Having vanquished his Internal Critic, Gordon sets out to aid Alryssa...


The muse walked up behind him. "You know yourself you're not a brilliant writer, but that doesn't matter here. You have an imagination that puts others to shame, you just need to work at how to show that to other people."

"You're right, I haven't done enough. I went away, promising I'd be back and better than before and I let them all down. That's going to change. I may not understand half of what's going on round here, but I'm damned if I'm going to sit here and let things pass right by me."

He turned round and looked at his muse. "After all, in the end...it's all about the story..."

As he started to walk away, he stopped.

"But first..."


The avocado troll smiled to herself as she trotted back down the tunnel, relieved that Gordon was getting back into the story, and that he seemed to like the Sword she'd given him.

Its glowing, silver light sent her round little shadow stretching out ahead of her. And then, it was -- gone.

She turned in surprise. All she could see of Gordon now was the hem of his long black robe trailing out behind him, and then, it too, was gone. It was almost as if she were watching him step through a door and close it behind him. Maybe, she thought, scratching that strange little itch that always seem to appear behind her left ear when a strange idea popped into her head, that's exactly what she was watching: Gordon walking through an authorial door from one part of the story to another. She shook her head in wonder, remembering, too, the lightbulbs that appeared over everyone's heads when he first arrived at the party. "That boy has more storytelling magic in him then he realizes," she murmured to herself.

Then, she heard something: voices that she recognized.... Or, at least, she thought she heard them. It might have been her imagination, or it might not have been. But, again, it was as though Gordon had opened a door, and she heard a snippet of a conversation going on in the other room -- the other part of the story:


'Alryssa...' the Doctor said.

(So the Eighth Doctor did manage to find her, the avocado troll thought happily, when she recognized his voice. The smile that was just forming on her lips stopped, however, when she heard what he said next)

'What they're really asking is whether Gallifrey - whether Gallifrey's spirit - lives or dies. It's your decision.'

Gallifrey...?

It's as he said. I cannot make the decision. It's your choice.

But...

'...I don't know,' Alryssa whispered.

'I don't know.'

"That's not right!" the avocado troll said to herself, with such conviction that it might have come out loud. "That can't be right! No one person, troll, pixie or Sailor Planet can be responsible for keeping a spirit that big alive! It has to be up to all of us!" Especially, she thought, if Bookworm is right and the spirit of Gallifrey is the spirit of Creativity itself. After all, there are (at least) two sides to every story, (at least) twelve arrangements for every song, and (at least) twenty-two exceptions to every rule of grammar!

She ran back to the others as fast as her short legs could carry her, the bells on her toes ringing wildly, and her long troll tail lashing out behind her like the tail of an angry cat.

For suddenly, she knew what they were up against -- if not exactly who. Now, all the stagnation they met at the beginning made sense -- the Forces they were up against were trying to create a Multiverse where there was One Right Way -- turning their multi-dimensional, ficti-multiverse, into a one dimensional Universe. No wonder the muses were weakening, no wonder Kid Curry couldn't remember who he was or why, no wonder.... And worst of all, they (whoever they were) had convinced the Doctor himself of their "fact". She doubled her pace. They would have to pull out all Pro-Fun Stops to get to the end of this story!


"I've got my hands full for the moment," Jim said. "Auntie started petting the Ainley Master and his loud purring freaked out all the other cats. I've spent ages getting them down from the tree..."

He sighed. "Ah well, bygones. We managed to get a good half-hour's work out of the Jonathan Price Master before he began cackling madly, so we're not as far gone as we might have been. And frankly, Delgado's been a real workhorse. Even gathered up a few decrepit in-betweeners for help (although between you and me, the guy in the cloak isn't much help, and we had to duct-tape Eric Roberts' mouth shut so he couldn't spit goo at people)."

"So...have you got the energy thingamajig ready?" the turquoise troll asked tentatively.

"Just about."

"Er," she began.

"Oh, about this hanging in mid-air thing? Heh..." Jim laughed. "Turns out that the Master's chameleon circuit had the perfect transducer element for the energy whatsis, or something. Anyway he unplugged it and the real world interface sort of went away."

A muffled voice from somewhere else bellowed "Try now! mUhwahahahahahah!"

A muted and brief wheezing-groaning sound vworped exactly once, and a child's play-fort (built of sofa cushions, chairs, and blankets) appeared.

"Not much of an improvement, is it?" the troll asked.

"Not really, but it is better than hanging about in mid-air."

A distinguished gentleman with saturnine features and a dark beard, tinged with grey, popped up from beneath the fort, pushing aside a flowery quilt. He bore two thick jumper cables which crackled with energy, and a bemused expression.

"There you are, my dear. I never thought I'd see the day when I'd herd cats again," the Delgado Master chuckled. "Do try to see that the Doctor's third self gets these, would you? He's the only one I really trust with a reversible polarity neutron induction system. Come along, troll, we have a few loose ends to tidy up ourselves. I want to get this over with so I don't miss my appointment with that latex artist fellow."

"Ah well, must dash..." Jim said, disappearing beneath a fuzzy blue afghan. "Just rap on the interface when you are ready for us, I'll get them moving somehow."


Hmmm...

Okay.

Ann's right; stories do have a life of their own.

I should know.

Oh. Allie. I'm Allie. Sort of. Imran's anal-retentive memory at work here...

Okay...

What we've learned so far.

Alryssa's creators, the Monitors, trapped Sailor Gallifrey, and used her as a lure for the rest of the Hoedown to trap them on Titan Three. They were trying to force Alryssa into a self-destructive identity crisis, potentially devastating the galaxy - and definitely destroying the Hoedown. Thanks to the resonance Alryssa had established between herself and the Bookworm, the Bookworm was able to stabilise her - and Alryssa decided to confront those who had attempted to harm her friends.

However... the Monitors had been forced into this, by - we suspect - the Gods of Ragnarok.

Someone's bending and twisting Titan 3's reality - we think they're using it as a cage. While we're here, the Gods are free to stagnate and destroy stories across the Universe.

So... we've gotta get out of these caves, free Alryssa, challenge whomever's trapping us here, and eventually have a final showdown, circus to circus, to banish the Gods.

And Kid Curry's gotten some of his memory back - he remembers who told him stories about the Doctor - the Contessa. But he doesn't remember what the missing piece of knowledge is that'll help us stop the stagnation. I have a theory about that...

...but I need to talk to the Kid.

But I'm with the Doctors who're trying to find the others...

Meanwhile, the other group of Doctors are battling a baby gryphon, and the Kid's met up with the Master's group...


'Found it!' Fourth called from the wall behind which they could hear the sounds of the others.

'Found what?'

'Mama Gryphon isn't in our way.'

'Oh, good.'

'We're not in her way, either.'

'Oh, good.'

The Fourth grinned. 'She's coming for her baby.'

The wall exploded.

As the dust cleared...

A hungry living metal baby gryphon looked around from the middle of the wall's debris.

Looking at both groups of Doctors...

And, the hostess noted worriedly, Mama's roaring was getting louder...

'Miss us?' the Sixth said.

'Get down, old man!' the Third shouted.

The baby gryphon leaped into our hostess' current cavern...


"Everybody out of the way!" Our Hostess yelled, as the baby leapt over her head. "Against the walls, now!" Just then, she saw a familiar, tall figure running toward them, right down the middle of the tunnel. "Master!" she shouted. "Get out of the way!"

The last place anyone wanted be, she knew, was between a wild mother and her baby -- especially if that mother were big enough to carry an elephant in her talons. And if the Master himself felt threatened, he might use that TCE of his... she shuddered at the thought of such a young, innocent creature escaping from the Gods of Ragnarok's Zoo only to fall victim to the Master. Luckily, however, the Master sized up the situation for himself, and stepped behind a stalagmite just as the baby ran past.

The call of the mother (for that's what it was) was quite clear, now. And to Our Hostess's ears, it sounded like it was just outside the cave entrance. It made sense, now that she thought about it. There was no way a full grown gryphon could fit in the tight spaces of the cavern's labyrinth. And besides, the instincts of both lion and eagle would be to avoid cramped, dark spaces, it would only be natural for a gryphon to feel the same. She only hoped that the mother wouldn't get frustrated and impatient...


Alryssa stared at the Doctor, through him. Flashes of recollection assaulted her. Of the first time she had been here, half-awake, barely sensible. Snatches of conversation ran through her mind. One voice she knew was his.

"....too primitive, unstable, you can't expect...."

"...no time!"

"Immature mind... no predicting what might..."

"She's... last hope, Doctor."

"Have you ever felt lonely? Because.... she'll be! Forever!"

She felt her fists clench involuntarily. He'd not wanted her to do this. Had protested it.

Immature... unstable... primitive!

Hot tears welled up. Burned her skin.

"That is the ultimate price," he whispered suddenly. "A price I thought would be too heavy for you to bear. Bad enough that you carry the responsibility on your shoulders, but... to be alone...." His eyes glazed over as he looked beyond her.

"You thought I couldn't do it," she stumbled over her words.

"I won't think any less of you if you decide to let her go."

"I'm a failure again, I always have been, what does it matter anyway what you think of me?"

She pummelled him, but only got as far as three punches before his fingers encircled her wrists, held them tight.

"I think very highly of you. You've managed better than I thought already. I think highly of all my - "

"Spare me," she spat, "I don't need it."

"I'm sorry."

"You've used that word an awful lot lately. One might be forgiven for thinking that you've forgotten what it means."

His eyes hardened.

"I'm not here for my benefit. I'm here for you. It's your decision that will affect the lives of billions. I've had to make those decisions before. Had to determine what was for the common good. The question is, can you?"

You will never be alone, as long as you have your friends.

If I stop, you'll die... but my friends will live. If I don't...

They have a chance. It will not be a hundred per cent certain, but they did not say they would die for sure.

I don't know if I can be alone like this. Do what he does.

He'll be around. You know that.

I don't want to be alone. Please, I don't want to be alone.

"Alryssa? They're waiting."

"I've made my decision," she said...


...just as Gordon arrived...

"Hello Alryssa, sorry we took so long..."

Alryssa managed a weak grin. "What, no Sailor Marinus?"

"I didn't think it appropriate at this time. Hello Doctor. Wearing the blue coat today are we?"

Gordon ignored the mumblings of "It's green..." from both the Doctor and Alryssa.

He looked at the two figures standing in the darkness. "Hello! Forgive me for suddenly appearing to be the hero of the piece, but I've been away far too long and done far too little, so indulge me for just these few minutes. I suppose I could have done something overly dramatic like revealing myself to be the alternate universe Peter Cushing Doctor, the 7th Guardian or the hand holding Sutekh's cushion down, but I prefer to at least attempt to fit in with what's already happening, even if I'm not actually very sure what's happening..."

"We're creative, we're never alone," he said quietly. "We escape the drudgery of real life by creating characters. No matter what, there's always a little of us in them. Even if it all goes wrong here, there are echoes of me out there. There are people who'll remember them. The undertaker preserving the dignity of the dead. The second-hand bookshop owner who fought the Old Ones. The pyrokinetic artist. The wandering mute ninja. The London crimelord. The 19th century mad scientist. Even a Doctor or two."

His muse whispered quietly to Alryssa, "I think he's definitely moving towards one of his Doctor personas right now. How do you think he's doing?"

"If you had your way," he shouted at whoever were the Monitors' masters. "The stories would stagnate, become all the same, with no deviation, no change from what you want! In your universe the King Of The Rocketmen would have died in last weeks cliffhanger. Bobby Ewing wouldn't have appeared in the shower. Yartek couldn't have come back from the dead to groove mightily at the hoedown. Skaro would have remained destroyed."

He looked straight at the first Monitor for a second. A thought had just struck him.

"Now, I may be completely wrong here...Gallifrey was destroyed in one continuity. You don't want that to change do you? You want it to stay like that. Why?"

He looked around. "I'm surprised Imran isn't here, when this sort of chaos ensues the three of us are usually in the same room...drinking."

Alryssa looked at the figure beside Gordon, they seemed familiar. "Have we met?"

Gordon looked at the figure, who was quite short, with pale features, long black hair and gothic make up. She wore a long coat, a patchwork of deep reds and blues and purples. The look on her face was stern and serious, but the twinkle in her eyes hinted that anything could happen in the next half hour.

"This is Yokoi, my muse."

Yokoi waved enthusiastically. "Hiya!"

Gordon turned to the Monitors. "We're here to get creative on your arses!"


The Bookworm looked up. 'Where's Yokoi?'

'Who's Yokoi?'

The Bookworm blushed. 'Gordon's muse. Allie and Yokoi went to the Collegium Imagineum together. Allie ended up on work experience, and she still hasn't graduated to be a full Muse - while Yokoi barely passed her inspirational course, and that was on appeal.'

'You went to college with Gordon's muse?'

'Hey, it could've been worse - Imran could have been at college with Gordon...'

'I've just been talking to them. Giving them a pep talk.' The hostess pointed down a tunnel. 'Gordon's been battling his Internal Critic - and I gave him the sword of Authorial Freedom to help him vanquish it. I think he's still down there.'

The Bookworm suddenly grinned. 'Oh, I get it... Excuse me a moment... Don't worry, we will be safe... Just need to check on an old friend.'

Our hostess blinked.

The Bookworm had suddenly run into one of the corridors.

She blinked again. They'd gone after Gordon - vanishing into the cave she'd just indicated.

Where had Gordon gone after her talk, anyway?

'I hope they're all right...' the hostess said to herself.

Meanwhile, to the surprise of the Monitors...

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