Something collapsed to the floor with a thud.
Eloise blinked her big eyes, trying to clear them.
Ana stepped forward, and reached out a hand.
The figure on the floor reached out her hand, and took it, letting Ana help her up.
She took several long, deep breaths.
Then she turned to look at the world around her, with sleepy eyes that gleamed like amber.
"If you're trapped in a twisting of your own mind... change your mind." Her voice was warm and soft. "Thank you, Ana."
"Electra's... gone, for now." she said. "I'm... Amber."
"In more ways than one," Danel observed.
"Oh yeah." Imran said.
Electra Amber blinked at Danel and Imran. "Beg pardon?"
Amber's new body looked to be in her early twenties, standing a couple of inches taller than Ana. Long brown hair reached down to her shoulders, sleepy amber eyes peered out at the world, and the luminescence of a Power hung around her.
"That's Amber Benson's body, right?" Danel said. "Tara in 'Buffy'?"
"Well, apart from the eyes." Imran said. "Pretty sure Tara didn't have amber eyes."
Amber blinked at them again. "What are you talking about?"
"I'll explain later, sis." Ana said, glaring at Danel and Imran. "Ignore the 'Buffy' fanboys in the corner..."
"Doesn't work. Believe me, I've tried..." Allie said, rolling her eyes.
"Amber...?" Alryssa said hesitantly.
Amber bowed her head. "Milady.
"I remember who I was, and what I have done, and no word or action of mine can answer for that.
"I remember what was done to me and Typhon will answer for that, in time, for my sister and her author have wounded him deeply."
She smiled, suddenly, beautifully.
"And my sister is alive, restored to life, restored to mind. For that, I thank you, Danel.
"Am I worthy of her gift? Perhaps. In time.
"But I've got a new life, a new chance... and I'm not going to let it slip through my fingers again."
She looked around, looked at them all.
"Twice, Typhon has come. The third will decide it.
"Now, we are Ten and One.
"And together, we will stand against him."
Ana looked around suddenly. "Where's Ned?"
"Who's Ned?" Paul said.
"The Coat. The ex-Coat. He said he'd come back "
<Well, kind of.>
The figure seemed shapeless, almost like nothingness itself, but the light within was the light of a rainbow, the light of the castle itself.
<There wasn't enough matter for all three of us to manifest physically.> Ned continued, <so I'm still... well, a Colour Out of Space.>
<A Pro-Fun Colour, though. Which is a relief, to say the least.>
Danel grinned. "Thanks, Ned. Couldn't have done it without you."
<My pleasure. Now, I don't think my old boss's going to be happy with what we've done, so I think it's time to take care of Typhon once and for all...>
The others turned to the little hostess.
"Eloise?" First said.
"Bokman! We forgot about Bokman!" Eloise exclaimed. "He's still out there!"
"No, I'm not."
Everyone turned to the castle's entrance to see Bokman stagger inside.
He looked around, blinking when he caught sight of Cassie, until his gaze alighted on Eloise.
"What is it?" Eloise asked, with concern. The tension in Bokman's voice was plain to hear.
"Listen, there's something I've got to tell you. And I don't think you're going to like it."
"Don't tell me," she said, her heart sinking. "It was Nyarlathotep who created the Sampo, so that this whole time we've been doing his bidding without knowing it."
"Nonono, nothing like that it's just that "
Suddenly, the air around them seemed to crack open as though pierced with lightning (though there was no lightning visible in the sky), and a deafening roar. The ground shook beneath their feet.
"Typhon?" Eloise asked. "He's back already?"
Ned, being a Color Out of Space, didn't have a head, so he couldn't shake it... but that was the general impression he gave. <No> he replied, <Not Typhon Another of Nyarlathotep's minions. ... What? You think he'd limit himself to three?>
"Bokman," Eloise said nervously, "You didn't happen to meet Fastolf on your way here, did you?"
"Well, he went out there to find you, and... he hasn't come back yet."
"So we still have to run an impossible and daring rescue?" Joe asked, scribbling furiously in his notebook.
"Looks like it."
"Great," Joe said with a malicious grin. "A thrilling rescue against impossible odds. Heh. I'll show you how to write a rescue, Bowden, you dog."
He closed his eyes and began talking to himself. "Night encroaches as this band of brothers these lucky few make peace with their gods and prepare to ride into this latter day valley of death. Little hope do they have, yet they will not despair, these heroes, nor will they shirk "
"That's enough," V snaps at her writer. "Focus, Joe. Stay in the here and now for the time being."
"Danik would be best at this... looks like it's down to us, though." Eloise murmured. "Okay. We've got everyone back but Danik and there's nothing we can do there, is there?"
As she mused (no pun intended), she spotted Space Arthur and Morgan. Breathless, they were catching up with the party from the direction whence Dominic's group had joined with hers after everyone split up to approach the castle. They too had reverted to the clothing in which they'd arrived at the party. She wondered what had kept them, assuming it had something to do with the askance looks with which Lancelot and Dominic were favoring them; but the matter was nothing like a priority
The Maiden shook her head. "It rests entirely in his hands, now."
"All right." Eloise said. "All right."
"What's a metaverse?" Gordon asked no-one in particular.
"Yeah. The reporter guy "
"Joe." Joe supplied. "Joe Wade."
"Right, you mentioned something about a metaverse plot complication thingie." Gordon paused. "Wait a minute how did you get here?"
"They appeared." the Maiden said, as if that was sufficient explanation.
"They appeared?" Xeffy echoed. "What do you mean, they appeared?"
"Thanks to Mr. G. He filled me in on what's going down with you, Typhon and this myth-engine, and asked us to cover the story." Joe shrugged. "I said yes, and he got us here. He's good at that."
"Mr. G?" Eloise echoed. "Does anyone here know a Mr. G?"
Much shaking of heads ensued.
"We do," Lancelot said, "but this isn't his style. He'd never call himself Mr. G, for one thing..."
"Do you know Mr. G?" Joe asks. "Skinny man with a ridiculous beard. Has questionable taste in suspenders. Spends most of his time admiring himself in mirrors. Mutters to himself about being the incarnation of Narrative Causality for this plane of existence. Quite mad, you know."
Eloise took in Joe with a thoughtful expression. She hadn't thought to question what he was doing there although she suspected that came with being a tabloid reporter. But how had he got into Sweetheart's world?
"One mystery we'll have to leave to later," Eloise decided. And hope it doesn't come back to bite us, she didn't add. "Right now, we've got to save Fastolf."
"And look out for a metaverse." Gordon put in.
[ The darkness enveloping Magnus heaved. Strands drained from him forming a complicated free floating sculpture. The darkness continued to drain into the sculpture leaving Magnus clearly visible. ]
Magnus: "I would advise people to stay clear of that. I can not leave here so one of who ever is going will have to be the controller."
Eloise: "What is it?"
Magnus: "A semi sentient weapon. All the controller has to do is select the target, then it will do what it can do destroy or at least inconvenience it. Now Mr. Wade if you will tell me where and when you found out about a metaverse I will give you an on the record interview."
[ By this time the Wubb fur had totally enveloped Xeffy, at the same time projecting a feeling of concern and a reinsurance of her safety. ]
Varne: "It does like her, in that mode it would take a nuke to do any damage. "
Eloise: "What? Why?"
Magnus: "I know what the metaverse is though I can not use the knowledge. What I don't know is where any one else in this rather parochial universe got that knowledge."
"Oh, Mr. G told me about the metaverse," Joe said. "He has connections. That's how we ended up here. Mr. G likes to know who's who and what's what. He takes a rather paternal interest in circumstances."
"Mr. G says this little shindig is attracting attention from outside. Way outside. From the Metaverse and he sends a warning. 'Be careful, beware tangled hierarchies and remember to wash your hands frequently."
Joe rolled his eyes about the last statement. "He's a health freak," he said, shrugging. "Crazy bugger."
[Joe flipped back through his notebook until he found the page he wanted. ]
Joe: "Now, Mr Magnus..."
Magnus: "Just Magnus please."
Joe: "Certainly, now if you could just look at this list of crimes you are alleged to have done."
[Magnus took the book and producing a pen from thin air started to look through the list, striking out several items. ]
Magnus: "That one was an unfortunate coincidence, I believe the pile melted down through operator error. This one, not us though I wish it had been, the nearest to a perfect crime I have ever heard of. You do seem to have missed some. Anyway what do you want to know?"
[ Joe took the notebook back and studied the modified list. ]
Joe: "What can you tell me about you involvement with the War Chief?"
Varne: "If you can give me five minutes Paul, I can reprogram the GREP gun for you. Unless you have a better idea, it will be find 'Elder Horror' and replace by null."
Paul looked at Varne askance. "You've never read 'The Return of Nathan Brazil', have you?"
"Not that I recall. Why?"
"Replacing bits of the universe by null can be a distinctly dodgy proposition," Paul said. "Imagine for a moment that we do actually replace the Elder Horror by null what does that leave us with? Where once there was an Elder Horror, there's now nothing not even thin air, not even vacuum... not even the underlying structure of the universe, if this thing doesn't have sensible safeguards. An Elder-Horror-sized hole in the fabric of space-time is something I think we can all live without."
He paused for breath.
"And that's assuming it works at all. The Elder Horror is no slouch in the reality-shaping department himself, and it seems to me there's a good chance that he'll just shrug off the GREP gun's best shot and keep coming..."
Varne: "Well it's almost certain he will keep coming, even that thing Magnus made will probably only slow it down."
[ She gave the floating sculpture a look of distaste. ]
Varne: "I do take your point about null though, I will leave the end product as a cushion."
Paul: "Just what is it Magnus has made?"
Magnus (overhearing): " A gate, when it is activated it will try to put the target into a universe with much lower energy levels than this one."
Varne: "Go directly to Hell and do not pass go."
Magnus: "Close enough, it's about the only use of the metaverse I can still manage."
Sweetheart hung back from their discussion, remembering.
A mind filled with sorrow, desire, hatred... an icy mind.
The Icy One, who cared nothing for Pilot or Sweetheart.
Yet... yet she had seen her change, when the Icy One had dropped her façade within the castle.
Had seen... something that might have been... sorrow, maybe, or regret.
She had not seen what had happened within her Eye's containment, could not see but when the Icy One had re-entered her again, she had felt the change taking place, felt her feelings redirected.
Regret for Pilot. Anger and sorrow tangled around the Listener, tangled up with him. Hatred fading into understanding, grief rising in its place... so much loss, so much pain...
Then... then she felt Chaos's avatar move and felt that grief, that loss, shape itself into cold, hard hatred.
Felt the Icy One's mind twist in on itself and withdrew, quickly. She had no desire to be entangled within her.
...then the other First, the Everborn, had come.
Had felt her aspect around her, felt her terrible, ancient pain...
...knew she was near (death/rebirth/regeneration)...
...felt it begin, in the Icy One, in the Everborn...
but this was not regeneration, not as she had known.
Change on a scale beyond that she had ever known.
The Everborn's aspect dying, reborn as Key...
...and the Icy One, become the Warm One.
Felt warmth from her, for the first time.
Care for those around her, regret, understanding of what the Icy One had done to them. Satisfied anger, directed at Crawling Chaos. Joy, wonder, at her sister's rebirth, her sister's return.
Joy in life.
It had taken Sweetheart a while to take it in, to understand it, but she felt its truth.
And yet still felt the deep grief within her, knew it would taint that joy, left unchecked
The Warm One caught the Dragicorn's eye, and thought-spoke.
:::I know. I know, brave one.
:::It is too much for me to weep; should I start, this world would be flooded. But now I understand how I could do it, what I should do with it.:::
:::Thank you.::: Sweetheart said.
:::For what?::: the Warm One asked.
The Warm One looked surprised. :::Why? The others listen to you.:::
:::But Electra did not. Did not believe a machine could have a spirit, could have anything worthy of regard.:::
:::But I'm not Electra.::: the Warm One said. :::And... Electra's ways aren't mine.
:::Not any more.:::
:::Lady, forgive my presumption... but have you chosen your way?:::
The Warm One paused. :::I... don't know. I'm... still connected to Gallifreya.
:::We'll have to see.:::
"Okay," Eloise said. "Doctors, authors, muses, sirens, Magnus, Albert, Amanda you stay here, work on this Metaverse situation, and on how we banish Typhon. It looks like it's not just primordial chaos who's getting interested in us. As for the rest of us... it's time to find Fastolf."
"Where'd you get that?" Arthur, Morgan at his side, caught up with Lancelot and admired his lightsabre.
"Varne is armory officer," said Lancelot. That worthy, having noted the half-siblings' arrival, was already approaching them.
"Another just like it," Varne said, handing a lightsabre to Arthur. (It wasn't, quite; its blade was blue.) "You?" she asked Morgan.
"Have you got a... damn," said Morgan. "Forgot what the global replacement is of a tissue compression eliminator."
"That wouldn't be very Pro-Fun," Varne suggested, "and you're supposed to be reformed."
"True." Morgan waved the weapons cornucopia away. "My mind is formidable weapon enough."
"Now you sound like the Doctor," said Arthur.
"Or Merlin," said Lancelot.
"There's no call for insult," Morgan snapped at the first knight.
"I will come." the Maiden said. "I can... pinpoint my blind spot. If Fastolf is anywhere, he's there."
Eloise nodded. "Let's get going."
And with that, they set off.
Finally, back in the courtyard, Dominic turned to Bokman.
"Excuse me, but isn't that the 'Kitab al-Azif'?"
"'Kitab al-Azif'?" Allie echoed. "The Necronomicon?"
"Just what we need!" the Trader declared. "English translation, I hope."
"Er " Bokman began.
"Incarnation of narrative causality?" Sandra said. "He's the incarnation of narrative causality?!"
"Claims to be." Joe said. "Quite mad, like I said."
"Despite being a bit crackers, he's still quite a fellow," continued Joe. "He helped me through a dark spot a few years ago. He gets obsessed about the strangest things, though. He kept holding forth about the nature of the metaverse. Fairly interesting stuff, but makes my head hurt. I took a few notes if anybody is interested."
"Don't I know you from somewhere?" V asked Carrie.
"I hope not. We've had enough trouble with that sort of thing as it is..." Carrie replied.
V shrugged. "Ah well."
Carrie looked at her a little more closely. "What are you?"
"You'll find out." V said.
"Aw..." Nyssaias said, indicating Ana and Danel, "They make a cute couple, don't they, Emby, dear heart?"
"I can think of cuter," Embericles said, holding Nyssaias's hand tighter. "Besides, he'd probably have to watch out for big sis..."
Danel was starting to get that distinctly uncomfortable feeling again (and this time, it wasn't the trousers).
"MUSE HUDDLE!!" Yokoi yelled.
Allie, Amber, Ana, Carrie, Cassie, Dominic, Emby, Nyss, Tessa, V and Yokoi went into a huddle.
"You know," Gordon remarked, "for some reason, that scares me..."
V finds herself standing next to Carrie in the huddle. She looks appraisingly at the beautiful blonde for a long moment and then learns over to sniff delicately at Carrie's hair.
"Delightful," she purrs. "You smell of photons. They tickle my nose. Such vibrancy. I could just eat you up."
Oblivious to the discomfort of her fellow muse at the attention, V reaches out and delicately touches Carrie's arm. Darkness seems to stir behind V's mirrored sunglasses. There is a small pop and the smell of ozone.
All the surrounding muses jerk around as a binary signal lances into their minds.
Carrie pulls her arm away and grimaces in discomfort. The ironic smile on V's face fades as she touches her throat, wonderingly.
"My apologies," she says after a long moment. "That was most ... unexpected."
Xeffy watched the Muse huddle, seemingly none the worse for V's faux pas.
We emphasise the word 'seemingly'.
#Xeffy?# Ayna said carefully.
"'No word or action of mine can answer for that'..." Xeffy muttered. "Yeah, but it wouldn't hurt, would it?"
#No...# Ayna admitted, #no, it wouldn't.#
"I do not think that is Amber's highest priority at the moment." Varne noted. "You might try asking her after all this is over, though.
"Besides... Amber is as like Electra as Magnus is like his progenitor. The two are different people yet there is still continuity between them."
"And you have to admit," Anya said from Xeffy's reflection, "she is well on the way to being reconnected."
"Yeah, yeah, hooray for her." Xeffy said. "Oooh, goddess being reconnected... Jeez, Dad knows what she did "
"But we still need a Power and Amber is the only one among us who still is a Power." Varne pointed out.
#With all these powers around,# Ayna said meditatively, #why didn't anyone try turning Osman human again?#
Ayna petted the parrot on her shoulder. #He used to be human, but he had a run-in with a batch of witches' brew.#
"Maybe he should ask Amber..." Xeffy said.
"What would you like her to do?" Anya asked.
"Saying 'sorry' would be a start..."
#It wouldn't put what she did right, Xeph.# Ayna hummed.
"Indeed." Varne said. "What could she do to put things right?"
Xeffy paused. "Oh no. You're not getting me this time. It still hurt, Ayn. It still hurt... she's so cold..."
"And what would you? Would you that she was possessed, like you were, cast out of your body, left sore and alone?"
Xeffy eyed Varne. "This is meant to be one of those ironic comparisons, isn't it?"
Varne's expression was innocent. "Is it? It occurs to me that perpetually dwelling on it, in word or thought, serves to aggravate the situation... as see Electra."
"I am not perpetually dwelling on it."
"Just making sure."
"Excuse me," Anya said abruptly. "Ned, isn't it?"
Ned turned. <Probably. You're...>
"Anya." Anya introduced herself. "My hostess is Xephanya you can call her Xeffy."
"Please call me Xeffy." Xeffy muttered.
"Just a moment..."
The reflection behind Xeffy went silent.
The reflection next to Ned blinked her eyes.
"Ah, it does work. Hold on a moment." Anya pinched her fingers together.
Ned yelped. <Ow! You pinched me!>
"Hm. It worked." Anya said.
<It worked? Of course it bloody worked, you just pinched me!>
"You're a Colour Out of Space. You shouldn't feel pain."
<And you are...> Ned's attention focused. <Ancient, I think. Older than any other here. You are... something else.>
"I'm Anya," Anya said quietly. "Nothing more."
<Even we forget, in time...> Ned said meditatively. <Forget everything but who we are...>
Anya's mouth twitched upwards in a half-smile. "True enough. True enough."
Anya yelped, and slapped at her arm. "OW! You pinched me!"
<Hmm. It works both ways...> Ned said.
"Har har. Very funny."
#Ahem...# Ayna interrupted. #We're supposed to be the kids around here?#
Both Anya and Ned looked sheepish.
<You started it.>
#Kids...!# Ayna sighed.
Maid TARDIS and Sweetheart Dragicorn led the way, with Eloise padding along beside them. They were not flying this time, as they were when Sweetheart first took them to the Crystal Castle, but nonetheless, the landscape seemed to expand and contract around them every few strides, and Eloise was reminded, yet again, that this whole world was a construct a reflection of a TARDIS mind. Somehow, these vast mountains and rivers and forests, and the demons that stalked them, who made the very sky crack asunder with their bellows all of this was somehow contained within the same boundary as a cozy lounge, built to troll proportions. For the first time since they met, Eloise, for one brief moment, grasped how truly alien Sweetheart was. And it frightened her.
She moved in half a step closer to the dragicorn's side, to seek and give comfort. But Sweetheart twitched her skin, as a horse would shoo away flies. Eloise looked up, into the maiden's face.
Her jaw was set, her stride, unwavering. But there seemed to be a shadow flickering in the depths of her eyes that suggested that some of her thoughts, at least, were elsewhere.
"Sw-Sweetheart? What wrong?"
Even though she had no need to, the Maiden drew a breath before answering. "It is ... Pilot," she said. "In the dimension where Danik is lost. They are ... together merged."
Eloise did not like the sound of that. In all her time with Sweetheart, she had never known her to hesitate in her communication telepathically or, now, with speech had never known her to search for an idea, or hold anything back. Right then, she seemed to be doing both. "M-merged?" she asked.
The Maiden nodded. "Two Selves within one frame. I I am trying to disentangle their minds. ... We ... are about to retrieve the Myth Engine."
Eloise shuddered. She knew what happened next. It was like the worst of nightmares: watching loved ones die, far off, in slow motion, and there was nothing you could do to save them. Only this wasn't a nightmare it was real. Bokman's voice, unbidden, echoed in her mind, then: :::You're not going to like it.::: She didn't want to face the question, much less ask it. But she had to, or it would eat her up.
"Sweetheart, that secret Bokman found out about the myth engine you know what it is, don't you?"
A look of grief, almost as deep as Electra's had been, flashed across her face. "Yes," she said.
"Is it is it evil?"
Again, Sweetheart drew an unneeded breath. "The last order Pilot gave me," she said, " the only order He ever gave, was 'Keep the Sampo away from Nyarlathotep.' It was not a matter of choice. There was nothing else I could have done."
"Sweetheart what happened?"
"He was too weak for the battle downed by the first blow." Her words were tumbling out of her, now, matching the pace of the terrible events she was recounting. "Xaos feasted on His blood, feasted on what life was left in that cycle. I could not protect Him, could not help Him. I had to get the Sampo away. Opening a portal in the Vortex is always dangerous, but we were still too close to the singularity, and I needed to use the randomizer and..."
"And?" Eloise prompted, quietly.
"And before I could jettison the Sampo, it... it absorbed Pilot."
It took a moment for the meaning of these words to sink in. "Oh," Eloise said. ". . .oh."
"The purpose of my existence," Maiden said, "was only to protect Him, to shelter Him. And He died by my act."
"Are you sure?" Eloise asked. She hated to see Sweetheart in so much pain. If anyone deserved to feel joy and hope, she did. "He was regenerating, after all," she went on. "He might have survived."
"The odds are infinitesimal."
"Then that means there's a chance!"
Maiden Sweetheart smiled down at her, but it had a sad, faraway look, as if she were smiling at a memory, rather than at the troll walking beside her. Then the smile faded. "I would not wish such a chance on anyone," she said.
"Oh, Sweetheart, I'm sorry. I didn't think... I'm... I'm sorry."
The Dragicorn nudged gently at Eloise's shoulder. It was a gesture of forgiveness and comfort, and it was all too brief.
Suddenly, maiden and beast stiffened, all alert, all tense. The arrows in Maid Tardis's quiver sang like tuning forks. "Fastolf and the beast stalking him are close," the Maiden announced. "We need to prepare." She turned abruptly, and lengthened her stride.
Eloise hurried to keep up.
Sandra frowned. "Mr. Wade "
"Something's bothering me. You were asking what a metaverse is, earlier, and yet now, you say you took a few notes about it. Doesn't that strike you as, well... a bit odd?"
Joe raised an eyebrow. "You'd make a good interviewer, spooky. Yeah, it is a bit odd, now I think of it...
"Hold on," he says, beginning to frown and rummaging through his pockets. He pulls out an ink-stained wad of paper.
Carefully smoothing the notes out, Joe begins to read. His expression changes from bafflement to concern to something close to fear.
"This isn't my handwriting," he said. "These aren't my notes. I don't remember ever taking them. In fact, I don't know why I said anything about taking notes. I honestly only remember Mr. G mentioning the metaverse once when he told me to warn your group about unwanted attention from outside. That's when he said to beware tangled hierarchies."
Joe holds out the notes to Sandra. "Wherever they came from, I think they mean we're in trouble. You'll want to read them for yourself."
"Right." Dominic said. "We have all the pieces Zaqqum's routines, the Necronomicon, ten and One Muses..." He glanced sideways at Amber. "But I can't see the pattern. I can't see how we fit this together..."
"What if Danik gets back with the myth-engine?" Yokoi said. "If we've got that, Typhon's screwed."
"But only if we can get to Danik before Typhon." Carrie said. "Besides, the Fates foretold zaqqum-fruit would be Typhon's doom and even I'm not going to go against their judgment. No. If we don't use the zaqqum-fruit, I don't think it'd be final not even with the Sampo."
"The Necronomicon...?" V said, "Hmm..." She touched at her throat again.
"You've probably got centre billing." Carrie told her.
"Lovely," V murmurs.
Amber nodded. "The myth-engine remakes stories, down to the deepest levels. Nyarlathotep is a thing outside those stories, eats their substance " She hesitated, and went on. "I'm not sure what would happen..."
"Sesungguhnya ia adalah sebatang pohon yang keluar dari dasar neraka jahim," V says, mostly to herself. "Mayangnya seperti kepala syaitan-syaitan. The Zaqqum-fruit is the fruit of hell."
She looks at the group of muses surrounding her, almost glowing with vibrancy and magic, and looks sadly down at her own hands. She stares at them for a long moment before compulsively rubbing them together as if washing something away.
"Ironic, isn't it?" Tessa said. "This time, we have to play the script to win."
"Which means we're at a disadvantage. If he can remove something, disturb the narrative causality..." Allie didn't finish the sentence.
"What do we need to do?" Cassie said.
"Spellbind." Carrie said. "We've got the Necronomicon and if that doesn't have enough detail on Nyarlathotep to try a spell, the mad Arab was even crazier than I thought."
"I think I see..." Dominic said. "And with a Power casting that spell..."
"With all of us casting that spell..." Ana put in.
"We may just stand a chance." Allie completed.
"Ahem. Brains Trust?" Embericles said. "Aren't y'all forgetting something? Like... oh, say the zaqqum-fruit?"
Carrie grinned, and indicated the Trader. "Sweetheart empowered my grapple-gun, remember? And I'm not so blind that I can't identify Zaqqum's routines... "
Embericles smiled wickedly, clapping her fellow muses on the back. "Then we're back in the game. Typhon isn't gonna know what hit him..."
Sandra flicked through Joe's notes, levitating in front of her, and frowned.
"Hmm, my girl?" First said.
"I think you need to see this." She looked across at Joe, who nodded. "I think we're in deep doo-doo..."
First examined the notes carefully. He pursed his lips and walked a few paces away, idly gesturing with his cane. Slowly, he turned back toward Joe and Sandra.
"Grave," he said, thoughtfully. "Very grave news."
He paused and the smallest of smiles crept onto his face.
"Yet we may use the situation to our advantage," First said. "Indeed we may."
"But Doctor " Sandra began.
"Ask me no more," the white-haired patriarch said. "I must contemplate this news."
Turning to Joe, First asked "This Mr. G of yours, do you have any way to contact him?"
"Not as such," Joe said. "He just seems to be there when I need him."
"Well then, if he does turn up, give him these instructions ..." First said, taking Joe's arm in paternal manner, and walking him out of earshot of the others.
A mirrored spacetime:
Beloved's task complete, she stirred within Pilot's mind, waking him. "It is time," she told him, "we are nearly there. We need to prepare."
Danik broke out of his dream with a start. For a moment, he was certain that he'd felt his mother brush the back of his hand a gesture he had not felt since he was a small boy. A wave of panic washed over him, then, when his eyes wouldn't open when he willed them to, and he remembered with a pang that they were not his eyes. He was still within Florestan's body, only it was now Florestan, it seemed, who was fully in control.
The old man woke more slowly, took longer to rise to consciousness, and Danik (who was now fully awake and impatient), glimpsed the tail-end of Florestan's dream: younger hands leafing frantically through the pages of an ancient book, the letters falling away as he ran his finger under them, like dried, pressed flowers turning to dust and drifting to the floor.
:::Pilot, Pilot.::: Sweetheart's voice was gentle, but insistent, and this time, Danik heard it in the distinctive lilt and cadence of Old High Gallifreyan, with the meaning ringing clear under it, like telepathic subtitles. :::It is time. We are nearly there. We need to prepare.:::
Florestan stirred at last, and opened his eyes. It was almost as if Danik was seeing for himself, seeing with his own eyes, but he could not shake the feeling of detachment, as if he were watching a film shot by someone else.
:::We have reached the Sampo?::: Florestan asked. :::The journey is over?::: His voice had an elderly rasp, but it had the vigor and energy of a young boy's, asking if Christmas had finally arrived.
:::Nearly over,::: Sweetheart reminded him. :::We still have to extract the Sampo from the singularity. You must finish work on the Scoop.::::.
:::Ah, Yes!::: The Time Lord rose with surprising agility from the couch, and with a directness Danik would not have thought possible (he wondered if Sweetheart deliberately shifted her corridors to meet him half way.), made his way to a workshop.
It was like nothing more than a crazy quilt mix of Alchemist's Chambers, Toymaker's Shop, and Computer Lab. Florestan moved swiftly around numerous tables with half-finished projects and abandoned notes scattered across their surfaces. Danik was painfully aware of the old, arthritic knees, and the tiny bursts of pain that ran up and down the old man's spine, but these never once prompted Florestan to hesitate in his progress. His mind was only on one thing.
He made his way to a dark velvet curtain, which seemed to be hung there for the sole purpose of keeping whatever was behind it a secret (though secret from whom Danik could not fathom). Beyond the curtain was a surprisingly open space, with no other furnishings but a single, golden hexagonal column rising from the center of the floor (Whether he was picking up on Florestan's direct knowledge, or deducing it from his own experience with TARDISes, Danik could not be sure, but it was clear this was Sweetheart's secondary console). The only illumination in the room came a magician's circle emblazoned on the floor, its complex array of glyphs and symbols glowing with a pale phosphorescent light, and colors that rippled through them, like hints of sunlight dancing on water.
Perched on top of the console was what to be a large geode, until, as Florestan drew closer, Danik could see that instead of a lining of crystals, the bowl was filled with a nest of wires vacuum tubes. However, in keeping with the Sorcerer's Garret motif, several of the components were engraved with more of the ancient runic glyphs Danik had seen before. A ceremonial knife lay beside the device. Its silver handle was gracefully carved with flowing lines, and inlaid with gems as varied and as pale as the light from the circle on the floor. But what caught Danik's eye was the blade: long, thin, double-edged, and surgically sharp.
:::You old fool!::: he chided, :::Why didn't you take that out in the streets with you?:::
But Florestan made no sign, inwardly or outwardly that he had heard.
Carefully, with the precision of a choreographed dance, Florestan picked up the knife.
:::You know I don't not like this, Pilot.::: Sweetheart's voice rang through his mind :::It is forbidden:::
:::Ah, Beloved, I know. But so is studying the Pythian Lore, and we have overstepped that bound a dozen times already::: There was a hint of laughter in his cadence, but also of sadness. :::Even wise men can make unwise laws:::
:::But this is different,::: came the reply. :::This can be used to harm.:::
:::If there were another way,::: Florestan said, :::I would have taken it:::
:::I know, Pilot. It just saddens me.:::
:::Remember: all things of great power can be used for either good or ill a double-edged blade:::: (and with that, he turned the knife in his hands, smiling as he examined it) :::It all depends on intent, on the twist of the knife. And your intent, I trust, will always be a blessing.:::
Florestan drew himself to his full height, and his mind went silent for a moment. He then raised the knife above his head, the tip of the blade pointing as straight down as if it had been the end of a plumb line, and lowered it slowly. As he did so, he began to chant a language far older than even Old High Gallifreyan. But Danik, by eavesdropping on Florestan's thoughts, caught snatches of meaning here and there. It was a call to forces of time and space and singing a pathway across the stars.
The song's end came just as the knife's point came to rest on the last space for a rune to be written. He carved that rune with the precision of a surgeon, and the grace of a lover signing a letter. Then, carefully, precisely, he lay the knife down just where it had been, lowered his arms to his sides, and bowed his head.
:::Now::: he said.
The TARDIS strained like a ship in a storm as she fought the pull of the black hole nearby. There was no wild pitch of the decks, no scream of wind through the rigging, no murderous weight of waves crashing over the gunwale. But Danik knew instinctively the feel of a ship taken to its limits.
Then, just when it seemed the black hole would win this tug of war, Florestan raised his head and opened his eyes. Danik could sense the focus of the Time Lord's mind like a ray of sun shining through a magnifying glass, and aimed at a far corner of the room. Again, he began to sing. And as he sang, a darker form appeared against the darkness: A great cloudlike sphere that floated toward them as though it were being carried by unseen hands. It came to rest within the lip of the stone bowl, and the black cloud dissipated, revealing the Myth Engine.
Whatever Danik was expecting, it wasn't this. In fact, it didn't look like an "engine" at all. Formed of multi-faceted crystal, its central structure was a rather small sphere. But what really made it outlandish were the "growths" that radiated out from it: some twisted like ivy stems, others branched like coral, and still others curved back to rejoin the sphere and a new location. Light and shadow could be seen shifting back and forth within, just as lightning can be seen in clouds. And suspended within that light and shadow, bobbing up and down within those swirling forces, was a second, smaller crystal form.
There was something about that second, inner, crystal that stirred at the edge of Danik's memory. But seeing through another man's eyes made it hard to pinpoint. And then it came to him suddenly: The crystal within the crystal was shaped like a rose bud, just about to open.... Here was the missing Rose for which they had been searching!
Florestan must have felt Something from that thought, for he chose that moment to raise his hand, and touch the myth engine.
A shock of ice and fire bolted through Danik's being. Everything went white.
Then, everything went dark.