Modern Crusaders: Adeptus Major

By PsiDraconis

For disclaimers, see Chapter 1

"What should we do but sing his praise

That led us through the wat'ry maze,

Unto an isle so long unknown,

And yet far kinder than our own?

Where he the huge sea monster wracks,

That lift the deep upon their backs.

He lands us on a grassy stage,

Safe from the storms, and prelate's rage."

- Andrew Marvell, Bermudas

Chapter 26

Ally slowly and lazily drifted up from sleep, luxuriating in the feel of the satin sheets against her skin. The air of her room was rather cool, making her warm bed all the more pleasurable. Breathing deeply, she finally opened her eyes to the dim light of the bedroom, the only illumination sneaking in from around the curtains. She couldn't see much in the dark, but knew that even with the lights on all she would be able to discern would be a blur. Reaching out, she found the switch on the clock on her bedside table by touch alone and tapped it. The digits lit up obediently, and squinting hard she could just make out the time

Hmm, quarter past eight, she thought. I slept in. Indulging in a long, sinuous stretch that left her entire body humming, Ally relaxed back into the blankets once more. Could get used to this. Ha! What am I saying? I am used to this!

After a few more moments, the young woman semi-reluctantly pushed back the blankets and rose, exposing her body to the chill of the room. Despite what Evelynne thought, Ally actually preferred to sleep in nothing at all, hating the way pyjamas tended to twist and bind around her lean body. Out of bed, however, Ally felt uncomfortable when naked, so she quickly dressed in some casual clothes: a pair of brown loose, comfortable slacks, and a plain blue cotton shirt.

I suppose I'd better enjoy this while I can, Ally thought as she dressed. I won't be able to do it when I start work in a couple of weeks. True to his promise, Doctor Malloy, the chief administrator of the Aztlan excavation, had managed to create the position of "Alternative Theoretical Supervisor" for the project, and had offered it to Ally. The position came with a staff, and Ally had been given an almost free hand in hiring her own people, something she would have to take care of as soon as she started. Despite her lack of experience with the bureaucratic process, she was impressed and surprised by the speed with which the Doctor had cut through the red tape and obtained funding, since less than a month had passed since they had met. Ally suspected that he had Royal assistance, since Evelynne's protestations of innocence were somewhat less than convincing.

Thinking of the princess, Ally felt a slight stab of guilt, as she often did when she awoke particularly late. Evelynne regularly rose at dawn to begin her own work of helping various Nobles with their own legislative tasks. The work was intended to prepare her for her eventual rise to the Throne, and Ally had to admit that as a training technique it was very effective, but it often left the princess without much free time. Of course, the free time that she did get tended to be used for intensive relaxation, as she tried to make up for in quality what she often lacked in quantity. The last few days had been particularly busy, as Evelynne helped a Countess with some industrial development issues in her lands.

Now fully dressed, Ally walked to the large glass doors leading to her balcony and threw the curtains wide. Normally she could see both the distant sea and the Palace courtyard from this position, but today the view was obscured by a blanket of think white fog. Ugh, Ally grimaced, what a nasty day. I was hoping to get Evelynne out for a walk, but it looks like we'll have to stay inside today. She was about to turn away when a thought suddenly struck her. She almost dismissed it out of hand, but then considered it more seriously. I wonder...

Opening the door, Ally stepped out onto the cold, damp balcony. Ignoring the wetness, she stood still and closed her eyes. Loosing her mind, she spent several minutes scanning her environment. Coming back to herself, she shook of the customary disorientation and considered for a few more moments. Why not? she thought finally. Evelynne could use a break, and this is something I think would be really special. A moment of doubt assailed her briefly, but then she shrugged it off. Oh well, if this doesn't freak her out, nothing will. Now, what do I need?

Thinking hard, Ally turned and re-entered the Palace, carefully planning the day.

It took a few hours for Ally to assemble the supplies she needed and transport them to the appropriate place, which meant that it was mid-morning before she knocked on the door to the study, which Evelynne had set up as her office, and stuck her head in the room.

As expected, the princess was engrossed in some official document. Actually, "engrossed" was probably too strong a word, given her somewhat pained expression, an assumption that was reinforced by the speed at which she looked up at Ally's knock. Evelynne's face brightened perceptibly, and she grinned, running a hand through her red hair.

"Ally!" she said happily, quickly getting up and walking over. As she came closer, Ally could see that she was carrying Cassie, who had previously been sleeping on her lap and now seemed less than thrilled by the unnecessary movement. Coming to a stop, Evelynne surreptitiously checked the door for observers, then freed one of her hands to pull Ally's head down for a morning kiss.

"Good morning," Ally said when they parted. She reached out to scratch Cassie under the chin, thereby earning the cat's forgiveness... this time. "How are you doing?"

Evelynne made a face. "Bleah. Let's just say that when I become Queen I'm going to pass a law banning unnecessary language in all official reports."

"Ah, you plan and intend to cut out and eliminate unnecessary, superfluous words, huh?"

"Exactly." Evelynne leaned back, taking in Ally's appearance. "So what have you been up to this morning?" She reached up to pat Ally's hair. "You're damp. Have you been outside? It's nasty out there."

"Yeah, I have," Ally said. "Actually, I was... arranging something. I was, um, wondering if you wanted to take the day off. I've been putting together something that I think might be fun."

Evelynne was a little surprised at how nervous Ally seemed, but decided to simply go with it. "That sounds wonderful. I just have couple of things to finish up here, which should take me about half an hour, then I can postpone the rest till later. I don't know why I'm working on a Sunday anyway. Where are we going?"

"It's... a surprise," Ally said. "Um... come on up to my room when you're ready. Dress warmly." With a final light kiss, Ally turned to leave, then paused at the doorway. "Oh yeah, bring a swimming suit also."

"A swimming suit?" Evelynne asked, but Ally was already gone. "I really hope she isn't planning on going swimming in the pool in this weather," she said to Cassie, looking out the window at the fog. "I know the pool is heated, but it's still outdoors."

As promised, Evelynne arrived at Ally's room thirty minutes later. She had taken some time to dress herself in a pair of warm woollen pants and a thick sweater, and carried a waterproof jacket under one arm. Uncertain of Ally's exact plans, she had decided to simply wear her swimming suit under her other clothes, though she still didn't know what the other woman intended. The nearest indoor pool is in Kilim, Evelynne thought. And there's no way I'm going in the ocean at this time of year, no matter what she says. Besides, for a trip we'd need to bring Guards, and I know she doesn't like taking them everywhere.

She arrived at the open door to Ally's room and looked in to see her friend standing in the middle of the room, inspecting what looked like a white sheet at arm's length. Knocking on the doorframe, the princess called, "I'm here. So what's the plan?"

Ally looked up at the words and smiled in greeting. "Come on in," she instructed, draping the cloth over the back of a chair. Walking past Evelynne, she then securely locked the door.

"Ooo, locking me in," Evelynne teased, her eyes twinkling. "Are you afraid I might try to escape when you have your way with me?"

Ally blushed predictably. "No, if I was afraid you'd run I'd just handcuff you to the bed," she rallied back.

"Hmm, kinky... I always knew this shy girl routine was just an act." Evelynne laughed again as Ally reddened further and looked away. Taking pity on her, the princess asked, "So, if you're not going to ravish me, what are we doing in here, dressed in our warm clothes, with the door locked?"

"Strip poker," Ally said with an admirably straight face, which quickly crumbled at Evelynne gape. "Just kidding. Actually, we won't be here long." Picking up the white sheet again, she suddenly looked nervous. "I want you to know that if you get too freaked out and want me to... stop, just say the word. Okay?"

"Okay," Evelynne said, puzzled. "But what are we doing, exactly?"

"Come on." Instead of answering, Ally took the other woman's hand and led her to the doors leading to the balcony. Opening them, they stepped out. Evelynne immediately started shivering at the chill, and took the opportunity to slip on her jacket.

Ally spent several moments peering through the fog, but it was so thick that she could barely see a couple of metres in front of her. Nodding in satisfaction, she moved close to Evelynne and proceeded to wrap the sheet around them both. "Camouflage," she said enigmatically when Evelynne looked up at her quizzically.

Before the princess could ask any more questions, Ally closed her eyes and centred herself, easily slipping into a light trance. What she was about to do she had rarely done before, at least with another person, and there was no way she was going to take any chances, especially with this person. She focussed her mind, this time letting the thought-form wrap both of them, rather than just herself. It was, as expected, more complex, but still not terribly difficult. When she had the form firmly in her mind, Ally opened her eyes and looked down at Evelynne, seeing both curiosity and trust there.

"Hold on," she instructed, wrapping her own arms firmly around her cargo. "And remember: if you want me to stop, just say so."

"Alright," Evelynne said. She still had no idea what Ally intended, but there was no way she was going to pass up a chance to hold the woman she loved tightly. She knew it would be something related to Ally's psychogenic abilities, having recognised the signs of focussing, and now she saw Ally's gaze go slightly vacant as she channelled.

The result still took her completely by surprise as she felt her stomach drop away suddenly, as if she were falling. Unable to contain a startled yelp, she reflexively clutched Ally tighter, who held her closer in return. Moving her legs, Evelynne was clearly aware that her feet were no longer touching the ground. She spent a moment wondering why Ally had lifted her up, when she realised that she was no higher on Ally's body than she had been before. Feeling cautiously with her feet, Evelynne confirmed that Ally's legs were also dangling freely, and then a few other clues forced their way into her consciousness. She became aware of a slight wind on her face, and though it was hard to see, the fog around them was definitely moving... downwards.

All of this information crashed into Evelynne's mind, bringing her to one inescapable conclusion. "Isis, we're flying!" she gasped. A moment later the conclusion was confirmed when they suddenly broke through the upper layer of fog into clear daylight. The princess looked around with wide eyes, instinctively clutching Ally hard enough to bruise. The ground-hugging fog stretched for kilometres, looking just like the tops of clouds that Evelynne regularly saw from airplanes. This time, though, there was no roar of engines, no reassuring seat under her... no tiny window to look out. Instead, there was only pure sensation, and Evelynne was silent for several minutes as her mind tried to process the experience.

"Are you okay?" Ally's worried voice broke through her daze, and she looked up to see a concerned face.

"Uh, I, um, you, uh..." Words seemed to have been left on the ground some unknown distance below.

"Do you want me to go down?" Ally asked, her tone worried.

"No!" Evelynne blurted. "I just... I don't..." She took a deep breath, and felt that the air seemed somehow cleaner up here. "No words," she said simply, and felt Ally relax slightly. With the subtle release of tension, she noticed that she was still grabbing Ally's arms in what must have been a painful grip, and consciously loosened her hold slightly.

Ally smiled reassuringly, grateful for the slight release of pressure. "That's okay. Take your time."

Now slightly reassured that she was not about to crash to earth at any moment, Evelynne gazed around her once more. The fog only a few metres below them looked pristine, like new-fallen snow. Overhead, the sky was completely clear. The sun, though bright, did little to warm them, but it did lend a brilliant, crisp light to the scene. Casting her eyes further afield, Evelynne could see the occasional tree poking up from the whiteness below, and in the distance she could see where the fog dissipated, revealing the blue of the ocean. In the other direction, the bulk of Mount Sekamat loomed, like an island in the middle of a vast white sea.

"Oh, Isis," Evelynne breathed, feeling more than a little overwhelmed.

"Are you okay?" Ally asked again softly.

"Am I okay?" Evelynne repeated dazedly. "I... This... It... I'm... stunned. This is just..." She closed her eyes tightly and opened them again. "Um... could you pinch me? This has to be a dream."

Ally raised her eyebrows and complied, grinning when Evelynne jerked in her arms.

"Ow! Okay, not a dream." The princess looked up at Ally wonderingly. "How are you doing this?"

"It's the same as when I use my psychokinetic abilities," Ally said. "I can pick up other objects with my mind, so why not my own body? It's just a matter of looking at it the right way. It's more tiring for some reason, but..." She nodded her head to indicate their surroundings. "It's worth it."

"Oh, it's worth it," Evelynne agreed fervently, looking around again. She still wasn't totally convinced that this wasn't some incredible dream. "This is so wonderful. I can't believe you showed me this."

"I love you," Ally murmured. "I wanted to share something with you that I enjoy more than anything in the world. If you were to take away all but one of my powers, this is the one I'd keep."

Evelynne stared up at her, then shifted slightly so that she could bring their lips together. After a moment, though, she felt her stomach give a little lurch and Ally quickly pulled away.

"Sorry," Ally said. "I need to maintain a bit of concentration to do this, and, well... you tend to break it when you do things like that. Now if we were only a little way up, I'd be happy to... experiment, but up here... I think I should keep my wits about me."

"Darn." Looking around again, Evelynne asked, "Do we have to go down now?"

"Not unless you want to. I did have... something else planned, though, if you want."

Evelynne's eyes were wide. "You mean there's more?"

"Um, yeah. I'll show you." Turning in the air, Ally began to propel them both towards the mountain.

As they flew - Evelynne had to keep pinching herself to make sure she wasn't dreaming - the princess tried to take in every sensation. In addition to the lack of engine noise or confining metal, there was another aspect that made this very different from flying in an airplane or helicopter: the feeling of total weightlessness. It reminded her of the few occasions when the aircraft she had been flying in had hit an air pocket and dropped suddenly, leaning her stomach behind. This sensation, however, was both more intense and, unsurprisingly, more sustained, and Evelynne said a brief prayer of thanks that she did not get airsick. It made her wonder if this was what astronauts felt while in orbit.

They were currently in a position horizontal to the ground, still wrapped in the sheet. Evelynne was pressed against Ally's right side, her arms wrapped around the other woman, while Ally's right arm held her securely. The air rushing at them from ahead made the princess' eyes water, so she settled for gazing down and to the side. Ally was looking straight ahead, her glasses protecting her vision.

The only sound was the rushing of wind through her ears, making her realise suddenly that they were moving at quite a high rate of speed. The nearly unchanging cloud below and the slowness with which the mountain came closer made their velocity appear deceptively low.

"How fast are we going?" Evelynne asked, hoping as she did so that she wasn't breaking Ally's concentration. She had to raise her voice to be heard.

Ally considered for a moment. "I'd say about... oh, a hundred kilometres per hour."

Evelynne blinked. "Wow. How fast can you go, anyway?"

"I'm not sure. It's all acceleration, really. I can accelerate about as quickly as a medium-sized car easily. Faster accelerations are way more tiring. Once I'm at 'cruising speed' it's actually fairly easy, but I can still only go for about an hour at a time. I guess theoretically, if I didn't get tired, I could probably reach escape velocity."

The princess almost choked. "What, you mean get into space?"

Ally managed to shrug, despite the awkward position. "Possibly. I've never tried that. Going too high means there's no air, and I still need to breathe. Until I get myself a spacesuit - and a really good parachute - I'm not going to be going too high." Though her tone was joking, there was still a slightly serious undertone.

"Well, I hope not! I'd prefer for you to stay close to Earth, love... relatively close, that is." Evelynne looked around again. "This height is just fine."

Ally's lips twitched. "Yes, Mom. And I'll be sure to wear a sweater."

Evelynne mock-scowled at her. "You be sure you do." Risking a glance ahead, she saw that the mountain was significantly closer, and they seemed to be heading for a cliff face. Clouds of steam emerged from the rock in various places, and Evelynne recognised the area of Mount Sekamat that contained the hot springs, though she had never seen it from this close before.

The wind was lessening, and the princess realised that they were slowing down. Ally seemed to be scanning the cliff face, looking for something.

"So where are we going, exactly?" Evelynne asked.

"Ummm... right... Ah, there it is!" Ally found what she was looking for, and their course changed towards one of the steam clouds.

For a brief moment Evelynne was afraid that they were going to run into the mountain, but they slowed further. Ally appeared to be aiming for the base of one of the pillars of steam, and they were briefly surrounded by warm, wet air. Then they were through, and emerged into a tiny slice of Paradise.

Evelynne could only stare. Even if the previous miraculous events could somehow be true, this must surely be a hallucination. It was only after blinking several times and pinching her already bruised arm again that she slowly began to accept the reality of what she was seeing.

As Ally drew them closer, she reoriented them so that they were vertical once more, before coming in to land on a soft grassy surface. Evelynne hardly noticed when her stomach and inner ear reported the apparent return of gravity. In fact, she would have fallen if Ally had not been holding her in a firm embrace.

The place was amazing. Thousands of years of erosion had craved a niche in the side of the cliff face. The notch in the mountain measured only about ten metres across at its opening. It opened up inside, widening to about thirty metres across at its widest point, until it tapered to a narrow point forty metres into the cliff, creating a space like a rough teardrop. The rear third of the grotto was covered by a pool of water - warm water, if the steam coming off it or the residual heat in the air was any indication. A faint but noticeable smell of sulphur hung in the air, confirming the pool's status as a volcanic spring. Somehow, soil had been transported into the niche over the years, and its shelter had allowed rich green grass to grow, creating a verdant carpet which covered nearly the entire area. The grass was the only plant life growing there, except for two small, stunted coniferous trees which clung tenaciously to the side of the grotto a few metres up. Several large, smooth rocks dotted the area, one of them poking up a couple of feet in the middle of the pool.

Evelynne couldn't bring herself to speak, or even think as she took in the view, and it took her a few seconds to realise that Ally was speaking to her. Reluctantly, she turned dazed eyes on her companion, who was looking down at her with a gentle smile. "Uhhh... what?" she asked eloquently.

"I asked what you thought," Ally repeated softly. "Do you like it?"

"Do I like it?" Evelynne asked bemusedly. "There are two possible explanations for this. One: I've gone insane, and this is my mind's attempt to create the most perfect place imaginable. Or two: I'm dead, and the Gods have created this for me because it's the most perfect place imaginable. Either way, it's the most perfect place imaginable."

"Well," Ally said, "If you're crazy, then I am too, because I can see the same thing. And if you're dead, then so am I. Either way, we're here together."

"We are," Evelynne said, looking deep into Ally's grey eyes. Suddenly she pulled the other woman's head down and proceeded to kiss her with more passion than she had ever expressed before. Even when Ally lost her balance and toppled backward to land with a muffled grunt she did not stop, instead following Ally down so that they were both hlaf-reclining on the grass.

Eventually Evelynne pulled away, and it was Ally's turn to look somewhat dazed. "I love you," the princess whispered.

"I love you, too," Ally whispered back, her hand softly stroking the smooth cheek in front of her.

"I can't believe you brought me here," Evelynne said, looking around the grotto once more.

"I knew you were under a bit of stress," Ally explained, "and I wanted to show you something to take your mind off it."

"I still can't believe we're in this place." Evelynne shook her head. "I can't believe we flew here." She turned her head to look towards the entrance to the niche. From inside, she was surprised to see that she had a good view of the land at the mountain's base - or would have if the fog was not obscuring the countryside below. As it was, she could still see the distant ocean, its surface sparking in the morning sunlight.

"Do you want me to show you around?" Ally asked when Evelynne had been silent for several minutes.

"Pardon? Oh, yes, of course," the princess said. "Sorry, I'm a little overwhelmed."

"That's okay," Ally said. "I wanted to overwhelm you a little. You've been dealing with so much mundane stuff the last week that I wanted to bring some magic back to your life."

"Well, it worked." Evelynne slowly got up from Ally's body. She held out a hand to help the other woman rise, expressing concern when Ally winced. "Are you alright?"

"Yeah," Ally said, twisting her shoulders a little. "I just jarred my back a little when we... fell down."

"Oh, Ally, I'm sorry." The mention of Ally's injury brought Evelynne back to reality a little, reminding her that regardless of Ally's psychic and mental powers, her body was just as frail and injury-prone as anybody else's. "Will you be alright?"

"I'll be fine," Ally assured her. "Fortunately, we have a hot tub right here." She pointed towards the hot spring.

Evelynne's eyes widened. "You mean you can swim in that?"

"Yes. It's only about five feet deep, but it's at the perfect temperature. Actually, if you go to the back, the water gets warmer."

"Oh wow. How did you find this place? Or do I want to know?"

Ally laughed sheepishly. "Do you remember a few months ago, we went for a walk in the Palace gardens, and you pointed out the steam coming off the mountain?"

Evelynne thought. "That was... September, right? Your parents had just arrived. We went to the gardens... and you asked me to be your Sponsor."

"That's it. You said that nobody was able to reach any of these springs. Well... I kind of took that as a bit of a challenge, and a few nights later I, um... went exploring."

"You mean you..." Evelynne made a flying motion with her hand.

"Yeah. I didn't find this place right away, but I kept coming back, and then one day I just stumbled across it." Ally waved at the rock nearly surrounding them. "There are a couple of other places that are similar, but this one is the most beautiful of the lot." She looked shyly down at Evelynne, who had not released her hand. "Especially now that you're here."

"Oh, Ally." This time the kiss was gentle, a promise of love and affection. When they separated again, Evelynne looked around again, unable to restrain her curiosity. "So is this where you were when you went 'outside' this morning?"

Ally blushed. "Yes, I came once to make sure I could still find it, then came back with some... supplies." Releasing Evelynne's hand, Ally walked toward a large rock near the side of the grotto, shedding the sheet as she went. Reaching behind the stone, she brought out a large cardboard box. "Latifa is a little confused about why I wanted to have a picnic with you in my room."

"Oh my," Evelynne said, her eyes wide.

Crossing back to a flat area of grass, Ally put down the box, then proceeded to lay the sheet over the area. The surface ready, she opened the box and started to bring out a number of pottery and bamboo containers, followed by plates, glasses, and a bottle of red wine, as Evelynne watched in growing delight.

"Ally, this is the most incredible thing anyone's done for me," she said sincerely. "This even exceeds when you saved my life." Ally looked surprised. "Then, you gave me my life," Evelynne explained. "This... this is... more."

Ally smiled bashfully. "Would you like to eat?" she asked, changing the subject.

"I would," Evelynne said, but she cast another glance at the pool. "But first I'd like to check out that water." She looked back at Ally. "Now I know why you told me to bring a swimming suit."

"Now you know. Um... you can go behind that rock over there if you want to change."

"No need." Evelynne was already eagerly stripping off her outer layers of clothing. "I really came prepared," she said as her blue two-piece was revealed. She looked up to catch Ally's wide-eyes stare at her nearly nude body, and the growing flush in her cheeks. "Did you bring yours?" she teased.

"Uh, yeah." Ally shook herself out of her pleasant trance. She reached down and pulled a small bag out of the cardboard box. "I'm just not as... prepared as you are. I'll just go and..." She gestured towards the large boulder.

"You don't have to," Evelynne teased, a wicked glint in her eye. "I have seen you naked before, remember?" Ally blush deepened until the princess took pity on her. "Ally, it's alright. I'm just teasing you. You change. I won't peek, I promise."

A few minutes later, Ally had emerged from her semi-private changing area dressed in a form-hugging black one-piece suit, to Evelynne's mingled delight and disappointment. Disappointment that a large portion of Ally's skin was still covered, but delight that the suit still fit like a second skin. Managing, with difficulty, to restrain her hormones, Evelynne was soon splashing and playing with Ally in the warm water, taking great pleasure in "accidentally" brushing herself against the other woman's body as she swam. Ally had also brought along a short length off rubber material which she attached to her glasses and then around her head, preventing them from being knocked off.

The bottom of the pool consisted of small pebbles, worn smooth by the action of the water, thankfully sparing their feet.

A particularly energetic burst of horseplay resulted in Ally being dunked, and she retaliated by initiating a devastating splashing war. Despite her smaller hands, Evelynne had a technique that allowed her to propel a huge amount of water, and Ally found herself retreating to the edge of the pool. During a brief respite, the two women eyed each other warily.

"Come on, Ally," Evelynne taunted. "You have those big hands of yours, and I'm still beating you. What are you, a wimp?"

Ally slowly cupped her hands in the water. She stared at Evelynne in a piercing and distinctly predatory manner as she replied, "A wimp, huh? You think I'm a wimp? You'd better watch out, Princess. You don't know who you're dealing with."

"Oh yeah? And who am I dealing with? I think you're all talk." Evelynne loved to see Ally like this: playful, confident, all hints of shyness gone, overcome by what Evelynne believed was Ally's true spirit.

Ally stared at her a moment longer. "Look up," she said, twitching her eyes to a point above Evelynne's head.

The princess did so. She had a brief moment to see the huge ball of water hanging in the air above her before it abruptly came crashing down, knocking her down and pushing her under in the process. Evelynne came up, coughing and spluttering, and glared at Ally. "No fair!" she shouted, wiping strands of fiery hair from her face. "That's cheating!"

Ally smirked. "Oh? I didn't know there were rules."

"Well there are!" Evelynne cried, unable to stop her grin. "Rule number eighty seven states that the use of super powers is strictly prohibited."

"Really? Well, those must Atlantlan rules, because the Canadian rules say no such thing. And because I happen to be a dual citizen, I can choose which rules to use, and I pick Canadian."

"Oh yeah? We'll see about that!" Evelynne challenged, and the battle was rejoined.

Some time later, a truce had been called, and both exhausted combatants had left the pool to refuel. It was past noon, and the sun had shifted so that it no longer shone into the grotto, leaving it into shadow. Still, the hot spring kept the air inside at a very comfortable temperature, and neither woman had any urge to put on more clothing as they ate. Currently they were sitting side by side, most of Latifa's food demolished.

Ally was sitting with her arms wrapped around her knees, watching the pool with a contemplative, but slightly sad, look on her face.

"What's wrong?" Evelynne asked quietly. She was seated in a similar position, occasionally leaning to rest her head on Ally's shoulder. "You look... troubled."

"Hmm? Oh, no, not really. I was just thinking that in all probability, nobody has ever been here before, walked on this grass, swum in this pool... And now it'll never be like that again. It just makes me a little sad, like it's lost something."

"Are you sorry you brought me here?" Evelynne asked.

"God, no!" Ally blurted. "Not at all. I'm really happy that I showed you this, and that we've had fun here. It's just that... any time something beautiful changes, and can never go back to the way it was, I always feel a little... depressed. Even if it's still just as beautiful afterwards, like this -" She waved an arm to encompass the grotto. "- it'll still never be the same." She shrugged one shoulder. "That might not make a lot of sense, but it's the way I feel."

Evelynne reached up with her hand to gently turn Ally's face towards her. "It makes perfect sense, love. I think it's normal to mourn the loss of something unique, something irreplaceable. But nothing can stay the same forever."

"I know," Ally whispered, her grey eyes caught and help by Evelynne's blue ones. Slowly, with infinite gentleness, she felt herself drawn forward by Evelynne's hand, their bodies turning slightly towards one another, her eyes closing as she felt Evelynne's soft lips beneath her own.

They kissed softly, gently, for what seemed like hours, until Evelynne's hand drifted down slowly from Ally's cheek, trailing along her neck, across her shoulder, until it came to rest against the side of her left breast. With a soft gasp, Ally pulled away, her breathing ragged and her pulse pounding rapidly in her throat. She had to swallow several times before she could speak. "Evy," she murmured, her voice ragged, "I... didn't bring you here to... seduce you. I just wanted to show you something... beautiful... something that means a lot to me. I never intended -"

Evelynne silenced her with another kiss. "I know, love." Her hand remained where it was, the thumb softly brushing Ally's breast through her swimming suit, as she listened to the hitches in Ally's breathing. "I know you would never try to seduce me. But that is why I want... why I have to seduce you. But only if you want to be seduced. I love you Ally, and I want to show you just how much. But if you don't want to, you just have to say the word and we'll stop." Although Ally was the one with previous sexual experience, Evelynne felt that she was the experienced one, confronted by Ally's lack of confidence. At the same time, though, she clearly felt the delicious anticipation and frisson of nervousness that ran through her body.

Ally closed her eyes, and Evelynne let her think, stilling the motion of her thumb, though she kept her hand in place. Finally Ally opened her eyes and locked her eyes with Evelynne's. Evelynne could almost see something opening up within her would-be lover's gaze, something deep and powerful, and terribly intimate, and the princess was momentarily confused. Suddenly, though, the answer came to her. Isis, she's opened her mind to me. She knows everything I'm thinking and feeling... and she wants me to know that she knows. I'll never have a secret from her when we're like this. Fast on the heels of this revelation came another. This is what Annie was afraid of... what she couldn't handle. Opening oneself to a lover like this requires total trust, and Ally needs to know she has mine. She needs to know I won't run from this... that I won't break her heart again.

All these thoughts ran through Evelynne's mind in an instant, then she was leaning back, pulling Ally with her, as she proceeded to demonstrate her answer.

The sun had long since hidden itself behind the mountain, leaving the lands below in shadow. Within the grotto, the darkness was even greater, mimicking that of the approaching night. Outside, the air was quickly turning more chill, but within, the steaming pool lent its warmth to the interior - and its inhabitants.

Evelynne lay on the sheet, her bare body wrapped around the equally bare torso of her lover. Her head rested on Ally's breast, and one arm and leg were thrown over the body next to her. Her hand was idly stroking the soft skin under her fingers as she lay languidly, enjoying the sensations being reported by her body. There was a certain slight soreness in some places, including places where she hadn't even known she had places before, but that was more than overcome by the lingering feeling of pleasure that infused her limbs and body. She turned her head slightly to place a soft kiss on the breast near her face, and shivered slightly as she felt Ally's fingernails continue their light scratching on her back.

The princess smiled lazily, then frowned mildly as the ear pressed against Ally's chest reported an odd sound. It was brief, but when Evelynne ran her fingers across Ally's belly once more, the sound was repeated, and she couldn't stifle a giggle.

Ally's fingers paused. "What?" she asked.

"Oh, nothing," Evelynne replied brightly. "It's just that you're... purring."

Ally's brows climbed her forehead, and she craned her neck to peer down at the head on her chest. "I'm what?"

"Purring," her lover repeated.

"I do not purr," Ally stated firmly.

"Yes, you do," Evelynne refuted. She rubbed Ally's stomach once more, proving her point. "It's cute."

"It can't be cute, because I don't do it. I don't -" Ally stopped when she saw Evelynne raising her own eyebrow. "Okay, fine, I do purr. Annie used to say I did, but I never..." She trailed off when she saw Evelynne's expression turn into a frown. "I'm sorry," she said softly. "I didn't mean to... I wasn't..." She sighed. "I've never had a new lover that I had to avoid talking about my old lover with. I'm not sure... I'm sorry."

Evelynne's face softened. "It's alright, love. I know that you loved her, and I know she loved you too. I certainly can't blame her for that." She giggled. "I've never had a lover who had an old lover that I should be jealous of, either," she said. She looked at Ally seriously. "I don't mind if you talk about her, love. Please, just... don't talk about her when we're... like this. I want this to be just us."

"I promise," Ally said.

"Thank you." Evelynne stretched up to kiss Ally thoroughly before returning to her regular position. After a while, she spoke. "I was just thinking... I remember when you said that when you picked things up with your mind, you kind of made them... a part of yourself."

"Yes," Ally agreed. "In a sense."

"Well, this morning, when you picked me up, and we flew... was I a part of you then?"

"Sort of," Ally said. "It's like... I take your entire being and put it in my mind... and it does become a part of me... like I know every thing about your body, but not... not specifically." She struggled for words. "It's like... you know your own hand, but you know nothing about the individual cells that make it up... But that's still not exactly right. It's..." Ally sighed. "I'm sorry. I can't really describe it properly."

"That's alright." Evelynne smiled. "I just like the thought that I was a part of you, literally, even for a short time."

"You are a part of me, Evy. You have been since I first saw you," Ally declared, hugging Evelynne closely to her, revelling in her warmth.

The thought of warmth crossed her mind a moment later when Evelynne shivered.

"We should get going," Ally said reluctantly. "It's getting late. I don't want Sir Arthur getting worried because he hasn't seen you all day."

"Oh!" Evelynne said, reality intruding into her dream world. "We didn't go for dinner!"

"That's okay," Ally reassured her. "I told Latifa and Maïda that we might have supper in my room." She grinned wryly. "They think I'm getting you to rest, because you've been working too hard."

Evelynne laughed out loud. "Well, they're wrong about the rest... physically, anyway." She smiled seductively at her new lover. "However, emotionally and mentally this has been the most restful day I've ever had." She shivered again, the pool's warmth unable to completely fight the oncoming cold. "I suppose we should go."

After a final passionate kiss that threatened to delay them still further, Ally and Evelynne got to their feet, quickly dressing in their warmer clothing. Ally finished first, and bent down to pick up the sheet. She froze suddenly, her eyes glued to the small dark spot clearly visible against the white fabric. Her gaze shot to Evelynne, her face obviously pale even in the dim light. "God, Evy, did I hurt you?" she asked, her voice strangled.

It took Evelynne a moment to realise what Ally was talking about. "What? Oh, no, Ally!" She quickly wrapped her arms around her shaking lover. She gently stroked her lover's back until the trembling began to abate. "No, Ally, I'm fine. I'm just... well, you know I am... was a virgin. It had to happen, and I hardly felt it. Then... it was wonderful." Evelynne stroked Ally's face. "You were wonderful."

"Okay," Ally said, her voice calmer. "I didn't think..." She shook her head.

"It's alright, love. Didn't it happen to you your first time?"

"Um, no. It doesn't always happen to all women, for various reasons. I just didn't think..."

"It's alright, love." Evelynne whispered in her ear. "I'm glad it was you."

Ally didn't say anything, just squeezed her lover tightly.

The next few minutes were spent clearing up the remnants of their visit. Once they were done, Ally looked at the box and said, "I'll come and pick this up later." She glanced up to see Evelynne gazing around the grotto, a contemplative and slightly sad expression on her face. "Hey, are you okay?"

"Yes, I am. You're right. It is sad when things change." She stared at Ally with an expression of total love. "But I'm glad they did." She looked around again. "Can we come back?"

"Of course, Evy, whenever you want."

"Good," Evelynne said, taking a deep breath. "Then let's go home."

A minute later the grotto was deserted once again.

As Ally lightly touched down on the balcony outside her room, she could hear a clock somewhere in the Palace striking midnight. Evelynne had been silent throughout the flight, and now she turned in Ally's arms and gripped her tightly, showing no signs of letting go. They remained for several minutes, until Ally spoke.

"Evy, I think you have to go. You need to sleep."

Evelynne raised her head, a vulnerable expression on her face. "Can I stay with you tonight?" she whispered.

Ally hesitated, though every part of her urged her to agree. "What about everyone else?" she asked. "Do you want everyone to know about... us?"

"Please, Ally? I'll go back to my room before anyone notices. I just need to be with you for a while."

Ally hesitated a moment, then released Evelynne to take her hand. "Come on," she said, leading her lover inside.

Continued in Chapter 27