Disclaimer: All non-real world characters in this story are the creation of my strange and demented mind. I really don't mind you using them as long as you ask first. This story may contain references to heterosex, homosex, horse-sex (minds out of the gutter, people), murder, mayhem, magic, Atlantis, assassins, and America-bashing (hey, I'm Canadian, it's what we do!). I guess maybe a 14-A for sex, R for violence. If you are violently offended by any of these, well, I'm not forcing you to read this at gunpoint (hey, I'm Canadian, I don't even own a gun!). Go read something else. The title comes from a song of the same name by Enigma. (With whom I have absolutely no official connection. Honest. They wouldn't know me from Adam.)
This is my first story to be read widely by people outside my own family, so any feedback, suggestions, or constructive criticism would be gladly received. Really nasty comments will be returned to sender (possibly several times, depending on how nasty they are).
Author's Note (revised): Chapters 1 & 2 are revised versions of the parts I posted a few weeks ago. Nothing has changed in terms of the story, just corrections to my minimal French ability - merci beaucoup to Keagan for your timely and kindly offered expertise ;-). I'm sure all my French readers are blessing you for saving the language from my butchery. Other than that, only a few minor corrections (thanks, Pam, for reminding me that the German head of state is the Chancellor) and an extended description of le Centre de la Vieille Charité (once again thanks to Keagan).
And now, without further ado:
"This power came forth out of the Atlantic Ocean, for in those days the Atlantic was navigable; and there was an island situated in front of the straits which you call the Columns of Hercules; the island was larger than Libya and Asia put together, and was the way to other islands and from the islands you might pass through the whole of the opposite continent which surrounded the true ocean… Now, on the island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire, which had rule over the whole island and several others…
"But afterward there occurred violent earthquakes and floods, and in a single day and night of rain all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared, and was sunk beneath the sea."
"Dans les nouvelles locales, Son Altesse Royale Evelyne Sophia Al-Heru de Molay, récemment couronnée Princesse d'Atlantis, continue sa tournée européenne. Son Altesse et son entourage sont arrivés à Marseille dans la soirée d'hier, et, aujourd'hui à midi, la Princesse se rendera au Centre de la Vieille Charité, où elle visitera le Musée d'Archéologie Méditerranéen en compagnie du maire, M. Dubois. Après quoi, ils assisteront à un banquet donné en l'honneur de la Princesse au Palais de Longchamp…" The radio continued on.
"Hmm, let's see, that was about Queen… no, wait… Princess… someone-or-other, from… Atlantis… is touring a museum in a charity centre with a… forest? No, Dubois is the Mayor, right? She's going to meet the Mayor!" The tall, casually dressed woman looked out from under a mop of dark brown hair and grinned triumphantly at her companion across the small café table. She was dressed quite conservatively in a T-shirt and shorts that came to mid-thigh, in comparison to most of the other women in the vicinity. Around them, tourists and locals alike bustled endlessly along the Marseilles waterfront in the warm sunshine. "See, Chorus? Je comprends plus de français tous les jours!"
The stocky black man sitting across from her grinned back, displaying brilliant white teeth. "Bien Alléandre. Et ton accent s'améliore aussi." He then rattled off several sentences in rapid French, grinning even wider as Alleandre's expression shifted from triumphant to baffled, and finally to a petulant scowl.
"I hate it when you do that," she complained. "It's not fair. Anywhere we go, we're there two weeks and you can talk like a native. You're a freak, you know that right?"
Chorus' eyebrows rose. "Hey, it took me three weeks to learn Thai! Besides, you're one to talk, zarbi! Just because I'm a savant ..."
"Idiot savant," came the muttered interjection.
"— there's no reason to be insulting. Besides, would you wanna trade?"
This question inspired an emphatic headshake.
"Good, then shut up. So, what do you think? Do you want to go visit a museum? I read that that one they were just talking about on the radio has a really good exhibit. And, hey, if we get there around noon, we'll be in a position to ogle some royalty. It'll do you some good to fantasise about being some princess' knight in shining armour, chérie."
Alleandre winced. "I dunno if I want to go ogling right now. I mean, Annie ..."
"Damnit, fuck Annie. Or don't fuck Annie. She broke up with you. While you were on the other side of the planet from her, no less. Now, you are going to come with me to this museum thing." Chorus rose, dropping a handful of bills on the table. "Ogling is optional." He pointed imperiously up rue de l'Evêché. "Allez, Ally!"
Alleandre dragged a hand through her short chocolate-coloured hair. "All right, all right, I'll go! Just don't say that anymore. It's really annoying. What's 'zarbi', anyway?"
"Highness." A whisper.
"Highness." Slightly louder.
A nose twitched.
"Highness." Normal voice.
"Mmph. Glrbft." Another nose twitch.
An eyebrow rose in a wrinkled face. "Very well, Your Eloquence," the owner of both eyebrow and face muttered. A deep breath.
"EVELYNNE SOPHIA AL-HERU DEMOLAY!"
Instantaneous response. Dark blue eyes opened wide as the elegantly dressed young woman suddenly sat up straight in her chair. "Aye! Oui! Yes! Si! I'm here. Huh?" Tired, heavily eyeshadowed lids blinked sleepily.
"Your hair and makeup are completed, Highness," the only other person in the lavishly appointed hotel room, an older, simply dressed woman, explained.
"Right. Hair. Makeup. What?" Evelynne directed a still-dazed look at her governess.
Maîda sighed. "Everything is ready, Highness. The procession will be leaving in a quarter-hour. We must head for the car, now."
Evelynne closed her eyes one more time and took a deep breath, praying for oxygen to kick-start her system. A brisk headshake to clear her mind was brought up short by an unfamiliar weight. One eye cautiously opened to peer at her image in the large gilt mirror in front of her chair. A mass of flame-red hair had been elaborately coifed into a pile on top of her head. Several jewelled pins held it in place, and Evelynne knew from experience that nothing short of a tornado would ruin Maîda's masterpiece. Not even the weight of the coronet which, since her recent turning of nineteen, Evelynne was now legally entitled to wear.
Below the hair, both almond-shaped eyes, a legacy of Evelynne's Egyptian grandmother, now opened to see the full effect. Her lightly tanned face was surprisingly free of freckles, another gift from her grandmother. Brilliant blue eyes were currently surrounded by a heavy layer of kohl designs, more to hide the dark rings under them than for any real desire for makeup. Her lips were covered in an equally dark shade, with small designs at the corners of her mouth, which gave the impression of a quirk of a smile. Below the face, a dark blue dress started at the shoulders, showing just a hint of cleavage, and ran down to the ankle, and though Evelynne's genius of a tailor had assured her that it would be as comfortable as possible to walk in, she was still dreading the prospect. Still, aesthetically Evelynne had to admit the arrangement was quite pleasing.
She looked up into Maîda's pleased face. "It looks good, Maî-ma. Do I still have to do this? Can't we get you a wig and you can go in my place? Nobody will know the difference."
Maîda snorted at this blatant untruth. "And when Sir Arthur asks where all of these wrinkles came from, Highness? Not to mention the extra thirty kilograms? What should I tell him?"
"Tell him I fell asleep in the bath. On my face. And say the weight's from that vile pickled cabbage Chancellor Herzog gave me in Germany."
Maîda snorted again. Maîda was a master of the snort. She used them as a language. This one clearly said, Not likely, princess. In Lantlan, she said, "No, Highness."
Evelynne scowled. "Please?"
This time Evelynne's eyes opened wide and round, complete with a just barely fluttering lower lip. "Please?"
The puppy-dog eyes disappeared. "If you do, I won't have you executed."
"You cannot execute me until you are crowned, Highness."
"Damn. I'll give you Delset province."
"You gave me that last time, Highness."
"Kerranna province, then."
"I'm sorry, Highness, you still have to go."
Evelynne sighed heavily. "I've been going for two weeks. Why should I keep going?"
"I'll give you Delset province, Highness."
Colonel Sir Arthur Ramirez, Knight of the Temple and Master of the Heir's Guard, was not happy. Part of this was due to physical discomfort. Someone ... who was going to be looking for a new job, and possibly a new head, once Sir Arthur found out who it was ... had misplace both Sir Arthur's custom-fitted suit of body armour and his backup suit. So the Master had been forced to borrow a backup suit belonging to Corporal Ariman Tresca.
Corporal Tresca was a massively built black man whose head and shoulders tended to brush the edges of any doorway he walked through. Unfortunately, while Sir Arthur lacked over a foot of Tresca's height, he often had to actually turn sideways to get his shoulders through doorways.
And so Sir Arthur had the uncomfortable sensation of being squeezed, rather like a large tube of toothpaste.
Eighteen years in the Imperial Marines allowed him to ignore mere physical discomfort and concentrate on the primary cause of his unhappiness.
"Eagle three, this is Anthill, report status, over." Sir Arthur cupped his hand over his ear in an attempt to hear the voice coming through his earbud.
"…gle Th… Sa… gain…er."
Sir Arthur directed a glare around his command centre, a medium-sized room in the Hôtel Delcourt. "Someone talk to me. Why can't I hear Eagle Three? Dicky, is it hardware?"
Major Theodora "Dicky" Nixon, an almost rail-thin woman ... who nevertheless was one of the only people who could take down Sir Arthur hand-to-hand on a semi-regular basis ... replied, "Negative, sir. I checked everything myself. Whatever it is has taken out Three's primary and both backups. It's either a bug in the decryption software on our end, or something's jamming us." She shrugged. "Jalal is checking the computer now."
"Well, tell him to hurry up. We're scheduled to move in ten, and if ..."
"I've got it, sir," Corporal Tresca rumbled. His boss spun to face him as he pointed to a map of Marseilles on his computer screen. "It's the building, sir. It uses a dedicated-frequency radio transmitter on the roof to communicate with another office across town, and its transmission frequency is almost smack in the centre of our bandwidth. Sniper Team Three's almost sitting on the antenna."
Sir Arthur exploded. "Goddammit, why didn't anyone catch this before? When I find out who ..." He stopped and visibly gathered himself. "Too late now. We don't have time." The bodyguard turned to his second in command. "Dicky, contact… Eagle Two. They have line of sight with Three. Tell them to go visual. Eagle Three is now under condition Red One."
Major Nixon's eyes widened, but she nodded and began murmuring into her radio. Condition Red One would allow the two-man sniper team to fire on any target that both members jointly considered an imminent lethal threat, without confirming with command. This was not a responsibility to be given lightly, especially on foreign soil. Still, Sir Arthur trusted the judgement of all the people under his command.
Sir Arthur was already issuing more orders. "Tresca, shut down that transmitter. Call the building, call the management, get them to turn it off. Cut their power lines if you have to."
As Corporal Tresca reached for the phone, Sir Arthur tried to sigh deeply, and was cut off by the constricting mass of the too-small body armour under his silver and purple uniform. He settled for rolling his shoulders, eliciting an alarming series of creaks and groans from the already-stressed material. "I'm off to meet the Princess. This had better be all that goes wrong today."
On the roof of a tall building overlooking le Centre de la Vieille Charité a black-clad figure cradling a powerful scope-equipped rifle watched carefully as a light flashed from a Eagle Two's position on top of the building across the street. After counting the flashes and decoding their meaning, he turned to his companion, and said, "They've given us Red One authorisation." He then used his own special light to flash a confirmation back to Eagle Two.
His companion nodded solemnly before switching her gaze back to the street below.
Behind them, the bodies of Sergeant Abdul al-Latif and Corporal Miroslav Garner, Royal Atlantlan Heir's Guard, the two-man sniper team comprising Eagle Three, lay cooling on the rooftop.
Evelynne deMolay stood alone in the high, vaulted lobby of the Hôtel Delcourt, surrounded by people, and looked longingly out the huge floor-to-ceiling windows which fronted the hotel at the warm sunshine. Maîda had been briefly called away to deal with some minor catastrophe involving flowers and seating arrangements, and Evelynne's personal Guard had yet to arrive, so she stood alone in the middle of the floor, while a large number of people did the million-and-one last minute things that needed doing, and daydreamed.
Only four more days. Hooray. I wish it were over now. Oh, well, suck it up, Princess, as Patrick says. Once this is over you can go to the Summer Palace at Kilim and sunbathe for a week. Phoenix will be glad to see me. Goodness, that'll be nice. A whole week of nothing but sun, sand, and a half ton of animal between your knees. Evelynne looked around guiltily at the thought. Isis, I don't believe I thought that. I've got to get out of here. Spying Maîda still on the other side of the foyer, she breathed a sigh of relief. Evelynne didn't think that mind reading was one of her lady-in-waiting's talents, but she wouldn't have placed money on it.
She saw Colonel Ramirez coming towards her then. As he walked determinedly in her direction, a path spontaneously opened along his line of march, and in no time the bodyguard arrived at Evelynne's side.
"Sir Arthur," Evelynne said gravely.
"Your Highness," Sir Arthur responded, just as gravely.
There was silence between them for several seconds, as they both stood there solemnly.
Evelynne cracked first, as usual. Her lips twisted in an effort to control herself, an attempt doomed to fail as a very un-princess-like snort erupted from her chest, followed by a giggle. It took Evelynne a few minutes to bring herself under control. "Goodness, I needed that. Thanks, Uncle Arthur," she said, around a few extra giggles that managed to escape, and sighed. "I was trying to get Maîda to go to this thing in my place, but she refused. Could you arrest her as a traitor to the Crown, or some such thing?"
Sir Arthur's mouth had quirked into a hint of a wry smile. "I understand how you feel, Evy. This trip has not been easy on me, either." He grimaced, thinking about his most recent troubles, and Evelynne winced in sympathy right along with him, knowing that however hard this was on her, it was easily ten times harder on those in charge of her security. "As for Maîda… Oh dear, I guess we're leaving now," he said. "No time for any arresting right now, I'm afraid."
Evelynne scowled at her bodyguard, until Maîda's voice came suddenly from behind her, making her jump. "Don't frown, Highness, you'll ruin my makeup. What did Sir Arthur do now?"
"He's been showing his disloyalty by refusing to arrest you. And what do you mean, ‘your makeup'? It's on my face!"
"Yes, Highness, but I'm the one who put it there. Therefore, it is my makeup. You may keep your face."
More than one attendant was somewhat shocked as they heard the princess mumbling about "traitors", "dissidents", and "beheadings" as she was escorted towards the car.
"So," said Chorus, as he and Alleandre walked slowly down the street, "do you know where you'll be going tonight? Any leads?"
His companion looked up from where she was searching through her fanny pack. "Not really. It'll just be a general sweep, I think. I think I want to take along a radio with me this time, though, so you can listen in and tell me what I'm hearing." Finally discovering the lip balm she was looking for, she paused a moment to apply the cinnamon-scented substance. "This was so much easier in Australia." The tall woman held out the fanny pack to her friend. "Would you mind putting this in your backpack? I'm getting way too sweaty carrying it."
Chorus took the item and placed it in his pack. "So, that's why you're sweaty, eh? And here I thought it was all the scantily clad females everywhere around here," he teased, receiving a baleful glare. "Really, Ally, you're way too ... what's the word? ... uptight. You need to get laid, badly."
Alleandre avoided his gaze as she blushed furiously. "Why would I want to get laid badly? I'd rather be laid goodly," she rallied valiantly, though the effort was spoiled by her ever-deepening blush.
Chorus' eyebrows rose. "What's this? Was that a sex joke I heard coming from your lips? Will wonders never cease? You've been corrupted, Ally." Seeing her red cheeks, he decided to let up a bit. "Well, it does you good. Anyway, back to business. So, you're just going to do a random sweep and see what's up? I guess it's better than nothing. Marseilles is supposed to be this big crime city anyway."
"Yeah, we might be able to make a living here. Did you see the board in the police station?" Ally shrugged. "I'd like to see Egypt, though. Say, isn't the museum down there?" she asked, indicating a street just ahead.
"I think so. Look at all the people." The streets had been getting steadily more crowded, and the police presence was becoming more obvious. "I guess Europeans love their royals, eh?" He looked at his watch. "Yeah, they should be coming along any time now. Come on, let's see how close we can get."
Evelynne sat back in her seat as the car drove slowly down the street, and she waved to the crowds lining the sidewalks as she passed. The sun was shining brightly from overhead, although the air conditioning in the car kept the temperature inside cool.
"Explain the logic behind this car to me again, please," she requested out of the corner of her mouth, speaking to Sir Arthur, who was sitting in the front seat beside the driver. "This is a convertible. Convertibles should be, by definition, open to the air. Not enclosed in a bubble. I feel like I'm in a fishbowl. Do you want to see my goldfish impression?" Her eyes never left the crowds, and the smile never left her face. It was at times like this that she wondered whether she had any other expressions.
"Please, Your Highness," replied her bodyguard. "It's policy when travelling through foreign nations." His tone was distracted, though. There was something nagging at the back of his mind, and he was trying to isolate what it was. It was like trying to remember a name that's on the tip of the tongue, and no matter how hard he tried, it wouldn't come.
"Anthill, this is Crown. Status report," he murmured into the mic sewn into the collar of his uniform.
Major Nixon replied, "Crown, Anthill. All units report green. Exception: Eagle Three. They are still silent in condition Red One. Tresca is in contact with the office building and estimates shutdown of the transmitter in two minutes. Aux units report ready."
"Understood, Anthill. We're coming up on the Museum now." He frowned, then decided to trust his instinct. "Anthill, I am authorising an increase of one alert level, across the board. Something doesn't feel right."
Back in the command post, Major Nixon and Corporal Tresca looked at each other across the room. They were both long-time members of the Colonel's command, and had learned to trust his hunches. Still, there was protocol to follow. "Crown, this is Anthill. Confirm Alert Plus One All."
"Confirm Alert Plus One All, Anthill. I've got a feeling."
The car slowed even further as it pulled up in front of le Centre de la Vieille Charité, an old stone building which had once been a hospice, and now housed an excellent museum of Mediterranean history. Evelynne sighed as she looked out of her rolling fishbowl at the group of people waiting to greet her at the top of the stairs, and resisted the urge to curl her mouth into a set of fish lips. "Well, here we go again," she sighed.
Sir Arthur smiled gruffly at his charge in the rear view mirror. "Here we go again, Your Highness." He spoke one last time into his mic, "Crown is exiting the vehicle."
"Well, we're definitely getting close," Chorus commented. "Come on, let's try to get just a little closer," he suggested, keeping a grip on Alleandre's hand. Not that she really needed him to help her through the mass of people, he reminded himself, but old habits died hard.
The crowd, while peaceful, was still enthusiastic, which made for a steadily increasing concentration in both density and energy. The police manning the barricades along the sidewalk remained alert, though the spectators were surprisingly well behaved.
Suddenly the two friends found themselves against a barricade, mere feet from the road, and less than fifteen meters from the steps of the museum. "Wow, this is great!" enthused Chorus. "We can see everything from here!" He turned a suspicious gaze on his companion.
Ally noticed. "Hey, I didn't do anything," she protested. "We're just lucky to get this spot. Honest."
Chorus looked sceptical, but decided to take her at her word. "Look," he said, pointing up the street. He almost had to shout over the noise of enthusiastic onlookers, to which was now added the wail of approaching police sirens. "I think that's them."
Sure enough, behind an escort of three police motorcycles, a blue convertible rolled into view, bearing the white and blue flag and circle-cross of Atlantis, and surrounded by six people in blue uniforms, five men and a woman, who jogged alongside the car as it moved. Unlike a real convertible, however, the car was fitted with a plexiglass canopy, within which three people were sitting. The driver was dressed in a smart blue uniform, and looked decidedly military, though his face was unremarkable. The other man in the front seat was very distinctive, with a body shaped as though some god had taken an ordinary man, and then pushed down on his head so that he was almost as wide as he was tall. His face wore a forbidding expression, and Ally could see his lips moving as he talked.
Both of these people, however, paled beside young woman in the back seat, smiling and waving. As the vehicle passed to pull up in front of the museum steps, Ally caught a glimpse of a vision of flaming red hair surmounting a strong, yet delicate face, exotically painted, with a wide, generous mouth. In the space of the few seconds it took for the car to drive past Alleandre's and Chorus' positions, Ally could have sworn that the princess' eyes met hers with an almost audible click and Ally found herself waving, without ever remembering raising her arm.
Then the royal vehicle was past, pulling up to a stop several meters away, and a number of important-looking people started moving towards the car.
Chorus turned to his partner with a low whistle on his lips. "Wow, did you see her? She is hot!"
"She's gorgeous…" Alleandre murmured, before looking up at her friend. "I mean," she said, flustered, "I've seen her in pictures before, but she looks better in person. That is…" She glanced back in the direction of the car, then back at her friend. "Oh, shut up," she muttered, looking anywhere but at him.
Chorus just smirked. "So, going ogling was a good idea, eh? Come on, you can say it."
"Fine," she grumbled, still avoiding his face. "Ogling was a good ..." Alleandre broke off suddenly, her eyes fixed on the top of a building across the street.
Le Centre de la Vieille Charité was actually a relatively modest stone building which definitely traced its roots back to ancient Greek or Roman architecture. Corinthian columns over eight meters tall helped support a triangular frontispiece bearing a carving, similar to the Parthenon, though Evelynne could not make out the details. A cathedral-like dome rose over the rest of the building. The entire structure looked a lot like a neo-Classical church, which made sense, given the structure's origins as a religious building, later converted into a hospice, and finally into a museum.
The car pulled up in front of the museum, and Evelynne said a little prayer of thanksgiving as the sirens of the police escorts were finally stilled, and Sir Arthur exited, walking around the car to open the princess' door. Looking up through the canopy at the brilliant blue sky, she made one last bid for freedom.
"Jose," she addressed her driver, "how about just swinging this car around and heading out of the city. We can head for one of those lovely beaches just down the coast. Come on, what do you say? Sir ‘Protocol' Arthur, here, refuses to let me go."
"I'm sorry, Your Highness. I think he'd shoot me if I tried."
"We're surrounded by a quarter inch of bulletproof glass," Evelynne said. "Besides, if you do I'll give you his job."
Incredulous eyes stared at her in the mirror. "I'm sorry, Your Highness, is that supposed to be an incentive?"
Evelynne was still smiling broadly as she was escorted from the car by Sir Arthur, but Jose could hear her cursing him under her breath as she got out. "Traitorous coward" was the mildest of her epithets.
Sir Arthur's eyebrows rose as he helped his ward out of the convertible. "Should I be worried, Your Highness?" he asked in a low voice.
Evelynne sighed. "No, I'm just adding another name to my List," she explained. She gave him a brief, genuine grin before slowly walking forward to meet the Mayor, and assorted other dignitaries who had assembled to greet the Atlantlan Heir.
Her bodyguard let her move a few paces ahead as he fell back into a less intrusive position, his eyes never ceasing to sweep the crowd. He observed the other members of the Heir's Guard with approval as they likewise kept a vigilant watch for any trouble. His earbud gave the soft chime signifying a transmission from the control centre.
"Crown, this is Anthill. We have shut down the transmitter. Attempting to contact Eagle Three now." The following silence seemed to last forever as Sir Arthur's inexplicable unease grew stronger. The relief when his earbud chimed again was short-lived. "Crown, we cannot raise Eagle Three," came Major Nixon's calm voice. Only years of association let Sir Arthur detect the faint worry in it. "We are trying aga—"
And Sir Arthur knew. He didn't know how he knew, but he knew. Eagle Three was dead, and the danger directed at his charge was only moments away. The knowledge flashed through his brain in a split second, and training took over as he bellowed into his open mic, "Zulu! Zulu! Zulu!"
He saw the members of his team, startled in spite of their vigilance for the briefest of moments, cursed the too-small body armour restricting his movements and slowing him, knowing it was too late, and saw something moving at incredible speed from the crowds on his left towards Princess Evelynne, just as the first shot rang out.
The surrounding crowd, the police watching them, the sunshine, Chorus: they all seemed to disappear as Alleandre's entire concentration centred on the small figures on top of the office building. With preternatural clarity she saw the two figures looking down through telescopic sights at the dignitaries below. She reached out with her mind and, in an instant, heard their thoughts, knew their target below, and felt a finger begin to pull the trigger. Only one would fire, she knew, the other saving her fire for the unlikely event the first missed.
The mental connection snapped suddenly, like it always did, but Alleandre was already reacting. The rest of the world rushed back into her consciousness as she desperately focussed her mind on the distant target and channelled. It was at extreme range, but the force needed was small, simply requiring the rifle barrel to move a few inches, and Ally knew it had worked when the ‘pop' of the gunshot was followed by a louder ‘crack' as the bullet struck the stone of the building instead of its intended red-haired target.
There was no time for triumph, however, as the Alleandre had already focussed again, this time on herself, channelling energy, propelling herself over the police barricade towards the young woman. Ally felt the strain, as she pushed herself harder than she ever had needed to before, but grimly persevered. She literally flew past a large, bulky man who was already turning towards the princess, his hand reaching into his jacket. The bodyguard, a part of Ally's mind recognised vaguely.
The princess was still ducking instinctively when Alleandre careened into her, sending her onto her back with a thump that knocked the breath out of her, just as a second bullet tore through the space where she had been a moment before. The bullet took a large chunk out of the stone step nearby. Then the Evelynne's startled blue eyes were looking up into Alleandre's grey ones, and it was the princess' turn to be caught by their intensity, aware of the press of the body above her.
Even as she acknowledged that the body beneath her seemed to be largely unhurt, Alleandre's mind was already focussing one more time, this time reaching for an ability that she had developed mere weeks before. She channelled desperately, weaving her energy into an aura around her body, less than an inch from her skin. She held strongly to the focus, feeling it snap into place with a strength she could feel gratifyingly in her chest, just as the third bullet arrived.
Alleandre felt the impact of the bullet between her shoulder blades, gratified when the aura held and stopped the projectile, leaving it lying against her shirt. Her satisfaction lasted a fraction of a second, however, as she felt yet another bullet pass through her aura. Though its force was considerably attenuated by her aura, it still had more than enough energy to penetrate her skin, and burning pain erupted through Alleandre's right shoulder. Through the haze of pain, Ally saw an answering expression of agony bloom on the face of the princess below her, and realised that the bullet had passed right through her own body and into Evelynne's below her.
Fighting to remain conscious, Ally struggled to maintain her focus, and felt a last bullet enter her aura, just before an explosion of agony in the middle of her back dragged her down into oblivion.
Continued in Chapter