It Was Mercy
Fingers. Oh yes, that’s what those long things were on the ends of his hands... and they moved when he wanted! Brilliant! Sensing a nearby presence, he locked his fingers on the grate beneath his prostrate body and tried to push up. But strong, slender blue hands grabbed him about the chest and tugged, helping him into a sitting position. Then, when he’d caught his breath, the being lifted him up into its arms and carried him down a hallway, into a round, dark room full of spice and the fragrance of foreign summers. As he lay in a rough fetal position, curled in a smooth nest of blue arms and chest and ample bosom, he looked down at her feet and realized suddenly why she seemed to sink a bit when she walked. The floor was a lovely fiction of silk pillows...
And oh, the lighting, it was perfect! Rather pleasantly dim, he noticed happily, as he rather thought that too much light would hurt his eyes for a while, yet.
“It’s... you, isn’t it, Iraj?” he mumbled, feeling weary as the blue woman seated herself on a deep garnet couch with round pillows, then eased his head into her lap. Her hand moved close to his face and she brushed his brown hair, unruly as it was, away from his forehead with soft little movements.
“You haven’t lost your knack for subterfuge, I see. You naughty old thing! What have you gone and done this time, eh?” He reached out to her, but she only sat there, withdrawing her hand as he found her face and stared into her eyes as though she were a scrying bowl.
“Oh, my beautiful, my delicate, my faithful Iraj, I’m sorry! Lord. I’m still not right from the... he held his head, feeling dizzy even as he closed his eyes and leaned back against her thigh. The blue fingers merely took up their place in his hair and resumed the careful strokes that had soothed away the endless nightmare of pain and death and bloody battles. She had brought him somewhere... where were they? He was too tired to think; a state which was relatively new for him.
“My beautiful Ship. You have given me a place to rest, to recover. But I cannot sleep any longer. I must get up.”
He blinked and tried to rise, but she pressed her fingers against his naked chest, pushing him down again. I cannot stay, Iraj. There are promises to keep, lives to whom I made those promises. But how shall I find them? I do not know their names.”
But the wounded look in those black eyes all but told him he did.
Tears gleaming on her cheeks, Iraj-who-was-his-TARDIS looked down at him then, snaked her arm toward a Bombay chest along one wall. It vanished, leaving only an empty space in a puff of yellow, gold-flecked fog. And beyond the fog, there were... flowers. Green things, growing everywhere. A hole in the dream. A hole through which something of memory could enter. And enter something did.
Grass and flowers flowed in from the little alcove, popping up across the floor in little clumps like weeds among the pavers. He yawned. He wanted desperately to stay awake to see what else came out. But he was fading. Soon he would be asleep again.
He blinked, and the shape of a child grew up among the gently waving blades of red grass. Two children. Three. One child was watching the second torture the other with foul words and kicks and little rocks tossed in animal hatred. But then, as the one being kicked began to cry, the one who watched picked up a stone and... then there were two again. Eyes red with tears were the least of their worries, now. No one must know. No one could discover the first child’s transgression. He had destroyed a bully, destroyed their innocence for the sake of the other child. The boy who would grow up to be the Master. Who would lose his mind to Death’s relentless Drum. The endless call to War.
Theta Sigma fell to the floor, the heat of terror filling his cheeks as he writhed in self-loathing. His actions, his pact with Death had given Her Koschei of the House of Oakdown, allowed her to mold his boyhood friend into the madman called The Master. It could have been him. Should have been him. Shouldn’t it have been? Memory was a fearful thing. Why else had he forgotten? How could he have allowed himself to forget? How could he have willed such a soul-shattering fragment of himself into the safe places, forever to be hidden? Death’s price for forgiveness had been Koschei’s very soul! In return for sanity, for absolution, he had allowed the goddess to slowly consume the older boy’s spirit, everything beautiful about him. How? How and why and whatever for? He could still feel Iraj’s fingers where they had grasped his hand, petting, caressing, holding to lost hope like a seafarer’s widow. The weight of forgotten destiny rang like an ancient bell in his ears. The bell... why did it sound familiar? Where had he gotten it? The Cloister! Was something happening?
At the sound of that bell, Theta Sigma came awake. More people were pouring through the gap, surrounding him, worshipping him, kissing his feet. Throwing yellow, six-petalled Memento Mori blossoms in his path. But he wasn’t on his feet. Where were they carrying him?
“Iraj?” he croaked, but she was no longer beside him.
Perhaps she was waiting at their destination? Well, best to wait and see, he supposed. The many hands bore him down the hallway Iraj had carried him through, then back through the door. And the people were still coming. They came and came and came, singing and dancing and smiling, all of them whole and happy, children, animals, adults. And throughout, the bell rang, sounding and lifting and lulling in time to his heartbeats. He was laid out in reverence upon a stone altar, in a room carved with winged women.
“The Citadel of the Pythia? But... ”
When the streamers of white silks were wrapped around him, at last he recalled what he had been thinking about before his heart had burst.
“Oh, brilliant!” he said to the sea of Gallifreyan faces, smiling at each one as they came nearer, laying hands upon his naked flesh.
“Today is the Otherstide!”