"Bloody 'ell it's dark in here..."
"Saville, that's an understatement..."
Gordon stumbled about in the darkness and tripped over something. He pulled a glowstick out of a pocket, snapped it and shook it.
"Is she alright?" asked Saville.
"She'll be fine (I hope) the shift must have taken a lot out of her (I think). Give her a few minutes rest and she'll be okay (please let her be okay...)"
He stood up and looked around. "Now this....this is not good.
"Every story is an escape of some sort. Whether you're a civil servant, a fast food cook, a janitor or a king. Just that little spark of imagination is enough to create lands, kingdoms, people, worlds...
"...even universes. This is what happens when there's no escape, when the last story's been told."
He shivered. "And this is what will happen in our universe if we don't win."
"Okay, I may be getting ahead of myself here, but how do we get back?"
"Can't we use the box to get back?" asked Saville. "I mean, it's obviously a TARDIS disguised as a box innit?"
"No, it's not a TARDIS, it's just a cardboard box. When you're a kid, a cardboard box can be anything. A car, a bunker, a helmet, a suit of armour, a spaceship, a transmogrifier. If you can hold onto a bit of that childhood power then you can accomplish all sorts of things.
"It may have switched place with a TARDIS, but it was just a symbol, a representation for the shift I initiated to focus on."
A thought came to Saville, a thought that in another, happier place would have had a lightbulb appearing above his head.
"That Doctor, those companions. They're yours aren't they?"
Gordon spun round sharply. "Who knows? Do we create these things, or do we just get glimpses into other existing universes now and then?"
A groan came from the floor as Yokoi woke up. "Where are we?" she mumbled.
She took one look and swore quietly.
"I don't know what language that was in and I don't think I want to hear the translation..."
"That's it man, game over man, game over!"
"What are we going to do now?"
"SAVILLE!!! Stop channeling Hudson from Aliens..."
Saville grinned. "Sorry, it just seemed like one of those situations."
"Will the Doctor and his friends help?" asked Yokoi. "I hate to think we've done all this for nothing."
"Maybe, maybe not. If we can get back there's one or two things we can try."
"If we get back. From where I am there's no chance of that happening anytime soon," moaned Saville despondently.
Gordon gave Saville one of those looks. One of those looks that says shut yer face or bad things will happen to you.
"There is always a chance..."
Gordon took the small, blue dice out of a pocket and gently rolled it along the, for want of a better word, "ground".
A tall figure walked out of the darkness and picked it up.
"Ah, my dear fellows, it seems we've gotten ourselves into a bit of trouble now doesn't it?"
Gordon smiled. "It's good to see we still have a chance..."
"Well, as the Minister For Chance I naturally take a deep interest in this sort of thing. Last chances, infinite possibilities. A great man once said million-to-one chances happen nine times out of ten. I believe the fellow was joking, but he was right."
He handed the dice back. "I hereby give you a chance. Be a good chap and don't waste it will you?" he smiled.
"I'm sure we'll find a good use for it, at least somebody will."
"Good, I hope to see you after this is all finished, at Munden's, World's End or the Wild Planet?"
"None of those, I've found this little place called This Time Round. We'll meet up there okay?"
"Ah, splendid!" the Minister clapped his hands together. "Farewell then, and may the Lady who shall not be named forever smile upon you."
And with that he stepped back and vanished into the darkness.
Something glowed in Gordon's pocket, the bladeless Sword of Authority blazed. "Now we're going to see exactly what we can do with this..."
He sliced the air, reality parted and to the sound of 'Spybreak' by The Propellorheads, all three walked back into the circus...
Allie looked at her hands blankly. 'I did?'
The others looked back and forth between the two.
One in luminescent robes, glowing with a pale light of their own.
The other in second hand clothing, worn clothes of the West.
But completely identical. They were completely identical.
Twins. Allie and Sandra.
The two turned towards the voice.
Their sister. Their summoner.
Looking at them, eyes open wide.
They looked at each other. Nodded.
And hugged her - their - little sister.
'Getting weird, guys...' Xeffy managed to get out.
'This is weird,' Allie said.
'Don't blame us,' Sandra said.
'A song so captivating, sailors would throw themselves off boats to follow it...' Eloise murmured. 'A siren. A true siren. How did you know?'
'I didn't.' Imran said quietly. 'It... it felt right. Part of the magic. It felt right to describe Allie as the siren's sister.'
'Is this normal? Siren and Muse in the same family?'
'Not that I know of,' Imran said. 'You can be trained to be a Muse... but a siren? I don't know.'
'Back.' Kid said quietly. 'We're back.'
'Thanks to her,' Imran said, nodding at Xeffy, who was by now going a rather interesting shade under her sister(s) mutual hugs.
'I wonder...' Kid said. 'Seemed to me, when we left, the Contessa'd got that box of hers workin'.'
'Thing we got off the Monitors while we were in Vortex City. Said it would weave the stories back together again.'
'I'm thinkin'... maybe she got told when to do it. Got a feeling when to do it.'
'When the box started working.' Imran guessed.
'Yeah. 'Cause then, we'd done what we came there for. And then she got this feeling - a song in her mind, maybe? The Contessa was hummin', just 'fore the box started workin'. And I'm willing to lay odds that the kid there was singing exactly the same song. Things got put back. We got put back here - and the City started bein' pulled back together itself.'
Eloise reached into her pocket for the charm - to give it back to Kid, now he'd returned.
She pulled it out.
The others turned to see why.
And drew in their breaths.
"Wait a minute," Tessa said, "is that --"
"'Spybreak' by The Propellorheads!" Allie and Sandra answered together.
"Are you gonna keep doing that?" Xeffy asked. "'Cause if you are, it'll get annoying real fast!"
"Gordon!" Eloise said, trotting up to him. "You're back!" She was grinning from ear to ear. "The way things have been going, lately, one would think that the gryphons were guarding a revolving door!" She sobered up. "I'm glad you're here," she said, "...sort of. It's time for the Gods' next act. But none of us know what it will be. So I can't announce it. I think they've been refusing to show their hand because you lot weren't here. ...Not that I'm looking forward to it," she added quickly, "but we need to get out of this stasis."
While she was explaining this, Yokoi stared from Allie to Sandra and back again -- twice. "Oka-a-ay," she said. "Things have gotten weird around here, haven't they? More than usual, I mean."
"That's not the half --" Allie and Sandra said together. They glanced at each other, and Allie finished: "Turns out, Xeffy is a siren."
Yokoi shook her head. "Oy," she said.
Up in the stands, sections of the audience were getting restless. The Faculty of Unseen University was having some trouble dissuading the Archchancellor from taking experimental pot-shots with his crossbow across the ring. None of the wizards were quite sure what would happen if one of Ridcully's bolts actually hit the black cloud that appeared to have emerged from somewhere akin to the Dungeon Dimensions, but they had come to an unspoken and unanimous decision that it would be better to avoid finding out. Finally, the Lecturer in Recent Runes had found himself volunteered to avert possible mayhem by nobly contriving to get his hat entwined in the firing mechanism in a manner that rendered both temporarily useless.
"Why don't they get on with it, hey?" Ridcully grumbled, thrusting the tangled contraption over in the direction of Ponder Stibbons with the loudly-expressed comment that the man was mechanically-minded, blast it, wasn't he.
"Er, Archchancellor, I believe they are getting on with it," Ponder volunteered, gesturing upwards into the higher regions of the Big Top where a framework of poles and ropes appeared to be rising into position. It was at that moment that the crossbow went off in his hand. Wizards on all sides dived instinctively for cover.
"You seem to have lost your hat, Runes," Ridcully pointed out cheerfully as assorted members of his faculty regained their seats around him, reassuring themselves by means of furtive pats and pinches that vital parts of their anatomy were in fact still present. He gestured towards the crown of the tent where a vague flutter, as of a heavy object pinned to canvas by a wayward crossbow bolt, could just be discerned. "Very careless of you, young Stibbons, makin' off with another wizard's hat like that. Can't imagine what you had in mind."
The Lecturer in Recent Runes glared at the Dean, whose elbows had volunteered his neighbor the hardest. But the Dean's attention was elsewhere.
"Look! They're warming-up," he said almost wistfully, watching the distant figures flipping gracefully over and over on the swinging bars. "Those daring young men on the flying trapeze --" He broke off as one acrobat released his hold on the bar and went flying through the air, spinning almost lazily, to clasp the secure forearms of his catcher fifty feet away on the other side of the ring. "I say, wasn't that a triple somersault?"
The Archchancellor, not normally a perceptive man, recognised that note in his junior's voice all too well. He looked at the Dean's portly figure. Looked at the distant bars. From long experience, the wizards recognised the symptoms of a rapidly-approaching explosion.
"Um, maybe we ought to leave that part of it to the, um, simian part of the faculty?" Ponder suggested hastily.
Ridcully blinked. "What?"
Down in the ring, the hostess looked up -- and gasped.
Up on the lower trapeze there was the unmistakable long-armed shape of an orang-utan, dangling from one capacious black-leather foot. As she watched, he began to turn a series of expert one-armed somersaults.
She didn't think the Gods had noticed him -- yet. But how were they going to react to this interference before their act had even started?
The others looked up, too.
'O-kay...' Yokoi said, after a while. 'That's breaking the stasis...'
'We'd better get him down,' Eloise said. 'How the Gods're going to react...'
'He's the Librarian,' Allie said. 'After dealing with the books in Unseen's Library... a few Gods ought to be a snap.'
'Prediction came true, then...' Imran murmured. 'It is a trapeze act.'
'Which means we can prepare for it,' Eloise realised.
'Anyone got any bananas?'
'He likes bananas. Or peanuts. This's a circus, we've got to have peanuts around here somewhere...'
Sandra clapped a hand over Xeffy's mouth. 'No singing - we don't want to draw their attention.'
'Do sirens run in the family?'
Sandra and Allie looked at each other.
'Not that we know...' Sandra said.
'I mean, one Grandma was a... well, a wanderer. Epic poems - so she travelled with poets who created them.'
'What about Dad's Mum?' Sandra said.
'She's not. She would've mentioned it by now, right?'
'What about your Granddads?'
'Mum never mentioned her Dad, did she?' Sandra said.
'And Dad's Dad... great guy, at least I think he is.'
'He's an active Muse,' Allie said. 'We don't see him all that often.'
'Just how similar are you?' Yokoi wondered.
'Um... other big problem?' Saville pointed up.
The ape - not monkey - was now moving to one-armed double somersaults.
And then, as they watched, pulled a one-armed triple somersault.
'Could you get an orangutan off a hanging bar?' Yokoi asked rhetorically.
The Librarian hung on one of the trapezes, apparently oblivious to everything around him.
He considered the other trapeze thoughtfully.
Then, he started to swing back and forth, building his momentum.
The drum roll began.
'Okay, who's doing that?' Gordon demanded. '...Igor?!'
'One...' Eloise said.
'Two...' Saville counted.
'Three...' Yokoi whispered.
'Four!' Allie gasped.
'A quadruple somersault...' Sandra breathed.
The Librarian pulled himself up to his full height, looked over to the Gods' side of the Top...
...and said 'Ook.'
Allie winced. 'Ooh, why'd he have to say that? That's only going to make them mad...'
'I think that's what he wants,' Sandra said.
'I'd better get out there...' Eloise said. 'Wish me luck...'
But they have another problem backstage...Previous chapter Next chapter