Modern Crusaders, Book 2
Disclaimers in Chapter 1
The Tribal Hall was packed with what what was quite possibly the entire population of the Grey Bear Lake Reserve. A large, cunningly designed fireplace in the middle of the hall provided the majority of the light, not to mention the heat—not an insignificant contribution considering the frigid temperature outside. A wide space around the fireplace had been cleared of everything but those who wished to dance, and there were quite a few of those. Celebrants taking a break, or choosing not to join in, gathered and chatted and gossiped around the edges of the Hall. The music being played was eclectic, to say the least. Modern-style dance music, with a definite Native influence, made up the bulk of it, but jazz, Celtic tunes and a few weird percussion selections rounded it out. At the request of a few of the younger members, a few hard-rock pieces had made their way into the line-up and were suffered through with immense patience, until those specific CDs had been conveniently “lost” by the hard-working DJs.
Evelynne laughed as Harry Leaping Salmon, one of Black Crow's ubiquitous cousins—Evelynne had yet to puzzle out just what criteria were required to make someone the elder's cousin, as he seemed to possess a multitude—finished a rather crude joke involving Canadian currency, complete with sound effects and physical expressions. It took Evelynne a moment longer than everyone else to see the punch line, not being completely familiar with dimes, quarters, or the even more ridiculously named Canadian loonie, but Harry's enthusiastic demonstration was all that was needed to have her chuckling.
As if an echo, laughter spilled over from the other side of the hall, over the combined noise of music and enthusiastic conversation. Evelynne looked that way, still marvelling at how many people had turned up for this… What did Black Crow call it? Social ceremony, she remembered. More like “any excuse to party” ceremony. The next time someone tries to tell me Native Canadians are supposed to be staid, stoic, humourless people, I'm going to laugh in their face. Most of those in attendance had probably been at the sweat lodge ceremony earlier, but Evelynne's state of mind at that time had been such that she hadn't formed an impression of those present. Now, though, she was pleased and gratified at the number of people who had come out to show support for the three strangers who had dropped into their midst. Most probably had no real understanding of what had really occurred in the sweat lodge, but the simple acceptance that had brought them out was warming.
Another burst of laughter shook Evelynne from her musing, and she finally managed to see to the other side of the hall, where a number of locals were teaching Ally to paint the face of another of their number—with questionable success, if the near-constant laughter was any indication. Ally and Evelynne had been appropriately adorned earlier, and if the paint on her own face was slightly irritating her sensitive skin, the exotic appeal that Ally's face now held was worth it.
Claire, of course, had foregone any additional adornment, her face already boasting its own natural pattern, and at first she had been uncomfortable at being excluded, however inevitably, from the activities, until a couple of children had hesitantly approached, desiring black and white facial art of their own. Now at least a dozen tiger-striped proud little warriors were mingling in the crowd, and Claire was carefully applying the paint to add another convert to the Cult of Claire. The thought that others might find her appearance attractively exotic, let alone wish to duplicate it, was obviously difficult to accept at first, but Evelynne was happy to see that the horde of little Claires and Clarences was doing the job.
Finally Ally moved back from her latest vic—subject, allowing the poor man she had been working on to be seen, and Evelynne snorted a laugh at the comical, clown-like paint that had been enthusiastically applied. The man had his eyes screwed shut, obviously unwilling to look into the mirror that was now being offered, but the surrounding laughter told the bad news, and he opened his eyes resignedly. They widened at the sight in the mirror, and he said something Evelynne couldn't hear. Ally's protest was also lost, but the man drew himself up with immense dignity, to the hoots of his audience, marched up the young woman who was laughing hardest, grabbed her by the arm, and led her onto the dance floor, where he put on a show worthy of his impressive appearance.
Smiling in triumph, Ally turned to her audience, all of whom scrambled out of her line of sight with exaggerated terrified expressions while she threw her head back and laughed wickedly. Evelynne grinned at the sight, as Ally managed to snag a teenage girl and wrestle her into the chair.
“She's looking happy, isn't she?”
The voice was just loud enough to be heard over the constant din of conversation and music, and Evelynne looked to see Black Crow take a seat beside her.
“She does,” Evelynne agreed, nodding. She frowned slightly. “Although she seems almost… too happy, if that makes any sense.” Struggled for words. “She's giddy. Uninhibited. More so than she ever was even before…” She waved a hand vaguely to encompass the entirety of the unfortunate events that had led up to this evening.
“I know. I expected this might happen, assuming last night had worked at all.” Black Crow's face was serious as he explained. “Before last night, Ally was hiding behind a wall she'd made herself. She had built up her mental defences, so she could protect herself from a world that was suddenly harsh and confusing, and to protect the world from the threat she thought she represented. Every spare bit of energy went into that wall. Last night it was annihilated. Not broken, not cracked. Destroyed, smashed to rubble. When she woke up this morning, every mental defence and inhibition was gone, and her psyche was exposed.” He shook his head. “I am making it sound harsher than it really is. But as you know, the English language does not have the words to fully describe the phenomena that we, at least, are slowly beginning to take for granted.” He shrugged. “Ally's psyche was exposed. Dangerously so, if she had been in another place and situation. As it was, she woke surrounded by a bare minimum of other minds, all of whom loved her. That was deliberate, you know. Often after a vision quest, the seeker isolates himself, the better to build up resistance and prepare to be once more grounded in society. During the time she spent alone with you, Claire, and my mother, the pressure of your minds made her automatically and completely unconsciously begin to build up those natural mental walls she's going to need to function among other people. Some distance is always necessary. We can't live totally exposed all the time. However, she is still building those walls, and until she does so, her psyche will be much more unguarded. Like a child.”
Evelynne nodded slowly. “That makes a lot of sense. This morning we touched minds, and it was so much more intense than it's ever been before. And it was amazing, and wonderful, but it was also almost too intense. Like a bath that's just a bit too hot for comfort.” She looked troubled.
“Don't be upset, Evelynne,” Black Crow said softly, squeezing her shoulder. “No matter how much they love each other, two souls are never meant to join utterly and without division. To do so would make them one person, and the two individuals would be gone. Souls may touch, share, even grant pieces of themselves to the other, but they were never meant to become one in this world. That is reserved for the next, when the Great Spirit joins all things together once again.”
“I know,” Evelynne replied, and she smiled, all trace of unhappiness and uncertainty gone. “Now I'm just happy she's better. Even if she is making a fool of herself.”
“Who's making a fool of herself?” The sudden voice in her ear made Evelynne jump, and Ally grinned at her. “Anyone I know?”
“Fool? Did I say fool? I meant to say cool. You're making a cool of yourself. You know, as in you're really cool.” Evelynne grinned back.
“Sure,” Ally said doubtfully. “Why don't I believe you?”
“Because you, my love, are a very intelligent woman. Deluded, but intelligent.” Evelynne pulled her partner down for a kiss. Letting her up for air, she asked, “So have you finished torturing… I mean, entertaining your fans?”
“They don't want to play any more.” Ally pouted. Changing moods and topics with a dizzying rapidity that was becoming the norm for the evening, she pulled Evelynne to her feet. “Come on, I want to dance.”
Claire looked up in time to see Ally drag a laughingly protesting Evelynne onto the dance floor, and smiled. It was beyond good to see the two of them smiling once more. Of course, Ally wasn't completely healed yet—in fact, it was unlikely she would ever be—but that was for the future, and tonight was simply about joy and laughter.
The entire day had been wildly surreal, and now weariness was adding to the dreamlike quality of her memories of it.
Flying with Ally had been… Again, the only term that Claire could think of was “dreamlike”. Whatever her previous knowledge of her friend's powers, that had honestly never crossed her mind, although now that she thought about it she didn't know why it hadn't. Perhaps vaguely she might have predicted some kind of simple levitation—“Simple” levitation, she scoffed at herself—but to actually swoop and soar through the air like a bird was just a fantasy. Ally had started out with fairly tame manoeuvres but then, when Claire had proved amenable, had graduated to loops and stunts that would have put the entire Snowbirds aerobatics team to shame. It had been overwhelming to Claire, the entire experience becoming completely timeless, so that after what seemed like only a few minutes they had landed to find that almost two hours had passed. Evelynne had been shivering but smiling when they returned, helping support Claire when her legs wouldn't hold her.
Then it had been Claire's turn to be on the observing end as Ally took her lover into the air, literally dancing weightless for a time as they hung in the sky. Claire didn't really know why Ally hadn't taken them both up together—perhaps it was too difficult to carry two people—but she had experimented by projecting her sight next to them, and it had been as though she was flying with them as they whirled and turned. The mid-air make-out session that had begun had sent Claire's vision scurrying back to the safety of her own head, content after that to just enjoy the scenery and process what had just occurred.
After returning to Black Crow's house and a well-deserved afternoon nap—although Claire wondered just how much actual sleeping Ally and Evelynne had done—they had set off for this party, where the mood had become slightly more down-to-earth, but just as joy-filled as before.
She really is doing better, Claire thought, and that caused a sliver of uncertainty to spoil her mood. Now that Ally was on the path to healing, she wasn't sure just how much longer they would be staying. For a little while longer, certainly, but eventually her friends would have to move on, if nothing else than to return to Atlantis when it was finally safe to do so, and Claire wasn't positive what role she would play when that time came around. They wouldn't forget her or abandon her, she knew, but she was also very aware that their current relationship was based on a bizarrely unique series of events, and she wasn't sure what would happen when the Crown Princess of Atlantis and her Consort returned to their normal lives.
There was also the fact that for the first time in as long as she could remember, Claire felt comfortable. The people around her didn't stare at her when she walked by, or find her appearance freakish. They found it intriguing, to be sure, but with none of the slightly repulsed fascination that had always been present in her life. That freedom from scrutiny was attractive, and the possibility of continuing to study both her gift and a newly revealed interest in psychology with Joseph Black Crow was also appealing.
*Claire, you're thinking too much.* Evelynne's words appeared in her head unexpectedly, and she looked into the Hall to see her friends, along with Mekohah and Black Crow, looking back at her. *You're frowning, and according to Mekohah that's not allowed tonight. You'll give yourself wrinkles. So get up and get your butt out here. That's pretty much a direct translation of what she's saying, by the way.*
The humour in the mental voice was more than enough to banish Claire's doubts, but she made sure to sigh theatrically and carefully examine her face for wrinkles before heading out onto the dance floor.
In an office overlooking the Atlantlan city of Jamaz, a figure fumed. Plans years—decades—in the making were all coming to naught, all because the all-damned Heir had, for all intents and purposes, dropped off the planet.
The original plan should have worked. It had taken years to arrange what the public was now openly calling the “Invasion,” and given the shadowy figure's connections, it should have worked. A swift, unstoppable stroke, and a nation would have been decapitated, its rulers eliminated, paving the way for the culmination of the Plan.
Instead, the Guard—who, again, should have been completely in the dark—had somehow discovered at least part of the planning behind the Invasion. Not enough to completely avert the hammer-blow that had struck the so-called Nobility, but enough to turn what was to be a fatal blow into a mere crippling wound. That had required a drastic change in the Plan, but had opened up other options. The Nobility remained in power, but enough of them had perished that their Heirs were young, inexperienced, and vulnerable to the kinds of influence that would be required to achieve even the partial success that the Plan was aimed at. However, they were learning quickly, as would be expected from the scions of families bred for centuries for strength and responsibility, and were beginning to weave themselves into the tightly-bound interaction of peer-to-peer, vassal and liege, that the Plan had been designed to tear apart.
And in large part that emerging strength was due to the continued patronage of the Royal Family deMolay. Somehow the most important set of targets had escaped almost completely unscathed, and that was maddening. The other major branches of the Royal Line had perished in the attack, but that left the King and Heir alive, and the direct line of succession intact. And that was why they had to die. With the only clear succession gone, there were more than enough rival claimants to drive the Nobility, if not into complete civil war, then at least into years of chaos as they vied for the Thrones. And that chaos would open up more opportunities, and give a modified version of the original Plan a chance at success.
But that meant the King and Heir would have to die. The King was less of a concern: when the time came it would be almost too easy to kill him, but until the Heir was dead there was no point. His death would make her the new Queen, and there was absolutely no certainty that there would be the same opportunity to eliminate her when the time came. So she had to die first.
When the Guard had invoked the Geranin Protocol, it had taken time to assemble the proper tools, and then acquire the locations of all the possible “Heirs”, and there had been more than expected. But that was no real concern, beyond the extra effort and expense involved. If one didn't mind killing all the fish in the barrel, one might as well use a shotgun rather than a rifle. But then the tools had missed! It turned out the desired fish was not even in the barrel at all, but out swimming in the wide ocean, free and alive.
So new plans were required, bait thrown in the water to draw the fish into the net. And the figure knew just the perfect bait.
“That was awesome, Claire,” Ally praised, leaning back in her seat, satisfied and full.
“It was indeed,” Evelynne agreed, looking far from a princess as she undaintily mopped up the last remnants of stew with a slice of bread.
“Thank you,” Claire said, smiling shyly at the people around the table, ending with Mekohah. “I did have a lot of help.”
“Nonsense,” Black Crow translated for his mother. “She merely caught you before you put in vinegar rather than chipotle sauce.”
Evelynne froze with her hand halfway to her mouth, then continued. “Well, that was lucky,” she said mildly. Finally finished, she followed her lover's lead and leaned back as well.
“Here, let me get this,” Claire said, beginning to gather up the plates.
“She cooks and cleans,” Ally said, affecting an impressed expression. “What do you think, love, should we keep her?” She winked at her partner.
“Oh, definitely.” Evelynne nodded as Claire blushed. “She's probably expensive, though,” she mused. “What do you have on you?”
As Ally made a great show of looking through her pockets, Black Crow stopped Claire from gathering the dinnerware. “You're going to have to make a very generous offer to keep this one,” he said, standing. “She's probably more than you can afford. Or at least more than you want to pay at the moment. But while you and your wife come up with a bid, you can sweeten the pot by taking care of the dishes. That'll be good for a down-payment, don't you think?”
“Curses!” Ally snapped her fingers. “Foiled again!” Standing with great dignity, she held out a hand to help her partner rise. “Come, Your Highness. ‘Twould seem the slaves have revolted, and we must sully our hands with this… this manual labour.” She picked up a single fork with the tips of her fingers, peered at it, and shuddered theatrically.
“The slaves are revolting indeed, Your Ladyship,” Evelynne agreed. “Absolutely revolting. We really must beat them more often.”
Ally nodded. “Mmm. Of course, knowing some of them—” She looked at a highly amused Claire out of the corner of her eye. “—they might actually enjoy more frequent beatings. I name no names, of course.” Sighing, she dropped the fork back onto the plate. “However, this is quite unacceptable.” Standing, she placed one fist on her hip and pointed imperiously at the fork. “Atten-shun!” The fork obediently leapt upright, balancing quite impossibly on end. “Right turn!” It spun to face the kitchen area. “Forward march!” With short, regularly timed hops, the fork “marched” to the edge of the table, “jumped” off the edge, and continued across the floor, before leaping up and into the sink with a clatter. Ignoring her half-amused, half-awed audience, Ally turned to the table once more. “Well?” she demanded at its surface. “What are you waiting for?” With a great clatter, the rest of the cutlery jumped up and followed the fork's path in a great untidy swarm. Never to be outdone for a cliché, the last item to leap into the sink was the tiny spoon from the pepper bowl, trailing behind the others by several feet.
“Hm.” Ally made a satisfied noise and brushed her hands together, smiling proudly. “Now—”
The finger she pointed towards the plates was quickly grabbed by an alert Evelynne. “Oh no, you don't!” Her partner scolded. “I'm not risking Mekohah's wrath by having another plate broken. We can do the rest by hand, like sensible people.” Ally pouted, while Evelynne grinned and waved the others away. “You go and relax. The Sergeant and I will take care of this.”
Claire, Black Crow, and Mekohah nodded agreeably and casually made their way towards the living area on the other side of the house. Evelynne watched until they were out of sight and the muted sound of the television came on before turning to Ally and letting some of her concern show.
“Ally, are you all right?”
“Of course I am. Why wouldn't—” She stopped when Evelynne reached up to knead her temple.
“Ally, love, this is me. I know that that—” Evelynne gestured towards the silverware now in the sink. “—wasn't easy. I just don't want you straining yourself too much.”
Ally sighed and visibly relaxed into Evelynne's hand, her eyes drooping. “It was a little tricky. There wasn't a lot of energy involved, but it was like…”
“Like juggling forty pieces of silverware with one hand?” Evelynne completed, shifting to rub the bridge of Ally's nose. “I thought so.”
“I'm okay, though, really,” Ally said. “I just wanted to have some fun, you know?”
“I know,” Evelynne smiled. “And I understand. Just be careful, all right?”
“I will,” Ally promised. “Well, since you won't let me do this the fun way, I suppose we'd better get on with it. Wash or dry?”
“Wash,” Evelynne replied, turning on the water. “I know you hate prune fingers.”
Ally grinned at the sight of Evelynne, ready to plunge her hands in soapy water. “You've really taken to this, you know,” she commented. “What do you think, will Latifah let you in her kitchen every once in a while to wash up when we get home?”
Evelynne smiled back. “Well, I am the Heir. I can do whatever I want.”
“I don't know,” Ally said doubtfully. “Somehow I think Latifah outranks you in her own kitchen. You might have to—”
Her thought was interrupted by a sudden near-panicked shout, accompanied by an empathic jolt of shock and fear that both women felt with surprising clarity.
Spurred by Claire's shout, they rushed into the living area. “What—?” Evelynne began, but Claire just pointed to the news broadcast on the television screen.
“… just tuning in, the Atlantean government has confirmed an apparent terrorist attack on a ship within their territorial waters. The RAS Haltan Sail, an oceanographic research vessel, was reportedly struck by—reports are unclear—either a torpedo or a small missile. The area has been blocked off by ships of the Atlantean Navy, and the entire Atlantean military has been placed on high alert. It is known that the Haltan Sail was being chartered by a whale research group headed by Canadian Catherine Tretiak, well known as the mother of Lady Alleandre Tretiak, who became engaged to Princess Evelynne deMolay shortly before the mercenary attacks on the Atlantean Islands earlier this year. The Atlantean government has yet to speculate on the motive behind this attack, and whether it is related to the earlier terrorist incursion. It is known that there were several casualties when the ship was hit. Catherine Tretiak has been reported as alive, but her condition is unknown at this time. William Tretiak, Lady Alleandre's father, has been taken into protective custody in Parksville, British Columbia, by members of the Atlantean Guard.
“Once again, Lady Alleandre Tretiak's mother was the apparent target of a terrorist attack…”
The voice seemed to fade into the background as Ally turned a white-faced, beseeching look on her partner.
Evelynne didn't even hesitate. “You get all our things together. I'll make the travel arrangements.”
Acting Assistant Deputy Consul Iva'an Elseth didn't turn around as the door to the Consul's office opened, remaining hunched over the keyboard as a dozen messages encoded and decoded themselves on his screen. The Atlantlan Trade Consulate in Calgary was hardly a centre of political or military power by any stretch of the imagination, but a High Alert had to be acknowledged by all embassies and consulates worldwide, even the newest, most understaffed of all. And with the Consul away, and no Deputy yet officially assigned, that put Iva'an in charge. There was only a single Guard currently in the Consulate, and Elseth assumed that it was Lieutenant Amy Bulale who had broached the sanctity of the office.
“Give me a moment, Amy,” he said. “I just need to—” He glanced up and froze.
“I am Princess Evelynne Sophia al-Heru deMolay. This is my Consort, Lady Alleandre Tiffany Tretiak, and these are Ishta Claire Jones and Enku Joseph Black Crow. I will speak with the King.”
To say: O ye, who are set over the hours, who are before Ra, make ready the way for N.,
that N. may pass through in the midst of the border guard of hostile mien.
N. is on the way to his throne, like one whose places are in front, who is behind the god, with bowed head,
adorned with a sharp and strong antelope's horn,
like one in possession of a sharp knife, which cuts the throat.
The driver-away of suffering from the bull, the punisher of those in darkness,
is the strong antelope's horn, which is behind the Great God.
N. has reduced them to punishment; N. has crushed their head.
The arm of N. will not be resisted in the horizon.
--Egyptian Pyramid Texts, Utterance 251
The End of Book 2
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