Calliope allowed herself a private smile.
If the Council had known of this one - if her sisters had known of this one - they would have levelled Olympus itself to get to her.
Pride, and wounded pride, Calliope thought. We cannot let ourselves be bested, cannot let even the thought that someone dared, go forgotten. Yet once we knew that someone could...
She shook her head.
They still remembered, even after all this time. Remembered those who had dared to challenge the Muses Themselves.
They could not allow it again.
But Allie - one of Calliope's own, of Subreality's own, the girl's own sister - had asked that she be guarded, that she be protected.
And for the memory, for the memories of silence and screams, Calliope had done so. Shielded the child from Them.
Had told the child of her heritage, her legacy. How it had come to pass that she was what she was, the first born in millennia.
And then, when all was done, she had discharged her duty, relinquished her task. The child was safe, would be safe, under her family's eye.
But the child was of Subreality, Muse-born, though not a Muse... and as such, under Calliope's aegis.
And under her Mother's.
Should the Council learn - should her sisters learn... ah, but that was a tale for another time.
She took a sip of tea, and permitted herself another smile.
Then she opened the file, and began reading.
Name: Xephanya, shortened to Xeffy, Xeffie, Xephy, Zeffy, Zephy, or Xeph. Since they're all pronounced similarly - 'Zeff-ie' - Xeffy doesn't mind which one gets used. Well, not too much.
('Dad says he was taking the piss out of Musely naming convention.
Also known as: The Brat From Hades, Teen Queen.
('Call me a teenage siren, and you'll be picking your teeth from up off the floor. I /read/ "Lolita", thanks so much.')
Apparent Gender: Female. ('Apparent? Does that mean-? Ew...')
Apparent Species: Subreal human - Xeffy's not a Muse, though most of her family are. She's not really interested in the idea, either.
First Fanfic Appearance: Walk-on in "Both Sides of the Tracks", full appearance in "The Night the Stories Went Dark".
Writer's Name: N/A (Introduced by Imran Inayat. At least, I think I did - I have the sneaking feeling she's always been lurking in Allie's background...).
Origin: Xeffy was born to a family of Muses in Subreality; her mother died when she was eight. In 2001, Xeffy learned that her grandmother had marked her descendants with a divine gift - in Xeffy's case, the Sirens' gift. With her sister Allie's acceptance of a job with a 'Doctor Who' writer, Xeffy and her Elseworlds counterpart Ayna are currently wreaking havoc in the This Time Round subverse...
Physical Appearance: Xeffy is a classic gawky girl-child, with the confidence that comes from being twelve years old and knowing what's going on ('Crap. Still haven't managed to shake that').
She's five feet tall, with blue-grey eyes, ('comes from Dad's side of the family'), and long brown hair, usually tying some of it in a braid and letting the rest flow free.
Her dress sense is best described as 'casual teenager' - she usually throws something on from whatever she can find in her wardrobe, so she can end up wearing anything from halter-tops to T-shirts, jeans, slacks, dresses, and trainers ('Hey! I can get dressed up, you know!').
Personality: Xeffy and her sisters do care about each other, but her sisters often treat her as the baby of the family, as someone who needs to be protected or yelled at - a position Xeffy both loves and hates, so she's doing the best she can to hold on to the best of it, and cut the worst.
She can shift from reckless enthusiasm to teenage cynicism to maturity and seriousness as the situation demands - especially if her sisters are in danger - and is learning how to integrate the best in all the outlooks. However, she's not about to stop teasing her sisters - or Imran.
Anything Else?: Associates - Allie (elder sister, Muse), Sandra (elder sister, phantasm), Dominic (father, History Muse), Jacqueline (aunt, Subreality traveller), Ayna (Elseworlds counterpart), Chloe (penfriend).
Enemies ('I'm twelve. I don't have that many enemies...') - Ellia (Allie's Elseworlds counterpart), the original Sirens ('Because they want me to become like them. BorgXeffy. Not good, not good...')
Special Abilities - Xeffy is a true Siren, a girl able to communicate, and be understood, at accelerated speed, with or without words; to bring others' feelings and memories to the fore; and the Siren talent, to call anyone who hears her sing - even if they're on the other side of a dimensional portal...
The Sirens were...
...the remnants of a pre-Olympian cult, assimilated into the victors' mythology...
...the daughters of Achelous, eldest of the children of Oceanus and Tethys, spawned from his blood when Hercules broke off his horn...
...the daughters of Achelous and one of the Muses - Calliope, Melpomene, or Terpsichore, sisters - or cousins - to Orpheus...
...ordinary girls, cursed by Aphrodite for renouncing the pleasures of love...
...cursed by Demeter, for allowing her daughter Persephone to be abducted by Hades...
...gifted by Demeter, asking for wings that they might search for Persephone...
...challenged the Muses to a contest, to see who were the better singers. The Muses won, and took the Sirens' feathers to make their crowns...
...tempted the crew of the 'Argo', as they sought the Golden Fleece, but Orpheus's songs proved sweeter than theirs, and, thwarted, they threw themselves into the sea...
...tempted Odysseus's crew, but the wily trickster had ordered his crew to block their ears with beeswax, and tie him to the mast, that he might hear their song. Thwarted, they drowned themselves...
Any - and all - of these might be true; no, must be true.
Such is the way of myth.
Such is the way of Subreality.
But what is recorded is that one time...
...one time, they came back.
The Sirens who had lost their feathers to the Muses, who had tempted Odysseus himself, came back.
For the soul of a new Siren..
A true Siren, born to the Muses.
Born to those who had defeated them, so long ago.
The Sirens were - had become - empty, hollowed out.
Hollowed out by century upon century of famine, of never-ending hunger.
And when the dark powers came to them - beings who were hunger, who knew nothing but -
- powers that sought the end of all that is, was, and will be -
- they accepted the powers' offer gladly.
A new Siren, to join them in their eternal chorus.
A single soul. A Siren's soul.
In return... the defeat of those who would stand against the powers, 'gainst the hungry gods, that was the powers' price. Defeat them, and the Siren would be theirs.
But the Sirens were thwarted once more.
Thwarted by the Muses, who protected her. By the Writers, who stood with her. By the Doctor, who championed her.
And by the Siren herself, who renounced them.
They had lost. They had truly lost.
And in that loss came freedom -
- and the key to the defeat of the hungry ones.
Where the Sirens are now, no one knows, save perhaps for the Fates.
But they are gone, beyond the ken of god or man.
But what of the new Siren? The one they had dared so much to gain?
'Xephanya.' Dominic confirmed. 'And don't drop her.'
Alisandra looked at the baby girl in her arms.
Big, blue-gray eyes looked back at her, taking her in.
'WAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!' Xephanya wailed.
'I DIDN'T EVEN TOUCH HER!!' Alisandra wailed.
'Let me take her,' Dominic said, taking his youngest daughter in his arms.
She immediately hushed.
'Oh dear...' Dominic murmured. 'Sandra... take her again, will you?'
'DON'T DO THAT!!'
Dominic took Xephanya back.
She hushed again.
Dominic looked at Alisandra's tear-stained face, then at Xephanya, resting quietly in the crook of his arm.
'Elle, I think we have a problem...'
Sandra and Xephanya turned as their father leaned against the door.
'...I... I'm not sure quite what to say, but... Sophie, your Granny Sophie... she's gone.'
'Gone where?' Sandra asked. 'Like Auntie Jackie?'
Dominic shook his head. 'No. Not like Jackie... she's gone, and she's not...' He closed his eyes. 'not coming back.'
'She's...' Sandra shaped her mouth around the word. 'She's... gone?'
Xephanya watched them both, her big eyes unblinking.
'Granny?' Sandra mouthed.
Dominic nodded again.
Xephanya turned her gaze to her sister.
'Come here, Xeph...' Sandra finally said. 'Come on.'
Xephanya toddled over to her sister, and plonked herself down in front of her.
Sandra looked at her for a long moment.
Then she stood up, and took Xephanya's hand.
'Sandra?' Dominic asked quietly.
'I...' Sandra looked down. 'I... I want her here. She should be here. With Mum.'
Dominic closed his eyes, and nodded.
Then he led them downstairs.
When Xeffy woke up, there was a silver cat sitting at the foot of her bed.
She stared at it.
It stared back at her, licking a paw as it did so.
'Here, puss puss.' Xeffy tried. 'Here, puss...'
The cat regarded her with infinite disdain reserved for people that called it "puss". It was, it seemed to suggest, not a "puss" type of cat.
Xeffy's eyes narrowed. There was something familiar about this cat...
'You know,' she said conversationally, 'you know who you remind me of? My big sister Allie. She doesn't like it when people call her somethin' she doesn't wanna be called by. Like callin' her Sandra. She hates that...'
She smiled evilly. 'I'll call you Sandra, huh? That way, she won't have anything to complain about, will she? How about it, Sandra?'
The cat glared at her, and morphed into Allie.
'Smart-mouthed brat.' Allie grumbled.
'If you're gonna start turning into a cat, can you at least not turn into a cat from out of that video of yours?' Xeffy asked. ' 'Cause that-' She traced a crescent symbol on her forehead. '-that's a big giveaway.'
'I'm working on it.' Allie muttered. 'I'm working on it...'
'Alisandra, stop that!' Elle ordered.
The thirteen year old scowled. 'Why? She screams enough as it is.'
Xeffy glared up at her big sister. 'Mum said to stop that, Allie.'
'Yes...' Allie acknowledged. 'but she didn't say to stop doing this.'
She picked up some seaweed, and slipped it down the back of Xeffy's swimsuit.
'YAAAHH!! ALLIE, I'M TELLING!!'
Elle buried her face in her hands.
Dominic chuckled. 'You knew this would come with the package, Elle...'
'Don't remind me,' Elle said, as she took Xeffy into her arms, and fished out the seaweed. 'There you go. There you go, sweetheart...'
Allie opened her mouth.
'Sit.' Elle ordered.
'Sit. I don't want to hear another word from either of you. Sit down, and listen to your radio.'
Allie grumbled, but complied.
Xeffy smirked in triumph.
Xeffy backed away from the bed. 'Mum? Mum, say something...'
Dominic reached forward-
-closed his wife's eyes, for the final time.
No... no, please...
He rested his hands on his daughters' shoulders, guided them from the room.
Xeffy looked back.
...Please, wake up.
Say you're sorry for scaring us, promise us you're not done yet...
....but please wake up.
'I must confess
That my loneliness
Is killing me now,
Don't you know I still believe...'
Xeffy hummed as she came downstairs.
The front door closed as Allie came in, an envelope held tightly in her hand.
'Hey, Al. Good day today?'
'Not... not today, Xeph.' Allie murmured. 'Dad around?'
Xeffy held. 'Al... what's up?'
'Xeph.' Allie said quietly.
'He popped out to do the shopping.' Xeffy said. 'Allie... what's wrong?'
'I can feel him...' Allie murmured. 'I can feel him, I'm remembering him, I'm remembering his memories... he can't feel me, he doesn't know, not yet, but I know, I know him... maybe better than he knows himself... I see how he works, how he does it, I know... I know what to do to encourage him...'
'To write!' Xeffy quickly closed her mouth.
Allie nodded silently.
'Is that the Licence...?'
Allie shook her head. 'No... no, not yet, not yet. "Work experience", she said. "You're on leave from the Collegium...", not official, hardly official, I have to keep checking in... all the responsibility, but none of the perks...'
Xeffy looked at her sister, then headed for the kitchen.
'Bedroom. Upstairs. Go.'
Xeffy pushed her way into her bedroom. 'Actually, I meant your bedroom, but this'll do...'
Allie was seated cross-legged on the bed.
Xeffy handed her a tub and spoon. 'Here. Ice cream. Eat. Blab.'
Allie stared blankly at the spoon. 'Hnh?'
'One of the perks of having a sister. Commiseration over ice cream.' Xeffy said, swallowing a mouthful of vanilla ice cream. 'Now spill.'
Allie half-smiled. 'O-kay...'
"Missed you... Missed you so much..."
"I'd die before I let you die."
"NO! NO, YOU WILL NOT TAKE HIM!"
"Won't let nobody hurt you
I'll stand by you..."
The adolescent Siren looked up, eyes blurry.
Imran hunkered down in front of her. 'Xeffy? Are you okay?'
Xeffy let out a long, shuddering breath. 'If I said "no", would that make you feel any better?'
'Not really.' Imran said.
'There's... there's this voice in the back of my head now, I call her Anya... sounds like me, but in about like, twenty years, I dunno - but she sounds like me, just that more cynical, that more sceptical...' Xeffy's face twisted. 'And I'm thinking - is that how I would've sounded if the Sirens'd got me? Or would I sound worse... I'm thinking that, but it's not what I'm really thinking.
'I'm thinking 'bout Granny Sophie, 'bout what she did to us... and now I know what she did to us...'
Imran listened, saying nothing.
'She fell in love.' Xeffy shook her head. 'She fell in love. She fell in love with her Writer... nothing wrong in that, but then he fell ill, caught a pox...
'...and there was nothing she could do. She couldn't interfere. She wanted to interfere...
'So she went to Calliope.... yelled at her, screamed at her, to let her interfere, to meddle just this once, save his life...
'Calliope turned her down flat.
'She tried again and again. And Calliope turned her down, every time.
'She tried everything she could, every spell she could find, every magic she could do...
'By then, the others saw what was happening, what she was doing - the /lengths/ she was going to...
'...but they didn't know how far...
'...One night, she came to him, came to her Writer.
'Drew on her power, on what she was... and then beyond.
'Drew on her Archetype, on Wisdom herself.... drawing on her power to save him, and Wisdom fought, fought so much, because this went too far, went beyond the limits...
'And she succeeded. She succeeded. For a moment, for a moment... she stopped him from dying, kept him from the Underworld, from the Judges of the Dead. Kept him with her, beyond his time...
'...and then she let him go. She couldn't hold him, hold Wisdom, any longer. Not and not corrupt either of them to her will...
'But she had held him.... and the Judges of the Dead knew what she had done. The Judges, and the Archetypes...
'And nine months later, she had Mum.'
Imran closed his eyes.
Zeus gives birth to Athena after swallowing Methis. Sophie gives birth to Elle after taking in her Writer...
The myth-pattern repeats.
'That's where we get it from.' Xeffy said quietly. 'Why Al's a shapeshifter, why I'm a Siren... Mum could walk into the Underworld, did you know? That was her thing, Persephone's thing, 'cause of herDad, of what Sophie did.
'That's why they wanted me. Because of what she did...'
'Shhh...' Imran said softly. 'Sh... It's okay now. It's okay. It's over.'
Imran nodded. 'It is.'
Xeffy let out a deep breath. 'But we have to live with the consequences...'
'We always live with consequences, good and bad. What happens next is what you make of them.'
Xeffy cocked her head. 'It is, isn't it? Anya said that, too...' A slow smile spread across her face. 'We won. We won, and we saved the omniverse. Hey, we might have been fighting to keep afloat - but we did, and we won. I think that's something to feel good 'bout...'
'Uh-oh.' Imran said. 'GET DOWN!'
The duo dived as a cheesecake splattered overhead, followed by a chorus of giggles.
'O-kay...' Xeffy said, her voice slightly muffled by the floor. 'No more Miss Nice Siren. Those guys have it coming...'
'Mmm. Now that's good.' Xeffy said, through a mouthful of battered fish.
'I thought so,' Imran said.
'Y'know, you can't get fish and chips in Subreality for anything.'
'No-one's thought of introducing them.'
Imran winced. 'Ow. I just flashed on the Subreality Cafe as a chip shop. Ow. Ow.'
Xeffy grimaced. 'Thanks so much. Now I won't be able to get that out of my head all night.'
'You're telling me...' Imran said. 'Ayna? Enjoying it?'
#Mmm...# Ayna hummed. #Mmm... fish... melty...#
'It is Homer-worthy, isn't it?' Xeffy said. 'All that fat and salt and carbohydrate and vinegar... mmm...'
'And once more, we have proof that teenagers are powered by junk food.' Imran observed wryly. 'Not criticising or anything - it got me through university...'
#Um... not that I'm being personal or anything, but how does a university student get to pay for, um... anything?#
Imran grinned. 'Think of it like '30s Hollywood - the studios are making a reasonable amount, but sometimes, they need a little more money - so they dip into the Author Mafia bankroll. Don't let anyone say crime doesn't pay, because it does - we all dip into the piggy bank sooner or later. In return, we just have to hive off some of the profits from our productions back to them. Everybody's happy.'
'So why d'you join it, anyway?'
'Automatic. This is an offer you cannot refuse - writing and releasing a story gets you enrolled instantly. And once you're in, you're in for life. Even if you've forgotten about it... they don't forget you.'
'Does that mean Allie's your moll?' Xeffy asked innocently.
Imran winced again. 'Don't give her ideas... she's having fantasies of me as an angst pusher...'
'Well, you do write good angst...' Xeffy said.
Imran tried to read Xeffy's innocent expression for a trace of irony, and failed.
'Can you imagine it? Showdowns in the streets of Outside. Gangs fighting it out for their slice of the territory, fighting it out to see who's top dog. Mooks falling like skittles. Cadillacs, tommy-guns, and guys going "ya dirty rat"...'
Imran thought for a moment. 'Nah. Sounds like your average night at the Round...'
Ayna grinned. #It does, doesn't it?#
Xeffy matched her, grin for grin. 'Then I wanna be Jimmy Cagney. Y'think I could pull it off?'
'Not without a lot more stubble.' Imran observed.
Imran took a chip from Xeffy's portion, and pointed it at Xeffy and Ayna. 'You're under arrest!'
Xeffy mock-gasped, and staggered back. 'You'll never take me alive, ya skunk!' She pulled out a chunk of fish, and aimed it at Imran. 'Stick 'em up!'
Ayna wielded her own chunk of cod. #Reach for the skies!#
'Well, well... looks like we have a standoff, don't it? Drop the weapons, and no-one gets hurt...'
'Against two armed and deadly criminals? We'll do it together...'
All three of them slowly lowered their weapons.
Then Xeffy threw her piece of cod at Imran. 'Hah! Gotcha!'
'You're... coming... down... with me...' Imran gasped. 'Bang! Bang!'
Ayna staggered back. #Ah! I've been hit!#
'You'll pay for this!'
Imran half-smiled. 'We'll see who pays...' He picked up a fragment of cod, and hurled it at Xeffy.
Xeffy jerked, then fell to the ground. 'Ya dirty rat!'
'Never said I was anything else...' Imran got out.
#Top of the world, Ma-#
'-Top of the world...!'
The three of them looked at each other from their prone positions, and started laughing.
'Come on,' Imran said, helping Ayna and Xeffy up. 'Time I was getting you home.'
Ayna looked at her piece of cod thoughtfully.
Then a mischievous grin spread across her face. #You know, we haven't got anything for Sandra and Allie...#
Imran slowly smiled. 'No. No, we haven't... What do you think? Extra-large portions?'
Xeffy grinned. 'Let's do it.'
Calliope shook her head.
Had she allowed it, had she permitted Sophie to transgress her bounds...
But she had not, had she? And in denying Sophie /that/, had made it clear where the boundaries lay. Had not relented, had not weakened. Had denied Sophie's devotion to serve the Muses. A paradox - devotion must be betrayed to serve devotion.
Muses, by their very nature, were personal, passionate, beings. Again and again, she saw it happen, saw a Muse fall in love with their Writer. And she could no more ask Eros to stop than she could call Apollo from the sky.
Like the Captain. Like Beverly.
They fell in love... but they could not - rather, should not, she corrected herself - interfere, except as it regarded Inspiration. They could not take action beyond that... for their domain was clearly marked, and to step beyond...
They could inspire anything, inspire, encourage, comfort, support, be there, when their Writers needed... but they could not do anything else. Could be there in heart, in mind... but no more. Not in Reality.
But in Imagination, in Subreality... there, they did have power, as they wished... but only to affect Imagination. Anything else came from their own nature, not from the Muses...
There was a reason for that, a reason they rarely saw.
There were other powers, other forces, beyond Calliope. 'Demigoddess' she called herself, and such she was. But she would not interfere in the duties of other gods. In their business, in their politics... there, she could, for that was a matter of the gods.
But to meddle in their duties was to interfere with the Writers' lives. And that was one line she would not cross.
Her duty was to the Artists they worked with, and to the Muses themselves. And that, she would hold onto with her last breath.
For everything she had. And for everything she had lost.
She breathed out, and set the file aside.
Another time, perhaps.
Disclaimer: This Time Round is Tyler Dion's. Calliope was introduced to Subreality by Yasmin M - and she went public. Subreality is Kielle's, and the Collegium is Farli's (also public domain). The Captain is Yasmin M's, and Beverly is Obsidian Butterfly's. All other characters (including me) are mine.
The chunk of song Xeffy sings in 2000 is Britney Spears' 'Baby, One More Time'. The chunk of song in 2001 is the Pretenders' 'I'll Stand By You'.
The Calliope Files concept was D^Knight's (Damien Kellis).
Chronological note: The 2000 part is set shortly after the flashback in 'Musings' - Allie's just been placed on Muse Work Experience. The 2001 part is set in the aftermath of 'The Night The Stories Went Dark', aka the Second Annual Pro-Fun Hoedown (the lines in double quotes in that part are all lines from the story). The 2002 part is set between my TTR story 'Maybe Some Other Time' and 2001's Adric Awards.
Summary: It's Little Sister's turn now...
Copyright 2002 Imran Inayat