The Reader’s Circle which Lady Dúccesci suggested proved popular with both the high born and the Caretaker women of Southern Gallifrey. The weekly meetings were a joy to Marion and were just what she needed to help her recover from the ordeal of being trapped in the ruins of the school. The ladies read dozens of texts each week and discussed them at length.

Only Marion and Lily knew there was a secret member of the Circle. When they visited Destri, on what was becoming a monthly fixture in their calendar, now, he had read all of the books to himself.

“The English Gothic Movement!” he said as they sat outside his cottage on a fine, warm afternoon. “How did that go down with the likes of Lady Arpexia and her daughter, or Lady Dúccesci?”

“Talitha found it rather a change from the works of DH Lawrence,” Marion replied. “She seemed taken with A Picture of Dorian Grey. But Valena Arpexia preferred Dracula and her mother took to Frankenstein.”

“I didn’t really like any of them,” Lily pointed out. “Even though they are finely written pieces of literature. They all seemed to lean too much towards a dark and terrible nature that is too often seen in the universe.”

“And you have a heart of pure light and goodness, my dear sister,” Destri told her. “But Marion, you are also a creature of light... And yet, you chose these works from your world to disseminate among your friends.”

“They are stories about darkness,” Marion admitted. “And yet, they are about the triumph of light, too. Those good, fine, brave people who defeated Dracula, even though one of them died in the attempt, knew the satisfaction of vanquishing evil.”

“That one was Marion’s favourite text, too,” Lily pointed out.

“Well, it has special meaning for me,” she replied. “Kristoph quoted from it the very first night we met. And we kissed for the first time on that cliff at Whitby that features so prominently in the story. And we visited Bistriz on our first honeymoon, when we were married by Earth law.”

“There,” Destri said to his sister. “The darkness of that tale will never penetrate Marion’s soul. It has too many pleasant connotations for her.”

“I just kept thinking of our own legends about such dark creatures,” Lily said.

“There are vampires in Gallifreyan literature?” Marion asked, surprised. “I have never come across them.”

“There are books,” Lily said. “And poems, sagas that tell of the heroism of those Time Lords who fought against the darkness. I used to enjoy them until I learnt the truth behind the poetry and the romance of it all.”

Marion was puzzled. But Destri clearly understood.

“Most Gallifreyans know those sagas about the Great Vampires,” he said. “But only a very few scholars would know the full, unvarnished truth that is to be found in the rare texts that exist in the great Academy libraries.”

“In the history?” Marion’s eyes were wide with fascinated horror. “But that would mean that vampires are real. The one comfort of reading Dracula is knowing it is nothing more than a very convincing tale written by...” She laughed softly. “Kristoph calls him a pale faced Irishman who ought to have gone out in the sun more often. But... on Gallifrey... such things are HISTORY?”

“Ruben made a study of the Great Vampires when he was a student,” Lily said. “He read all of those ancient texts. He was fascinated by the dreadful things. Thank Rassilon it was just a phase he went through. He specialised in Political Law in the end and left all that behind him.”

“Perhaps I should have got myself in less trouble if I had stuck to history and left politics alone,” Destri said in a quiet voice. It was possible, sitting together, talking about literature with the Gallifreyan sun shining and a cool, salty breeze coming from the ocean, to forget that this idyllic spot was a prison and Destri – or Ruben as Lily always called him, now, was its only prisoner. But he would remind them from time to time, as if he, himself, did not want it forgotten. Like Frankenstein’s creation who went to his own death admitting his guilt, and seeking only the peace of oblivion, Destri did not seek to avoid his punishment even for a brief time. These social visits were granted to him through the intercession of the Lord High President himself, but he would never take advantage of them even for a momentary illusion of freedom.

“I think you’re going to have to tell me about these Great Vampires,” Marion said, if only to prevent Lily from dwelling too much on her brother’s situation. “I am surprised Kristoph has never shared the tale with me, really.”

“Kristoph wouldn’t know as much about them as I do, even though the main protagonist of the tale was his own ancestor. As I said, it is a think only for dedicated scholars. These events belong to a different era and different Time Lords. At that time, it was common then for Oldblood families to have more than one son. It was expected that one of them would inherit the property and the family line and the other would be a warrior, dedicating himself to the defence of Gallifrey and the galaxy itself from the forces of darkness.”

“That is exactly the opposite of the Gallifrey I know,” Marion pointed out. “There isn’t even a standing army, now.”

“Times have changed greatly. And, in my view, for the best. That terrible war that your husband and others of his generation gladly enrolled for... I still believe it should not have been fought… we are scientists and scholars, observers and chroniclers, not war mongers. But... as I said, Gallifrey was different seven generations ago. Our Warrior class was heralded. And the greatest of them all was Chrístõ de Lœngbærrow.”

“Kristoph’s ancestor?”

“The first of his bloodline. He was already the victorious commander of the legions who won the First Time War. That’s another complex story known only to scholars, and we need not dwell upon it, except to say that it cost many lives to protect the secret of time itself from those we judged unworthy to have it. As for De Lœngbærrow, of course he was the obvious choice to lead the new campaign against the Great Vampires and their minions.”

Lily shuddered as if she really didn’t want to hear this. But at the same time she was clearly paying attention. It was the same revulsion and attraction combined as watching a scary film or reading a book like Dracula.

“There are legends that say the Vampires and Time Lords are related species. That is not true. What is certain, is that they were a powerful race in their own right. While we harnessed the power of the vortex, making ourselves one with time itself, space was their domain. They developed ships that could cross galaxies in mere minutes. But they were not explorers. They were devourers of worlds. They were already giants in proportion to most humanoid races to begin with, the adults as much as eight or nine feet tall. But their bloodlust hastened their natural evolution into even more fearsome creatures. They were as near immortal as even we recognise such terms. Nothing could kill them. Certainly not the weapons of the peoples they conquered. They laid waste to great civilisations, wiping out whole species. A few were allowed to live, but only as slaves... and as food... cattle. An even fewer number were turned into lesser vampires who served the Great Ones in return for power over the slave races and extended lifespans. And then they turned their lustful eyes upon Gallifrey. They would have defeated us and taken the secret of time. The whole of Creation would have been at their mercy if they had succeeded. But our warriors fought. Our technology, now used only for peaceful uses, was put to building weapons of war, great space ships that travelled through the vortex and sought out the Great Vampires. They built their lairs deep beneath the soil of the cursed planets they had despoiled. But the Time Lords built weapons capable of reaching them. The ancient scrolls that I studied told of space borne bow ships manned by brave young warriors. These ships screamed down through the atmosphere, then through the rocks and soil of the planet’s surface, until they penetrated the black hearts of the Great Vampires themselves.”

“Wow,” Marion said. “That... sounds amazing. And... they defeated the evil... the Great Vampires?”

“They did. But... Marion... this is the thing that grieves my sister, which grieves me, and which... when I was still a student... turned my hearts away from the very idea of warfare. It is what isn’t told in the sagas. Those brave men who piloted those bow ships... Can you begin to imagine the speed, the stress on the body as the ships ploughed through the ground... the force of the impact. They defeated the Great Vampires, oh yes. They struck a great blow for the forces of light throughout the universe. But at the cost of their own lives! These men knew that they would die – unlike your Mr Quincy Morris in that fascinating fictional account, who was an unforeseen casualty of the battle. But like him, they considered their sacrifice worthwhile for the greater good.”

“Oh, no,” Marion answered. “But... no. Even in Human history, suicide missions are regarded as a terrible thing. And it was Kristoph’s ancestor who commanded them...”

“Don’t let that sour your pride in his great lineage,” Lily told her.

“Indeed, do not,” Destri assured her. “The same scrolls that detailed these deeds record his disgust at the tactics he was forced to employ and his protests to the High Council that fell on ears deaf to all but victory in the face of such an enemy. Indeed, Gallifrey was a different place, then. The unwavering patriotism of the brave was exploited shamelessly. And when I saw young men of stout hearts and unshaken loyalty to Gallifrey’s cause getting ready to fight a new war in my own lifetime, can you wonder that I could not stand by and wave them off with a smile?”

Lily put her hand on his gently and said nothing. His motives for the act of treason for which he was so singularly punished were one subject usually avoided during these visits.

“Dark tales, dark history,” Lily said. “I am glad we have sunshine and fresh air this day to vanquish the darkness in our hearts. And Marion brought a new batch of books for you to read for our next visit. The Love Sagas of Rivinia V. In the reading circle we are going to be comparing them with the works of the Earth writer D H Lawrence and expecting Talitha Dúccesci to have much to say on the matter.”

“And I shall enjoy imparting my own views on the subject when I see you again,” Destri told her. “Marion, my dear, let us put the darkness away now and we shall drink your English tea in the sun and try the cake you brought all the way from Liverpool for me.”

“Yes,” Marion agreed. “I think that would be a very good idea.”