Meanwhile, in Vortex City...
A soft click, and a whirr.
Startled out of concentration, the Contessa raised her head sharply.
Then the familiar muffled note of the eight-day clock in the hallway began to sound, and she sank back in her seat, laughing a little at her own over-reaction. Ten... eleven... twelve... A corner of her mind counted the strokes automatically. Midnight.
She took a deep breath and let it go, aware suddenly of aches and tensions that had gone ignored as she strained her senses to encompass the City, to guide the healing as the restoration flowed outward around her.
The lamps were burning low. She rose to her feet, wincing a little, and moved to turn them up one by one, allowing the stiffness to fall free from her limbs as she did so. The first great outflow of stolen energy -- energy restored to its rightful stories -- was over. Channeled into place. The City was quiet, no longer cowed, beginning almost to awaken to its normal late-night hum.
She could afford time now to rest for a little; to recruit her strength. For a moment, she let her eyes close.
This was not the bone-deep weariness she had known before, when every moment had been stretched thin on the road to the inevitable end. This was no more than the pleasing ache of skilled muscles well-used... a reminder merely of all the reserves still to be tapped...
Suddenly restless, she paced to the door of the room, out to the cooler air of the hallway. Laid her forehead against the smooth wood of the newel-post beyond, at the foot of the narrow stair.
Somewhere out there in the dark -- were the other twisters. And one man fighting them, drawing them away... Buying time for a miracle.
Had he known, then, Doc Gallifrey? Linked to this place in blood and bone as she could never be, had he sensed somehow what hope would arrive when their enemies, over-confident, had deemed her at her weakest?
When they needed it most, in the shape of raw human desire the miracle had come. She hoped only that Doc Gallifrey had not already paid the price.
Slipping back down the hallway, she eased the side-door open a crack, looking out into the windswept night. Ragged remnants of clouds raced across the sky, filming-over the face of the sinking moon. The storm had passed; but in the northwest, a darkness clung on that owed nothing to nature. She sighed.
They had broken the siege -- and survived. Time now to turn the tide. Time to take the battle to the enemy... and begin to fight back.
The Contessa closed the door and walked back slowly to the familiar warmth of her parlor. The Monitors' dream-matrix lay open, unfolded, on her table, all its stored power set free. She laughed, for a moment, picturing how the Sisterhood would have reacted to the merest idea of one of their number resorting to such a device. Rassilon himself could hardly have harnessed the power of dream in a more mechanistic prison...
Well, she had taxed her mental training enough in the past hours of this night to please even the most exacting of Sisters. Time now to reawaken the other skills of Gallifrey.
She took her seat once more in front of the box with the air almost of a virtuoso pianist, flinging back his coat-tails as he prepares to perform. Touched the golden glimmer of her rings to the gold at her ears, her wrists, her waist... and felt the faint hum of the field spring into life around her. A gift, like so much of the gleaned technology hidden away here, in payment from outworld wanderers she had aided. Little used, in this time and this place -- but she carried the parts of the charged power-net with her always.
She laid one hand over the dream-matrix, sensing a slight tingle as its own field began to fuse with the net that clad her, and slowly, cautiously, feeling her way, began to set the final reversal in motion. Life against draining, joy against dullness, creation against sterility.
She did not think, somehow, that it was coincidence alone that had set this technology within the grasp of the one person in the whole of Vortex City with the knowledge to recognise it, let alone use it. But whatever purpose lay behind the miracle -- she would not turn this chance away. A tool could cut both ways, to heal as well as to harm... and hers was the hand of a healer.
Back at the Circus, the Hoedowners are planning their final act...
Nyctolops asked, "Do we need the Gods to concentrate on the singing in order for the trap to work, or do we need to distract them a bit, so that they don't realize that a trap is being set? I can't sing a note, but Cameron and I, along with some of the other non-singing performers could provide distraction in the side rings."
"Well," said Eloise. "We will need dancers . . ." She looked toward the shadows where the Goddesses Jubilganzia, Gaia, and Hertha had been bearing witness since nearly the beginning. "Until the Ragnarok Gods spring the trap, and close the conduit through which they've been stealing energy, and we can set up a more permanent conduit to let it flow back," she said, "we will have to be the conduits -- our own bodies, our own voices. Traditionally, that has been accomplished through dancing -- drawing the divine energy from the Earth (or in this case, Jubilganza) and the cosmos beyond, through our bodies, and into the sacred space being created (in our case, the "net" of energy which we will leave suspended above the circus rings, after our act). The Goddesses are here with us now. But they cannot, by the rules of the contest, act directly against the Gods of Ragnarok themselves -- they must act through us. So -- can you dance?"
"I-I think so," Nyctolops answered.
Eloise grinned a reassuring grin at her. "Based on how well you did in your acrobat act at the start, I don't think you'll have any problem."
She turned to Yartek, standing tall, stiff and still looking uncomfortable without the familiar protection of his helmet. "You, sir," she said, making sure to look him squarely in the eye, "have become famous for your ability to dance. Would you be willing to lead the dancers?"
Yartek bowed deeply in assent.
"Good!" she said. She was beginning to feel that this could work after all. "And you, Gordon --" she asked, turning to him, "are your zombies still prepared to be part of this fun?"
Gordon grinned. "They're always ready for fun!" he answered.
She handed a stack of photo-copied papers to Xeffy.
"Here are the lyrics and music for the round," she said. "Better pass them out to the audience so they can sing along."
"Hey," Xeffy asked. "Where'd these come from?"
"Troll magic," Eloise answered, with a
Sandra blinked. 'O-kay...'
'Xeffy, Xephy, Zephy...' Xeffy mumbled.
'Okay.' Imran thought. 'I think, now, since both sides are involved, the Gods are going to try and distract us during the battle. If we stop, during the song...'
'...then they win by default,' Eloise said.
'Exactly. We need someone to counter that.' Imran looked around. 'We are not to distract them so that they stop singing, okay? We're distracting them to divert their attentions - and to defend against whatever they'll throw at us.
'And we know what - or who - they'll use during the battle.'
~Sirens.~ Silence signed.
Imran nodded. 'The originals. Or corruptions of the originals, at any rate. It's almost too obvious.'
'It's perfect for the Gods,' Katherine said.
Sandra and Allie turned their heads. 'The originals?!'
Tessa took a deep breath. 'Okay... The magic words we had in mind should still work...'
'What's the problem?'
Imran caught their look at Xeffy. Oh...
A siren who'd just discovered what she was, against... against corruptions, twistings of the first sirens.
But she wasn't one of the originals, was she? They had been nymphs, before they'd been cursed... but Xeffy came from a family of Muses. Not a throwback. An inheritor. A modern day siren.
Putting her own creative spin on it.
'It's supposed to be a gift,' Xeffy said quietly. 'Grandma's gift. For better or worse. And with an audience behind me... I didn't tag along behind you. I came to help you - because you called me, asked me to.'
Sandra looked down.
'It's not about you helping me, or me helping you,' Allie said. She stopped Xeffy's response.
'We're in this together. And Xeph...'
Xeffy stepped back from her sister's glistening eyes.
'I'd die before I'd let you die. You're my sister. Not my baby sister, not my little sister... but you're my sister. You got into this because I wanted you to be safe. I still do. I'm scared. I'm scared that, one way or the other, they're going to win - and take you. But...' Allie breathed out. 'If they do, they're going to go through me first. And if they do get through me... you'll know what to do.'
'You've got the talent. You know why you're doing this - and what you're doing. You can take them on,' Allie continued.
She raised an eyebrow. 'Otherwise you wouldn't be the teen queen - right?'
Xeffy grinned, blinking away the nascent tears. 'Right.'
Allie blinked. 'Singing in the shower? Xeph, you never said-' She raised her other eyebrow. 'And who else was in there to trap?'
Xeffy blushed furiously.
'We're going to have to have a talk about relationships soon, young lady...' Allie said, a smile twitching at her mouth.
Gordon clicked his fingers. 'Just a moment... How is Sandra going to hold a mike?'
Gordon doubled over.
'Telekinesis. Moving things with the power of my feelings,' Sandra explained.
'I thought that was 'power of your thoughts'.'
'It is, for some. But telekinesis means movement at a distance. It doesn't necessarily mean I have to use my thoughts...'
'We also need this-' Shayde held up the sphere.
'This will be what will trap them,' Shayde said. 'The prison they created from human dream-'
'-will be their binding.'
'Which is all well and good, but how do we get them in?'
Allie looked at Alryssa. The Senshi didn't return it.
'We ask Ma'at. We call upon her - at the moment they attempt their final strike-'
'-and at that point, they will be judged,' Alryssa said. 'Not given to the Devourer - they're kin to it, in a strange way. I'd hate to think what'd happen if they met. No. They will be judged against the feather of Ma'at - and then, they will be imprisoned. Called in by the siren song - and by our Muses' magic words.'
The three Odd Muses double-took.
'We still remembered why you came up with TYA in the first place, guys,' Gordon said. 'You said you had some magic words you were going to use - not to bring something to life...'
'To call something,' Tessa said. 'Call upon something.'
'We're going to set up - hang - the binding. Not trigger it. We're going to trigger it at the moment they're judged. Called on by the magic. Captivated by the siren's song. And bound by our dreams.'
'But how?' Eloise wondered. 'They eat stories...'
'All but one,' Allie said. 'All but one. And that one - their own - is key to their binding.'
'So... we'll have to time it precisely.' Eloise looked around. 'We need everyone - everyone - to keep their dreams in mind during the song battle. And then, when they make their final strike - after they've won or lost - we call upon Ma'at to judge them - and then we bind them.'
The others nodded silently.
'This is the completion of the web,' Eloise said, quietly. 'If we win, and we bind them... they're no longer maintaining their conduit, no longer drawing out creativity. Our web breaks that conduit, creates a conduit of our own, returning the stolen energy back where it belongs... and hopefully, it won't be too late. One way or another, it'll be decided by the time the sun clears the horizon.
'Is that everything?'
Before Imran could answer, a strange vehicle emerging from the back of the circus caught his eye. It was a large tricycle, with a huge white box on the front. Pedalling it merrily and occasionally shouting "Getcher quorn dogs!" was Daibhid. The Rucksack was hanging from the handlebars and Schroedy was curled up on the box.
"Found it backstage," he grinned, "It's good, isn't it? Anyone want a quorn hot dog? Popcorn? Drinks? I think there might be a candyfloss machine... So, what's the plan, folks?"
Imran and Eloise outlined what they'd discussed while the others picked up some snacks. "Doesn't the Doctor always say you can't fight evil on an empty stomach?" remarked Gordon.
"Er, not that I remember," responded the Eighth Doctor, joining the queue. "But I'll definitely start. Two dogs, no onion, please."
"There you go." Turning back to Eloise, Daibhid said, "So, the rest of us have the job of distracting the Gods from distracting the singers? Not a problem. If there's one thing this Hoedown's proved, it's the power of Pro-Fun to distract. That's why we keep going off on side trips. And with an army of cats, a gunslinger, a comedy food cart, a full complement of characters from a score of fictiverses and a typo gremlin, I don't see how they could fail to be distracted!"
Imran shook his head. "Subtlety, Daibhid. At this point, an upheld foul could mean they win automatically."
"Relax, we'll be subtle. I know what I'm doing."
"No, but I'm sure someone does." He looked back at the Eighth Doctor. "Um, that's two fifty, altogether." The Doctor looked at him. "Hey, I'm cutting my own throat, here!"
Yokoi snapped her fingers. 'I know what we're missing,'
'Oh? What?' Gordon asked. 'Apart from the burgers, anyway?"
'There you go,' Daibhid said, handing him a quorn burger.
"Killer outfits of course!"
Yokoi struck a pose to show off her... unique.... dress.
Imran's eyes bugged. Gordon hiccuped. Allie choked.
"Woah..." Tessa breathed. "OK, my turn..."
She dashed off to find herself an outfit. Allie paused a moment, then took off after her.
"What's their plan, blind the Gods with shiny things?" murmured Sandra.
Imran just shrugged, speechlessly.
'I thought they'd already been to the changing rooms,' Eloise said.
'They have...' Imran said. 'But this is their star turn, after all.'
Eloise grinned. 'True enough. So once they get back, we're on.'
Sandra grinned, and twirled. 'Well, I already look like a refugee from "Burning Saddles"... I think I'll stick with it.'
'Problem?' Yokoi asked.
'Who, me? No, no problem at all. Absolutely. No problem.' Gordon eyed his Muse. 'You've been 'round me for far too long.'
Yokoi smirked. 'What'd you expect? All that "curvy female ninja" stuff had to rub off sometime. Yokoi - Idol Star!'
'She's my Muse alright...' Gordon muttered.
Imran looked in the direction his Muse had gone, following Tessa. Looked thoughtful for a moment.
'What about Xeffy, though?' Eloise wondered.
'What about Xeffy?' the adolescent siren asked.
Yokoi smiled wickedly. 'I have just the thing. Come on!'
With that, she grabbed Xeffy's hand and hauled her off to the dressing rooms.
'What's she planning?' Gordon wondered.
'Don't look at me, she's your Muse...' Imran said.
'Don't you know what Allie plans?'
'If I did, I'd have known about Sandra much earlier,' Imran said. 'Sometimes, yeah, when she gives me a narrative overview, or when we were the Bookworm, basically whenever we share headspace... but not usually.'
'Does it work the other way around?' Alryssa asked. 'They wouldn't know what we planned?'
Imran shook his head. 'Not unless they were sharing headspace just beforehand.'
'Oh,' Alryssa said.
'The connection's... usually unconscious,' Imran explained. 'They personify the creative impulse, yeah - but they've got an identity beyond that. Some Muses come into being when their author imagines them - but some have been around for years, centuries, millennia, pairing up with lots of artists before they teamed up with their current one.'
'They survive the death of their author?'
'As long as the idea of them, that identity, survives in reality, gets remembered,' Imran said. 'But when it happens... it hits hard. The Muse/Writer relationship isn't quite like any other. It's...' He hesitated. 'traumatic, when one dies. Not like losing a relative, or a friend. It's... different, but similar. It hasn't happened to me... there're stories, from the survivor, about what happens...'
'Which one's Allie?' Gordon asked.
'Allie? Oh... Um, given she's twenty... she's lived for twenty years... She had a life before she met me, basically,' Imran said. 'That's where Xeffy came from.'
Sandra nodded. 'No Writers, though. He's Allie's first.'
'And on work experience to boot,' Imran said, drily. 'She's my first, too. Muses can move on from their Writers, without too much trouble - move on to another Writer, while the Writer takes on another Muse. They don't have to take on another Muse, but most Writers do.'
'So, does being a Muse run in the family?'
'In my family, yep. Auntie Jackie - and Xeffy - aren't, but the rest of the family are,' Sandra said. 'It's not genetic... I think it's one of those story conventions. Some families have only one Muse - and in others, the whole family are. Some pop up spontaneously from their Writer's minds. And not every Writer personifies their Muse - puts an identity to go with that impulse in the back of their heads. Even if they do, that doesn't mean they have to bring them out.'
'Which's why only the three of you - is it four?'
'Technically, I'm not a Muse anymore. I'm a phantasm,' Sandra explained.
'Which is partly why only you three have popped up,' Eloise surmised.
Gordon looked out at the ring. 'That, and if anybody else turns up, it's gonna look like a tin of sardines out there...'
'It doesn't already?' Imran said.
'That depends entirely on your definition of "sardine". Or, for that matter, "tin".'
'So, before the girls get back... We haven't forgotten anything, have we?' Eloise said.
'You keep saying that.'
Eloise nodded. 'I know. I think it's an attack of nerves.'
'With who's out there, I'd be worried if we didn't...' Imran observed. ' 'Kay, so have we forgotten anything? Daibhid and food cart - and army of distractions, Yartek and Nyctolops leading the dancing, and the girls getting killer outfits... You know, Daibhid's right. Pro-fun has an incredible power to distract... but I think we've got everything.'
But at least one of those present has misgivings...Previous chapter Next chapter