Danel crept through the blue monkey base. At least, that's what he thought it was... but why were there no blue monkeys, apart from that one coming from behind him and slowly getting closer in a sinister fashion? Why was he dressed in leather? What had happened to his hair?
The chittering was getting closer faster now, as if the source was speeding up. Danel attempted to stop himself sweating through sheer strength of will, guessing that sweat and leather didn't mix. He also tightened his grip on his lovely gun.
At that moment, the chittering became terrifyingly loud. Danel turned, and levelled the gun at Ingo. Well, in the general direction at least. Roughly.
Luckily, Ingo was suitably surprised by this that he stopped dead
mid-leap, leaving Danel holding a small monkey at gunpoint.
For a while, neither of them moved at all. Then, to Danel's great surprise, a small blue duck came charging around the corner, followed by a guy in a colour-changing coat.
This is the sound of a teenager screaming in shock before being attacked by a blue monkey, which then clamps around his neck then holds the gun in its tail and points it at the newcomers.
"What's Danel saying, Paul?"
"He's saying, 'Help, help, I can't breathe,' Donald. Uh... Charley!"
The Magical Electric Girl joined the party. Ingo chittered in anger and fear. Charley's eyes narrowed and she prepared to blast him.
"Gah, gak! Guh! Guh! Gah!"
Charley blinked. "What?"
"He said, 'No, no, please don't blast me apart with electricity! No! No!' That's what he is saying."
"Oh. Well, I've got a better aim than that! I won't hit him!"
"Oops. Sorry, Danel! I guess I'm not as good at aiming without my Staff of the Currents."
Danel got to his feet, only slightly frazzled. "None of this matters. While I was fleeing Ingo I took the opportunity to think about things and now I have a plan to deal with my troublesome former trousers once and for all!"
"Oh, really? Why don't you tell us this plan, we'll see how stupid it is."
"Charley, that's not very nice..."
"None of this matters! I have a plan! A plan! When I saw that... 'Paul', isn't that what the duck called you?... anyway, I saw that you wore a Coat of Quantum Spectral Uncertainty, and it merged perfectly with an idea I had already formed."
"Please elaborate. And yes, I am Paul."
"A-hem. Earlier, Walter Duncan told me that he had used magic pro-fun troll magic, no doubt upon the drinks to make them nicer, happier, and more pro-fun. I've been known to dabble in 'Harry Potter magic' I write for that sometimes... okay, once and using my skills and the drinks, I'm sure we could brew an... ah-hah... antidote for the machiavellian cunning of the trousers."
"Can you stop that, Charley? How do you do it, anyway?"
"It's a talent I have. What in the world are you talking about?"
"It's fairly simple... uh... simply put I'll make a Pro-Fun Punch, and dip the coat in it to make it good."
"So, what does everyone think of the plan?"
"I think it's so good that it needs no sarcasm at all. It does it itself."
"Thank y Hey!"
"It's an awful plan, but we don't have many more. It's worth a try... where are the drinks, anyway?"
Donald spoke up. "When I was infiltrating the monkey base earlier, I heard them talking about a drinks room somewhere. That must be where they all are."
"Great! So we're decided! To the drinks room!"
"Uh, Donald, which way is the drinks room, anyway?"
[ In the cul-de-sac there are now two vague figures. There conversation can not be heard, but if it could it would have gone something like this. ]
Figure 1 (sarcastically): "And what does the great smith expect me to do? I can not go in there, any more than you can."
Nin-Adad: "I want my mill back, my agent has betrayed me, you are the one who boasts about having the best covert agents."
Figure 1: "And what do I get out of this?"
Nin-Adad: "The Spawn of Anwynn and his whore are in there."
Figure 1: "That's been tried, I have no wish to end up inside a soul trap. He knows the names of all of us, and somehow he can tell us apart. "
Nin-Adad: "Get me the machine and I will not only allow you access but help you to use it."
Figure 1: "And your vote as I direct on the next five occasions."
Figure 1: "Done! I do have an agent or two in place."
Lancelot walked up to Merlin at the punchbowl, where the wizard was serving two attractive, scantily-clad female hoedowners as slowly as possible. "I'm to relieve you," Lancelot said balefully.
"I'm fine," Merlin objected with a hmph that said 'killjoy'.
"Not my idea," said Lancelot. "The queen saw you having a good time at this and sent me over to see if it'd work for me."
Merlin surrendered the ladle grudgingly but he surrendered it; a queen is a queen. He left Lancelot to serve the two ladies, who both were ready for seconds as quickly as possible.
The wizard went searching for his other compatriots. He didn't spot Arthur but Nimue and Guenevere were sitting together. To his surprise, as he approached them he heard giggling.
"... Seems like such a maverick, but he's really conservative in private," Nimue was saying. "It's sweet, I think."
"Arthur's the same way," Guenevere said with less tolerance. "'Course he makes up for it. There's a reason the expression says 'king-sized' ..."
Merlin cleared his throat loudly and they looked up. Nimue blushed; Guenevere didn't. Nimue blurted something about refreshing their snack plates and vanished.
"What was that all about?" Merlin asked Guenevere as he sat.
"I thought you thought Nimue didn't like you."
"Look," said Guenevere, "even in a universe where the Round Table has some knights who're female, a chance at some girl talk is something I'm not going to pass up."
"Well, we found the drinks room." Charley said quietly. "Now it's up to you, Danel.
"I can't believe I just said that."
Paul looked at Danel, who was looking at all the drinks and rubbing his hands together in a vaguely suspicious manner. "Are you sure this is safe?"
"Safe? Safe? Of course it's safe! I'm a pioneer of the Harry Potter subverse and I took lessons from Snape himself! Of course it's safe!"
"Well, okay then. Let's getting brewing!"
Donald watched over Ingo, who was still unconscious and slightly frazzled.
"Where is everybody?"
Since the speaker was the Rowan Atkinson Doctor, Merlin knew what he really meant was, 'Where are the rest of me and why was I left out?'
"Sweetheart's under attack from a SKoLD," Merlin started his explanation, wrapping it up some minutes later with, "The barn now seems to be completely cut off from the rest of the time capsule."
"Typical," Ninth sneered. "I'm no less canonical than Nth more so in fact, because I'm a screen character and he hasn't even got a face. Yet when adventure looms I rope him in when I can't even be bothered to ask me, 'Say, old chap, you're off to save the day again care to join in?'"
"Well," said Merlin, "we'll have to wait till Eloise regains control, now, before you could hook up with them again."
"Well that goes without saying," Ninth snorted. "Reconfiguring a console room to null? We'll be lucky if you haven't trapped us in here forever."
"Nonsense," Merlin huffed. "The reestablishment of pandimensional interrelativity will just have to come from outside this room is all."
"You don't have to tell me that. It's elementary quantum mechanics."
"Thoroughly impossible for us to get out."
"It'd be a violation of every natural, supernatural and unnatural law known to anyone anywhere anytime."
They glared at each other a moment. Then simultaneously each began patting down his own pockets.
"I must have a photoral defrontistaser here somewhere ..."
"Oh, surely it's a dammisonitizicallifrajilopter that'll turn the trick, isn't it?"
" I think you gentlemen would find this useful. "
[ The comment came from a leggy blonde, who was holding a gadget that seemed to exist in more than one place. ]
Merlin: "That's a quantum manipulator."
Atkinson Doctor: "Nonsense, that's a mythical device."
Blonde: "You would be surprised at what my employer can obtain, and he does want you to reconnect the barn."
Merlin "Well with that we can..."
Doctor: "Yes, and if we cross connect with this parity generator..."
[ Across the room a door formed and two members of the hoedown passed through. ]
Merlin: "That worked, we have just achieved the impossible, what is your name my dear?"
Blonde: "Medea, and I will let you gentlemen get me a drink."
[ Outside .]
Figure: "Stage one complete, and I want a replacement for that quantum manipulator, Medea is good but I doubt if she will be able to get it back from those two."
Nin-Adad: "If you insist. "
Figure: "Oh but I do. "
"That blue can?"
"The reddish-green bottle?"
"The funny shaped thing containing almost pure ethanol?"
"And that's it! We're almost done! Now for the tricky bit."
"Charley, stop saying symbols!"
"I need an incantation... I'll try:
Some evil marauding trousers,|
would like to have us for their lunch,
A magic brew is what we need
A pot of Pro-Fun Punch!"
"Please, no more..."
"A wave of mystic energy,|
A bolt of shimmering light,
With a coat added in to these,
The trousers it will fight!
Now for the final power,
There was a shiny glimmer, and magic flowed through the room. Through the waves of special effect, Danel could clearly be heard saying: "Wow, it worked!"
When the special effects cleared, there was one large punch bowl containing the essence of Pro-Fun, and a smaller bowl containing a horrible, seething goo.
"'Wow, it worked'? You said you knew what you were doing! You took lessons from Snape!"
"They were, ah, sarcasm lessons. Sorry. But it worked! Look! Pro-Fun Punch! And stay away from that other bowl."
"Hmm..." Charley said.
"Don't do that!"
"Sorry," Charley apologised, "it's just... I was wondering. I haven't been getting a headache from the coat, so I was wondering...
"Is it evil? I mean, just because it's spectrally uncertain doesn't make it evil..."
"Ahem." someone said, in a grating, villainous tone. "Would you mind if I took that?"
A white glove reached out for the horrible, seething goo, and picked it up.
"Guys! Guys!" Ruthie ran into the drinks room, waving her hands excitedly. "The console room's back to normal... the thing is, someone seems to have brought down the force field outside the wardrobe..."
Her voice trailed off. "Um, who are you?"
A CyberVillain PlayMask set atop a tuxedo coat turned to face her. "Ah, hello there. I'm just taking something you obviously have no use for..."
"And what the Tarkna are you doing with my staff?!" Charley demanded.
"And..." Paul looked down at the trousers.
Which appeared to be changing colours.
Brown. Green. Blue.
"When all else fails, do it yourself." the mask said. "If you'll excuse me for a moment?"
The gloves tipped the bowl of Pro-Evil Stew over the Trousers.
The goo bubbled obscenely for a moment, then was absorbed by the Trousers.
"Danel..." Paul said carefully, "correct me if I'm wrong, but that's not good, is it?"
Danel shook his head mutely.
"No," the mask said. "It's not."
"Okay..." Danel said. "Plan B."
"Grab the punch and run like Tarkna?" Charley suggested.
And so saying, Danel, Charley, Paul and Ruthie applied word to deed.
The motley company, nay verily now a small army, climbed precariously up the Stair That Wasn't There, and disappeared one-by-one through the equally non-existent doorway. In full accordance with tradition, what they saw, once through, was nothing like what they expected.
The view from the top of the tower continued and extended the theme of 'non-existence'. Indeed, the very word 'top' was making a strong bid to harmonise with this motif. The party had emerged into a roughly-worked stone room that bore all the hallmarks of a limestone cavern bar one: it lacked even the slightest drip of running water, and the air was parchingly dry. The only visible exit was an upwards-curving, round-walled tunnel. It was not the path by which they had entered.
There was no daylight, and nowhere for daylight to enter.
The room was lit by a thin, insubstantial, sheeting bluish flame, in effect much like the burning film of brandy on top of a traditional Christmas pudding. This flame came and went within a round-bottomed pit in the centre of the chamber. The pit was fully twelve feet wide, and deep enough at its midpoint for a tall man to stand there without overlooking the rim. Its interior was raw rock; but its rim was carved in marvellous detail with a repeating design of thorns and strawberries, roots and flowers.
"This is it, Dad," Allie told him. "We've come to the roots of the thorn. Whatever we came to do, I think it happens here."
"Milady," said Danik, with the deepest respect, "I see no roots, nor even any place for roots to be. Perhaps your othersight shows you more of this chamber than less privileged eyes may see?"
"No." Allie shook her head. "The thorn's a gateless gate. We're still inside it, some way... and it's very close to the surface, here."
"Chamber of bone, cauldron of blood, womb of death..." Cassie intoned, sending the geese tracking up and down everyone's backbones. "This is a place of terrible power..."
"...But not of evil," said Alryssa confidently. "This is oldest Mother's magic, of Gallifrey before the Reaving." She wrinkled her noise. "It reminds me a lot of the Ice Queen, though. Not the malice, but... I wonder. If she could have had some hand in this, before..."
The Steward grunted. "We can be pretty sure that this " He indicated the fire-pit, " is the flame that drives the Sampo. It's the flame we came for, and we've reached the end of the line. But I never heard that the Sampo was anything of Mother's magic."
"Somehow," said Dominic dryly, "I doubt it's going to be as simple as lighting a brand from that thing and taking it back to the crystal castle."
Allie shook her head. "It's hardly there. I'm not sure you could light a brand from it and I don't think we'd have luck if we tried."
"It's probably like a pilot light," Amanda suggested practically. Something in the tightness of her stance hinted that this was very, very much not her kind of place.
"Do you know what we do need to do with it?"
"No," said Allie. "I'm sorry..."
"...but probably something extreme," Magnus finished. "If this is not a place of blood-magic, I've never seen one. I suggest we pool our two parties' information quickly. If Louhi turns up first, our only real bet right now is probably to blow her away into the pit and try to resurrect her as Xeffy, and even if we were up to that there is far too much that could go wrong with it."
"We are not doing blood sacrifice!" said Eloise sharply. Something in the looks of Gordon's party, Danik, the Campions and Doctors suggested that she'd be able to carry any argument that might have looked like developing.
"Have it your way," shrugged Varne, returning from a quick tour of the walls. "Incidentally, Lord, were you aware that this room is full of seriously defunct shapeshifters?"
"I was not, Varne, and by the way do not call me Egbert, for it is no part of my name."
"I enjoy a little variety on occasion, and it seemed a novelty to make any request along those lines which would not go against your principles. But let us by all means examine the evidence, defunct shapeshifters are nothing this company needs to learn about the hard way."
The grotesque flowstone forms around the edges of the chamber proved uncomfortably humanoid in shape, and appeared to have been rather subtly sculpted to enhance the resemblance to a point positively disturbing. All were distortions of powerful, mostly middle-aged men and women, receded to a greater or lesser degree into the stone. Varne's gloss on this proved even less comforting than the things themselves.
"If these were ever carved, Lord Edgar, then the culprit and quite possibly the local geology went to great lengths to make every muscle and bone resemble precisely the effect of being mid-way through a forced shape-change. I am putting in my vote for the simple yet paranoid option."
"So am I, Varne, and in future not calling me Lord shall, after all, suffice."
"It's like Rassilon's Chamber in the Dark Tower," Third declared. "It's like what happened to the seekers of immortality..."
"Mind if I have my DeLameter back?" the Steward inquired.
"Don't you think that's an even poorer answer to this problem than it is to most?" The Third restored the blaster disgustedly to its owner.
"I don't think it's a copy," said Alryssa. "A shadow, perhaps. But I think it's more likely the original..."
"The price of heart's desire," said the Steward, unreadably. "How very appropriate."
"You mean this is just another pointless trap?" The Sixth looked ready to write a letter to the Director-General.
"No," the Steward returned, "not even for Louhi's benefit. I think it's the place we were looking for. Let's swap stories now: this is not a job it befits us to go into half-cocked."
Dominic brought the newcomers concisely up to date with the local state of affairs, and Allie performed the same service for the original questers. A few apparent inconsistencies between these tales were soon resolved with a penetrating question or two from Imran.
"And Carrie?" Dominic inquired.
The artificial Muse frowned. "Art demands a connection, but I'm a bit lost to see what it is. I never did find out why the Doctor was working undercover to open the gateway to Spam "
RHUBARB RHUBARB RHUBARB, complained all the Doctors which here means that no, they'd bloody well do no such thing, thank you very much and demanded an explanation pronto. Albert Campion also here made a bid to be informed.
"Look here, this has already got something past thick. I've just about taken on board that this hallucination isn't really, and dragons and Dark Towers and so on I can take if no-one wants to give me any other choice. But animate Spam and Carrie Pariticek turning up as a cuckoo is rather extracting the Mick, don't you think? The last thing I knew, I was caught up in some big luncheon-meat scam which American Fifth Columnists seemed to be using to derail the war effort, and don't ask me how because I wish I could remember!" Amanda nodded intently. "And I kept dodging around this similarly Yank Red agent, who seemed to be helping it on for reasons of her own. Now she turns up as the People's Hero's Muse, and the wretched meat is chasing us across the landscape. Is there anything even resembling a rationale to this, or should I just send my brain off for a rest-cure until we turn up somewhere more sensible?"
"Helping them?" Carrie protested. "I admit I stalled you a couple of times. You plainly weren't yourself, and you were playing with forces of primal evil beyond the bounds of mere symbolic language..."
"I jolly well wasn't!"
"Let's shelve this one for the moment," the Muse suggested. "This Ice Queen seems to be coming from somewhere completely different, and I'm fairly clear why the Spamites are here just now. They've been infesting every PLOT hole and spatio-temporal discontinuity they could reach, ever since I found out the paradox you used to embody them. When the Time Scoop did its random search from here, they must have been about as handy as it's possible to be. Figuring that Gray was probably at the other end, or that at worst I might be able to confuse them about where I was, I followed them through at a safe distance. This being a virtuality and me an AI, I had the luxury of shaping my own avatar, although the moment I took wings something forced me into cuckoo-shape for some reason. That looks like your spells," she said, looking at the Steward. He coughed. "So here we are; and if the Spamites are anything more than Death Zone cannon-fodder, I don't see how."
"So that takes us back to the main line," said the Steward, the oddly cheerful note that had surfaced at other inappropriate times making a pronounced comeback. He wandered over to the pit. "Carrie, I don't suppose you could inspire me with an idea for getting out of all this?"
"Don't!" snapped the cyber-Muse, with the nearest to real anger anyone present had ever seen in her. "That isn't fair, and you know it!"
"I know." The Steward's voice was reasonable, remotely affectionate. "But I had to make sure. You see, there's a way out of all this. An answer that satisfies every constraint. Eloise, my friends, I'm afraid there's something we've been keeping from you."
He stood with his back to the pit, and the DeLameter in firing position. He didn't have it pointed at anyone quite. But the Doc Smith blaster was the Steward's primary weapon, and he had a protagonist's skill with it: not even Magnus, Danik, Silence, or Alryssa could be sure of neutralising him without casualties. "Varne," he said, without moving, "stay there where I can see you. I don't mean to harm any of you; but don't try to stop me."
"You meant to claim the Heart's Desire for yourself all along," said Amanda furiously. "What a typical, mean-spirited, thoroughly ticky Red trick!" And Albert Campion stepped swiftly in front of her.
The Steward laughed. "I suppose an engineer might never figure that one out. Heart's Desire is wild magic. What we want is never quite what we think we want. Half the time, it's that monkey's paw some of us were speaking of earlier. But if it's sane... and you get it, absolutely and all...
"It's the cold hillside beyond the rainbow. It's the end of life, or the end of desire. I know about this: I summoned Zaqqum into being. She's the essence of that, the maker of a perfect world without hope or God or joy. That's the last thing anyone in this Hoedown should touch with a bargepole. No. This isn't about claiming heart's desire.
"Carrie... you're still my best friend, the maker of my work of works. But... we didn't tell the rest of you why we worked the Spam thing separately. Carrie and I are... separated. I've nothing to offer her any more. Zaqqum ate it all. She does that, you see. She's all that ever was and will be. She can't help it.
"Celia is one of her futures: beyond the desolation, beyond the rainbow's end. History knows, I've been trying to work with her, to bring Zaqqum through, to get the monkey off my back. But it's taking forever. And Celia's lost to me too, now.
"I'm lost to my Muse, I've lost my Demiurge. I'm doing the Maker thing right now but it's all sham.
"I'm self-employed these days, and I make my bread on piece-work for the plutocrats. The Trots kicked me out of the Union months ago. I'm about as much a Steward as any of you.
"Like I said: not an honest man. And this is the Sauvage Gard of the Sauvage Gard, the harsh prison. It's my pidgeon. And we know the Cuckoo-Caller has to die."
He leapt down into the spectral flames. They didn't consume him. He scrambled down to the bottom of the pit.
"Get out of there, you idiot!" snapped Third.
"Please," said Carrie. "Please, don't do this..."
"Indeed?" The Steward's voice was a bit high and tinny, and phantoms of his face leered from the flames. "You need to be a Muse, Carrie. I don't have to tell you why. And you can't be anyone else's until I'm out of your way. And there's a guy came to this Hoedown who needs a Muse. Calliope wouldn't arrange that in vain..."
"Corrupt Calliope's registers! I don't want him! This is the stupidest thing that even you have ever, ever done!"
"And it is not," Eloise said, in a voice so authoritative and ringing that it could have come from someone three times taller, "the kind of thing I'll have in my Hoedown!"
"Joy," said the Steward, in a voice like tearing lead, "comes in strange forms, sometimes. And even you, dear comrade, don't have the authority to forbid that. Trust me and trust me three times: this is not despair. But it's the work the job calls for."
Everyone turned to look at Allie.
"I don't like it any better than you do! But it's right. This is supposed to happen. Even Sweetheart wants it to happen. It's..."
And Eloise thought: If she wants it to happen, this can't be what it looks like. It can't...
"It's his right," finished Dominic gravely. "Steward, are you really sure you wish to go through with this?"
"More than you can know." An unpretty laugh emerged from the pit. "Listen: if I'm right, the Sampo is powered by heart's desire. I'm about to give up mine. If the thorn is 'bearer' of heart's flame, presumably it'll start glowing, or you'll have to set light to it or something, to power the mill. With a life's-worth of distilled desire. It's another trick, see? Louhi can't sacrifice herself to get the power. I think she meant to use Xeffy in her place. But if you trash the thorn once you've taken the fire... it'll be a good while before she can grow another one, to get her own. Use the Sampo to make Xeffy a new body, or Sweetheart a mental shield, or whatever. But I guess that is your problem. I'd rather the ladies, and also the Really Nice Guys, looked away at this point."
There was some appropriate shuffling. And there was the last song of Kari Salomaa, great cuckoo-caller, which went:
"Life behind me, death before me,|
Threads of joy still weave my story.
I, whose fall the plebs will grieve,
Have some tricks still up my sleeve.
Take my blood, you thirsty thorn.
Take my fire that hope be born.
Seal that fruit from Louhi's taking,
Ban my Muse's heart from breaking
Though forever we should part.
Sink your roots into my heart.
Drink from it its lost desire,
Bear it fresh in fruits of fire.
Celia! Celia! Celiaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!"
The prolongation of the last word was occasioned by the sharp roots which burst from the Steward's breast at this point. He wasn't screaming very long. Indeed, there wasn't anything of him for very long, save for his big lead-heeled boots, and a brand new shape of flowstone which was appearing with magical celerity on the cave wall.
The roots withdrew into the soft limestone like a colony of armoured worms. The pit was once more empty. Into the dead silence that followed the Steward's last appalling outcry, the whuffy sobbing of Ayna against Dominic's breast and the agitated krarks of Osman the parrot broke with the shocking impact of squibs in a cathedral.
Magnus cleared his throat. "That was a bit drastic. We had better get back to the Thorn Gate: he seems to have thought that important."
"She wouldn't have asked that," said Eloise numbly. "It can't be as it looks."
"Eloise," said Allie gently, "it wasn't an illusion..."
Only Carrie had watched the whole ghastly spell without blinking. Carrie said:
"It's a scam. He always has some kind of scam on. But they never quite work. And he always told me what they were, before. And he's died of it!
"If Calliope set this up... I mean to settle our account, though she be a Goddess and I a computer program. But I think he walked into this on purpose. It was this Demiurge-molesting, child-stealing Muse you call Louhi who drove him to it. Let's see to her first, then.
"That tunnel looks like an exit. Shall we get back to the Thorn Gate and do as he asked, comrades?"
And she turned into a cuckoo, and flew off to scout their path.
"Not heartless." Dominic said, watching Carrie go. "Not heartless after all... but then..." He scowled. "Someone is playing games. With us, with Spam, with Albert, with Carrie..."
"I don't think this is done." Imran said.
"Allie? Eidetic memory time. What did the book we used to get here say? Last clause."
"...and perceived that his chief care must be to guard against the wiles of Ceridwen, for vast was her skill." Allie recited.
"...Ceridwen?" Eloise said.
"Ceridwen. Gwion Bach. Rebirth. Legend." Imran said.
"Gwion changes himself into a grain of wheat to hide from Ceridwen, but she turns into a black hen, and eats him... nine months later she gives birth to a son, which is Gwion's reincarnation." Allie recited again.
"We haven't met Sweetheart yet, have we?" Imran said. "But she said she would meet us..."
"Surrendered desire, embraced death..." Cassie whispered.
"Sweetheart wanted this to happen..." Eloise breathed. "I begin to see..."
"The end of one life, and the beginning of another." Imran said. "It's just... I'm wondering. This is the original of the Tower..." He shook his head. "I did that. I summoned the ender of the ways. Zagreus. He who sits among the dead. He who eats you when you are sleeping. The end of Time.
"But..." Imran shook his head. "I never went this far..."
"That was no-one's idea of heart's desire," Allie reminded him. "Except maybe Zagreus's. Zaqqum's the end of desire..."
"He who wins shall lose, and he who loses shall win." First murmured. "He has lost... can he win?"
"I wonder..." Fourth said slowly. "The Flame of Life. Could it be...?"
"I don't know." Eighth said fiercely, "but I'm not about to let his life go in vain not now. I've lost too many already."
"To the exit, then!" Danik declared. "For I see light at the end of the tunnel!"
Magnus: "Wait, we need to think things through. There are more than two players in the game. First we have the Ice Queen and Sweetheart. There is also whoever in the Nine and Ninety made that device. It may not be able to interfere directly, but I am sure it has one or more agents here. Also the SKoLD is probably sentient, most of the Nine and Ninety's gadgets are. Finally the Matrix is probably involved, something that complicated can survive the destruction of it's physical existence and given that it holds the minds of all the dead Time Lords probably has a mind of it's own."
Magnus: "The Tardis is powered through the Eye of Harmony, that also provides a two way data channel."
Doctor: "How did you find that out? It's knowledge that's supposed to be confined to the High Council."
Magnus: "Come on Doctor, most of the members were so corrupt you could buy them with a bag of jelly babies."
Dominic: "We were driven here, and it could have been by someone else than Louhi."
Magnus: "There is a chance I can get more information. I once was part of a party that did someone a very dangerous favour and I am yet to claim the debt."
Fourth to Varne: "What?"
Varne: "Before I met him, he has been going for sometime."
Dominic: "Why the hesitation?"
Magnus: "She is unpredictable and does not like being reminded that she ever needed help. She could also squash me like a bug, or more likely ignore me. Besides I have never needed her help before, she specified that all I could have was information, and I have never had problems with using safer means to find out what I needed."
[ With a shrug Magnus made up his mind and started to chant. ]
Nth: "It's some kind of invocation, in Sumerian. Something about passing seven gates to the underworld."
Dominic: "Who is he calling on?"
Ayna: #What's an invocation?#
Varne: "About the same as a summoning, the main difference is that there is no way to compel whoever you are calling."
Nth: "He has not mentioned a name, and he has switched to Akaddian, now it is about getting the Me back from Enkil."
Fourth: "Babylonian, now with a mention of a Dragon Gate."
Dominic: "I think I know who he is calling. If he gets a result let him do the talking."
[ Finally Magnus switched to English for the last two lines. ]
"By earth, air, fire and water|
I call upon the Moons Daughter"
[ The light changed slightly and a dove appeared. Magnus went to one knee. ]
Dove: "Oh, it's you, and that is a ridiculous outfit you have on. "
Magnus: "Greetings Lady, I have a favour to beg."
Dove: "Get on with it, I have better things to do than hang around this dump."
Magnus: "What the hells is going on here?"
The dove cooed rudely. "Tiamat's favourable spawn is pulling your leg by the trousers. Nin-Adad wants his dream-mill, but that Trickster's cut him out. Tammuz, fixing to die, didn't reckon with the cuckoo and botched the job be glad! and so pre-empted fallen maid Kulitta."
Magnus very carefully kept his eyes from glazing. The dove flapped about a bit, in manifest boredom and distaste. "There's no love lost between that one and Nin-Adad. She meant to distill flame from the scribe's blood, shed by his daughter's hand now she'll try other tricks, until you best or change her.
"Tammuz waits within the Tree, so better leave it quickly. All the Decans' eyes can't see through the knotting of time and space around the dream-mill. The Spam is the Spam is oh, screw an utukku, the Spam is too silly to even think about, and parts of it haven't been written on the Tablet yet anyway. Just zap it whenever it gets in the way, I seem to recall that's your strong suit. And mind out for the Trickster when you get out of this silly thorn and out of the bubble-world it's planted in. And thanks for summoning me three stories deep, that's even tackier than your costume. Right, then."
"Lady, would you mind "
"You bet your life. Don't call me, I'll call you; and for My sake, kill that wretched tailor!"
The light changed, and the dove was gone again, leaving all and sundry to contemplate the blessing of this truly divine enlightenment.
"I've been meaning to ask, Dominic..." Nth said, in an attempt to think about almost anything else other than divine enlightenment. "Just what does she have against you, specifically?"
"History and Time, maybe?" Allie said. "She sees Time from the outside, sees things through her perspective. Dad sees things through other people's accounts of Time."
"All this is because you're a History Muse?!"
"Perhaps..." Dominic said. "Or it might be because we're family."
"Dad, unless there's something you're not telling us... how the Hades can we be related to a Gallifreyan Muse?!"
Dominic sighed. "We're kin to the Nine... if she is too... Family against family..."
Allie nearly stopped mid-flight. "What?! Dad..."
"We're kin to the Nine, yes." Dominic said testily. "It didn't come up because it never seemed important. Between them, the Nine have had enough children to fill a stadium and as for their grandchildren and descendants..."
"Joy." Allie muttered. "Grandma became an Archetype, Grandad was a human... and now this. Our family history makes a Mary-Sue's look normal..."
#Any other surprises in our family tree you wanna mention, Dad?# Ayna trebled. #Like... oh, I dunno, having Evils From the Dawn of Time as our uncles?#
"If they are, they never write..." Dominic observed. "No, none I know of..."
"So how close are " Yokoi began.
"Clio. My paternal grandmother." Dominic said.
He frowned. "I just wish I knew why the Queen focused on me..."
They came out under an orange sky.
They came out in front of the Tower.
They came out facing a horde of Spamites.
"Don't look at me, I ate my quota of Spam for the day..."
"Okay..." Alryssa said. "To borrow one of Second's favourite phrases, when I say run..."
She raised her staff. "This is really going to take a lot out of me...
"TIME FREEZING! VORTEX WINDS SCREAM!"
When the light dimmed, a corridor had been cleared through the Spammoth horde, bordered by time-frozen Spammoths.
The rest screamed and clamoured, attempting to clamber over the frozen ones and at the Hoedowners.
They turned to look at Alryssa.