But as the mouth of the one-way gate to the Underworld comes rushing up towards them...
'No... you... don't. Lobsang...
'Oh my Goddess...'
The cave mouth hung, impossibly, below them.
But went no further.
'Sliced time,' the young man in black, tattered robes said. 'We are now outside time. Inbetween moments.'
'Lobsang Ludd,' Daibhid realised. 'The Disc's personification of Time.'
Lobsang nodded. 'Once we drop back into time, the cave will continue its journey.'
'And we won't get out.'
Daibhid looked around. The Gods - and their servants - were frozen, still within time. The Hoedowners, however, were alive, and moving around.
Xeffy jumped down into the stage and grabbed the glass sphere from the magician. 'I'll take that, if you don't mind!' She staggered under the weight.
'Excuse me,' Shayde said, lifting the sphere effortlessly from her hands.
Allie looked into the glass sphere, into her silver shadow.
'My shadow...' Allie whispered. 'Archetypes 101. Everything I denied in myself - good and bad both. Not my weaker side - the side I denied...'
'No one would expect anything other... Eeerrggg,' Philip murmured.
'How do we get them out?' our hostess asked, desperation fueling her voice. 'How...?'
Imran turned to the ball.
Dreamweaver, granddaughter Child of tragedy, whispered in the night Shadow and silver, outlined by moonlight Child of the epics, told so long ago The skein of Fate has not told your story I call you back, from that sunless land. Child of memory, child of inspiration I call you back from those black shores When the night falls upon you, I am here When sadness and grief claim you, we are there. Siren's sister, knight of ghosts and shadows...
'Imran...?' she whispered.
Come back to me. Come back to us...
'But... I'm not Allie. Why...?'
You are, the girl's voice whispered. You are...
Silver shadow, my dream, my nightmare.
My grief, my pain, my hurt...
You are me and I am you
'Who are you?'
Who am I?
'...Mum was so proud when I was accepted into the Collegium, remember? Carrying on the family tradition, like her and Dad and Grandma... Oh, and Xeffy bragged about it for weeks at school...
'And then I met him. My author. And ...oh, I remember how shocked, how happy, how surprised he was when he saw he'd been nominated for the newsgroup awards, how pleased he was when someone commented on his work - that someone, somewhere had responded to what he'd written...
'And rocking Xeffy's crib... I always thought of her as my baby sister, you know, watching her when she was a baby, so often. Wondering. Fascinated. Happy, that she was there, that she was sleeping...'
She took Kid's hand as the outlaw stepped onto the bridge.
'I learned. I discovered... so many things. About myself. About people.'
She brought one foot to rest on the bridge.
'I did fail, yes. I did dream of being a princess, yes.
'But that is a part - and only a part - of who I am.
'I am the shadow that walks behind you, that is always with you. I am the silver one, the one you dreamed of being. I am the one you denied - and the one you thought you could never be.'
She brought her other foot alongside.
'I am Alisandra.
'And I am-'
'Wait, did they say "Siren's sister"? I'm her sister!'
'Okay. What's a siren?'
'Greek mythology. Creatures with the ability to sing captivating songs... songs so captivating that sailors would throw themselves off boats, or deliberately wreck the boats, to follow that song - and, by the by, let the sirens feast.'
'No, I'm not!'
'Have you tried?'
'Allie's the singer in the family!'
'Mm. Have you tried?'
'Um... not when there was anyone else around....'
The sphere was a globe of solid silver.
'What happened?' our hostess asked.
Allie looked pained. 'I don't know. I don't know...'
'When did it happen - having part of you split off?'
'The vision,' our hostess said. 'It must have been in the vision... part of you stayed, but part of you came back.'
'So we've got the 'nice' Allie?'
'No. No. You've got the parts of me I don't shut away, that I don't deny. You've got the Psyche - the conscious Allie. That's the Shadow - the Allie in my unconscious,' Allie said quietly. 'We're both the real Allie - we're different aspects of her, but we're both real.'
The ghost girl had been solid. Solid, touching his arm.
He'd felt something, some connection - a connection back to something, an answer to the power's call - firm ground under his feet.
And it had dropped away from under him-
- a sparkle, a tiny thing out of the corner of his eye.
He didn't focus on it, let it pass, and...
-there. A tiny silver thing.
Pearls catching the light in the room.
He remembered. He remembered.
The key. The bridge.
The charm had acted as a bridge, bringing him to this nowhere land...
His nightmares. His dreams.
There was an ache in his throat-
They - whoever they were - had stolen his dreams.
Taken part of him with them.
No. No. He'd lost enough, these years, lost near everything a man could lose - a home, his family...
No. No more.
What can you take from a man who's lost everything?
You can steal his dreams.
But what if that man's a thief?
Then he goes steals those dreams of his back.
There was a hand on his arm-
-falling faster, even though there was no wind-
-the silver light, closer now, closer still-
-filling his vision until it was all he could see-
The sphere in Shayde's hands trembled-
A sigh. A gentle sigh.
Imran breathed out.
'But where did they go?' Allie asked. 'Where'd they go?'
'I thought part of you was in there-' our hostess began.
'But I didn't know that. I don't have a supernatural connection to her...' Allie's voice nearly broke. 'They took me, they took a part of me, and I didn't even realise...'
'They've pushed us to the limit.' Jim's voice was dark. 'They pushed us as far as we would go. They want bloody, mindless revenge - for what they did to us, and what they do to their servants.'
'I call battle,' Allie said quietly.
'I call battle. For the final challenge, I call battle. A battle of words - of creativity and power, of rhythm and feeling.
'I call a song battle for the final challenge. So let it be done.'
ANSWERED. THE CALL HAS BEEN ANSWERED - AND ACCEPTED.
SOME THINGS MUST END. THESE ARE NOT THE ONES WE SET IN PLACE IN THIS COSMOS. THEY DO NOT BELONG. SO END THEIR PLAYTHING'S SUFFERING - NOW.
The Other-Zoe disappeared.
THE TERMS OF THE CHALLENGE STILL ABIDE - THREE MORE CHALLENGES TO BE PLAYED OUT, THE LAST TO BE THE SONG BATTLE.
THEY GO TOO FAR, DARE TOO MUCH OF US. NO MORE.
YOU ARE CONFINED, GODS OF RAGNAROK. ONLY THAT POWER WHICH YOU HAVE HOARDED IS YOURS TO COMMAND, SO LONG AS THIS CHALLENGE SHALL LAST.
YOU INFLICT NIGHTMARE - HUMAN NIGHTMARE - AGAINST YOUR CHALLENGERS. VERY WELL. LET HUMAN DREAM BE THE KEY TO YOUR CHAINING ONCE AGAIN.
NO LONGER SHALL YOU INFLICT THEIR NIGHTMARES UPON THEM. NO LONGER SHALL YOU FEED OFF THEIR SUFFERING AND ANGUISH. THEY HAVE BEEN TAXED TO THEIR LIMITS.
LET THAT BE ENDED. NOW!
WE ARE WATCHING, FALSE GODS. YOU WERE SET FREE BEFORE YOUR TIME. YOU DEVASTATED YOUR MULTIVERSE. YOU SHALL NOT DO SO HERE.
REST. ALL OF YOU. YOU MAY TAKE THIS CHANCE TO REST, AND RECOVER.
THE ATROCITY THEY HAVE INFLICTED UPON THEIR SERVANT... SHE SHALL KNOW RESTORATION, AND SUCH REST AS WE MAY OFFER.
AND THE MEMORY IN YOUR MINDS WILL ALSO KNOW SUCH REST AS MAY BE OFFERED.
LET IT BE DONE.
'You know,' Daibhid remarked, a few moments later, 'we really should have asked the Powers That Be to deal with that...' He gestured to Annwn's Cave, still resting in the ring.
'I think they thought we could deal with it...' Philip observed.
'Right...' our hostess said. 'Gordon's panto's next up, then Nyctolops and Cameron's big cat act, then TYA's song battle will end this.'
'What is a song battle, anyway?'
'Both sides trade songs back and forth until one scores a decisive victory over the other,' Tessa explained.
'Right. The Lancre Coven, Izzy, Charley and the Norns are off to...' The deputy frowned. ' "See a man about some Gods", whatever that means, Kid and ShadowAllie-'
'Call her Sandra,' Allie said quietly.
'Okay... Kid and Sandra have been freed from the Gods - but we don't know where they were released - and we've got an influx of reinforcements, including Harry Potter, Unseen University's Faculty (and the Luggage), Tim Hunter, a number of versions of Death, Death's granddaughter Susan...' The deputy frowned. 'That sounds familiar, for some reason... and Lobsang, the Disc's personification of Time.'
'And we've got this stonking great cave to deal with...' Yokoi said, jerking a finger at Annwn's Cave. 'Well, when we drop out of sliced time, anyway.'
'Right then,' Ridcully said. 'Who's up for sorting that one out?'
'I might have an idea...'
Everyone turned to Lobsang.
"He's turning into a right deus ex machina," muttered Daibhid "Ow!" He hadn't realised he was that close to Susan Sto Helit.
"Don't worry, Daibhid," smiled Lobsang, "I can't snap my fingers and remove it from time; not here, anyway. But the rules the Gods were using in that last act, they were the rules of stage magic. Conjuring, as we call it in Ankh-Morpork, to distinguish it from what Ridcully's people get up to."
Everyone waited patiently for him to get to the point.
"So, even using real magic, how do you make something like that appear according to the rules of stage magic?"
"Mirrors?" suggested Bokman.
"Exactly. And mirrors need light. If our hostess could get ready to douse the lights as soon as I drop us back into time?"
The avocado troll bustled over to the lighting rig.
Time rushed back. Everything went black. There was a sudden smash.
"Lights back, please."
The lights came on, revealing a stage covered in broken glass, and no sign of Lobsang.
"The Gods don't look too happy," observed Cameron. "Should we be worried?"
"Not after that telling off the PTB gave them." smiled the Eighth Doctor. "At least, not more than we would be anyway."
"Fair enough," said Daibhid. "We should sweep this up before the panto starts, though."
But Kid and his companion are falling...
Every ounce of breath driven out of his body. Too stunned at first even to feel the pain... Then it hit, with the first gasp of air. He groaned -- even that hurt -- would have screamed, but a fog was pulling at his senses, dragging him down...
Silver. A great low globe swimming in front of his eyes. Drifting back into consciousness, Kid Curry blinked, trying to focus. Everything was silver, bleached bone-white -- silver and black --
There was a fierce pain in the small of his back, somewhere down the left side. He sat up cautiously in the moonlight, wincing at assorted other aches. He'd landed hard, sprawled across a ledge of rock in the floor of the gully. No rain down here for a long time, and even the dirt was iron-hard. He could have broken a leg -- could have broken his neck --
A small voice from up above him, as his shadow stirred.
"Kid? Oh Kid, please wake up..."
For a moment he couldn't place her; then the bushes at the brink of the gully began to thrash and he got a glimpse of white between the tangled branches. He rolled to his feet. Almost fell, as the pounding in his head caught up with him.
No crippling drop for her. She'd had a soft landing in the dry brush. It figured.
He glared up at her, one hand straying to his hip.
"What the hell did you think you were doing back there?"
"Wha..?" All indignation. "What do you mean, what was I doing? You think I got myself stuck in here on purpose? Sitting here wondering if you were ever going to wake up, or if I'd starve to death beside a stinking corpse --"
"Listen, lady -- I almost had us out of there. Out of the Gods' reach and back to the Circus. Back where you belong. Then something kicks in and snatches the ground from under us and everything goes silver -- so just what am I supposed to think? That maybe you don't want to go back? Maybe you're planning on being more than just a part of Allie -- ghost girl?"
"I'm not a ghost -- ouch. Kid -- ow! -- I'm stuck -- get me out of here --" The branches were threshing wildly now, and there was a soft patter of soil down the side of the gully.
"Quit that!" Kid Curry's eyes narrowed suddenly. He could make her out now, a pale shape in the black shadow of thorn-scrub leaning out over the edge.
"Quit what?" She stopped struggling for a moment to yell back at him. "Look, I don't have any more idea what happened than you do -- but it wasn't me, OK? I didn't do it and I don't like it -- and shouting at me isn't going to make any difference --" The words broke off in a strangled scream as a branch broke and she slid abruptly downwards.
"Quit wriggling that way." His voice was harsh and level. "Else you'll come down the way I did. Guess it's all of fifteen foot to the bottom under them bushes you're in..."
He set his teeth, ignoring stiffening muscles, and began the steep scramble up the side of the rocks.
The girl perched on a boulder beside him, hugging arms around her knees. "I'm sorry I yelled."
She didn't look much like a ghost now, with brown hair tangled round a scratched face, the powder long since lost along with the elaborate style. She'd left most of her foam of skirts behind too, one way or another, in ragged banners of surrender that tracked the path they'd fought to get her to solid ground. The flesh that showed through the rents in what remained -- a good deal more than was decent to his way of thinking -- was still indoors-pale, like the hands of a clerk; but it was all too solid, dirty and scored with thin trickles of blood from the thorns. Only the diamonds were as fine as before. They were in his pocket.
"I'm sorry I yelled. I was scared. I thought you were dead..."
Kid Curry nodded, accepting the truce. "Yeah. I wasn't feeling too good myself." He shifted slightly, trying to find an easier position. The pain in his side had settled down to a steady, nagging ache. "Sure wouldn't mind knowing what did get us here, though -- and why."
"Where is 'here', anyway?" She stood up, looking out over the moonlit landscape. "It doesn't have enough moons to be anywhere back on Jubilganzia, for a start."
Automatically Kid Curry glanced up, following her gaze -- then froze, staring. No. It couldn't be. But those stars sure did look mighty familiar...
"Well, I guess I know where we are after all." He turned, slowly, looking for landmarks. Pointed. "Them mountains on the skyline -- see? That hooked one, like some guy took a knife-slice down the peak? That's Two-Mile Pass, through to Ruby and the north. Back that way --" he climbed to his feet, wincing -- "the river loops round some, and there's homesteads down in the bottoms. And, maybe a matter of six-seven miles West of here... there's a road. And a sign. Town limits. Been shot up a time or two, but they like to keep it fresh. Care to take a guess at the name?"
"Vortex...City?" Eyes wide, she read the answer in his face. "You mean... this is your home?"
His mouth twisted. "Wouldn't quite put it that way myself... but yeah, I've ridden this country. Ridden it blind with fever, and mad with thirst, and with bullets round my ears more times than I care to count. Broken down a few horses, and left a partner or two lying where they fell for the posse to pick up, hot on my trail.
"Yeah, I know where we are. I know the sky and the hills and the bones of the country... and I know where we're headed right now."
"What do you mean? Kid --" Hurried footsteps behind him as she tried to catch up, pulling at his arm. "Kid, I don't understand --"
"I don't care how we got here." He didn't look round. Didn't even slacken the pace. "But I sure as hell know what we're going to do."
Silence, broken only by her gasping breath as she scrambled after him. A sigh. "Okay. What?"
"First, transportation -- and get you some clothes." He grabbed her arm as she slipped, ignoring her yelp at the fierce grip. "And then... we go West. To the City. I got a score to settle with some Gods -- and there's a lady that just might know a way to get you back together with your other half..."
His voice was level as ever; but he was glad of the moonlight that bleached the sudden warmth from his cheeks.Previous chapter Next chapter