As the party prepared to transport back to their TARDIS...
It was rather like gathering for a group photo: squinching into the space that the fourth Doctor indicated. He set the coordinates and timer, then ran to join them.
"Are you sure you know how to work this thing?" the avocado troll asked, under her breath.
"Have I ever not been perfectly adept in such matters?" the Doctor asked.
A few groans rose from the crowd.
"Yes. Well..." he conceded. "At least, this time we have Sailor Gallifrey on our side."
Our Hostess started to think about this when the "zzzippop!" interrupted her. It was like the world fell away from her, suddenly -- like stepping off the edge of a very large step you didn't know was there... only not just from under her feet, but from all around her. Almost as if the world were a bubble she was floating around in, and it just popped... ceased to exist.
It was a little better than the first time, though (when they were in the caves, watching the baby gryphon run for its mama), because now, she knew a little bit about what to expect. But still, she doubted it would ever be among her favorite experiences.
The first thing she was aware of, when the world came back to her, was the rough rocky ground under her feet. And then, she heard her guests exclaim and sigh, and ask each other if they were all right.
"There!" she heard the Fourth Doctor say. "I knew it wouldn't be a problem!"
"Oh," said the Third, "you can't fool me, you know. You were just as uncertain as the rest of us!" Then he chuckled.
It was then that she had the courage to open one eye, then the other. They were all in one piece. That was good. They were on Titan Three. And that was better. And her Circus Wagon TARDIS was in sight. That was better still. But it was in sight a long way off... There was going to be a long hike ahead, and they were already tired. She sighed. Well, she thought to herself. Three out of four isn't too bad.
She searched her pockets until she found what she wanted: her favorite gold and silver kazzoo. Perfect!
"Who wants to march in a Pro-Fun Parade?" she called out, then, not giving her guests a chance to say "no," she gave the order: "Follow me!"
And, putting the kazzoo to her lips, she led them on with as many jolly marches as she could think of, and a few more that she made up on the spot.
Then, as they came around an outcropping of rock, a huge, shadowy form prompted her to slow down and lower her kazzoo. She signalled the others to be quiet (not too difficult, since many were now too tired to show much exuberance) and pointed.
There, sheltered from the wind by the side of the mountain, lay the mama gryphon, licking her baby clean as it suckled.
The avocado troll smiled, reassured by this sign that peaceful, life affirming order was beginning to return to Titan Three after the Monitors' and Feeders' meddling.
Not long after, the Master parted company with the others. "I've parked my TARDIS around here, somewhere," he said. And he went off to look for it.
They came upon their circus wagon a little after sunset.
The avocado troll was relieved to see that Kid Curry's horse was there, too, standing on the leeward side, out of the wind. Perhaps, despite appearances, he could sense that this was where he had found the comfortable stall and a belly full of warm oat mash. Perhaps he sought (futilely, she thought, with a pang) the companionship of the android horses.
The sky grew a shade darker as Titan Three's sun sank another degree below the horizon. A cold wind kicked up. Our Hostess shivered. But they were there, together. She was home. "Come on, everybody!" she called out with fresh enthusiasm. "I think we all deserve a couple of rounds of hot chocolate to revive our spirits! I'll meet you in there in a second."
Like clowns into a clown car, her guests filed into the Circus Wagon.
Going over to Kid Curry's horse, she led him 'round back to his stall.
Perhaps, she thought, adding to her list of reasons how he'd found her TARDIS, under that ragged coat and world-weary eyes (despite being paired with a desperate and frightened outlaw), this nameless horse was a pro-fun creature himself. She hoped so.
"What do you say, boy," she said, rubbing his forehead where the hair came together in a little swirl (only, she noticed there were two swirls -- a sign of intelligence -- or madness), "You ever dream of running away and joining the circus?"
After he was settled in, she headed up to the bar to fix herself a double dark hot chocolate with whipped cream and cinnamon.
A thought occurred to her while she drank the chocolate.
'What about the other creatures in the Gods' - it was the Gods, wasn't it - zoo?' our hostess asked, putting the mug down.
'Assuming Fourth missed sending any home while he was trying to place us...' the Valeyard replied.
Fourth raised an eyebrow.
'Oh, shouldn't I have mentioned that?' the Valeyard said. 'Assuming any are still left, I'll take them home. They should have that much...'
'What about the gryphons?' our hostess wondered.
'Their homeworld was destroyed quite some time ago,' Second said sadly. 'We could take them back where they belong, but...'
'...they'd be destroyed shortly after they were returned.' our hostess realised.
'Let them live out their lives here,' Eighth said. 'This planet's been devoid of life - animal life - for far too long. Enough of their kind are here for them to start again. And there's enough space junk and debris to keep them going for... oh, the next few millennia.'
Our hostess looked confused.
'They're living metal,' Eighth explained, 'so they don't eat carbon. Kid's horse wasn't in any danger - they eat metal.'
'Of course,' our hostess realised. 'The gryphons simply wanted to be reunited and... oh...' She started grinning. 'Baby must have thought your sonic screwdriver was food...'
She thought (but didn't dare say it out loud) it was very good fortune indeed that the mama hadn't found the android horses....
Eighth ahemmed. 'Yes, well...'
Sixth grinned wickedly. 'Say, "old man"...'
'Oh no. Oh no...' the Valeyard said flatly.
'Still, it would be good to know someone was keeping an eye on them,' our hostess said. 'Make sure no-one tries to make them part of one of their..."zoos".'
The Valeyard looked at her, an eyebrow raised. 'You always manage to do that to me...'
'Everyone should be able to celebrate fun,' our hostess said. 'Including the gryphons.'
Slowly, the Valeyard smiled. 'Yes... Yes, you're right.'
"Besides," the avocado troll added. "This planet is now an official outpost of fun in this sector of the galaxy. And I can't think of anyone better to keep it up and running! I love your taste in whirligigs!"
She winked at him, and put another dollop of whipped cream into his hot chocolate.
'All aboard!' the deputy troll called.
'You're sure you'll be all right?' Fifth asked.
'Of course,' the Valeyard said. 'Things were getting... a little dull around here.'
'That's what we do best!' the hostess said. 'Challenging dullness and shaking up boredom by celebrating fun! And-'
'-It's what you're doing next.' the Valeyard said, smiling as he stepped down from the TARDIS. 'Good luck.'
'And to you,' our hostess said.
She pressed something into his hand.
Then she pulled herself over to the cartTARDIS' reins.
'Everyone on board?' she called.
'Ready to spread a little fun at the Psychic Circus?'
'Then... let's go!!'
The hostess cracked the android horses' reins, and they started to trot.
Then canter, then gallop.
As they sped up, the sound of a TARDIS' dematerialisation could be heard, echoing across Titan Three.
The cartTARDIS began to fade.
Until, with a final groan, it was gone.
The Valeyard smiled, and looked back at the gryphons.
'Incredible...' he murmured.
He looked down at what the hostess had pressed in his hand.
He smiled, and closed his hand over it again.
He sat watching the gryphons for a short time, as Titan Three's sky began to glitter with stars.
Then he reached for his crossword, and started filling it in.
'I wonder...' he mused, to no-one in particular. 'Where was that calliope music coming from...?'
Meanwhile, at the Hoedown...
'Hey, I've got this great recipe for hot chocolate!' Imran began.
'Oh no. Here we go again...' Allie murmured.
Alryssa chuckled, her feet resting up on a table. She was back to normal, if you could call wearing black go-go boots and a velvet black dress normal. Only those who knew her would notice the change; subtle but permanent.
Across the room, almost all the Doctors were busy debating on a topic that everybody else had given up on keeping up with by now. Eighth had wisely chosen to decline the discussion, and sat instead at the Muses table, nursing a pint of Guinness and joining in the lively conversation. He briefly caught her wandering eye, and winked back. She smiled.
"Are you going to introduce your Muse, or will she be nameless forever?"
The avocado troll was standing in front of her.
"Oh! Forgive me... I've been a little... preoccupied. This is Tessa."
The red-headed Muse shook the troll's hand.
"Preoccupied indeed," Tessa sniffed.
"Next time you have a universal crisis to deal with, I'll make sure you know that I'm being left out, OK?" Alryssa shot back.
"I'll bring out those pictures again."
"No! Not those... I won't be able to stop writing for weeks! And none of it will be publishable!"
"When is it ever?"
The troll shook her head, laughing, and continued to make her rounds as the party rolled on.
So, where exactly was the Psychic Circus, anyway?
She trotted up to the Seventh Doctor. "You said you'd been keeping an eye on Mags and Kingpin..." she ventured.
Seventh nodded. "Yes, indeed," he answered. "Took them awhile to get back on their feet," he added, "after the Gods of Ragnarok -- or 'Feeders' had done their damage, but those two really believe in what they're doing, and refused to give up."
"And now that they're strong again, the Feeders are back," Our Hostess concluded, sadly. "But you know where to find them, right?"
"They've moved on from Segonax, of course," he said. "After all, they started out as a traveling circus, before they got trapped by the Feeders at the dimensional well... So I don't exactly know where to find them, but I think I know how..."
"And that would be...?" she prompted.
"Kingpin had a medallion that protected him from the Feeders' powers. That medallion has certain dimensional properties..."
"And if we lock my TARDIS's homing device onto that dimensional signature," the avocado troll finished, "then we will be drawn right to him like a paper clip to a magnet!"
"Exactly!" Seventh said, nodding enthusiastically.
"So how do we do that?" the troll asked.
"Well, if we had something with similar properties, we could scan that signature into your TARDIS databanks."
"Hm. And if we don't?"
"Excuse me," Imran said, looking up from his typing, "but I think we do," and he told them about Kid's necklace.
"You mean," the troll asked, "he's starting to get his memory back?" She hadn't had a chance to talk to him since before they'd entered the Valeyard's meditation chamber.
"Well, sort of," Imran confessed. "He's remembered that he was on his way to meet someone called 'the Contessa', but he doesn't remember what he was going to tell her. It was the Contessa that gave him that bead."
"Shaped like an eye, you say?" Seventh asked.
"Hm. Just like the eye sygil on those kites."
Our Hostess was about to ask "What kites?" but that was a detail that could wait until later.
Right now, she had to talk to Kid, to convince him to let her borrow his charm, and maybe, by asking the right questions, jog his memory back on track. Soon, too soon, they were going to meet with the Feeders. And they needed to know their weak point before the confrontation.
"Imran," she said, "earlier, you said you had a theory about what Kid might have seen. Are you any more sure about that theory, now? Even if it's not exactly right, if I suggest it to Kid, it might help him remember what actually happened."
"Well," said Imran, "It's like this..."Previous chapter Next chapter