Never have I felt so alive. Maybe it was my descent towards fiery extinction. Or the fact that I’m being led into an underground lair that make ‘dangerous’, ‘tense’ and ‘apprehensive’ look like adjectives mild enough to describe a game of snakes and ladders. My escort’s still here of course, one leg of four clamped down neatly on my shoulder. Despite the battleground of scars covering every inch of it, this creature is strong. Even before, I didn’t feel like I was falling to my death, so much as I was being pulled.
Or. I’ve never felt this alive because this is the first time two Timelords have been awake in the same body.
At least he’s easy to block out at the moment. Universal Residue is going completely haywire. I’m not just getting screams anymore, but the base, primal howling of people who have lost everything including themselves; with vast differences in the timelines. The pain of those who died yesterday and those who died when the universe was just learning how to shine. They’re all down here. And the further we go, the worse it gets. I’ve no idea what’s hiding in this crushing darkness or what’s waiting for me at the end. But for the second time in mere minutes, I’m getting the distinct impression that Death is staring me in the face. One wrong move. One surprise. One hit. And he’ll shift from one plane to another. Scroll in one hand. Hourglass in the other.
That’s more than enough to keep me walking. If I’m going down, whoever’s responsible better be ready to kill first and be asked questions later.
We follow the narrow underground tunnel, which opens up into a vast, dimly lit cavern. Burning wall brackets scattered at random intervals provide enough light to see; just barely. The ceiling above is a twisted crashed mess of rock and metal. Clearly we’re a few miles under and many years after one massive explosion. My escort roughly shoves me towards the centre of the room and finally lets go. The pain and pressure in my shoulder slowly evaporates, but I scarcely notice it. My attention falls to the floor beneath me.
Under my feet is a huge, circular mosaic which stretches out to fill the size of the whole cavern – impressive given we could easily move a cathedral in here with enough space left over for a decent rollercoaster. I start walking backwards in random circles, trying to take in everything at once. Its design is a set of concentric circles, each obviously getting larger the further out they go. And lurking under centuries of dirt and grime is a perfect map of…the universe. Each ring holds a different planet, galaxy, star system, even the asteroid belts. At the centre is the planet we’re currently on, I’m assuming. Still walking out at random, there’s the Milky Way…..Skaro, over there……there’s Lanipus, no less……Morag……but where’s….
And that’s when I see him.
Standing exactly where Gallifrey would be.
My former self. In silhouette; there’s no colour scheme. But I’d recognise him as easily as recognising my own shadow.
Which is exactly what he is. A shadow across my life.
“It’s funny,” I say, echoing off the dark walls, “but I thought I killed you.”
A new, unknown rumble passes uninvited through my mind, then, and immediately I know that it’s laughter.
“Telepathy.” It’s been a while since I’ve had to suffer this graceless interruption. “I’ll stick to speech, thanks.”
I am not who you think I am. But I knew you would recognise this form.
Its got the mental power and capacity. A human would’ve been floored by this. Me, feels like a slight headache coming on. But I get the unnerving feeling, I’m only getting a fraction of the power just now.
“And what makes you think that?”
It reaches into the darkness of itself and brings forth a book. Even at a distance I know exactly what it is, but use the excuse of getting a good look to move forward. When we’re standing just a few feet from each other, the book is thrown to the floor between us. Its cover glares up at me. The book with two titles – one of them having been crossed out. Towels was always neat.
Then the book’s gone. There one moment, filthy floor tiles depicting solar winds in the next.
I don’t ask, but my carbon-copy reads the quick flicker of confusion in my face. No book can be removed from The Library of Life. Except by force.
And by releasing your grip, off it goes, I guess. I don’t mind. No desire to go through all that again.
Found in bookcase 81, 613, shelf eighty-eight.
“Yes. Very tall height to fall from. Which you’d know, I’m assuming, having read the damn thing. Why that one in particular? Get bored or stuck reading your own?”
Another internal rumble of telepathic laughter. My book would be the longest. It started before Time came to be and will finish long after the last planet crumbles.
But not even my book has two titles…
It keeps every last scrap of will to remain standing upright. The internal damn bursts, forced by powers of combining this monster’s sudden wave of telepathy, and my own repression cracking apart. Memories flood uninvited into my mind’s eye in a sickening montage. One word, my old name used like a password, and I’m taken back to the time when I used it. I can feel the war surrounding me again like I never even left; even the sounds and the smells are coming back to me. Star-class warships roaring above my head; the endless pounding of bullets and mortars firing; suffocating in air that’s more smoke than anything. And the bodies. That alien landscape hidden under the corpses. Every. Last. One of them.
Guardian, of the Silent Plains’ Final Exit. Murderer of thousands. A once proud Timelord. Defeated, at last.
Everything suddenly proves too much; I collapse onto the filthy artwork below, crashing onto the smaller universe like a fallen god. My head feeling ready to explode, one hand finds my face, clutching at my forehead as I groan through my fingers. Guardian has awoken at last, with one hell of a sore head.
Watching me, the shadow of my past draws nearer.
Defeated. And reunited.
Panting, I manage to claw my way onto my back. Eyes watering, it’s near impossible to see anyway, but I’m not stupid enough to turn my back on it. It kneels down, hands clasped placidly together, next to my head. Its own long coat pools around it in a puddle of deepest black; like a nightmarish bat has landed next to me.
After all those years of conflict. All the suffering. All the bloodshed. You fought and you guarded and you kept anyone from entering that portal.
Slowly, it leans just a bit closer to me, revelling in every moment.
Did you ever occur to you, while stopping those going in, you were guarding something from getting out?
It shifts position slightly, balanced on its knees now so it can lean over me, shrouding me in its own darkness. A hand entirely devoid of colour hovers above my face, fingers gently swaying above me. I stare up into the head without a face; into an infinite pit of nothingness.
Would you like to meet your prisoner?
The hands drops, then, smothering me.
And reality disappears.