“I almost wish I’d brought Julia to see this planet,” Chrístõ said. “It looks absolutely amazing. Even having to wear an enviro suit because of the bad air is worth it to see something this… this… fantastic”

Paracell Hext looked around at the landscape his Celestial Intervention Agency TARDIS had landed in. Fantastic wasn’t the word he would have used. It was an Earth word, signifying over-enthusiasm. He was a Time Lord. He wasn’t supposed to get enthusiastic about the merely aesthetic. Getting excited about the scenery on a new planet was the sort of thing an emotional, irrational, half-blood like Chrístõ de Lœngb?rrow did.

All the same, even he would have to admit that Oqyosw 7 – pronounce Oy-ow, with the ‘q’ and the ‘s’ silent, was an intriguing landscape. They had landed on the edge of the Boric sea – two hundred square miles of acid solution with no lifeform whatsoever capable of living in it. It was a shade of green a little lighter than the dark green, paling to turquoise, of the sky itself. An emerald coloured moon with a ring system of eight bands of differing shades of more green filled a quarter of the sky.

The ‘beach’ - if the rock hard surface beneath their feet could be called such a thing - was littered with clear crystals formed by the accretion of chemicals from the acid sea. Some of them had formed into crystalline stems and shoots and might have been mistaken, at first glance, for plants.

But no vegetable life grew on the surface of Oqyosw 7. The acid sea was simply a concentrated mass of the solution of corrosive chemicals that fell as rain over the rest of the planet.

In the distance, when they turned away from the sea and looked across the pale green landmass were natural structures even more remarkable than the crystal ‘plants’. These were once huge rocks, but the dual effects of acid rain and gale force winds had eroded and shaped them until nothing remained but wafer thin shapes that an imagination like Chrístõ’s saw as sails from a tall ship or the twisted spires of post-modernist cathedrals or such fantastical ideas.

Paracell Hext saw an impossible task.

“How are we meant to find two Time Lords in this place?” he complained. “The atmosphere blocks any kind of scan for life forms. The TARDIS can’t function properly. All we have is a few rumours and a lot of guesswork.”

“And the map,” Chrístõ reminded him.

“Assuming the map is real,” Hext pointed out. “It might be a hoax. That’s why I couldn’t justify more than a weekend of my time on it. I couldn’t even call it an official Agency mission. It’s really just… indulging curiosity.”

Which wasn’t really a Time Lord trait, either, he had to admit.

“And that’s why you dragged me away from my quiet life on Beta Delta Four to accompany you,” Chrístõ pointed out. “I was going to mark 5c’s English lit essays this weekend.”

“Then I’ve saved you from a fate worse than death. Come on, we’d better get the hovercar out if we’re going to make any kind of exploration at all.”

The Hovercar was in the corner of the console room. It was transferred to the surface of the planet by means of a transmat beam.

“Very useful,” Chrístõ commented dryly, implying with every nuance of his voice that he wasn’t in fact impressed. “But I’ve always managed in my TARDIS without those kind of frills.”

“Your TARDIS is a retired diplomatic craft,” Hext answered. “Mine is for Agency business. The frills come in useful.”

“Not on a planet with this kind of troposphere,” Chrístõ commented. “You would never have landed safely without my help.”

“No, I wouldn't,” Paracell freely admitted. He climbed into the driver’s seat of the two man hover-car shaped something like a manta ray with windows. Chrístõ took the passenger side and accepted responsibility for navigation across the barren landscape.

“North-west,” he said quite simply. “For at least three hundred miles.”

“That’s not a co-ordinate,” Hext complained. “It’s a direction.”

“It really doesn’t matter according to this thing,” Chrístõ told him waving the piece of parchment with the enigmatic markings that had brought them to the planet in the first place. “Just go north-west.”

“Honestly, Chrístõ, if you can’t read maps….”

“Of course I can read maps. If you think you can do better, budge over and I’ll drive.”

“Budge?” Paracell laughed. Chrístõ’s use of Human colloquialisms marked him out from his fellow Time Lords even more certainly than his mixed blood.

“Oh, just drive,” Chrístõ told him.

Paracell drove. They continued in silence for several minutes – the time it took for the hovercar to cover nearly three hundred miles of barren plain with just the briefest glimpse of the occasional wind worn monument to break the monotony.

Chrístõ gave a more specific co-ordinate after that. Hext was slightly mollified.

“Would you REALLY prefer to be sitting at home on Beta Delta marking essays?” he asked. “Only you don’t seem especially enthusiastic for this mission.”

“I’ve never believed in the whole Cult of Apeiron and Eutonoyar thing,” Chrístõ answered. “Quite apart from it being a mouthful to say, the idea that two of the founding Time Lords actually still lives… after thousands of millennia… is ludicrous. Rassilon himself didn’t believe in immortality. He thought even a Time Lord ought to have a measure to his life.”

“You were never in the Chapter at the Academy?” Paracell queried.

“No.”

“I… suppose… they probably didn’t take half-bloods. They are rather… purist.”

“It had nothing to do with that,” Chrístõ replied. “There was no need for a descendent of Rassilon’s own line to join the Apeiron Chapter.”

“That’s… a good point,” Paracell conceded. “The blood of our Creator runs in your veins.”

“As well as the blood of a foreign weakling woman!”

“Yes.”

For a moment both of them reflected on their academy days when Chrístõ’s half-blood status had counted against him far more than his Ancient Oldblood line counted in his favour.

“Were you an Apeiron, then?”

“Yes. I was. I… believed in it. I was… really big into the whole thing. Apeiron, the infinite, Eutonoyar the Ephemeral.”

“It never struck you as a bit of a fairy tale?”

“When I was a kid, Cinn’s age, I was really into it. Later… maybe not. And… after the Mallus came… I went through a bitter phase when I thought… if there really is one of our founding fathers out here in the galaxy, then where was he when he was needed… when we were dying, when Gallifrey and the whole Time Lord race was going under… why didn’t he do something?”

Chrístõ glanced at his friend. They had both fought hard against the Mallus. Hext had suffered grievous wounds in the battle to retake the Citadel and had lived only because of a selfless man’s ultimate sacrifice. But he had never spoken so feverishly about it all before.

“Well, if this turns out to be something more than a wild goose chase, you can tell them what you think,” Chrístõ told him.

“Don’t think I won’t. But more than anything, I need to establish if this is real or not. I can’t have maps and star charts pointing the way to some sort of Time Lord enclave turning up on Gallifrey. This needs to be put to bed right away.”

Chrístõ agreed. There had been a lot of talk about Apeiron’s World among those taking part in the Winter Solstice celebrations – and about the existence of a map. When Hext’s people located the very artefact and confiscated it from the Time Lord who had acquired it, this mission became inevitable.

But what did they expect to find? Both of them had turned that question over in their minds constantly since they set out.

It hung on that very question of belief. Did they believe that Apeiron and his brother, Eutonoyar, who were alleged to have lived at the same time as Rassilon himself, to be immortal beings who had made this wasted planet their home?

And neither of them had come up with a definitive answer to that question in their minds. Neither had what believers in immortal deities usually had – faith. Faith wasn’t a part of Time Lord philosophy. They believed, generally, in what they could see and touch, what they could weigh and measure and catalogue as part of their amassed wisdom.

The exceptions were cults like the Sons of Apeiron which gained followers in all of the Academies, many of whom continued their adherence into adulthood. The Celestial Intervention Agency kept an eye on them in case they turned towards any kind of treasonable activities, but mostly they were just a rather earnest kind of social club.

“It’s always possible the whole thing is a hoax, maybe imposters,” Chrístõ suggested.

“Some pair pretending to be Apeiron and Eutonoyar in order to draw acolytes to them?” Hext considered that possibility. “Sounds like candidates for my torture chamber.”

Chrístõ laughed coldly.

“It’s not EXACTLY a crime to pretend to be immortal.”

“I can’t think of any reason to WANT to do that that wouldn’t bear close examination by the Agency,” Hext countered. “Where next? This is the co-ordinate you last gave. Where do we go from here?”

Chrístõ told him.

“Deeper into this wasteland. If this isn’t a joke, then it looks a lot like an ambush.”

“I think you’re being a little too paranoid, Hext,” Chrístõ answered. “You’re thinking too much like a Celestial Intervention Agency man. I was like that when I went to Malvoria last year, expecting trouble at every turn and I ended up looking silly because I didn’t trust my instincts.”

“I’d rather look silly than dead,” Hext admitted. “What do your instincts tell you about this?”

“That there’s nothing here but acid-covered desert and it’s a wild goose chase,” Chrístõ said. “Except….”

“Except?”

“Something just flashed up on the scanner… only briefly… but… it looked like an artron trace.”

“Don’t kid about things like that,” Hext complained.

“I’m not kidding. It just did it again. I got a partial fix that time. Hang on… yes. It matches the co-ordinate in the ‘map’. Go for it.”

The hover-car did a mid-air equivalent of a power slide as Hext adjusted the co-ordinate abruptly. Chrístõ thought about the way television detectives in Earth programmes drove, but Hext had never seen anything like that so he obviously wasn’t trying to emulate them.

“It’s a #%$##£& perception filter!” Hext exclaimed. Chrístõ was almost as startled by the ferocity of the low-Gallifreyan swearword he used as the revelation that Time Lord technology of that sort was being used on this alien planet so far from home.

That means SOMEBODY is here, even if it isn’t an ancient Time Lord,” he pointed out in much calmer tones.

Hext said nothing, but the hover-car accelerated forward, heading directly at the source of the artron flare.

“Hext, don’t,” Chrístõ yelled. “We don’t know what’s behind that. It could be a wall or anything….”

Hext didn’t slow the car down. He was angry in a way Chrístõ had never seen, even when they were fighting the Mallus. It hadn’t been anger that drove him then, but necessity.

Now he was angry. Chrístõ wondered if he knew why he was angry.

But mostly right now he was worried about what was inside the perception filter that they were about to crash into. He put his hands over his eyes to protect them from a suddenly shattering windscreen. Of course, the glass in Gallifreyan built hover-cars was built to withstand any impact, but the instinct for survival was there.

He slowly took his hands away as Paracell Hext swore again.

The scenery looked exactly the same as before, except there was something not formed by acid rain and wind.

“It’s a portal station,” Hext confirmed. “Gallifreyan design. We’re on the right track.”

He was still angry. That much was obvious. He was angry and he was feeling betrayed. Those emotions were radiating from him like body heat. Chrístõ said nothing else. He knew his friend had to work these things out in his own head.

“Where does the portal go to?” Chrístõ asked.

“We’re going to find out.” Hext drew his sonic blaster. “You should have brought a weapon, too.”

“I’m a pacifist. And you should be careful with that one. We don’t know who we might be up against.”

“I’m going to arrest everyone I find. Each and every one of them is a traitor to Gallifrey.”

Hext was definitely running on anger as he operated the portal.

He was still angry when they arrived at their destination, possibly a subterranean room with grey-white walls decorated with abstract art and furnished with potted plants. It would have been a pleasant place to arrive if they were not immediately ordered to surrender by two young men in gold and white robes.

“You surrender,” Hext responded, pointing his sonic blaster at one of them. “I am Paracell Hext, director of the Celestial Intervention Agency and you are traitors to Gallifrey.”

The man who was facing his gun calmly raised his hands, palm up. Paracell was astonished when his blaster was pulled from his hands and hovered in mid-air for a moment before exploding in a shower of blue sparks and smoke. The twisted remains clattered to the floor.

“No weapons are allowed here,” he was told. “Come with us, and do not make any further trouble.”

Chrístõ considered the possibility of fighting their corner. But what was the point? They came to find out who was here, and this was as good a way as any of finding out.

“We didn’t come to make trouble,” he said. “Paracell is a hothead. It’ll be his downfall one of these days. We need to see your leaders, right away.”

“The Great Lords will judge you in their own time,” was the response. It didn’t bode well for them. But they had very little choice in the matter. Nobody laid a hand on them, but they had no real choice but to walk where their captors wanted them to walk – and eventually, after several corridors and a turbo lift, that meant they walked into a cell that was locked behind them.

“Good start,” Hext commented when they were alone.

“Yeah, really good. If you hadn’t pulled the gun and started all that Celestial Intervention Agency business, we might have had a friendlier reception.”

Hext disagreed with that view loudly. Chrístõ waited for him to run out of swear words.

“Well, you have to admit, your way didn’t work,” he pointed out.

“We have to get out of here.”

“Yes, we do.” Chrístõ looked around at the walls, floor and ceiling of the cell they had been locked in. They appeared to be more or less seamless. Even the door fitted smoothly with only a slight demarcation line.

But even Gallifreyan architecture needed conduits for the light fittings. There had to be some kind of access panel. If he’d had his sonic screwdriver it would be easy enough. But obviously that was confiscated as a potential weapon.

He would have to do it the hard way. He closed his eyes and concentrated on his immediate surroundings.

“Hext, stop talking. I can’t concentrate,” he said after a minute. “Stop thinking, too. You’re in such a rage you’re disturbing my telepathic aura.”

“Am I allowed to breathe?” he responded with a hint of sarcasm.

“Actually, if you can stop doing that for fifteen minutes, it would hep,” Chrístõ replied. Hext swore at him colourfully but he did stop talking after that and put his raging thoughts behind a mental wall so that something like a peaceful aura could be achieved.

Chrístõ found what he was looking for. It was in the back wall. He concentrated on that section and the edges of a door slowly resolved themselves. Another effort opened it a crack.

“Got it,” Hext said as he opened it fully with ordinary brute strength. Chrístõ opened his eyes and noticed a young man in gold and white robes falling forwards into the cell, knocked cold by Hext’s fist in his face.

“What the &#@% is this about?” Chrístõ wondered as he followed Hext into the narrow corridor behind the cell and closed the door behind him. “What was he doing there?”

“A rather basic sort of intelligence gathering, I’m guessing,” Hext answered. “Listening in on anything we have to say to each other while we’re in the cell. My mental rage must have been playing hell with his mind. No wonder he was so easy to subdue.”

“They have telepathic skills as well as telekinetic,” Chrístõ noted. “Do you think they’re Gallifreyan?”

“Yes. But they’re not Time Lords. They’re not transcended. Somebody has been luring gullible young cultists here.”

“With the map?” Chrístõ suggested.

“And a whole lot of promises that obviously weren’t kept.”

“There’s an access panel up ahead,” Chrístõ said, turning from speculation about the nature of their adversaries to practical matters. “In the ceiling. Let’s get away from the cells. We might find something more interesting on a different floor.”

Hext was on the point of mentioning that he was the director of the Celestial Intervention Agency and he ought to be the one making decisions like that. But Chrístõ wasn’t, technically, one of his agents and he would almost certainly use one of those Low Gallifreyan swear words in response.

Besides, that was as good an idea as any. There seemed to be a maze of these narrow corridors, and going up the access ladder that was conveniently there made sense.

The access panel led to a long shaft that continued up so far they could barely see an end to it. They both wondered just how far they had transmatted down, and could they simply climb out of the underground complex?

“Not until we find out who is behind all of this,” Hext commented. Chrístõ agreed fully with that sentiment, which was why he stopped climbing when he heard sounds from behind the wall and spotted a hatch that could be forced open from this side without mental effort.

They emerged at the back of a gallery overlooking a grand hall that reminded Chrístõ of a cross between Penne Dúre’s throne room and the Panopticon on Gallifrey. The latter was represented by the swirling designs on the silk hangings and the high ceiling and the patterns on the robes worn by fifty or more young men who gathered there. The former was recalled in the two thrones on a raised dais where two men sat in absolute splendour. Their shimmering robes were grander than anything Penne ever wore, more elaborate than the most absurdly formal regalia of the High Council. Their headdresses were so big and stiff it was a wonder they could hold their heads up.

But they certainly did hold them up. They rose from their thrones as their acolytes bowed low intoning formal greetings to them.

“Hail Lord Apeiron the infinite,” they chorused.

“Hail Lord Eutonoyar the ephemeral,” they added.

“Hail the Lords of all life and death.”

“Where is the one who let the intruders escape?” demanded the younger looking of the two Lords. Two of the robed men brought another forward. He threw himself at the feet of his masters, begging for mercy.

He got none. The Lord stretched out a hand bearing a silver gauntlet and a ray of actinic white light enveloped the grovelling man. He screamed briefly before his body was reduced to a scorched pile of bones.

The other Lord stretched out his own gauntleted hand over the remains of the executed man. Chrístõ and Hext watched in astonishment as the body reconstituted itself, starting with the bone and then sinew and muscle and flesh. The body was living and self-aware before the skin finally covered it and he screamed in agony, but finally he was whole. He stood and a robe was put around his naked body.

“The punishment for failure is death – and then life with the memory of death’s agony seared upon the soul. Go, now, all of you, and search for the intruders. Bring them here alive.”

The hall emptied. Not even a token guard remained. Chrístõ and Hext looked at each other and then vaulted down from the gallery, landing heavily but without injury on the marble floor. The two Lords stared at them in surprise.

“Keep your gauntlets to yourself,” Hext said shortly. “You said you wanted us alive… well here we are. I am Paracell Hext, Director of the Celestial Intervention Agency of Gallifrey. This is my colleague, Chrístõ de Lœngb?rrow. And apparently you two are the lost Founding Fathers… unless you’re liars as well as senseless and cruel torturers.”

“I am Lord Apeiron, the Infinite,” said the one whose gauntlet could apparently restore life. “This is my brother, Lord Eutonoyar, the Ephemeral. Why do you not bow in our presence? Why do you not fear us? You know that we can destroy you.”

“Then go ahead,” Hext answered. “If that’s what you want us for, destroy, go on… do it. But if you really ARE Apeiron and Eutonoyar, two of the first great Time Lords of Gallifrey, then perhaps you would do us the courtesy of explaining why you talk of destruction when your lives should have been about creation, about the foundation of a great society. And why the casual cruelty we witnessed before?”

Neither of the Lords answered his questions, at least not directly. They turned to each other and spoke as if the two Gallifreyans were not in the room.

“One is born of a pure line,” Eutonoyar said. “The other… is much more interesting. His blood is mixed. But he doesn’t have any weaknesses. He is strong and powerful – more powerful than the other in many ways.”

“More powerful than us?” Apeiron questioned.

“He will be… one day… when he has gained experience. He has a dark destiny before him… dark and terrible… terrible… a burden upon his soul more dreadful than any man could bear….”

Chrístõ put up with only a little more of that before he interrupted the Lord of the Ephemeral abruptly.

“I am sick and tired of people going on about my destiny,” he said. “And I’m not going to listen to it from you. I don’t know if you ARE the real Apeiron and Eutonoyar or just a couple of imposters, but I’ve seen enough.”

“Chrístõ, steady on,” Hext told him. “These aren’t people you want to mess with.”

“No. You think you’ve been angry Hext. You haven’t seen angry until you’ve seen an emotional, irrational half-blood angry. I’ve been locked up, watched a man murdered for no reason, then brought back to life in the most painful and gruesome way - and now these two - talking about me as if I’m some kind of act in a variety talent show.”

“That’s what REALLY got you angry?” Hext was surprised. “There are so many reasons why I’m absolutely livid, but that isn’t even on my scanner.”

“It annoys me, even more than all of that rubbish about half-bloods and don’t get me started about that.”

“Silence!” Apeiron commanded them. Chrístõ and Hext turned slowly to look at him. “You will be quiet in our presence. You will kneel and beg for your lives.”

“We will not,” Hext answered. “We do not answer to you. We are Time Lords of Gallifrey – Princes of the Universe. We kneel before no man, not even you, no matter what you might threaten us with.”

Eutonoyar raised his gauntleted hand towards Hext.

“No!” Chrístõ yelled. He pushed Hext out of the way of the beam of deadly energy. He screamed in agony as the edge of the stream hit him in the side. Hext screamed in sympathy with him before rolling Chrístõ’s disturbingly still body away from him and springing to his feet much faster than the Lords Apeiron and Eutonoyar expected.

“You’ll pay for that!” he declared as he ran at the Lord of the Infinite and grasped his arm. He wasn’t at all surprised when his attack was met with strength and power, but his anger and grief gave him reserves of both that were more than a match for an immortal being who was unaccustomed to anyone challenging him. He wrenched the gauntlet from Lord Apeiron and thrust his own arm into it. He felt the strange artefact connect with his very soul and draw power from it – the power to do good or ill. He understood that much straight away. Both gauntlets could be used to kill, or used to give life. When he saw one of the Lords kill and the other restore life it had nothing to do with one being a murderer and the other a benign creator. They were both capable of both acts and did so on the slightest pretext.

In the fraction of a moment when he realised all of that Eutonoyar raised his gauntleted hand. Hext, still driven by his emotions and fortified by the deadly artefact’s influence got his shot in first. Eutonoyar fell to the ground. He didn’t turn to atoms, but he was obviously dead. Hext snatched the other gauntlet from his body and put it on his other hand before he turned and fired at Apeiron. The Lord of the Infinite fell to his knees, crumpling like a puppet with the strings cut. He wasn’t sure if he was dead, either, but he was certainly disabled for the moment.

There were acolytes running back into the throne room, but when they saw their Lords incapacitated and the stranger in possession of the gauntlets they backed away. Hext ignored them anyway as he knelt by Chrístõ’s side. He put the gauntleted hand over his friend’s forehead and closed his eyes, putting away all of the anger that had boiled in him for so long and concentrating all of his positive energy instead, focussing on life and renewal.

“Come on, Chrístõ. You’ve got to live. You’ve got to fulfil that destiny everyone goes on about. Wake up, you stubborn, emotional half-blood. My wife and your girlfriend will both have my guts for garters if I tell them you died saving my miserable life.”

“Shut up about my bloody destiny,” Chrístõ whispered. “And don’t call me a half-blood. You know I hate that.”

“Whatever you say, just so long as you’re back.”

“I’m back,” he said. “From… a place I didn’t expect to go to until I was a lot older than this. Ask me about it sometime… in a warm room, over a glass of my father’s single malt. But right now we have something to finish off.”

He stood up, holding onto Hext’s arm for a few dizzy moments. His eyes fixed on the two Lords. They were both alive. They stood upright before their thrones, apparently no worse for their own brush with death.

“You can’t die?” Hext asked. “You really ARE immortal?”

“I never die,” said Apeiron. That is why Rassilon banished me. Because I made myself immortal. My brother… He was punished in the same way for taking the gift of unlimited regeneration for himself. He dies every day and is reborn again.”

“Infinite and Ephemeral,” Hext noted. “Either way they can’t die.”

“Rassilon never wanted any of us to be immortal,” Chrístõ reminded him. “He gave us regeneration – but limited to twelve times. He knew that too much power would make tyrants of us and he placed those limitations on us. These two are proof of why he was right to do that.”

Apeiron nodded as if he had learnt the truth of that the hard way. But Chrístõ wasn’t ready to empathise with him.

“That being so, then your exile was deserved. But why didn’t you keep your distance? Why was the map allowed to exist – the map that led us here to you?”

He looked steadily at the two immortals. They were standing on their dais. He had to look up at them. Normally that would be a psychological disadvantage. He had often observed that in Penne’s throne room when arrogant barons and powerful military leaders bowed before him. But Chrístõ drew on that noble ancestry of his that was so often spoken of. He WAS a son of one of the Twelve Houses sired by Rassilon himself. The Creator of Time Lords was his forefather and he let himself speak with the authority of his lineage to these men who had once been Rassilon’s contemporaries and near-equals.

“We were banished to an empty wasted world,” Apeiron replied. “With only each other for company. Rassilon had his sons… but we had nothing except our reputation. The map brings young Gallifreyans to us, the followers of our cult. Tempted by the promise of immortality they come to share our gifts.”

“There are always fools with ideas above themselves,” Hext responded. “That’s why I have my collection of electronic whips for instilling some sense into them. But I’m not so sure those who seek immortality here get it. Did those acolytes look immortal to you, Chrístõ? Did they look especially powerful, beyond a cheap trick or two with melted blasters?”

“No, they didn’t,” Chrístõ agreed.

“That’s because we cannot give it to them,” Eutonoyar continued. “Even if we chose to do so. That power was never ours. Those who accept us as their Lords and Masters are permitted to stay and live at our command – becoming those ‘sons’ we were never to have any other way. Those who cannot accept that much are put to death lest they betray our secret.”

“And that’s it?” Hext asked. “That’s what the whole mystery is about? No wonder they say that immortality is a curse, not a blessing. You’re actually a couple of miserable, lonely old fools who ought to have been content with the peace of your graves long ago. The only power you really have is the fear you instil into your ‘sons’ through these infernal gauntlets. You’re really NOTHING.”

“Then that is a secret worth preserving,” Eutonoyar responded. “You will bow before us and become our sons or die.”

“You forget, I have the gauntlets,” Hext replied. “We’re leaving, right now. Anyone who tries to get in our way will die. Even you… If I kill you often enough it might work.”

There were some who tried. Hext killed them with one hand and restored them to life with the other as they made their way back to the transmat station. Chrístõ was shocked by the casual way he took and gave life, but he said nothing until they reached the hover car and put it into the fastest mode possible to return to the TARDIS.

“You enjoy torture too much,” he told him. “You’re a cruel man, Hext.”

“I have to be,” he answered. “I have to make people fear me. I couldn’t get the truth out of the traitorous scum in my cells otherwise. And we wouldn’t have got away back there if I let myself have any qualms at all about what I did.”

“Even so….”

Hext said nothing else about it until they were back in the TARDIS and he had programmed their return journey. He sat and examined the two gauntlets carefully for a long time.

“These are made of dwarf star alloy and imbued with artron energy. They are virtually indestructible.”

“I thought they might be,” Chrístõ said.

“I can’t keep them. I can’t have the power of life and death in my hands. Not in my line of work. And they cannot be kept anywhere on Gallifrey. There are too many who would want to use them in all of the wrong ways.”

Chrístõ thought of Epsilon. He would find endless pleasure in murdering and restoring victims over and over again.

“I can’t take them,” he said. “You can’t put the responsibility onto me.”

“I don’t intend to. There is only one place we can take them. And I mean ‘we’. The two of us will keep this secret until we are in our own graves. The ‘map’ can be destroyed easily enough. The legend of it will be harder, but I’ll start a whispering campaign that debunks it as an elegant hoax. That should convince all but the most fervent cultist that Apeiron and Eutonoyar don’t exist. If they’re stupid enough to go looking for what nobody else believes in then they deserve to be disappointed.”

Chrístõ agreed with that part of the plan.

“But where can the gauntlets be put where they’ll never be found and used by anyone ever again?”

There was only one place. Chrístõ and Hext had both been there once when they were very young boys. It was in the Valley of Eternal Night, deep in the mountains of Solace and Solitude. It was approached on foot through a narrow pass which was half dark even at midday. The Valley of Eternal Night was, as its name suggested, always dark. The stars shone from the brown-black sky. Flaming torches led the way to the greatest of all Time Lord artefacts – the Untempered Schism.

“We’re safe enough,” Hext said. “We’re both transcended Time Lords. There’s nothing within the Schism that can damage us.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Chrístõ answered. “When I came here as an eight year old… I ran from it. I looked into it and felt the universe filling every corner of my mind… and I was so terrified I ran almost the whole way back to the other valley before my mentor caught up with me and persuaded me to walk with dignity in front of my peers.”

Hext nodded.

“I fainted,” he admitted. “But we’re not eight years old, now. Come on.”

They stepped right up to the Schism. They felt the gap in the universe pull at their very souls. It would have been easy to give in to the compulsion to throw themselves in and become a speck of dust in the infinity of existence. But both resisted. The only things that went into the Schism were the ashes of a burnt map and two gauntlets.

“Dwarf star alloy can survive even in a rift in the universe,” Chrístõ pointed out when they turned away and walked back towards the sunlight. “It is possible they might turn up somewhere, on some planet.”

“Anything is possible. But the chances of them winding up on a planet where the sentient beings have four fingers and a thumb to put into the gauntlet are a billion, billion to one.”

“Maybe,” Chrístõ considered. “But billion, billion to one chances happen nine times out of ten.” Hext looked at him quizzically. “Never mind. It’s a joke. Come on. You still have to get me back to Beta Delta. I’ve got those essays to mark.”