The avocado troll has just awoken from a long-overdue rest...
Sandra noticed her approach first. "Feeling better?" she asked.
"Much," Eloise said, nodding. She drew nearer, and saw Alryssa's tarot cards spread before them. "...Must follow the cards..." she murmured, remembering the last image of her dream, with the urgency, the panic that went with it rising within her.
"If we can link these to the Sweetheart's coordinate system," Eighth said, as if reading her thoughts, "we should get there at precisely the right moment -- maybe even before the Odd Trio arrive."
"Hm... With Curry's charm," Eloise said, "we dipped it in the console water trough. Try that with the cards, and Alryssa would have my tail!" and a smile crept to her lips.
"Still, we can figure out a way -- both the TARDIS and the tarot rely on a symbolic language system. The trick is to get those two very different systems to mesh with each other." She hunched down to join the circle and figure out what to do -- and remembered the opening image of her dream: roses, sunlight, sapphire sky, emerald green lily pads, and the melancholy beauty of love.
'I should know this...'
'I'm a phantasm. I should know this,' Sandra said. 'Symbolism...'
'Mathematical symbols and representational symbols. Each card represents a greater meaning... and so do numbers.'
'Use the numbers of the cards?' Third suggested.
'No... I think I know how...' Eloise murmured. 'Follow the cards...'
'Cardcaptor?' Sandra wondered.
'Interpreting it through the person she is linked to,' Eloise murmured. 'Interpreting it through me. Letting the cards speak for themselves. Translating those symbols, using me as the translator. Sharing them with her, letting her see them. Someone to share with, through our connection. Have to be careful it doesn't get too deep, though... Clarity. She needs to see it with a clear eye.'
'Using your connection to Sweetheart to allow her to see the cards,' Eighth said quietly. 'To enable her to interpret them in her way...'
'If that's what it means...' Eloise murmured.
She shook her head, remembering how silent the "cards" had been in her dream . "If only I'd studied the Tarot. The cards are as much a foreign language to me as they are to Sweetheart."
"You never studied..." Sandra began.
Eloise smiled wryly. "Amazing, isn't it? They're almost as ubiquitous as the daily horoscope, and I've barely run across them. But my home is in a marsh -- even the dry bits aren't, very. Not a good place for an oracle based on paper." She bit her lower lip. But all oracles are pretty much based on intuition, right? And you can use one oracle to interpret another..."
She shed her ringmaster's coat, and started digging around the pockets of her fishing vest, which she still wore, underneath. "I know it's here somewhere..." she said. "Ah! Here we are!" and she pulled out an old, clothbound book, with a bright yellow cover. Its pages were all warped, and there was a faint green tinge on their edges. "The I Ching," she explained. "My oracle of choice."
"I thought you said paper-based oracles didn't work for you." Sandra said.
"Well, it's still readable, and besides..." she paused, in order to devote attention to the hunt through her pockets. "... the real mechanism of the I Ching are ... these." And she dropped three bright pennies onto the ground before them.
"So how shall we begin?" she asked. "Can we recreate Alryssa's original spread -- the one she used to create the web?"
'Oh, that's simple...' Sandra said.
'She laid each card out one by one, in numerical order. The Fool, then the Magician... 0, 1, 2, 3...'
'Up through 22,' Eloise said. 'She used all the cards?'
'Hmm. Number of ways we can do this. The 'I Ching' can be interpreted as a binary system... but somehow, I don't think we have time for 23 hexagrams. So... what I think will work is if I throw one hexagram, use it to interpret - divine - Alryssa's Tarot spread, then let Sweetheart interpret that...' Eloise chuckled. 'It's almost like a game of Chinese Whispers. You whisper something to one person in a group, and by the time it gets back to you, it's become something completely different.'
'Let's hope not too different...' Sandra cautioned.
Eloise nodded. 'We do want to get there - in time, and in place.
'So here goes...'
She jingled the pennies in her hand for a second, ready for the first toss. Then she paused.
"What is it, now?" Sandra asked, her impatience showing (and no wonder, she was a shadow separated from her source).
It was the First Doctor who answered. "Divining with the I Ching," he said, "isn't just a matter of tossing coins at random. A question must be asked, first."
"A very specific question," Fifth continued. "And it has to be the right one."
"Same is true of the Tarot, no?" Eloise asked. "At least, normally," she answered herself. "But not in this case. Alryssa wasn't questioning, she was creating -- that's why she didn't draw the cards at random. And we aren't questioning either, really. We're trying to create a link with her creation." She looked up at the Eighth Doctor, who still had Alryssa's deck in his hands. "Recreate her spread," she told him, "lay out the cards the way she had them, so that I can see them. I don't have to understand it; I just need something stable to focus on while I throw the coins."
Eighth complied. Starting with The Fool, he put down each card in turn, going clockwise in a circle. With each soft snapping of the cards, Eloise felt the space around them tighten, as if it were a drum head pulled taught with one cord at a time. She watched the Doctor's hands, watched the images slip through his fingers, with rapt, yet detached attention. She could almost see the threads of energy emanating from each one, as taught and as fine as the strands of a spider's web.
Alryssa, Imran, Gordon, and their three muses, were at the other ends of those strands; their actions -- their very presence, was causing that web to vibrate. Those vibrations would influence the way Eloise's pennies fell, which in turn, would create a pattern that Sweetheart could read, if it could be recorded.
Without taking her eyes from the cards, Eloise reached into another pocket, and pulled out a small rectangle of copper -- polished bright as a mirror, and set it on the ground before her.
Finally, the circle of cards was complete. The figure on the first card, labelled "The Fool" was looking straight into the eyes of the figure on the last card, "The World" (or rather, straight into one set of eyes -- on the last card: the main figure, oddly, had two faces). In that meeting, there was no doubt that the circle was complete.
Eloise took a deep breath, and tossed the three coins down at once: Two tails and a head. With one sharp fingernail, she made a mark like this on the copper plate:
, and right beside it, another one:
The second throw produced three heads; Eloise scratched a second line above each of the first two, like this:
With each toss -- in the moments when they were waiting for the coins to come to rest -- she could feel the vibration of the web, and she knew that the coins felt it, too. It was as if the two oracles were dancing with each other, and both were responding to the deep, silent energy patterns of the Omniverse.
After six throws, she had two hexagrams scratched into the copper plate, like this:
"Right," she said, heaving a sigh. "That's it, then. Let's hope this works." She picked up the copper plate, and maybe it was her imagination, or maybe it was real, but it seemed that she could feel it thrumming a little.
Eighth scooped up Alryssa's cards, and returned them to their velvet pouch.
"Let's wake the others," Eloise said. "It's time we were on our way."
A short time later:
Eloise stood at the water-trough console -- the copper plate balanced lightly on the fingertips of her two hands -- meditating on the meaning that emanated from the two abstract images before her. The first image: Water under the Lake, not in the lake: the lake drained, just like they all were, after what they'd been through. The second image: The Mountain under the Earth -- ("And the Valleys shall be exalted, and the Mountains shall be made low... and the Lion shall lie down with the Lamb") -- the center point, where all things are equal -- where the Odd Trio was waiting for them. The first image changed into the second image, as inevitably as day turned to night, or as calm turned to storm, and the storm spent itself out and returned to calm.
Eloise took a deep breath. Once she let the plate go, there was no turning back. "Okay, Sweetheart," she said, "let's do this." She lowered her hands into the trough, so that the plate was resting flat on the surface of the water. Then she slid her fingers away, and the plate, almost buoyant, but not quite, drifted down like an autumn leaf undisturbed by wind, to rest on the bottom. Sweetheart's console hummed, and the time rotor, high in the rafters overhead, stirred to life.
She let out a sigh, and set about seeing what she could do for supper (circus fare of popcorn, cotton candy, and corndogs could only take them so far).
Eloise, in the role of Our Hostess once more, went among her guests, distributing bowls of thick, spicy vegetable soup and pumpernickel rolls.
They were all trying to make a party of it -- not the dancing, bouncy type of party it had been before, certainly -- but attempts were still being made to have conversations, share stupid jokes, play charades. But the whole thing felt out of balance without the Odd Trio there. And as much as they wanted to simply bask in the glory of their victory over the Gods of Ragnarok, they all knew another battle, perhaps even a harder one, lay before them.
Finally, there was only one guest left to serve. So where was Kid Curry, anyway? Had he decided to stay behind on Jubilganzia, after all?
She searched out the stables in the back. His brown was there, munching contentedly on oats one of her deputies put out for him. But Curry wasn't there. Still, the presence of the horse meant that he was somewhere in the TARDIS.
She quieted her mind, and, as when she had searched him out in the zero room, she let Sweetheart guide her. It was different, this time, though. Back when Sweetheart had taken on the form of an organic, mammalian creature, her mind had been more organic, too... more like Eloise's own. Now that the TARDIS had reverted back to its resting -- natural -- state in the vortex, its mind was more alien -- not primitive -- just different.
She found him in her meditation chamber, where she and he and the Doctors had met when the trouble first started. He was sitting hunched over the table, resting his weight on one elbow while he added to the doodles she had scratched there herself when she needed to think, carving them in with his pen knife. He was so focussed on the patterns he was carving that, for the first time, he didn't even look up when she approached.
She slid the bowl of soup over to him. Still, no reaction. She was about to turn to go when he spoke up.
"Going back to Vortex City, when this is over," he said flatly.
"All right," she said, hoping her disappointment didn't show. "If that's what you want, we'll figure out how to get you there."
He scoffed. "'Want' ain't got nothin' to do with it. Bein' an outlaw -- it's the only thing I know. And that's the only place left for an outlaw like me."
She pulled herself onto a chair beside him. "That's a lie," she said, sternly. "And you know it. You had a lifetime of knowledge before taking that path. What about when you were three," she offered, reaching for a common, comforting experience of life, no matter what world someone was from, "with your mother in the kitchen fixing dinner --"
He flinched -- turned his head away. His mouth hardened, as though she had slapped him across the face. "Ma's dead," he said at last, through clenched teeth. He gripped the pen knife tight until his knuckles whitened. "Drowned when I was nine. She made a turn down the riverbank, and the wagon we were in --" He stopped, his voice cut off by the strength of the memory, then started again, as though trying to beat it back by sheer force of will: "The river wasn't deep, but the current ..." and finally gave up. His shoulders slumped, and he resumed his carving.
His words hit her like a punch to the solar plexus -- 'the wagon we were in' -- 'we'... 'She made a turn down the riverbank' ... Eloise shuddered. She herself had come from a family of mountain-river trolls. She knew too well what a river could do. Her great uncle lived in a gorge where he could skip boulders into the river and watch them dance. He was one of the Nasty Trolls, and would lure travelers into the current to their death. She remembered the fights she'd have with him, about it: the insults from him, and the hot, angry, helpless tears from her when words could take her no further.
When the time finally came to make a home for herself, she vowed that she would be different. She would help the lost travelers, granting what boons and magic she could in return for a polite word and a bit of shared bread -- which she would transform into a feast. As time went on, she'd look forward to these chance meetings (and the laughter and stories that went with them) until at last she became a traveler herself.
Before, though -- even though she knew that what her great uncle did was wrong, she never really put herself in the victims' place. Until now. She tried to imagine what it must have felt like: mother and son together one minute (Was the sun shining? Were the birds singing?), and the next, the water beating down on them like fists -- tearing the family apart with all the violence of a band of thieves, holding the small boy down, so he could do nothing but watch as his mother was carried away.
"So," she said at last, when she could find her own voice. "The world stole your mother from you.... So you turned thief --"
She saw his muscles tense in reaction to her words, like the hammer of a gun being pulled back (she almost heard the click), and stopped herself. The words sounded stupid, even to her own ears. "Sorry. I just meant.... Sorry."
Slowly, and, it seemed, with great effort, Curry let himself relax.
"But you had a mother, once," Eloise said, then, relieved. "She loved you -- very much. I'm sure of that. And somewhere in the space-time continuum, she still does. If you could tell her everything about your life since -- all the things you've done, both the bad and the good -- and if you could tell her that you now have a chance to make a whole new start, in whatever world -- whatever time -- you choose, would she tell you to go back to Vortex City? Or would she say something else?"
"She ain't here to tell me."
"No. No, she's not. But you are. You're the one who's left to carry on her memory. Whatever she would've said to you, you have to say to yourself, now. Would she say that being an outlaw was all you were good for? Was that a dream she had for her son, back then?"
Curry bit his lip and said nothing.
Eloise almost turned to go, when she stopped, and a slow smile spread across her face. "I can bet on one thing she would say right now, though: 'Eat your soup, Harvey, before it gets cold.'"
He stared at her, his eyes hard and questioning.
"No mind reading, this time," Eloise said, fending off his anger with raised hands, "just the ordinary kind -- and an educated guess." And she pointed to the patterns Curry had been carving all the while.
There, in the midst of all the spirals and cross-hatches (like the outline of a magnet under a sheet of iron filings), carved deep, as though he'd been going over and over it, was a single name in angular letters: HARVEY LOGAN.
He stared in disbelief at the work of his own hand. "I ... well ... heh."
That last syllable was far from a laugh, but it was the closest he'd come to one since they'd met, and it was music to her ears. She knew better, though, than to comment on it, and left him in peace with his soup and his thoughts.
For a moment there...
She looked again.
The Odd Muses were sitting at one of the tables, arms folded and heads resting.
'You're here?' Eloise asked. And winced. They were here, she could see that - but she thought they'd been taken with the Trio...
Allie lifted her head. 'Mm.'
'How? I thought that you'd gone - got dragged along...'
Allie was shaking her head. 'No. No, we didn't. What happened - whatever happened - when they grabbed the Staff - they went, and left us here.'
'...and you couldn't feel where they were,' Eloise realised.
'But what happened? When they grabbed the Staff?'
Tessa didn't look up, her voice low and flat. 'Alryssa can travel between universes - it's part of what being Sailor Gallifrey brings with it. The Staff enables it to happen. I don't know why it activated when Gordon and Imran held it, though.'
'The Odd Trio thing,' Eloise guessed. 'There's a certain set of rules that holds them together - that where two of them are, the other's going to turn up, that sort of thing. So when all three of them held Alryssa's Staff-'
'Something happened. The Staff responded to all of them.'
'Not just Alryssa...' Eloise completed. 'All three of them. They won't all become Sailor Gallifrey, will they?'
Yokoi managed a chuckle. 'I don't think so... She'd better be careful where she puts that thing, though.'
'Hmm... She needs the Staff to become Sailor Gallifrey... Could anyone else -?'
'No. Alryssa's merged with Gallifrey - she's the one accessing the power,' Yokoi frowned. 'So she needs to transform to access the abilities... Dunno what'd happen if someone else took the Staff, though. Could tap into Alryssa's power, or into something else... or it might not even work for them...'
Allie chuckled. 'Finally out of my shadow...' She sobered. 'I don't know, to be honest - we didn't feel anything even when we were Shadow and Psyche.'
'I'm back together...' Allie said. 'She's a phantasm - not a ghost Muse, a phantasm. An identity, an idea, made physical.' She considered this. 'Well, semi-physical.
'And she's my sister.'
'Another sister...' Eloise mused. 'This is going to be a surprise for your father...'
Allie chuckled again. 'Dad's about ready for another big shock.' Her eyes widened. 'Oh no... Xeffy! He was looking after Xeffy! He'll be wondering where she is!'
'Where is she?'
Xeffy was dozing in one of the chairs, sleeping again.
Allie frowned for a moment. 'Imran said... I think he said... he met Calliope, Xeffy too. Wonder if she'll let Dad know where Xeffy is... Maybe.'
Eloise put her hands behind her back. 'Her mother was with us on Jubiliganza... I rather suspect she will let him know.'
Allie grinned at that one.
Eloise grinned back.
She looked around, making sure everything was alright, then settled back into a chair with her mug.
Something fell into place. Something about Allie and Xeffy's (and Sandra's too) mother...
She looked back at the meditation room. Wondered if Kid had ever known about Allie's mom. Maybe not.
They'd both lost their mother. But their reactions had been so different...
For Kid, it'd been a milestone on the path that had led him to the City. For Allie... for Allie, she wasn't so sure. Or maybe she was. Allie and Xeffy... neither of them had learned Xeffy was a siren. Not until now. Would they have learned - would their mother have told them what had happened, why Xeffy was a siren, if she'd lived?
There were always things left unsaid...
Her death had hit them, hit them hard. Allie... Allie had started trying to make sense of the world, trying to understand. Xeffy... Xeffy had wanted her mother back, wanted her back...
You miss them, you want them back, so you try to bring them back... but it's not going to make everything okay, because they died, and they wouldn't be the same person. That might not matter to some... but to Xeffy, she rather suspected it did.
...some stories you can't make end happily, she reflected. Or at least, not by getting what you want.
Sometimes, you have to come to terms with what you've lost... and start again.
She looked up and around her, at Sweetheart, remembering how they'd met.
Sometimes, she reflected, that could be a happy ending too.
Drinking her own soup straight from her mug, her mind kept returning to what Curry had said: 'Going back to Vortex City, when this is over'. That was one thing she hadn't figured out. Early on she and Imran - no, Bookworm, then - figured that the best way to destroy the web of stories would be to start in forgotten corner, where no one would notice the damage until it was too late.
But why, of all the forgotten corners of the Fictiverse, pick Vortex City? Why not some story that's even more obscure: A story in a shoebox under someone's bed? The answer came back immediately: Because it's connected, through Doc Gallifrey (and maybe even the Contessa), to the Doctor.
And didn't Imran say something about that, after the Odd Trio faced down the Monitors on Titan Three? That he suspected the Master was the one who'd taken Curry's memories? If so, it looked like it all fit together. Except: Why? Why would the Master hold any more interest in Curry than in any other inhabitant of the City? And why would the Contessa tell him stories about the Doctor, and about time travel? Of all the audiences for an interstellar adventure story, Curry was the least likely candidate. And yet, here he was, at the center of it all. Why? The question kept tumbling around in her mind, and it seemed just about to fall into place, when Sweetheart's time rotor made its familiar materialization sound.
No more time to wonder. They had arrived -- time for the final battle.Previous chapter Next chapter