Sandra has chosen to give up her own existence rather than accept Imran's sacrifice... but she hasn't died...
Eloise came running over when she saw the movement out of the corner of her eye.
"Allie!" she began, "are you all --" and stopped. She looked from the prostrate Allie to her floating, transparent shadow. "What ... exactly ... happened ... here?" she asked, slowly.
And when she got blank stares and stammers in response, she turned to Imran. "Well?" she asked. "And give it to me in plain, mortal, language... I've had enough Divine idiom lately to make my head spin for a decade. First: Has Sandra gone back to being Allie's shadow?"
(One of the roustabouts lingering on the fringes started singing "Me and My Shadow". Eloise ignored him.)
"Second: Do we have our 'original' Alisandra back? Third: If not, who do we have? And, finally: How will this affect our song battle, which is coming up, in oh, about THREE MINUTES???!!!"
She didn't mean to shout, really, but all the unexpected plot twists had been fraying on her nerves....
'...I am Alisandra. The original,' Allie said.
'She's complete again,' Sandra said. 'Got back everything she lost.'
'Everything she lost,' Sandra said. 'But my identity... well, my personality... was mine. When Allie came back together... '
'-Sandra's identity still survived,' Allie said. 'In my home Fictiverse, as long as someone else, someone in reality, remembers an idea, it survives - and it's not just a mental thing, it's physical, too. And since Muses are, in some ways, an idea...'
'-I'm still here. In a way. I'm not her Shadow, any more, though. Allie's got that back. I'm... a phantasm. Not a ghost - Allie isn't dead. I'm more sort of a living idea, a formed concept,' Sandra eyed her twin. 'How much did we miss? I didn't think we'd been gone that long...'
'You missed Cameron and Nyctolops' act,' Allie said, pointing over to where the duo were resting. 'Haven't missed the Gods' response.'
'That's a relief...' Sandra said. 'So we've got a little time...' She frowned. 'Oh. Um... the song battle. Just a moment...'
While Sandra thought, Eloise took the chance to take in the newly returned Alryssa, Imran and Xeffy.
They'd found some clothes for Alryssa - probably what had taken so long, and probably taken from the performers' carts... Kingpin and Mags wouldn't mind. Imran no longer wore the Cloak of Audience - what had happened to that? Gordon had said something about 'moving beyond symbols'...
...but nothing had happened to the Cloaks the audience wore.
The cards hadn't told Eloise much of what had happened - but from what had happened to Alryssa, what Imran had guessed at, they'd plunged into the Underworld, looking for something... or someone. And if she remembered her mythology correctly, that meant meeting with those who held dominion over the dead...
...and bargaining for the life of a beloved.
She looked back at Allie and Sandra.
Just whose beloved had they sought? Had Gallifrey had an intimation, seen something that Alryssa had not? Or had they found one they loved? Maybe...
And then she saw the looks on the trio's faces.
Saw them transformed - shock, wonder...
Something shone in Xeffy's face - hope, realisation...
...and again she wondered, who had been the beloved?
Alryssa and Imran... their expressions were more complex, but...
'...Yes,' Sandra said. 'I can still sing. I don't think we've got too much of a problem... um...'
'Yes,' Allie said, more confidently. 'We will be able to do the song battle.'
'That's a relief,' Eloise said. '...Ah. I nearly forgot.'
She grinned, picked up the Staff of Harmony, and handed it to Alryssa.
'This is yours,' Eloise said. 'Welcome back.'
Alryssa grinned. 'Heh. Let's hear it one more time...'
'...GALLIFREY STAR POWER, MAKE UP!'
When Alryssa lowered the Staff, she was once more in the costume of Sailor Gallifrey.
'So what happened?' Eloise asked. 'Why did you decide to leave?'
'Okay...' Alryssa said. 'In the cards, I got a hint of the future - a clue as to how to bind the Gods, and a warning. That, whether they won or lost, they'd make sure we lost. But there was a chance - if we could judge and bind them in time, then we could win. But we needed something that could judge gods, and we'd already turned to the PTB, so...'
She took a deep breath. 'So... I travelled to the Underworld, to... meet with... Ma'at and request the use of her feather. Then Imran, Sandra and Xeffy arrived to find out what had happened to me...'
Sandra nodded. 'And Imran offered the Cloak as their boon for entering the Underworld. Returning it to its keeper, he said.'
Eloise looked at Imran, who nodded.
'Ma'at recognised Sandra, and took us to her scales, where we met Calliope, too.' Alryssa continued.
'Then...' Imran frowned. 'Then they started discussing whether or not we were judges, talking about the judgments we'd been through... and that led to Calliope coming to some kind of decision about Allie's family, about a judgment on something her grandmother had done, something... something wrong. Deciding that Allie's mum had not been guilty, even though she thought she'd been.'
'Was what Allie's grandma did what made her mother fade out?' Eloise said.
'I don't think so... from what Calliope said, it happened when Allie's mum - Elle?'
Allie and Sandra nodded.
'-was born. Then... Oh. Oh,' Imran said.
'What they were saying was that no human could bear the feather - couldn't be stolen, couldn't be granted as a gift. A catch when dealing with gods. What they were doing - what I think they were doing - were deciding whether or not we could call upon Ma'at to judge the Gods.'
Imran half-smiled. 'So they looked back over what we'd gone through... Alryssa and Xeffy were fine... then they pointed out what'd happened back when the PTB judged my act. Then Sandra put up a defence of how I had been judged truly - by all the stuff we'd gone through-'
Sandra couldn't make eye contact with anyone.
'...and then they said they couldn't judge us truly - they couldn't judge someone who was incomplete.'
'Sandra,' Eloise said.
'So they couldn't give us the feather,' Alryssa continued. 'And what he did... what he did was go and ask them if they could give Sandra a life of her own. They said yes - a life for a life. Imran's for Sandra's.
'He agreed... but she didn't. Not at the cost of his life, not at the cost of anyone's life... so she asked them to put Allie and her back together.'
'And it worked,' Allie said.
'Not without some side-effects,' Sandra pointed out.
'Then they said... judgment has been made. call when judgment is needed,' Alryssa finished. 'Then we left, and came back here - and found that Ma'at and Calliope had decided to grant a gift...'
She looked at Sandra.
'It was?' Xeffy said under her breath.
'That gets into Divine idiom,' Imran said.
'All right... but why do the Gods need judgment?' Eloise asked.
'Because this is a challenge between them and us. If we're going to bind them, they need to be judged first - if we just bind them, we're in a blurry area,' Imran said. 'The Powers are judging the challenge - who wins or loses, and what happens to the Universe afterwards - not what happens to those involved. We needed to ask someone else to judge the Gods...'
'But we don't know how to bind them.'
'Yes, we do.'
Shayde held up the opaque crystal sphere - the sphere the Gods had used to trap Allie and Kid.
'They used - tried to use - human dream, twist it so that they could trap us,' Shayde said. 'And it shall be human dream that binds them once more. In this.'
'Won't they break free? Kid and Sandra did...'
Shayde nodded. 'That has been prepared for.'
Eloise let out a long, low breath, taking in what they'd told her.
She looked around, at all the others.
The Voord, Yartek, Silence, and some of the Doctors and companions, were gathered round discussing how - and where - they could assist in the finale. And against whatever the Gods threw at them next.
The fish girl she'd first seen with Xeffy - it was hard keeping track of who was who around here, especially with so many arrivals, but she was fairly sure she'd seen her with Xeffy; Izzy, if she remembered right - was back, along with three women in pointy black witches' hats and black robes - the Lancre Coven the others had been talking about? She'd have to ask. One of them, the eldest, had a satisfied look on her face, as if she'd found exactly what she was looking for.
Kid was standing by himself, keeping a wary eye on what was happening inside the ring. He nodded to her. All okay on that front... so far.
Then he saw Allie and Sandra - and for a moment, his eyes widened. Shock - that she could hardly forget, it was the way he'd been when he'd first arrived.
He'd come far since then. They all had, she acknowledged.
But someway, somehow, they were going to get back - in body, if not in memory and experience - to where they'd started.
Gordon was deep in conversation with Tessa and Yokoi.
Kingpin and Mags had started preparations for the parade - she winced; she'd been so busy she almost hadn't had time to set it up. But they were experienced circus performers, they knew how a big show should end.
And this had been one of the biggest, she acknowledged with a rueful grin.
The presence of the Goddesses - Mnemosyne, Earth, and Jubiliganza... their power and attention was still with them, watching and aiding them. Silently, she gave blessing.
And felt their silent acknowledgement.
Sweetheart was okay - she'd made sure of that when she'd popped out to get that bite.
She wondered what had happened to Vortex City after they pulled Sandra and Kid out - whether the Contessa had been able to put things back together, or whether she'd rebuilt from the ground up.
She found herself wanting to know what'd happened next, whether what Kid and Sandra had done there had succeeded... whether Kid could go back to the City and the Contessa, have a happy ending - or at least as close to it as he could, she amended.
All part of the power of the Storyteller.
She grinned at that one.
All of them tired, ready to sleep... but also ready to face the Gods. Ready and waiting.
One last response from the Gods... and then would come the song battle.
She took a deep breath. 'Okay. Wish me luck.'
The others nodded.
And Eloise went out to announce the Gods' act.
The Senshi watched her go, then turned back to the others, who were engaging in nervous smalltalk. Suddenly there was a presence at her side.
"Allie. Are you all right?"
"I'm as well as can be expected, I guess." She frowned. "You look weird."
The eye contact was broken, awkwardly.
"You're keeping something from us, aren't you?"
Sailor Gallifrey closed her eyes briefly, her grip tightening on her staff.
"I meant what I said when I was going to be a conduit, Allie. Ma'at said no human could take the feather."
Her face seemed to age before Allie's eyes as she stared into the middle distance. "People tend to forget that I'm not human," she murmured. "Not anymore. I miss it sometimes."
Allie drew in her breath sharply. "There's a reason a human can't touch the feather, senshi..."
The scout turned swiftly and fixed Allie with a dark look as she hissed, "You are not to say anything before this whole mess is finished, do you understand me? Not to Imran, not to any of the Doctors, nobody. If you have any sense you'll forget this whole exchange."
Allie nodded slowly, backing off. It seemed the Senshi's whole aura had become colder than absolute zero. Closing itself off.
Tessa was tapping on her arm.
"You look like you've seen a ghost," she joked.
"That's not far from the truth," she replied, and followed her friend, along with Yokoi, to the dressing rooms.
He is watching Alisandra. Watching her movements, her frown, the tilt of her head... with a burning intensity that barely sees the Muse herself at all. Searching for traces of someone else. Someone he used to know.
Apart from the crowd, as always. She drifts closer.
"Guess I never thought you'd go through with it. Never thought you'd do the right thing... on your own." The slow voice is barely a breath away. His eyes slide past her, seeing/not-seeing.
"Somehow didn't credit you with the guts... but I should've known. You and Allie --" He looks up at last. Allows himself to see her. His mouth twists into a wry, unaccustomed smile. "You always were the stronger of the two -- partner."
One hand reaches out softly. Brushing through her arm, as her gloved hand had once brushed through his.
"Guess this is where we came in... ghost girl."
And then he turns. Walks off. Doesn't look back.
He'd seen Allie talking to Alryssa, the coldness in Alryssa's face.
Seen Sandra talk to Kid, Kid turn away, and the stricken look on her face.
Consequences, he thought. Consequences.
He didn't know what had been said. He'd seen the emotions, written across their faces...
Allie... Allie had gone to the dressing room. There was... there was a circle around Alryssa, people not quite looking at her, moving around her.
Kid was watching - as he always did. Sandra was... was holding herself, holding on to herself, almost lost...
He breathed out. He had been willing to sacrifice his life - to give up his life - that Sandra could have a life of her own. Instead, she had sacrificed her own existence - and become a living idea, a phantasm...
But that feeling wouldn't go away. That feeling... that feeling that someone wouldn't walk away from this.
But Eloise had vowed that they'd all get back, someway, somehow.
What happens when you put your life on the line - and it's averted? Do you feel blessed? Cheated? Confused?
He knew how he felt...
'...you... you put yourself...' She breathed in. 'I'm a siren - a real siren... Allie has the protean gift... and Sandra's walking around, still walking... Allie... Allie used - I think she used - Mum said that she used to call herself Sandra when she was a kid, when she was bit younger than I am now... I... I just wish, wonder... why Mum never told us. What we were, what had happened, what Grandma did... what her gift had been... why she never said...'
Xeffy nodded, slowly. 'She said... she said Mum blamed herself for what had happened, what Grandma did. Said she found herself guilty... but what did she do? I... I want her back, you know? Allie would never say this... but I wanted her back. I'd have done it, if it meant getting her back... Dad... Dad cried, I'd never seen him cry before, and I wanted him to stop, because it... it was wrong, this was wrong... Mum dying, Dad crying... it shouldn't have happened like that... and I'd have done anything to make it right, but... but I couldn't...'
Xeffy sobbed into his shoulder.
He closed his eyes, and rocked her gently. Saying nothing. Being there, a physical presence there. Maybe it didn't matter who... but she had someone here.
Someone who'd heard her.
There was a gentle touch on his shoulder, a hand resting itself.
A silence. So many words left unsaid, things left undone...
...a miracle, my second miracle...
...such a quiet child, they said...
...my baby, my baby girl...
...you both were...
He blinked open his eyes.
There was no-one there. No-one near.
Only Xeffy, still holding to someone, onto something.
And something that might have been, could have been, the memory of a woman's presence.
He bowed his head.
'Come on,' he said eventually. 'Come on. We're here. We're here...'
Slowly, Xeffy quieted.
Too much, too much, and if another died...
No. Too much already. Not here, not now.
Everyone dies eventually - but not here, not now.
Here and now, we are alive.
Xeffy looked up at him, eyes red, cheeks still wet.
She nodded. 'I'm... I'm..' She took a deep breath. 'Sorry about your shoulder.'
He shrugged. 'It'll dry.'
Something occurred to him, then.
He risked a look into the ring.
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