'This is it...' said the Doctor, the first step under his foot, the second waiting. Ace hovered behind them, nervously eyeing the building before them.
'What's wrong, Ace?' asked the Doctor, gently resting his hand on her shoulder.
'I can feel something...' she said hesitantly, eyes brimming with fear.
'Mmm,' was all the Doctor would give as a form of reply, and started to walk towards the door; plain except for two brass numerals and a bright shiny handle reflecting the faces of streetlights and stars alike.
'Professor!' said Ace, bounding up the steps after the Time Lord. 'Wait for me...'
The Doctor removed his hat and gently rested his ear against the door in the hope of hearing any form of noise or movement. Nothing. He looked at Ace, who looked back, biting her lip anxiously. The Doctor replaced his hat and knocked three times on the door, a hollow echo on the tense air. The door opened slowly, light creeping out from the room beyond and into the deep shadows of midnight.
A figure stood in the doorway facing the Doctor and Ace, completely black seemingly because of the spreading curtain of light that burned behind him.
'Doctor?' came a voice from the shadow in the wave of brightness.
'Yes..is that John?' The Doctor tried to make out the man's features but couldn't see anything in the immense bottom of the ocean blackness.
'Yes..come in...' he stepped back into the room, allowing the Doctor and Ace to enter the flat.
'What time is it?' asked the Doctor, turning to look at the large clock, his eyes were captured by the curious cluster of thick shadows in the corner. Before he could open his mouth, a dark figure detached itself from the darkness, dragging a wave of blackness behind him. The man was dressed entirely in black, from his long black swept hair to the soles of his scuffed black boots. He lifted his head to look the Doctor straight in the eye. The Time Lord looked at the dark strangers' face and turned slowly to see that of John's. They were completely identical.
The hands on the clock face indicated the time to be 12.30.
'It seems I'm a little late...' the Doctor said, an apologetic smile haunted his face. He saw the mask of fear that danced in a sweaty fever over John's face. 'I'll soon sort all this out,' he said, adding in a hushed voice, 'Don't you worry.'
'Who's the geezer in black, Doctor?' Ace slowly moved her eyes between the two men and came to the conclusion that they were twins of some sort or other.
'It's a long story, Ace.' The Doctor answered, his view point gliding to the man in black.
'Well, Doctor, tell the child.' The dark figure smiled broadly, blue eyes glinting in the dark, far corner of the sparse room.
John, who had remained silent up to then, reached out and clutched the Doctor's coat sleeve.
'You've got to help me, Doctor, he won't leave.'
'I'll see what I can do, john. How long has he been here?'
'Since...12.00,' piped up the dark figure. 'The time you should have also arrived.'
'Oh shut up!' retorted the Doctor with a scowl written in his eyes. 'No-one is taking any notice of you.'
'Oh no? If that's the case, why is your friend here sweating so much?'
'Please, help me Doctor...' John's eyes held a pleading look words couldn't portray.
Ace had watched all of this with a bemused look. She let her rucksack slip off her shoulders and hit the floor with a dull thud.
'What's going on, Professor?' She pinned him down with a questioning stare, refusing to allow the Doctor to wriggle out of the way.
'Have you ever heard of the Dark Region? Or the Homeland?' he asked, knowing full well that Ace had not.
'Of course not...why, is that where that geezer comes from?' said Ace indicating the dark figure in black.
The Doctor nodded, 'Yes. The Homeland is that place what you humans would call 'hell'.'
'What? Do you mean some guy in red with horns sticking out of his head, living in a pit full of fire?' Ace's interests had picked up enormously at the prospect of seeing just what 'hell' was really like.
'No, no, no, that's just stupid human myth. The Homeland and more prominently the Dark Region is where everyone's darker side lives. You, me, everyone has a darker side to their nature in some shape or form. They congregate in the Homeland, where they suffer until they are accidently released.' His eyes flicked momentarily to the shady figure in the far corner. The figure grinned back.
Outside, huge billowing storm clouds crawled across the sky, the tangled twigs on the sand banks waited to be soaked by the ensuing rains from the clouds above, and as the Moonlit sky grew darker the rains fell.
The view from the small single window became blurred as the diamond sparkling rain-drops cascaded down it's surface and the Moon became nothing more than a mere smudge in the evening sky, distorted.
Ace's eyes remained fixed to the window, staring beyond the rain to the sea, the beam of the lighthouse moving in blurred circles. 'The cold sea must feel like the swirling winds,' she thought to herself, 'roaring from each and every direction at once...' She pulled away with a jerk, the train of thought forgotten, like a weak dream destroyed in the awakening.
'Are you ready to leave then?' asked the man in black, stepping forward towards the extremely frightened John.
'No! I refuse to go with you!' He seemed near collapse, his shirt soaked with sweat, his hair had become stuck to his forehead.
The Doctor walked a short distance across the room, standing between the shaking figure of John and the man from the Homeland, a defiant look blazing across his face. 'If you have to take John, take me too. That's why he asked me to come here in the first place - to make sure that justice is done.'
The man eyed the Doctor cautiously, brushing a loose lock of hair back from his eyes. The broad laughing smile reappeared. His eyes ran over Ace. 'To make sure you don't try to trick me, we'll all go.' As he spoke, he reached out to the brass handle and flung the door wide open, making everyone wince as the wind blew the hard rain in on them all. The lighthouse in the distance continued to swing in the night, far away. As the beam glanced round towards them and eventually pass across the room, an immense explosion ripped the room apart, an expanding fireball of light and heat filled the whole flat. The beam swayed on into the night, the fires died in the room, which was now cold and empty as the grey hull of a ship-wrecked vessel. Everyone who was standing in the room were now far, far away. Nowhere near the rain, nowhere near the damp sandy beach. They had all gone to the Homeland.
Dust rained in a fine powder over the wasteland that stretched into the distance in every conceivable direction. Tall tree-like weeds, brittle and dead, pointed their high, splayed fingers towards the heart of the burning sun, while the whole sky watched with pity at the figures lying in the fist of a loveless land; neglected and barren, an industrial graveyard; a tortured bombsite of fallen bricks and tombstone chimney stacks. Thick, evil, black smoke from the wild industrial bonfires crawled over the scene, plastic and aspixiating as it raged behind chain-link fencing. Chemical containers smouldered into dripping liquidity, their stench making the ravens in the tall trees cry even louder, before leaping into the air, casting an evil wing over the two unconscious forms.
Ace awoke first, coughing on a lung full of dust and smoke, her hair plastered with dirt, her eyes streaming. Her rucksack lay abandoned some twenty feet to the left of her. To her right lay the Doctor.
'Professor!' she tried to yell, the smoke making any use of vocal chords virtually impossible. She half stumbled, half crawled to the inert body of the Time Lord, whose umbrella stood in the ground like a sword, mere inches from his head. His hat sat forlornly on top of the red question-mark.
'Professor!' she repeated, shaking him by the shoulders. A small cough came from the face-down figure, and a little cloud of dust surrounded his head. He glanced up.
'Hello, Ace. Sorry about all of this...' He struggled to sit up, his whole body feeling like a segmented orange. He coughed again, and pulled the paisley decorated handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to Ace, who wiped her sore eyes thankfully.
'This is the Homeland, right?' she said, handing the material back to the Doctor.
'That's right. Lovely day, isn't it?' he said flippantly, brushing down his jacket with a small clothes brush. Once he finished he passed the brush to Ace. 'Where's John?'