"So what is it then?" asked Yokoi.
"It's one of those things." replied Gordon.
"One of what things?"
"Y'know, one of those things."
Gordon held up what looked like a round piece of cloth with a weighted edge. It wasn't quite flat, it was white, but the material caught the light and reflected colours like those reflected from an iceberg.
"It's the Pope's hat!" shouted Yokoi.
He held it with one hand and flicked his arm outwards, sending the object in a graceful arc around the room, before catching it in his other hand.
"My last frisbee broke in half when it hit the corner of the building, I wont have that problem with this one. I can fold it up and keep it in my pocket too."
He bowed towards the assembled Space Camelotians
"Thank you all."
As he wandered off, several mutterings could be heard.
"What's a frisbee?"
"Doesn't he realise what it is?"
"Should he be throwing something as powerful as that around?"
"It doesn't matter, he's very happy with it."
Eloise set about to find her old room, if it still existed, when she bumped into Danel and Ana in the crowd.
"Hi, there!" Danel said. "Great party..."
They had exchanged pleasantries with Eloise, though Danel had been very wary of saying the wrong thing and hadn't said much. After a brief discussion with Imran ("See you next year?", "As your muse's sister wills, I'm afraid... if the next one lasts as long as this, it'll correspond neatly with my eighteenth at the end of September...", "What's this about Allie's sister?", "What did she do now?"), then Danel had excused himself to go outside for some air, he said.
He stepped outside. "Hello, Xellos."
He turned, and sure enough, there was the purple-haired trickster.
"How did you know I was here?"
"I didn't, but it wouldn't matter if I was wrong as didn't we already discuss this? It's not important."
"What did you want me for, then?"
"I wanted to thank you."
"Indeed. Now, I may be about to make a complete fool of myself, but I wanted to play a hunch, and I decided... Why Not? After all, I have a Muse (who looks like Dawn, no less), and everyone seems happy. After all, didn't you promise me a Muse, or some such?"
Xellos hummed and hawed, murmuring something about a trick and simple fools.
Danel waited patiently until he was finished, then said, "Why did you pretend not to be the Pro-Fun Guardian?"
Xellos froze. Then he turned.
"Of course," continued Danel, obliviously, "I'm sure it's a secret and all that, but just between us, it was rather obvious. For all your pouting and posturing, I can honestly say that everyone is much happier after your interference. You played everyone against each other, and everyone except Narly HotHot came out a winner. More chaotic, yes, More disorganised, yes... and more Fun, I think."
Xellos smiled, and then vanished without a word.
"I didn't think he'd confirm or deny it." said Danel, somewhat glumly.
"Never mind." said Ana, right next to him.
Danel jumped. "Don't do that!"
"No, I came to get you only recently.... Who were you talking to?" she looked at him innocently. Danel frowned.
"Really... I want to try out the drinks. I'm thinking maybe a lemonade, with some lime slices "
"Lime? Lime?!? Li"
"Sorry... Lime, eh? Hmm.. I wonder... Well, it's green... is that why you like it?"
"Green's my favourite colour."
"Orange is mine... how about a lemonade with slices of lime "
" and orange "
" and definitely no satsuma! Come on, there's a party we're missing!"
Eloise exchanged a few pleasantries with Danel and Ana, but Danel seemed ill at ease, and didn't say much.
And then Danel got into a brief exchange with Imran. Eloise made a second attempt to leave.
And was stopped again.
In truth, she barely heard what people said to her barely heard what she said in reply. A few, like Danel and Bokman, clearly felt awkward, having figured out what the return of Florestan really meant, but most were oblivious to the fact that this was the last good bye. And Eloise was grateful for that. She didn't want this to end like a wake. But the longer it stretched out, the stronger the sense of unreality became.
She finally made it to the grand doorway leading out of the ballroom, when someone in the crowd called out:
"Hey, Eloise! Where are you going? C'mon, give us one more song for the road!"
And the chant of "Song, song, song!" rose up, and she was pushed once more toward the center of the room, and nearly lifted bodily onto the small stage.
"Let's sing the Pro-Fun Anthem," someone suggested. "Let's sing 'Tullochgorum'!
"Okay," she said, a bit shakily. She picked up her fiddle, tuned it a little, and began:
"Come gies a sang," Montgomery cryed|
And lay your diputes all aside,
What nonsense ist for folks to chide
For what's been done
But she had to stop. She just couldn't get her tongue around the words, and her fingers wouldn't cooperate on the fiddle.
"I'm I'm sorry," she apologized. She sighed, and smiled as broad a smile as she could muster. The scene before her was again ringed in tiny rainbows... but this time, the prisms weren't hanging from the chandelier.
"You know," she said, as casually as she could, "I look out at all of you and I see many faces that I know quite well, and many more that I've met for the first time tonight. There are still many others whom I've met here in years past and have never seen since. That is simply the nature of things. None of us, even those with time ships at our disposal, know what the future will hold, or where our paths will diverge or end. But even though our acquaintance may be a brief one, rest assured that each of you have touched my life deeply, and you will always be remembered. It is in that spirit that I offer this song, by Thomas Moore."
She again raised the fiddle to her chin, and began to play a slow, sweet Irish air. After one verse, Osman joined in, playing accompaniment, while Eloise sang (her voice cracked, a little, on the high notes, but she pressed on regardless):
Farewell! But whenever you welcome the hour|
That awakens the night-song of mirth in your bower,
Then remember the friend who once welcomed it too,
And forgot her own griefs to be happy with you.
Her griefs may return, not a hope may remain,
Of the few that had brightened her pathway of pain,
But she ne'er will forget the brief vision that threw
Its enchantment around her, while lingering with you.
And still on that evening when pleasure fills up,
She took a deep breath, in readiness to sing the next lines, and found that her voice had simply left her, and only silence came from her lips. She again raised her fiddle, and played the remainder of the song as an instrumental.
The overall effect was something of a lullaby. The crowd quieted, put their arms around each other's shoulders, and swayed slightly, in time to the music. Eloise didn't see any of this she had her eyes closed as she played. So she was also spared the piercing gaze from a certain pair of slate blue eyes that were watching her intently.
When the final verse was ended, she opened her eyes, and saw her guests looking for their coats, and keys to whichever vehicle they'd arrived in, and sharing final hugs.
So she quietly packed up her fiddle and bow, and, with violin case in one hand, and the end of High Five's leash in the other, she finally made her way out of the ballroom, and down the corridors to search for her room... not that there was much for her to pack.
"Come on," said Arthur, redirecting Guenevere from following Eloise.
"We should say goodnight to our hostess," Guenevere objected. "Besides, she looks a little down."
"A word to the wise will be sufficient," Arthur said, firmly pushing her the way he wanted. Guenevere was not always the most unobnoxious of drunks, but she knew not to argue with Arthur when he spoke in riddles.
As his people meandered with the crowd toward the door, Arthur made a quick I'll-catch-up motion and detoured toward Florestan.
"Arthur Pendragon, high king of all British space," he introduced himself.
"Pleased to meet you," said Florestan, shaking Arthur's proffered hand.
Arthur nodded back toward the dissipating party. "This was my first Hoedown too." He gave the Time Lord a pat on the shoulder. "It's a fine tradition you've inherited."
As Arthur waved and turned away, Florestan said, "Oh, the thought has occurred to me."
Her room wasn't as hard to find as she'd feared it would be, simply because High Five was definitely in control, and she seemed to be as familiar with the TARDIS new configuration as with that special scritching spot behind her left ear. Maybe it was because she navigated primarily by smells, and those things hadn't changed. Maybe it was because of some special dog magic Eloise could only guess at.
As they drew closer to the door, Eloise began to wonder if the room would be the way she left it, but at first glance, everything seemed to be the same.
A first glance was all she got, though, for as soon as she had set her violin case down inside the door, High Five was tugging at her leash again. Now it was time for walkies.
At first Eloise resisted. There was no sanitary reason for High Five to "go" outside. Swee the TARDIS could (and did) absorb and recycle dog waste the same way she handled troll or human or Time Lord waste. But Hi-fie liked their late-night walks, liked the smells of real fox and rabbit and squirrel, and other odors that no TARDIS could replicate to a canine's level sensitivity. And usually, Eloise enjoyed these walks just as much.
But she imagined that Florestan would be in a hurry to get going after the last guest left, and she didn't want to be the one to make him wait while Hi-fie romped. On the other hand, Eloise could hear several of the guests still lingering over their good-byes, so if they hurried, they might be able to go out and come back before Florestan was ready to leave. Besides, Eloise realized, she'd like a chance to say good-bye to this planet, too. So it was only a momentary hesitation before she let High-Five lead her out through the main console room and the front door fronting the cul-de-sac.
The night was warm and the air smelled of new rain, though now, the moon's reflection, just a hair's breadth past full, was shining up from all the puddles. Hi-fie bounded down the walk not so much walking as prancing. When they got to their customary destination, it became clear that the only thing Hi-fie needed to relieve herself of was the temptation to hunt down and wrestle pinecones, and have staring contests with toads.
"Oh, Hi-fie," Eloise said, unable to suppress a chuckle at the dog's exuberance, "What am I going to do with you?"
And she meant the question quite literally. Even if there were places in her homeworld to buy dog food, it wasn't like Eloise would be able to pop down to the corner store and get some. The humans in her world didn't make any distinctions between joyful and nasty trolls, and were mistrustful of them all. And she had serious doubts that she or Hi-fie had the hunting skills needed to feed them both.
She sighed. She supposed she could rely on the ancient troll custom of demanding payment from the humans who fished from her river or cut firewood from her forest, and get bones and scraps of meat for Hi-fie that way. But that would mean coming up with rewards and punishments.
The rewards would be no problem. Maybe she could leave anonymous birthday presents for the children that would be fun. Even if she weren't invited to the party, she could watch from a distance. It was idea of punishing those who didn't pay that bothered her. It would have to be something unpleasant enough so that it was worth the payment to avoid but it couldn't be truly dangerous or hurtful. Maybe she could send the mosquitos to bite them in all the places they couldn't reach to scratch the itch... or maybe she could tie their undies in a knot. No... both of those were just too mean.
She sighed again. She'd have to ask Walter for his advice. He'd been living in the traditional way all his life. He'd know what to do.
"Come on, Hi-fie, time to go back! Heel!"
Hi-fie slipped into place beside her, and they headed back to the cul-de-sac.
The party seemed to be coming to its close. Danik cast a bright eye around the crowd as the guests began to break up into little tentative groups, all reluctant to make the first move towards leaving that would signal a general exit, and located Osman.
"Time we were taking our leave, I think," he observed softly, and Osman nodded.
"Time and past that we were homeward bound again. No disrespect for this Doctor of yours, but I long for home waters, and the lift of long green seas beneath the keel..."
"And the warmth of your wife's arms, and children at your hearth," Danik completed, laughing. But his smile was slightly crooked. "I know, I know.
"I keep you too long away from home, and I fear Magda has the truth of
His bo's'n clouted him affectionately across the back, and snorted. "I should think not. And I'll have you know, my lord, that Magda is of the firm opinion that you're not fit to be let out alone "
Danik grinned. "Was it I who cut the fuse short for the powder magazine at La Feleche, and all but blew up myself and the whole boarding-party? Was it I who let some black-browed Finn-wife cozen me into swilling her potations, this year back to such effect that I purposed to return to my homeland in the form of a tropic parrot?"
"Nay but you'll find, all in all, that the neck-or-nothing honours still weigh a trifle heavier on your side," Osman retorted calmly, smiling.
He glanced around the ballroom, as if seeking a familiar face. "I would that I could thank the Lady Eloise before we leave this company, for all that. It was no kind of a curse for a man to be lingering under "
"Least of all one longing for the arms of his wife!" Danik observed wrily. He had a fair idea, himself, of where Eloise had gone and why; and if she wished to be alone, he would not for anything have had Osman disturb her.
He had never yet Gott sei Dank lost a ship; but there had been moments when the prospect had come close enough to make him sweat. And the Sweetheart was no vessel of oak and iron however gallant and lively in battle or in storm but a creature of a vanished world intricate almost beyond his imagination. He had heard her voice: sensed her affection. Eloise was losing more than a ship. She was losing a friend.
Just as he, some day, would lose his, to the greater claims of homeland and hearth. For all his jesting, he had watched the two of them these twenty years; watched as youngsters' sweet fancies steadied themselves and burned all the brighter, into that deepest love of man and wife; and known these long years past that if Magda asked when Magda asked Osman would leave off roaming and settle by the fire with a glad heart.
Unless he, Danik, chose to try to hold him back.
Osman would still go, at the last, he judged; but there would be no glad hearts then for any of them. Only friendship lost, of two that he loved and his own honour stained.
When the time came, he would bid farewell with light words and open hands, even as Eloise had set herself to do, he told himself. He had resolved on it long since. But no stranger however grateful should intrude...
"Come. We'll make our farewells for now, and see the Lady Eloise later, if she wills it."
He touched Osman on the arm, and turned to seek Florestan in the crowd. Whether he knew it or not, the Time Lord had perforce become their host; and it was only courtesy to bid him thanks.
There was a genuine reverence in Danik's bow, and in the murmured "Lord" by which it was accompanied. This was a man he could respect might even have liked, if the time and place of their births had not lain so unimaginably far apart. He knew knew in a manner more immediate than, he devoutly hoped, Florestan could have any idea just how dear the Time Lord's quest had cost him, and what he had suffered to heal the wrong his countrymen had done to the world he loved.
He had no intention of telling Florestan that, of course. He had a feeling the task might prove beyond even his silver tongue to explain away. The grin, never far below the surface, began to dawn again.
The others were beginning to filter towards the big doors, now, gathering outside in the sweet night air here and there for a few last moments, as if unwilling even now to re-embark upon their daily lives. Danik made his way, one by one, between the groups, exchanging a few words with each, and pressing a grave salute upon the lips of those of the fair sex with deepest respect in the case of the Muses, Amber above all, with a warm fellowship in the case of Silence, and, it must be confessed, with a certain amount of giggling accompaniment in the case of Xeffy and Ayna.
But the moon was riding high, silvering the Avalanche's rigging, and the night was drawing on; and for all that he could sense Osman holding back, reluctant, at his side, there was still no sign of Eloise.
They could not in all conscience delay much longer. He sighed, and touched the other man lightly on the shoulder, turning toward the brig's quiet mooring.
"Komm, alter Freund the night-watches wear thin, and wind and tide will wait for no man "
Presently the party began to break up. And then, really, there was no way to put anything off any longer at all.
Albert and Amanda joined the general river of people going out the door and into the cul-de-sac, where they both began looking (fruitlessly, of course) for the car Albert was sure they'd arrived in.
When Amanda protested that she didn't remember actually arriving in a car, Albert told her "Don't be silly," and kept looking.
It was in the middle of this exchange that Sixth caught up with them. And the other Doctors, sensing immediately that Something Was Up, clustered around them like iron filings around the end of a magnet.
In the leisurely rush out the exit, Nth caught up with Ninth.
"What's this about my not having a face?" he demanded.
"I beg your pardon," said Ninth.
"You claimed to Space Merlin of more canonicity than I, on the basis that 'he hasn't even got a face'."
"Oh, yes! You'd be Nth. Sorry about that," said Ninth with the special blend of insincerity the Doctor reserves for himself. "All these Ns and Infinities and whatnot. I'd confused you with someone from the novel line, is all. Someone else uncanonical, like that."
"As uncanonical," said Nth, "as the protagonist of a mere spoof, whose major contributions to the mythos are the neglect to unplug dangerous power equipment during maintenance and precision flatulence?"
"That was for charity," Ninth growled, coming to a stop in the cul-de-sac. "And besides that, I'm a real incarnation in the fanfiction of one of the newsgroup's more prolific authors."
"On his website, not on the newsgroup," said Nth as the party guests flowed outward around them. "Whereas I'm a real incarnation in the fanfiction of one of the Hoedown founders, and the real and sole incarnation of my own tie-in big screen universe."
"Sounds like you're both real Doctors to me," muttered some passerby.
As the guests were leaving, Allie nudged Imran in the ribs.
He blinked and glanced at her.
Allie nodded her head towards a decidedly irritated Charley.
"Well?" Charley said. "How am I going to get back?"
"Ah..." Imran began.
"Perhaps I could help." Amber said, seemingly appearing out of nowhere.
Amber smiled a secret smile. "Well, I'd say this adventure needs a proper dea ex machina to help wrap it up."
"Dea?" Imran echoed. "Goddess out of the machine...? Oh my gods..."
"I'm patron of folktale and metafiction." Amber said, the smile still touching at her lips. "That includes the Hoedown. Which means..."
"You can return Charley home." Allie finished.
"If you're worried about my good faith..." Amber began.
Charley shook her head. "No. No, I trust you. Just let me say goodbye first."
Amber nodded and withdrew.
Charley considered Imran. "I know we didn't spend all that much time together, but, well..." She looked down. "First of all, you're not the creator I would've expected "
"Thanks..." Imran muttered.
Allie nudged him again.
"But when things go to Tarkna you manage to pull through." Her eyes flicked to Allie. "You pull through. You hold things together. Plus, you're a magical hero."
Imran ahemmed. "Magician."
"Magician." Charley corrected herself. "There may be worse creators, there may be better creators... but, when it comes down to it, I think I'd stick with you.
"Ahm..." Imran ahmmed.
"Um..." Charley suddenly seemed to be blushing. "Um, you couldn't tell me "
Imran raised his hands. "No hints. But trust me, you'll take care of the Kamelion easily."
"Oh." Charley looked simultaneously hopeful and crestfallen.
"There's one thing, though. At some point in the future, you might run across Marin Tayani and his ninja secretary Allie. If you do, say 'hi' to them for us."
"Allie?" Charley frowned, looking between Imran and Allie. "Marin, Marin... wait a minute "
"Time to go." Amber said.
Charley shot Imran a dark look. "'Marin Tayani' indeed. I'll get you for that."
"And say 'hi' to Ramsey, Angel, Sammy, Zard and I-Z when you get back." Imran added.
Charley stared at him. "Who??"
And then she was gone.
"Uh-oh..." Imran said.
"Oh, she'll be fine." Allie reassured him. "She's still got to meet the gang, after all."
Imran sighed. "That was kind of the problem. If I'd realised she was a past Charley..."
"Marin Tayani?" Amber said, eyeing Imran.
"It's a long story." Imran said. "Ask Nyss and Emby..."
Paul approached, with the still-unconscious Ingo slung over one shoulder. He opened his mouth to say something, then shut it again.
"Is something wrong?" Imran asked.
"Nah." Paul grinned self-consciously. "Just not sure how to address the Patron of Folktale and Metafiction, that's all."
Amber smiled reassuringly. "Do you want me to return the monkey home as well?"
"No..." said Paul, reflectively. "I mean, part of me says that it's the right thing to do but if he spends all his time beating up on the red and green monkeys... what we really need to do is find some place where he can be kept out of trouble, and maybe put on the path to being a productive member of society, or at least a not-violently-destructive member of society."
Amber nodded. "You have such a place in mind?"
"Yes, I do. But the thing is that it's not a real place, not in my universe anyway; it only exists in folklore. So I was wondering if you could, maybe, help me and Donald get Ingo there."
"There is no need for you to trouble yourself," said Amber. "I could transport him myself in an instant."
"Oh, yes there is," said Paul. "One of the reasons I picked this one is that I want to be there to see what happens when Ingo wakes up."
"Very well." Amber looked around the small group of remaining hoedown guests. "If nobody has a better suggestion...?"
Northern Asia, some time in the early seventh century...
Ingo, le singe bleu, awoke in a foul mood. Since being mysteriously zapped from his homeland, he had been betrayed by several so-called allies and repeatedly knocked unconscious and, worse, he hadn't done anything nasty to a red monkey in ages.
He got to his feet, and looked around. He was in a clump of trees standing by the side of a road that stretched off into the distance in one direction and, in the other direction, wended its way up a small hill. Just at the point where it disappeared over the summit, there was a rocky outcrop by the side of the road that Ingo immediately picked as the best spot to survey the surrounding terrain.
He was not the first to think so, for perched on the outcrop was a red monkey.
Ingo howled with rage. He may have lost all his weapons, but while he still had his teeth and claws, no red monkey was going to sit above him surveying the world in that self-assured manner.
Halfway up the hillside, Ingo got a better look and realised that the new monkey's colouring came primarily from the red jacket it wore but this thought gave him not a moment's pause. Naturally-red monkeys were bad enough, in Ingo's opinion, but there was only one treatment suitable for a monkey that had a choice and chose to be red...
Perched on the rocky outcropping he had found, Monkey surveyed the road ahead and saw that it was free of obstacles. This observation occasioned some regret it had been three weeks since the last time a demon had attacked the pilgrims, and while this meant that they had been making good progress on their journey to India, Monkey was beginning to feel a bit bored.
As he was turning back to report to his companions, who were still working their way up the hill, a bone-chilling howl rent the air and a strange blue creature burst out of a cluster of trees down below. It began bounding up the hill toward Monkey, hands outstretched and teeth bared.
Monkey reached for his cudgel, then stopped. He was certain that the creature meant no good, but he knew from past experience that leaping to the attack would earn him a lecture from Tripitaka later. ("Perhaps it meant to be friendly. How will we ever know, now that you have beaten its head in with your cudgel?")
The creature was a third of the way up the hill now.
Monkey summoned a friendly smile and called out, "Greetings! I am a disciple of the priest Tripitaka, who is travelling to India to look for scriptures."
The creature took no notice. It was two thirds of the way up the hill now, and it could be seen that it somewhat resembled a monkey, despite its strange colour and the way its face was twisted with rage.
Monkey's hands itched for his cudgel. "I'm warning you! Don't make me do something we'll both regret!"
The creature reached the top of the hill and tried to sink its teeth into Monkey's throat.
Even as his mind started constructing the precise injured tone in which to say "It tried to kill me, Master!", Monkey's body was already hurling itself joyfully into battle.
The traditional formula at this point runs something like "It was a grand fight. They closed fifty or sixty times, till at last Ingo could resist no more and fled from the battlefield."
But, in fact, Ingo was not a patch on the great foes Monkey was accustomed to, and Monkey had no need of any of the tricks for which he was famous. Indeed, had Monkey not chosen to amuse himself by fighting one-handed and unarmed, the fight would have been over in much less than the four minutes it took for Tripitaka, Sandy, and Pigsy to reach the top of the hill.
"Monkey!" Tripitaka cried. "What have I told you about fighting all the time?"
"It was self-defense, Master! This creature tried to " Monkey paused to prise his assailant's teeth out of his leg. "It tried to tear my throat out!"
The creature essayed a repeat performance, and Pigsy rapped it smartly over the head with the haft of his muck-rake. It collapsed, unconscious.
"You could have done that yourself at any time," Tripitaka told Monkey. "You will never gain enlightenment while you persist in fighting for its own sake."
Monkey admitted the truth of this, and turned his attention to his attacker. In repose, with the furious expression somewhat relaxed, the creature could almost have been one of his own kin.
"Perhaps..." he said tentatively, "perhaps, Master, we could bring it along with us, and you could teach it about the path of compassion and non-violence?"
And if it proves unteachable, he told himself, at least I need not fear being bored again any time soon...
From a different rocky outcrop a safe distance away, Paul and Donald watched the pilgrims continue down the road, with Pigsy complaining about having to carry the securely-trussed Ingo in addition to his usual load.
"Lombard Street to a china orange Ingo's a penitent Buddhist by this time tomorrow," said Paul, more for the sound of the words than because he really believed them.
"You know," said Donald, as they started back for the valley where they'd parked the convertible, "I think I actually have a china orange in a display cabinet in the TARDIS somewhere."
After enjoying Paul's stricken expression for a moment, he added quickly, "But I won't take the bet, anyway. I don't think I have a display cabinet big enough for Lombard Street."
Imran finally broke the silence. "So, um... what name were you going to sign Xeffy and Ayna in under?"
"Name?" Dominic said.
"Surname." Imran clarified.
Dominic waved it off. "Oh, that won't be a problem... this is 'Doctor Who', after all. They're used to pupils with single names. But, now you mention it, I have been considering a surname for future use."
"Let me guess." Sandra said heavily. "Malory."
"Allie Malory?" Allie said. "No chance."
Dominic appeared surprised. "Malory? No, no... I was thinking of something quite different."
"Yeah...?" Xeffy said suspiciously.
"Dad..." Allie said, "it's not that we don't trust you, but... well, look at your track record when it comes to names. Like 'Alisandra'. Or 'Xephanya'."
"I dunno," Imran said. "I rather liked..." He trailed off in the face of their glares. "I'll just shut up."
"Well, go on then!" Ayna said. "What is it?"
"Allingham." Dominic said.
Xeffy mulled it over. "Xeffy Allingham. Xephanya Allingham..."
"Ayna Allingham..." Ayna mused.
"Sandra Allingham. Sounds good to me." Sandra put in.
"Allie Allingham..." Allie said. "Dad..."
"Allingham?" Imran said. "Like Margery Allingham? Writer of the 'Campion' books?"
Dominic suddenly found himself the focus of attention from his daughters.
Dominic and Imran winced.
When they got back, Eloise could see clusters of people in twos and threes getting into their cars. Gordon and Yokoi were having an interesting time, trying to load up their car.
And two men, one tall and lanky, the other of much more compact build, were making their way to a tall-masted brig moored between two of her neighbors' houses. The Avalanche might be a tubby little thing when out on the open ocean. But here, it towered majestically over the landscape.
When Osman saw her, he strode in her direction, arms spread, and grasped her free hand in both of his, and gave it a warm shake.
"Eloise," he said, "Thank you. If it weren't for you and you companions... well... Thank you."
Eloise grinned. "I'm just glad everything worked out for the best," she said. "Though I still can't figure out how it happened how both your and Ayna's curses were broken at once."
"Ach well," Osman said with a shrug. "They say that when a dark magician dies, all his bindings die with him."
"Really? You think maybe Nyarlathotep was somehow behind both, so that when...?"
"I'm am not well enough versed in the Black Arts to know for sure, thank God " (and here, he crossed himself quickly) "but it is my best guess." He glanced over his shoulder at his captain, as if looking for encouragement, and then, he turned back to Eloise. "The Graf's offer was an honest one," he said. "If you want to join us, aboard this fine ship..."
Again, Eloise felt the welling in her heart, and again, she had to refuse. "I have no doubt it was, Osman," she said. "But, well..." she gazed at the TARDIS, looking as modest and comfortable as any ordinary house, "it wasn't really wanderlust that set me on this journey, you understand."
Osman half nodded, half bowed. "I do," he said.
"But," Eloise added quickly, not wanting their good-bye to end on a note of refusal, "you know I live beside a river. And all rivers lead to the sea." She couldn't help a mischievous grin, "If ever The Avalanche finds herself in a certain distant port, call for me again, and I might give a different answer."
Osman's face brightened, and he gave her a hearty slap on the back. "Auf Wiedersehen, Eloise," he said.
"Farewell, Osman," she said, intending the full meaning of the word, and then, loud enough to insure that Danik could hear as well: "Fair winds and a following tide to you both!" And with that she turned to go up the front walk.
On her way, Eloise passed the Doctors, standing in a cluster around Fifth and Amanda, and Sixth was speaking. Eloise deliberately didn't hear, in order to give them some privacy.
As Dominic's daughters clustered around him, making their opinions on their father's choice of surname very clear, Imran dropped back.
"Penny for them."
Amber was standing next to him.
"How do you do that?!"
"Runs in the family." Amber explained. "What's up?"
"Eh... just one last thing." Imran said. "Why did defeating Typhon break the spells on Osman and Ayna? I mean, he wasn't the one who laid the spells on them in the first place..." He trailed off. "Was he?"
"To be honest... I don't think so." Amber said. "If he did, they were either throwaway ideas, or seeds he'd laid for future schemes... but I think not. They didn't have Typhon's stink about them and even as Electra, I suspect I would have noticed that. No... What was it the Trader said? 'Phoenix fruit'? It was phoenix fruit, not zaqqum-fruit. Fruit that creates something brighter from the ashes. That turns demons into parrots and parrots into men. That can turn Desolation Beyond Time into a Demiurge... or break the curse on a Siren."
"Hmm..." Imran said. "Couple more things..."
"Well..." Imran began. "All of us who ate the flame... I mean, the myth-engine catalysed Sweetheart's development, so, um... what's it going to do to us?"
"I don't know." Amber admitted. "Maybe nothing the myth-engine no longer exists. Maybe something after all, it did become the myth-tree. But if it does have an effect on you, it won't do anything to make you other than what you are."
Imran considered that. "Hnh. Okay... just one other thing. Where're you gonna go? I mean..."
"I know." Amber said. "Joe mentioned something about an office building near This Time Round, which'd be a good place to work..."
"You can say that again." Imran observed.
"There's the Nine's reception..." Amber continued, "And..."
She looked over at Ana and Danel, and sighed.
"And getting to know my sister once again... I've been alone far too long, but so has she. I think... I think I should let them have time to get to know each other, before I break in on that." She managed a grin. "Wonder how Danel's going to feel about having a Power as his muse's sister?"
Imran looked over at Allie and her sisters. "Something tells me it's going to get weird. That's just me, though."
"Why not try This Time Round?" Imran thought out loud.
"This Time Round?" Amber echoed.
"Why not? Get an idea of what you're getting yourself into... and the other muses usually hang out 'round there..." Imran grinned. "Besides, I'm sure the others'd be more than happy to help you do some house-hunting."
"They would?" Amber considered. "Hmm... sounds interesting."
Imran glanced over at where the Doctors and Amanda had clustered together.
"What was the SpamPlot?" he wondered.
Amber smiled. "That..."
"...is a secret." Imran completed. "Have I mentioned how much I hate that line?"
"Trust me," Amber said, a beatific expression on her face. "All shall be explained..."
Imran let out a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding.
"...Eventually." Amber added.