst. Didn't think it's possible to get you properly angry."
"Then stop treating me as if I'm useless!"
"But you are!" He laughed, holding his hands up defensively. "It's good to know someone else heard the drums. Really. But it was an accident." His hands stretched out a little as if he wanted to calm me. "You don't want to repeat that. It was sheer luck that I was able to stop it in time." The hands sank and he shook his head, his voice dropping to almost a whisper when he added, "not much more and you might have gotten lost. You would have… vanished. Your mind, your… self."
My anger deflated like a torn balloon. I hadn't known any of this. Sure, I had felt some negative effects after that experience, but they had been so neglectable that I hadn't wasted another thought on it. And still…
"Then teach me."
"Teach me," I repeated. "Tell me w-what I have to do and ho-ow I can search without harming any of us."
"That…" He licked his lips and looked to the side. "That would take a while. I'm not sure you even can…" His head snapped back towards me, eyes narrowing, voice dropping to a suspicious murmur. "And why would you even? What's in it for you?"
"You'll stop b-being a prick whenever it g-gets too loud," I deadpanned, narrowing my eyes at him.
"I'm me no matter the volume." His grin became wolfish.
"Just completely out of c-control."
"Tough, deal with it."
"That's not the point!" I called out.
What was, though? What would I gain from all that effort? What benefit did it have for me to cure him of the maddenIng drums?
The Master leaned forwards and hooked a finger into my collar, drawing me slightly towards him.
"You know that this will require quite a lot of mind sharing, right?"
I swallowed and let my eyes drop towards the ground. I couldn't run from this anymore, couldn't hide from the confusing bundle of mixed emotions within me.
"It scares you," the Master muttered, sounding sad all of a sudden.
I peeked up at him and inched a little closer on my knees, not only to seek some warmth. "It's no-ot the mind sharing that sc-cares me," I admitted quietly. "I… just don't know i-if I can put it into words. I was always bad at knowing m-my own emotions. It's like they are there, bu-ut I can't name them. And…" Nervously I fiddled with a sleeve of the jacket around my shoulders.
The Master leaned down to me, pushed my chin up with two fingers. The look in his eyes was curious and… hungry, intense. I swallowed and fought the urge to turn my head, for once not to shy away from eye contact, but because I feared he would…
"Show me, little light," he whispered softly, his thumb stroking along my cheek, letting a spark of his mind bristle through me.
I clung to the sensation, like a drowning man would cling to a rope. My eyes closed and for a moment I simply savoured the caress of not yet completed potential. No, that wasn't what I was afraid of. Not at all.
"O-okay," I muttered.
The Master let go of my chin and instead grabbed me around the waist to pull me closer. Surprised, I yelped and found myself suddenly straddling his legs, his fingers slipping under my clothes to spread out on the skin of my back.
"Wh… what…" I stuttered, pushing both hands against his chest.
The Master snickered. "You're ice cold, idiot. This is easier when you're not distracted."
"This is much more distracting than the cold," I cheeped.
He didn't let go of me, however, pulled me even closer and dropped his head against mine, practically trapping me in place. My heart thudded wildly in its cage and then I felt his energy flow into my mind, slow, hesitantly, lingering there at the edges, like a question.
I took a deep breath and finally closed my eyes, signalling him mentally that he could initiate contact. Not even a second passed and his mind washed over me, pooled into my awareness, almost tumbling, with a weird taste of desperation mixed within. My hands clawed into the Master's shirt, my head pressed against his. Within a moment I was hyper aware of my own body, every single breath, every frantic beat of my heart. Hearts… beating in a set of three, slowly synchronising to a combined rhythm.
And for a while we only sat there, letting it happen, bathing in the connection like in the sunrays of a warm autumn day.
I wished it could be that easy with everything, wished it wouldn't start to scare me already how safe I felt. There was a tug at me, an unspoken demand. I focused on that fear, tried to get a grip on it and let it run through our shared minds.
What scares you so much, little one? Did I hear the question or was it an echo of the past? I couldn't know, but I let everything inside of me bubble up, let it consume me, felt how it got mirrored and thrown back at me in an endless loop until all of it started to… make sense. The sensation of a deep rooted terror that washed over me whenever I allowed myself to feel safe in the presence of another person, how everything inside of me tensed and walled myself off.
Why? Because closeness meant loss, meant abandonment and pain and abuse, meant giving and never getting anything back, meant that I was torn to pieces because who I was was not who they wanted me to be. Because I was wrong. Everything about me, everything about who I was and wanted to be. Because it meant to be sucked dry, to fade and to wither.
A sob shook me, brought me out of the thought process. The hands on my back were warm, my own were clawed into the Master's shirt. There was a tightness in my chest that made it hard to breathe, but none of it overwhelmed me. The Master steadied my mind, guided my awareness back inside, held me softly against him and the gesture was so soothing that I wanted to cry.
My, what a broken thing you are. Definitely not my own thoughts. I didn't want him to let go of me. I didn't want him to hold me. I wanted to run away and never come back and cling to him as if my life depended on it. And it scared me. It scared me to feel like this. It scared me how close he had gotten, what he did to me. I was terrified to feel anything, to feel too much.
What am I to you? I asked in thoughts, pushing my forehead firmer against his, heart beating wildly. I had to know. Had to know what I had to shield myself against, had to…
"I don't know."
My eyes crept open and met his hazel orbs that wore an expression of confusion and hurt. Our connection lessened in strength as his hands vanished from my back to cradle my head instead, thumbs tenderly stroking over my cheeks.
"You are a tool," muttered the Master. "You are a damper to my madness. But you're wrong." Suddenly he giggled in a slightly deranged tone. "Wrong, wrong, wrong, my little light." Something shot through me, a spark of ice, the sensation of spiking insanity. "I don't feel anything. You are nothing to me. Because, you see…" His voice dropped to a whisper, his hands slid a fraction lower, closer to my throat. "Every second we share takes so much not to kill you."
I winced, unable to jolt backwards in the firm grip. He was telling the truth, I could feel it through the connection. The urge to see the light vanish from my widely opened eyes, to feel the pulse slowing in my veins. His fingers slid up again, holding my head and pressing it against his own.
"You are so fragile, so easy to break, I can barely hold myself back." Another deranged giggle. "Listen, lil' lumin. Listen to the drums. They are so loud, you must hear them already, don't you?"
"N… no. I don't." I couldn't look away from the wet shimmer in his eyes. "Master, let me help."
He clenched his teeth, eyes pinching shut. "Why?"
Because I want to.
"Liar." He chuckled and drove deeper into my head. Show me!
His voice echoed through me, vibrated within the essence of my being. I felt his hearts beating as frantically as my own, the double rhythm speeding them even more. Currents of black smoke splashed against my barriers, squeezed themselves through every crack and seeped into a part of me I had no name for. Somewhere deep, somewhere ancient. Quivering breaths escaped my lungs, my hands stretching out to cradle the Master's face, to find skin, to go deeper. The urge was almost overwhelming, to get lost in something that wasn't myself anymore and still was, to finally, finally, be connected, where I previously only had known a deep, dark pit of isolation. It was warm, welcoming, safe. No time, no space and still not empty.
Ah, I see. I get it. Did I hear a laugh or was it all in my head? Lonely, lonely little human. You're not scared of this, aren't you? You crave it!
Not only that. His mind crept deeper, scraped at the edges of what he could reach without damaging me. And then, slowly, he eased out of it again.
"I can't give you that," he muttered darkly.
And retreated fully.
With a gasp I came back to reality, the blue light of the moon illuminating the face in front of me. I could feel the cold again, sharper than before, could feel an icy drop of despair burn my insides and hot tears bubbled up from wherever I had hidden them for so, so long. Whatever the Master had done, something crumbled inside of me, tightened my chest so painfully I almost doubled over.
The Master pushed his hands against my shoulders as I dropped forwards, steadied me as a strangled sob shook my whole body. Hot tears dripped from my eyes and blurred my sight. In this very moment I felt as cold and lonely as I had never before in my life and all I wanted was to stop existing altogether so I wouldn't have to endure this any longer.
At some point the Master's hands vanished and I clawed into his shirt, dropped my head low against his chest and almost silently waited for the pain and the tears to subside, although it felt like an impossible thing. It was then that I felt something else, a motion and then… arms around me. One hand gingerly stroking the back of my head. I was pulled closer, was held securely until I actually had calmed somewhat.
"See how easy it is to break through your barriers?" the Master muttered into my ears. Strangely, his voice was soft and not at all derisive. "All those things you pushed away from even yourself. All those things you want no one to know."
"I don't want to feel like this anymore," I rasped out. "Why did you have to bring me back? I don't want to…"
He squeezed me tighter, the gesture belying everything he said before. His chin dropped on my head and silently he waited until the sobs stopped shaking my body.
"I can't give anything to you," he muttered. "It would require a kind of connection I'm not willing to forge." Gently he pushed me away, cradled my cheeks and stroked the tears away with his thumbs. "You don't have to be scared, though." His stare was intense, making my breath catch in my lungs. "There will be no moment of abandonment." Strangely enough, his lips twitched up to a small grin at those words. "I told you once, already. My life force is running through your veins. And as soon as I found out what made me go back in time and mark you, as soon as your purpose is fulfilled… I want it back."
Yes, he had said that once. It was just hard to tell when he meant things and when it was only his madness speaking.
"Until that day-" The Master hooked a finger in my collar and grinned at me- "you are mine. You belong to me, you understand that? And I'm very fond of my possessions. No one but me is allowed to hurt you, to break you. And as long as you are with me, I won't allow you to feel lonely. Understood?"
My eyes widened with every word he said. As long as I will be with him. And when that time was over he would take my life. The meaning of this sank into me and let a small smile appear on my face.
Slowly I nodded.