A face no longer shrouded in blackness stared back at them.
Two eyes dotted with inky pools for pupils peered at them, housed within the rounded face of a Gallifreyan female that barely passed as that of an adult. A weave of thick, black hair that glinted in the surrounding light spilled over her shoulders as the hood fell away. The Monitor held his breath for a moment, peering at the stranger with a stunned expression, as the revelation of her visage surpassed his expectation in appearance. He couldn’t help but feel somewhat captivated by her unexpected beauty, and found it difficult at first to take his eyes away from her.
“We’ve kept your memory alive for so long, Merriana,” the Librarian began, taking a step toward her. The Paladin lowered her rifle as a relieved smile spread across her face. “Preserved it from generation to generation on Gallifrey. We, the Coven of the Keeper, remember you for who you really are.”
The Monitor blinked, regaining his senses. She had been staring back at him with a demure, almost bashful smile, causing him to forget for a moment the entire predicament. “You mean this woman—this child—is the Keeper?” he asked in disbelief.
“I must admit, it’s not the name I chose for myself, but I am the one known by that designation, yes,” she replied, nodding.
“Impossible!” the Monitor snorted. “Even granting the possibility that the Keeper does exist—which I do not yet grant, mind you!—you, my child, look nothing like her depictions! The Keeper is a monster! A hag found in stories and fables told to our children in order to preserve integrity in their daily lives! For someone like you to—”
“Heart of gold, in goodness be bold,”
“—be compared with such a myth—”
“Hold fast to the right and the true,”
“—is… I’m sorry?”
“Lest your soul be sold, and a tattle be told, and the Keeper one night comes for you,” Merriana finished. “That’s the way the rhyme goes, yes?”
The Monitor furrowed his brow. “Of course!” he exclaimed. “Nearly every Gallifreyan child hears it in their earliest years! Why wouldn’t you know it?”
“My lord,” the Paladin offered, “may I remind you that she is Time-Locked?”
“And in the Void as well?” the Librarian added. “Merriana is the Keeper, my lord Monitor. And as you can plainly see, she is not a myth, but lives and breathes as we do.”
“I don’t know if I would say that,” Merriana interrupted. “After all, I have had to make lifestyle changes, as there are limitations to my existence in this place.”
“And speaking of that, exactly how and why are you in the Void like this, my child?” the Monitor inquired.
“I was banished here, sir.”
“Banished? For what reason?”
“Because I tried to undo what I had done,” she replied, her voice barely above a whisper. “I had done something horrible, something terrible upon Gallifrey. And when I tried to undo what I had done, others prevented me from my attempt to make penance for my transgression.”
“Child,” the Monitor said, moving beside her, “you can’t be more than a year into adulthood. Surely there is nothing you’ve done that cannot be fixed. I can’t imagine any Gallifreyan authority taking such a drastic action as exile into the Void for a single individual such as yourself! What evil could you have done that earned you this terrible sentence?”
“She changed the course of the planet’s development, my lord,” the Paladin remarked. “So villainous and repulsive did they find her that she was removed from the pages of Gallifrey’s history. Search for her records high and low on our planet, and you’ll find no trace of her existence, save for the Coven.”
“Indeed,” the Librarian agreed. “Our founder, Pelegas Transel, was there the day sweet Merriana was banished. He recorded everything that happened that day, hid it away even after the authorities gathered together after the exile and ordered that none should ever talk or write of this matter ever again under penalty of sharing the same fate. He passed it on to his disciples, who in turn copied the things recorded and spread them among our people, thus giving birth to the Coven of the Keeper. He preserved the truth even when those who did away with it invented the distorted fables and rhymes told even today that make our beloved Keeper into some kind of monster, which she plainly is not.”
The Monitor circled his traveling companions, exchanging looks with them and Merriana as he answered. “Forgive my skepticism, madam,” he began, “but while I’ve seen great good and great evil manifested at the level of the individual, I find it hard to believe that you pose any sort of threat level worth the sentence of exile. And as for the two of you, for you to follow the words of Pelegas Transel is even more incredulous! Pelegas Transel was one of the first to go mad upon gazing into the Time Vortex!”
“Not true, my lord,” the Paladin answered in a timid voice.
“What do you mean?”
“Pelegas Transel did not go mad when he looked into the Time Vortex, my lord.”
“Ah, Pelegas,” Merriana sighed. “A good friend, he was. Always lent an ear when I needed to talk and the rest of the planet thought I’d lost my mind.”
“Are you both daft!?” the Monitor scowled, ignoring the stranger’s comment. “It’s as plain a truth as can be found in the annals of the Citadel! Pelegas Transel was among those responsible for the initial construction of the Vortex, and went mad after gazing into it unsupervised! This is taught to every child in the introduction to Gallifreyan history!”
“Pelegas was as sane and level-headed a fellow as ever there was,” Merriana announced. “If the three of you will accompany me, I can explain everything to you along the way.”
“Nonsense!” the Monitor bellowed. “I want an explanation now! No more talk of fantastic conspiracies about our history; this is not why I came! Now tell me, my child: how is it that you claim to know so much about one of our earliest historical figures and speak of him as if he were your peer when you obviously have no means to travel about where you wish?”
“I claim to know, sir, because I was there,” Merriana replied, her voice carrying a hardened edge. “And I speak in such a way because I take responsibility for the filching of his good name, as he came to my defense when I renounced what I had done with regard to the Time Vortex.”
“What do you mean by what you had done!? You telling me that you had a hand in the construction of the Vortex, child?”
The raven-haired woman glared at the Time Lord. “First of all,” she began, her voice now raised and without fatigue, “I am not a child, Monitor. Or should I call you by your proper name, Vallas Risidor, son of Telos?”
The Monitor’s face changed from anger to shock. “How could you—?”
“Oh yes, Vallas. I’ve watched you from the time of your youth. I know you are on your third regeneration, and have been secretly hoping that you will be given political favors from those in power once Gallifrey is restored. I know you were married twice, have a son and a daughter from your second marriage, and that you’re considering a third marriage with Time Lady Bethine.”
Merriana glanced at her two disciples, who looked on with a mix of admiration and surprise. “Shall I continue with other, more sordid details of your life? Perhaps say something about the failed negotiations with the Sontarans during the Andromeda dispute? Would you like to share with your colleagues here exactly whose fault it was that those negotiations failed?”
“No!” the Monitor exclaimed, “No! That’s—that’s enough! Please! I’m sorry… Forgive me my insolence!” he looked at the Librarian and the Paladin, looked away again upon seeing their inquisitive expressions. “You’ve said enough, Merriana. I will challenge you no more on this.”
The young Gallifreyan woman’s face relaxed. “Thank you,” she answered in a low tone. “I take no pleasure in arguments, Monitor. I did that many a millennium before you were born. Now, as I said, please follow me, and I will be happy to explain more.”
The Keeper turned toward the direction from which she had initially come. “And as for your other question about my having a hand in the construction of the Time Vortex, Monitor, that too is not quite correct.”
“How so?” the Monitor murmured.
“Because I am the reason for the existence of the Time Vortex.”