Kid Curry isn't happy about the idea of using his dreams to help bind the Gods...

'So... we'll have to time it precisely.' Eloise looked around. 'We need everyone - everyone - to keep their dreams in mind during the song battle. And then, when they make their final strike - after they've won or lost - we call upon Ma'at to judge them - and then we bind them.'

Kid Curry had stirred sharply as she spoke. The troll didn't know what she was asking --

Everyone. Everyone, she'd repeated, and the second time she'd looked straight at him as if she could see right into his mind.

Yeah, she'd meant what she'd said. Remember dreams -- all dreams --

So you fought to get back what's yours, her gaze told him clearly. Time enough to take it out, look it in the eye, maybe? For once in your life stand and face something where you can't just shoot and you can't run away?

He'd shot old man Landusky. He'd been blind mad, and maybe three parts drunk -- it was Christmas, after all. A man had to celebrate... and he'd been celebrating his own way in the bottom of a glass, down from the ranch in Jew Jake's saloon in that little raw mining town. Old man Pike had been a big name back in those parts -- big enough they'd named the town after him -- and his girl Elfie had been mighty pretty... and mighty empty in the head. Just the type Lonie went for; and that was the start of it all.

Maybe the Curry boys hadn't been too respectable, even back then -- but no way did that give old man Pike the right to cut up rough the way he had. So Lonie'd got the girl in trouble? Maybe he should have known better -- she sure should have known better -- but hell, there'd been shotgun weddings before.

There'd have been bad blood between them anyhow. He'd been in no mood for Landusky's moralising -- but if the old man'd taken a reasonable line... just maybe, once the dust had settled, he'd have wound up dragging Lonie to the altar himself to make a decent woman of the girl. No way had his little brother set out with marriage in mind -- he knew him well enough for that -- but it was about time that kid learned to take his own lumps for a change...

But Landusky hadn't wanted a wedding. Wouldn't have his precious daughter touch Lonie with a bargepole. He'd wanted to settle accounts -- teach the dirty lowlife scum to lay a hand on his little Elfie -- drag them through the mud and wring them out. He'd wanted trouble; and he'd got more than he'd bargained for by a long way.

You didn't pick a brawl with Kid Curry. Not then -- not ever. He'd been the smaller man in every fight of his life; but the other guy was always holding something back. Thinking; afraid to lose. Kid Curry fought all out. Fought dirty. Fought to win.

When Pike Landusky rolled up from the floor, one eye swollen shut and blood down his chin, and pulled a gun -- there was no way he was going to back down. Landusky's first shot went wide. He didn't get another.

Yeah, he'd shot old man Pike; and then he'd run away. Left town. Left the ranch. Left Montana. No way would he stand trial, not in a town with the name of Landusky, with pretty Elfie in the courtroom all dressed in black... As well be lynched for a sheep as a lamb.

He'd taken the outlaw trail. Taken to it like a duck to water. Killed, and killed again... forgotten faces, lost in the dust. It was Pike Landusky's features that swam up out of the night, bruised and bloody in that last moment before the gun went off --

He looked back at the avocado troll, eyes wide and steady.

Keep all dreams in mind, lady? You want that out there -- and the rest? You sure?

Eloise saw the question in his eyes, in the turn of his mouth, and nodded, ever so slightly.

Yes. Even your dreams, Curry.

She held his gaze until she saw the realization of what she meant settle in his eyes, then she turned her attention back to the questions flying around her as they tried to figure out what needed to be done and how they were going to do it, but part of her mind stayed on the question that Curry had silently raised..

Maybe they needed Curry's dreams -- his nightmares -- most of all. They were going to be making a binding -- twisting a rope from dreams. And it needed to be strong enough to bind a whole tribe of Gods.

Light and laughter and fluffy-bunny-cozy thoughts were all very well and good. But they were as useless, and as life-draining, as the Gods' of Ragnarok's un-energy, unless the heart was also open to suffering, and unafraid of the dark.

Joy, pure and simple, was the reason life itself existed. She was as sure of that as she was of her own tail-tuft. But that didn't mean it ever came easy. The reason a cactus root existed was to search out water in the desert, too -- and that means it has to go through some pretty dark, stony, hard ground before it finds any.

A binding... they were making a binding. Each person's dreams were like a single strand of hemp in a rope: twisting together one way, and then twisting again the other way -- the very elasticity of the strands, that threatens to unravel the rope, turned back upon itself to keep it together.

She remembered then, Gleipnir: the ribbon that held Fenris, the wolf of war. It would hold until the day of the real Ragnarok (unless, she thought, with a shudder, they lost the song battle). And it was woven together from six things: The dreams of a bear, the beard of a maiden, the sound of a cat's footfalls, the breath of a fish, the spittle of a bird -- and the roots of a mountain. For all its lightness and fantasy, its impossibility, it was grounded with darkness, and stone.

Yes, Curry, she thought again, we need your dreams in the mix, too.

And there was another reason to need his dreams, a more immediate one, specific to this battle: The Gods had tried to steal those dreams, tried to make them their own to use. Even though Curry had gotten them back, they would hold the memory of the Gods, the way a whisky glass held the fingerprints and the warmth of the hand that had held it. Those dreams had become part of the Gods' own story -- and that was the only thing they could not drain.

As Tessa, Yokoi and Allie showed off their costumes for the final act, Eloise felt that Curry was still watching her. She turned, and met his gaze again, briefly.

:::Remember, Curry,::: she thought at him, whether or not he heard those thoughts, :::there is always one bright side to nightmares: no matter how dark, how terrible, eventually, you wake up, and leave them behind:::

She let a smile grace her lips. Dawn was coming.

Someone collided with Kid Curry from behind. He swung round, instantly on edge, and found himself blinking back at a little yellow troll with what looked like an armful of feathers. The tips were tickling its nose. Purple freckles twitched helplessly, and the troll's eyes screwed up in one giant, unbalancing sneeze. Feathers went flying.

"Mmf." The troll had sat down backwards very firmly indeed.

Fortunately, it didn't have far down to go. For a moment, like a baby who has lost its balance, the little troll seemed poised between a surprised bawl and a gurgle of laughter; then its cheeks bunched up suddenly into helpless chuckles that spread to a grin a mile wide.

The outlaw turned to see what was so funny. Found no-one behind him. Turned back -- and felt the tweak of a feather at his collar. The sudden movement as he brushed it away unleashed a shower of brightly- painted quills from the rest of his clothes.

The yellow troll finally stopped laughing for long enough to help him pick them off. Hunkered down on his heels, trying to brush the sawdust off handfuls of long feathers, Kid Curry managed to retrieve the remainder of the load, feeling more than a little ridiculous. It was like someone had let off a shotgun and hit a turkey at close range...

He glanced round. It looked like there was some kind of grand parade planned. Half the original Hoedowners seemed to be milling around in the side-rings, and others of them were pushing their way through the audience. Beads and feathers were everywhere, and there was the muffled jangling of little bells.

The yellow troll pounced on the last stray feather -- almost losing the rest of its load at the crucial moment -- and scrambled back to its feet. For a second or two it looked him up and down, head on one side; then it trotted on its way. The glint of renewed laughter, as it glanced back over one shoulder, had flowered into the most infectious of grins.

Kid Curry stared after the little figure, frowning slightly; then shook his head and got to his own feet, moving somewhat cautiously after the first wince. The crowd swirled around him. Daibhid pedalled past in his three-wheeled bicycle contraption... and glanced back, looking distinctly surprised. And he wasn't the only one.

Something brushed stiffly against the outlaw's sleeve; something sticking out of his vest pocket. An incongruously bright gift against the weatherworn hide, the single jaunty feather lay nestled against his breast where the troll had tucked it.

Small wonder the others had been staring. Flushing, he snatched it out instinctively -- right now, he'd had feathers enough to last a lifetime -- about to let it spin to the ground. Let the Hoedowners dress up like some kind of raindance if they had a fancy that way; but they better not plan on making a bird-scare out of him...

He took a breath, mouth hardening, and held it -- and caught sight of the little ringmaster in the distance. Any minute now the show was due to start, and she was so busy she hardly knew which way to turn. The bright blue of her coat was almost swamped by the urgent crowd around her -- seemed everyone had a question, and somehow she was the only one they'd trust for the answers...

His set face never changed; but almost unconsciously, the hand that held the feather moved to tuck that gift back inside his vest, out of sight against his shirt. The outlaw looked away, over into the main ring -- and saw.

The pent-up breath hissed out of him as if the ground had come up to hit him in the guts.

Three of them, there in the ring. Gray, they were. Gray-skinned, like faces wrapped with smooth bark -- and they were hunched under great dusty cloaks, crouched up like roosting birds.

The faces were pretty, even, in a way. But they were empty, empty of all but a mindless hunger that shone from the slits of their eyes... and something else. Smeared across the gray blankness, like a mockery of the Contessa's pain.

Years beyond counting; creatures ancient beyond bearing, beyond all belief. Nothing left, but the craving for life at all costs. To survive.

Without willing it, his own gaze was drawn into that blind stare. By what he saw there. By the cold understanding...of the echo of himself.

"Those are Sirens?!"

A sharp breath somewhere close by. Elsewhere, a half-stifled scream.

The nearest Siren shifted, under her feathery cloak. Bent down to grasp something beneath her feet. Cracked the white arm-bone between dainty, pointed teeth. She licked the marrow delicately, savoring the taste, watching them. Watching the Muses.

The four-toed foot that had held the bone was gray and scaly, tipped with long, blunted claws.

As Allie and Tessa ran off to get their own outfits, they passed Mags who had, in her arms, what looked to be a pile of folded blankets. "Speaking of outfits," she said, "I thought some of the dancers could wear these." She carefully lay the pile on the edge of TYA's stage, and unfolded the top bundle.

Eloise gasped. What she had taken to be blankets were actually long robes, appliqued from hem to hem with stylized feathers -- of every kind of fabric, from silk to wool, to gold lame, even denim. But as a fringe, along the bottom hem, hung real gryphon feathers -- snow white, gold, russet and brown, emerald and sapphire, and rainbow.

"These were worn by some of our acrobats, for our own big finales," Mags explained, "back in when this circus was at its peak, back when the gryphons sometimes joined the act. I think this one here might fit Yartek .. It was Osetak's robe, and he was particularly tall."

She handed the robe to the leader of the Voord, who bowed deeply as he took it. Then a few of the others came forward to collect their robes. Those who were uncomfortable with either their singing or dancing abilities accepted the kazzoos and party noisemakers handed around by deputy trolls and roustabouts.

Nyctolops and Cameron, who weren't quite built for the wearing of robes, opted to wear crowns of gryphon feathers (or, to be more accurate in Cameron's case, a collar), and anklets of sleigh bells. The Second and Eighth Doctors took up positions at the circus's calliope and midi keyboard, respectively.

There was a brief bustle of activity as all the hoedowners experimented with and traded their instruments, tried on the robes, and generally took their places.

Then, there was a shift in the air.

Eloise couldn't put her finger on whether it was a chill or if the lights went dim for a split second. But there was a definite shift.

Sweetheart flattened her ears and trotted out of the ring as if someone had cracked a whip on her rump. And the roustabout left the ring in a similar manner.

The message was clear: The Powers That Be were tired of waiting.

The lights in the big top went out. A single spotlight shone on TYA's stage. The three muses, one phantasm, and one siren began to sing in unison:

Every life is a tale to tell --
Each has a song to sing!
For every hero yet unsung,
we'll help Love and Freedom
spread their wings.

And the eighth Doctor played along on the keyboard, directing each musical patch to a different speaker around the big top. From the east, came the sound of chimes, the south, a trumpet, the north, a French horn, from the west, an English horn, and from a speaker suspended below the cupola, a choir. The dancers moved slowly in a circle, swaying slightly in rhythm with the music, as if mesmerized.

Then Allie started singing alone, with the musical line of the chimes to accompany her. Tessa followed, with the trumpet. Then Yokoi joined in, and Sandra. As each new voice entered the song, a surprising, syncopated rhythm emerged -- moving from fast to slow and back again in waves. Now the dancers really began to dance, slapping their heels down to accentuate the new rhythm. Bells on ankles and wrists, and tambourines shaken in the air magnified that rhythm. Then Zephy led those still in the audience to sing. Eloise was afraid, with all that was going on, many would lose their place, and it would all sound like mud.

But guided by the siren, and the stronger singers in the seats, the audience stayed pitch (and rhythm) perfect.

Silence and Yartek, each in a long feather robe, moved to the center of the circle. They spread their arms in wing-like fashion, circling each other, personifying Love and Freedom.

Then the magic started. Eloise's heart skipped several beats as she watched it happen, but she kept on singing.

Light reflected off silver bells and jeweled gryphon feathers, sending beams -- no -- threads of light high into the big top canopy, where they hung, suspended. Darker threads twisted among them (the nightmares, Eloise suspected, of Curry and the others). But rather than blotting out the light, as the Gods' unenergy would have done, it seemed only to make the light brighter in contrast, stronger.

It was working. The net was being woven.

She could feel the Gods' growing frustration. But she could not hear them. As dark and as terrible as they were, they were simply outnumbered. There were just too many voices on the pro-fun side.

But then the voices in the round began to drop out, one by one, until only the audience was singing.

Would TYAS be able to shift to their diva song in time, before the last measure of the song ended, so there wouldn't be even a moment of silence? And what were the magic words they had in their heads?

Tessa, Yokoi, Allie and Sandra take a deep (mental) breath...

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