For Sailor Gallifrey, calling the Feather of Judgment has not been without its cost...
'Excuse me,' the Eighth said. 'I wonder if I could have a word?'
Alryssa looked at him.
'I thought so,' Eighth said. 'I wondered what I was looking at...'
'Gotta get over there...' Gordon hissed.
Imran nodded. So did Tessa.
'I was afraid,' Alryssa murmured. 'Afraid I wasn't human any more. Afraid I'd mess things up... but the fear was a part of me, it always was. Still afraid. Heh. Me, the sekhem-ur-khaibit...'
Sandra's eyes widened.
'Alryssa,' Eighth said. 'tell me something. Not for me, for them.'
'What is it that makes you not human?'
'You see,' the Doctor said. 'most of the people here don't know, those who came in late. They see a human woman - many might recognise her as a Senshi, but the Senshi are still human, for the power they command. Why aren't you human? Why were you afraid you weren't human?'
He took a step forward. 'What did you fear that meant?'
She stared at him for a few moments.
"I'm not sure if anyone can understand. I was human, once. Being merged with what you could call the soul of Gallifrey.... was overwhelming." Her stare hardened as she recalled. "Unwelcome. An invasion. Alryssa didn't ask for it. Forced into a role she didn't want, to share herself with another thing... She felt like she was losing her identity... I felt if I lost that, I'd lose my humanity... my ability to weep, to laugh, to love..." She shook her head at that last one. "Yeah, whatever... that last one's off the list."
She looked back at the Doctor. "But I guess you'd know about that too."
He smiled, wryly. "I suppose you could say that."
"Now there's no chance." She reached up to her face, felt the new mark on her left cheek. "I don't know if I'll have time to feel. But I chose this. I did this for my friends. And that I will embrace gladly."
'Nothing but choices...' the Doctor murmured. 'Remember this, Alryssa. You gave it up willingly. But they did not. They still care - still love. Still love you.'
He looked at her. 'And that, in time to come, may be all that keeps you going. The love of others. But you have not lost the ability to cry, to laugh, to make friends... you are not without emotion, neither of you are. Both of you can feel, can care...'
'We can?' The question was almost a child's.
'We can. Never forget that. You chose this because you cared. You still do. Fate pushed you into this... but from this point on, it is your choice. It always will be.'
He leaned in, whispered in her ear.
'And nothing lasts forever. There will always be a chance.
Alryssa span round.
Imran caught the Staff before it could hit his hand. 'Yeow! Could have been nasty...'
Gordon squinted. 'What's that on your cheek? We doing the face-paint thing now?'
Then her eyes went to the Staff of Harmony. To Imran's hand on -
'Oh no? Oh, not again... What is it this time, summoning the armadillo god?'
'Worse,' Alryssa whispered.
'Hah. Like to see what'd be worse,' Gordon said, resting his hand on the Staff.
The Staff began to glow, first silver, then gold.
Then a rainbow of light spilled from it -
'Imran...' Allie whispered.
'I can feel him, I can - Oh, Hades -'
Yokoi's eyes reflected the rainbow light.
'Oh no. Gordon, no -'
Once together, always together.
You know this. You have always known this.
Here goes nothing -
And when the light dimmed, the Odd Trio were gone.
'Alryssa...?' Tessa whispered. 'I can't feel... Alryssa? Gallifrey? Where -'
'Where are they?' Sandra demanded.
'They've triggered something,' the Doctor said. 'The final stage. The final process. They're on their way.'
'Where?' Eloise asked.
'Where all this began. The gateway to the first truth. Where we're going now. We're going to face the one - and the others - behind this.'
'Remember the web?'
'The song web?'
The Doctor shook his head. 'The other web we built. To build a conduit -'
'Of our own,' Eloise said. 'Destroy the Gods' conduit, create a conduit that reverses the drain of energy.'
'That's how we follow them. That's how we get where they've gone. By tracking the conduit we created back to the starting point.'
She clapped her hands together. 'Time to make our goodbyes, everybody! We've got one more stop to make!'
She cast a questioning look at Curry.
:::You coming with us?::: it asked.
He hesitated a moment, then nodded.
She didn't ask why, let him keep that - but she felt a tiny flutter of relief inside, that he'd chosen to come.
Maybe she could guess at why - he wouldn't leave till this was done, till it was seen through. As long as there was still a threat out there.
And there still was. From what the Doctor said, the Odd Trio'd gone to wherever all this had begun. Not exactly willingly, though - not if their, and their Muses's, reactions were anything to go by... the Doctor had said they'd triggered something...
And they had to go there, too. To see this through, face whoever had been behind all this, to put an end to it. To bring the Odd Trio back.
Then, it'd be over.
Something nagged at her, though...
'What did Alryssa choose? From the way she was talking before she disappeared, it sounded like she'd chosen something...'
He heaved a deep breath. 'The Feather of Ma'at requires a heart to be placed in the balance.'
'She chose to call the feather... she chose to offer up her heart,' Eloise whispered.
'She gave up the ability to love,' the Doctor said quietly. 'Symbols have power, I'd forgotten that... she gave up the ability to love. Not the ability to care, to laugh, to cry, to grieve, to make friends... but she gave up the ability to love.'
'Always?' Eloise asked, her voice nervous.
'Not always. Not always,' the Doctor said. 'She believes there's no chance... no, that's not true. Hopefully, she'll have the chance to learn that.'
Eloise nodded. For now, it would have to do.
But she was going to do something about it.
Could you give up love like that? What would stop it returning, developing again?
And so thinking, she set off to make her goodbyes.
"Mags, Kingpin!" she said, approaching them with outstretched arms. They met, and joined hands in a ring-around-the-rosie fashion. "I can't say it's exactly been a pleasure," she said, after a moment of simply drinking in the sight of them. "But it has been good to see you -- to know you brought the Psychic Circus back again."
Kingpin smiled. "And thanks to all of you," he said, "we have a third chance for a new beginning."
Mags broke into a grin, the tips of her wolfish canines showing. "And you know what they say about third chances."
"We'll meet again in happier times," Eloise said confidently. "I'm sure of it."
The ring-around-the-rosie collapsed into a group hug, Eloise almost coccooned in the arms of her friends. She wanted to stay there forever, and just sleep (She hadn't had a wink of sleep since before the Hoedown started -- what was that, three days ago, four, a week? How was she ever to find the strength for the last battle, now?). But instead, she pulled away with a shiver.
Almost immediately, the other hoedowners crowded in to take her place, and eventually, she found herself at the fringes.
She needed to find the Doctor -- any one of him. Eighth might have told her, or he might not... with her mind drunk with exhaustion, she couldn't be sure of anything. But how were they to follow the web they had created back to the center? The Odd Trio had gone via Sailor Gallifrey's staff -- and had taken it with them. The Contessa's charm, that had led them this far, was also gone -- at least as it had been. So -- how?
She heard several of the Doctor's voices from the center of the crowd. She couldn't fight her way back there. All she could do was wait.
Maybe her mind was dreaming of its own accord, with or without sleep, and leading her by association from the thought of the charm to Kid Curry, where he sat on the ground, leaning against the low wall that surrounded the ring.
His face was aged by exhaustion and weariness, and the stubble of his beard had more salt than pepper in it. But his eyes held something else: the panic of a small child, faced with a world that had too much light, too much noise, too many choices -- she'd seen that look in the eyes of toddlers separated from their mothers in the shopping mall.
She plopped down beside him -- more a case of her legs giving out than any conscious decision to sit.
It was to comfort that child in him that her hand reached out to his. It might have been gratitude, or, more likely, his own exhaustion at work. But for the first time since they'd met, he didn't flinch, or pull away.
Then she closed her eyes. Just for a minute. Just to rest them....
A ghost. A phantasm.
Something that wouldn't die.
Sandra took a deep breath. She didn't need it, not any more, not physically...
...but mentally? Oh yeah.
The Trio were gone.
Fragile. So fragile, now.
Walking outside the crowd.
They'd been partners.
She'd seen Kid, as they met the Contessa... no, it wasn't love she felt.
They'd been partners.
And then she'd done what had been needed, given up her existence for Allie's...
...and she'd found herself still here, still here...
And then, with her journey done, her goal reached... he'd ended it.
Of course he had. Why shouldn't he? He'd helped her reach her goal.
All partnerships broke up sooner or later. So he'd chosen to end it...
...and what would he do when he reached the end of this journey...?
Things getting heated in the centre of things. She'd stepped outside.
The little hostess was sleeping, her head resting against Kid's chest. The outlaw's head was bowed, resting low on his chest, sleep finally caught up with him.
With them. Resting.
None had earned it more.
They needed it, she felt that... the emotion from them, they needed it, needed to rest, without fear of disturbance...
She hung there, watched them, for what seemed like an endless moment.
Allie's memory, part of hers. Xeffy's first night at home, sleeping in the cot, breathing in and out and in...
...And Allie had watched, fascinated. Just watched her sister.
Her memory, uniquely hers. In Vortex City, and the child Kid had taken, exhausted in his arms, wanting to rest.
And the Contessa, weighed down with the effort, the burden bearing deep into her, the need to rest.
They could, she knew. Sweetheart would get them where they needed to be in time, no matter how long they took here. She knew that.
The gateway to the first truth.
You don't find it, it finds you.
Not the staff or the sword, the charm or the cloak or the robe. Beyond...
In resolving her story may many others be aided In aiding others' stories will hers be resolved.
Something snapped into place.
Track the web back. Track it with the cards that shaped it.
The staff wasn't there - but the cards were. The cards that had shaped, channelled magical energy, shaping the web.
Alryssa's Tarot cards. They'd shaped the web... and if Sweetheart linked to them, she could feel the web's form, follow its outline...
'Already thought of.'
The Eighth stood just behind her. In his hands-
-'You knew,' she said.
'Yes,' Eighth said. 'Where we're going... a TARDIS couldn't get there, not normally. They need something to show them the way.'
He riffled the pack of cards in his hands.
'Leave them be, for now,' he said quietly. 'They need it - we all do. Let them rest.'
A tiny smile touched his lips.
Then he was gone, back into the crowd.
She watched, a little longer, then turned.
In their own time.
And as the Hoedowners rest, the Odd Trio are on their way to the centre of the Omniverse...Previous chapter Next chapter