I clutched the egg gently between my hands, glaring at the symbols below my feet, still halfway hidden under sand and dust.
"Yeah, I'm ready," I mumbled, closing my eyes.
There was no new protest from the Doctor and a moment later it wouldn't have caused anything anyway, the process not stoppable, as I found out.
At first I didn't feel much, only focusing on the warm pulsating sensation between my fingers, felt the texture of the tiny scales and the thin veins. After some time the egg seemed to get warmer, the heartbeat faster. Or was it my own? Both of us synchronising? Somehow my hearing seemed to sharpen, my awareness spreading. The crackling of electricity got louder, the sound of the cool breeze sharper.
I dared to open my eyes, finding the purple glow stronger than ever before and now slowly spreading to my fingers and even slightly into my very veins. Would this have happened had I kept it? Would it have consumed me?
I didn't feel tired, quite the opposite. An energy coursed through me that I wasn't used to at all and when I glanced around me, I saw what I had known. The light-arches over the machines danced wildly and in zig-zagging patterns, wound themselves around everything they could reach and that was capable of conducting electricity. Including myself.
The sight was fascinating and scary all at once. My heartbeat got stronger, pulsating in rhythm with that of the tiny dragon. I looked up at the Master, who watched intensely, satisfied with the result.
For the tiniest fragment of time everything appeared to be working out perfectly, pieces falling into a pattern, setting themselves together to a picture of conclusion and achievement.
A craw rang through the night.
I glanced up, awaiting to spot the glitching crow again. Instead, my eyes widened in horror as I saw black smoke billowing like a sandstorm from the ground, far behind the mountains, rising up to quickly swallow the moon and the clouds and the fake stars. A ravine of darkness. There wasn't enough time to recover from the shock, not enough to shout out a warning, before everything around me got swallowed and buried in the smoke.
I pressed my eyes shut, held the egg close to my chest and waited for whatever might appear to shred me into tiny pieces of madness as the mass of black engulfed me and everything that was and wasn't real. And still I couldn't perceive any of it with my senses, felt as if I had gone blind and deaf and numb all at once.
There was no sound, no light through my closed lids, no more wind on my skin. Even my heart stopped beating, as did the dragon's. No warmth between my fingers, no pulsating in my chest.
There was… nothing at all.
My eyes crept open, finding almost pure darkness. The faint glow of the egg in my hands was the only light in here, faintly illuminating the fog, swirling, dancing, engulfing eternity.
I blinked, confused, unsure if I had heard a voice or not. Slowly I stretched out a hand, just to see if I could touch the dark smoke. It wound around my fingers with no substance, a perfect contrast to the light purple in my veins.
What do you see?
There definitely was a voice, but from so, so far away. The Master? Was he here, too? I opened my mouth to respond, but nothing left my lips. Even Sound got swallowed, long before it was produced.
He had to be here. The darkness had swallowed everything. Maybe he stood right next to me and we simply couldn't see each other? The thought made me reach out my hand once more, this time in a clear gesture that symbolised to take it.
I winced at the sensation of ghostly fingers slipping into mine. They weren't visible, not quite there and still more real than anything I had seen here so far. I held on tightly, tried to remember what I knew about telepathy and sent out… something. Not a thought, not even an emotion. I didn't know what it was, but it seemed to be all that was left of me in this place.
Your mind slipped away, lil' lumin. But I can't stop the process. You have to hold on.
His voice echoed through the emptiness, grounding me. Finally there was something to orient myself to. A spell was broken, realigning time and reality to something I was more familiar with. Why is it so dark?
It's not dark. Not at all. I think you might be unconscious.
I blinked, thinking about it for a moment. No, that didn't feel right.
I am somewhere, I told in my mind. There is only black smoke. No, wait…
Was there movement? It was nearly impossible to make out. As if something monstrous was striding through this place, slow and heavy, not paying attention to me. And there were… eyes. Small dots of pure black, holes in the darkness. The smoke moved, swirled around the dots and spread to majestic wings.
My eyes kept glued to the shape, the figure. In my hands the egg started to pulsate again, started to get warmer. As if it was reacting to this… place.
I know where I am.
The Doctor is making a fuss. He says you might have slipped into… wait… you know?
I… I'm not sure. But… no I am sure. This is… the void, isn't it?
No word in any human language I knew could even begin to describe how impossible this was. Smoke and wings and black eyes in the darkness, watching me. Were they alive or an illusion of my mind? Those majestic, billowing, ever changing shapes in the smoke, silently moving, swaying, hovering.
The pulse between my fingers got stronger, whereas my own still refused to be present at all. Careful not to drop the egg, I reached for one of my wrists to check if there was anything, only to have my suspicions confirmed. Maybe that also was the reason I wasn't scared here.
You can't be. Nothing about my construction is even remotely capable of tearing a rift open.
Nothing he had done. No. But maybe something I had. Something I was. The very thing that made the egg react to me. The void creatures… they are real.
I felt a heavy silence from the other site, felt the Master tighten his hand around mine. His mind hovered inside of me, tenderly probing the edges to find a way inside, without managing. He couldn't quite reach me here and still we were connected… somehow.
They don't do anything, I continued, simply to do something else than nothing. It's… fascinating. Beautiful. Terrifying.
Are you scared?
No. I shook my head, knowing he couldn't see it. It's just empty. And dark.
I stretched out my other hand, which held the egg and I probably did the same in the other word, because I could feel the ghost of a touch, the Master reaching out to enclose my hands in his own.
I think the egg is connected to the void. It's hatching. Do you see the cracks?
Yeah. It's happening here, too.
I watched how purple light started to spill out from the tiny cracks, illuminating the fog around me some more. My eyes locked with a pair of pure blackness, watched as it slowly crept closer. Smoke billowed all around the creature, edges of a beak reflected in the faint glow, turning from one side to the other, observing the intruder that I was.
I had seen them in my dreams. Those black wings of smoke, those huge creatures of the void, towering like giants, moving like the flow of water. I couldn't tell if it wanted to attack or if it was simply curious. I also didn't dare to reach out and touch it.
The cracking sound of the egg tore my gaze away from the creature and to my hands. How could we be at two places at once? Were it really our minds or had something more slipped? And if that was the case, would I be trapped here?
More purple light spilled from the egg, dripped from the shell like glowing liquid. The drops silently fell to the ground, splashed into bursts of tiny sparks.
It's hatching, lil' lumin! You're doing great. Hold on a bit longer.
I smiled at his excitement, something warm spreading in my chest. It was the joy of a child, the delight of the unknown. After all those centuries and behind all his cruelty was still this wonderment for the universe around him. It brushed against my mind, enclosed me like a soft cloak.
The moment burst as I felt something tug at me. A shift crashed through reality, making me almost stumble. I gasped, clasping the egg tightly, trying not to collapse from the sudden shock of my heart springing violently back to life in the midst of its last, interrupted beat.
The black creature let out a shriek, crashed down to the ground with a rumble of heaviness, eyes suddenly glinting in a dangerous spark of blue, seeing me, being aware of my very existence for the first moment.
Master, I called out. Get me back. They noticed me.
You're not even really there. They can't… I don't think anything can notice you. It felt almost like a question.
The giant bird circled around me, beak opening to another ear piercing shriek. The smoke of its wings swirling around my body, not yet touching, but fumbling.
I don't care. Get me out. Please!
My treacherous heart fluttered against my ribs, jumping every time the creature got nearer in it's predatory circling. Maybe it couldn't actually touch me, maybe it only waited for the right moment.
Okay, okay. Lumin… There was a pause, an emotion brushed my mind I couldn't quite place. Do you trust me?
I… I don't know.
You have to.
Smoke stroked against my arm, sent an icy tingling through my skin. I closed my eyes, didn't want to see. Whatever you want to do. Do it.
Alright. Try to relax.
Which was harder done than said. The ghostly feeling of his hands vanished from mine and I felt them on my temples, felt him press a small kiss to my forehead. Then I felt something else, something familiar and yet so foreign that I winced and instinctively tried to shake it off.
It was careful, slow and a lot less precise than the Master, but not threatening, not a presence from this place.
Sorry to intrude like that, a new voice spoke in my mind. I didn't startle you too much, did I?
Yep! Relax. We'll get you back.
Getting calm was easier said than done, though, feeling the creeping smoke swirl around me, circling, waiting for any weak spot or maybe something else entirely. I kept my eyes firmly closed, focused on the two energies within my mind instead.
Now I understood why the Doctor had made such a fuss about this. Whereas the Master's presence always felt weirdly safe, the Doctor's was just foreign, different, made my skin crawl in a way I had no words for. Not that it scared me, but it was wrong.
I'm sorry, I heard him sympathetically. I wouldn't, but…
It's okay. Just get me out.
Whatever they did, it seemed to alert the smoke creature even more. I heard its scream once again ring through the emptiness, felt its wings brush against my shoulders. The egg in my hands had lost its structure, was barely more than a heap of crumbs in which something small was squirming.
There was a force stroking against my mental shields, searching for an opening, the smallest gap to slip in. I did my best to keep calm and to have my barriers as low as possible, even though I had no clue how that worked. I had done it once, when the Master had crashed into my mind, but the exact mechanic of the process was still a mystery. And within this place it didn't seem to be a solution anyway.
Not because of me.
The wings brushed against my back, my shoulders, wrapped themselves around my chest. I gasped as their smoke poured into myself, finding gaps and cracks the Time Lords couldn't reach. And it was different, completely, the creature not noticeable in my mind, even though I knew it was inside. An absence, a gaping hole of nothingness, searching, digging, wrapping its essence around me to keep me in this place, make me a prisoner, a source of energy.
I felt the Master lunging out, swiping the smoky tentacles away, without actually succeeding, even when he used more and more force. I felt the Doctor struggle to keep up, clearly not as strong or as experienced as the Master, but not less determined.
Follow the creature, I thought. It can get through my shields. If you go the same way…
Too dangerous, growled the Master. We might get too deep.
I could… The Doctor felt weirdly strained. I'm not as strong, so it won't consume me.
I felt a weird sense of warmth, a tiny light as if from a silent laugh.
Master, hold on to me. Don't let go.
Doctor, no! Don't you…
It was too late. Already I felt something slip, got dizzy, fell without hitting ground. Smoke and wings wrapped themselves around my exposed mind and now I could see and feel and almost even taste them. Like the aftertaste of blood. The creature screamed, triumphantly and raw. And then the Doctor was there, his presence, where it had been so strange before, now like a bright light within my mind, soft and gentle and fierce and like a storm of fire.
I had no clue what exactly happened, what it was he did and what the creature fought with. But I felt… I felt so much. I saw the universe go blind, saw eternity burn up in a kaleidoscope of unknown colours, heard the cries of uncounted voices, the laughter of children, I felt the joy of bathing in the first sunlight of spring, the excitement of adventures, the devastating crush of desperation and loneliness. Time unfolded, reality, a mind that wasn't my own, laid open, ancient and bristling and raging like a storm, wounded, bleeding, crying bloody tears of pain and loss.
And the void creature started to back off, ducked away from the force it was faced with, crumbled to a tame and tiny bird, eyes glinting in fearful black. One last time it hacked its beak in my direction, but then had enough and fluttered away and out of my mind.
The storm ebbed, faded to a warm trickle of sunlight and got pulled away from the depths of my self. No longer was I falling, no longer trapped in the darkness. I felt my heart beating, felt my breath coming out in rapid bursts. My hands were trembling, my body swaying. Warm hands grabbed my shoulders, held me upright. My head dropped forwards against cloth, my hands still protectively wrapped around the egg's shards and whatever had hatched from it.
"What was that?" I heard the Master ask in utter surprise.
A huff went through the chest in front of me. "I'm not a psychic genius as you are, but I do have my ways."
I was back with the others, I realized, relief washing over me. This had definitely been one of the more terrifying experiences in my life, albeit not the worst. Definitely not the worst. Before, there never had been someone to lean on, afterwards or during bad moments. Now I felt… protected, felt the still lingering images the Doctor's mind had left inside my own. He was like a natural force, so ancient and dangerous if left uncontrolled, so wild and fierce and burning like a sun… yet so silly and happy and warm.
I understood why the Master thought I was safe with him. I understood why they were so similar, yet such opposites.
It got somewhat colder when the Doctor moved away from me to hurry to one of the machines around us. No electricity was running through them anymore. The eerie noises were gone, as were the lights. Even the corpse of the moon had lost its glimmer.
The Master didn't pay the other one much attention. He glared at me instead, at my hands.
Protectively they were still wrapped around the last dripping shards of the former shell, enclosing their inhabitant as gently as I could. My eyes wandered to the Master, then back down and I carefully opened my fingers to reveal the yet tiny creature there.
It was barely more than a lizard, not at all resembling the mighty dragon it had been born from. Thin arms lay against my fingers, small hind legs were bent to a fragile chest. The head was oval, the sole thing that reminded of its mother. A bit like a cat, but more elegant or rather… cute. The whole creature was slick with the egg's liquid, its movements slow and clumsy.
I smiled, looking back at the Master. "Hard to believe this will become a dragon one day. But it's cute, isn't it?"
"Cute?" The Master let out a snort. "Only you could call a crumbled thing like that cute."
"Och, don't be so disappointed." I giggled and nudged him with my elbow. "You didn't expect this to hatch fully grown, did you?"
"Tch, cause not."
The pout didn't vanish from his face, however and for some seconds we both only watched the small being, wondering where to go from here. Until a surprised call made us both spin around and look at the Doctor, who was still busy examining the machines.
"They are still alive!"