Prologue

Once upon a time, high in the southern mountains of Gallifrey during a season in which no snowflakes fell nor owls watched, a young boy evaded his tutors for what seemed like the thousandth time and escaped out into the wilderness. Outside the sky was a deep blue and the grass an emerald green. Night had departed but if one looked closely at the skyline they might still glimpse the far off moons and stars in a universe young and innocent. The elements ruffled the boy's hair and plucked at his clothes as he ventured up the side of the wind-swept mountain.

He wasn't supposed to be there - no one was. His tutors always knew where he was going even if they never quite managed to anticipate his latest ruse or trick to get them otherwise occupied. No one was supposed to leave the House, unless to venture to the Capitol, but there were those who could no longer stand the dreariness and boredom and simply had to escape outside, even if only a few hours passed before they slipped back in again undetected.

And then there were those who elected to remain outside permanently, to fend for themselves rather than rely on machines to do everything for them. The idea of such an existence mortified the Cousins, but the boy knew where he'd rather be given the choice.

The hermit was in his usual place, sitting on a rock outside a cave some way up the mountainside. He was immeasurably old, yet still seemed to be full of as much life and serenity as the Cousins were reticent and irritable. He had lived in this spot for as long as any could remember and long before the boy's first illicit journey outside.

He approached the ancient robed figure with a sigh and sat down on the grass beside the rock. The old man, as he always did, seemed not to have seen him approaching, as though he were preoccupied with some higher purpose. But as soon as the boy was seated, he drew back his hood and smiled. ‘Good morning, my child,’ he said, his calmness and warmth instantly dissipating the boy's anger and frustration. ‘Shouldn't you be in school?’

‘Yes,’ the boy confessed.

The smile gave way to a stern frown. ‘Then why aren't you there?’

‘Because I'd rather come and talk to you,’ said the boy defiantly. ‘Besides, no one will miss me there. They're just filling my head with a whole load of useless rubbish. You're much more interesting than boring old Quences.’

‘Is that so?’ The old man chuckled. ‘I don't think Quences would be too happy to hear you say a thing like that.’ Nevertheless, he reached out a gnarled hand to pat the boy on the head. ‘What do you want to talk about today?’

‘Tell me another horror story.’

The old man noted the determination in the boy's voice. ‘You do take my stories seriously don't you?’ he frowned. ‘You are aware that the things I tell you are true, aren't you?’

‘Yes,’ the boy replied with sincerity.

‘Good,’ murmured the old man. After a moment's contemplation, he spoke again. ‘Do you know,’ he asked carefully, ‘what they call me back in the city?’

The boy shook his head.

‘Some of them call me ‘The Old One’, which I can understand,’ the man said with a chuckle. ‘But the majority of them think I'm mad. ‘K'anpo the Insane’, that's what they call me. The hypocrites. They claim I make all these stories up, and yet it was they who gave me access to all this knowledge in the first place.’

‘They never call you that!’ protested the boy.

‘There's no need to lie to me, child. Don't your parents say, ‘Keep away from K'anpo, he's just a crazy old man’?’

There was a pause before the boy spoke. ‘My parents are dead,’ he said, his voice a quiet whisper.

‘I'm sorry,’ said K'anpo. ‘I'd forgotten. Forgive an old man whose memory deserts him now and then.’ The boy looked up at him and his clouded features broke into a smile again. It was impossible to be mad at someone with K'anpo's wisdom and gentleness. ‘I can tell you in infinite detail of things that happened a thousand years ago, and yet I cannot retain things from the here and now. When you reach my age perhaps you'll understand.’

‘Tell me a story,’ the boy reminded him. ‘One with vampires in it.’

‘Aren't you tired of vampire stories?’ K'anpo asked. ‘I certainly am. Believe me, although our people may seem indifferent and inactive, in our heyday we were responsible for some of the worst atrocities the universe will ever know. It pains me to think of how heedlessly Gallifrey has behaved in the times of old. Just as it reassures me to know that elsewhere in the universe, pain and suffering exists that was not inflicted by Rassilon and his foolish acolytes.’ He drew in a deep breath and as he exhaled he broke into a smile. The boy knew that smile. It was the smile that meant that, in spite of what Quences and his tutors might intend, today was going to be a good day.

‘Today,’ said K'anpo at last, ‘I will tell you of a tragic war that led to the death of an entire race, as well as the birth of an entire other race.’

‘No vampires?’ asked the boy, trying not to seem disappointed.

‘The race in question were creatures called the Jagaroth. They were bipedal life forms, like you and I. Only they were also reptilian and were covered from head to foot in green scales and they only had one eye.’

‘One eye?’

‘Yes, one large green eye in the centre of their heads. And they also had the peculiar ability to grow a second skin over their bodies mimicking whatever race they happened to encounter.’

‘What would they need a thing like that for?’ the boy asked, bewildered.

‘Who knows why war-mongering races develop such talents?’ shrugged K'anpo. ‘Once the Jagaroth were a proud and majestic race of scientists and scholars. But, like most supposedly civilised peoples - look at our own - they degenerated into pointless squabbling and bickering. What began as a political disagreement turned into a civil war that eventually ravaged the entire planet and wiped out the whole race.’

‘What happened?’ whispered the boy, already intently engaged in the tale.

‘During the war,’ said K'anpo gravely, ‘one side made a fatal error. They thought the introduction of biological warfare would turn the battle to their advantage. They developed a bacteriological weapon which they hoped would end the war. They were right. For they severely underestimated the strength of the weapon they had created, and within hours of unleashing it every last Jagaroth on the home world had been destroyed. This lethal plague decimated the planet and rendered it uninhabitable for a millennia.’

‘So they were all destroyed?’

‘Not quite. One small group of Jagaroth escaped the plague. They had been away from the home world on an exploration mission deep into space. When they returned, they were devastated. They had not seen the home world for years, their supplies were all but exhausted and their ship was in urgent need of repair after the long mission. The ion-drive engine needed to be replaced before further space journey would be safe.’

‘What did they do?’

‘Their pilot, Scaroth, was a brilliant astrophysicist. He was able to keep the ship intact until they made planet fall elsewhere. But the chances of them finding a hospitable place of landing were slim. They arrived on a desolate, waste of a planet, large enough to contain life and yet far too barren to support it. This planet, which had looked so promising and inviting from space, had proven to be lifeless and inhospitable. But the craft's over- stressed thrust motors had been damaged beyond repair on landing.’ The old man paused for a moment, his tone lowered and he allowed a sad smile. ‘Poor Scaroth. What could he do? He knew that none of them would survive if they tried to remain on this planet, but he knew that their ship would be unlikely to survive another take-off. The fate of the Jagaroth was in his hands.’

The boy could imagine it clearly. There was something about the way K'anpo could tell a tale that enabled him to visualize things as though he had been there himself. He closed his eyes and he could see Scaroth, seated at the flight controls in the cramped cockpit of the battered, ancient spacecraft. He could feel the torment raging within Scaroth as the one-eyed reptilian creature agonized over the decision that would seal the fate of his race.

‘He decided they should leave the planet. They managed to get some residual power, just enough to start the engines,’ K'anpo continued, ‘but it was not enough. The warp fields destabilized within moments of the Jagaroth ship lifting off, and they were all destroyed.’

‘Poor Scaroth,’ murmured the boy, echoing K'anpo's own words. ‘Is that the end of the story?’

‘Of course not,’ said the old man. ‘Because Scaroth's sacrifice led to the creation of another race. Another proud and majestic race of scientists and scholars. And artists. The intense radiation from the ship's destruction somehow fertilized the amino acids that bubbled on the planet's surface and caused the beginning of life on this young world.’

‘What about the Jagaroth?’

‘They were never heard of again,’ said the old man, ‘until now.’ He paused and frowned. ‘Must you tap your lapels like that? It's very irritating.’

‘I'm sorry,’ said the boy, unaware he'd been doing it.

‘That could turn into the most annoying habit,’ cautioned K'anpo.

‘What happened to the other race? The scientists and scholars and artists?’

K'anpo nodded. ‘Ah, yes, the artists. Well, this race lived to a mighty age. Their science and scholarship varied greatly from time to time, but as artists...’ As his voice drifted off his face broke into a vast, conspiratorial smile. ‘Well, let's just say they could teach the Cousins a few lessons...’

Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Epilogue