Chapter Thirteen – The Stair That Wasn't There

Sometime later, the Odd Trio and their muses, Katherine and Silence are waiting in Nth's main console room – all changed except for Gordon and Silence.

There came a knock at the door from about Ruthie's height. Silence flipped a switch, and Ruthie staggered in, carrying a book that was almost as big as she was.

"This was the only book I could find that was big enough for a door," she said.

"Let me see that," Alryssa said, and lifted the book up onto a console shelf.

The binding was all thickly tooled leather, decorated with Celtic knotwork and highlighted with gold leaf. The title, written in large uncial print was:


Alryssa opened the cover. "Oh my!" she said.

"What?" Tessa asked.

"This book's been written in," Alryssa said, "– in Gallifreyan!"

"You know Gallifreyan?" Katherine asked.

"Not fluently," she admitted. "But I am Sailor Gallifrey... so I can recognize it, at least....This book must've belonged to Sweetheart's pilot! Oooh, this bit's been marked up a lot – can't read what he wrote, but this seems to have been very important to him," And she read aloud:

"..., it chanced that three drops of the charmed liquor flew out of the cauldron and fell upon the finger of Gwion Bach. And by reason of their great heat he put his finger to his mouth, and the instant he put those marvel-working drops into his mouth, he foresaw everything that was to come, and perceived that his chief care must be to guard against the wiles of Ceridwen, for vast was her skill. "

They all exchanged looks. "Guess that means us now," Gordon said.

"It's a shame to have to do this to such a beautiful book," Alryssa said, but if we want to get in..." And she tore out two pages, laying them on the floor of the console room.

Ruthie dug into a pocket, and handed her a key to Sweetheart.

"Well," Alryssa said... "Time to see what's on the other side of the door".


Imran smoothed down his robes, then felt his head – and the pointed hat that had suddenly appeared on it. "Hmm. Magician. Seems appropriate... why are you giggling?"

~Oh, no reason...~ Silence signed, smirking.

"Well, the others should be able to take care of things..." Alryssa said. Her Senshi uniform remained unchanged.

"...How do you do that?" Gordon asked.

Alryssa shrugged. "I can... well, it's a bit hard to explain. It comes with being Sailor Gallifrey – I can adapt to a setting, if I choose. And this time, I exercised a 'no' vote."

"Pageboy outfit," Katherine said, shaking her head. "Someone's sense of humour needs to be taken out and shot."

"Hey, this is interesting..." Yokoi said, looking at her jester's motley. "Hey, Allie? Allie, take a look at – "

Allie turned.

The others fell silent.

The hurt, the worry, the strain...

...all were gone from her face.

Instead... there was a gentleness to her, a sense of peace.

Her skin glowed with a soft, pale luminescence, and her eyes were the colour of moonlight.

Her dress glittered like the stars, and her movements held the grace of a queen.

"This..." she whispered, her voice distant. "I never dreamed... It's so beautiful, this place..."

"Allie...?" Imran whispered.

"It's... everything's different and yet the same...

"The Fair Folk. The Shining Ones. Is that what I am...?"

"Alryssa?" Katherine whispered.

Alryssa opened her mouth –


"You." Alryssa breathed. "You. I know you. Why are you doing this?"


"No," Alryssa said. "No. The Time Lords became as corrupt as had the Pythias. Both fell, one denying Reason, the other denying Inspiration."

Her voice hardened. "In me, Reason and Inspiration are made one, the balance maintained. What you seek goes against this.

"The Muses of Earth learned that lesson better than Gallifrey's ever did."



"Dad..." Allie whispered.

"The Pythia did, in the end." Alryssa said quietly. "Took the Sphinx's eye, in her madness, to see what would be – and then cursed Gallifrey, at her fall.

"The balance, in time, was restored – but too late, too late, it was not enough – and Gallifrey fell.

"And was reborn.

"This is not the way."


GALLIFREYA, PLEASE – the voice almost broke – HOW CAN YOU DO THIS?

"What was is gone, milady. They have found themselves a new balance, a new place. New paths uncovered, old paths brought to light. Time has made herself anew – and so have they."



"You know my answer, milady."



And then there was silence.

"I take it you know our friend?" Katherine finally said.

Alryssa shook her head. "I don't. Gallifrey does.

"She was one of our Muses, once upon a time."

"w h a t ?"

"I'll explain on the way. First, we've got to get our bearings..."

Allie cocked her head, stood as if listening a moment, and then turned at a sharp angle and began to walk south-easterly.

"Ooookay," said Gordon, "oddness ahoy...!"

"Allie?" said Alryssa, a bit sharply.

Allie paused and looked back, her smile untroubled. "Yes?"

"The grass glows where you walk," Yokoi explained. And indeed, every dewy droplet on every blade of grass in Allie's footsteps glimmered with a faint moonshiny light.


"No, not that. Where exactly are you going?"

"The horns are calling," Allie said, bewildered. "From the Wild Wood over there. Can't you hear them?"

No answer, came the loud reply... "Ah. I think someone wants us to come, though. They're... potent. Like forgotten dreams, calling..."

"The horns of Elfland," said Imran. "Er, the question is, whether that's Sweetheart's doing or the Ice Queen's, and whether we really want to follow..."

Alryssa and Silence looked at each other for a long moment, then both nodded decisively.

"Let's do it," said Alryssa, then. "If it's one of ours, we're in a hurry, and if it isn't, then someone's in for more than they bargained for. Lead the way, Allie!"

And so towards the forest they went.

Once, she was my star.

Do you understand?

I didn't think you would. But that's all right.

We depended upon each other... each depending upon the other. She created my tides, my seasons, and I sheltered her in my embrace.

She was my Muse. She helped me to create life, where there was none.

Do you understand?

Once, she was my star.

And then.... the stars went cold.

I betrayed her, by choosing death. She was my darkest night, threatening to swallow me whole. She talked of stealing my heart's desire, to rip it from me if she ever found me alive.

And then she was gone.

But I lived despite her anger.

I sought to right the wrongs my people had done. I thought about her often, at the beginning. But over time...

I forgot.

It's hard to remember things sometimes when you're several thousand millennia old... but it happens.

But my heart's desire...

What is my heart's desire?

I do not desire. I simply fight.

I do not desire....and thus she cannot harm me.

Do I not?

They saw it shortly, a dim ridge of blue-green across a rolling gorse-speckled heath. After a little way they came to a stone that shone brightly in the sunlight with thick veins of golden-lit mica. Allie headed for it like a needle to a magnet. They all crowded round, and saw that the veins spelt out a message. They said:


Someone had thoughtfully provided an arrow, pointing a particular line into the forest.

"Great," growled Alryssa. "It's like we have time for a shopping- list...?"

"No-one brought any cuckoo-clocks with them, did they?" Gordon asked apprehensively.

"I don't think anyone except the Doctor carries cuckoo-clocks in his pocket... oh no!"

Imran shook his head. "It's something Finnish magicians called themselves, for some reason. So if we're lucky, that's where the Ice Queen gets hers. Otherwise..."

Silence agreed vigorously. ~I'd hate to meet the creature that could take down Magnus...~

Yokoi's eyes were very wide. "Er, Imran... I don't think you want to go there..."

"Eh?" Imran adjusted his pointy hat curiously. "I... Oh."

"No," said Allie.

"No, maybe we don't..."

"No. I don't know what this is, but this isn't a threat to you." The others looked at her dubiously. "I'm your Muse and a... Gentlewoman...? here: trust me on this. And I can feel the thorn now, like a little needle in my thumb. It's... it's old magic, and new as the early dew. And it's lucky for us. I don't think waiting is..."

Not without some trifling hesitation, the others followed after her. Imran, rationalising rapidly for his own comfort, noted,

"It might not be a shopping list at all. Isn't a may-tree the same another name for a quickthorn?"

"Or hawthorn," Alryssa agreed, looking brighter. "Same thing."

"And traditionally a fairy tree," Allie noted complacently.

"So," said Imran, "the other objects might be... other aspects of it too?"

"I don't think much of the death," said Katherine nervously. "The Hoedown isn't supposed to be a killing-people sort of thing, at all, at all." She was backed up vigorously by Yokoi and Gordon.

"Nor do I," said Alryssa grimly, "but if it's the Ice Queen's death it's talking about... It is possible to be better off dead. And it didn't say anything about killing..."

"Prophecies are tricky," added Imran, gaining confidence. "Even death can be figurative, sometimes."

~And we're taking random gold engravings on a magic stone for gospel~, Silence pointed out, which made everyone feel a bit better. Presently they came to the Wild Wood.

It was a storybook greenwood hall more than a forest; and with Allie's feet or the pricking of her thumbs or whatever seeming to know the way instinctively, if anything they actually picked up their pace a bit once inside. After a while they came to a little glade, and saw immediately what the quickening thorn and so on was.

What it was, was beautiful. Allie stood a long moment, utterly entranced. And the others were scarcely much behindhand in the 'awestruck' department.

A great old many-trunked hawthorn tree stood near the edge of the glade. Its low twisty branches held a sapling oak to the left hand, a sapling ash to the right, like a parent's firm arms about two loved but dangerously frisky children. This was the first wonder of the Thorn.

The second wonder of the Thorn was its haws. None of the party had ever seen a tree laden with quite such a profusion of berries as the Thorn bore on its spiny branches. But though the hawthorn tree's fruit is a deep and lovely crimson in its day, the haws of the Thorn were black and shiny as cold anthracite.

But both of these paled before the third wonder, which was that between the hawthorn's many trunks lay a wild and desolate landscape, an uneven rock-strewn country in the shadow of a tall cliff. There were no clouds in that sky, and the sky was a harsh burnt orange.

Alryssa was the first of them to stir, for she knew that place full well.


And the gateless gate yawned before them.




:oh gods... oh gods...:


:Oh gods...:


:Come on, Xeffy... I can't lose you...:

^...oooh... mum...?^

:I wish it was. I wish my mother were here. If I ever had one...:

^...anya? sound...^

:Better? A little... our 'guest's' in our driving seat, but at least I don't have her poking around down where I live any more...:

^you sound like mum.^

:Shh... Shh, Xeph. Shh... we're out of it for now...

:She thinks we're still in there. Can still feel us...

:Safe. Safe in her shadow.

:That was... I really, really want to know what just happened, but I've never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth...:

^what was...^

:Sh. Sh. She doesn't know. Not yet.

:A Goddess. A Goddess... even as she is, we couldn't drive her out... not even we, ancient shadow, newest siren...

:But we could escape.

:Not the easiest of routes... but it was the closest...

:Safe in her shadow...:


:Yes, Xeffy?:

^so sore... i just wanna rest...^

:Shh, Xeffy. Shh... It's going to be okay now.

:It's going to be okay.:

^...for how long?^


^for how long will it be okay?^

:We can rest as long as she remains distracted.:

^hope it's fascinating out there...^

:Me, too.:

^i've never been so cold. i don't think i'll ever get warm.^

:You will.:

^how do you know?^

:I was nearly as cold as she, not long ago... before...:

^before i came. when you were in the Glory...^

:Yes. She and I are a lot alike... or we have been: cut adrift from existence itself, having nothing to feed on but fear and bitterness. Until you came. You reconnected me to the Omniverse – gave me a home again, and a purpose.:

^if She were reconnected... do you think maybe – maybe...??^

:Be nice? I doubt it – not like your family. But she'd be less cold – maybe a little less ruthless.:

^so how...?^

:I don't know. I don't know that we can.:

Meanwhile, back at the Dark Tower, the party had hit an unexpected snag. The great shiny black door was rather definitively shut.

Fourth strode confidently up to it and flourished the inevitable screwdriver.

For his pains, he was rewarded with a reflected and modulated sonic attack to which Hawkwind themselves might have been hard-put to do justice. One way and another, it was pretty loud. The sole merit of this episode was that it temporarily drowned out the distant wails of "Super-quafutable succubi in YOUR timeline FREE!", "Double your incarnations, this is NOT AN ILLEGAL SIMPLEX SCHEME!!!!", and suchlike blandishments from the still-advancing shoggiform Spamites over the hills.

When the horrid echoes had finally died, for a long moment nothing broke the blessed silence but for Spamly babble and the continuing thunder of Magnus's Bolo, which was still giving it some serious welly beyond the southern ridge.

"A handy little device that, Lord," Varne noted.

"I've got a bit of experience this way – oh, confound it!" Albert Campion was not best pleased to discover the door possessed no form of lock known to twentieth-century science.

"Do not call me Lord, Varne, but I must agree with you that it is putting up an exceptionally effective performance."

"It's a pity they're also coming from all the other directions at once, but I suppose we can't have everything."

"Indeed, Varne, and there seems little point in risking the micro-nuke at borderline range when the scum will simply wash in from all remaining points of the compass. Now would be the moment for the promised cavalry to arrive in her skimpy sailor fuku."

"I could transform myself into such a likeness, if such were thy Lordly whim." Varne leered meaningfully.

"Never mind, Varne, and have I mentioned that the L-word sits no better on me in the form of an adjective?"

"Fear not!" exhorted the Steward. "Oh, bugger!" thought everyone. "We have already established empirically that my newfound magical skills are well capable of opening portals, if not necessarily of toasting the filthy swarms of unfettered Cthulhoid capitalism..."

"Get on with it!" cried one and all. The Man of Lead proceeded to do that very thing.

  "I know the Origin of Doors.
In old Neander, in a draughty cave,
A fellow name of Ug once had a bonzer brainwave..."

There was quite a lot more of it, none of it better. As the pink-grey froth of the Spammoths began to bubble over the ridge, and the Bolo's thunder finally fell silent, the great spell terminated with those words of power so successful on the previous occasion:

  "And open the bloody door!"

"No way, squire," mimed the door. "Oh, bugger!" rehashed everyone, now with added vocalisation. The Steward turned hastily to Magnus.

"I believe this would be the time for that other class of door-opening spells you mentioned earlier?"

Magnus stepped up to the door and gave it the old fish-eye. "I probably have several means to blow a hole in it, but this surface is highly reflective. It would be better from a survival standpoint were we to stand some way away from the detonation, beyond that ridge for instance."

"Murder Will Out, Get History Eraser Now!!! Hot Great Vampires want your wood! Need your biodata to unlock sequestrated continuum, 10% FEE MAKE EXABYTES!!!" the ridge emphasised, and so forth.

#ALRYSSA!!!# Ayna sang, in full-on Siren mode. #WE NEED YOU!!!#

The Steward shook his head. "I doubt even Sailor Gallifrey could handle that lot alone. There's just too many of them. I'm going to see what I can do with what I do know of Spam's origins. Magnus, try the micro-nuke behind the northern quadrant, if you or Varne can deliver it. Even toasting half the back-ranks there will be something. Okay, here goes:

  "I know where Spam came from, sunny Jim!
A plutocratic ponce, a nitheling nothing worth,
Uttered a word, bespoke a great big bolus:
'I will afflict the world with awful adverts,
With bandwidth-busting mailbox manure...'"

<censored, by order of several international human rights agencies, and for no few lines either>

"...And such is Spam. Now, hear, ye pinkly powers,
This word of Kari Salomaa, great cuckoo-caller:
Earth shall gape for thee, thou consum'd shall be
In fires of my desire: THIS BE THY WYRD!"

An awed pause briefly ensued.

A Spammoth popped a bubble, somewhere on the front line. Let's pretend it wasn't just coincidence.

"Oh, bugger!" the Steward recapitulated.

#No!# Ayna jumped up and down excitedly. #We're saved! Look, look, Sweetheart's coming!#

They all looked up and followed her pointing finger. Behind the Spamite sludgefront, but gaining on it rapidly, a winged form was making a beeline towards them.

Amanda shook her fiery head regretfully. "I'm really sorry about this," she said, "but that isn't the dragon. It's a bird, and it isn't all that big..."

"Wait," said Eighth. "There shouldn't be birds here. This might be help, yet."

"Or Something Else," Sixth grumbled, waggling his DeLameter.

"I've had to speak to you about those tendencies before," Third observed, confiscating it.

The bird – a fair-sized, rather ungainly thing – landed clumsily in front of the Steward. "Cuc-koo, cuc-koo!" it said.

"Oh, bloody bingo!" the Steward retorted.

The bird shimmered. It grew rather bigger. It changed its shape.

An ethereally beautiful woman of perhaps thirty, with short blonde hair and an expression of serene, alert cheerfulness, stood in its place.

"Carrie?" the Steward gasped.

"Carrie Pariticek?!!" Albert exclaimed, reaching reflexively for the revolver he hadn't got. The Steward's Muse regarded him curiously.

"Whoops," she said. "I take it my tag-line worked a bit too well..."

"What tag-line?" Amanda demanded.

"She'll explain later," several Doctors said hastily.

Varne said, "You may have noticed these Spamites."

And Ayna sang, #But where's Alryss— ?#

"Oh, goodness gracious me!" the Second Doctor added.

Magnus: "We do not have time for reasoned discussion or even explanations. Besides I don't think that the door is the way in. The Steward's spell was crude, but it should have worked."

[Magnus was rapidly pulling items out of the bags and fitting them together. The result was a tube with a grapnel at one end.]

Magnus: "I think it is time to take a different approach."

[The tube belched fire, propelling the grapnel and a trailing line to the top of the tower. Magnus gripped the line and hauled on it. It held.]

Magnus: "Our way up."

Doctors: "Climb that?"

[Magnus was attaching straps to another device. He then clipped it to the rope.]

Magnus: "Who said anything about climbing?"

Varne: "My Lord is lazy. That's an auto climber, all you have to do is hook a wrist into a strap."

Magnus: "Varne, check the top, see if there is a way in."

[As the party was winched up the tower, the firedrake flew to the top.]

Magnus: "Look at this way, I have never heard of spam that can climb."

When Magnus offered Ayna a strap, she shook her head 'no'.

"It is perfectly safe, you know."

#I know, but...# Ayna glanced pleadingly at Dominic. #Dad?#

Dominic nodded. "Go on. We'll catch up."

Ayna unfurled her wings.

#Stand back. This could get messy...#

She flapped her wings a couple of times, testing them.

And leaped into the air.

The little group below looked on in wonder as she took flight, soaring higher, higher, higher...

"Oh my Lord..." Amanda whispered, as she watched Ayna. "Oh my Lord, she was serious..." She shook her head, smiling. "That girl is going to be something special, Dominic, you mark my words."

"She already is." Dominic said, a quiet, proud, smile on his face. "She already is..."

Eloise was the last to ride up, and as she took hold of the strap, she expected to feel at least a little vertigo as her feet were lifted off the ground. But there was nothing – even as the ground (and the burbling hordes of spamites) shrank below her – she might as well have been riding one of those automatic sidewalks at the airport.

The closer she got to the top, the greater her doubts became that they'd be able to get inside through any direct means, even if they were to try blasting a hole through the side with a arsenal more suited to "Star Trek" than "Doctor Who".

This fantasy worldlet was basically a dream made tangible, and this otherworld was a dream within a dream. Things rarely, if ever, took the straight path in dreams. And yet, they had found the Tower with remarkable ease – almost as if it had sprung up like Jack's Beanstalk... almost as if it had been waiting for them.

Before they could enter, Allie raised a hand, indicating they should halt.

Murmuring, wondering, surprised, they did so.

She turned to the gateless gate.

"Show me."

The gate rippled.

And they were looking down on the world from above, on the great dark Tower that dominated the landscape, at the monsters crowding it from all directions, at two small specks, soaring up its sides...

...and at a tiny thread that reached to the Tower's summit.

"Oh Goddess..." Alryssa whispered. "Allie, can you get us there?"

"I can try..." Allie said hesitantly. "Where?"

Alryssa pointed at the Tower's summit. "There."

Allie nodded.

  "By candlelight and starlight
By oak, ash and thorn
Show us the moonlit path
To those best beloved
And bear us hence
That they will not fall."

Cool silver light filled the gateway then, obscuring whatever might lie beyond.

Allie took a deep breath. "Imran...?"

Imran took her hand. "I'm here."

Allie smiled then. "Thank you."

Together, they stepped through the gateway.

And the others followed.

Danik and Osman looked at the rope. Looked at each other. Possibly exchanged grins, although in the parrot's case it was of course hard to tell. Then Osman launched himself off Cameron's shoulder with a kick that sent the neon-clad student staggering, and began to flap clumsily skywards in the firedrake's wake.

Danik doffed cloak and sword, handing them to Eloise with a bow and a murmured phrase which might have been "My field of expertise, I think", and addressed himself confidently to the rope without a by-your-leave. The sorcerer scowled, attempting to clip his device to a rope's end that was twitching in an irregular dance as the climber shinned rapidly up.

He swung himself over the parapet, nodding to Varne who was perched on the edge, peering downwards, and surveyed the top of the tower in a single glance. There was a single flagstone raised from the rest. Danik stroked his chin unconsciously, gazing down, then dropped to a crouch and began levering at one edge of the stone with his knife. A loud clatter of wings heralded Osman's belated arrival.

There was no need for words. With a scrape of claws on stone, the parrot fluttered down to join him, hooked bill prising loose the dirt of ages.

It was Danik who found it first. Something moved under the dulled edge of his knife-blade, and the stone shifted beneath them. Osman slid sideways, protesting; then scrabbled in under his friend's arm, the powerful beak probing with surprising delicacy, like a mynah-bird extracting a nut. There was another rumble as he found the trick of it, and then an edge of darkness appeared around the rim of the stone as it slid sideways.

The parrot made an approving noise. "Ah! that is good."

"I knew there had to be a way of opening it from this side." Danik sat back, dusting his hands, as the parrot worked the catch. The stone rumbled, protesting, and came free. The two of them peered down.

Varne looked down at the rope, and leaped off the parapet.

Varne landed on an outcropping about three-quarters of the way up.

"There is an excellent view of the Spamites from here, Lord," she commented as the hoist bearing Magnus came into view, some ten feet below her. Magnus growled but did not remove his attention from the auto-climber. It was Dominic who looked round.

"Well, it looks as if we're not going to be going back that way," he observed in the dispassionate tones of the true History Muse. The pink horde had almost reached the foot of the tower.

He leaned down to look at the Grey Steward, hanging below him, but the Man of Lead had his eyes closed tightly and his cheeks had taken on an even more leaden hue at the prospect of the drop beneath his weighty boots. "The Origin of Spam," Dominic mused quietly to Ayna, hovering beside him, instead. "I wonder if Cantor and Siegel and the Green Card Incident are what he is looking for? Or is it a deeper-laid plot?"

#Dad, you're jargon-babbling again...# Ayna hummed, shaking her head and grinning.

"Sorry, bad habit." Dominic apologised. "But I think Carrie has a lot of the answers we want..."

"No ladder," Osman pointed out, hanging upside-down from the rim of the hole. "Perhaps I should go alone..."

"Hang it all! the drop can't be more than fifteen feet or so to the floor." Danik frowned and flicked another piece of mortar over the edge, listening for the soft rattle of its landing. "Knee-deep in dust, too, by the sound of it. I'm going down."

He wondered, briefly, if he would need to get up again, and dismissed the idea. Retreating from the Spamites had gone against the grain. He didn't mean to back down again if he could help it, even against overwhelming odds.

In the moments before Magnus and his passengers reached the parapet, Danik swung himself over the dark opening, let himself dangle, and dropped. A muffled curse from below suggested that he hadn't found the room below quite what he had expected.

Which meant he, alone of all the party, didn't see the silver glow forming around the tower.

Suddenly, a cool, shining mist surrounded them, obscuring their vision like an incandescent fog. The burnt orange sky, the expanse of boggy moorland thick with razor blade grass, even the sound of the spamites – all had seemingly vanished. And they continued their ascent in awed silence.

The black marble of the tower's summit didn't reveal itself to Eloise until it was mere inches from the tip of her nose. Hastily, with her free hand, she reached out, got a firm grip on the ledge and pulled herself onto the tower roof. The stone was cool and smooth beneath her bare toes, and tingled, slightly, as if charged with electricity.

And then she realized that it was the fog itself that was tingling, and its glow brightened. The others must have noticed it, too, for they began to murmur and gasp.

Eloise squinted. Figures seemed to be coalescing out of the fog. Was that? Yes! Imran: wearing a pointed wizard's hat, very much like the one he wore for the circus, last year ... and ... could that be ? :::Oh!::: Allie...

"Oh my ..." she heard the second Doctor exclaim, and she could only agree with him.

Sailor Gallifrey came up close behind, with Tessa, Gordon, Yokoi and Silence bring up the rear.

When they had all assembled, the fog slowly dissipated, as if it had come for that sole purpose, now complete.

"What am I, chopped liver?" Katherine muttered.



"...I think so." Allie said hesitantly. "But you can never be sure with the Shining Ones..."

"You look..." Dominic shook his head in admiration. "You look magnificent, Allie. I only wish Elle could see you now."

"...This isn't... it's not..." Allie closed her eyes. "Dad, this isn't me. I'm not like this."

"It is you." Dominic said. He held up a hand, stalled her protest. "It is you, Allie. This place can only show you what's already there.

"And for what it's worth, your mother and I would have agreed on this.

"You were always our shining one."

Alryssa peered over the edge. "There are a lot of Spamites down there..."

"That's it..." Eloise breathed. "That's what I was wondering. Why? Why the Spamites? Everything else here is a part of Sweetheart's mind... so what are those doing here?"

"You mean those are a part of Sweetheart's mind?" Cameron gawped.

"Yes. No. I don't know. But they came from somewhere..." Eloise looked at the hole Danik had entered through. "No... no, that's too easy. Too direct... First the Tower was waiting for us, then there's a convenient hole... it's too straight, too direct... this is a dream, yet it feels too coherent.

"The way is thorn, the way is surrendered desire, the way is embraced death..."

"There's no damn door!" came the shout from below.

"Thought so." Eloise murmured. "Not magic, not technology, not a key... everywhere that looks like a way in isn't a way in. It looks inviting, it looks as if it's easy to get in... but it's not."

"Please tell me you're not going to tell us we've been barking up the wrong Tower...!" the Steward groaned. "In case you hadn't noticed, we're surrounded by a horde of Spamites!"

"That's just it. Everything here wanted us to come here – the Spamites, the Tower... all pointed us here. And that's too direct for what we've been through.

"All wanted..." Eloise shook her head. "I think we are being misdirected, yes – but perhaps not in the way we think. We were directed here... so we work out we're being misdirected, but there's nowhere else for us to go."

Magnus hauled Danik out of the room, and the Ruritanian shook himself down.

Osman came in to perch on Ayna's shoulder.

#Hey there...# Ayna chirped, petting the parrot on the head.

Osman eyed her. "Who's a pretty girl then?"

Ayna rolled her eyes. #Oh boy...#

"We can't go down, we can't..." Eloise thought.

"But we can go up." Allie said.

The others turned to look at her.

"Can't you see it?" Allie asked in bewilderment. "...Oh, like the horns. I get it."

She walked up to the hole –

– stepped over it –

– and onto the air.

"Okay, hands up anyone who saw that coming." Yokoi said.

"Come on," Allie said. "It's quite safe."

Gingerly, the others followed her.

There was no feeling of solidity, of ground, beneath their feet, no feeling they were standing on something invisible.

Only that they were standing on the air.

"Whatever you do, don't think about this."

"We weren't planning to..." Katherine said drily. "Where's this lead?"

"To the real doorway." Cassie said. "Just up there."


Allie took another step –

– and disappeared.

"Well, that's a good pointer..." Dominic murmured. "Here goes..."

Chapter Fourteen – Lighting The Flame

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