The Queen of the Muses wants a word...
"Tessa. Alryssa." Calliope motioned for them to be seated.
Tessa fidgeted nervously, her curly red hair hiding her face somewhat from Calliope's gaze. Alryssa couldn't help but feel the same way.
"You bargained with Ma'at," she said, getting right to the point as always. Her expression was difficult to decipher.
Alryssa met her eyes, defiantly. "Yes, I did. I had to."
Calliope looked at her thoughtfully. "I can honestly say I've never had a Muse assigned to someone like you. What do I do? Do I give you two Muses for two souls? Or does Tessa take on both of you? Or do I tell you you're on your own?"
"Calliope, please!" Tessa interjected, leaping up from her seat. "I can do it! Don't make her do this alone! Isn't it bad enough she had to give herself to Ma'at?" Desperation coloured her voice.
"And that's another thing."
"Tessa, it's all right." Alryssa stood. "With the greatest respect, Calliope... I can't change what has happened, and neither can you. You're concerned that Ma'at may call on me to do something that would break your rules. But when it comes to protecting my friends and ensuring creativity isn't stifled... I have to break the rules sometimes. Take Tessa from me if you have to. But I'll still be here."
Tessa's eyes bugged. Alryssa turned to leave, but Calliope called her.
"No. I won't take Tessa from you. But Ma'at demanded a high price. How can you create when you cannot love?"
"Just because I can't love doesn't mean I don't care." She smiled, wryly. "I guess that makes two of us, then."
She left to head to the party, leaving Tessa mystified.
Calliope sighed. "I can see this won't be the last time..."
"Who's the other one?"
"Who else?" Calliope answered, cryptically, and vanished.
Tessa growled at the empty air. "Dammit, I hate it when she does that!" she muttered, and took off to find Alryssa among the myriad of partygoers.
A few seconds later...
'Imran's the WHAT?!?!?!'
'No one said she'd be doing this alone, did they?'
'She can't do this alone.'
'...She won't be doing this alone.'
'Let them have the choice. Even if she didn't, they do. Allow them that.'
'Once together, always together.'
'This oughta be good.'
'You're telling me.'
'Etherite, Senshi, Knight. Oh yeah, this's gonna get weird.'
'Somewhere out there, there are people made of smoke and cities made of song...'
'And they aren't gonna have the faintest clue what hit them.'
'Gordon, have you ever considered the beneficial qualities of Ether as a scientific theory?'
One very dazed and confusing conversation later...
'I think that went well, don't you?'
'Um, I don't know, Yokoi... he seemed to be in a bit of a trance.'
'Oh, he'll be fine.'
'Are you sure we explained it clearly enough?'
'He was mumbling something about "putting down some really ethereal tracks".'
'Yeah. And right now he's talking to Saville about spinning some euphoric tunes.'
Gordon and Saville had taken over the turntables and started spinning big euphoric tunes. As he mixed Hybrid's Finished Symphony (Echoplex Mix) into Sasha's Xpander, he looked around the barn at the partygoers.
He spotted Eloise slipping off, and smiled to himself. Of all the people here, she was the one who deserved a rest now.
He spotted Alryssa, tired but happy, still grooving. She'd probably outlast everyone else.
He spotted Imran, still with a slightly dazed look on his face, being harassed by Allie and Xeffie into getting onto the dancefloor.
He spotted Yokoi, chilling out in a big comfy chair, still wearing the top hat, with Jones curled up on her lap, purring contentedly.
He spotted Igor and Barry, both with big stupid grins on their faces, bouncing up and down on the bouncy castle along with several members of the ProFun U-boat crew.
He spotted Cameron, still in cat form, being chased around by Nyctolops with a bucket of water.
He spotted Daibhid, the backpack jiggling around on his back in time with the beat.
He spotted Zorak and Krizu tickling one of the Masters with feather dusters, sniggering away to themselves.
As he mixed into Paul Van Dyk's For An Angel, he decided there wasn't anywhere else he'd rather be right now.
And the music played on...
Bokman turned to Zoe. "Well..."
"It looks like we've done our part."
"I suppose. Apparently it worked out, don't know how..."
"I'll explain later," she said.
"Well, of course. We will have to get together sometime, perhaps for a more normal evening of entertainment."
"I don't know, I think I've let this thing become a bit self-indulgent."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, this whole thing with us flirting, really not relevant to the story was it? I mean, here every story in and out of the Whoniverse is under attack, and I'm trying to get your phone number."
"I didn't mind. Maybe next year you'll think of something more active."
"There's that chance. So... we'll at least see each other then, right?"
"Sure, and if you're ever in the Whoniverse again, you know where I am. Sort of. Most of the time anyway..."
"A good author always knows where his characters are."
"Then we shouldn't be parted for too long. And in the meantime, I've got my adventures, you've got yours."
"I guess you're right. Well, hope to see you again."
"We all know time is relative, don't we?"
The two exchanged a friendly hug and kiss, and parted, each thinking of a possible reunion. As Bokman hummed the WHO theme to himself merrily, a thought struck him.
"I wonder what they've got planned for next year?"
Vortex City, a few days later...
At the crest of the hill, the Contessa reined in, glancing across at her companion.
The Doctor nodded. "This will do nicely, thanks -- that is, I think --" For a moment he hesitated, looking around with growing dismay until his eye finally fell on a familiar shape half-hidden behind a clump of brush. His face cleared like magic and he jumped down from the high seat with a wave of thanks.
Halfway to the TARDIS, he swung round. "I don't suppose you'd care for a lift? A quick trip across the galaxy, just to have a look at what you've been missing all these years --"
A wave of the hand swept aside her protesting glance at the team and buggy. "Oh, don't worry about that. You're forgetting your heritage, Contessa -- we could have you back here before you'd even gone --"
She shook her head, smiling a little to soften the refusal. "I lost my wanderlust before ever you left Gallifrey, my friend. I have seen more worlds than any man can count, and sought only for a home -- and here at last I stay."
"And yet, you told him of the Time Lords..." the Doctor said softly.
A little silence.
The memory, unnamed, slipped between them like a ghost.
"I watched him from the first." The Contessa measured out her words, betraying nothing. "He was not like the others -- echoes of their originals, memories who once were real, shadows of the little men whose existence touched upon the edge of lives that would become legend. Figures from the margins of dime-novels, names immortalised in street-songs for the sake of a rhyme."
The team fidgeted, scenting perhaps their old home down in the valley bottoms. She quietened them with a whispered word. Gold caught the sunlight as she gestured to the land around with one ungloved hand.
"As soon as he came to the City... I knew. Oh, I did not know for certain who had brought him, or why. But there were few worlds enough, even then, with the power and the arrogance both to do such a thing. Some powerplay among the Houses, perhaps -- and my own presence known..."
"And so you tested him. Chose tales that would betray what he might know." The Doctor's eyebrow was raised, and she nodded, a sudden world of pain in her dark eyes.
"They are so brief, their little lives -- and we cannot give them what they so desire --"
"It was his own choice, at the last," the Doctor said quietly, answering the thought and not the words. For a moment, memories of his own clouded the eager features. "That is as much as any of us can hope for; that our death shall count for something, in the end."
He hesitated, glancing back; but her face was composed again, a tranquil, lovely mask, and with what was almost a helpless shrug he forged on through the bushes down-slope to the TARDIS. At the door, he turned and raised the bag he carried, an incongruous confection that resembled nothing so much as a giant purple cellophane clamshell. The Contessa's attic, which had supplied it, held a selection of galactic junk almost as eclectic in its variety as the contents of his own pockets.
Even through its frivolous casing, he could feel the oily power that seeped from the stone box within. "Are you sure about this?"
"Let the Vortex have it!" Her answer came back arrow-swift. "I have used it to repay what was taken, no more -- but in time I should be... tempted."
She gathered the reins in her hands, watching him wave and duck inside. Watching, a few minutes later, the slow dematerialisation and the fading sound of his departure.
The great loop of the river wound across the valley at her feet, the brush-scattered slopes rolling down to the rich pasture of the bottoms. On the horizon the first ranges of the mountains lifted, distant shoulders shadowed now with rain. If she closed her eyes, she could feel the freshness and the life all around, new stories weaving in amongst the old.
Behind her, along the road, a young man was riding in towards the City and the card game that would change his life. A girl with a dusty valise awaited the stage. A stray steer wreaked havoc in a lovingly-tended flower patch. A lawman rode out on the trail. A safe was unlocked at gunpoint... a gambler dealt an ace... a drunk hit the floor... a pitcher was filled... a door creaked... a saddle... a ribbon... an apple... a cat...
Half-dizzy, the Contessa took a deep breath, pulling her senses back. All was healing. All was as it should be.
She backed the buggy across the road and turned the team for home. Still she hesitated, as if some unseen door were about to close behind her. Remembering the stark loss that had awoken her, power's ghost from the shattering of the charm. Remembering... and trying to understand.
Long lashes rested for a moment against her cheek. "Goodbye, my friend," she said at last, softly; and shook the team into a steady trot.
Ten minutes later, even the dust had gone.
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