Meanwhile, in the side ring:
"I don't think I can do this," Daibhid announced, miserably.
"What?" said the Juggling Doctors in unison.
"I can't do it. I'll screw it up. I'm going to drop something, or the Gods'll just hate me or it all go wrong somehow. I'll just find a bed to hide under and you can tell me when it's over."
"Not a great attitude, Daibhid," sighed the Fifth Doctor. "And hardly in the spirit of Pro-Fun."
"I'm totally Pro-Fun," snapped Daibhid hysterically, "I'm just not Pro-Responsibility. Especially a responsibility like this. It's going to go wrong! I just know it!"
"Why would it?" asked the Seventh Doctor. "You werre doing fine in ourr little rrehearrsal."
"That was different. Look, you saw me when I first arrived, right? Totally maladroit, yes? Spilling Irn Bru and those Vegetarian Thins everywhere. Because I didn't know what to expect. As I got less nervous, I gained more hand-eye coordination, until I was confident enough to juggle. You want to guess how nervous I am just now?"
He sagged. "I want to help. I just can't. I've no illusions. I'm not a hero."
The Fifth Doctor shook his head. "If you want to help, you can. It's as simple as that. Brave heart, eh?"
The Seventh nodded. "You mentioned confidence. All you need to to be a touch less nerrvous, and you'll rregain enough ability to be a touch morre confident than that and so on. Worrth a trry, anyway."
Daibhid was still unsure. He wanted to do his bit. He wanted to be the hero, although he was well aware Kid Curry had that role sewn up. A significant supporting player, then. He knew that here and now it was vital the Pro-Funners stuck together.
Kid Curry turned to see what was happening, and shook his head in disbelief. The dumb kid thought he had problems!
Cameron gave a plaintive miaow.
The Trio, and muses, wondered if they should offer advice.
The Doctors knew there was nothing to say.
Unaware of what was happening behind the scenes, the hostess wondered what the delay was.
Daibhid realised that everyone was counting on him. This just made him feel worse. The knot in his stomach became too much to bear. That was it. He had to decide, and he couldn't decide no.
"O-kay!" he said finally. "Let's just get it over with."
"Start at the beginning," Fifth said quietly.
"The beginning. What was the very first juggling move you ever learned?"
"Well, tossing one ball, and catching it, of course -- but that's hardly --"
"Doesn't matter," Seventh said. The important thing is to start!"
So Daibhid tossed one ball from his right hand to his left.
And the most remarkable thing happened: the arc of the ball's flight was traced by a stream of blue light -- the same blue that had filled the TARDIS, when they first set out to find the Psychic Circus, the same blue as flashed in the gryphons' eyes.
Daibhid felt a tingling in his left palm as the ball landed, almost as if the ball were alive -- vibrating with energy. He returned the ball to his right hand, and tossed again. Again, the arc of light, of energy went with it. A third toss, and he could feel the energy pass through him: out through his right hand, in through his left. He felt it go down his left leg, through the ground below him, and up through his right leg, and out through his hand again. He added a second ball to the cascade, and a third, tossing faster and faster.
He felt the rising energy lift him up, so that he was a good inch taller than when he began. He felt the falling energy hold him to the ground and keep him steady. It was almost as if he and the balls had become one -- that he could no more drop a ball now than he could his let his own head roll off his neck.
Out of the corner of one eye, he saw the two Doctors juggling their sonic screwdrivers, the small metallic cylinders glinting in the circus lights as they tumbled in the air, their lights flashing as the flew.
Out of the corner of his other eye, he saw the Gods' first act enter the ring: a pair of clowns entering to do a buffoon act like thousands he had seen before -- but without any of the understanding of human foibles that made such acts funny: no humor, no joy or affection.
Everything about them was surface: the garish colors of their costumes, the glittering rhinestones sewn into the ruffles of their sleeves and pantcuffs, the blazing white of their grease-painted faces. It was almost like the clowns were animated china dolls, except that china dolls are hollow inside, and these clowns were filled with the black, living hunger that filled all the Gods of Ragnarok. And more than hunger: they were filled with hatred, and utter contempt for what they fed on. Even the hungriest of wild lions show respect, perhaps even gratitude, toward their prey. But not so with these beings -- these unbeings.
Then Dabhid saw it. Maybe it was the energy coursing through him, coursing through his eyes, his brain, but now he could see the negative energy, the unenergy, black and cold, snaking out like slow lightning from the clowns in the center ring.
And it was aimed right at the little turquoise troll, who was dressed as Harlequin, waiting to go on next and answer the Gods' act with one of her own.
Deftly, as if the energy guiding his hands guided his feet as well, Dabhid took one step to the left, and bounced a ball against the ground. It came up, right where, and when, it should, and intercepted that black lightning.
There was a small, and mysteriously silent, explosion when lightning and ball met, and both disappeared in a puff of colored light and silver sparklies that lingered in the air for a moment before rising upward and dispersing, settling over the Hoedowners like a fine mist.
The unenergy had been stopped, and transformed into a little more creative energy, for the Pro-Fun Hoedowners to draw upon. But Daibhid knew that this first attack from the Gods was the smallest of them all, and he knew such juggling tricks wouldn't fend them off forever.
Back in the wings, Alryssa sat crosslegged, quietly within her own circle, and turned over the first card.
0. The Fool. Beginnings, travel, the Quest for knowledge.
- it's time, isn't it?
- 'fraid so.
As the notes of TYA's first song harmonised and rang out across the circus, Sailor Gallifrey transformed and began to tap into the power of the first card, hoping all the while that her actions would remain unnoticed until it was too late for the Gods of Ragnarok...
Please, everyone... give it all you have. I need your energy, I need your protection, just as much as you need me.
'Synergy?' Allie asked quietly.
'Yes,' Alryssa's Muse said. 'Alryssa's started establishing the framework for the channel - for our channel, channeling the web's energy. Using her Tarot cards - she's at the Fool.'
'Darkly appropriate,' Yokoi said, 'given who's on stage at the moment...'
'Robot clowns,' Allie grimaced. 'Okay. Oh, I know...'
TYA launched into their song - 'Mulder and Scully', by Catatonia.
"Things are getting strange, I'm starting to worry.
This could be a case for Mulder and Scully..."
"You know, they look strangely, and very scarily, highly cute like that," Gordon mused, his feet shuffling to the tune.
Imran just looked at him.
'What really worries me,' Imran observed, 'is how scarily our Muses look like anime girls... Of course, Allie's gonna kill me when she finds out what I did.'
'Why?' Gordon asked. 'What'd you do?'
'Well... um... while she's doing that, I'm writing another story about this - partly from her perspective...'
Gordon considered. 'You're right. She's gonna kill you - wait a minute, what's Tessa wearing? All I remember's that she's got red hair...'
'Oh no...' Imran's mouth fell open. 'Bad case of Undefined Clothing - better get onto Alryssa about that...'
Our Hostess checked her clipboard. The various acts were lined up:
Act One: GoR Clown act, answered by "Harlequin Meets the Typo Gremlin". Performed by: Deputy and Spethan the Grimlen
(juggling intermission, while the equipment is set up for next act [Note: Be on the lookout for trickery from the GoR during all intermissions!!!])
Act Two: acrobats -- first GoR, then Nyctolops.
"I hope you don't mind that I volunteered you for this, but since Nyctolops seems to be in monkeyish form, this time around, I figured she would be particularly good at this."
"Yes, Nyctolops looks pretty much like a big-eyed monkey and is really good at jumping and climbing. I should be able to think of some kind of act."
(Light show w/music intermission -- Third and Second Doctors)
Act three: small animal acts -- GoR and robot poodles, answered by Jim and the semi-trained cats
(intermission: Dancing and fiddling from Our Ringmaster and Spethan)
Act four: Magic, GoR answered by Imran (set up for next act going on simultaneously)
Act five: Equestrian, GoR and their Robot Six, answered by Mags, Kingpin, and the TARDIS team of Twelve.
Six: More Magic, this time answered by Bokman and Zoe.
Seven: Trapeze and Tightrope from the GoR, Dancing Zombies from Gordon and Saville Eight: Fierce animal taming, GoR with tigers, answered by Nyctolops and Cameron.
Cameron growls to Nyctolops "Don't worry, I'll be gentle..."
"Thank you. Those teeth still make me a bit nervous."
"Don't worry - I'll keep my mouth shut unless I need to open it..."
Nine: Finale -- GoR probably with explosions of some kind (really be on guard against trickery, here!), answered by TYA and ???? (With Syntropy, who knows?)
She just hoped they had enough positive energy to build on the foundations the Muses were laying. Next up: The Four Doctors with eight sonic screwdrivers...
"Are you ready?" she asked Fifth, Seventh, Sixth and Second.
They nodded, as the final notes of TYA's rendition faded.
Sailor Gallifrey held the second card up. It glowed as it hung in the air in front of her, beside the first.
1. The Magician.
- you do realise that we have to open almost all the gates before we can afford an interruption?
- don't remind me, please. I'm trying to concentrate on twenty-two things at once as opposed to just thirteen as it is.
Imran watched, nervously, feeling the vibrations changing in the air around them as the energy of each card was released and absorbed.
Nervous energy is not a good thing right now. Give me a hand here.
Imran stared at Sailor Gallifrey, her face unmoving.
Oh, I'm sorry. I just need you to focus. Nervousness will draw their attention. "I see. Ahem. OK." He breathed deeply several times, and allowed himself to flow with the vibrations, felt them, truly felt them, as they began to sing in his mind...
Umm... we're having a little temporal anomaly at the moment, Imran observed. Should be sorted out soon - TYA should be doing the backing numbers for the acts, and Harlequin should be up as our first act.
They should? Alryssa said. ...Damn. Wild magic. That nervousness of yours is throwing things off - the beginning's gone wonky. Calm down.
I would. It's just... Imran grimaced. Allie. She's hitting euphoria - and I'm getting some of the nervous shock.
Nervous shock?! Catatonia?!
Long story, Imran said.
Alryssa raised an eyebrow. Knowing you, it probably is.
Imran managed to look embarrassed. At the risk of turning this into yet another ImranPlug(TM) - "The Calliope Files: Allie", over on alt.drwho.creative...
Think of it as Hoedown Apocrypha... ah! Whoo! What was that?!
Time resetting itself, unless I miss my guess. Now... I need to concentrate...
For a moment it looked like Daibhid, down in the side ring, was set to freeze up. The kid was pale as skim-milk, with about as much body to him; and right now it was pretty clear a stiff breeze coulda blown him away...
Then his hands moved. One ball soared up... then another, then the third. Up and over, a whirling ring of colors, as the cascade got going. Daibhid's face was a mask of concentration, but from underneath there was dawning the shadow of a grin. To either side, the Doctors were busy juggling gadgets. The act was safely under way.
The watcher relaxed. No trickery from the Gods there, then... just nerves. Guess the kid had a right to a touch of stage-fright after all, opening the show in front of an audience like that.
A quick half-glance up at the hungry, aching dark that had swallowed the stalls like a choking stench. Even sidelong he could feel their stare, black and burning, a skewer of hatred echoed back from the white-faced nightmares in the ring, feeding and being fed.
He had never known that black could become so dreadful. Shadows and darkness had been his home; shelter from pursuit, cover on the trail -- brief, snatched comfort and dreams in the Contessa's parlor -- the shining bird's-wing fall of her hair -- the dark of a horse's eye -- the doctor's shabby bag -- the rusty black of an old man's Sunday best --
All gone, now. All that dark living warmth sucked dry and overlaid by the icy hate of the Gods of Ragnarok. In their hands, it was not a color -- but a thing of horror.
In the center ring, the clowns went through their routine like machines, tumbling limbs slotting into place one after another like the chambers in a gun. Their mouths were stretched into wide, side-splitting grins. It should have been funny. But the only laughter was the ghastly smile on the face of each clown.
There was something going on. Some trickery. He could feel it.
Down in the ring, black lightning flickered, chilling unlight that reached out, threatening, drawing every eye... But somewhere far above and beyond, the Gods snickered.
As if in response, the charm flared, pulsing with a sudden hot warning that cut through the numbing chill in his mind. And he knew what was wrong.
Too plain to see. Too plain by half. Send the bully-boys into the saloon, yeah, stage a brawl up at the bar -- but the one to pull the job is the quiet gun-hand in the corner...
Not the clowns. Then where?
A glimpse in the wings -- a flicker -- What was that? He couldn't see. It was like there was nothing there... but there should be!
For a moment he couldn't even remember who it was. Not part of the act; not the part the Gods were supposed to know about --
In the main ring, the little Harlequin trotted on, and the act began to take on an entirely new twist. But Kid Curry never saw.
Around the Tarot-teller and her cards, almost invisible, a shimmering curtain played. Not a threat. Not enough to waken an alarm. Just enough to hide her, make her not there...
The understanding was not his, but somehow the words were clear. Though he did not know it, all around his body a faint aura was glowing blue.
So the Gods had discovered Alryssa, after all. Looked like they'd got wind of her plans... and they'd struck back. In the simplest, most undetectable way of all. They hadn't lifted a finger to stop her. They'd lifted her... out of time. Set everything out of joint. Made sure that all the energy she was focussing, all the life -- would trickle away into the dirt. Split. Wasted.
If he'd let himself think, he'd never have been able to do it. But the Contessa's charm was blue fire against the pulse in his throat, singing in his veins, flooding with life in glorious, rioting protest. His eyes were shut. Made no difference. It was like he was seeing with his mind -- seeing through the eye in the charm itself.
Kid Curry reached out all the way across the ring, and blue flame poured up from his hand, coiling, snaking, shaping itself from his mind even as it flew. When the tip touched the field around Alryssa, it had become a living whip. In the next moment, as the time-frame shattered, it had gone; with only the fading memory of the crack of the lash, and a flight of bluebirds that for a second wheeled and sang...
As time reset itself, Imran was puzzled...Previous chapter Next chapter