But Kid Curry has been thinking...
As Bokman and Zoe came forward into the pool of light, Kid Curry made his way quietly round the edge of the side-ring to where almost all the seats were empty. Smooth movements, no hurry; nothing to draw attention. Working his way to where he wanted -- he scowled; no, strike that -- where he needed to be. Right next to the Gods of Ragnarok.
He could feel the charm at his neck trembling softly, like a living thing. He guessed the Gods couldn't touch him directly. They'd tried, back when they first arrived. Tried to take him out with a lightning strike. Hadn't even singed a hair.
Looked like they couldn't kill him, then. But they could sure try to trick him. Take a man's own rage, own hatred, and use it against him... to cut him off from the most precious thing he'd ever held. No need to kill when they knew just how to break his mind.
Break his protection. Go straight for Allie.
Always Allie. Why her? Why try to steal a Muse?
Gods of uncreation. Gods of mockery and hunger. And what was a Muse?
He didn't rightly understand -- didn't even know if she was flesh and blood or some kind of spirit-woman -- but from what he'd seen, this last day or two, a Muse made stories. Just by existing. Just by being with her Writer.
Imran needed his Muse... to create. And so maybe that was just what the Gods had in mind. Maybe, to bring down what they had planned, to trigger the final act and open every world to their desiring -- there was something they needed to create.
Something bad, sure. Something real bad... but even for that, they needed more imagination than they'd ever have. So they'd set out to get them a Muse of their own.
A mockery of a Muse. Part of a soul. And if what they'd done to him was anything to go by, he had this feeling it wouldn't be the best part of Allie's soul they'd hooked into, either. Not parts she'd be proud of... but parts they could use. For what they wanted. And anything they wanted -- sure was liable to be bad news.
Kid Curry stared up at the swirling hatred above.
-- Contessa? How'm I gonna crack this one?
No answer... guess he still didn't know how to work this thing. Have to wait for her to contact him -- and by what she'd told him last, maybe things were getting kind of rough in Vortex City. Maybe she didn't have time to spare.
He unfastened the rawhide thong one more time, untwisting the knot rubbed smooth and black against his shirt. Cupped in his hand, the lines marked around the center of the blue bead led the eye in... down... maybe he could get to see her, figure out some way to help...
He pulled himself back with a strength he hadn't known he possessed. A sight of the Contessa was what he wanted. But it wasn't what the Hoedown needed. It wasn't what Allie needed -- either part of her.
He'd let the Gods get to her. Now he was going to steal that soul back. And they'd never even know he was coming... until he was good and ready to leave.
Better keep the horses saddled up for that getaway, though. One way or another -- win or lose -- he had this feeling they'd be high-tailing it out of town in a big way.
Out in the ring, Bokman grinned and swept his cape in a final, shimmering flourish to open the climax of the act. Zoe stepped back, one hand outstretched dramatically. And the Gods' eagerness and hatred streamed out over the outlaw's head, oblivious to all else.
Kid Curry held up the bead. Looked into the charm, let the power flow. Looked through the charm. Sank down, down, down... or maybe that was up, up, up...
Like drowning. Pale face tossing, slipping away in dark water -- long, dark hair -- He gasped, choking, rolled over and over, battered by the blinding stream. Power all around him. Pulling at him, tearing at his clothes, his limbs, his eyes --
He caught a breath, then another.
Not rushing, now. Drifting. Not water, after all. Not even the old nightmare of the river...
Drifting in nothing. A wasteland. No 'land' at all. No light. No warmth. Nothing hard. Nothing firm. Nothing real.
Where am I? Inside -- but inside of what? Where?
A cold thought. Inside the Gods of Ragnarok?
Is this, then... what's left -- after?
Floating... for a long time...
A girl. A ghost. Silver. Powdered hair. Diamonds at her throat, pale on curving milky skin above a low-cut gown. Gloves, white to the elbow. Under the skirt, tiny slippers of silver fur. Oh, she was mighty fine, right enough; dressed for the dance, a real belle...
"Kid!" She touched him -- or tried. Her glove slid through his arm with barely a tingle.
A catch in her breath. "Kid -- can't you see me? I'm here -- it's me -- it's Allie --"
Allie? He stared at the ghost; trying to remember. Something important he'd come here to do --
Allie -- who was Allie?
In Vortex City, Doc Gallifrey is having trouble - but nothing he can't handle...
He's running now.
The storm is hard on his heels.
And so are its riders.
Vortex City is devastated. They're holdin' on... but barely.
They need time to regroup. To pull together.
To stop the fading.
Away from the city. Take it out of the city.
The contest begins again.
All he has - all he's ever had - are his wits and his guns.
Can't use the guns 'gainst this storm.
But he can use his wits.
Against its riders.
They want him.
He knows why.
Coming up to the jump...
He turns, raises the gun, and fires.
Into one of the riders.
The rider holds its shape for a moment-
Not dead, though. Banished, but not dead.
Looks like the family guns were just what was needed - or the symbol emblazoned on them, maybe.
They'll be running scared now. Running scared and angry. They can be hurt here, be banished - and they weren't expecting that.
He doesn't have the bullets to drive them all back - that wasn't the plan. But he's got enough to hold them off.
For just long enough.
For the city.
Meanwhile, back in the ring, the Eighth Doctor's companions are coming up with a few ideas of their own...
Izzy blinked at the incredible reappearing-disappearing Gallifrey. 'Oh, that explains it...'
'Explains what?' Charley asked.
'Why Fey and me can go to Gallifrey in our continuity, while Fitz and Anji can't - Gallifrey still exists in the comics.'
'Oh... And it lets Neverland happen next year!' Charley realised.
'Mm-hmm. This way, we not only have the cake and eat it too, we can eat it as many times as we want.'
Izzy looked around. 'Hey, you seen the others?'
'The anime guys? Spike, Dawn and Anya? Oh, and Jack?'
'They've been in the audience.'
Gordon spoke up. "Yeah, luckily the Gods are just concerned with the audience as a whole, not with who's actually in the audience...
"What do you mean?" asked Imran.
Gordon led Imran up to the curtain and pointed towards some audience members. "Well, the most obvious ones are those two." he said, pointing at a moustachioed plumber and a bright blue, anthropomorphic hedgehog.*
"And over there in the green top, swapping archaeological anecdotes with Benny?"
"The two women discussing survival horror tactics over there?" he said, indicating the pair, one with bright red hair and grey body armour, the other in a blue police uniform*.
"And that's just to name a few. Saville's been busy. Interactive fiction at work..."
* Mario and Sonic...obviously :) Lara Croft * Regina from Dino Crisis, Jill Valentine from Resident Evil (where Barry is also from)
'Can't be having with stories at all...'
'Hello, Mistress Weatherwax.' Imran said, very, very politely. 'Mrs Ogg.'
'Wotcha.' Nanny said.
Agnes bobbed a bow. (Witches never curtsey.) 'Um... Hello.'
'Hold on, didn't she just say-'
'And I can't be havin' with them, either,' Granny Weatherwax proclaimed, indicating the Gods.
'Neither can we,' Gordon said.
'Goin' round, treatin' people like things. Do this. Do that, or we will kill you. No, can't be having with that at all.'
'Or anything that treats people like things. That uses people... like stories.'
Granny peered at him closely. 'Hmm. And you're fighting to save 'em.'
'It's about working with the stories. Not letting it control you... but directing it, stepping back, watching from outside the story..'
'Mm. And how do you know you're outside the story, hmm?'
'First, you've got to realise you're in a story before you can think about stepping outside.'
'Sharp. Be careful you don't cut yourself, young man.'
'They want a story where everything else is theirs to use.' Imran said. 'The last story.'
'It's not about use, young man. It's about judging. Judging what you're going to do, each moment of your life.'
'You've gotta know what you're doing.'
'Gytha suggested we have a good, old-fashioned, hoedown. Hah.'
'Well, it is.' Nanny Ogg said. 'People gettin' drunk, singin' rude songs an' forgettin' the words, punchups...'
'You know, she's right.' Gordon said to no-one in particular.
Izzy's eyes widened. 'Wait a minute... Wait a minute! We've got the Norns with us!'
'The.. You're right!' Charley breathed.
'Or at least an aspect of them - most definitely not a traditional one...'
'I was wondering when you'd get around to realising that...' the tall white-haired young woman behind them said, grinning. 'The Gods of Ragnarok draw on aspects of Norse myth. So do we.'
'Urd... Why didn't you mention this before?'
'Because someone - naming no names - managed to overlook us...' Urd gave Imran a dark look. 'He thought we were just here for the side story.'
'We've got a problem, though.' the young girl with long black hair sitting next to her piped up.
'I thought you were gonna say that, Skuld...'
'We're not from those Gods' continuity. Or traditional Norse myth. We're another take on the three Norns.' Urd observed. 'A Japanese one.'
'Still...' Izzy mused. 'We've got you guys, we've got the Creeper... we have Spike, Anya and Dawn, from Buffy's continuity...'
'And as Mr Rogers pointed out, this threatens all the continuities. Luckily, not all the continuities've been attacked by...'
'By whatever's behind the Gods. Whatever's... influencing the Gods - and their counterparts in other multiverses.'
'We will stand with you,' Urd said quietly. 'We, Lum and Ataru, Ryoga, Ukyo, Kuno... Tenchi, Ayeka, Ryoko, Mihoshi, Sasami... all of us will stand with you.'
'And the guys who just popped in.' Skuld said. 'Evangelion, Slayers, El-Hazard... hey, Buck said they'd be more than happy to help.'
'Hmm...' Urd looked over at the Gods of Ragnarok.'In letting us in... Hm.'
'Keep away from Auntie, though.' Charley advised. 'Not keen on anime or manga.'
'This does affect us,' Urd observed. 'All of us - even those of us from genres others hate. All the stories are threatened. Without us... there's nothing to judge what they like against. And nothing for those who do like us. This encompasses all of us.'
Izzy blinked. 'Wait a minute... Wait a minute. Norse myth. Norse myth. Adaptations...'
'She gets like this,' Charley apologised.
Izzy turned to Urd and Skuld. 'Hey, guys... could you work out how the Gods were bound in the first place?'
'Maybe. Our mythology and the Gods' do share a few elements. If we had a few details to work back from...'
'Then let's go find that Master... if Auntie's done with him yet.'
In a nothing place...
What she did for him...
Give it up. Give it all up.
And, oh, how she'd wanted to, how she'd wanted it.
She'd gone to the ball.
And the clock struck midnight.
Then the prince had unmasked.
And she'd realised.
Not a ball. A Masque.
'...And the Red Death shall have dominion over all.'
Run to the window.
Someone must be out there, in the darkness.
Someone to hear her call.
No Masque, no ball.
A wasteland, devoid of anything. Life. Love. Fiction. Reality.
A void. An endless, barren waste.
And now she understood.
'You need never do anything again.'
For there was nothing. Had been nothing. Would be nothing.
Something that is not the Gods, for the Gods are Nothing.
Her hand passes through his arm.
Is she a ghost? Or is he?
She can see him...
'Kid... can't you see me? I'm here... It's me, it's Allie...'
He looks at her blankly. Doesn't recognise her. Doesn't know her.
Doesn't know anything.
'No...' Kid's face twists in thought. 'Who's Allie?'
'I am. I'm... a character. An incarnation. A personification. The creative impulse. The inspiration to set down and complete a story. I give inspiration - my author's inspiration - face and form.'
'That don't tell me who she is.'
'She's the one who had to look after her baby sister when her mother started fading. She's the one who's always getting irritated because her sister just won't stop acting like a baby. She enjoys tormenting the little brat - hell, she deserves it sometimes. She wants to give it all up, to never have to do anything again.
'She's the one who failed in college - it wasn't telling her anything, not anything important. She's the one Calliope placed on work experience - work experience. She's gone through hell for her bloody writer, and they still won't make her a full muse.
'She saw her mother die. And she said to herself 'I'm not going like that'. She doesn't want to die - wants to hold on to her author as long as she can.
'Sometimes... sometimes, she wishes she could just have been someone else, someone who never had to deal with all of this.'
'You're not Allie.'
'Then why you talking about her as if she's a different person?'
'Because...' She hesitates. 'Because it doesn't feel like me. It feels like it happened to someone else.'
'Maybe it did.'
'THEN HOW DO I REMEMBER?!'
'Maybe that's a question you should be asking yourself, lady.'
'Lady?' She looks down at herself, at her silver gown, at her tiny slippers. 'Am I a lady? Allie isn't a lady...' she says hesitantly.
'Then who are you?'
She doesn't know.
She doesn't know, anymore.
'Now, as I was sayin'... can't be having with stories. Or with gods. And what we've got over there's worst of both of them. Entertain and die. Obey and die. Die for me. Hah. It's all they know - themselves.'
'You should know what story you're getting into. Otherwise, you can't decide where it goes.'
'Exactly. Exactly, young feller-me-lad. People decide, not stories.'
'But we need stories, otherwise we wouldn't be us.'
'Stories need you, too. Don't forget that. They need players - jus' as much as we need to imagine. So don't be lettin' it get away from you, let it turn someone into a thing.'
'We're all people, Mistress Weatherwax.'
'And don't you forget that. 'Cause when you do... that's when the story makes you a thing. You're in charge. And so are those inside - know what you're decidin', an' what they're decidin'. Watch, don' meddle. It's their choice.' Granny sighed. 'But gods always want to meddle. Do this. Do that. Can't go believing in gods. Can believe in people, sometimes - but you can't believe in gods.'
'That's why we're here, Mistress Weatherwax. They're treating people like things. They want to have everything as their thing, deciding what it does.'
'And what do you want?'
Imran hesitated. 'To try and treat people like people. To remember, no matter where I am, that I'm dealing with people - not obstacles, not aids, not characters - but people.'
'Hmm.' Granny said.
'That's why. So we don't end up like them, that we get to choose what happens.'
Granny slowly smiled.
'Well, then. Let's see what we can do, eh? Now...'
'Umm... We were thinking of asking someone about how the Gods were bound.'
'Good. Good. You're thinking.'
'Now then...You,' Granny indicated Izzy and Charley. 'And you two,' She turned to point at Urd and Skuld. 'Let's get movin'. Can't wait all night, you know. People to do, things to see - so why don't we get started?'
The others blinked.
'Where're we going?'
'We're goin' to see a man about some Gods...'
And so the little group - Charley, Izzy, Urd, Skuld, Granny, Nanny and Agnes - set off.
As Imran and Gordon watched them go a voice cried out. "Good grief! Archchancellor, come and have a look at these readings."
"What is it, young Stibbons?" Ridcully asked. "Odd results on that dratted thaumometer again?"
"This isn't a thaumometer, Archchancellor." explained Ponder Stibbons patiently. "Or rather, it is, but it was redesigned by Hex..."
"...by Hex and the Librarian to detect high concentrations of narrativium. And this place, wherever it is, is packed with the stuff!"
"Well, I'm, I'm not sure, sir."
"Capital. Anyway, wherever we are, it sounds like Cruel And Unusual Geography to me. Where's the fella with the box?"
During this discussion Daibhid had been picking his way through the crowd towards them. He quickly filled them in on the situation, and was about to go into greater depth when Imran pulled him aside.
"Just for reference, did you pick up any other Discworlders?"
"Well, I think I saw you chatting to the Lancre Coven -" Imran nodded - "and Rincewind should be around somewhere. I think Susan might be coming later. I asked her to find Lobsang."
"Do we really need an Incarnation of Time at this point?" asked Imran.
"Couldn't hurt," shrugged Daibhid. "There's so much narrativium/potential story energy/whatever around here that if we don't need him, he won't turn up. Oh, I also visited some other fictiverses I thought might be useful."
Imran glanced over to where Ponder was discussing magic theory with two young teenagers who strongly resembled smaller versions of the nerdy wizard. One was wearing a T-shirt and jeans, while the one with the scar wore a strange school uniform and a wizard's hat. Both had owls perched on their shoulders.
"You mentioned Susan. What about..."
"Oh he's here." responded Daibhid with inappropriate cheerfulness. "Talking shop with the others."
Daibhid pointed to where a tall, dark, indistinct figure was grouped with several similar figures, two pale young women in black and a plump woman in a pink sweater, leaning incongrously on a Flymo.
The figure at which Daibhid had pointed, distunguished from the others by the smaller version perched on its shoulder turned. DON'T WORRY. WE'RE NOT HERE ON BUSINESS. He paused. MOST OF US.
Imran would have pressed that point, but the Gods seemed to have decided how to respond to Bokman's act...
Idiot. Idiot, idiot, idiot.
Where's he gone? Where's he gone?
She'd said Allie had had her soul stolen... said maybe she hadn't got all of it back... and the suspicion in him hit. She saw it. The moment she'd said that, she'd seen the thought occur to him - maybe it hasn't. If it hasn't...
And she could guess where he'd gone.
To get Allie's soul back.
But what if she'd been wrong? What if Allie's soul hadn't been stolen...?
She looked over at the darkness on the other side of the ring.
She knew where he'd gone.
The shadowman sat down next to her.
The shadowman nodded. 'Yes. And I think you are correct. I think part of Allie's soul has been stolen.'
'A simple guess.' Shayde turned the black sphere of his head towards the Gods. 'And you believe Kid has gone to retrieve it.'
'How did you know-'
'It is what I think he would do as well - use his talents as an outlaw to steal it back.' Shayde said.
'And he hasn't come back. And the Gods're just about to put on their act.'
'Yes.' Shayde said.
'So what can we do?'
'We are...' Shayde paused. 'We are going to wait for the Gods' act. And then... we shall see what we can do.'
The little ringmaster stepped out into the ring.
'And this is where we begin,' Shayde added softly.
Next up was the Gods' magic act...Previous chapter Next chapter