Without speaking a single word of protest or surprise all the people in town bowed their knees and heads in the circle they had formed around us.
Eerie was the silence that accompanied the scene, beautiful the blue dust raining down on all of them. The sky didn't break, even though I almost expected it. This wasn't real, I realized. In one way or the other.
"What have you done?" came the aghast protest of the Doctor, finally breaking the silence. He stood there as frozen as everyone else, although it seemed as if he was about to regain his composure.
The Master only gave him a nasty grin. "What I do best. Be master over them all." He laughed out loud and spread his arms dramatically, turning a slow circle around himself. "Look at it, Doctor! Isn't it pretty? Tell me it's pretty."
"You're insane! How do you control all of them?" The Doctor hurled forward, bumped against the Master and tried to grab the laser screwdriver. "Stop it and let them free!"
Both fought for the device, one as fierce as the other. The Doctor had a hand pressed against his face, the Master had two grabby hands wrapped around chest and arm. Not a single person around reacted to what was happening. And I didn't either, still too perplexed to comprehend the situation and not at all willing to step into a fight between the two.
"Get... him… off of me!" shouted the Master, gripping his screwdriver tighter when the Doctor got a sudden hold on it.
I spun around at the sound of shuffling boots, realizing that the crowd had started to move. The nearest men all reached their hands out and one got a hold of the Doctor's arm, another one grabbed his shoulder and soon he was held by at least five people. Even his inhuman strength didn't help anymore and so he resorted to grunting annoyed.
"Master! What the hell?"
Said Time Lord dusted himself off with a scowl, then let his laser screwdriver vanish inside his inner vest pocket. He straightened then and let his burning gaze wander over the scenery, a grin slowly spreading on his face. He dipped his head and giggled.
"Now, that was easier than expected. But seriously, Doctor, I would have thought higher of your intellect. Remember…" The Master stepped in front of the other man, thumbs hooked into his belt. "We used to be equals. We used to be on the same ground, one step ahead of the other. A game, no… no no no, a dance. And now look at you, still clueless, still not getting it. I'm disappointed."
The Doctor frowned at the grin, ceasing his struggles for good. "Done with the speech?" he grumbled through gritted teeth. "I don't need to know everything to see that you did something to those poor people." He let out a sigh and his eyes dropped. "After all that time."
The Master let out a huff. "Yeah." His eyes wandered over the unmoving crowd. "After all this time. And you still think you can control me."
"I don't! I just thought… after… Why are you doing this?"
The Master shrugged, grinned nonchalantly. "Because the opportunity was too good to be left unused. It is so obvious. Hidden in plain sight. And yes!" he hissed, leaning in closer. "After all this time being your prisoner I'm truly happy to have a bit of freedom back."
"You can't even leave from here," sighed the Doctor. "Please, let those people go and we talk. We'll find a-"
The word was spoken dark and determined. "This is my stage, my play. It's all mine and I will do with it as I please." He flicked his hand towards the other man. "Stuff something in his mouth so he can't yap all day."
Again everyone seemed to move at once, but only the nearest person undid his neckerchief to mute the Doctor with it. After that everyone stilled anew and only accusing looks were left. The Master nodded satisfied then turned around.
"And no word from you?"
I winced when he spoke to me, too enthralled by the whole scene to really feel like a part of it.
"Och, come on. Say something," the Master mocked. "Isn't it scary?"
"Creepy, yeah," I finally brought out, my brain now decidedly busy with finding out how this all was happening. "A neural network of sorts? Literally. Mass mind control with the moon as a catalyst?"
The Master tilted his head, blinking at me with curious amusement. "That's it?" he asked.
"Uh…" He couldn't expect me to have found out exactly what was happening, could he?. "My other theories are probably too crazy."
"Noooo! Not about this!" he waved a hand at the crowd, then pointed at his prisoner. "What about him? What about the part where you get all teary eyed and try to stop me!"
I blinked. Once, twice. Had I missed something? Was this some kind of script I was supposed to follow?
"Uhm…" I coughed and straightened a little. "Please let him go?" Thinking about it, this really was an unwell thought through situation. "I mean… seriously, you can't pilot the TARDIS on your own, so it would be a bad idea to have him on your bad side. And I start to like him, so I'll be quite pissed if you do him serious harm."
Expectantly I glanced up at the Master, unable to say what his scowl could mean. When he didn't say a word I got a little nervous, hating not knowing what was expected of me. Maybe he thought I was going to try and foil his plans?
"Nooo…" I answered my own thoughts. "I'm not in the mood to stop you from anything. I don't stand a chance. 'sides… it's cold and I'm starving."
The Master smacked his lips together, rolling his eyes. Then he suddenly raised a hand and snapped his fingers. "Grab her," came the barked order.
Perplexed, I stepped back, but already there were arms grabbing me from behind and holding me in place. I could smell leather and sweat and tobacco, mixed with the eerie taste of an absurd silence. And for a second I had the sensation as if I had somehow gone back inside the darkness of the ship we had landed in, as if the blackness would close its maw around me, as if the nothingness of the void was calling me… calling… calling...
The sound of a crow.
The black bird came down from the illuminated sky and landed right on my shoulder, feathers reflecting blue and purple, eyes as dark as eternity. Its head cocked from one side to the other, knowing, sensing. I felt the men who held me stiffen, fighting the urge to run away, despite being controlled. I felt feathers against my cheek, smelling like warm sunlight, saw the stare of a black marble, reflecting the blue of the moon. Then the bird let out a croak and spread its wings again to rise into the air while the feathers already started to fall apart and crumble to dust in its flight. And before the crow could reach the sky it was nothing but smoke in the cool morning breeze.
"Stars! For a second I thought that's a void creature!" the Master called out, his voice cutting through the silence. "Just another glitch." He shook his head and tossed a look around. "Alright. Bring the prisoners to the sheriff's office. The rest of you can go and pretend this all never happened."
The Master's hand reached into his pocket, where he probably did something with the laser screwdriver. Everyone around started to shuffle away, some looking confused, others as if nothing had happened. I was dragged towards a nearby building, together with the Doctor. But we weren't put in the cells upsatirs. Instead the Master ordered them to use the stairs downwards, where more bars and cold rooms waited. We were both put separately, a wall between us. Then our captors left and we stayed alone in the darkness. The Master didn't follow.
I let out a frustrated grunt and kicked the piss bucket. A rat hopped out and vanished through the tiny window in the bricks. A sliver of blue and red light bled into the cell through it.
"Are you okay, Lucy?" came the Doctor's voice from behind the wall.
"No, I'm not!" I called out. "This stupid arse of an alien! What does he even think? What's this crap for? I didn't do anything! The bloody opposite!"
Surprisingly enough I heard the Doctor chuckle.
"It's not funny!" I whined and dropped against the wall with crossed arms. "Not even a tiny little bit. That prat!"
"I'd say, I told you so, but… that would be mean, wouldn't it?"
The amused tone of the Doctor's voice managed to piss me off even further. He was a prisoner too. Why wasn't he concerned, or scared or just plainly angry?
"I'm a little disappointed," came his voice once more. "But I can hardly say I'm surprised. Not about him, anyway. Should be… wish I would."
"It's surprising that it doesn't bother you," I grumbled.
"What's surprising is to see a genuine reaction from you, for once," countered the Doctor, his tone now more serious. "Don't be mad, but that's a good thing. Means you start to care about things. About yourself. That's important, you know?"
I slid down the wall, dropped my head back and wrapped both arms around my knees. The Doctor's words sunk in, surprised me even, because somehow they were true. Somehow this night had changed the way I thought and felt. A wall had been torn down, a barrier broken, crumbled to black dust like the ominous crow from before.
A creature of the void. Black smoke and dark wings. Visions from a place no human was ever meant to set foot in. It reminded me of the dreams that had plagued me in the viking village, of the words the devil had spoken to me in the depths of hell.
"What now?" I asked. "How do you usually stop him?"
"Weeeell… First I need to find out what he's even planning. Can't think of anything useful to do with an army of zombie cowboys. There is more to it. And then I'll come up with an idea."
It took me several moments to get the point. He had no clue, had he? And he was making things up on the go, practically improvising the crap out of the situation. Again I let out a frustrated grunt. This all couldn't be real, could it?
"Where are we even, Doctor? If you say the TARDIS can't come here and we need a portal…"
"I don't know." Now his voice sounded frustrated. "Might be a pocket dimension. Uh… basically a small piece of a reality, stuffed away somewhere in the void. Not big enough to be a whole universe, heck, often not even big enough to be a whole planet. Might be this, might just be secluded. Can't tell yet."
The void. That again. Something about its very existence gave me the chills. I remembered the one time the Master had shown me pictures of what was thought to be a void creature.
Black smoke and rustling feathers...
I shivered, getting aware that the Doctor was still talking, elaborating more on the subject of dimensions and parallel universes. I knew most of the stuff, to my own surprise. Human Sci-fi wasn't as inaccurate as one might think. And what I didn't know already, was too techy for me to understand anyway.
"I'm sorry," I mumbled eventually, when his voice quieted down. "I've been with him the whole time. I should have… I don't know. Maybe I could have done something."
"Naaah, don't blame yourself. He wouldn't have let you. But tell, what did he do? I know he calculated some coordinates. And actually I wanted to come along and see for myself. Far too interesting and exciting. I just couldn't… uh… well… doesn't matter. Got… distracted."
So I told him about the strange burial ground that probably wasn't one, told him about what the Master had done there and what it had caused. What I didn't tell him was everything that had happened afterwards.
I fell silent at the thought of it. And the Doctor didn't ask.
On that day I learned something.
Being imprisoned was boring as hell.
And it drove me mad. Somewhere I started to walk in circles, then I attempted to count the bricks, but couldn't even find the focus to do that. A few times I got a glimpse of a rat and tried to lure it out of its hole, but the small animals were too suspicious. And they would have bitten me anyway. Through the bars of the small window above my head fell the light of day, every trace of blue vanishing. I tried to climb up there and look outside, but didn't manage.
Here and there I struck up a conversation with the Doctor that never lasted long, because my bored mind couldn't even come up with an interesting subject. And everything else wasn't something I wanted to discuss right now. And certainly not through a wall.
It also was annoyingly cold down here and I started to become hungry on top of that. At least my bladder was empty since I hadn't drunk anything recently. My eyes fell on the kicked over bucket and I pursed my lips at the thing.
"Doctor?" I asked, mumbling while sliding down the wall once again. "I know that's probably a dumb and obsolete question, but… does… does he keep promises? The Master. Does he ever break them?"
"Not a single one," came the answer, spoken low and from the wrong direction.
I shot to my feet and glared at the Master, who just strode in, a ring with keys in hands. He came to my cell and unlocked it, his eyes however fixed on the Doctor next to us.
As soon as the bars slid open I rushed outside, not with the plan to escape, but simply to be out of that place. The Doctor had his arms leaned on the horizontal bars of his cell, staring intently at the Master, before his look wandered to me, a bitter smile forming on his face.
"He never broke a promise. Not one." His head turned to the other one. "He just failed to deliver on a particular one… yet."
"And I'm not going to anytime soon," snarled the Master, grabbing the bars next to the other one's head. "Not as your prisoner."
"Right now, you're proving that I can't let you go," countered the Doctor drily.
The Master dropped his head against the bars and laughed quietly to himself, his knuckles turning white from how tight his grip was. I had no clue what this was about and stood there, unmoving, undecided whether or not I should risk being thrown back into the cell.
"This is a promise we both have to keep, Doctor." The Master pushed himself away and glared at the other man. "Maybe one day… when all the stars align and you can forget your useless rules and morals."
"I will never just stand and watch when you do harm," muttered the Doctor back. "You know that."
The Master only nodded, lids half closed.
"Yeah… I know."
With that he hurled around and marched back to the stairs, nudging me on the way. "You, with me."
I tossed a look back at the Doctor. "But…"
The Master halted and raised both brows. "What? You want to stay here with him?"
"I… no. But don't just leave him locked up here. It's mind bogglingly boring… and there isn't even a proper loo."
"That… what?" He glared at me for a second, then scowled at the Doctor. "That really what concerns you? Not some 'oh please, let him run wild and free!'?"
"Uhhhh…" I too looked at the Doctor and gave him an apologetic half smile and a shrug. "We all know you won't just let him go, so… I mean…" I rubbed my arm and stared at the floor, feeling stupid.
I heard the Master giggle and saw he actually stepped to the cell to open it. He pointed his laser screwdriver at the Doctor's chest and waved the man out. "You can as well get a look at my work already. And maybe I will find you a nicer cell afterwards."
We went up the stairs, the Doctor first, then the Master with his raised laser, then I. The sheriff's office was empty, broad daylight illuminating the setting. It looked like you would imagine from old cowboy movies, the wooden furniture, the guns, the two cells with the keys hanging just out of reach. A cowboy hat sat on the desk, not the one the Master hat from the TARDIS, but he snatched it anyway and gave me the brightest grin.
"Don't look so disappointed, little one." He ruffled through my hair. "I just like to play with you."
I stepped on his foot. I knew it wouldn't hurt him, but somehow my anger needed to be let out. Promptly the Master grabbed my arm and tore me in front of his face.
"Oh, don't tell me I managed to make you properly angry." His eyes glinted with amusement.
"Duh! Of course you did!" I spat. "You'd be angry too, would someone let you be locked away by zombies! I didn't even do anything!"
"And I couldn't risk giving you the chance." A sweet smile accompanied his words. "If you don't believe me, believe the Doctor. I don't give promises lightly. And if I do-" he leaned down, stroked a finger over my cheek and locked eyes with me- "I will keep them."
I swallowed, frozen in place from the sudden proximity. But the Master already straightened and smirked when he looked around. I needed some moments to understand why.
The Doctor was gone.