Chapter Twenty-Four Reckoning
"So Typhon's Typhon," Katherine said, "Xaos was a..."
~A basilisk.~ Silence signed.
"So what's this one going to be?"
The deafening roar sounded again.
"Something with a very, very big mouth?" Donald said.
"You mean something like that?" Katherine pointed at the massive, vaguely humanoid, shape in the distance. "...What is that, anyway?!"
~Your average, common-or-garden ogre.~ Silence signed.
The ogre roared again, shaking the trees with the sound.
"...You're such a comfort, you know that?"
"I can't tell from this distance... is the ogre wearing any clothes?"
Numerous odd looks were directed at the asker of this question.
"Or carrying anything?" Paul added hurriedly. "Just collecting data, you understand. You never know which details might be important."
The air cracked with the lightning-without-lightning
And Danik fell out of the air.
"Danik?!" Eloise gasped.
"Dame Eloise...?" Danik blinked from his prone position on the ground. "Yes! Eloise, stout comrades "
He paused, and looked around. "Where's the Sampo? The last I knew "
The ogre roared again, Danik's arrival having attracted its attention.
"Err..." Donald said. "Let's see... big, pissed-off ogre, with a very, very big mouth, a very, very big club, a very, very, small tunic, and something slung over its back heading our way. That do?"
"Shut up and "
"No." Danik said. "No."
He drew his rapier. "Maiden?"
Sweetheart rested one hand on the sword, which glowed blue.
"Your favour, milady." Danik said formally.
He lifted the sword. "FOR RURITANIA!!"
And raced for the oncoming ogre.
The castle glowed, a soft blue radiance illuminating all sides.
"The Sampo..." Allie whispered. "The Sampo. Danik did it. It's here."
"It's here?" Imran said. "Uh-oh."
A distant, dark shadow appeared on the horizon.
"Here comes trouble..." Cameron murmured.
"Now." Amber said.
Bokman silently handed over the Necronomicon.
Amber nodded. "With me."
The ten Terran muses assembled round her in a circle.
Imran caught Gordon and Alryssa's eye. "They need time."
Alryssa's mouth twitched. "Then it's up to us."
"It's time to kick Outer God arse." Gordon said.
As one, they declared:
"It's Odd Trio time!"
"Oh, I dunno. He seems to be doing well without it."
Indeed, the Ruritanian was doing well, dodging and ducking every one of the ogre's frustrated swings, all the while trying to find a weak spot, trying to strike home.
"We can't let him do this alone," Arthur decided. "Lancelot "
With that, Arthur and Lancelot hurled themselves into battle.
And, silent as her namesake, Silence joined them.
"Will you stop with the self-loathing and get with it?" Alryssa wondered.
Imran looked offended. "Hey, you never complained before!"
"Actually, I thought Danel did it better." Gordon said.
The other two glared at him.
Someone tapped Gordon on the shoulder. "Ahem."
The Odd Trio turned around, to find Cameron, Danel and the Trader standing behind them.
"Mind if we get in on this?" the Trader inquired.
He tipped his head, listening. "Hey, thanks, Mr. G. Hey, listen, the Doctor's got something in mind, wanna get in on it?"
Silence, then Joe broke into a massive grin. "Great. Here's what you do..."
The ogre's only response was another angry roar.
Danik shook his head ruefully. "I weep for the quality of Typhon's servants. No witty riposte? No snappy comeback? No gloating? Truly is he against the code of adventure."
"YOU... DIE..." the ogre rumbled.
"Well..." Danik decided, dodging another blow, "it's not much, but it's something."
"Hey, ugly-face! When you were born, the midwife thought you were so ugly, she put you out for the garbage men!"
The Trader eyed Joe, who shrugged. "Hey, stick with what you know."
"Gallifreya..." Typhon rumbled. "Oh, Chloe and Anastasia were fine meals indeed, but you shall be a banquet..."
"Yeah? You'll have to get through us first, snake-eyes!!" Gordon yelled.
Alryssa raised her staff. "INFINITY CHAMBER STRIKE!!"
The blast struck Typhon, who staggered, but did not fall.
"They say that putting up a fight makes the food tougher." he observed casually. "Personally, I've never found that to be true."
The Dragicorn snarled, and rushed the ogre, the other combatants diving to the ground.
She slammed into the ogre, sending it crashing to the ground.
It shook itself, and tried to haul itself up.
The Dragicorn took a couple of paces backwards, and snarled again.
With a slash, she struck at the bundle strapped to its shoulder, fraying it.
"Oh my Lord..." Ruthie breathed. "Fastolf. It's got Fastolf in there!"
Eloise's eyes widened. "SILENCE! SILENCE, AIM FOR THE STRAP!!"
The mute Voord pirouetted
and sliced one of her blades through the bundle's strap, cutting into the ogre.
The ogre roared again, and reached for her
but she dived, narrowly missing the blow.
Cassie lowered her head.
Typhon blinked, and lowered his head. "Where did you come from, little man?"
"Joe Wade." Joe introduced himself. "I'm covering this for a client. Now, Mr Typhon, could you tell me when the idea of using the myth-engine to rip open the world to primordial chaos first occurred to you?"
"Well," Typhon began, "it all started some centuries back " He paused. "No, maybe later. I'll let you stick around to report on the forthcoming devastation."
He smiled, a terrible expression on that monstrous face. "Perhaps I'll even permit you some small shred of sanity."
Joe tipped his hat. "Thanks, but no thanks."
"Gods' wounds, fair hostess, it seems to me that heaven hath already come..." the great Terileptil murmured. "Hush now, for it seems to me that Fastolf hears the flight of angels' wings."
"DIE!!" the ogre rumbled.
Fastolf scowled. "Alas for they who disdain the thespian craft, for great Fastolf is not to be disturbed when he is upon his deathbed!"
"You're fine, you big baby!" Eloise told him, having looked him over. "Mild concussion, maybe, but that's it. Now lie down and rest."
"Then might I inquire as to the possibility that there may be ale to soothe my aching head?"
Walter shook his head. "Sorry."
Fastolf looked up at the sky. "Truly, is this Hell, and I am in it."
"'Cause wait, why is he bothering with us?"
"STAR ANIME NOVA!!"
The nova burst hit Typhon right where it hurt.
(In the mouth, of course. Please, what kind of Pro-Fun Hoedown do you think this is?)
Alryssa lowered her staff, and smiled.
"I thought you had it." Donald said.
"Don't look at me," Charley said.
"Then who's got it?" Katherine demanded.
"I don't know, that's why I'm asking you!!"
"But if none of us have it, and none of them have it..." Charley said slowly. "who does have it?"
Donald looked around. "Hey, anyone seen Space Morgan lately?"
Danel risked a quick peek at Typhon. "Well, he's stopped gloating, at any rate."
"How's the spell going?" Gordon asked.
"Doing fine, as best my limited knowledge can tell." the Trader answered. "Just a few minutes more..."
Alryssa staggered, and nearly fell, using her staff to hold herself upright.
"...drained..." she muttered, gripping her staff tightly. "...too much, put too much in..."
"...which is, of course, when things start to go up the proverbial creek." the Trader finished.
She stuttered to a halt.
Dominic rested a quiet hand on her shoulder.
V took a deep breath.
" and we abjure thee."
"Never say die, my friend." Danik told him. "Never say die.
"It is an honour to stand with you."
"You too." Arthur told the Ruritanian.
Danik's eyes narrowed. "Just one blow. Just one blow..."
"Who prepared them?!"
"We'll prepare them when we get there!"
"Are we gonna get the chance?!"
"Do you want an answer to that?"
"Good, I hate lying!"
The ogre looked up.
Space Morgan stood in front of it, Magnus's gate behind her.
"DIE!!" it snarled, raising its club.
Then it blinked.
And looked down at the sword protruding from its chest.
"A gentleman never, never, attacks a lady." Danik said, removing his hand from the hilt.
"Target the ogre." Morgan suggested.
The gate floated into the air.
"For my world," she whispered. "For my sisters.
"For my star.
A final, thunderous scream.
For one eternal moment, there was only the light, and the sound.
And then they died.
Nothing remained to show where the ogre, or Magnus's gate, had been.
Simply the forest, restored to itself.
"Oh... my... stars!" the little troll murmured.
Danik looked regretfully at where the ogre had been.
"That was one of my favourite swords," he murmured.
"It was lost in good cause." Arthur told him. "Don't worry. I think Space Camelot will be more than happy to present you with another to mark your deeds today. And I am King, so I should know."
"My liege, I should be honoured." Danik executed a respectful bow just a hair's-breadth deeper than strictly required by Court protocol when saluting foreign royalty, and another in Lancelot's direction. He made it look as natural as breathing.
"Would that the fair Duchesa from whose hands I first had that blade could know of its honourable fate," he added, that certain faraway gleam beginning to enter his eye with which the clientele of the Illyrian Tavern, among others, were all too familiar. It heralded the beginning of one of his seemingly inexhaustible fount of reminiscences.
"For she was a valiant lady and undismayed, though her lord had left the defence of their people to her care while he rode north, little knowing what black-sailed storm awaited to prey upon the coast..." He glanced around automatically, as if awaiting an accustomed response. Frowned. Stared all around again, this time with careful attention.
"Osman." Danik's tone was so uncharacteristically sharp that for a moment Eloise thought he'd given vent to some obscure Middle-European expletive, and blinked at him in surprise.
He dropped to one knee, bringing their eyes on a level and catching both her shoulders in a fierce grip. "Osman. Where is he? Where has he gone?" And the avocado troll could see that he was really worried.
She removed herself gently but firmly from his grasp, pointing. "He's with the others in the castle," she explained. "When we set out, after all, this was only meant to be a rescue party " She glanced at the mournful bulk of the Terileptil, now resigning himself to continued existence, and tried to repress a trollish chuckle at the heavings which accompanied Fastolf's progress to his feet.
"I'm sure your friend is fine," she reassured Danik. But one glance up at his face as he rose was enough to burst the helpless giggles that had been bubbling up inside her.
"What is it, Danik? Do you know something?"
The Ruritanian was staring in the direction of the crystal towers. "Nay nothing for certain. But when friends have saved each the other's life so often as we two, there comes a bond, unspoken, even unthought. A bond which is sensed, perhaps, only at its breaking and now it comes to me that in the wind of the great beast's ending I heard the sundering of some other, deep-held, binding..."
He made the sign of the cross, swiftly, as if to avert an evil omen.
"Forgive me, Lady Eloise, for the discourtesy " the brows that had flown high in raking merriment in the face of Typhon's own avatar were drawn down now into a line of desperate concern "but I must know "
And he was gone, running as swiftly towards the castle as if given wings by a following breeze.
Eloise watched him go, more than a little worried now herself. Because she too could feel it, now. A sense of static in the air. A sense of swirling possibilities, as if something had come into the world, or gone out and that but a short while ago. Things that should never have been...
Like a man in the shape of a parrot, for instance? She hoped not. Oh, for Osman's sake, for Danik's sake, she hoped not.
She turned to the Maiden. "Was that "
The Maiden nodded. "Typhon is gone."
Eloise let out a long, low breath she hadn't realised she'd been holding. "You mean... it's over? It's finally over?"
"Typhon is gone, now and forever." the Maiden said quietly. "But there is much to take care of in his passing."
"But Typhon's gone."
The Maiden nodded.
Eloise closed her eyes. "Thank you."
"You mean... we won?!" Donald blurted. "We actually won?"
"Looks like it." Paul said.
"Hey, wait a minute..." Ruthie said slowly. "If Danik's back "
The Maiden nodded once more. "The Sampo has returned to my world. It waits at the castle, awaiting only our return."
"So if it's there, and he's here " Katherine began.
"It sent Danik where he was most needed." the Maiden said. "Sent him to vanquish Typhon's minion."
"Then let's get back to the others," Walter suggested. "Because I rather think all of us should see what happens next."
Where the circle of muses had stood, there was nothing but a faint mist that dissipated in the melancholy breeze.
"She's not dead," Joe said, torn between puzzlement and a fierce grief that he refused to recognize. "I can still feel V. She's ... she's ..."
"I feel it, too," Imran said, looking at the scorched space where the gathered muses had stood. "Allie is somewhere ... else. But where?"
"Nowhere," First told the shaken young author. "And everywhere."
"Whoa there, Doc," Joe said. "Do you mind dropping down a few quantum levels to where the rest of our minds work. Say again? And less Oracle of Delphi this time."
First gave Joe his best "must I always suffer these fools?" look.
"The muses' spell was successful," he said, looking grave. "Typhon is no more. But something from Outside took advantage of the power the muses unleashed and managed to drag them out of our continuum and into the metaverse. They now exist Outside."
"How do we get them back?" the Trader asked.
First stood silently for a moment.
"I don't know," he said.
"Who?..." Arthur echoed from beside her, puzzled. He lowered the spyglass he'd been using to focus on the castle, exchanging a shrug with Lancelot, and passed the device over to the little green troll.
She could see the stranger now quite clearly. He was a dapper little man, broad-shouldered and neat-handed, dressed in unobtrusive clothing with some kind of dark sash around his waist and she was quite positive she'd never seen him before in her life.
Eloise shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. On the other hand, she was almost certain she did recognise him...
And then, in the split-second it took all this to go through her mind, Danik's face had spread into the most incredible smile as he leapt forward; and he and the stranger were exchanging embraces on both cheeks, pounding each other on the back as if they hadn't seen each other for weeks. Danik stepped back for a moment then flung his arms around his friend again, almost lifting the smaller man off the ground. Osman's own grin was nearly as wide.
The eyepiece seemed to have gone all blurry. The avocado troll blinked, and wiped her own eyes.
Right up until the last moment, Danik was shaking his head in disbelief. He looked round one final time and shot a single swift question in Osman's direction, eyebrow raised. The answer was a simple word the little troll could read as clearly as if they had been standing next to her.
Danik's hand moved, in a half-familiar gesture she recognised after a moment as that of crossing himself. He stared up at the castle for a long moment; then disappeared urgently towards the sally port without so much as a backward glance.
Eloise jumped a little and looked round, returning the spyglass to Arthur with a word of thanks. The entire party was watching Osman, now making his way towards them at a rapid trot.
Charley blinked. "And what do you make of that?"
Eloise shook her head. "Something's obviously been going on back with the Muses and I can't help feeling that Osman's transformation may be the least of it," she added uneasily. "I just hope none of Nyarlathotep's attacks made it through "
"It's Pro-Fun, whatever it is," Ruthie said softly. Her eyes were shining. "Can't you feel it? It's tingling right down to the end of my tail something so strong, you could almost get drunk on it " She blushed a little, and laughed.
Eloise could feel it too; the same uncertain aftertaste she'd sensed before, like static in a storm. Rebirth. Discharge of power. Change dizzying change...
"It's the Sampo the Myth Engine," Maid Tardis said. "It has great power. It influences everything it touches."
Ruthie's (and several others') eye grew wide. "Really?! It's here?"
The Maiden nodded, her face drawn.
Astonished Rhubarb, tinged with happy excitement, sprouted up among the assembled adventurers. Even Fastolf seemed to forget his headache as he discussed with the others what this could potentially mean. None of them, however, heard the conversation Sweetheart and Eloise had had earlier none of them knew the Sampo's terrible secret.
"Your pilot " Eloise asked, softly, below the others' hearing, "is he here, too?"
"I don't know. Whether he is still inside, alive or dead, I can not tell. The Myth Engine never was, nor will ever be, anything for a TARDIS to read."
Eloise had never thought of it before (didn't even know the Sampo existed until a few hours earlier), but she realized it must be true. It was an ancient thing, constructed by a Power from intent and primordial energy. TARDISes were constructed from synthetic alloys, fluid links and semiconductors. The Sampo worked with the logic of dream. TARDISes worked with the logic of 11 dimensional logarithms, down to the precision level of a neutrino. East was east and west was west, and never the twain shall meet. No wonder Sweetheart spoke of the Sampo as if it were the monster under the bed. Eloise took Sweetheart's hand, and gave a little squeeze. Sweetheart squeezed back.
Approaching footsteps as Osman arrived, slowing to a halt and mopping his face with the end of his sash. "Gnaedige Frau " his human voice, hoarse from running, came out almost as cracked as the parrot's squawk "you must come. There is something you must know..."
"The muses are gone," Sweetheart announced, grimly.
Several versions of "What the Hell?" erupted from their lips, even Eloise's.
"Magnus and Mister Wade," he explained, "tell us they are in the Metaverse." He spread his hands in a gesture that made it clear that it was, at best and educated guess. "After the spell was complete, and the demon was destroyed they were gone."
"Was was it an attack?
Osman shook his head helplessly. "Come," he said.
They all understood, now, why Danik had run with such urgency, and followed suit.
V woke outside. Truly Outside.
She found herself and Carrie clinging together like drowning sailors as they spun in a maddening no-space, their forms blossoming into shapes of nightmare and unworldly beauty far beyond the mundane expectations of their authors.
To V's senses, Carrie most often took the form of a sublimely ordered light sculpture. If she could have perceived herself, V would have seen a living shadow now dwindling into a blurry smudge, now towering like the footprint of an eclipse.
The muses felt the fabric of their beings slowly fraying at the edges as their mere presence sparked miracles and living dreams out of the fertile void.
<<Concentrate!>> came a thought from Carrie. V clung to the thought, exerting her will, and slowly the two muses came to stop. Slowly and agonizingly, their forms coalesced into something approaching normalcy.
Aware of their surroundings at last, Carrie and V saw they were floating in a vast void perhaps miles, perhaps parsecs across that swam before their eyes as if the reality were too profound to truly encompass.
"What is that?" V said, alarmed, pointing to the remote outskirts of the space.
The muses felt more than saw a vast audience surrounding them millions, billions, trillions, an infinity of burning, focused intelligences. The weight of their regard kept the muses hemmed into the pocket of unreality as surely as the weight of an ocean could crush a diver.
The regard never wavered but neither did it vary or increase. Gradually, the muses felt safe enough to continue their reconnaissance.
Here and there, pockets of strange beauty and horror sprang into being, evidence that the other muses had survived the harrowing transition into this mind-numbing non-place.
"Where are we?" Carrie asked rhetorically but was surprised when V answered matter-of-factly.
"One of the many zones of potentiality to be found in the metaverse," V said.
"How do you know?" Carrie asked.
"Because ... I stole the knowledge from Joe's patron, Mr. G," V said, averting her eyes. "Like I stole the Zaqqum routines from you when I touched you."
Carrie looked puzzled and turned her awareness inward.
"The routines are still there," she said.
"What kind of thief would I be if you knew something was missing?" V said, bitterly. "I copied the routines. Not by choice, just so you'll know. It's not a conscious choice for me. I guess you could call me a parasite. I living by stealing voices."
V looked away from the fair blonde muse.
"Synthesis," Carrie said.
"What?" V looked up, puzzled by the lack of rebuke.
"Synthesis," Carrie repeated. "It's an elementary creative concept. Separate concepts combined into a unique whole. Regardless of what you may think of how you acquire your ideas, it's what you do with them that matters."
"What are you saying?" V asked, hopefully.
"Don't get any ideas that I won't call you to account for stealing the Zaqqum routines, V," Carrie said. "This is not the time or place for that, though. But before you condemn yourself outright, think about what I said."
"I will," V said. "Thank you."
"Now let's turn our attention to a more pressing question," Carrie said. "What do we do now?"
Towards the center of the void, Carrie and V were astounded to see a vast world springing into existence. It wavered and grew firm before sliding again toward insubstantiality.
"Amber!" the two muses said at once.
"Her power is so vast," V said.
"I can feel it from here," Carrie replied. "But I feel her distress, too. Look!"
Both muses felt a malignant will being applied to the malleable fabric of the non-space. A horrible, serpentine form appeared and began to encircle the world below them.
"We've got to help her!" V said, helplessly watching as the great beast grew in reality.
"But how?" Carrie said in horror. "But how?"