Now it is just TYA against the allure of the Sirens...


No.

NO!

She is my sister!

I will not...

I will not!


Ready?

Ready.


Oh why you look so sad?
The tears are in your eyes
Come on and come to me, now...
Don't be ashamed to cry
Let me see you through
Cause I've seen a dark side too.

Imran's eyes widened.

'What? What is it?'

Imran turned to Eloise. 'The Pretenders. "I'll Stand By You".'

'It's what?!'

Imran nodded. 'They're weaving the words into the song, singing the spell in the song. Making the song into a spell.'

'Making the song itself the magic words...' Eloise murmured.

'Nn.'


I know your hunger.

I wanted a life, a soul.

I would have done anything for it.

No... not anything.

No one dies. No one dies because of me.

How many died because of you? Of your hunger?

To feed your hunger? To feed your songs?

We give. We share. We do not simply take.


When the night falls on you
Don't know what to do
Nothing you confess
Can make me love you less

I'll stand by you
I'll stand by you
Won't let nobody hurt you
I'll stand by you.


Depression. Despair.

I've been there with you, when it all seemed it was going to hell.

As you convinced yourself that it meant nothing, that nothing meant anything.

That there was no worth.

I was there, with you.

The voice in your head that said there had to be a meaning beyond this.

That you were more than this.

More than the nothingness.

Mad scientist. Armadillo freak.

Gordon...


So if your man gets mad
Don't hold it all inside
Come on and come to me, now
And hey, what you got to hide?
I get angry too
Well, I'm a lot like you.

Xeffy...

The teen queen. The brat from Hades.

My sister.

You are not like them.

You got the siren gift, not the curse.

No matter what you do, whatever happens...

...I'll be there.

No matter what.

No matter how much you irritate me, how much you piss me off...

No matter how much I beat my head against the wall.

No matter what you do, I will be there.

Like I was there, when Mum...

When Mum...

When Mum died.

I'm here, Xeph. I always will be.

As long as I live...


When you're standing at the crossroads
Don't know which path to choose
Let me come along
Cause even if you're wrong
I'll stand by you.

I'll stand by you
Won't let nobody hurt you
I'll stand by you


Always, 'Ryss. Always.

Won't let anybody hurt you.

Won't let you hurt you.

No matter what problems are in the way.

Whatever difficulties wait for us.

I'll be there.

For you.

For you, and for Gallifrey.

Inspiring, provoking.

Catalysing the defender of creativity.

We're in this together, Alryssa.

Together. As long as you live.


Baby, even till your darkest hour
And I'll never desert you
I'll stand by you

And when
When the night falls on you, baby
You'll be there all alone
Won't be there on your own
I'll stand by you


Mum...

I want...

I want you back so much.

Don't wanna be them, don't wanna be like them...

So much...

This wasn't why Grandma did it, was it?

Was it?

Why did you never tell us?

What happened?

What did she do?

You would have told us?

Right?

You would have told us...

...and you'd be there, and it'd all be okay...


I'll stand by you.
Won't let nobody hurt you
I'll stand by you

Baby, even till your darkest hour
And I'll never desert you
I'll stand by you...


The girls lowered their microphones as the Eighth finished the song.

And then they bowed.

The audience held silent.


'The Gods' turn now...' Imran murmured. 'Wonder how they're going to counter that...'

Eloise caught Kid's eye, saw him gazing at the Sirens.

Saw a horror reflected in his eyes.

Understanding. Knowing what he saw.

Hating what he saw.

Hating it... because he'd known it in himself.

Saw something about himself in them. What he'd been.

But not who he was, she reminded herself. The man he'd become... the man he'd become had moved beyond whatever they might show him. Had joined the side of the Hoedowners, his darkness emphasising, complementing, their light. Grounding it.

Eloise's eyes fell on the Sirens.

'Imran...'

'I know.' Imran said. 'No. Xeffy will not end up like them - not if Allie, Sandra or me have anything to say about it. That's not the way her talent works - but they'll want to try and corrupt her... or failing that, make it seem as if her talent's going to make her like them. Scare her away from it, make it seem corrupted, tainted...'

Eloise looked at Kid again.

No...

It wasn't just Xeffy they were after.

She took a deep breath. They'd won through their acts - now, they had to survive the Gods' finale.

The Sirens readied themselves.

Here goes...


'Head to head.' Imran murmured. 'I should've remembered...'

'Pardon?'

'Song battle. First one side does a song, then the other, then the first one again.

'The last side to sing wins. If the other side can't - or don't - follow it, then they lose.'

Eloise turned back. Oh no. Oh no oh no...

They'd been counting on it being a counterpoint - both sides singing simultaneously. Or failing that, one song for each side.

Not this. Not this.

Could TYAS hold out that long? All the Sirens felt - all they felt - was hunger. Never get tired, never get drained, never get hoarse... they'd just keep on singing.

The girls couldn't do that... could they?


"Well," she said, a little shakily. "We do outnumber them -- by a long shot. If we can take turns... Xephy picking up when TYAS gets tired, then the other hoedowners, long enough to give TYAS a break, so they could take it up again..."

"Do you really think that a bunch of kazzoo-tooting trolls are an equal match for sirens?" Imran asked, incredulously.

"Well..." Eloise took a deep breath. "We'll have to try, won't we?" She steeled herself to glance at the three bird-women and saw the featherless wings, the old scars where each feather had been plucked out now a pale pearl of itself. And she took hope.

The sirens and the muses had held just such a song battle before -- a battle instigated by Hera. And the Muses had won. They'd plucked out every feather of the sirens' wings, and made crowns for themselves from them. She winced inside at that memory from her studies in Mythology. The Muses could be as cruel as the Gods of Ragnarok, sometimes.

The muses would always be the stronger of the two groups. But this time, the sirens were probably not just singing on behalf of the Gods -- they wanted a rematch. And the three muses singing now were no where near as mature or strong as the original nine.

"Wait a minute --" Eloise said, "where are the Moerae?"

"The who?"

"The Moerae -- the three fates. According to the ancient myths, they always sang in unison with the sirens."

"But they're not here now."

Eloise shook her head. "I don't think they can. They're part of the Powers that Be, surely. They can't take sides. Not this time."

"So the sirens are singing without their full power," Imran observed.

"Right. But if their 'back-up singers' are part of the panel that is going to judge us..."

"They might vote in favor of their old 'team'."

Eloise nodded. "But above all else, the Fates were always fair judges -- at least, that's what the myths always said."

"So it's still up in the air."

"As undecided as it was in the beginning. We have a chance," Eloise said, "as long as we can keep coming up with songs." She sighed. "If only Allie still had her Robe of Inspiration, it would be a cinch -- we'd be able to ad lib our way through."

"Maybe we still can."

"Maybe."


'...!'

'What?'

Imran looked at Eloise. 'You knew they sang with the Sirens - but I didn't. To me, the Moirae were always the spinners of Fate.'

Eloise nodded. 'It's a small part of their myth... and speaking of which, this is a rematch.'

'It's what?!'

'The Sirens - and the nine Muses - also had a song battle, instigated by Hera. The Muses won - and plucked the feathers from the Sirens' wings to make crowns.'

'Oh my Gods...' Imran whispered. 'Oh my Gods. Calliope said something about the "siren's gift", about Xeffy having the Sirens' gift. She was part of the song battle, she must have known... the Fates are neutral, always have been. No favour, even to the highest. Fate weaves the tapestry as it must. Not Gods... but something else. That's something the myths usually agreed on. If they are part of the PTB, they'll stay neutral... Only the Nine, only the first Nine, are goddesses.' He hesitated. 'They're nowhere near that. Even those Muses who were around at the same time... only the first nine, Mnemosyne's daughters, are the goddesses. Three, not nine... without the power of the Nine...'

'Against three, not six.' Eloise said. 'Against three.'

'Hn. Here's where all those nights on the karaoke machine finally pay off...' Imran murmured. 'Four on three...'

'Sandra.' Eloise realised. 'Do phantasms get tired?'

'Don't know. Sandra's the first I've met. But she doesn't have a physical body to get tired... they may still want us to swap, though, so I wouldn't count on that...'

Eloise looked back into the ring.

But they knew the Gods were going to spring something during the act. If they could fight it off... then the Gods would lose. And the Gods were getting impatient, just like the PTB - they wouldn't settle for a filibuster, they'd strike soon.

And if they couldn't fight it off?

Eloise shuddered.

Watch. Watch carefully. The Gods will make their move - and we must be ready.

We must.


She watched the Doctors from her vantage point, unseen by the Gods. Watched their faces, the different emotions expressed by all 8 of him. Seventh, stoic and unforgiving. Sixth, singing his hearts out. Eighth, troubled and weary. Fifth, intensely concentrating, immersing himself in the song...

Felt the vortex pushing.

No. Not yet. Wait. Wait...

Her staff glowed dimly. She laid a hand on it, gently, as if reassuring herself that it was real.

Please, goddess, let me not screw this up. Not like Oltega 9. Please...


Exchange.

Back and forth.

Wordless songs, songs of beauty.

Captivating, entrancing.

'They're not using their talent.' Imran murmured. 'Using intent... They don't intend to use it.'

Hollow, though. Beautiful, charming... a meaning that was suggested, rather than actual.

Listen deeper.


'Oh no. We fell for that one already.'

'Xeffy's not going to sing, you know that.'

'I know. I know. What happens when you see your future - and it's monstrosity? She's terrified!'


Come. Follow the call, follow where it leads.

Follow. Follow.

Come.


No way.

Wasn't falling for that again.

The empty hunger, the mindless pit.

Survive. Survive, no matter what.

Nothing else matters.

No...


Oh no. Oh no.


He knew he'd done monstrous things - killed and stolen, fought and terrorized the cowed and helpless.

Not a monster, though. All too human. All too human.

A part of him - a part he'd thought necessary. That had become necessary, to survive.

One final trap.

Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

He could feel its form now, knew it for what it was.

He recognised it.

It'd mastered him, mastered him for... who knew how long. He'd let it master him... what else had there been?

The others would be fighting it too - they'd faced their share, and more than their share, during their lives, yet still held to the light.

And the longer the sirens sang, the less resistable it would be. Less able to fight.

He knew his,... but there was much, so much...

Too much to atone for?

So many dead, so many dead by his hands.

The deaths he'd seen, he'd done, as history passed him by.

Blood on blood on blood.

Some had been good men. Some had been bad.

Some had sought him out, to bring back his head. Some had turned on him - revenge, or greed, or trap-laying.

Many. Many over the years.

A sea of blood.

A sea of it.

And, oh, he knew what that meant, the price that brought.

How would any story end, but in death?

A redemption, maybe. A redemptive death. Take out the sirens... then get taken out himself.

Or bloody, meaningless - just another corpse in the dust, one who got in the way.

A step closer to it. With every second that passed, a step closer.

And he would - what other price would the stories demand for a killer? Killers got killed. That was the way of things.

They got killed.

Accident or action, they got killed.

But that wasn't always the way of the story. Sometimes, they survived - long survived anyone who might have come for them. Sometimes.

But most of the time, death got brought back on them.

Didn't fling themselves into it, though.

No. Did, if it meant saving someone else...


'Doctor?'

'No. No. I will not. I will not remember!'

'Oh no. Oh no.'


Oh yeah. He could see it now.

Evoke the darkness in them, bring it to light.

Tainted victory, tainted by blood and darkness.

The outlaw, the one who struggled with his darkness - his death would be the wakeup call, the realisation of what the sirens had done, what the Hoedowners had become. And they'd defeat the sirens, someway, somehow.

At the cost of a life.

His life.

And if he killed... another tainting. Another dirty victory.

Couldn't sing to the light. Couldn't interrupt, not without a call of foul.


I'm going to screw this up.

Like I screwed it up before I accepted Gallifrey.

Going to screw it up again.

(going to die again)

Going to mess this up...

...funny, you'd have thought not being human any more meant you were beyond it.


Not human. Not any more.

Oh, they pretended...

...but she wasn't. No matter how much she might think otherwise.

Don't get comfortable. Don't get familiar. Because when you do, that's when you've started forgetting. Started to forget what being human was like.

The pain. That's how you know, that's how you remember. Through the pain.

Raising a scaled hand in front of her face.

Not physical pain. Soul pain, emotional pain...


The sirens smiled.


'Xeffy?'

'Huh?'

She turned around - and looked up into the Eighth's face.

Whose face was twisted in concentration.

'You'll have to excuse me. I hope I'm coming out right. I've shut down my audial systems, so I can't hear anything - in particular, them. Unfortunately, I can't hear myself - so I'm going on memory, and lip-reading, to have this conversation. You see, if the sirens don't get tired, and don't need to pause, that means they can continue their song as long as they choose. I don't think they're trying to tire us into an ending, though - wear us down, until we strike against them, perhaps. By their final song... I think we'd be too captivated by the darkness, one way or the other, to continue.'

'So what do you suggest?!'

'Start humming.'

'But-'

'Start humming. Low, under your breath. I want you to concentrate on something.'

'But-'

'Xephanya... look at me. Look. Focus on me, and on what you call. Show them what the siren's gift can be used for. Show them it doesn't have to be like this. That you are not like this. Will never be like this. That these others will not allow it - so long as it's in their power. Show them.'

'But...'

'Someone will die unless we stop this. Now. Either they will, or one of us will. Someone will feed their hunger, unless we stop them now.

'Xeffy...'

The young girl breathed out.

Then she nodded.


And the sirens felt it.

Felt the hunger being fought, the darkness they called resisted.

Someone calling the light.

The soul they had wanted so badly.

A siren born to a family of muses.

A prize they would have dearly sought.

A new siren. A new siren who belonged to those who had beaten them, so long ago.

Would have brought out the darkness, called it until she'd begged to join, begged on her knees...

Not fighting them. Not singing loudly enough to distract, to distract anyone.

Calling the light. Calling on life.

They saw the eyes of the one with her. Saw him...

And his gaze promised them. Promised that as long as she kept singing, he would encourage her. As long as he could encourage her, she would sing.

And as they were fought, more, and more, and more would fight off their song. Would be freed from their grip.

You cannot fight this resistance. Not without revealing what you have done. The louder you sing, the more obvious it will become. The longer you sing, the unhappier your masters will be.

You will be resisted. Far beyond the point it is worthwhile for you to continue. Far beyond any point your masters would be satisfied with. They will not fall as easily as your masters wish.

And because of what she calls, they will not strike you. Will not offer themselves up to you to end this.

One voice. One voice, put against you.

One that will be the key to many more.

And it will triumph.


The audience shook their heads, trying to ease their headaches.

Then one of the sirens raised her voice once more.

The victory has been conceded.

They have won.


'We have?' Eloise gasped.

'Not yet...' Imran's voice was quiet. 'We've won this round - somehow... Now it's the PTB's decision...'

Everything hangs in the balance...

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