Author's Note (2 July 2008): Well, at long last here's the final chapter. It's been a long time coming, and for that I apologise. I have a good excuse, though! Last November, during a truly frightening windstorm, a massive, 300-year-old Douglas fir over 40 metres long, and 1.5 metres across came down, slicing right through my parents' house. Like a knife through a cake. It took out two rooms, including my parents' bedroom, where it came down right across the foot of their bed╉while they were sitting in it drinking their morning coffee. The Spirit of the Tree was definitely looking out for us, because nobody in the house (including my parents, brother, brother's girlfriend, three cats, and a turtle) got so much as a scratch. My dad, however, lost all of his pants. A tragedy, I know. Needless to say, the past few months have been rather busy fighting with the insurance company, getting temporary housing, organising the demolition of what's left, and preparing for rebuilding. Hopefully now you'll understand why I've been a little distracted.

In any case, that's the that, so enjoy the last of Nwyn!



"Mr Ambassador, thank you for coming," Queen Cleo said, rising from her chair.

Ambassador Holt bowed respectfully. "My pleasure, Your Majesty."

"Thank you, Wilson, that will be all," the Queen said, dismissing the servant who had shown the American Ambassador into the room. "Please, sit." She waved him into a comfortable armchair across from her, leaving them alone╉except for the silent presence of the Guard standing by the door.

Cleo noticed Holt's minutely raised eyebrow. "There have been some recalculations of security," she said mildly. "I'd ask you not to worry. Colonel Habibi will no more discuss the events in this room than a member of your Secret Service would."

"Of course, Your Majesty," Nicholas Holt said soberly. "May I assume that this meeting will require a certain level of... discretion?"

"Not inherently," the Queen replied. "First of all, I wanted to thank you, entirely unofficially, for your assistance in recent events. Lady Alleandre Tretiak has been recovered safely."

That was really no secret. The generalities of the abduction and subsequent rescue╉although, once again, the Queen wondered just who had been rescuing whom╉had inevitably made it to the public media over the past three days, although the specifics were being kept under a rather draconian lockdown. There were also rumours that the mastermind behind the Invasion had been captured in the same operation, but few knew for certain.

"Princess Evelynne's Page, Claire Jones, was also recovered largely unharmed," Queen Cleo continued. "As she is an American citizen, I felt it was my duty to inform you myself."

So that was going to be the official cover for his presence here, Ambassador Holt thought. "On behalf of my government, I thank you for informing me," he said, even as he waited for the real reason to become apparent.

The Queen sighed and shook her head. "Nicholas, may we speak frankly?"

Here it comes, the Ambassador thought. "Of course, Your Majesty."

"Good," Cleo said, as her demeanour went from formal to intent, and she leaned forward. "You should know that in the operation we successfully apprehended the individual we believe to have been the mastermind behind the Invasion within Atlantl." She picked up a file from the desk beside her and handed it over, watching Holt's expression carefully.

The Ambassador's gape was expected as he scanned to first page of the file. "al-Shan?!" he said incredulously. Holt looked up. "You're certain?"

"Completely," the Queen said flatly. "While his current mental state is somewhat... uncertain, he did admit his role in the presence of Princess Evelynne, Lady Alleandre, and a member of the press. We also have certain forensic evidence confirming his involvement."

"My God," Holt breathed. "I met the man on a number of occasions. If you had asked me who was the least likely candidate to act against Atlantis, I would have said al-Shan."

Queen Cleo smiled wryly. "Now you know how we feel. This has taken us utterly by surprise. Needless to say, Jad has been stunned by this."

"Of course," Ambassador Holt murmured. "Ah... am I being asked to provide this information to my government?"

"We are going to be announcing the news within the next few days, once we finish collecting supplementary evidence, but you are free to inform whomever you think necessary within your own country. I would request that you do what you can to keep it from the general press until we make our announcement."

"You didn't have to give this to me, Ma'am," the Ambassador said, looking at his hostess with something akin to suspicion. "This seems like a largely internal matter."

"You're right. However, this is something that affects your own country." The Queen handed over a second folder.

This time Holt visibly paled as he read the documents. "My God," he whispered again. He looked up. "This isn't a mistake or a ploy of any sort, is it?" he asked hoarsely.

Cleo shook her head seriously. "No. Right now we are in the midst of piecing some of the final parts together, but when we are done we will forward copies of all our raw data to you. Except for those parts infringing on Realm Security, of course."

"You know what this is going to do, don't you? I mean... you're about to accuse the President's Security Advisor of taking part in a conspiracy to overthrow a foreign government! And I'm not certain, but I think that Jonas Sampson is one of the Deputy Directors of the CIA!"

"He is," the Queen said, nodding. "Also on that list you'll find two NSA operatives, the leaders of two additional mercenary groups, and the CEO of one of your country's biggest shipping companies."

"Oh Lord..."

"However, I should also tell you that I also have or will be taking meetings with the British, Moroccan, Russian, and Cuban Ambassadors, as well as the Representative from the League of West African Nations." Cleo smiled thinly. "And there is quite a large file on the domestic aspects. At least one more Noble is going to find herself promoted to fill an abruptly vacant seat. It may not be comforting, but you're not alone in this."

"This is going to cause chaos at home," Holt said. "The President's already feeling pressure because of the unauthorised raids. If we connect these people to some conspiracy... Add to that the fact that the information is coming from Atlantis, and half of the government will dismiss it as propaganda, while I have to idea how the other half will react. If we open up this can of worms just as the relationship between our two nations is beginning to improve..."

"Gods damn it, Nicholas!" the Queen roared suddenly, making the Ambassador jump back. "These 'people' are part of a terrorist organisation that instigated deliberate violence against the civilians of my Realm! Because of them, over fifteen thousand ordinary citizens were killed╉we don't know exactly how many because we're still trying to match up DNA and dental records against remains a year later! Three quarters of the ruling class of my Realm╉many of them personal friends╉were cut down by criminal mercenaries that should never have been allowed to exist in the first place! So you'll understand that when it comes to dragging those responsible out into the daylight so that they can squirm like the spineless {Atlantlan} that they are, I really couldn't give a damn about politics!"

There was silence as Ambassador Holt stared at his hostess, who eventually took a deep breath and visibly contained herself. "I apologise," she said after a moment, and her voice was nearly normal.

"Please, Your Majesty, do not apologise. Believe it or not, I appreciate how you feel."

"Perhaps not my words, then, but I do apologise for my tone."

Holt nodded his acceptance of the apology.

Now fully in control of herself once more, the Queen continued. "Now, the reason we are providing you with the information that we have is because we are, in fact, quite aware of the potential political fallout involved in its release. So what we are willing to do is work with you on exactly how you are going to bring those involved to justice. If you wish, you may present the evidence as a product of one of your own investigations. That could help alleviate the concerns of those with... less than positive viewpoints where Atlantl is concerned. You would know better than I do how to best proceed, and so we are willing to sit on this until you can deal with it appropriately╉within reason. If within two months you have not made significant steps towards cleaning your own house╉publicly╉we are ready and willing to announce everything we know to the world at large."

Queen Cleo's face softened. "We don't expect this to be easy. It's going to╉if you'll pardon your own expression╉hurt like hell. But you and I, and our compatriots from Britain, Cuba, Russia, Morocco, and the League, represent some of supposedly the greatest, the most civilised peoples on the planet. We act as examples to the rest of the world. And there is rot within us. And if I do nothing to root out that corruption within my own nation, and yes, within the nations of my friends and even rivals, then the Invasion may as well have succeeded."

Her eyes felt fuzzy as she blearily blinked at the light in the room. Dear Sekhmet and all her cats, but her body ached. Ever so carefully, she tested various body parts, looking for just one that didn't feel as though it hadn't been run over by a herd of !abu'u. No, everything hurt. It took a moment for her head to stop spinning, and then she peered at the room that blurrily appeared around her. No matter how hard she tried, though, her gaze wouldn't focus. She hadn't felt this bad since... There was some vague memory of a night out after a training session ages before, but nothing nearly so bad since. The Colonel was particularly disapproving of anyone under her doing anything that was... uncouth.

Speaking of the Colonel, she fuzzily recognised that august person's voice nearby.

"...inform Her Highness."

She managed to catch the final few words. "Yes, Ma'am," she managed to slur, body automatically attempting to stand at attention, but the Colonel was gone, and she slumped back into the bed. At least her mind seemed to be clearing slightly, though it still felt as though she was half asleep. Odd thoughts and memories flitted through her mind like dreams, gone before she could capture them. There had been a small room, she remembered╉an elevator, came the revelation╉and then... nothing but a series of incredibly strange dreams.

"--awake?" The words jolted her from where she had slipped back into a doze.

That voice was instantly recognisable, once more she instinctively tried to bring herself to attention. "Your Highness," she managed to rasp. "I hope... you'll pardon... me. I seem to be... out... of uniform." The effort of speaking helped take her mind off her lingering disorientation.

There was a hesitant pause, and then Her Highness spoke again.

"Ally? It's me. Evelynne."

Confusion stirred again. Her Highness was being very familiar, beyond her normal friendliness towards the common--

Thoughts froze.

Evelynne! her mind screamed. She's my/your fiancee! She's not your/my liege, or superior! She's my/your friend, my/your lover, and I/you just felt nothing for her but obligation! Duty! And it was real! But that's not how I feel about her! But that's how I did feel about her!

But I feel...


All real, all present, all now, and only a few of them emotions she could remember feeling before.

Who am I?

"I have an idea of what Ally is going through," Joseph Black Crow announced without preamble as he walked into the sitting room where Ally's friends and family had gathered. "William stayed with her," he told Catherine Tretiak. "She seems to be calmer when her father's around."

"Good," the elder Tretiak said. "He's always been able to calm her down."

For the past day, ever since Ally had woken up, she had refused to see anyone she knew for any significant length of time. Anyone who had been able to visit with her had confirmed that her behaviour was erratic, at best. The first time she had seen Claire she had experienced tremendous difficulty remembering the other woman's name, although that was nothing compared to the fact that she hadn't even been able to recognise her own mother at first. When Catherine's identity finally had registered, and then she realised just what she had done, the young woman had become so agitated that the doctors had been forced to sedate her. With people she didn't know, such as doctors and nurses, she seemed to be more calm, possibly due to the fact that she wasn't supposed to recognise them. However, even then her behaviour and moods had been erratic, ranging from shy and deferential to stubborn and belligerent.

"So how do we help her get better?" Claire asked, squeezing Evelynne's shoulders as they sat together on the couch.

"It is the echoes," Black Crow said bluntly. "I have been very worried for some time now about the psychic remnants that seem to have been building up inside Ally's mind. Evelynne and I have been doing what we can to... clean house, you might say, but it has been a delaying tactic at best. It has also served to give us a sense of false security where we thought we had things under control. However, when Ally was unconscious, those echoes returned. In fact, I do not know if we can even call her state 'unconscious', as she was clearly able to reach out deliberately on some level in order to contact us." He shrugged. "There is an infinite amount of knowledge we do not have about telepathic ability."

"So... she can feel these people all the time?" Catherine asked uncertainly.

The psychologist shook his head. "They are not the people themselves. They are merely shadows of telepathic scans she has made in the past, although obviously they have made her more sensitive to contact with the people who originated them on a telepathic level." He hesitated. "Imagine that the core of your consciousness sits within your head, inside a glass box. It looks out through the glass, seeing the world through the lens of the glass. Your memories, expectations and experiences colour and distort your perception, affecting how you see the world."

"And now Ally has a dozen additional echoes in her mind, forcing her to react to their perception of reality," Evelynne breathed. "Isis."

"Yes. She still knows who individuals around here are, but her perception and initial reactions to them are not necessarily her own. When she first saw you, Evelynne, she knew who you were, but the echo over her perception at the time... filtered you as Her Highness, Princess Evelynne deMolay, rather than her partner. If I had to guess, I would say that she was seeing you through the eyes of one of your Guards.

"I am fairly certain that at her centre Ally's mind is still intact. She knows who she is, and all of her higher rational functions appear to be unimpaired. It is a condition of perception, rather than psychosis, though any psychiatrist who was not aware of her unique nature could be forgiven for declaring her clinically insane. If I didn't know what I know, I would have little difficulty diagnosing some form of dissociative personality disorder. She is insane by conventional standards, but it is a temporary condition, I think. However, if she is unable to come to terms with her condition, either by banishing the echoes or integrating them into her psyche, she is in severe danger of a psychotic break. There is a part of her╉that part at the core╉which is fully aware that these... imposed perceptions are not really hers, and is constantly trying to fight its way through."

Evelynne took a deep breath. "So what do we do?"

The next time Evelynne saw her lover, she was much more tentative, but the sad smile of greeting Ally gave her still sent her hurrying to the bed. She hesitated, uncertain, until the other woman held out a faintly shaking hand.

"Please," Ally whispered.

Then her lips were on her fiancee's, and the relief was enough to bring tears to her eyes.

After some unknown time, Evelynne finally pulled back, and there was a degree of calmness once more in Ally's eyes.

"I'm sorry," the woman in the bed whispered. "I woke up and you were there, but you weren't you. I knew who you were, but you weren't Evy. My Evy. And then you were, but you were someone else also, and--"

The remainder of Ally's babble was cut off by Evelynne's fingers on her lips. "It's alright, love," she murmured. "I forgive you."

Ally blinked, tears on her cheeks. "Thank you," she breathed. "I... remember what happened. In that room. Although it's kind of... not fuzzy, but... skewed. I remember you and Claire were there, and Mohammed al-Shan. And then I was Martina Lowes, or maybe she was me, or pretending to be, or╉I don't know. I remember it was all so clear at the time. But now it's..."

"Like a dream?" Evelynne finished when her partner trailed off. Ally nodded. "Ally... can you tell me what happened with Mohammed?" she asked hesitantly. "He hasn't said a word since you talked to him. He follows every order he's given, but he's like a robot. Did you do something to him? I'm not upset if you did, I just need to know."

Ally shook her head, closing her eyes wearily. "It wasn't me. He just... His mind just couldn't hold itself up any more. He's seen and done so many things, things he's hated himself for, but he had to do them anyway. There were just too many impossibilities in his head. I think he's... resting now. "

"So... was what he said he saw real? Did he really see the Gods awakening? Could he really see the future?"

"I don't know. He did see things. Were they really real? Were they just hallucinations? I don't know. Is there a difference? I don't know that either. I see things that nobody else can, and they're real, and I'm still clinically insane."

"You're not--"

"Please, Evy. Black Crow tells me the truth, and even if he didn't I'd still know. Please don't lie to me."

Evelynne took a breath to argue, but subsided at the look in her lover's eyes. They were tired and frightened, but Ally was already having to spend a lot of energy trying to figure out which of her reactions were her own, and she wouldn't be able to stand wondering if other people were lying to her.

"Alright. But you know what Claire says. Anybody who thinks she's completely sane is either nuts or not very bright."

Ally's laugh was light and genuine, and Evelynne grinned, feeling a weight lift off her. "I'll remember that. How is Claire? I think she came in at one point, but I was kind of out of it."

"She's doing well. She'll come in and talk to you in a little while. We thought one person at a time would be easier for you right now."

"Thank you." Ally's eyes closed, and Evelynne thought she might have fallen asleep. "You can touch me, you know," she whispered softly. Her eyes opened, and Ally reached up to brush her fingers across her partner's temples. "I miss you in here."

I miss you too, Evelynne said, and Ally sighed, a smile playing across her lips. I didn't want to hurt you. The last time you were... hurt, you...

I know. Ally's mental voice was strong and familiar, but there were variations in it that were unlike anything Evelynne remembered. Ally sighed again, this time wearily. Evy, I... There was a long silence.

Evy, I want to go home, she said, and there were tears in her eyes. I'm so tired. I don't want to be "Lady Alleandre" any more. I don't want to be working in a place I don't really understand, and be surrounded by people I don't know, but who all want something from me. I don't know who I am any more, Evy. I haven't for a long time, and it's more than just having echoes of other people sitting in my head. I don't want to be a spy, or a Lady, or an investigator. I don't want to be a poll question. I don't want to be genetic material for the continuation of the Atlantlan Dynasty. I want to be Ally again, and I don't know who she is any more! I need to know who she is before I can figure out who she's going to become. Ally's eyes were closed tightly, and she was gripping Evelynne's hand to her chest tightly. I want to go home. I haven't really been home in two years. She opened her eyes, looking tearily up at her fiancee. And when I marry you I'll never be able to go there again, not like I know it now. This is my last chance. So please, Evy... I want to go home.

"You keep yourself safe, you understand?" King Jad rumbled into Ally's ear as his massive arms crushed her to his chest. "If you go about getting yourself in trouble╉in more trouble╉Evelynne will be very upset. And if she gets upset, I'm going to get upset as well, you hear me? She loves you so very much, you know. And I'm looking forward to having you as my daughter-in-law."

"I love her too, za." Ally's voice was muffled in his shoulder. "I wish I could show you how much."

"Well, you get yourself better and come back, and I'll know." The King released his grasp and shifted back to look at this woman who had turned his entire nation on its head. "You know, it's somehow satisfying to know that my daughter will be marrying someone tall enough to look me in the eye."

Ally blushed, and the familiar reaction was reassuring.

She had already said her goodbyes to most of the other individuals present. Sir Arthur, Maïda, Chorus, and Taldas had all taken their turns wishing her well, and her ribs were already protesting Maïda's embrace╉to say nothing of Sir Arthur's. Behind them at the boarding ramp the four members of Ally's Guard who would be making the trip with her and her parents waited patiently.

There had been some serious arguments about having so few bodyguards assigned to Ally's immediate detail, and Colonel Nixon had come close to a stroke when she had asserted her opinions on the matter╉especially when it became clear that she would not be one of them. The echoes that Ally was suffering were not just random individuals she had scanned over the months, but also some of the people she been interacting with on a regular basis. In fact, Colonel Nixon was one of the strongest personality echoes within Ally's psyche, something which had been incredibly disconcerting when the real Colonel had happened to meet "herself" one morning in Ally's room. There really was only room in the world for one Theodora Nixon. Instead, Te'Inti Li-He, Justine Iglesias, Halan il-Pesek, and Vincent Babani would form the quartet of the Heir Consort's detail, something which had the young, inexperienced Guards practically shivering in terror. The knowledge that a full squad of Guards would be on permanent call from Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt in Victoria was not much comfort.

Ally moved to the last people in the line, and everyone else shifted back discreetly to give them some privacy. Evelynne looked up at her with tears in her eyes, and Claire swallowed heavily from her place just behind the princess' shoulder. Ally opened her mouth to speak, but couldn't seem to get any words out. Instead, she opened her arms to welcome her fiancee into her embrace. A moment later Claire was bodily dragged into the circle.

"Keep each other happy, okay?" Ally rasped in a low voice. "Look out for each other, and I'll be back before you have time to miss me."

"Too late," Evelynne replied with a choked laugh. "I'm already missing you. But you need to make yourself better. Sometimes if you really love something you have to let it go for a while. And love? No matter what you end up deciding to do, I'll support you completely."

Ally looked at her consideringly. "I am coming back," she said quietly but firmly. "One of the few things I know is that I want to be with you. I just need to find out how to do that."

"I know," Evelynne said. She smiled through her tears. "In that case, I'm definitely looking forward to, ah, welcoming you back... properly."

"Uh, yeah, what she said," Claire said, squeezing Ally. "Only... you know... not."

"Well, with incentive like that, how could I possibly stay away?" Ally smiled. She turned serious. "I love you," she said solemnly, leaning in to kiss Evelynne lingeringly. "And Claire, I love you too." This kiss was briefer.

The she pulled away reluctantly and moved over to where her father was waiting with her mother's wheelchair. She took a deep breath.

"Let's go home."

NOT the End. . .