Modern Crusaders: Adeptus Major
For disclaimers, see Chapter 1
"So what do we know?" Evelynne asked from her seat on the couch as King Jad, Sir Arthur, and Sir Adun entered the small, utilitarian sitting area.
Ally, who had been resting curled up against her fiancée with her head on the other woman's shoulder, made as if to move away, but Evelynne gently but firmly drew her close again.
To his credit, King Jad didn't even flinch at the intimate display. Then again, he had far more important things to worry about. "It's not good, Evy," he said bleakly, sitting down heavily in a nearby chair and displaying every ounce of his weariness. "We finally have confirmation on all the Nobles. They were hit just as they were starting to head back to the Conclave Hall." He sighed, rubbing a hand across his eyes. "We lost over three quarters of the Nobility."
"Oh, Isis," Evelynne breathed, and this time it was Ally's turn to silently hold her tightly as tears leaked out from behind her eyelids. "And civilians?"
"We don't have exact numbers, Your Highness," Sir Adun said quietly. He was just as tired as the King, having had to keep up with his ward constantly over the last three days. "However, we're still looking at over fifteen thousand dead and Osiris knows how many wounded, mostly in the vicinity of Ru'en Base. We were incredibly fortunate, considering–"
Evelynne nodded, her eyes still closed, although she felt that "fortunate" was an extremely inaccurate word to describe the events of the last few days.
After Ally's spectacular elimination of the enemy soldiers blocking them from their goal, the group had finally managed to reach the safety of one of the bunkers, buried deep below the Royal Palace. Alleandre's actions had left some Guards looking at her as though she was some goddess come to earth to be worshipped, and others as though she was the greatest threat they could possibly imagine facing– or both. She had been facing stares from them since then, which was one reason why she and Evelynne were hiding out in this spartan sitting room, communing silently through Evelynne's gift. As for the King, while he remained uncertain over the ultimate implication over the revelation of Ally's abilities, the fact that she had employed them in the defence of his daughter could only be a good thing in his eyes. Besides, as a young man he had studied for a time with the Templars, with their long tradition of esoteric practices, so the sudden appearance of "supernatural" abilities did not come as a total shock.
As for Duke Thomas, the medical teams at the bunker had managed to eventually stabilise him, but he had slipped into a coma from which they were uncertain he would recover. Given his age and the extent of his injuries, the chief doctor had quietly suggested removing him from life support. Alleandre had sat with him for over an hour, unmoving, her hand on his forehead and her eyes closed, and when she finally stirred she had ordered the machines left on. Nobody had argued with her.
The events throughout the country had rocked the nation like nothing else could have. The hidden explosives had done their jobs to near perfection, throwing the entire country into chaos, as the very services that would have best responded to the damage appeared to be the most heavily hit. Still, it said something about the character of the Atlantlan people that rather than panicking and adding to the disorder, citizens had banded together almost instinctively to aid each other, putting out fires, aiding the wounded, and maintaining order as best they could until the professional services could be restored. The individual and group acts of heroism were almost literally beyond counting, and the Monarchs had stated their intention to attempt to single out each and every one for recognition.
The total disorder and anarchy that the invaders had most likely been looking for had never materialised, at least not for any extended period of time, and even before the first day had ended, they had found themselves hounded and hunted by an increasingly coherent resistance. By now, the entire force had been captured or killed, with the possible exception of a few small groups that had managed to fade away before the Atlantlan forces. Allied troops from Portugal, Spain and Morocco had arrived swiftly, called by long-standing mutual defence treaties and alliances, and more from France, Cuba, Canada, England and a dozen other allies were ready to be called on at a moment's notice.
Even America had offered its own "peacekeepers", but nobody in the Atlantlan government was particularly inclined to accept any offers of aid from that source. The US Secretary of State had escaped back to the American Embassy, thanks in no small part to the efforts of a detachment of Palace Guard who had taken it upon themselves to protect the dignitary. Still, Americans were not the favourite nation of the Atlantlan government right now, since the identity of the invaders had truly become known.
And they were invaders, despite the speculations of some global media to classify the attack as a "revolution" or "popular uprising".
"What about the HBLA?" Evelynne asked, wiping her eyes as Ally brushed the hair away from her face.
"HBLA? Ha!" Sir Arthur barked a short, unhumourous laugh. "There is no HBLA. At least, not in any real manner except name. Nine out of ten were– are Americans. With what intelligence we've been able to gather, none of them are officially US troops, although some of them are certainly ex-military. The rest seem to be a combination of mercenaries and so-called 'survivalists'; the kind that barricade themselves in compounds throughout the States and stockpile every type of weapon they can get their hands on, in preparation for when the 'Commies invade'." He snorted again.
"But why?" the princess asked, her voice baffled. "I mean, Isis knows the US has been supplying, training and funding terrorist groups for decades -- hell, half the first world countries have -- but those have all been foreign groups. Why send their own people?"
"Intelligence has put together a few scenarios," Sir Adun said. "It seems unlikely that this attack had anything to do with any officially sanctioned American scheme. Oh, there are undoubtedly members of the American government who were aware of it and facilitated it, but the chances of it having any legal backing are slim. It could have been some kind of rogue operation, but it lacks the signature of any of the known agencies. No, this was put together by someone else."
"We don't know. However, as well as we are able to guess -- and a lot of this is guesswork -- the plan was to infiltrate the mercenaries into Atlantl, where they would begin a terror campaign under the guise of the 'Hy Braseal Liberation Army', intent on liberating the 'poor, oppressed' Atlantlan people from their 'aristocratic, totalitarian regime'. Then, at the proper time, they would stage a 'revolution' and take control of the country. However, all of this was pure show, for the benefit of the international community."
"I don't get it," Ally spoke up for the first time.
"Well, if you don't," the King explained, "then it's unlikely that the average citizen would, either. However, if we, as a nation, have a group of 'rebels' attempting to 'free the people', then there must be something that we are doing to 'oppress' them, mustn't there? And if they are 'desperate' enough to instigate a full-scale 'revolution', then, by definition, we must be truly evil, as 'everyone's known all along'." King Jad was making exaggerated quote marks with his fingers, a sign of his frustration and underlying anger.
"But the so-called rebels would never be able to keep control, even with the numbers they brought along. Even as disorganised as things were, our military could still fight them off. They did." Evelynne frowned.
"And when that revolution manages to kill the entire ruling body, effectively beheading the nation? Then nobody will be around to object when someone or some group begins implementing a change in government, likely to some more 'democratic' system, which is infinitely more susceptible to control by special interest groups. With the international pressure and 'assistance' available, especially if 'peacekeepers' from other nations are present to 'help maintain order', since the old regime was obviously evil and oppressive, it would be easy."
"But who would want to do all this to begin with?"
"Come now, Evelynne," King Jad chided. "Do you need me to make you a list? There are plenty of interests on both sides of the Atlantic that would love to have a lot more influence over our resources and trading routes. The effects of a 'modest' reduction in tariffs through our territorial waters alone are enough to make any country's economists drool. We're also strategically placed so that any nation would dearly love to be able to position troops and ships in our territory. And those are simply foreign concerns. Let's not ignore the incentive of the power that would be available to those within our own country should the Hall of Nobles fall. Suppose only a handful of Nobles 'fortuitously' survive the rebellion? Then who better than one of them to take up the reigns of the inevitable 'interim government', to then run for office during the next election? Or even a restoration of the Monarchy, and who better than one of the old Nobles to become the first of the new D ynasty?"
"You're right. I'd say an alliance of both foreign and domestic interests," Evelynne mused. Her father waved at her to continue. "Resources. I can only guess at the money that was required to set everything in motion in the first place. Smuggling the mercenaries in, equipping them– Keeping the Guard off the trail for so long definitely points to an internal source. But I know the Guard keeps an eye on large monetary transfers, so the funding had to go through outside channels– and the sheer volume of funds is too large for any one interest to front alone."
"I agree– and so does Guard Intelligence. Needless to say, there is going to be a very thorough investigation– and it's going to take years."
"I know," Evelynne said.
"Do you?" the King asked. "This is far more than a simple corruption investigation. Some person or persons was not only able to infiltrate close to ten thousand foreign troops onto our soil; not only smuggle in enough weapons to arm them all; not only plant hidden explosives throughout the country, linked to a signalled controlled solely by the Director of the Guard herself; not only provide sufficient passcodes and information on Guard details to allow them access to the Royal Palace and Conclave Hall itself– they were able to get an assassin close enough to the Royal family to almost eliminate us entirely. This tells me that whoever it is is placed very highly in the government structure. The ease with which he or she has managed to manipulate things so far leads me to believe that it would be easy for whoever it is to manipulate the investigation as well. Simply put, we don't know who to trust." He sighed wearily.
"You can trust Sir Arthur, Sire," Ally said quietly. "And he can tell you who else to trust."
"Using his– talents, I believe you called them? Perhaps. But as I understand it, you possess more skill and experience in that regard, and yet you were still unable to detect McGarrity for what she really was. Why is that?" The King's voice was carefully free of condemnation.
"Because I had no reason to suspect her," Ally said simply. "It's not as though I go around scanning every new person I meet. Even under the best circumstances, that kind of wholesale thought sharing is– unpleasant. And she gave off absolutely no subconscious clues that may have somehow alerted me. She was like a chameleon. I almost think that until she had to do what she had to she honestly believed that she was who she pretended to be. Do you know who she really was?"
Sir Adun shook his head. "Guard Intelligence is still scraping for information, and trying to sort themselves out, but it's likely that she was a hired assassin. Do you remember what she said? 'I'm doing what I was paid to do.' And assassins for hire of her obvious calibre are notoriously difficult to identify."
They were referring to the woman who had called herself Laura McGarrity in the past tense, because she was, for all intents and purposes, dead. Ally's thrown bullet had struck her between the eyes, and the resulting shock and concussion had caused sufficient brain damage that it was unlikely she would ever wake up. And even if she did, it was uncertain how much mental capacity she would be left with.
"In any case," Ally continued, "Sir Arthur can at least tell you who to use to create your investigative agency. And you won't find a better lie detector during interrogations. Especially since they won't know they're under a lie detector."
King Jad looked up at the Guard in question. "Sir Arthur, are you willing to use your talents in this area?"
"Of course, Sire. My mind as well as my body are at the service of the Crowns. It is no less than my willing duty."
"Good. Now, there is something else." The King looked at Evelynne with sorrowful eyes. "Argyle died about an hour ago."
"Oh, Isis," Evelynne cried, turning to bury her face in her lover's shoulder.
Ally's own eyes were wet. While she had only met Evelynne's cousin a few times, he had seemed a pleasant, friendly person. She looked at the King, silently asking whether he should be the one to comfort his daughter, but he shook his head briefly. After a time, Evelynne cried herself out and raised her head, unceremoniously wiping her face with the back of her hand.
"I hate to bring this up now," Jad said, "but because of Argyle's– death we must consider a particular issue. Specifically, the Germanin Protocol."
"The what?" Ally asked.
"The Germanin Protocol," Evelynne explained, sniffling a few more times. "With Argyle and Reylinn– gone, I am now the sole remaining member of the line of Succession. With the Kingdom in a state of emergency, the Protocol makes provisions for me to go into hiding, in order to preserve the Succession."
"Yes," the King agreed. "However, there is a problem. In the few occasions that the Protocol has been invoked in the past, the Heir has been secretly placed with one of our allies in a foreign country. However, right now we simply can't trust our allies with something this important. Whoever orchestrated this attack is still out there, and we can't trust that they can't penetrate whatever secrecy we place around Evelynne. Which leaves ones option–"
"No, za!" Evelynne interrupted. "You can't make me do that. I can't stay in Elysium for however many months or years it will take to make things safe again! I just can't.' Her eyes were pleading, begging.
"Evy, do you think I want to? Patrick is already safe in Europe, and his primary protection is probably the fact that he irrevocably Abdicated the Throne. However, we can't keep you safe outside of Elysium. There's nobody who can --"
"I can." The interruption came from Alleandre.
"Alleandre, I appreciate your– unique talents, but even you can't–" The King trailed off when he saw that the two young women were gazing into each other's eyes, communicating on a completely private level. The princess' expression changed from questioning, to shocked, to speculative as they communed silently.
Finally they broke contact, and Evelynne looked at her father. "Ally has an idea," she said. She took a breath. "You make all the arrangements for me to go to Europe somewhere. Let me finish! You make all the plans, all the false leads, all the covert arrangements. You arrange for me to go to several places, without revealing which one I'm actually going to. Each location will think that I went to one of the others. And, while the people trying to kill me are tracking down all the leads–" She took another deep breath. "Ally and I disappear. Just us. No Guards, no covert protection, nothing."
"After all, tracking down two ordinary women among the three billion others on the planet is much harder than trying to find the Heir to Atlantl among the societies of Atlantl's allies," Ally added softly.
The King's first instinct was to immediately object, but he restrained himself, forcing himself to look at Sir Arthur and Sir Adun instead. He was both reassured and disturbed at the speculative looks on their faces.
"It's– feasible, Sire," Sir Adun said finally. "Of course, it would be safer to send along a small covert Guard detail to --"
"No," Alleandre interrupted. "I can get Evelynne and myself past just about any surveillance or border easily. I can't do more than one. Not nearly as easily, anyway."
"But --" Sir Adun started, halting when he saw Ally's firm expression. Part of him was dying to know exactly why she was so sure she could avoid leaving a trail, and another part was strongly rebelling against the idea of leaving a member of the Royal family with only a single woman for protection. Then he remembered that same single woman single-handedly taking out an entire squad of enemy soldiers.
"They should do it," Sir Arthur said suddenly, his gaze somewhat unfocussed. He shook his head to clear it. "I don't know why, but they should."
Ally was looking at him calculatingly, then she nodded.
The King's expression was less sure. "We'll discuss it."
Seven people congregated in a moonlit garden to see them off. William and Catherine Tretiak, King Jad and Queen Cleo, Maïda, Sir Arthur, and Chorus Tladi were all present. Ally was currently embracing her parents in a three-way hug as Evelynne did the same with her father and aunt.
"Now, you keep each other safe, you hear?" Catherine whispered fiercely, her voice hoarse. "And more important, keep each other happy." William squeezed his daughter harder in agreement.
"We will," Ally promised, reluctantly breaking free from the embrace. She turned to Chorus.
"What they said, Ally," the young man said wrapping her in a bear hug.
Ally managed to chuckle. "I will," she promised again. "Now, you take care of Duke Thomas' Duchy, Mister Regent."
"I promise. And remember, it's your Duchy now as well, Your Grace."
"Not yet," Ally said, "and hopefully not for a long time to come."
With a final rib-cracking hug they parted, leaving Ally face to face with King Jad. "Well, Alleandre, years ago when I thought about having a daughter-in-law, this was certainly not the way I ever imagined it." His face finally broke into a fond smile. "Now, I couldn't think of a better choice." This time, Ally was almost smothered by his massive arms.
"Thank you– za," she managed to say past a tight throat and tighter chest.
The King's voice lowered. "Just remember that if anything happens to my daughter I will hunt you down– Adept or not."
"If anything happens to her you won't have to," Ally replied in a matching tone.
Finally finishing their goodbyes, the two young women moved together into each other's arms. "Time to go," Ally said, drawing Evelynne back with her into the shadows, where their matching black outfits made them almost invisible. "We'll be back." Suddenly her eyes widened. "What's that?" she asked, pointing.
Everyone whirled to look, only to find nothing there. When they turned back, Ally and Evelynne were gone.
Chorus chuckled. "Damn it, Ally, you always did want to make a dramatic, mysterious exit, didn't you?"
King Jad was staring speculatively at the sky.
"They'll be alright, Jad," William said, standing next to him.
"Oh, I know," the King said, not removing his gaze from the stars. "They'll be more than alright. One day, they're going to change the entire world."
Don't look back.
The time has come.
All the pain turns into love.
We're not submissive, we're not aggressive,
But they think we can't defend.
Stand up! Join us! Modern Crusaders alive!
We have the power to face the future,
Cause we are the fighters,
Just fighting for our rights.
They're accusing, like always without knowing
What is just fiction or what is the truth.
They have no mission, they have no passion,
But they dare to tell us what's bad and what's good!
Stand up! Join us! Modern Crusaders alive!
We have the power who'll face the future,
Cause we are the fighters
Just fighting for our fights.
– for now.
Author's note: Well, it's finally over. Thanks so much to all those who have stuck by me during the process of writing this monster– even those who whined and complained about when the next update would be coming out. You know who you are. So what happens next? Where will they go? Who will they meet? Suggestions and comments are, as always, greatly appreciated. Do you think they should be hiding out in your home town? The possibilities are endless. Care to suggest some?
P.S. The lyrics to the song "Modern Crusaders" are owned by Enigma and their recording label, in other words, a bunch of people who are not me.