Time was fluttering like a ribbon in the Old One’s hands. He could feel it stretch before him, behind him, like the song of river water as it rushes downstream to the sea. It was like water in his hands, sweet like the sugars of star-milk, the flow from the breast of the cosmos like putty in his hands. So strange it was, to have hands after so long a time of having nothing at all.
“Tliuk,” he murmured, once more letting the taste of the air fill the complex tangle of alveoli-like sacs of his multi-tiered respiratory system, “... hrm. I nearly let the Hunger consume me, didn’t I? Have I caused these children any hardship? I find myself wanting to know, caring, even. How strange... I would have eaten them before, I think.”
The Chronovore spun to answer his Master, his own lithe, alien body an eloquent execution of lines wrapped in white flesh, but he was too slow. A sound pervaded what was left of the world, a small sound, a sound like the running of gulls in the early morning, bright white birds cracking shells against the ocean rocks. Tliuk had never seen the ocean, but now he thanked Jack Harkness for showing it to him. Thanked his flesh for glimpsing it the way a child would thank a parent for patching a beloved doll.
It was a cry of not quite animal need. Three cries, in fact, turned to one in their choral frenzy to be heard. Ah, the humans had enacted their Plan B. How very... human. Resplendent in his marble nature, Tliuk watched his master the Old One react to this with a kind of detachment. His master was, in so many ways, so like that fragile doll of bisque Tliuk had never seen. A shame that even he, who deserved more than anyone to forget, would not remember, when Time had righted itself. But that was not Tliuk’s to deal with. No. He had his place, and it was not among the stars. For even as he felt that yearning for the wonders of the finite grow beneath his bony breast, he knew they would not be his. He had his part to play in the Now, to prevent other Nows from becoming dust beneath the feet of chaos. And as he watched his Master The Old One contemplate the answer of his body, the yellow, nutritive wet of his lactating teats, Tliuk understood something. In the hands of these children, his Master’s destiny would take its final shape, that of guardianship over the countless Nows that spun out before them all like spiders’ thread.
“Do you still loathe spiders, Lord?” he asked, spurred to the unknown question by a sudden desire he knew was not completely his own, but the Universe’s.
Was it possible? Good?
“I am the Spider,” his Master said, as black tears crystallized in those golden pools and bled down pasty cheeks.
The Old One was crying. And Tliuk knew what he must do. His task was written in his Master’s tears, even as the Old One cried out to him. Even as his Lord’s youthful hands touched the wet streaks of pale yellow colostrum that were dampening his slender chest and sobbed against the grass. The Ancient Ones had forgotten grief long ago, when they had crossed over from the Before.
Softly, slowly, smiling like the sun, Tliuk came to him, took his Master’s head in his hands, bent pearly fangs to the Old One’s neck. If his Master could not survive his destiny, then Tliuk would take it from him. A creature of the Old One’s power could not be allowed to go insane with regret. Renewed by the knowledge of his purpose, Tliuk drank deeply of his Master, taking unto himself all that was painful, all that the Great One could not bear. he would take it into himself, and use it to fend off his brethren. He knew he could not hold it all, that once he was Ended the transformed energy would return to his Master, but perhaps, in time, the Lord could heal the rest of the way on his own. As he laid his Master gently on the grass, he glanced back at the girl and the man who stood staring, unable to act. The others were circling, readying to kill. Readying to sup at the last table of the Fallen.
“You should take him and retreat to the safety of The Ship,” he said to them both, smiling again even as the Old One’s blood stained his pearly mouth, giving his thin lips a sensuous air.
Koschei could have cared less as he turned to Jenny and carped, “... ignore him. He’s basking in the glory of his own incomplete apotheosis. Our secondary mission is to keep those damn temporal vultures at bay long enough for Theta’s brats to earn their keep. Did you hear me, Jenny?”
But Jenny wasn’t listening. She was poised for battle, muscles tight, body tensing like a bowstring. Her big eyes, wide and bright, fixed on the sky. Or rather, on what was blocking her vision of it. The Chronovores had descended, and were filling what was left the horizon, all around them. Everything was darkening, becoming one huge blanket of destruction, consumed, consuming. On far more than mere impulse, she took the Master’s hand then and did as her father had told her that first day. She ran, dragging the man away from his work with a handful of the Ship’s wiring still in his hand.
“What? Are you mad? I need to retrieve this-”
She clapped her hand to his mouth and shoved him down into the dirt with a booted foot.
“Don’t speak. The Chronovores are swarming. They mustn’t catch on.”
Koschei spat out a bit of silt and growled back at her.
“I wasn’t born yesterday, idiot enfante! Let me up!”
“You said Secondary. I never heard anything from the others about any other mission. What are you up to?”
Jenny held her foot steady against his head, watching his movements. She wasn’t smiling.
“Where did you get that?”
“Huh. So hostile! Why the sudden change of hearts, my dear? Oh! I know!”
He glanced over at the Old One, who was moaning on the grass. Tliuk was not with him.
“Little girl is cranky and wants a swig from the mini bar!”
“You need to be supervised,” Jenny said, her voice cold and shut tight like the pearly fortress of a clam.
The Master sighed. He had always liked luxury. But not when it was shoving its foot into his eye sockets. He couldn’t see her. So he never did see as another girl scooped up the Old One and ran past into the hands of the men who stood in the threshold of the TARDIS’ double doors. He never saw the gleam of gold in Jenny’s eyes as the switch took place. Never felt the stillness of the eaten, silent air as the Iraj-Jenny amalgam pounced on him in a fury of gold and blue, a raging Bodhisattva as she lifted him with one hand and carried him inside by the scruff. The Master had harmed her Doctor, but she would see him survive.
Neither noticed the shadow of the feasting storm of Chronovores as they descended, nor the cracked and bleeding cobalt of the half-chewed sky. The Hoarde was come.