"What do you mean the zombies have grooved off?" cried Gordon.
Saville shrugged helplessly. "They just kind of danced their way out of the caravan and they're out there somewhere..." He indicated toward the wide open spaces before them.
"Well, we'll just have to improvise."
"Eh? What are we going to do now?"
"Well, we're going to..."
"I'm sorry?" asked the man on the throne.
"Yes, although I must admit my old friend, you made a most magnificent attempt to stop me."
"...and now you rule this world."
"Yes, and your point is?"
The figure dismissively brushed a few specks of dust from the shoulder of his dark red velvet suit. His dark face was broken up by a dazzling smile.
"You know, I never actually planned that far ahead? I have a world of my own.
"I just don't care anymore. I'm bored. they always said it wasn't so much the winning as the taking part. They were right. I have this," he indicated the sceptre of office. "But it really means nothing."
"Here," he handed over the sceptre. "Find someone. Someone who'll do right by this planet. I don't need it." He shook his head in realisation. "After all these years of trying to gain power, I don't need it..."
"What are you going to do?"
The suited man looked up. "I have no idea. My purpose is gone. Maybe I'll return home, face the consequences of my previous actions."
"There is an innocent civilisation in danger of being made extinct. A small world by the name of Lave. One of their archæological teams has disturbed a temple of the Shin Ra and you know what that means."
"The Shin Ra will claim rights of genocide against the trespassers."
"Go there, make a difference, play the game, play to win. You win that battle and there will always be another. That is the path I took."
"And you've travelled that path well my friend. Very well indeed."
"Why thank you."
"I've always wondered what it was like to be on your side of the war."
He grinned. "Let's see whether a leopard really can change his spots!"
Gordon and Saville stood there...
"What the bloody hell was that?" asked Saville as he looked around for someone to blame.
"It's been happening quite a bit recently. Flashes from what I thought were my fictional echoes from other streams. But I didn't recognise that one..."
They jumped as they heard anguished screaming from a nearby tent, followed by evil laughter. They both scrambled over to the entrance of the tent and flung the cover open.
All eight of him.
Auntie Krizu stood in front of them with a feather duster in her hand and a big grin on her face. Yokoi stood behind her, shaking her head in disbelief.
Gordon walked in, dragging Saville behind him. They took in the scene. They boggled.
"And exactly what are you up to Auntie, as if I coudn't guess..."
Trying to look innocent (and failing) she turned round and looked straight at Gordon.
"Someone said something about wondering who let the Gods out?"
"Who? Who? Who? Who?!?!" shouted the Voord.
Gordon turned to the Voord, "I warned you about spontaneous singalongs earlier didn't I?"
The Voord all sneaked back into the corner of the tent and sulked.
"Nobody takes us seriously..." one muttered.
Gordon turned back to Krizu, "You were saying?"
"Of course, we immediately suspected one of these men, these fine, devilishly handsome men, well, not the decayed ones obviously...and the ones without beards of evil™..."
"Ah yes, so I tied 'em all up and tickled them to find out whether any of them let the Gods out."
Saville turned to the Voord. "Don't even think about it..."
"None of them did it."
Yokoi laid a hand on Gordon's shoulder. "She's right, I would have known if any of them were lying. It wasn't them."
"Great, back to square one. Everytime we think we know who's responsible for this, we're wrong or there's someone else behind the person we think it is."
He turned to Saville, "Go and see if you can find any of the zombies will you? I need to ask Auntie a favour."
Saville strode out of the hut, dragging a couple of Voord along to help him.
Krizu looked perplexed. "You want me to do something for you?"
"Yes, have you ever wanted to play the..."
Have you ever wondered what the edge of the universe looks like?
The smartly dressed figure looked at the sight in front of him. And endless sea of darkness, filled with deep static shadow. He lit a match, which threw light over his sharp, angular face. He could just see his two friends, the match light fluttering around their concerned faces.
~ How long have we been here? ~
"Seconds, hours, days, weeks, months, years? Time doesn't even exist here anymore."
"At least there's a ground," piped up a voice from below. "I don't think I could handle floating in nothingness..."
"We thought what we were doing would trap them. But instead we unleashed them on other worlds."
~ Do you think he managed to follow them? ~
"Well, he was pulled in with them. I'd imagine he and Justine may have arrived in the same universe. If they didn't, they may have managed to track them. I think Ship was still functional."
"Ours isn't..." muttered the voice from below.
"No, the old girl used the last of her power bringing us back to some semblance of reality. Poor thing. She may never recover."
~So we are trapped?~
"I'm afraid so, unless something absolutely extraordinary happens."
Gordon, Yokoi and Krizu shook their heads, clearing the visions from their eyes.
"That's twice in half-an-hour that's happened." said Gordon.
Yokoi groaned. "What was that? Who were they?"
"I don't know. I thought I recognised one of them, but I can't be sure. I keep feeling my ideas and inspirations falling away from me. Is that the Gods? I know it's not Yokoi."
Yokoi managed to smile. "Thanks..."
"Well, it's not." He gave her a hug. "Where others teeter on the brink of creativity, we go bungee jumping!"
He grinned disarmingly. "Now, we've had a little change of plan regarding our act..."
"Here zombies! Heeeeeeeeeere zoooombiiiiiiies!"
Saville and the two Voord he'd taken out with him scoured the landscape for any sign of the circulatory challenged dancers.
Saville turned at the sound of the cheery voice. He saw a young woman with dayglo red hair running toward him. She looked tired and out of breath, obviously she'd run quite a distance to get here.
"I'm Justine. I was wondering if you've seen any big, evil, godlike entities around here?"
"Any in particular, or just in general?
"Well, we're looking for the Gods Of..." she leaned forwards and whispered in his ear. "r..a..g..n..a..r..o..k"
Saville dejectedly pointed towards the main circus tent. "In there."
"What are they doing?"
"I don't know, trying to destroy the universe or something. I thought the Doctor had trapped them forever, but some idiot let them loose."
Saville saw the reaction on Justine's face. "You know who did it don't you?"
"Well, yes, no. Kind of."
"What do you mean kind of?"
"Things aren't as simple as you think..."
"Are they ever?"
"Nobody unleashed the Gods. They're still trapped. Trapped until death comes to time."
"Then what what are the things in there? John-Scott Martin, Terry Walsh and Pat Gorman?"
"Those, my young friend are the Gods of Ragnarok!"
Saville spun round to see a tall, dark skinned man behind him. He wore a dark red velvet suit, black gloves and held a cigar in one hand. The moonlight shone off his bald head, a neatly trimmed goatee framed a mouth full of bright teeth. But his eyes. They were eyes you could look at and fall into, those eyes could make you do anything, anything...
"Only thing is, they're not your Gods of Ragnarok. They're ours."
Imran looked around the wings.
Alryssa was still concentrating on the Tarot cards, Tessa watching a little nervously.
The hostess was nowhere to be seen; he rather suspected he knew where she'd gone. And right now, if he was right, she didn't need to be disturbed.
Gordon was outside with Saville, and the zombies - although, from the shouts he could hear...
Nyctolops was with Cameron, and...
He turned around.
Allie's grey eyes were red, puffy with tears. Her robes hung around her, dulled and lifeless.
'You bastard.' she repeated.
'They were the ones who tried to trap you...'
'You reminded me,' she continued, apparently not listening. 'You reminded me.'
Imran didn't say anything.
'The music. You asked me about the music, and I didn't know.
'I. Didn't. Know.
'And then...' A tear started trickling from her eye. 'And then... and then you gave it back to me. Xeffy. Mum. Dad. Everything. You gave it all back to me.'
'EVERYTHING!!' Allie roared. 'I... Xeffy wailing her head off as Mum gave her to me, introduced her to big sis, Dad getting me the kiddie videos I said I'd never watch, but I did, hitting the karaoke clubs with Yokoi... M-mum...
'Mum fading away, and... she took his hand, she took Dad's hand, and...
'She used to take... she used to take Xeffy and me down to the beach, did you know? It was fun... burying Xeff up to her neck in sand, slipping seaweed down her back... sharing the ice cream with Xeff when hers dropped onto the sand... paddling in the ocean...'
'I... I... Calliope... I...
'I don't want her to die. I don't want my baby sister to die, do you know?! I DON'T...'
Allie shook. 'I don't want Xeffy to die. Not like Mum...'
'No...' Imran whispered quietly. 'No. We're not going to let that happen.'
Author and Muse turned around.
The giantess stood behind them, tall as a tree, her face obscured by her silvery, spiderwebbed cloak.
Only a shadow, Imran thought madly. Only a shadow. If she really were here...
I am here. I walk wherever memory exists, wherever life exists.
And now I stand audience, to remember this.
Woven from a strand of my cloak, woven alongside the robe. Granted to you, that they may be put to use.
'Firstmother...' Allie whispered.
Alisandra, I must ask your forgiveness.
Allie simply looked at the Titan of Memory, wide-eyed.
The body's memory is also mine. In granting you the robe... your body remembered what it had been, answering to my touch. You are a year younger - in body - than you were.
'Wh...I...I...' Allie's voice petered out.
'The illusion?' Imran breathed.
That was the Robe's doing. Once of memory, it touches memory, inspires through memory. Inspired you to remember her. Catalysed her memory's return.
'Inspiration...' Allie whispered.
'N-no.' Allie finally got out.
You are a true Muse, in heart and soul. You have served beyond, and far beyond, what any of my daughters would ask of their students, of their pupils, for your Writer. Never forget.
Xephanya is safe. It might have been imagination, but a smile flickered across her face. Complaining, somewhat confused... but safe.
'That's Xeffy...' Allie's expression was that of a girl who's just passed through the sea of panic, and was now paddling on the other side.
And now... the Titan said, the challenge begins once more. May you be granted good fortune.
A moment later, her presence no longer stood before them.
'She..' Allie's voice came from far away. 'She asked... She asked me...' She started giggling hysterically. 'She asked me for forgiveness. She asked me! Mnemosyne asked me for forgiveness...!'
'Come on, laughing girl.' Imran said, grinning almost in hysterical unison with her. 'Time to get back in the ring...'
As Imran guided Allie back, Tessa coming up to take her other arm...
... no one noticed Allie's robe, flowing and shifting with colour once again, once more alive.
Once more awakened.