by Cyber Moggy and Imran Inayat
The weather at Nameless was awful. It was dark outside. It was also raining. The wind had left mere gale-force behind some time ago and was now approaching hurricane-strength. The occasional crack of thunder made itself felt as well.
A larger than normal gust of wind arose, gathering with it a couple of the smaller trees from behind the 'Round. But it dumped them a moment later, in the carpark, along with its other cargo - a kangaroo, two emus, and Cyber Moggy. Cyber Moggy staggered to her feet, and narrowly missed being kicked in the head by the kangaroo.
"At least it was only windy back home," she groaned.
She spotted the 'Round. "And at least I can get something to drink." She staggered inside.
Harry Sullivan looked out through the 'Round's bay windows.
It had been, all things considered, an absolutely /terrible/ day, weather-wise. Most of the 'Round's regulars were safe in their homes (or TARDISes). Traffic had pressed on past the pub, looking to get to their destination as soon as possible.
It was, all in all, not a day to visit the pub.
Harry hadn't seen anything like it since his days in the Navy. It conjured images of roiling seas, water battering at the ship's hull, winds gusting along the decks.
Nevertheless, /someone/ needed to be behind the bar. And Harry had never been one to shirk a duty. He'd had the kettle on the boil since he'd started his shift, ready to offer a hot drink and a seat by the fire to whoever came in. (Harry had developed a certain mistrust of coffee-makers, preferring the old-fashioned way of doing things.)
So when Cyber Moggy staggered in, Harry was ready.
"Hullo there, miss. Can I take your coat? Get you a drink?"
She shrugged out of her dripping shirt gladly, and stood there, still dripping onto the floor for a moment, while she looked around. When she spotted the fire, her attention halted. She made a beeline for it, and was soon steaming gently.
"Is it always this wet here?" she asked. "And did you offer me a drink?"
"The weather is relative around here," he replied philosophically. "And yes - I did offer you a drink."
"I'd love a hot toddy," she said, starting to shiver. "Do you realise that it's spring in Canberra?"
Harry chuckled as he set about heating the wine. "So Tegan keeps telling everyone. Hope it's better than what we're getting round here."
"Kind of," Cyber Moggy said. "Back home, it's just windy. What you've got /here/ is a full-blown /hurricane/."
Harry nodded. "Haven't had one of those for... what, a good twenty years, maybe? The Doctors say it's not weather control, though."
Cyber Moggy looked around. "Where /are/ the Doctors, anyway?"
"Off adventuring," Harry said. "Not ones to stick round in weather like this."
"Shame." Cyber Moggy said. "Wouldn't have minded meeting them."
"Why don't you take a seat?" Harry said. "I'll just finish heating this up."
"That'd be wonderful." Cyber Moggy said. "Thanks."
By the time Harry finished the hot toddy, Cyber Moggy was well ensconced in front of the fireplace. He set the hot toddy down in front of her, and sat down in one of the other chairs by the fire, a cup of tea in hand.
"Harry Sullivan," he said. "Used to travel with the Fourth Doctor - you know the fellow? Curly hair, big grin, even bigger scarf?"
Cyber Moggy nodded. "Cyber Moggy."
"Hope you don't mind me asking," Harry said, "but that's one of those Internet names, right?"
"Yep," Cyber Moggy said.
"Can't be too careful." Harry said. "Some of the real names we get round here, you'd be surprised."
Cyber Moggy grinned. "I can guess."
"So what brings you out this way?" Harry asked curiously. "Anything in particular?"
She shrugged. "I was hoping to escape from the predictions of doom and gloom for a while. They're predicting a really nasty summer, and I get bored listening to people panic about fire danger. I'd heard about this place, so I decided to come on over to check it out."
"So, what do you think of it so far?"
Cyber Moggy grinned. "It's cold and wet. It's perfect! Mind you, I think I need to find a better way of travelling. Cyclones might be good enough for Dorothy, but they're murder to steer." She sipped her hot toddy. "Perfect!" she said. "You make a good brew, Harry."
"Picked it up in the Navy," Harry said. "One thing you learn pretty quick is how to do a good brew." His brow furrowed momentarily. "Er... I /did/ just hear you say you came here by cyclone, didn't I?"
Cyber Moggy nodded. "Yep. Bugger to catch, /murder/ to steer."
"Good Lord," Harry murmured.
From where they sat, they could still hear the roar of the wind outside.
"Not to mention they're hell on the surroundings," Cyber Moggy said wryly.
"Ah... yes," Harry said. "Um... I might be able to find you an easier way to get round..."
"You could?" Cyber Moggy said. "Great!"
"Not until the storm passes, though." Harry added.
Cyber Moggy waved it off. "No problem." She settled back in her chair. "So what's it normally like 'round here?"
"Like riding a tornado, sometimes." Harry said wryly.
Cyber Moggy raised her eyebrows.
Both Harry and Cyber Moggy startled.
"What was that?" Cyber Moggy said.
"Sounded like the front door." Harry said.
They stood up, and turned to the front door.
The door had been slammed open, letting in the rain and cold. Standing inside was a small, pale figure in a tattered shift, her hair dark and wild, her eyes gleaming black.
She looked up at the pair.
"Uh-oh..." Cyber Moggy murmured.
"Um..." Harry said. "Er. Hello there. Can we help you?"
"Help?" the girl said. Her voice was soft and quiet, dark and chill. "No. You cannot help. What I need-"
The front door /slammed/ shut.
"Harry?" Cyber Moggy said quietly.
"Mm?" Harry said, just as quietly.
"I have the nasty feeling we just walked into a Japanese horror movie..."
"You may be right," Harry said, and went back behind the bar. "Can I get you a drink?" he asked the girl politely.
"Drink?" she replied curiously. "What use have I for drink?" She turned to stare into the fire.
Cyber Moggy raised her eyebrows. "That's an approach I'd never have thought of," she said quietly.
Harry shrugged. "There's no excuse not to be polite," he said. "Besides, this is a pub."
"Sure, but what do ghosts drink?"
His jaw flapped a couple of times. "I have no idea."
Cyber Moggy squared her shoulders. "Well, perhaps if we don't upset her, she'll leave us alone."
"Do you know much about Japanese ghosts?" Harry asked.
"No," Cyber Moggy replied. "Only what I've stumbled across on the internet. I have a feeling I'll learn, though."
Harry's brow furrowed.
"You know," he murmured to Cyber Moggy, "it just occurred to me. What would a Japanese ghost be doing /here/?"
"Maybe she's a Brit," Cyber Moggy suggested. "What're /your/ ghosts like?"
"Well, we've already got a resident ghost." Harry absent-mindedly corrected himself. "Sorry, /phantasm/. Sandra. Nice girl. Good worker. This isn't her, though."
"...You have a resident ghost, and you don't know what they drink?" Cyber Moggy said.
Harry shrugged. "She makes her own arrangements."
Cyber Moggy looked around. "So where is she?"
"At home with her family." Harry said.
"...Do I want to know?" Cyber Moggy said.
"...Maybe when we have more time." Harry said. "Hang on a mo..." He raised his voice. "Excuse me, miss? Are you waiting for Sandra?"
The girl regarded him quizzically. "Who is Sandra?"
"She's a... friend." Harry volunteered.
"No." the girl said.
"Ah." Harry said. "Um... could I ask what you're looking for shelter from, exactly?"
"Darkness," the girl said simply.
"Ah," Harry said.
"It took me," the girl said, staring into the fire. "Took me from my life. Made me its plaything. Its toy.
"But everyone grows tired of their toys eventually. So did it, in time. When its interest was no longer upon me, I escaped.
"It has been so long... too long." She laughed, quiet and chill. "And yet I could not tell you how long it was. Time is a thing of /this/ world. Your world. Not its. I do not think time /matters/ to it.
"And I am... not what I was. Not any more." Harry and Cyber Moggy barely caught her voice. "So small a price, to gain my freedom..."
That didn't sound like the Death /Harry/ knew. The Death Harry knew was a nice chap, bit sombre, did his duty the best he could. Not this... /thing/ that played with a girl's life.
"And now I can see sharp daggers in the rain." the girl murmured. "Hear the battle-song of the winds as they rise on up. See the dreams of the flames as they leap and fall. The madness of /its/ world.
"And I could make it real. Make this world as mad as its was. And it would be so easy..." She wrapped her arms around herself. "So /easy/..."
Harry hesitated. There was something wrong, something /broken/ in this girl, true - she might well lash out if you put a step wrong. But there had also been a glimpse - a tiny little thing - of something else, of someone who wanted the pain inside to /go away/. Was there anything he could do for her? He couldn't say, not yet-
There was a thump at the door.
All three of them looked up, startled.
"The storm has stopped," Cyber Moggy commented.
"It must be customers, then," Harry replied, and went to open the door. He glanced back at the two newcomers, and saw that Cyber Moggy had sat down in front of the fire, not far away from the ghost. If she was a ghost.
He turned the handle, and realised that it was, apparently, locked. He went to get the key (they hadn't had a simple latch mechanism since the time some idiot had decided that dropping a live mouse down the front of Nyssa's shirt was a good idea. It had taken the staff two full days to clean up the mess.), and tried unlocking it. It wouldn't unlock. Then he remembered how it had slammed shut behind the perhaps-ghost. He went to the fire. "Excuse me, miss," he said, "are you keeping the door locked?"
She looked puzzled. "No. I locked the door. But I didn't jam it. Your key should unlock it."
Harry and Cyber Moggy exchanged significant looks. "That's ominous," Cyber Moggy said, and got up. She took the key from Harry and went to try unlocking the door herself. It didn't work for her, either.
Harry went to the window and tried to open it to see who was out there, but it was jammed, too. "I'll try the upstairs windows," Harry told the girls, and went upstairs. He nearly slipped on a puddle of water at the very top of the stairs. The roof must have been damaged, he decided. That wasn't going to make the Proprietor very happy. He'd have to clean it up later.
He went into the nearest room, and tried the window. It was jammed, too. As quickly as he dared whilst keeping an eye out for more puddles of water (of which there were several), he checked the other windows. They were all jammed.
He went downstairs to break the news to the girls.
"We're locked in." Cyber Moggy repeated.
Harry nodded. "Looks like it."
He could see the worry on the strange girl's face - he really was going to have to ask her for a name, because he couldn't keep thinking of her like this - and he was willing to guess /why/ she was worried. The same reason /he/ was. That whatever she'd escaped from had noticed - and had come after her.
Looked like it hadn't been bored with her after all. /Distracted/, maybe, but not bored.
And whoever was outside hadn't gone away.
Harry would have felt /far/ more at ease if he could see just who was out there. But the door was solid wood, with not a peephole in sight. The Proprietor had never /intended/ the 'Round to close. The door would always be open for any fee-paying customers.
If they'd been locked in, Harry wouldn't be too surprised to find they couldn't call /out/ - that was the whole point of this, wasn't it? To isolate them and cut them off. Or as the Doctors liked to call it, the 'base under siege' scenario.
He picked up the receiver.
He opened his mouth to tell the girls-
-and someone else's voice came out.
It wasn't his voice. It was dark and liquid and sensual, a voice to drown in. There was nothing human in it; only the darkness of the depths.
Hearing it - hearing it come out of his own mouth - Harry /understood/ what the girl had been running from.
"Come home, my darkling."
The girl drew back, her black eyes wide and fearful.
"No..." she whispered.
"Come to me, and this will be forgotten." the Voice said. "Come home, and this shall pass."
"And if I do not?" the girl said, her voice tight.
"Those such as you were not meant to walk those worlds again, my darkling, my sweet." the Voice said softly. "There are many who would be pleased to make you theirs, and many others pleased to see you gone.
"They have caught your scent on the wind, and it will lead them to your door. Already, the first of them have found you; they wait outside, ready to claim their prize.
"By my will, this place is safe against them. But my will is not constant. Come with me, or with the hunters at your door.
"Choose, my sweet; which shall it be?"
The voice didn't wait for her answer, but released Harry. He flapped his jaw a couple of times, and then went behind the bar to pour himself a stiff drink. He realised now why the others found mind control so disturbing. Not having any control over his voice - and he suspected that the girl's former master could just as easily have taken control of his body as well - was profoundly disturbing.
"Well then," Cyber Moggy said. "It seems you have a choice. You can wait for whatever is outside to get you, go back to your former master, or try and protect yourself against both."
"I... I don't know if I can protect myself!" the girl wailed.
Cyber Moggy put a comforting hand on her arm, and for a moment, was clearly surprised that her hand didn't simply sink through it. "What can you do?" she asked. "And, by the way, do you have a name? Something we can call you?"
The girl peered at her for a moment. "Moriko," she said. "I don't know what I can do! He made me hear things, but he never taught me anything!"
"Moriko," Cyber Moggy said. "You can hear and see the elements. That's a good beginning. I can hear the wind, and control it a little. Maybe I can help a bit."
"But it's all so mad! So crazy! How can it be controlled?"
Cyber Moggy considered it for a moment. "Controlled is the wrong word. I can communicate with the wind. Persuade it to take me where I want to do. It only does what I want it to if it wants to do it."
Harry was about to open his mouth to ask them if they wanted a drink, but he got disrupted by Moriko's master instead. "What is your choice, my sweet?" he asked. "Will it be me? Or will it be the hunters?"
Moriko looked as though she was ready to panic.
Cyber Moggy rested her hand on Moriko's shoulder again.
"The elements do what they will," she said softly. "They obey no law but their own. They know no master, and fear no hunter."
She let her hand fall.
"I..." Moriko squeezed her eyes shut.
"Well, my sweet?" the Voice asked. "I am not constant..."
"/Them!/" Morkio blurted, pointing at Cyber Moggy. "I choose /them/! These mortals!"
The Voice chuckled. "You are learning, little darkling. So will it be. You have made your choice. Let us see if you will survive it..."
Harry staggered forward as the Voice let go.
"I really wish things like that would learn to use the phone, like normal people..."
"I don't think you want to find out what happens when they /do/ use the phone..." Cyber Moggy observed wryly.
"Probably not," Harry agreed.
The door shook under the force of the blow.
"He's withdrawn his protection," Cyber Moggy murmured. "They'll be able to get in. Can you do what he did? Ward the 'Round?"
Moriko's face was a mask of fright. "I don't /know/!"
"Try," Cyber Moggy said. "Ask it to ward against them. This /is/ where the Doctors hang out, and stopping monsters is what they do."
Moriko nodded. "As you will."
She closed her eyes.
Around her, the ever-present noise of wood and brick, plaster and fabric, as they went about their lives.
Not this, she thought. Not these little things. I need the building, the /place/...
She reached out, further, further, beyond...
"Focus," Cyber Moggy said quietly. "Don't get distracted."
Moriko was already deep in the trance-state.
To the rooms, and their never-ending debates...
Something coalesced in the darkness behind her eyes. A figure, small and pale, eyes bright, wicked smile on her face.
It took Moriko a moment to realise she was looking at /herself/.
And another to realise that she wasn't.
That behind that face was something boistorous and vibrant, chaotic and disruptive, and not a little crazed.
This Time Round.
"Hey," it said.
"You took /my/ face?" Moriko said.
"Oh yes," the 'Round said. "You and I... we're very much alike. Or we /will/ be, assuming you manage to get through this."
"Why?" Moriko said.
The 'Round raised an eyebrow. "You do know what you are, don't you? You /did/ get that?"
Moriko nodded. "Yes."
"Understand," the 'Round said. "You are more than a creature of the elements. You are a thing of wildness and chaos, madness and dream. You have the power to warp and disrupt the world around you, to make the things you see /real/. The elements are but the first taste of it. What you could yet do... what it would cost you..." It shrugged. "I couldn't say. I've never met anything like you and your master. And I've met a lot of things."
It grinned. "But then, I /am/ a place of wildness and chaos. The world around me gets warped and disrupted on a regular basis - or so I'm given to understand. You can see what /I/ might see in you."
"I am not comforted." Moriko said.
The 'Round shrugged. "Wasn't trying to."
"Will you help?" Moriko asked.
The 'Round sighed. "If you're asking: Can I ward you like your master, then the answer is no. That was /him/, not me. Any ward you conjured up would come from /you/. I can keep my doors and windows closed, but they won't be warded. Sooner or later, they'll break through."
"However..." The 'Round met Moriko's eyes.
Moriko couldn't look away.
"There are corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things." the 'Round said softly. "They must be fought.
"Such is the Doctor's nature. Such is /mine/.
"I will be at your side. And together, perhaps, we will see you through this."
It grinned, and rested a finger on Moriko's nose.
"Be seeing you."
Moriko's eyes flew open.
Harry was sitting next to her by the fire, and Cyber Moggy was nowhere to be seen. Outside, though, she could hear the wind howling. "She persuaded her favourite cyclone to keep them busy for a while," he told her. "She said to say that she won't be able to keep them occupied for long, though."
Moriko nodded and got to her feet. She had one or two ideas about what she could do - if she could be certain that it would not cause too much damage. Her former master had always feared to go too far when he was outside of his own lands. This place would not take the kind of punishments that his lands took on a daily basis.
But then, This Time Round had told her that the land here was regularly disrupted. Perhaps she could do more extreme things here.
The front door was open, and Cyber Moggy was hanging onto the door frame. Her hair was sticking out in more directions than seemed possible, and she was, finally, completely dry. The wind was blowing in around her, threatening to sweep her out of the door. She staggered forward, and collided with Cyber Moggy.
"Welcome back!" Cyber Moggy sang, catching hold of Moriko and guiding her to the door frame. Moriko grabbed hold of it, and hung on for dear life.
Looking outside, she saw that a pair of cyclones were ripping their way around the car park with a trio of...things in their grips. She couldn't see the things clearly, but from the way they were reacting, it was obvious that these were her attackers.
The winds were tossing their playmates back and forth to eachother, as a couple of children would a beachball. The winds sang and shouted and sounded as though they were thoroughly enjoying themselves.
"I love listening to the winds playing," Cyber Moggy told her, grinning wildly. "They're so free!"
"How strong is this place?" Moriko asked.
"In what sense?"
Briefly, Moriko told her what the 'Round had said.
"Hm." Cyber Moggy said. "I'm a wind-speaker, myself. Something like /this/, I don't know... Harry, you able to help?"
"Um, not really my sort of thing, to be honest," Harry admitted. "Amber or Magnus could probably tell you... Er. Well, we've had lots of Things From Beyond trying to get in - we're still here, so it's probably pretty resilient like that. I mean, the Authors /do/ keep saying it's the place where anything can happen..."
He scratched the back of his head, looking around at the pub. "I mean, it's a bit strange to think the old place's alive. I've been here... heaven knows how many years now. Never thought it was alive /before/... Maybe it's like a ship? Met one or two who thought /they/ were alive..."
"Everything is alive," Moriko murmured. "If I let myself see..."
"I mean, you're talking about bending reality, right?" Harry said. "I might not know much, but I /do/ know this - the bigger whatever you're doing is, the more people are going to notice."
"...Oh." Moriko said. She hadn't expected that.
"Then again," Cyber Moggy observed, "if what the Voice told us is right, Moriko's drawing attention just by being here. Not sure we've got much to lose on that account."
She looked to Moriko. "Okay. Let's assume Harry's right, and this place /is/ a bit more resilient than most everywhere else. Think that'll be enough?"
Moriko sighed. "I can try."
"All right." Cyber Moggy said. "The cyclones're probably going to get bored soon, so get ready."
Indeed, it was apparent that at least one of the cyclones' 'playmates' had been left on the car park's tarmac. As they watched, the second and then the third landed on the ground, the cyclones heading off to find somewhere else to play.
"Here we go," Cyber Moggy said, watching the three dark figures rise to their feet. "Ready?"
Moriko wasn't. But she was as ready as she was ever likely to get.
"Yes." she said.
She positioned herself in the doorway.
Before she could sink her awareness into anything, however, she had to figure out what, exactly, she was going to do. At that moment, all she really wanted to do was to be safe. Secure. Not in danger. Which really meant sending the danger away to some location that was elsewhere.
Perhaps if she could somehow contact reality itself, she would be able to persuade it to move the hunters for her.
She let her awareness sink down past the sights and sounds around her. Trees, wind, rain, Cyber Moggy and Harry, all faded. The 'Round behind her remained longer, but faded soon after.
And nothing took its place. Emptiness was all around her. She felt herself being pulled, stretched, as though the emptiness itself was trying to make her fill it up.
She screamed into the darkness. Groping around for something, anything, to hang onto. Searching desperately for the way back. But nothing was there.
She twisted in body and mind, desperately trying to find anything to hold her together. Images of trees and flowers swam past her memory, the hearth in her former master's fortress. But it wasn't really there.
It went on for eternity. It was over in a microsecond. She couldn't quite tell for a moment. But then, somehow, she realised that, somehow, there wasn't quite nothing. Something had appeared. A hole, through which time was flowing. She swam desperately towards it, and plunged through.
The nothingness tried to suck her back in, and came perilously close to succeeding. It would have succeeded, if something hadn't abruptly coalesced into being around her.