Blair grinned as she looked at the tiny Christmas tree in the corner of the Alcove, its multicoloured lights glowing. She kicked at the scrunched-up balls of wrapping paper, then leaned back and sighed.
'I'm so happy,' she said.
'It is rather enjoyable to be able to combine our traditions and celebrate,' the Master said.
Blair nodded and studied the twill weave in her cape again. It was so beautiful and complicated, and she still couldn't believe the Master had given it to her. She stole a glance at him and noticed he was smiling proudly at the open tea caddy with all its various tea sachets standing up inside.
'Do you have any special stories about Otherstide?' Blair asked. 'Or....I don't know....some kind of folk tale?'
'Hmm....' The Master frowned and thought for a minute, then smiled.
'I do, in fact!
'Many centuries ago, the Scendelean House of Defra - a disreputable, mercenary House, kidnapped one of the Cerule students from the Academy. She was specialising in politics, and wished to become the next Lady President, but they did not want that, as they wanted one of their own cousins to wear the Sash of Rassilon.'
Blair shivered; excited. She scooted closer to the Master, and he put an arm around her.
'So they took her from her studies and locked her in a tall wooden tower....'
And in that tower, there was only a food machine, and a book on pigrat biology. Zinaria - that was the student's name, Blair - hated pigrats with a passion, and couldn't stand to even look at the book, so she hid it behind the food machine and had nothing to read. She was very lonely in the tower, and wanted to go back to her studies, but no matter how she tried, she could not find a way out.
Every day, she watched out the window, which was too high to jump from without risking death - and she had not gained regenerative capabilities yet - and hoped she could somehow find a passerby and call to them for help.
Day after day she watched, and no one came. No one, that is, until a strange creature flickered in and out of reality two days before Otherstide. She could not quite tell what the creature was, only that it was large, and hovering in the sky, and the colour of Patrexi robes.
The next day, she watched the same spot again, and flickering into reality for longer today, was the same creature, now visibly a Vortisaur, and riding on its back was a strange humanoid with a strange face. It stayed there for one microspan, and then disappeared again. Zinaria simply sighed and turned back to her food machine, for what else could she do?
The next day was Otherstide, and Zinaria wept for the plans she'd had of spending it with her friends at the Academy.
Then there was a strange sound behind her, and she turned to see a package on her floor. With a gasp of surprise, she dashed over to it and picked it up. There was a note attached.
Zinariadilasetra, this is the first in seven gifts
for Otherstide. When they are all in your
room, they should be able to help you escape.
Zinaria opened the package, trembling. She was grateful, but rather confused when she only found a book inside, on temporal mechanics. But there were seven days in Otherstide, and she was determined to wait through them to see through her escape.
The next day, around the same time, as she was reading the book, another package materialised. It was two oddly shaped pieces of metal; more baffling than the last present. She stayed awake the whole night studying them, and had just put them down in despair the next morning when three long pipes, the kind used to build things; two straight; one curved, materialised in her room with a bow tied around them.
The next three days, she recieved four pieces of clothing made of some unknown, metallic material, five boxes that seemed to glow when you opened them, and six small screws that she had no idea how to use.
On the seventh day, when she was all but despairing of her escape, a small package materialised; the smallest yet, and she opened it to find a note inside, with seven words on it:
Turn to page number three-hundred to escape.
Perplexed, Zinaria looked on page three-hundred, and there, to her astonishment, found specific directions for making a wormhole to the Vortex. She stared at all the parts scattered around her, and then back at the book, and set to work.
When she was finished, she stood back and admired the tall metal frame, surrounded by glowing boxes funneling artron energy into it. She looked down at the metallic clothes and wondered if they were for protection against the wilds of the Vortex. Better safe than sorry, she thought, and put them on. She was quite delighted that they were even in her chapter colours, with a large seal of Rassilon on the hood. And then, without even looking behind her, she strode through the frame.
Suddenly she was falling, only stopped at the last moment from tumbling into infinity by a hand around her wrist, which soon pulled her up onto the back of a large, purple Vortisaur. She gasped when she realised it was the same one that had materialised outside her window, and on its back was the humanoid with the strange face.
'Who are you?' she asked.
'I am Saralonista,' the humanoid replied. She noticed they were wearing clothing similar to her own, only in a vivid Prydon red. 'I have been sending the packages to you; I tried to materialise outside your window and rescue you, but there was a barrier around your tower, and Yanti and I could not come through. So we sent you smaller packages so you could come to us.'
'Thank you ever so much; you have no idea what this means to me,' Zinaria said. Then she paused, almost afraid to ask, but she did. 'Why is your face so strange?'
'It is a long story,' Saralonista said. 'And one I can tell you in the future. But I must ask you first - will you return to your Academy, or would you like me to show you the wonders of the Vortex first - and maybe then....the Universes!'
Zinaria was delighted; she had never dreamed she would be able to experience anything beyond Gallifrey, and she heartily accepted. She decided she would return to the Academy eventually, but no one ever knows if she did. For all anyone knows, she and Saralonista and Yanti are still traveling amidst the dimensions today.
'That's beautiful....' Blair mumbled after a moment.
The Master waited for her to ask what happened to them next; he was certain she would, but then after a long pause, he looked down and saw she had fallen asleep, smiling happily. He laughed softly, and looked away, at Blair's small Christmas tree.
'Happy Otherstide, Blair,' he said. 'And sweet dreams.'