Modern Crusaders Book 3: Nwyn
This story and these characters belong to me. By which I mean that they hijack my brain on a regular basis and force me to serve their pleasure, not allowing me to sleep until I have done what they want. Which can be a lot of fun in other situations, but when they exist in an electronic medium, only results in nasty electrical burns. Which can be fun in themselves if you happen to be into that, I suppose, but I'm not.
In case you haven't read the previous two Books (and why haven't you? Huh?) this is Book 3 of the Modern Crusaders series, which is about Lesbian Superpowered Royalty From Atlantis. If any part of this description bothers you in a not-good way, read elsewhere. There will be violence and sexual situations, but nothing much beyond what you can see on prime-time. Of course, considering just what is on prime-time these days, that promise might not carry much weight.
Feedback: Bien sűr! Sendeth thou thy thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org
Khan, here repeated, shows the possession of sincerity, through which the mind is. penetrating. Action (in accordance with this) will be of high value.
1. The first SIX, divided, shows its subject in the double defile, and (yet) entering a cavern within it. There will be evil.
2. The second NINE, undivided, shows its subject in all the peril of the defile. He will, however, get a little (of the deliverance) that he seeks.
3. The third SIX, divided, shows its subject, whether he comes or goes, confronted by a defile. All is peril to him and unrest. (His endeavours) will lead him into the cavern of the pit. There should be no action (in such a case).
4. The fourth SIX, divided, shows its subject (at a feast), with (simply) a bottle of spirits, and a subsidiary basket of rice, while (the cups and bowls) are (only) of earthenware. He introduces his important lessons (as his ruler's) intelligence admits. There will in the end be no error.
5. The fifth NINE, undivided, shows the water of the defile not yet full, (so that it might flow away); but order will (soon) be brought about. There will be no error.
6. The topmost SIX, divided, shows its subject bound with cords of three strands or two strands, and placed in the thicket of thorns. But in three years he does not learn the course for him to pursue. There will be evil.
- Translation of the Khan hexagram of the I Ching
“Move! Move! Move!”
Captain Arnold Beckman of the Calgary Urban Response Team listened to his sergeant and watched impassively as the man exhorted his men into greater speed as they hurried into place. Teams set themselves up on street-corners and behind benches, and some settled into hiding spots in the surrounding area.
“Hotel-four in position.” “Lima-one in position.” “Baker-two in position.”
The calm chorus of voices echoing in Beckman’s earbud was gratifying in its efficiency as the bulk of the city’s special police units spread out around the Atlantean Trade Consulate.
“X-Ray-one in position.”
That was one of the sniper teams taking up position on the roof of a nearby office building, which had been evacuated along with every other building in a three-block radius. Beckman didn’t envy the Police Chief the grief he would certainly be receiving over this, but fortunately that wasn’t his own problem. The Urban Response squads simply went where they were ordered and did as they were told, and it was only if one of his men screwed up royally that any crap rolled downhill, at least under the current Chief. Chief Niles Monroe was always ready to shoulder the burden of the day-to-day criticisms of his force, leaving the perpetually overworked and underpaid officers under his command to get on with their jobs. Which was just how Captain Beckman liked it.
In this case, however, Beckman didn’t think the fallout would be as bad as it otherwise would be. Once news that a terrorist threat had been discovered directed against the local Atlantean Trade Consulate inevitably leaked out through the sieve that was City Hall—and Chief Monroe would find some way to get it out if it didn’t find a way on its own—the public response would change quickly. With an attack on the future mother-in-law of the lesbian Heir to the Throne of the Realm of Atlantis only two days in the past, public sympathy was running high for that nation, even in Alberta, which generally wasn’t known for its acceptance of anything homosexual-related. For that matter, it probably wouldn’t matter if the Mayor stapled his staff’s mouths shut, since any halfway intelligent reporter—Beckman's own experience had left him wondering if that was a contradiction in terms—would be able to put heavily armed police units and the Atlantean Consulate together and come up with a lot of speculation.
And who knew, maybe some of that speculation would even turn out to be correct. It happened occasionally in the press.
Of course, it didn’t help that even Beckman wasn’t entirely sure what was going on with the Consulate himself. Thirty minutes ago he had received the call from the Police Chief, ordering him to secure the outside of the Trade Consulate with all possible speed. It made sense that a terrorist threat could have been detected, but if that had been the case, the building would likely have been evacuated.
As it was, there were still people inside, as shadows could be seen moving behind the windows of the short brick building. That made the threat of a real attack unlikely, since any halfway intelligent bureaucrat—another oxymoron—would know to keep away from the windows at the very least.
The regular check-ins from his squads slowed and finally stopped as they took their final positions, to be replaced by the softer murmurs of situational chatter and visual updates. Beckman checked his watch. Three minutes and forty-eight seconds. Not a bad time, considering the area they had been forced to cover. Not that he’d ever tell them that.
“Movement, front door. Designate Target One.”
Captain Beckman’s head shot up from where he was studying a detailed map of the surrounding area, considering moving a squad to cover a slightly more vulnerable approach, at the quiet voice in his ear. As he watched, a person slowly opened the front door and moved out onto the front porch. Frowning, the Captain peered at the door through a small telescopic lens.
“She looks nervous,” Beckman’s second-in-command, Sergeant Louis St. George, commented nearby.
“She looks terrified,” Beckman disagreed absently, taking in the woman on the front porch dressed in the purple and gold of the Atlantean Guard. “Which doesn’t make me feel any better, considering what she’s packing.”
St. George nodded. The Guard was fully and neatly kitted out in full uniform, but its normal lines were now broken by the full body armour she wore, right down to the helmet on her head. More disturbing, however, was the large, deadly-looking rifle she held at rest across her body as she stood at guard rest on the porch, obviously trying to ignore the array of firepower surrounding her.
“Looks fully-automatic,” St. George speculated. “Military issue. M-16?”
Beckman shook his head. “Atlantean military Maevar-3 7.62 mm automatic rifle,” he murmured. “I got a report when the Lannies were first moving in here. They should have three Guards in residence. I wonder where the other two are.” Keying his own mike, he instructed, “All units, hold fire. Target One classified friendly. Target’s weapon is full-auto, effective range four-two-five metres.” If worst came to worst, Beckman wanted his men fully aware of just what they were up against.
“It don’t make sense,” St. George said, shaking his head in puzzlement. “If there’s a threat, why haven’t they evacuated?”
“I don’t know, Lou. The only thing I can think of is they’re protecting something. But what would the Lannies be protecting in some Podunk trade mission?”
Acting Assistant Deputy Consul Iva’an Elseth looked out the window at the assembling police teams with a mixture of relief and abject terror. This isn’t supposed to be happening to me! a small, scared part of him wailed, and was firmly ignored by the rest of him. After all, he doubted any member of the Foreign Council would really be prepared for what had fallen in his lap, much less the temporary and provisional head of a minor Trade Consulate which wasn’t even fully operational yet.
That lack of preparedness was the reason for the massive police presence outside the Consulate. A full one-third of the Guard detachment attached to the Consulate—one Lieutenant Amy Bulale—had just headed out the door and Elseth didn’t know whose situation was worse: his own, attempting to control the situation that had overtaken him, or hers, standing guard outside the Consulate in full combat gear, in the face of what looked like a large portion of the Calgary Police—who were probably less than thrilled to have a heavily-armed foreign national on heightened battle alert anywhere within a hundred miles of their city—and trying to appear confident and unmoved while doing so. Elseth was honestly torn over which task was less undesirable.
However, the simple fact was that a single Guard was completely inadequate for the task of protecting what was currently in the Consulate. The other two Guards currently assigned had been summoned, and were certainly en route to the Consulate with all possible speed, although it was uncertain whether they would now be able to gain access through the police cordon around the building.
I should have got them here, and then called in the police, Elseth thought. The Police Chief promised them passage, but it takes time for authorisation to go through.
When the Trade Mission had been instituted, Elseth had visited the Mayor and Chief of Police as a courtesy, providing what unclassified information he could about the Consulate and its security. They had appreciated the gesture, and Elseth and the Chief had managed to strike up a tentative friendship. That had made him the first person the Deputy had thought of when much more intense protection had been suddenly needed. The Chief had promised an Urban Response presence—the closest to a full military guard that could be arranged on such short notice—and would also attempt to request real military protection from one of the Canadian Forces Bases in the area.
Now that he had done all he could in terms of protection, Elseth was trying, with near-desperation, to contact someone with more authority to take over. Home Office had already been informed of the situation, and were currently trying to coordinate affairs on their end, likely with an equal amount of desperation, and one of the Consulate’s secure lines was now permanently connected. Elseth was now attempting, without success, to reach Emily Karawe, the official Chief Trade Consul for western Canada.
“The customer you are trying to reach is currently out of range, or has turned off their phone. If you would like to leave a message, press one…”
a very rare event, and left a message. Karawe was notorious for taking very
long holidays at extremely inconvenient moments. An avid skier, she was likely
somewhere on the slopes of Whistler near
Hanging up, the Deputy consciously forced himself to relax, and then headed towards the main meeting room of the Consulate. The building’s internal communications system would alert him the instant a new communication was received from Home Office.
Hesitating, he knocked softly on the door to the room. A moment later an elderly Native man opened it, smiling reassuringly at him.
“Enku Black Crow,” Elseth said, bowing slightly.
Black Crow smiled again, and Elseth could almost feel some of his anxiety draining away, allowing a semblance of calm to emerge. He didn’t know just what it was about the old man that was so reassuring, and wasn’t really inclined to question it.
“Mr. Elseth,” Black Crow replied. “Please, come in.”
Nodding in thanks, Elseth entered, looking around at the room’s occupants, who were the reason for the chaos that had descended on his quiet Consulate. Sitting sideways on a couch by the window with her legs drawn up under her was Her Ladyship Dame Alleandre Tretiak, Consort to the Heir of Atlantl. She looked very different from the last pictures Elseth had seen of her. Medium-length brown hair had morphed into a wavy, shoulder-length black style, and a series of earrings followed the curve of her ear. A tense, anxious expression haunted her, far different from the tentative, shy face in the pictures Elseth had seen. Lady Alleandre was currently looking out the window, fingers nervously drumming on the back of the couch.
She was being comforted by the woman who was, without question, the most exotic-looking of all of them. When he had first seen her, Elseth had assumed that Ishta Claire Jones was covered head to toe in tattoos, turning her face into a black-and-white mosaic. Even her hair was bi-coloured in black and white patterns, and one of her eyes was a very ordinary brown, while the other was a disconcertingly pale blue. Those eyes had seemed to look completely through him when they had first met. Ishta Jones was rubbing Lady Alleandre’s shoulder gently but firmly, her attention fully focussed on the other woman, although she looked up with a brief, shy smile when Elseth entered the room.
The third woman was—
Elseth’s heart froze in his chest when he saw that the final woman—who was arguably the most important—was missing from the room. “Where is Her Highness?” he asked, and despite his best efforts, his voice was strained and shaky.
“Evelynne went to get—”
Enku Black Crow’s reply—a part of Elseth’s mind wondered at the man’s casual use of the Princess’ given name—was cut off as the door opened behind the Deputy, and the Heir to the Throne of Atlantl calmly entered.
“Your Highness,” Elseth said automatically, bowing deeply to the woman who would someday become his liege, still surprised at just how much she had changed since the last time anyone in Atlantl had seen her. The Princess’ trademark fiery red mane was completely gone, replaced by a short, spiky hairstyle that was so blonde it was almost white. Her attire—a casual sweater, tight blue jeans, and slightly worn shoes—was far removed from her customary elegant gowns and dresses. The face was still much the same, but it was lacking the makeup she had normally worn, and was possessed of a seriousness and maturity that had left her young, almost childlike expression behind. The Deputy was willing to bet that anyone who had not grown up around her likeness constantly would not recognise her.
Princess Evelynne looked at him oddly for a moment, as though the formal honorific was unfamiliar somehow. Then she shook her head bemusedly. “Consul Elseth,” she replied, heading towards the low coffee table in the middle of the meeting room.
The Deputy’s eyes widened as he saw the tray she was laying on the table. It was covered with sandwiches, sliced cheese and fruit he recognised from the Consulate’s tiny kitchen, and a teapot was settled among a couple of empty cups and three steaming mugs of dark liquid. Elseth knew for a fact that no snacks had been prepared that day, which meant that the only way they could now be present was if Princess Evelynne had made them. As his mind struggled to comprehend the future ruler of his country putting together sandwiches in his own kitchen, Elseth realised she had addressed him.
“I’m sorry, Your Highness?”
Again that odd expression crossed her face, but she repeated her question. “I asked if you would care for something to eat.” She smiled.
“Uh… thank you, Your Highness.” One did not decline an offer from one of the Royal Family without good reason. Despite everything, Elseth was not prepared for her to fill a plate and deliver it to him personally. He took the plate automatically, vaguely aware that he was practically gaping like a fish. Crown Princess Evelynne Sophia al-Heru deMolay serving a very minor member of her bureaucracy like a… a servant? As he stammered his thanks and blankly felt his way into a chair, the Deputy’s mind struggled to find some rationale that it could accept to explain this anomaly. Perhaps if he thought of her as a hostess, serving guests in her own house? It was a stretch, since technically she was not yet Atlantl’s Mistress—or by extension the Consulate’s—but it would serve as an adequate scenario that the Deputy’s already-stressed mind could desperately grasp.
As though reading his mind, the Princess smiled at him wryly before serving Enku Black Crow, and then, expertly balancing two plates and a couple of steaming mugs, headed over to the couch to seat herself in front of her Consort. Some sort of unheard communication seemed to pass between the two women before Lady Alleandre managed a strained smile and murmured her thanks. Princess Evelynne kissed her Consort briefly, and then shared an equally expressive glance with Ishta Jones, who nodded and smiled, never ceasing her soothing caress of the Lady’s back.
Princess Evelynne stood and walked back over to the Deputy. Elseth hastily swallowed the mouthful of sandwich he didn’t remember eating and stood in what he hoped was an appropriately respectful stance.
“Consul Elseth, what is the status of the communications with Atlantl?” the Princess asked quietly.
“I have submitted a report of events, Your Highness,” Elseth replied, happy to be able to fall into professionalism, “and have requested further instructions. I’m afraid that Home Office has been caught… unprepared for your arrival.”
Evelynne smiled with subtle humour, and Elseth found himself
relaxing in her kind charisma. “I can imagine,” she murmured. “
“I’m sorry, Your Highness. Nothing detailed. A Trade Consulate is not generally considered a priority for receiving such sensitive information. I can only repeat the general reports released by the Crown. Lady Alleandre’s mother is currently in an undisclosed secure location and receiving medical care. Her condition was last reported as serious, but not life-threatening. Her Ladyship's father has been taken into protective custody by his Guard detail, and is being held in a secure location.”
The Princess’ face was grave. “And the original attack? Is there any new information?”
“The military is being very close-lipped, Your Highness. They have confirmed that it was a missile attack, likely from a shoulder-launched weapon, but have released no information on suspects or specifics. All military assets have been placed on high alert, and a warning has been issued to all diplomatic offices and missions.”
“There have been no statements by those responsible? No additional attacks? No ideas as to who was behind it?”
“No, Your Highness.”
“Damn,” Princess Evelynne said softly.
Elseth didn’t even blink.
Claire watched Evelynne stand and talk quietly with the Consular official—Iva’an, she thought his name was—before turning her attention back to her friend on the couch. Ally had been silent and focussed during the whole journey from Black Crow’s house to the city, and her only sign of her apprehensiveness had been some shaking body part. In the truck it had been her leg, which hadn’t remained still the entire way, and now it was her fingers, nervously drumming an erratic pattern on the back of the couch.
Claire’s own stomach was twisting in sympathetic anxiety. She had never known her own mother, just a series of emotionally detached foster parents. Still, the memory of how she had felt when Ally had been hospitalised after her bad drug reaction was still fresh in her mind, so she had some idea of what her friend was going through. There wasn’t much Claire could do beyond rubbing Ally’s shoulders, and projecting a constant feeling of sympathy and comfort in the hopes that Ally’s empathic sense would pick it up.
Sighing, Claire’s mind wandered to the events that had overtaken all of them since their arrival at the Atlantean—Atlantlan was the proper term, she corrected herself—government building. Evelynne had taken charge immediately, identifying herself and demanding access to her father. The change in Claire’s friend was unsettling. Evelynne had always possessed a certain subdued authority, and a talent for organisation and inspiration, but now that authoritativeness had come to the fore. The transformation from Claire’s close friend to the unmistakeable future commander of Atlantl was confusing, which was one of the reasons Claire had retreated and concentrated on comforting Ally instead. Evelynne had seemed to sense what was happening, but had not been upset, simply smiling reassuringly and entrusting the care of the woman she loved to her friend while she took care of more practical matters. The fact that Evelynne could speak to Ally telepathically from anywhere in the building made the decision less cold than it might have appeared.
Evelynne’s new—or newly exposed—authority was also taking its toll on Claire’s optimism for what the future might hold. This new Evelynne was going to be returning to her Kingdom—Diarchy, actually, since Atlantl was co-ruled by both a King and Queen—and would ultimately become the most powerful person in that Realm, and one of the most powerful in the world. Simple, odd-looking Claire Jones, an abandoned orphan with no background whatsoever, would have a hard time fitting into that world at best. The most practical value she had came from her still-erratic psychogenic remote viewing talents. Those skills would certainly be highly prized in any intelligence agency, but were of little real use in day-to-day life.
Add to that Claire’s bizarre variegated albinism, and her presence became an active disadvantage, at least to those who wanted to keep their location and activities incognito.
Claire knew that the most convenient thing that could happen was if she quietly disappeared into obscurity, but also knew that she would never do so of her own volition. As much as she tried to ignore it, deep down she knew she was in love with both her friends—even knowing that the depth of her affection would never be returned—and would never abandon them unless they sent her away.
“How long have they been there?” The booming voice of Jad Richard ibn Jad deMolay, King of the Realm of Atlantl, echoed along the hallway as he marched along it at an impressive rate of speed. Stationed Guards came to even more impressive attention as he passed, and servants and bureaucrats scurried to get out of his way. He was in definite “war-god” mode, blue eyes flashing lightning and red hair and beard seeming to flame. Three members of his Personal Guard escorted him like Horus' honour guard.
“About an hour, Sire,” replied Marianne Conchobar, the King’s Intelligence Advisor, her breathing slightly laboured as her tiny frame struggled to keep up with her liege’s long-legged stride. On the other side of the King, his personal secretary, Mohammed al-Shan, was faring only slightly better. “Level One Confirmation was submitted forty-five minutes ago. It took the Foreign Council office another twenty-five minutes to process Level Two Confirmation. All codes and physiological data check out, so now we’re just waiting on your own final confirmation.”
“Where is the code?”
“In your office, Sire, under your personal encryption,” al-Shan said.
“Good.” King Jad slowed slightly as his office came into view. “What is the situation on site?”
“Acting Assistant Deputy Consul Elseth’s reports are still a little sparse, Sire…” Conchobar began.
That got the King’s attention. “Acting Assistant Deputy Consul?” he asked incredulously, his stride faltering before picking up again.
“Yes, Sire,” Conchobar confirmed as the King swept through his outer office, startling his other secretaries, and into his inner sanctum. “The Consulate is still not fully established. Consul Elseth has been assigned while it is being set up.”
“Acting Assistant Deputy Consul Elseth is in charge of protecting my daughter,” King Jad breathed, shaking his head. He installed himself at his computer and began entering a series of passwords. “Go on,” he said absently.
“Elseth has done the best he can with the on-site Guard detachment, Sire,” Conchobar continued. “However, only three Guards are permanently assigned to the Consulate, and only one was actually present when Her Highness arrived.”
King Jad looked up sharply, his expression becoming dangerous. “Are you telling me that only a single Guard is protecting my daughter?”
“Not quite, Sire. Elseth apparently realised that he had insufficient manpower, so he called in the help of the Calgary Police. Additional protection now consists of approximately thirty-nine members of their special tactics squad.”
“Hmm. I suppose that was a reasonable response, considering the circumstances.” King Jad went back to his computer.
“I think it was the best we could expect of him, Sire,” Conchobar agreed. She frowned. “To be honest, I’d almost have preferred he leave off the additional protection altogether. Complete anonymity may have been a better defence than more firepower.”
King Jad shrugged. “It sounds to me like he made a judgement call. His reasoning in either case would have been sound. Besides, it’s too late to second-guess him now, so we will support whatever decisions he makes. Ah, finally.”
The final password request was submitted to his entry, and the code phrases sent by the Calgary Consulate, allegedly from Princess Evelynne, scrolled by on his screen. It was comprised of a poem, written over a hundred years before by one of Atlantl’s premier poets; only Evelynne, King Jad, and Queen Cleo had known what it was. It was the final piece of the series of passwords and phrases that would prove that Evelynne was who she claimed to be.
Geme'ket set her delukaya,
Emir netes lamini a'eniqmas
Kher kemet ap marat set me an'ket.
In re'ketet akan netet
Sa marates me ten,
S'kemes a'eniqmas yu'et ka,
Ne wa sep.
Jad felt a part of himself loosen as he read the words. He closed his eyes and sighed, and then looked up at his Advisor. “It’s her. Bring her home.”
Translation from Lantlan of the excerpt follows:
"You look at her with confusion,
As if she is a piece of a puzzle
And do not know how to fit her into your life.
Yet you know, somehow, that
When she fits into you
She will complete the puzzle that is your soul,
And you will be a whole person
For the first time."
--Ty'lissa Sen Qaramis, Puzzles of the Soul
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