Fourth regarded the little troll, then looked around at the room.
"I believe we've got ourselves a little situation." he murmured to the other Doctors. "Apart from the imminent rebooting of the universe, that is."
"Transference." Seventh said. "Sweetheart's shifted her telepathic bond back to him."
"And, since a TARDIS or at least, one of Sweetheart's nominal Type can only have one pilot at a time..." Third said.
"...Oh my." Second said.
"So what now?" Nth said. "Is that it? 'Wham-bam thank you Eloise'?"
"I think not..." First said. "I suspect, now he is free, our pilot will wish to learn what became of Sweetheart in the time he was lost... and how it came to pass he was freed.
"Naturally, his first response would have been to ask us to leave, and then gather himself. However... since we are currently en route to Sweetheart's chosen destination, there is little left to do but introduce him to the others.
"Particularly the brave troll who looked after Sweetheart and led the quest to rescue him..."
The Doctors shared an evil expression.
"So," Fourth said, grinning, "who wants to go first?"
Yokoi nudged Allie. "Hey, Al."
"You're still glowing."
Allie looked down at herself. "Oh. Oh... Oops. Thought I'd morph back when the worldlet was gone..."
She morphed back to human form.
"Y'know," Embericles said, giving Allie a thoughtful look, "you looked pretty cute like that. Even Imran kept looking at you..."
This sank in.
"Hey, wait a minute..." Allie said, a dangerous expression on her face.
"What?" Embericles said, shrugging. "You're telling me you don't like it when he notices you?"
"It's not like that!!"
"Jeez, talk about slow learners. C'mon, we've all seen the looks you shoot at him Zeus knows why. And he's obviously got something going on for you, so when're the two of you gonna get off your backsides and do something about it?"
"If I said we just had a Writer/Muse relationship, would any of you believe it?"
Allie sighed. "Thought not."
"Well, you have seen each other naked..." Yokoi said.
"It's just physical attraction, okay?" Allie said, getting a grip on herself. "That's it. Purely physical. I don't want to damage our friendship by taking it any further, and neither does Imran."
"Uh-huh." Embericles said. "Sure, hon. Sure."
"And if you believe that, I've got an Internet to sell you." Carrie said, raising an eyebrow.
Allie glared at them. "Could we just drop the subject?"
"Y'know, this is why she's never had a steady boyfriend." Yokoi observed to Tessa.
"Will you drop it?!"
Eloise couldn't help but notice the Doctors staring at her, glancing at Sweetheart's pilot and murmuring amongst themselves. She didn't know exactly what they were saying, but she could guess at the gist. And she wanted no part of it. Not now. Not yet. It was all too sudden... still seemed unreal the binoculars weren't yet turned right way 'round.
Luckily, the pilot himself was preoccupied. He hurried over to the console, and sat down before an access panel, talking to himself (Eloise figured the language must be some form of Gallifreyan) He opened it up and set to work, seemingly oblivious to all the strangers around him.
Eloise backed up a step toward the heavy velvet curtains behind her, wanting to run away, wanting to get somewhere alone. But Danik was behind her, and she bumped into him, instead.
He laid a hand lightly on her shoulder. "What will you do now?" he asked, voicing aloud the question that had been going unspoken in her own mind.
She sighed. "I have a home," she said, " under a little bridge where the river is broad and quiet. Applewood grows there, and oak, and and I think it's time I go back."
"Just walk away? Just like that?" Danik asked quietly, a tone of disbelief creeping into the edges of his voice.
Eloise bowed her head, and sighed. "Not just walk away," she answered,"... but... Sweetheart is well... she's content. I can still feel that much, at least. She's always been cheerful, and generous. But now ... she is whole... the pain is finally gone." Eloise drew a breath, and blinked back a tear by sheer force of will. "I won't begrudge her that not after all she has given me I refuse to." She sighed again. "All adventures must draw to a close, sometime "
She felt Danik flinch, a little, at that.
"All except yours, of course!" she added, quickly. "You'll be on one adventure after another until " she searched her mind for a colorful phrase, one that would befit him, " until all the grains of sand turn to pearls and back again. But you are a rarity, Danny Blue. For the rest of us for me the end must come."
He dropped to one knee, and whispered in her ear. "There's always room on 'The Avalanche'," he said, "for one more volunteer."
Even though his tone was mischievous, Eloise could tell the offer was sincere, and the generosity of it nearly broke the floodgates.
Before she could answer, however, Florestan looked up from the inner workings of the console. "The wiring has been altered," he said, his tone concerned.
Eloise felt her ears grow hot. Now she knew how Goldilocks felt when the bears came home. "I I did it," she admitted, quietly. "I noticed there was a power surge around the wardrobe room, and I did it to prevent a power drain from the primary console. I only wanted to protect Sweetheart. I'm sorry ... I didn't mean any harm."
"That must've been when Xaos was starting to take over," Magic Charley explained.
"I see," Florestan said, quietly.
Eloise stared at the floor. She didn't need to look at him to feel his stare. What must he think of her, letting his mortal enemy just walk freely into his home through an open door? She wanted to vanish into herself, to shrink into a little dot and disappear like those cartoons of a vacuum cleaner sucking itself up.
"Well then," he said, after what seemed like an eternity, "you'd better come help me with this."
It felt as though her feet were nailed to the floor, but she forced herself to move, to walk through that crowd of staring eyes, and sit beside him.
"The Sampo is in the area linked by these wires," he explained quietly, not wasting any time. "What we need to do is somehow connect them into the navigational grid, so that the whole Sampo becomes a sort of mapping circuit..."
Meanwhile, it wasn't just the secondary console that reverted to an older version. Elsewhere, on the dance floor:
"Merlin!" Nimue said, "Will you stop goofing around?"
"What?" he asked, at her elbow, drink in hand. "I'm not doing anything but enjoying myself."
"If you're not doing it.... then how do you explain.... this?"
Merlin stared. "Wow," he said, "... something is definitely up."
He wasn't the only one to notice. The crowd hushed and stared, and scattered "Whoa"'s and "Freaky"'s could be could. For the oversized, rustic barn was fading around them, like a slide in a three dimensional PowerPoint presentation, and gradually being replaced with an 18th century ballroom, complete with marble floors, and gilt columns, and floor to ceiling mirrors in baroque frames.
There was a hushed silence as the dancers took it all in. Then someone let out a boisterous "Cool!" And another exclaimed: "Love the makeover!"
And the band struck up again.
"There." Florestan said finally. "That should do it..."
Eloise nodded mutely, silently praying that any adjustments she'd made hadn't bollixed things up.
Then again, it wasn't as if the decision hadn't already been made.
Sweetheart's background hum shifted in pitch as the mapping circuit engaged, map and destination in one.
As she followed the path the Sampo itself laid out for her.
"Now... " Florestan sighed, finally seeming to take in the strangers around him. "Now... it seems you have the advantage of me, that you know me and yet I know nothing of you... and yet I do not think I am known for the success of my quest."
The bottom fell out of Eloise's stomach.
Since she wouldn't have been able to keep anything in it anyway, this wasn't too bad.
Oh no oh no oh no...
"Yet..." His gaze rested on Amber for a moment. "...it seems your quest succeeded where mine did not. She is part of this world once more... but no more a part of Gallifrey."
He sighed. "It has been a long time indeed. Time enough for Gallifrey herself to fall and be reborn.
He looked down at the console. "I... It seems almost like a dream... as if I fell asleep at the console, thinking of what was to come. And yet..." He rubbed unconsciously at his neck. "And yet I remember..." He stopped himself.
Eloise instinctively began to reach out a hand to him, unable not to respond to that, but she stopped herself, berating herself for being a silly goose.
She should have they all should have realised what he was going through.
It was like Rip van Winkle: he'd been in stasis for Goddess knew how long, and woken up to find everything had changed. A new body, a new world... strangers in his Ship, his quest both succeeded and failed, his world lost...
And then it hit her.
She had a home to return to even if it had only been her home for a short time, even if she hadn't been back there in years. She did have a home, a place where she could look up at the stars, and know their stories.
In the time he'd been inside the Sampo, Gallifrey had been destroyed and reincarnated as Alryssa.
Everything he'd known, everything, apart from Sweetheart, was gone.
Gone, or vastly changed from the way he'd known.
She couldn't even begin to imagine the way that he must feel if she were him, she'd have thrown everyone out of her TARDIS right then, and curled up for the next decade or so.
He'd be more than justified in doing so.
"I'm sorry." The words dropped from her lips before she could catch them. She could feel him regarding her, strange creature that she was, feel his puzzlement over what to do with her.
This is a Pro-Fun Hoedown, she reminded herself, and I'm a Pro-Fun troll. Even if I'm not the hostess, even if this is the last one... if I just left him like this...
...I couldn't. I can't let him fall apart now.
Amber needed people to reconnect... but would that even work for Florestan, or would it only make things worse?
...no. There has to be something we can do to keep him distracted, keep him busy, so he doesn't dwell on this.
Keep him going until this is done, until Sweetheart can take care of him herself.
And it hit her then.
So obvious. So obvious, she'd overlooked it.
How long had it been since he'd had anything to eat? Even disregarding his time in stasis, he must have been through a lot since he'd last eaten.
Eloise hesitated again. Would he even accept anything from her, though?.
She glanced up at him, briefly, caught sight of his face, before she had to look away again. She settled her gaze on his hand. He was shaking, straining to hold himself upright. Time Lords were always weak, after regenerating, even under the best of circumstances... What he must be going through, now...
"What can I do?" she asked. "How can I ... how can I help you?"
For a moment, she thought he hadn't noticed. Whether that was better than actually being noticed...
He raised his head, regarding her. "Some food, if you could. Things have been... rather draining."
Eloise nodded, and quietly beckoned Walter over.
Though she needn't have bothered. Walter was already heading in their direction.
"My Lord," he said, with a slight bow of the head. "If you'll follow me, I think I can fix you up something just right." And, astonishingly, he took the Time Lord by the hand, and led him away.
Eloise smiled after him, briefly. Somehow, even while showing full respect, Walter was able to treat everyone as a child. She had no doubt, either, that he'd be able to find the kitchen, no matter how Sweetheart reconfigured herself. Walter Duncan was drawn to kitchens, the way compass needles were drawn to the north.
She could feel them, especially the Doctors, staring at her not her and Florestan just her, ready to pounce with condolences and pats on the back. For though she was holding it together, she had the sense that she wasn't entirely succeeding. And she also knew that if they started on that now, she'd lose it completely.
"Excuse me," she said, quickly. "There's I have something I need to do." And this time, she made it through the curtain without anyone blocking her path.
Walter breathed deep as he entered, and smiled. You could tell a lot about a man by his kitchen. And this one pleased him. The air was warm and smelled of well-mingled spices, rare and common. The countertops were broad, and, like the floors, made from wide wood planks. The cabinets were open, the upper shelves showing full stocks of food, and the lower shelves showing extra dishes and tableware, neatly stacked. The butcher-block table that dominated the center of the room showed traces of flour worked into the grain here was a man who kneaded his own bread.
There was but one highback wooden chair at the table, its surfaces worn to a polish from long and frequent use, while a set of four simpler chairs were hung from pegs on the far wall. There was but one set of earthenware dishes laid out these had no ornamentation. The knife, fork, and spoon, however, were of silver, their handles decorated with filigree and bright enamel; Walter suspected they were a gift, used to honor the memory of the giver.
It only took a moment for Walter to take this all in, and it all told him the same thing, as clearly as if Florestan had spoken the words himself. The Time Lord was long used to solitude, but was willing, at a moment's notice, to welcome the rare guest. The elaborate nature of the fantasy worldlet that emerged under the influence of the SKoLD, as well the labyrinthine corridors, and the wide variety of rooms they had to go through to get here, showed that Florestan's mind habitually branched out into wild flights of fancy, with ideas entwining around each other like an intellectual Gordian knot or like the tendrils of the Sampo. But this was the center to which he always returned.
You could tell a lot about a man by his kitchen. And this one pleased him.
Walter's conclusions were confirmed by the Time Lord's own reactions. Florestan's hands relaxed. His shoulders dropped. And his eyes lost that panicked rabbit look. He folded himself comfortably into his chair, closed his eyes, and let out a long sigh. He was home at long last, he was home. His breathing slowed, and soon, he slipped into a light doze.
Walter smiled, and went to check the pot burbling happily away on the back of the large stove through all the changes, the pots and utensils Walter had brought with him had remained unaltered.
He lifted the lid and sniffed appreciatively. Experience with past hoedowns had taught him that, before they parted ways, the guests and their hostess would need something far simpler and more sustaining than the elaborate party food they craved at the beginning. And so this year, he'd been prepared ahead of time just in case. Quietly, so as not to break the Time Lord's doze, he took the bowl and plate, and served out the mutton stew, thick with potatoes, parsnips and carrots, and a slice of crusty black bread.
Florestan woke when the food was set before him. His first taste was tentative, unsure of both the cook and his own appetite. After that, he tucked in hungrily.
Walter smiled proudly. He had full faith in his craft, but it was always nice to receive such confirmation of his skill. He took a chair down from the wall, sat down across the table, and waited.
"Now, tell me," Florestan said after several mouthfuls, "there is something I must know..."
Walter chuckled, gently. "No doubt," he said.
The Time Lord furrowed his brow, as if trying to remember something. "Beloved tried to explain," he said, "when I ... emerged. But everything was in a tumult, and I'm afraid it wasn't very clear...." He ran one hand along the edge of the table in a gesture of obvious affection. "I'd ask again," he said, "but all her energy is focussed on containing the Sampo, and I dare not. So perhaps you can tell me."
"If I can, I certainly will."
"Who is this.... Eloise? And how did she come to know her way around a TARDIS console?"
Walter chuckled again, and leaned forward in a conspiratorial manner. "Well, sir, I wasn't there at the time didn't meet Eloise until after she had hooked up with this fine ship. So I only know the story from her telling, but I have never had any occasion to doubt her word. It seems that, one day..."
She wove around the crowded workshop tables, only half seeing them, and the interrupted life they represented. She wandered through dimly lit corridors, and broad galleries hung with tapestries. She stumbled, briefly, into an apothecary, its walls lined floor to ceiling with a rainbow of bottles, glinting in dim light, and into a writing room, with a high backed wooden chair before a secretary's desk, the letter there still waiting to be finished. She looked at all these things, but she didn't see them.
She was too busy calling, growing more and more frantic with each meandering step.
"High Five!" she called. "Hi-fie! Here, girl!"
She tried to whistle, too. But that was getting harder and harder.
The last she'd seen of her dog, she was bounding off (with Gordon's dog, Rory, and cat, Oscar) to play in Sweetheart's gardens. At the time, Eloise had been sure that was the safest place for them... But with all the reconfiguring Sweetheart had done, what with the SKoLD's effects and the Sampo's and Sweetheart's return to Florestan... the animals could be anywhere. Maybe even that ogre .
High Five had been Eloise's constant companion for over a year. Her only steady companion, besides Sweetheart. If she lost her, too... If anything happened
Finally, away from everyone, away even from Sweetheart's hovering concern, Eloise collapsed against a wall and wept, silently. She didn't weep as deeply as Amber had, didn't drain herself of tears and grief only until the horrible weight evaporated off her chest, and she could breathe again, and the world settled into some semblance of reality.
Then she wiped the tears from her eyes, simultaneously, with both thumbs, and got to her feet to continue the search.
The next corner she turned led her to the ballroom.
The light, the noise, the crowd, stopped her in her tracks. She stood there, a moment, blinking, trying to take it all in. The next thing she knew, someone had taken her by both hands and was spinning her around.
"Eloise! Where have you been? Faboo party!! Not even any dire threat to the Universe, this time, eh?"
She chuckled, in spite of herself. "Well, actually "
Someone else slapped her on the back. "Love the new look!" he said. "You've really pulled out all the stops this time! Talk about blow-out!"
"Glad you like it now if you'll excuse me "
She'd almost got herself free when another person grabbed her arm. "C'mon, Eloise, Ol' girl! Come dance with us!"
People slipped morsels of food into her mouth, with: "Have you tried this?" and: "I really must get the recipe!'
And so it went. Eloise was spun, back-slapped, pounce-hugged and fed until she didn't know which end was up.
And all the while, the image of Florestan's face, caught from that brief glimpse, earlier in the console room, kept rising up before her mind's eye like some accusatory ghost.
If he'd been human, Eloise would have guessed his age to be mid-40's, perhaps a little older. His face was long: fine-boned, and with high cheekbones, framed by auburn hair flecked with gray and darker brown that fell around his shoulders in long waves. His beard, while curly and untrimmed, was fine almost wispy, and had a far greater proportion of gray to auburn coloring. But it was his eyes that Eloise saw first and last: dark blue almost gray, like slate on a rainy day, and clearly having seen more than any mortal eyes were meant to.
Then the clamour faded, and a hush spread. Boisterous laughter was replaced with whispers:
"Did you see him arrive?"
"Acts like he owns the place."
Eloise froze, and stared down at her toes. That old desire to shrink into herself returned.
Florestan walked right up to her, stood over her shoulder a moment, silently regarding the crowd, and the crowd regarding him. Then he spoke. "I've been looking for you," he said. "It is time we've arrived. Come."
Silently, meekly, Eloise followed after him, leaving wondering murmurs in her wake.
Florestan led the way back to the console room, Eloise close behind, both of them followed by wondering partygoers.
As he entered, he nodded to Amber, who inclined her head in acknowledgement.
She turned to the central column. "It's time."
The column hummed, as if in acknowledgement.
And the Sampo faded into existence in Amber's hands, colour filling it up once more.
The outer door swung open silently, revealing only darkness beyond.
She took a deep breath. "Here goes."
And walked towards the door.
Before she reached it, she stopped and looked round at the others. "Come on. Don't worry, it's safe."
The others looked at each other.
Finally, First stepped forward. "Well, come on! We can't spend all day lallygagging around let's see what's out there, hmm?"
They stepped outside
"Gallifrey..." Eighth whispered. "Gallifrey, again... but..."
And it was but not the arid wasteland of the Death Zone.
Overhead, the sky was dark, dancing with stars purple, blue, orange.
The landscape around them wavered, first, most definitely solidly here, then fading away to insubstantiality, from one to the other and back again.
"It's not." Alryssa finished. "Not the original." She smiled, almost ruefully. "Believe me, I'd know. I don't think it's even a physical world, not as we know it but it has a presence, it's real enough, and that's what matters."
Amber seemed not to notice anything around her, moving resolutely on. Even in the shifting landscape, her destination was clear.
A lake, dark and deep under the night sky, reflecting the colours that shone above.
She stopped by the shoreline then, waiting for the others to catch up. By her side was a freshly dug hole.
"Well and well," she said quietly, though all could hear it. "and so the circle comes complete. Once, I brought life to Gallifrey now, I bring life to its myth."
By now, the myth-tree's roots had reached into, and through, the Sampo's tendrils, and a young stem now poked through the top.
"V?" Amber said.
The hungry-eyed muse blinked in surprise.
"You should plant this."
"M-me?" V stuttered. "Why me?"
"A chance to give something back to the world. To give, rather than receive. To begin something new."
V took a deep breath, her gaze flicking to Joe, then nodded.
"Hold out your hands." Amber instructed.
V obeyed, cupping her hands in front of her.
Amber placed the Sampo in V's hands.
V took a deep breath, then stepped forward.
She gently placed the Sampo in the hole, filling it with soil, tumping the soil over, letting the shoot stand clear of the ground.
Then she stood back.
First, there was the young shoot, open and exposed.
Then a sapling, supple and flexible, moving as if caught in a gentle breeze.
As it grew, the world around it seemed to take on solidity, permanency, its features becoming firm, distinct, individual.
And then, finally, a great tree, overhanging the lake, the first few fruits beginning to appear on its branches, fruit that glowed with an inner light of its own.
With a snap, one of the fruit fell off, rolling along the ground, coming to a stop by V's feet.
V looked down at it, wondering.
Amber nodded at her to pick it up.
Gingerly, she did so.
"Joe?" she said finally.
The others stepped aside to let Joe pass.
They spoke quietly then, under their breaths.
If anyone had wanted to hear, they could, but none did.
Finally, they seemed to reach a conclusion, and turned back to the others.
"We're honored beyond measure at this gift," Joe said. "But after a long talk, V and I have reached a decision."
V walked forward. In her hands, she clasped the precious fruit as if holding a jewel of unheralded worth and fragility.
"It means so much to me," V said. "Thank you for this priceless gift. All I have to do is eat this fruit and my hunger is vanquished. All I have to do is eat this and the wellspring of inspiration will open to me."
Joe stepped up and placed a paternal hand on V's shoulder.
"It's just that I can't take it," V said to the assembled crowd. "Joe and I have decided that we will overcome the thirst on our own terms and that we will look inward for our inspiration."
"There are two people here today that deserve this much more than us," Joe said. "That's why we are giving it to them."
Pulling out a pocket knife, Joe takes the fruit from V and begins carving it into two pieces. The moment the blade pierces the skin of the fruit, a fragrance of unsurpassed sweetness fills the air.
To Joe, the fragrance evoked the smells of apples and the sea. For V, it brought to mind freshly uncorked champagne and a faint musk redolent of sated passion.
Joe trembled as the juice from the fruit ran down his hands. It burned coldly.
Gathering his resolve, Joe gave a piece of the fruit to V. She stood a moment looking at what she held wistfully then walked to where Eloise stood and kneeled before the little troll.
"This is for you, little sister," V said, kindly. "You have brought so much joy to all of us here. You deserve this."
"I..." Eloise began. "I..."
She looked down at the fruit. To eat it would mean she'd be free from the grief, from the pain, that it would mend her, and let her go on.
No, she decided. No. My grief is mine to work through, as V's hunger is hers.
She looked up at V. "No. Thank you, but no. I... I can't accept it."
V nodded, as if in understanding, and turned to Joe.
Joe turned to face Florestan.
"What can I say to you, Florestan? Your quest is done... but now you have a second chance and V and I feel it's only fitting that you get a taste of what your long burden has wrought."
Joe handed the fruit to the taller man.
Florestan raised a hand. "I thank you... but no." Something touched at his face, then. "There is a new world to take in, and much to see and learn. That I have a second chance is enough."
V stood up, and went over to him.
Again, they spoke together, and again, the others did not hear.
Then they turned to the lake.
Joe nodded to V.
V returned it.
And in one fluid motion, they threw the fruit out over the lake
Where it vanished, without even a ripple.
"What's going to happen now?" Eloise murmured, as she watched.
"Now?" Amber said. "I don't know. The myth-tree's fruits are creativity incarnate. Anything might come of it. Wisdom, knowledge, prophecy or poetry... perhaps any or all of those."
"Perhaps even new muses?" Eloise suggested.
Amber looked surprised, as if she hadn't even considered the idea.
Then a small, beautiful smile appeared on her face. "Perhaps."
Danel stood next to Ana and watched the neat splash as the thrown-away item slid into the lake.
"Shame..." he murmured. "What kind of fizzy drink or punch could be made with that, I wonder?"
There was no answer from Ana, and he turned to look at her. She stared out over the lake in silence. Danel sighed mentally.
"Ana..." he said. I'm not very good at this sort of emotion-sharing, he thought. I'm the ultimate in emotionally repressed. How can I help her now? I had to be alone before I cried when my grandfather died. How can I help her?
Then he thought of something else. I have to try, he thought simply. "Ana, this place... It's a shrine to the past, and the birthplace of a future... but we're creatures of the present, you and I. Come on there are fics out there where the plot is burning... punches made with lemon, and punches made with lime... somewhere there's darkfic, somewhere there fluff, and somewhere else my (potential) readers are getting impatient. Come on, Ana, we have work to do."
The two turned and walked away from the lake. Neither of them looked back.
"Come along, V," Joe said. "Time we made our way back."
"My name is Verity," she said, somewhat obstinately, as if she had reached a long-awaited decision.
"You haven't been Verity in a very long time," he said, finally, with great care.
"Times change," the muse now known as Verity said.
"Okay then, Verity," Joe said with a measure of respect. "Let's not bother these nice people any longer. We'll discuss this later."
Eloise turned to look at the tree one last time, and at the lake it stood beside. What might come from the lake's waters, from the tree's fruits?
That was the point, wasn't it? Anything could come from them, anything she could imagine and far more besides.
Perhaps, one day, they might find out.
She hoped so.
Amber stood there too, regarding the tree thoughtfully.
Eloise let out one last little sigh.
She didn't want this to end, she realised. Didn't want this to be over.
But every adventure ended, in time wasn't that what she'd told Danik?
And now it was time for this one to end.
She looked out over the lake, trying to take it all in, to imprint it on her memory, to have something to cherish, back under her bridge.
"So " Gordon said, echoing her thoughts, "It's over then? The secret treasure's been found, and Mr. Farnsworth has been unmasked?"
Imran and Alryssa shared an evil look, both grinning grins that would give the Fourth Doctor's a run for its money.
"Not quite, Birthday Boy!" Imran said, slapping him heartily on his back.
Gordon rolled his eyes. "Oh, no...You guys really do want to send me to the looney bin, don't you?"
Yokoi rocked back on her heels, and glanced around the motley crowd (er mob). "Seems to me, we're already there," she said. "...But that's beside the point. C'mon, Gord! This'll be good for you."
Gordon shook his head. "Nothing and I repeat: nothing good ever followed the words 'This will be good for you.' You know that, don't you?"
Yokoi, and the other Odd Trio writers and their muses, just grinned at him.
"I'm not going to convince you to leave me alone, am I?"
"Nope!" they answered, as one.
"Okay... so what torture do you have in mind, this time?"
"Opening your birthday prezzies!" Imran said.
"Prezzies? Y-you got me prezzies?!"
"Of course we did!" Allie said. "We all did."
"A whole mahoosive lot of them, too, in the cloakroom," Danel piped up. "I was just heading back there, to add mine, right before I... I... tripped... over... the... SKoLD, and... um..."
Several of the Hoedowners exchanged glances, then looked back at the TARDIS.
"So," Imran said quietly, "we know the prezzies are in the cloakroom... But where's the cloakroom?"
"Is it even one room, anymore?" Alryssa asked. "The shifting around was pretty intense there, for a while."
"Dunno.... O-kaaay. Slight change of plans: First we'll have a scavenger hunt, then Gordon will open his presents."
A cheer went up among those within earshot of Imran: "Yay! A scavenger hunt! Love it!", and the crowd surged forward.
Eloise opened her mouth to speak to tell them to 'cool it', and 'be careful'. After all, the TARDIS wasn't a barn, any longer, so maybe they should stop acting so much like animals. But she stopped herself.
It was no longer her place to say. It was the Time Lord's. And he wasn't saying anything. In fact, he was joining them.
Eloise hurried to catch up. She was a few steps away from the TARDIS doors when she heard his astonished laugh.
And when she got there, she could see what caused it. Not everyone, it seemed, had gone out to witness the planting of the myth tree. For hanging from the ceiling above the main console was a brightly lettered banner which read:
"WELCOM HOME, FLORESTAND!"
(The missing "E" and the extraneous "D" were pretty clear signs that the typo gremlins had been behind it)
Someone again started up a chorus of: "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow!" And anyone who had not been in on the hand-shaking and backslapping the first time 'round, tried to get in on it (and there were several others, it must be said, who were trying for a second turn).
The surfaces of all wild bodies of water, from mud puddles to vast oceans, are membranous boundaries between one world and another. This is especially true of lakes that feed the roots of myth trees.
Deep beneath the surface of Myth Gallifrey's lake, two leviathans of the metaverse circled, snapping hungrily at each other's wounds, nursing grudges against the forces of creativity for their recent defeat grudges that needs must go unsatisfied. For the chaos beasts, powerful as they were, could not break the surface of the water until the stars were again aligned in their favor.
Then, as the resonating "Tha-Whump" of a TARDIS's dematerialization sent ripples deep into the still water, the darkness was pierced, a little, as the two halves of a luminescent myth-fruit came to rest on the bottom each coming to rest, in fact, beside the snapping jaws of a chaos leviathan.
Coincidence? Perhaps. Though there are some who say "coincidence" is the figment of an overactive mind. But let us leave that debate to the philosophers, for the moment.
Those jaws, hungry for everything, each snapped up that myth-fruit as fast as thought. In that instant, those beasts of crawling chaos, those beasts of death, were transformed into beasts of wisdom and inspiration, trailing luminescent scales behind them as they swam.
So that when the stars are indeed aligned in Nyarlathotep's favor, he will find two fewer minions at his command and perhaps far fewer than that, indeed..