Modern Crusaders, Book 2
Disclaimers in Chapter 1
Walking slowly down the street, Claire kept an alert but discreet eye on her friend walking beside her. Evelynne was supporting Ally on the other side, carefully holding her arm, so the chances of her falling were slight, but Claire was taking no risks. Even though Ally had been out of the hospital for four days, her balance and perception still seemed to be off. Most of that was probably due to exhaustion, Claire thought, rather than any lingering effects of the drugs. Ally had hardly been sleeping since returning to their apartment, and the dark rings under her eyes were the reason for the dark glasses she was wearing, despite the fact that twilight was already upon them.
The past few days had been difficult on all of them. When Ally had returned she had been restless and skittish, but also withdrawn and unemotional. While she and her lover had continued to share a bed, Claire knew that Ally had taken to leaving it in the middle of the night, relocating to the couch in the living room and watching TV for hours with the sound turned low. Claire knew that Evelynne was being as undemanding and understanding as possible, but on more than one occasion Claire had found herself holding the other woman while she wept.
Ally had grown increasing restless, and today, when Evelynne had said that she had to return to the Sixth Age to discuss some things with Narmin, she had tentatively requested to come along. Evelynne had jumped at the chance, since it was the first real initiative Ally had shown since her return, although it was obvious she was worried about bringing Ally back to the source of her pain. Concerned, she had asked Claire to accompany them. Corey had been more than willing to do the same, but Ally had become visibly nervous at the thought of even more people, though she would likely not have explicitly objected.
Now, as they approached the front door of the restaurant, Ally's anxiety was becoming more evident in her rapid breathing and quick, jerky movements. Evelynne cast a quick glance at Claire, asking a question with her eyes, and Claire nodded.
"Ally, love, how about you stay out here with Claire while I go in? I won't be too long, and you can enjoy the fresh air." She indicated one of the small tables set along the sidewalk.
Ally visibly relaxed at the suggestion. "Okay," she agreed, the relief in her voice apparent. She looked down sheepishly. "Sorry."
Evelynne raised her head with a finger. "Don't be sorry, love. It's all right." She briefly brushed their lips together while Claire looked the other way, but not before she saw that Ally had to force herself to return the caress. While the couple had never been excessively demonstrative before, now Ally initiated no contact at all, and Evelynne, taking her cue from her partner's actions, was also hesitant to physically display her affection.
With a final lingering look, Evelynne disappeared into the establishment, leaving Claire and Ally to take seats on opposite sides of the table.
"So…" Claire said finally, when the silence had stretched uncomfortably long.
"So…" Ally repeated, actually managing to quirk a smile. She looked around before continuing. "Ev—Evelynne told me how you saw me… that night."
"Yeah." Claire looked down at her hands. "She thinks it might be some sort of ESP thing." She laughed unconvincingly. "I'm not sure I believe her, but she says she knows people who can do stuff like that."
Ally nodded. "She's right," she said quietly. "I can."
Claire gaped at her. "You? But…"
Ally shrugged. "I can see things that other people can't. Know things that other people don't. Feel other peoples' thoughts sometimes."
"What?! You're like some kind of telepath?"
"Not quite," Ally continued in a calm, matter-of-fact voice. "Telepathy is an active, dynamic talent. Putting thoughts into someone's mind is telepathic. I'm just a mind-reader."
Now Claire was quite sure that Ally's experiences had unhinged her in some way that had been missed before. ESP or precognition was one thing, but this was pure insanity. Her doubts must have showed on her face, because Ally peered at her closely and said, "Do you mind if I try?" Claire shook her head uncertainly. "Think of a number. Any number."
Despite her doubts, the order automatically brought a number to mind.
"Seventeen. Eight. Sixty-four. Twenty-two. One. Eighty-nine." Ally quickly read off each number that appeared in Claire's mind.
"Oh my God," Claire breathed. "Okay, what am I thinking now?"
"'The square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.' The Pythagorean Theorem."
"Jesus." Claire sat back in her seat, stunned. "You really can. What about Evelynne? Can she do that too?"
Ally smiled sadly. "Now she's the telepath. She used to talk to me, in my mind, show me she loved me." She trailed off wistfully.
Claire noted the past tense and reached across to take Ally's hand. "She still does, you know." Her heart ached at the loneliness and uncertainty in her friend's voice.
Ally looked down at their clasped hands. "I know," she whispered.
There was silence for several minutes. "So, you think I might be like you? My attacks are really seeing things?"
A shake brought Ally back to the present. "Maybe," she admitted. She looked at the mirrored window to the restaurant. "Tell me what's in there," she instructed. "Try to feel what you feel when you're having an attack, but concentrate on what's inside. Try to guide the images to what you want to see."
Despite her nervousness, bordering on outright fear, Claire complied. The thought of deliberately courting an attack was terrifying, but tempered by her trust in the woman across from her. If she says I can, then maybe I can. Closing her eyes, she tried to recall what a vision attack felt like—that was the easy part; they hard to forget—while simultaneously concentrating on the unseen interior of the restaurant. As she focussed, she felt a vague presence somewhere on the periphery of her mind, like feeling someone watching in an otherwise empty room, and wondered if Ally was somehow feeling what she was.
Then, with the suddenness that marked all her attacks, the visions hit her. It seemed that there were only three this time, and Claire was surprised by their clarity. It was because she was actively concentrating on them, she supposed, not trying to ignore them, and because they were not completely unexpected, as they usually were. One of the visions seemed to be an empty alleyway somewhere—or nowhere, if it really was just a figment of her imagination—and the second was inside someone's car, if she was seeing it right. Surprisingly, though, the third appeared to be the inside of the restaurant, from a perspective of somewhere near the window, as though she had somehow stepped completely through the glass and was standing inside. There were a fair number of people present, both diners and drinkers, and Claire recognised Jean as the waitress walked into "view."
"Good, you're doing it." From far away, Claire heard Ally's voice, shocked that she could not only hear the words, but comprehend them as well. Usually an attack so confused her mind that nothing from the outside world could penetrate.
Also surprising was the fact that the other two images were not gone, but somehow pushed into the background, still present and distracting, but no longer completely destroying her concentration. "Seeing" Evelynne near the bar, talking to Narmin, Claire took the initiative and attempted to "walk" her vision in that direction, exhilarated beyond measure when the point of view shifted. Even if this was still just an imaginary scenario created by some mental defect, the ability to at least partially control the attacks was priceless.
Still "walking" towards Evelynne, Claire was taken by surprise when the vision lurched, swooping unexpectedly to focus on a young man, laughing and drinking a brightly-coloured cocktail from a tall glass. There was something wrong with the drink, Claire suddenly knew, but she didn't have time to focus on the wrongness before her vision jerked again, this time to an attractive young woman sitting with some others at a table near the back of the bar. With disconcerting swiftness, Claire's sight took her closer, closer, until she was inside the woman's jacket pocket, where there was a small plastic bag filled with—
The vision snapped suddenly, catapulting her back into her body, and for several moments she could only blink and breathe deeply in an attempt to dispel the dizziness that wracked her. Finally catching her breath and equilibrium, Claire looked up over the table to see Ally, and almost recoiled physically.
Ally's face was completely blank, but there was something in her eyes, a growing comprehension, accompanied by a rage so great that it almost pushed Claire out of her chair.
"Al-Ally? What…?" Her hesitant question was ignored as, almost in a dream, Ally stood slowly and deliberately walked towards the door.
"So the police have really been helpful?" Evelynne asked her employer, standing by the bar.
"They have," Narmin replied in a low voice. "It's usually like pulling teeth to get real police help once they realise just who we are. So far I can't say they've been bending over backwards, but they're still taking this very seriously." She looked at Evelynne with a bemused smile. "I don't know what you said to them, but one of the officers seems to worship the ground you walk on."
Evelynne chuckled briefly. "So have they found anything?"
"No." Narmin shook her head. "They've done what they can, but there's not much they can do short of physically searching everyone coming in here, and that would definitely scare away the customers we still have." Her gesture took in the crowd around the restaurant and bar, which, while still respectable, was much smaller than it had been for a while. "They've got a plainclothes officer in here right now—” She nodded discreetly towards a lone customer apparently reading a book. "—but they can't keep one here forever. I've been talking to other bar owners around town, and they've seen a big drop in clientele too. It'll pick up again eventually, of course, but until then we can only wait it out." She shrugged helplessly.
"Have any other places been—"
Evelynne was cut off abruptly as the front door opened with some force, the bells set above it jangling in discord. Evelynne blinked as Ally appeared in the doorway, and watched as her partner's eyes tracked over the rest of the crowd that had looked up at her entrance. She felt an involuntary chill as Ally's expression registered. It was vaguely familiar, but it took a moment to remember where she had seen it last.
Then she remembered. Four months previously, she had seen almost the same expression on her lover as a full Adept stalked down a hallway to neutralise a squad of invading soldiers. There was a difference, though. That Ally had been like a panther protecting its cubs: focussed, determined, deadly, but also almost calm. This panther had been wounded, and was now stalking prey, the focussed hostility and danger flowing off her in waves.
Evelynne froze as that pitiless gaze swept over her without recognition, until it came to rest on a young man who had frozen in his seat, tall glass still held to his lips. Without breaking her stare, Ally flowed across the floor to his suddenly silent table, even as Claire appeared, distraught, at the now empty doorway.
Ally reached out and plucked the glass from the young man's hand, her glare stopping his protest before it could get past his lips. She touched the liquid inside with a single finger, and then brought the digit to her mouth, closing her eyes as she did so. She was still for a moment, and then her eyes snapped open. Replacing the glass on the table with carefully controlled precision, she dismissed the group at the table, her gaze now seeking out another group. Her eyes focussed on an attractive dark-haired young woman, a regular whom Evelynne recognised, and she stalked across the floor again, her stance becoming even more predatory as Evelynne watched.
Evelynne barely noticed Claire arriving at her side. "I don't know what happened," the other woman babbled. "I was—She was—I was looking in here, and she was listening in my head, and then I saw—And she…" Claire trailed off as Ally reached her destination.
Ally's focus of attention looked up at the woman looming over her with confusion and trepidation. "Are you—"
She was cut off as Ally reached down and, with a single smooth motion, grabbed the woman by the front of her button-down shirt and hauled her upright. The undercover officer in the room leapt to his feet, but Ally's eyes barely flickered in his direction and he froze in mid-step. Her attention now back on her victim, Ally stared into the other woman's eyes, who shrank away from the onslaught. Seemingly of its own volition, Ally's free hand made its way to the woman's pocket, and Evelynne's heart leapt into her throat as a small bag of pills was brought out.
"It's you." Despite the low tone, Ally's words could be heard throughout the bar. "You did it." Her eyes continued to seek inside her victim's. "And it wasn't because you didn't know what you were doing. It wasn't because you were angry, or stupid, or working for some twisted cause. You're not even a sociopath." Ally's lips twisted in a terrible grin. "Believe me, I know how to recognise a sociopath. No, you did it because you were testing your product. Because once you had it right you could make thousands selling it to other pathetic, twisted people. You did it for money, for pure selfish gain and YOU HURT PEOPLE!" With that sudden roar Ally's muscles bunched and she threw the other woman backwards.
Had it been anyone else, the woman would have travelled a few feet, probably falling at the edge of the dance floor. In reality, however, she flew through the air over twenty feet, clear across the dance floor, and hit the far wall, where she hung, suspended and spread-eagled, a foot off the ground. A moment later Ally was there. "You hurt me." A hand drew back, and Evelynne could practically see the power being channelled into it.
Visions of that power buckling a steel beam, and what it would do to a mere flesh-and-blood construct, sped across her mind, and a second later she was by Ally's side, not quite remembering moving across the intervening distance. She caught the hand about to strike, and was mildly surprised when she held it. Ally's head turned slowly, almost unwillingly, and recognition dawned equally slowly. "Evy," she whispered, her voice broken.
"Ally, please don't," Evelynne begged, feeling the quivering in the fist she was holding. "Don't do this. It's not you."
"Evy…" Ally's eyes were so wild Evelynne was vaguely surprised they weren't sparking. "She did it. She gave it to me. She made me do it. She hurt me."
"I know. But you don't want to do this. There's a better way." The fist slowly relented to Evelynne's pressure, and she turned her attention to the woman still before her. "Did you do this? Did you drug people in this restaurant?" *TELL THE TRUTH.* The command drove directly into the woman's brain.
The woman gasped, a strangled, "Yes," escaping her lips.
Evelynne nodded. "Ally's right," she said with icy calm. "You hurt people. You hurt the one person I love more than anything else in the world. You brought her pain, and you don't even care. You don't even know the pain you've caused. Yet."
Taking the other woman's head in her hands, Evelynne looked directly into her eyes. With a single brutal thrust of her mind, she took the terror, the pain, the confusion, the rage, the sorrow, the self-loathing that she had touched in Ally's mind in the hospital, and drove it directly into the psyche in front of her. The woman's head snapped back and she screamed, slipping to the floor as Ally's mental grasp released, collapsing into a sobbing huddle on the floor.
Evelynne looked down at her without a hint of pity. "Now you know."
Claire stood leaning against the bar, her breath having to squeeze into her lungs through a suddenly tight chest. She felt as though she had run a mile, adrenaline fueling her confusion and shock.
What she had just seen was impossible. Despite the demonstration that Ally had put on outside, there had still been limits to Claire's belief. The Amazing Kreskin is one thing. Superman is something else. Yet there wasn't really another explanation that fit what she had observed. She wasn't quite sure what everyone else had seen, since Ally's body had partially blocked the view of the other woman being held against the wall. The way Ally had thrown the woman across the room could have been explained by anger-fuelled adrenaline, Claire supposed, but she had seen how the woman had hung from the wall without any visible support. Somehow she simply knew that Ally had been behind that, as well.
Claire had been frozen as Ally had ripped the knowledge she wanted from the other woman's mind, but had started forward instinctively when Ally had drawn back to strike. Having seen the effortless way her friend had tossed the woman across the dance floor, her heart had leapt to her throat at the thought of that power unleashed in a punch. The way that Evelynne had stopped her lover's attack with a butterfly-light touch was as gratifying as it was disturbing. Evelynne had taken over then, and while Claire wasn't positive about what had happened next, she could guess.
"She used to talk to me, in my mind, show me she loved me…" Ally's words came back, and Claire shivered. If Evelynne could project love and joy, there was evidently nothing stopping her from projecting darker emotions as well. The pathetic woman now lying in a sobbing mass on the floor was testament to that.
Now Evelynne was holding her partner's face to her shoulder. After a brief moment, where the entire establishment seemed to hold its breath, Ally lifted her head and looked around. There was an instinctive drawing back by the watchers as her gaze took them in, and then she turned back to her lover and murmured something. Evelynne nodded, her face sad, but she remained at Ally's side as they walked swiftly towards the front door and out into the night.
The paralysis that had gripped the bar broke suddenly, shifting to confused, frightened babbling. A few of people made their way to the woman still lying on the floor, who flinched away as they tried to help her. Narmin was equally stunned, and turned to Claire, but the younger woman made a sudden decision and hurried out the door after her friends.
They hadn't gotten far. The couple were walking briskly a short distance down the street in the direction of their apartment. "Ally! Ev—Sophia! Wait!" Claire called. Thankfully, they complied. As she got closer, Claire could see that Evelynne's face was set in a determined, emotionless mask, her hand wrapped securely around her partner's arm. Ally, meanwhile, was holding herself stiffly, yet was still shivering visibly, every muscle in her body taut as a bowstring. They said nothing as Claire approached. "You're leaving, aren't you?" Claire blurted as soon as she reached them.
Evelynne looked up at her partner, but Ally seemed oblivious. "Yes," she said shortly. "We have to. I don't know where—"
"I do," Ally interrupted.
Evelynne looked at her again, then nodded. "But yes, we are leaving." She managed to smile sadly. "I'm sorry."
Claire shook her head. "Don't be. I'm coming with you."
"What? Claire, you can't."
"I can. Unless you tell me not to."
"But this is your home," Ally protested. "Why would you leave?"
Claire continued to shake her head. "My home? I've never had a home. And what is there for me here? A dead-end job? School, to prepare for a career that's probably wishful thinking? I can get those anywhere."
"What about your friends?" Evelynne asked.
Claire barked a humourless laugh. "Friend, you mean. Singular. Corey is the only real friend I've ever had. Until you. And he's always hoped that I'd get the opportunity to leave this place. No, like I said, there's nothing for me here. I want to help you in any way I can. Please let me. And if—" She took a deep breath. "If you're right about this talent I have, then I need your help. I can't deal with it on my own."
Ally looked about to object again, but this pulled her up short. She hesitated, and then nodded reluctantly. "If we're going to—" She looked down at Evelynne, who looked back with a worried expression.
"Are you sure?" Evelynne asked her lover.
Ally echoed Claire's stark laughter. "I'm sure of nothing. I have no idea what I'm doing. I just know that I need… help, and I can think of only one person who might be able to. She's done it before."
Evelynne's face softened, and she reached up to gently touch Ally's face, and Claire could just see the carefully controlled flinch in her friend's eyes. "Anything you need, love. Anything."
Ally nodded shakily, then turned back to Claire. "We're leaving tomorrow."
Continued in Chapter 16
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