Polly breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the two girls approaching the 'Round.
She actually recognised Allie as one of them, which was a change. Imran's Muse was usually good at keeping an eye on her "guests", and Allie's guest looked enough like her that she almost had to be family.
She went back to checking her clipboard.
Then she looked up again.
Took in Allie's clothes - which looked as if she'd wanted to play Calamity Jane, but had had to settle for whatever she could find - and the fact that she could see right through her...
'Oh no... Brad's contagious.'
'Say what?' the younger of the two said. She was about an inch or so shorter than the other, with blue-grey eyes. Some of her long brown hair was tied into a braid, letting the rest fall down her back. She looked to be about twelve years old.
'Okay...' Polly said, pointing at "Allie". 'You're Badlands Allie, right? Which means...' She ran the pencil down her clipboard, checking the names, and pointed at the younger girl. '...you're her sister... Xephanya, right?'
'Hey!' the younger girl pouted. 'I'm the real Xeffy, thank you so much!'
'What my sister means to say is that she's the Xeffy from Subreality.' "Allie" said. 'Hi. I'm Sandra, Allie's other sister. We've just moved in over there.' She indicated the hill on the other side of the road. 'The house on the other side of the hill?' She thought about that. 'Well... the door on the other side of the hill. The house is in a pocket dimension...'
'Umm...' Polly said
'Dad and Allie are still checking everything arrived safely, so we agreed I'd show Xeffy round the place.' Sandra continued.
Polly gave up trying to speak, and started gesturing with her pencil, taking in Xeffy, Sandra's general ghostliness, and the words "moved in".
'Ah,' Sandra said. 'Maybe we'd better sit down inside and talk about this...'
They took their seats at one of the tables.
'Hmm...' Sandra considered, as she sat down. 'Where can I begin...? Ah, I know...' She laid her hands on the table. 'Okay. Let's start with a couple of Muses we're all familiar with...'
Polly shuddered delicately.
'I know...' Sandra apologised. 'They were like that back at the Collegium. But... let's start with them.
'Nyssaias and Embericles. Brad's Light and Dark Muses.'
'You're not a Muse... are you?'
Sandra shook her head. 'I was a Muse. We're getting to that.'
She placed her hands together. 'Okay. Nyssaias and Embericles. Light and Dark combined. Almost literally, at times. Neither works properly without the other - if you only have Light, you can't write Dark, and vice versa. It's one or the other, with little inbetween.'
'Okay...' Polly said. 'But I don't see how it relates to you and Allie...unless you're her Dark twin...'
'I wish...' Xeffy interjected.
Sandra shook her head. 'I'm not. Um... think in terms of Psyche and Shadow.'
'Oh.' Polly said. 'Oh... Um... okay, if I remember this right... the Shadow is the part of the Self that the Self denies - everything you don't acknowledge, at any level - while the Psyche is the part of the Self that the Self can acknowledge as itself. If that makes sense.'
Sandra raised her eyebrows. 'I'm impressed. You read a lot of Jung, didn't you?'
Polly looked somewhat embarrassed. 'Well, a friend lent me "On the Interpretation of Dreams", and it, um... sort of snowballed.'
Xeffy chuckled. 'Gotta tell you about Allie and "Sailor Moon" sometime...'
'Or Allie and "Angel"...' Sandra added. 'Where was I...? Oh yeah. Psyche and Shadow. It's one way of looking at the self - not the only one, but the one that fits best. And it's pretty much setup for what happened to Allie.'
'You're not the embodiment of all Allie's evil from far, far in the future, are you?'
Sandra grinned. 'Do you want me to be? Nah, I'll leave that to the Bradleyard.'
'So... if you're not the embodiment of Allie's evil...'
'The Shadow isn't evil. It's everything about yourself that you won't acknowledge as a part of you.' Sandra paused. 'People keep talking about accepting yourself completely. I wonder if they've ever actually tried it? 'Cause it's not nearly that easy.'
'Tell me about it...' Xeffy murmured.
'Anyway. When Allie - when we - were younger, Allie used to dream of being a princess. Like in the fairytales. Clothed in the finest silver, silver horses leading her carriage, dancing with the Prince under the pale moonlight...'
As she spoke, Sandra's clothes rippled and changed.
A silver ballgown, gleaming in the light, supported by layer upon layer of skirts. A string of pearls at her throat. Tiny silver slippers on her feet.
Polly's mouth opened in an "O" of surprise... and then closed again. Keep quiet.
'I think I see why the "Sailor Moon" fixation...' she murmured.
'She'd be a princess. She'd never have to worry about anything again. Live happily ever after...' Sandra hesitated. 'And, like so many childhood dreams, she let it slip away. Forgot it. Let it slide into shadow.'
Polly was silent, remembering her own dreams back then, when /she'd/ been young.
'When Al was a little older,' Sandra went on, 'she dreamed of being a cowgirl. Riding the range, taking on the wicked landowners and evil outlaws. She'd be a /good/ outlaw. Working outside the law to bring bad men to justice.'
This time, Polly saw it happening, saw Sandra's clothes transform back into the motley clothes she'd arrived in. And saw that Sandra didn't seem to notice.
'She let that slide into shadow, too, in time.' Sandra said quietly. 'We all do it. Some parts we let slip away as we grow older, some parts we block off to allow ourselves to function in society, some parts we've never even known. Allie is no exception.'
'Is no exception?' Polly said.
Sandra's mouth quirked. 'Yep. Is.'
'So what happened?'
'A unique set of circumstances, what else?' Xeffy said.
'Of course, in the subverses, unique sets of circumstances are two a penny.' Sandra added. 'This specific one, though...'
The Proprietor opened his office door, looked, boggled, and slammed the door shut.
'Bossman either win the lottery or finally get some.' Francois observed. 'Francois seen neither of these, so Francois just wondering...'
'We've got a ghost! We've got a real, live, actual ghost!!' The Proprietor thought about what he'd just said. 'Well, not live, but you know what I mean.'
'Bossman want Francois to get exorcist? Francois know guys who do this cheap...'
'No no no. Don't you get it? We've made it! We've finally made it!'
'Francois coming to real quick conclusion Bossman need exorcist...'
'Do you know what a British pub needs?'
'Staff with actual legal contracts and work permits?'
'No! And don't tell anyone! No, what a pub needs, if it really wants to hit the big time... what a pub really needs... is a ghost. And we've got one sitting right outside!!'
'Crazy Bossman want to put that in terms so not-crazy Francois can understand?'
'The tourist trade! People've been complaining how the tourist trade's gone down - this is just what we need to lure them back! Tourists always want to see real, good, old-fashioned British ghosts, from authentic British history, in an authentic British pub!'
'Um, Francois see gaping hole in boss's plan...'
'And you haven't made it with the locals if you don't have a real ghost! Don't you get it? They'll be pouring in to see her! And they'll want to buy snacks, and beer, and drinks... We'll be raking it in, Francois! Raking it in!'
'This mean Francois get raise?'
'If Francois no get raise, Francois talk to nice tax people who come round this week...'
'...Allie and Imran went to a hoedown.'
'A hoedown?!' Polly said disbelievingly.
Sandra shrugged. 'What can I say? Anyway, whenever we go to this hoedown, we usually end up helping to save the universe. This time wasn't any different.'
'Let me guess...' Polly said. 'The hoedown's set in another subverse.'
Sandra looked surprised. 'How'd you know?'
'I had a feeling.'
'Anyway...' Sandra hesitated. 'While we were doing that, someone tried to capture Allie.'
'Are you sure Brad's not contagious?' Polly asked rhetorically.
'They tried to capture her.' Xeffy said. 'Doesn't mean they succeeded.'
'But they did. In a way.' Sandra said quietly. 'When Allie was released... part of her was still held captive. A magical prison.'
'You.' Polly whispered.
Sandra shook her head. 'Not yet. I was Allie's Shadow, given face and form.
'Allie's face and form. Allie's memories. But without Allie's Psyche.
'But Allie's Psyche had her normal body. Her memories. And...
'...she didn't even notice I was gone. I didn't even notice she was gone.
'What this says about our psychological messups, I don't want to know.
'Neither of us realised the other was out there. Realised that we were incomplete parts of one person... We thought each of us was Allie.
'But we found out otherwise.'
Polly avoided Sandra's eyes, choosing Xeffy as a far safer option.
'Okay. They went through a couple of adventures, and then...' Xeffy's mouth twitched. 'They met up again.
'Problem was, they'd started separating. Developing self-identity. Not a complete identity, though... since their "other half" was still out there. And San got stuck in a dilemma...'
'Reunite or stay separate.' Polly murmured. 'Reunite, and you get Allie. Stay separate - and the two of you remain individual.'
'In the end...' Sandra closed her eyes. 'In the end... I wanted to be real... to exist, to have a life... but Allie deserved to live again.
'I chose to become Allie.
'And then I died.
'But Allie came back.
'Shadow and Psyche together again, once more.'
'Sandra died.' Polly whispered. 'But you came back...'
'A phantasm. A fetch.' Xeffy said. 'Allie's doppelganger.'
Polly shook herself. 'Adric never mentioned this could happen...'
'Why would he?' Sandra said. 'This is, as far as I know, permanent. And Adric isn't so desperate as to go this far. Not yet, anyway. Besides, I got sent back. It took a lot of paperwork - and a patron on that side - but I was returned.' She chuckled dryly. 'And when I popped up again... Allie fainted.'
Polly tapped her chin. 'Actually... Adric has turned up as a spirit sometimes. He always ends up coming back, though. I think it comes with the punchcard - you only come back alive. Coming back as a ghost or zombie isn't in the rules...'
'...but you can bend the rules.' Xeffy completed. She frowned. 'Why doesn't ...Adric? Why doesn't he stay dead? Sounds like it'd be safer...'
'Because - at least according to him, so take it as you want - it is, quite possibly, the most boring place in the entire multiverse. Even getting killed by Nyssa's better than staying there.'
Xeffy shuddered. 'And I thought the Bureau was bad...'
'How bad?' Polly wondered.
'Lemme put it this way - when Dad applied for a transfer here, it took him a week to get the application for the form to request a transfer form... and that was with the Collegium's help.'
Then a thought occurred to her. 'Are all of the Muses Collegium graduates?'
'Not all...' Sandra said. 'But the five we know of round here - that's Allie, Embericles, Nyssaias, Yokoi, and Tessa - we're all graduates.' She grinned. 'Allie finally got her Muse Licence, which was a relief. Now Al's got her licence, she's pretty much set for a job. And since there's nothing holding Dad there, he decided to move here to be closer to her, rather than have her move back in. Though he's still looking round for a school for Xeph here.'
Xeffy's face fell, which, Polly felt, was par for the course whenever someone mentioned the word "school" around a teenager. She pressed on. 'Yokoi?'
'Gordon's Muse. She's the incarnation of weird conversations at 3 in the morning.'
'That's Gordon...' Polly observed.
'Looks like Neil Gaiman's Death - the whole "untidy Goth" look. Pretty short, long messy dark hair, and dark eyes, has a patchwork coat of dark colours. Borrowed a top hat off Gordon. Still hasn't returned it.' Sandra grinned.
'Our resident redhead. Alryssa - well, Sailor Gallifrey's - Muse. Went to college with Allie and Yokoi, but we only really teamed up when we met here. Specialises in EF fic. Y'know, the over-18s stuff.'
'Oh...' Polly said.
'And they're sort of stuck together.' Xeffy stuck in.
Polly blinked. 'Huh?'
'Alryssa, Gordon, and Imran. Sailor Gallifrey, the Son of the Ether, and the Mirror Knight.' Sandra's grin widened. 'They're the Odd Trio. "Once together, always together".
'Whenever a threat to the multiverse arises, they'll be there - to save it in the silliest, weirdest, most pro-fun ways possible.
'And somehow, it ended up applying to Tessa, Yokoi and Allie.
'They're the Odd Muses.'
Polly's eyebrows raised. 'I would've thought that fit Brad's Muses...'
'Oh, they have titles. You just don't wanna know what they are.' Sandra said. 'Like "The Bondage Fairies"...'
'And that's in polite company.' Sandra added.
'Are all Muses like that?'
Sandra blinked. 'Actually... no.'
Polly looked at Sandra suspiciously. 'You're about to say they're even weirder, aren't you?'
'Uh-huh...' Xeffy said.
'What I was about to say,' Sandra continued. 'is... Hm.' She thought for a moment. 'If the other Muses are the Seven Samurai, they're the Magnificent Seven. Still weird, but weird in a different context.'
'Right. They're Muses, you're a fetch... what about Xeffy?'
And started humming.
Seconds later, Harry arrived at their table, with a margharita and a chocolate milkshake.
Xeffy rummaged around in her trouser pocket, found the money, and paid.
After Harry had gone back to the bar, Polly's brow furrowed. 'Wait a minute... you didn't place an order.'
'Didn't I?' Xeffy looked innocent.
'Well?' Polly asked, tapping her foot.
Off Sandra's glare, Xeffy muttered, 'Spoilsport... Okay. I'm a siren.'
'A siren of time?'
Both Sandra and Xeffy stared at Polly.
Xeffy sighed. 'No. A mythical siren. Y'know, the whole "when they sing, their voices call and captivate anyone who listens" thing?'
Polly's eyebrows raised again. 'And you use it to get drinks?'
'Uh-huh. And where am I gonna find sailing ships round here? Just 'cause I'm a siren, it doesn't mean I have to behave like the old ones did.' Xeffy hmphed.
'Let me get this straight. One of you is a Muse, one of you is a siren, and one of you is dead?'
'It's not that weird!' Xeffy defended herself. 'Not in Subreality!'
'Somehow, I don't want to know...' Polly murmured. 'Wait... what about your Dad?'
'History Muse. One of Clio's. Emigrated to Subreality after he met Mum.' Xeffy supplied.
'Nothing weird about him, though?'
'Nope. Dad's okay.'
'You're sure of that?' Polly pressed.
'Course. It was Mum who kept talking to the dead...'
'Oh my God...' Polly whispered. 'I should be surprised by this. I'm not. That should worry me. It doesn't... You fit right in with the anime characters around here...'
'Hey!' Xeffy said, her mouth twitching the tiniest bit. 'We're not that weird!'
'Well, you're not in any tangled romantic relationships... are you?' Polly asked hesitantly.
'Not the last time I checked. Still, you never know...' Sandra said. 'Hey, if Kikyo can get involved...'
'She's a walking, reanimated corpse who sucks others' souls!' Polly hesitated for a moment. 'Or so I've heard...'
'Mm-hmm...' Sandra said. 'If a walking, reanimated corpse who sucks others' souls can get romantically involved...'
'Besides, this is This Time Round. The big romance plot involves an aquatranssexual, an Alzarian who keeps coming back from the dead, and a psychopathic Trakenite...'
'We are cleared to talk about that, right?' Polly wondered.
'Meta-text mode.' Sandra said. 'Thankfully, Adric's not around...'
Polly cocked her head. 'Why didn't you call yourself "Kate"?'
'I believe the answer to that is usually pronounced "D'oh!",' Sandra said. 'Bit hard to think of a name in a crisis, so I nicked Allie's.'
Xeffy's brow furrowed. 'Sorry?'
'"Kate and Allie"?' Sandra explained. 'Mean anything to anyone...? Okay, feeling really old here...'
'I'm still older.'
Sandra span round, to find Allie - in full Sailor fuku - leaning on her chair.
And grinning at her sister.
'Oh... crap...' the Proprietor moaned.
'See that? See that? She looks exactly like one of our customers! How the hell are we supposed to explain that?!'
'Bossman not thinking.'
'Of course I'm thinking! I'm thinking of all the money we're going to see go down the drain!'
'Francois also think of that. Francois is thinking "two for price of one" deal. Or "reincarnation" deal. Happens all the time, anime side, so Francois hear...'
'...And we would sell a lot of sake...'
'Francois also thinking we play up "eerie resemblance" idea. Show them together, no one going to think one impersonating other. Have sensor scan eliminate all holoprojectors. Why cowgirl ghost look eerily like weird Sailor Muse girl? Loony theories wanted - loonier the better. Prize for weirdest theory of month.'
'...We'd have to pay them.'
'Francois have hidden camera. It no trouble.'
'...Francois, have you been selling those videos of Adric dying to "World's Most Gratuitous Deaths" again?'
'Francois need to make some money on side. Bossman pay peanuts, and Francois not joking.'
'Just so long as I get a cut, okay?'
'Oh Zeus...' Xeffy moaned. 'They even sneeze together...'
'I'm dead!' Sandra protested. 'How can I sneeze?!'
'Dramatic licence?' Xeffy suggested.
She shrank under the force of her sisters' combined glare. 'Hey, it was only an idea...'
Polly looked between Allie and Sandra.
Apart from the obvious differences in solidity and clothing, the two of them were identical.
Sandra turned back to her twin. 'Dad finished checking on everything?'
'Yep,' Allie said. 'Said he needed a rest - wandering 'round the place tired him out... What've you and the brat been doing?'
'Oh, just filling Polly in...' Sandra said.
Allie took in Polly's... rather glazed... expression, and raised an eyebrow. 'I see...'
She waved a hand in front of Polly's face. 'Polly? Pol, you there?'
Polly nodded. Something that might have been a giggle escaped her mouth.
Then she closed her eyes.
Took a deep breath.
'Stress management courses,' she explained. 'Dealing with Ryoko, you soon need them.'
'Speaking of which...' Allie said. 'Is it just me, or do you enjoy letting Ryoko outwit you?'
'I have no idea what you're talking about.' Polly said, her expression perfectly calm.
'Sure you do. The last time she came in, you didn't even mention your change in job. Y'know, the whole "Mess up, and you get my job" thing. Just carried on as normal.'
'You're not stupid,' Sandra added. 'You know the Proprietor gets all twitchy whenever someone loses him money... and tossing crossover characters would lose him money. You know that - you were a secretary...'
'You enjoy it.' Allie said. 'You put on the "clueless" act well enough... but I'm betting that's what it is, by now. An act. Ryoko gets her little moment of victory, and you get...'
'If that was the case - if - then it might be because I like seeing what ridiculous excuse Ryoko's going to come up with this time. Because she's obviously having fun doing it. And because...' Polly shrugged. 'And because, perhaps, just perhaps, she knows as well. And enjoys playing the game.'
'Of course.' Allie said. 'And if we ever mention this to her, you'll deny it.'
'I thought so...' Allie sat down in a chair. 'Hey, Xeph, you couldn't get me a banana milkshake?'
'Sure, Al. No problem.'
Moments later, Harry placed a massive glass in front of Allie.
'Thanks. Here you go.' Allie said, handing over the money.
As Harry went back to the bar, Allie sat back in her chair.
'So what's been happening?'
Polly took a sip of her margharita. 'You remember the Order of the Cross-Post? You'll never guess what they did this time...'
She looked around again and leaned forward, conspiratorially. 'They only went and released the Yads.'
Allie splurted milkshake. 'They didn't!'
Polly grinned. 'They did.'
Allie shook her head, grinning. 'Whoa. Talk about not thinking things through...'
'Oh yeah. The first we knew of it was when a horde of acolytes came screaming down the street. But that wasn't the problem. The problem was what was shambling along behind them, roaring "HUSH UP PUNT DRUNK!!"...'
The others sat back, settling in for the story.
And, for the rest of the night, that was the way it went.
Until another time, and another story.
Summary: In which Allie's family move in. Be afraid.
The Proprietor is this slimy - see 'Dead Reckoning' by BKWillis. He's money-grubbing, a coward and a pervert... and those are his good points...
Kikyo is a character from Rumiko Takahashi's "Inu-Yasha". And yes, she's exactly how Polly and Sandra describe her. Only even weirder.
Copyright 2002 Imran Inayat