Chapter Twenty-Six Reunions
And indeed, Eloise noticed, their path seemed particularly labyrinthine spiralling first in one direction and then in another. She wondered, with a sickening lurch in her stomach, whether the Sampo was having an even bigger influence on Sweetheart than the SKoLD had had reconfiguring her corridors beyond her control.
But, at last, labyrinth ended. They reached a high domed chamber that reminded Eloise of the limestone cave where the Grey Steward went into the pit of fire. They were so deep within the castle that no light reached them through the walls, which, here, were so thick as to appear a deep cobalt blue. Instead of a pit of blue-flamed fire, however, the only source of light was the Myth Engine itself. Tiny spheres of opalescent color moved within it like living things like many flocks of birds, or schools of fish, meeting, dividing, moving through each other, and coalescing again.
"That's the 'Myth Engine'?!" Amanda asked, under her breath. "If that's any kind of engine, then I'm a I'm a pink elephant!"
Albert patted her on the arm, and tried to shush her.
Amanda was right, though. There was less similarity between the Sampo and an ordinary engine than between a raven and a writing desk. Its core was torpedo shaped (though much more irregular) about the right width and length for a coffin, Eloise thought, a bit queasily. But that was only the beginning. Crystalline tendrils and branches sprouted from every inch of its surface: twisting around and though each other, and finding root again somewhere else, until the whole thing would put a blackberry thicket to shame.
"It's changed," Maid Tardis said quietly. "It has grown since..."
Eloise slipped her hand into Sweetheart's again, and held on. She didn't need to ask, this time, whether or not Sweetheart's pilot was inside.
Even Amber seemed in awe of it. Her movements were slow, deliberate, full of intent. Even with the urgency of the battle raging outside, she wasn't about to rush anything. She paused a moment after each step, and seemed (though Eloise couldn't be sure, even with her exceptional troll hearing) to be chanting a spell as she approached.
"I say," Amanda asked, unable to contain her curiosity, " assuming she can find a place to fit that key... What exactly will it do when it starts up?"
The Maiden's answer was intoned, as if she were reciting a memorized passage from an encyclopedia or something someone taught her. "We call the Myth Engine 'Sampo'," she said, "because it is akin to that hand mill of Finnish myth: three interrelated forces three archetypal essences are bound together within. The first is a place of binding, to hold desire. The second is akin to the grinding stone bringing change and transformation. And last is the axis, which lets one work against the other."
"Ah," said Amanda, "I see... I think. So what will happen...?"
The Maiden shook her head. "The mill will start to turn," she said, in a more ordinary tone of voice. "What its effects will be, I cannot say."
:::And your pilot?::: Eloise asked, telepathically. :::What of him?:::
:::I do not know. If He is 'between the stones', His essence will be ground away, and He will cease to exist even from memory.:::
:::It does not matter. We must stop the outer gods. He knew this. ... He had always been prepared to meet such a fate:::
Still, knowing what was at stake weighed on Eloise like a physical pain. She understood, now, why Sweetheart preferred to think him dead all these years, rather than stuck in limbo within that thing.
Amber was now kneeling before the Sampo, the key shining in her hand awakened. Alive. The muse's voice was stronger, clear enough for Eloise to make out that it was a language she did not understand. The chant ended. Amber slipped the key into a space between two entwining tendrils, and there was a hushed pause, as if the cosmos itself were taking a breath.
Eloise couldn't bear to look. She turned her face away and shut her eyes tight.
It only lasted a moment perhaps even a split second. But while it lasted, it seemed like an eternity. Eloise curled in upon herself, like a pill bug, mentally and physically, to protect herself. First came a deep chord of sound clear and pure, but loud enough to make the machinery of a textile mill seem hushed in comparison. Then there was the light: blazingly, blindingly white, even behind her closed eyes.
When she could feel herself breathe again, Eloise reached out to take Sweetheart's hand, and realized that the Maiden was no longer there. She felt a moment of panic, fearing that the Sampo had whisked her from space, as the muses had been.
When she opened her eyes however, she saw the Maiden kneeling beside the Sampo, alongside Amber, with the Dragicorn standing over both of them, her massive wings spread like a mother bird protecting her young.
The Sampo itself now seemed less like a blackberry thicket and more like a mass of writhing snakes, its tendrils disentangling themselves, retreating into the core, only to re-emerge somewhere else. The core form itself seemed to be breathing squirming, as if struggling to be free of the mass that surrounded it. As it did so, the crystal became so clear as to be almost invisible, like the clearest of water. And in the center of all of that, a humanoid form could be clearly made out.
Eloise felt her throat constrict. So. The Sampo had not ground him into nothingness... But was he still alive? To have Sweetheart go through all that she'd been through, only to be faced with a corpse at the end... Eloise bit her lip.
Finally, the writhing mass of the Sampo retreated from around Sweetheart's pilot, recollecting itself into a sphere hardly bigger than a child's beach ball, while the Time Lord lay there, as still and as grey as death.
Eloise saw what happened next as though it were a dream, or as if she were watching through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars with a sense of detachment and unreality, with details that were disjointed and out of order:
The sleeves of his Time Lord robes being just a fraction too short, and just a little frayed around the cuff.
Each of the Doctors, scattered throughout the chamber, knowing what this meant, and looking happy but embarrassed, not knowing where to put their gaze.
Maiden Sweetheart taking her pilot into her lap, coaxing him to life in a lilting, alien language, and brushing his hair from his eyes.
Amanda, beside Eloise, asking: "Albert? Albert? What is it? What's happening?"
The pilot stirring, groaning, opening his eyes, and trying to stand.
The others rushing in to lend support, help him find his feet.
His assessment of them all, taking them in. The subtle shift in his features as memory slips into place.
His first words: a question to Maiden Sweetheart.
And her response.
Joy deep and overflowing that made her want to dance on tippy-toes: Life does survive, even when the chances are infinitesimal.
But despite that, it seemed to Eloise that there was nothing but a profound silence surrounding them all as if she were watching the tv with the sound off. It took her a moment to realize what was missing, and when she did, her joy was replaced by the deepest loneliness she had ever known.
The telepathic link she'd had with Sweetheart from the moment the TARDIS materialized beside her bridge was gone given, now, to the one who always had been her true Pilot.
:::No,::: Eloise thought, now unheard. :::Please. Don't leave me.::: She felt her heart constrict a little then, as she grasped after Sweetheart. And that was the last thing she wanted. She'd seen what such grasping had done to people, and she'd long ago vowed never to let that happen to her.
So she opened her heart like a hand, and silently surrendered the thing she valued most: her relationship to a very special TARDIS.
Eloise felt the tears well up, but before the first one had a chance to fall, a terrible thundering, coming from outside, shook the cavern walls.
They all ran out to see what it was, Sweetheart's pilot in the lead.
All except two.
Amber looked at the sphere in front of her.
Then she looked up at Joe.
"I'm just here to watch." Joe said. "I'm guessing you wouldn't stay here 'less you had something in mind."
Amber nodded, her eyes wet.
Joe noted, but (perhaps wisely) did not comment.
"Wyrm." Eighth said distantly. "Flightless relative of the dragon from British folklore."
A massive draconic head, its hide a glossy, iridescent black, pushed through the swirling globe of darkness that hung in midair, forcing the other Hoedowners to the courtyard's walls.
Magnus caught sight of the newcomers, and sidled over to them. "Ahem. It seems they've caught on to the trap I set on the gate... fortunately, they're none-too-bright, otherwise they'd never have gone for something this big."
The wyrm let out another thunderous roar, shaking the castle.
"Of course," Magnus said, "it may just end up shaking the castle to pieces anyway."
"It won't," Sweetheart said. "The castle is as durable as I wish it to be."
"Then I'd suggest we all exit the courtyard. Now." Magnus said.
On the run, Arthur and Lancelot caught up with Magnus.
"Dragon?" Arthur asked.
"Dragon," Magnus confirmed.
The wyrm's jaws opened, and Bokman broke off, sighing. "I suppose this is a really, really bad moment?.."
Then, she took a deep breath, and began to chant in the same nameless language Eloise had heard when she had used the key.
The wyrm howled again, its voice rumbling with thwarted rage and frustration, and tried to pull more of itself through.
But the globe shrank faster than it could move, dragging the chaos beasts back to the metaverse as it went.
Now no bigger than a man across.
Now no bigger than a beach ball.
Now no bigger than a grapefruit.
Now only a speck, hanging in the air.
"The Sampo." Maid TARDIS said. "Amber " She hesitated, looking at her pilot.
Florestan nodded, letting her continue.
"Amber sealed off the remaining connections between our world and the metaverse. The Outer Gods will be unable to open them again until the stars are right, and..." The Maiden allowed herself a private smile. "it will be quite some time, even as I measure such things, before they can manage that.
"Nyarlathotep placed much of himself within Typhon how else could he have set whole pantheons to flight? In destroying him, we have seriously wounded Nyarlathotep, destroyed a good part of his essence. Needs must he retrench, lick his wounds, before he can move again and the other Outer Gods will find themselves hard-pressed to open the gates without him."
"Rather anti-climactic," Magnus observed, "but such always tends to be the way with artifacts of such power."
"So, they're all busted and are definitely not coming back, right?" Gordon said.
"All except one." Dominic said, finally making his way over to the group.
"One?" Eloise said. "Oh no..."
"Oh, I don't think it's particularly dangerous Ayna clonked it one with a zaqqum-fruit to the head, and, well..."
"Who's a pretty girl then?"
Dominic winced. "You can hear for yourself."
Indeed they could.
The last Chaos Beast was currently perched on Ayna's shoulder, now apparently happy in its current form as a parrot.
She petted its head as it snuggled up against her.
"Who's a pretty boy then?" Ayna cooed. "Who's a pretty boy? Yes you are, yes you are..."
Third eyed Dominic. "Aren't you going to do something about that?"
"What would you suggest, 'old chap'?" Dominic returned, a trace of resignation in his voice. "At least this way both of them get pets of their own."
"Aren't you worried it'll... revert?"
"Here, have this," Ayna said, feeding the parrot a piece of zaqqum-fruit.
"...Not particularly," Dominic said with a sigh.
Florestan took in Allie, Sandra and Xeffy, a slight frown on his face. "It seems to me..."
"Don't ask," Dominic said, the sigh even heavier this time. "I'm not sure anyone could explain it..."
"Four daughters. Four. How do you deal with it?" Third inquired.
"Over nine hundred years, you learn a little patience." Dominic said. "A little patience... and a lot of meditative techniques."
"Ah." Third said in understanding.
"Er," said Bokman. He was practically dancing from foot to foot. "Er. Eloise..."
Ayna had almost vanished behind the crowd as the Hoedowners pressed in to satisfy their curiosity about her new pet even the Dragicorn, half-shrouding them all in her wings as she craned her silky neck above the others but the avocado troll was hanging back a little, out to one side as if lost, and it had seemed like a good moment to pass on his long-delayed warning. Now that he'd seen her face, he wasn't so sure.
But Eloise managed a smile. "Oh, Bokman, I'm so sorry. I won't let anything interrupt us this time I promise."
She looked up at him inquiringly, and Bokman, free at last to talk, found his tongue stitched fast to the roof of his mouth. The little hostess, normally so cheerful and stout-hearted, looked so weary behind her brave front... and, while he'd been wildly excited when he'd first worked out what must have happened, he'd had a long time since then to realise just what that was likely to mean to Eloise.
He swallowed. "Um. You know the Myth-Engine?"
Good start, there, Bok, his snide Inner Critic pointed out.
Ah shut up, Bokman retorted, conking the Inner Critic with the pair of metaphorical 16-ton weights he kept handy for the purpose, and squashing it flat.
"Listen," he told Eloise, everything he'd been planning to say coming
back in a rush, "when I was doing all that research on Myth-Engines I
found out a lot of things about how they would work. And I was thinking
about how Sweetheart lost her
He'd suddenly acquired a lot of attention. Assorted Authors, Muses and other guests had begun to gather round, and every single version of the Doctor in sight was staring at him with an alarming degree of concern.
"Well, go on!" urged the Fourth as Bokman hesitated, unnerved.
"The centre of a Myth-Engine " for a moment he didn't know how to explain "it's like a TARDIS. Only instead of a link to a black hole, it's all inside. It's like a pocket universe, but very, very tiny." he frowned. "Only also very, very big."
"Makes sense," Imran murmured. Gordon and Alryssa both fwapped him.
"That makes it superstable." Bokman was almost tripping over his words now, trying to get it out before there were any more interruptions. "And if it had been opened if it had come into contact with anything vaguely unstable "
"Like two souls in one body," Danik of Ruritania said. His fair hair, stained with zaqqum-juice, was standing up in spikes that resembled a rumpled Mohican; but there was nothing even remotely comic in the depths of his eyes.
Bokman blinked. "Um, I suppose so. I was thinking of that Xaos-creature, actually..."
"'If' " Imran prompted.
"If the Pilot had opened it before he was attacked and he must have "
Eloise nodded. She was hanging on his words with an almost painful anticipation.
" if he was anywhere near it when he was wounded if he was dying, about to regenerate, his morphic field wildly swinging then he would have been sucked in. Trapped inside it, body and all!"
There was general shock amongst the Hoedowners. "You mean all this time we've been searching for a transdimensional coffin?" Cameron exclaimed, and several other voices echoed him.
"No," Amanda interrupted before Bokman could speak. "No " But whatever she was trying to say, it was completely swamped as all the Doctors began to explain something at once, at top volume.
Bokman sighed. Took a deep breath. Summoned up the metaphorical 16-ton weights again... and dropped them in the middle of the courtyard with a tremendous clang.
"I'm saying that he's been in stasis all these years! all these hundreds of years!"
He took such a deep breath that he was practically hyperoxygenating, and waved his arms to get back everyone's attention. "If he was regenerating when he went in, then Sweetheart's first Pilot is still alive!!!"
There was a dead silence but not quite of the quality he'd been expecting. The Hoedowners were staring at him. So too was Eloise... but...
He followed the Doctors' gaze. Saw the way Eloise looked at Maid TARDIS; and Maid TARDIS at the tall, bearded stranger who stood so very close. Looked back at the heart of the castle, where, he remembered, the Myth-Engine now lay. Worked out something he'd missed, in all the chaos of the wyrm-banishing and Ayna's parrot.
His voice seemed to have gone very small all at once. "You mean Eloise "
And the Hoedown broke up into absolute joyous chaos as the stranger in their midst suddenly became the centre of disbelieving celebration, and everyone tried to shake the Time Lord's hand at once. For a moment the Pilot looked puzzled, even alarmed.
Gordon's grin was massive. "Florestan! Florestan!" It became a general chant, and someone proposed three cheers.
Eloise was smiling as broadly as anyone or at least, she was trying to, but it kept slipping out of place, like a hat that was a completely wrong size. And Bokman noticed Danik watching her, too...
He sounded as if he was murmuring something under his breath: "...between a captain and her Ship..."
"I got here after you. How would I know?"
"Ah, yes. Sorry. To be honest, I was merely talking to myself. Florestan was Sweetheart's old pilot, I think... he was killed by my old trousers. Or apparently not, since he seems to be alive now."
"So he was trapped inside the Myth Engine, held between life and death, waiting to be released..." Ana's tone was almost forcedly light, and there was definitely an undertone of some sort.
Danel looked at her and smiled gently. "Yes. Remind you of anyone else we know?"
She smiled back. "A certain muse of a scatterbrained writer?"
"A rather rude and somewhat excessively bossy Muse, who bullies her poor Writer dreadfully... if I recall correctly, and I might not. I am, after all somewhat... ah...?"
"That's the word!"
"Sweetheart? What is it?" Eloise said, before she could stop herself.
"It is... It is Amber." The Maiden blinked again. "She wants all of us to come to the Sampo's chamber.
"She has a decision she wants us to see."
"She wouldn't..." Ruthie began.
"No," Ana said, shaking her head. "No, she wouldn't. Not now."
"Then what ?" Ruthie began.
"I think we'd better find out, don't you think, hmm?" First said. "Now off we go!"
One by one, all eyes were drawn to the Sampo, and to Amber standing behind it.
Joe stood off to one side, watching it all.
"Thank you," Amber said formally.
Alryssa inclined her head.
Amber nodded, and took a deep breath. "The promise Electra made Alryssa still binds that she would allow me to decide what to do with the Sampo.
"And... I have made my decision."
Eloise held her breath... and caught sight of the expression on the Maiden's face, understanding dawning.
Understanding? she wondered. What did she tell her?
Amber's eyes glistened in the light, heavy with unshed tears.
She bowed her head.
A stray tear escaped her eye, trickling down her cheek.
For a moment, it hung in the air
and fell on the Sampo.
It was followed by another.
...the skies darkened, thick black clouds massing above, heavy with rain.
The clouds spread.
Within moments, they covered the USA from coast to coast.
And kept spreading.
Over the ocean... across Japan, China, Russia, Europe...
...until the northern hemisphere was blanketed in cloud.
Then they spread south, across Africa, India, South America, Australia, Antarctica...
...until cloud covered the entire planet.
...it began to rain.
She wept, for all she had lost, all that had passed.
She wept, for all she had done, and what she had become.
She wept until no more could come.
And on Earth, the rain trickled to a halt, the clouds breaking up, fading away...
She accepted it, and dabbed at her cheeks.
Then, she let free a long, shuddering breath.
And rested her hands on the Sampo.
"Milady?" she said quietly. "Milady Gaia?"
I am here, Firstborn.
They felt the presence, all around them, felt her awareness with them, as Gaia made herself known in but the tiniest fraction of her power.
"Milady Gaia, I would ask a boon of thee."
You have only to ask. Should it be in my power, I shall grant it.
"I ask..." Amber drew another long, shuddering breath. "My world is dead, milady, and there are none to Muse for. Yet my bond to Gallifreya holds me to it.
"I ask that I may Muse once more... but I am a Power, and to bond with mortal mind would be too much, for them as for me.
"I ask that I may Muse alongside your Nine, to bring to this world my inspiration."
You understand the price?
Amber nodded, her gaze falling on Alryssa.
"Yes, milady. I do."
Gallifreya, do you assent to this?
Alryssa nodded. "I do."
Name your domain.
Amber looked up.
"I choose... I choose folk tale, the stories of wonder. The stories about stories."
Then let it be done.
The clear, deep, pure chord sounded again, sounding and resounding until it seemed the very castle perhaps even the very worldlet must resonate with its tune.
Brilliant, beautiful light spilled forth, until they needs must close their eyes.
And then both faded, leaving only their images behind.
Amber let out one last, shuddering sigh, a sigh of relief, of freedom, as the last of the tension in her escaped.
"I thank you, Lady Gaia."
It is I who should thank you. You have brought Typhon down, once and for all,
sealed the Outer Gods away, for another cycle... it is but the least of what I
So permit me to allow you this.
So permit me to allow you this.
Alryssa's expression paled, and she staggered, clutching at her side.
Then she felt at it again, wonderingly.
It has been returned to you. The Judges of the Dead finally consented to its return. There was, perhaps, just the hint of a chuckle in Gaia's voice. It did take some argument, though.
Alryssa smiled ruefully. "Don't I know."
I thank you all for what you have done. It shall not go unforgotten, as long as
Fare thee well...
Fare thee well...
And then she was gone.
"I'm present when Lady Gaia is invoked and I don't even ask any questions," he says to himself. "I'm getting soft."
V sidles over to the reporter and pats him on the shoulder.
"You've always been a softie," she says. "You're a regular Stay-Puft marshmallow."
"Ah, shaddup," he says with mock gruffness.
Pulling out his notebook, Joe begins scribbling and muttering to himself.
"Through hell and heartbreak, an intrepid band of muses, authors and meddling Time Lords shook the very heavens and wreaked vengeance upon an evil ancient beyong reckoning ..."
"You made a typo," V said sweetly. "It's 'beyond' not 'beyong'. Thank the gods you're not a copy editor."
"Blow it out your ear, Nazi Muse," Joe said. "I'll fix it on the rewrite."
Magnus: "I suggest you take the thing and return it and the SKoLD to Nin-Adad."
Boreas: "Don't panic, the whatever it was is finished. Where do you want to be?"
Nin-Adad: "We always deliver, but we can get impatient. One minute or we leave you here."
Delta: "New York."
"Not quite," Amber interrupted him.
"There is one more thing that must be done and done now." Amber lifted up the still thrumming Sampo. From opposite sides of the chamber, Danik and Sweetheart's pilot gasped simultaneously.
Eloise looked more closely, to see what had elicited such a response. The masses of swirling, multi-colored lights were gone, fused now into a single cloud of white light, like a luminescent fog. And bobbing in the center of that cloud, like a cork in a gently flowing stream, was a second crystalline form that Eloise had not noticed before.
It was clearly a seed, and it was clearly sprouting. Young roots of pure light were already snaking their way toward the outer tendrils of the Sampo. And two young leaves, round and small, but glowing with a brilliance she could not have thought possible, were breaking out through the top.
"'Sampo,' 'Myth Engine'," Amber explained, "these were but poor metaphors, thought up by those who wished to use it for their own ends ... including myself," there was a hint of sorrow in her voice, not for that which she had lost, but for the wrongs she had done, "and neither are reflective of its true nature."
"Wh-what is its true nature?" Ruthie asked, shyly, but unable to contain her curiosity.
"This is a myth tree the living embodiment of creativity, from which even the Gods themselves must feed." Amber took a breath. "And it does not belong here. Before, it had been in a dormant state, but when I called upon it to create the wall between our universe and the metaverse, I woke the life forces within it. Gaia's presence, too, like a rain storm in a desert, quickened it. Once its leaves and roots break through the outer shell, mythic energy of a magnitude even I cannot fathom will be released. This world, and all the worlds connected to it, will be reverted instantly to a new beginning."
Carrie shuddered. "The universe will be rebooted," she said.
Amber nodded. "And then, unable to reach the cosmic waters it needs to survive, the tree will die."
Eloise felt sick. For the young tree had grown visibly since Amber had begun speaking. If it continued growing at the same rate, it was only a matter of minutes before the world as they knew it would disappear. To save the universe from Nyarlathotep only to face this fate... "What can we do?" she asked, quietly as if she were just mouthing her thoughts, and not meant to be heard.
"We must return it whence it came. Now."
"But do we have time?" she asked, more deliberately.
The maiden nodded. "I think so," she said. "I can create a temporal pocket to hold it, and slow its growth return it to a dormant state for a while... " She paused, looking into her pilot's eyes. "But it will take all of my strength. I'll have to end this worldlet and divert energy from the real world interface."
"Then we had better go into the vortex," he said, speaking English for the benefit of the others. "If your interface is not stable, it could cause risky interference with this dimension." His English was clear, but spoken with an accent unlike any Eloise had heard before, and she sensed that if he had visited Earth, it had not been any time in the recent past or near future.
She nodded, and took the Sampo from Amber, hefting it a little, between her hands. Maiden and Dragicorn stepped back to the crystal walls, becoming, as they did so, as transparent as crystal themselves.
The cavern seemed to loose its depth, as if it were a painted backdrop. Gradually, as that backdrop faded from view, it was replaced with the scene of a new room, dimly lit, and bare except for a single hexagonal column in the center. Eloise knew immediately that this was an image of Sweetheart's secondary console and realized that it wasn't the console as she had known it at all. Then, it changed. Just as the cavern had lost its depth, this new scene took it on, and became a real room.
"Bye, Sweetheart," Eloise said, quietly, hoping no one else could hear especially the little catch that she could not keep out of her voice.
The only answer was the familiar "tha-whump, tha-whump, tha-whump", as the TARDIS entered the vortex.