Modern Crusaders: Adeptus Major

By PsiDraconis

Disclaimers in Chapter 1


And so greatly did the people believe
in their priest Quetzalcoatl,
and so greatly obedient
and given to the things of their god were they.
And so fearful of god
all believed in Quetzalcoatl
when he left Tula...
And so much did they trust Quetzalcoatl,
that they went with him, they entrusted upon him
their wives, their children, their sick ones.
They stood up, they set off,
the old men, the old women,
no one ceased to obey,
all set off.
Suddenly he went towards the centre of the sea,
toward the land of red,
and there he disappeared,
he, our prince Quetzalcoatl...

- Translated from the Codex Troano of the Mayas


Chapter 3

When Evelynne woke again, the room had been transformed. While still lacking a window (Sir Arthur wasn't about to put his charge anywhere she could be seen easily), Maîda, at the head of a small army of conscripted hospital employees, had managed to turn the hospital room into something closer to a hotel room. Care had been taken to keep the vital monitors and other medical equipment clear, but a couple of pictures and a few discreet vases of flowers added to much needed colour to the previously bare room.

Evelynne was surprised that it had all been done without waking her, and even more surprised when she glanced at the clock on the wall to find that a full day had passed since she had closed her eyes.

Her first action on waking was to instinctively check on the young woman in the bed beside her. Though the princess was no medical expert, she was gratified to see that a bit more colour had entered Alleandre's well tanned face, and the energy that had seemed so hidden before seemed stronger and closer to the surface. It also looked as though the young woman's brown hair had been combed, and Evelynne was oddly disappointed that she hadn't been able to do it herself. Maîda again, she guessed, puzzled at her own reaction.

The Guard sitting beside the door, a short woman Evelynne didn't immediately recognise, noticed that the princess was awake and spoke softly into her collar mic. The speed with which Sir Arthur and Dr Corbeil entered the room made her think that they had been just outside. Her bodyguard looked like he had been able to rest some in the last twenty-four hours, as well as change into a new uniform, and his freshly shaved face, though still lined with stress, looked marginally more relaxed. He also appeared to be moving less stiffly than she recalled him doing so before.

"Your Highness," greeted Sir Arthur, and the relief in his voice, though almost inaudible, came through clearly for someone who knew him as well as she did. "It is very good to see you with us again. Dr Corbeil and I were just discussing your recovery," he confirmed her suspicion.

"Oui, Your Highness. I'd like to check your injury again right now, so if you could -"

Evelynne held up a hand to interrupt. "I'm afraid that is going to have to wait, Doctor," she said.

"Your Highnessá" Sir Arthur protested.

The hand was held up even more forcefully. "No, I'm talking now. I don't know about you two, but I have been asleep for a day. Without leaving this bed. Some things are more important. Like going to the toilet, for instance. So that is what I am going to do now, or you'll be cleaning bits of Royal Heir off the ceiling. And before you even think about it," she added, pointing a commanding finger at the doctor, "there is absolutely no way I'm using a bedpan. After that you can poke and prod me as much as you want, when I've passed out from relief."

Dr Corbeil's mouth was twitching by the time Evelynne had finished, but she managed to keep her voice steady as she replied, "Très bien, Your Highness." She signalled the equally amused Guard, who left the room for a moment before returning with a wheelchair which had obviously been waiting just outside. "I think you have just proved that you have the energy." After helping the princess into the chair, the doctor proceeded to wheel her down the hall to the bathroom, keeping up a running commentary on the various rivers and waterfalls of France, while Evelynne added yet another name to her List.

When Evelynne was wheeled back to her room, a beatific smile on her face, she had magnanimously decided to forgive the doctor. Isis, I swear nothing has ever felt that good. Sir Arthur was waiting for her, and arched an eyebrow at her expression. The princess waved a hand expansively. "I've decided you don't need to kill the good doctor here after all. In fact, she gets a full royal pardon." The doctor in question looked somewhat startled.

"Indeed, Your Highness," her Guard acknowledged, helping her back into her beds. She noticed that the sheets had been changed in her absence. After the princess had been settled, he switched to more serious topics. "Your Highness, your father called several times while you were asleep. He has expressed his wish to speak with you as soon as you are able to do so. With your permission, I will set up the call immediately."

The princess' response was immediate. "Please, yes. I wantá I need to talk to him." Her tone was subdued.

Sir Arthur nodded his head. "Certainly, Your Highness. We should be ready by the time the doctor has finished her examination. I will bring the equipment here." He quickly took his leave.

Taking her mind off the upcoming talk with her father, Evelynne turned her eyes to the still, silent figure of Alleandre beside her. The doctor was carefully removing the bandage from Evelynne's shoulder when the princess asked in a soft voice, "Is she going to be okay?"

Dr Corbeil spared a swift, but compassionate glance at the woman in question. "I believe so, Your Highness. Ms Tretiak is a very lucky girl. There does not appear to be any damage to her spinal cord, although there is still some swelling around the wound. Dr Riel believes she will recover fully, but any injury involving the spine in uncertain. We will know more when she wakes from the coma." At Evelynne's entreating gaze, she said gently, "I'm afraid we have no way of predicting when that will be, Your Highness. She will wake when she wakes."

"Has anyone - ouch! - talked to her parents?" Evelynne asked.

"I'm not sure, Your Highness." The doctor carefully probed the wound, wincing in sympathy at the pain it was causing. "The young man who was identified her has been back several times. He appears very concerned." A strangled gasp escaped her patient as the doctor touched a particularly sensitive area. "I'm sorry, Your Highness. I'm going to rebandage you now."

Evelynne's breath was coming in sharp gasps as Dr Corbeil wrapped her shoulder again. Finally it was done, and the princess relaxed with a sigh. "Would you like a painkiller?" the doctor asked.

"Ugh. No, I'll live." Evelynne glared sourly at the woman. "Just be glad you have that royal pardon."

"Indeed, Your Highness," the doctor mimicked Sir Arthur's words, just as Evelynne's bodyguard entered the room, this time carrying a laptop computer and several accessories.

A quick glance at the doctor, answered by a nod, let him know that the examination was over, and he turned his attention back to his young charge. "I have everything here, Your Highness. I will set it up now." As Evelynne gratefully drank a glass of water provided by the doctor, and asked a few more questions about her roommate's condition, Sir Arthur proceeded to connect the small video camera to the computer, followed by the wireless modem. The modem would transmit the signal to the small command centre a few rooms away, and from there to the communications system which would connect it to its counterpart 3000 kilometres away.

Within minutes Sir Arthur was done, and, placing the laptop on the tray table provided by the doctor, said, "Very well, Your Highness, the system is ready to go. You've used this before, so just press the button when you're ready to talk. I believe His Majesty is waiting for you." He gave her a wry smile. "Just remember, please, to avoid discussing matters of national security. The connection is not one hundred per cent secure. We will give you privacy." The bodyguard left, escorting Dr Corbeil out of the room.

"Right," scoffed Evelynne to herself. "National security. I'm going to be discussing the communications codes for the 6th Fleet dressed in a hospital gown."

Drawing a deep breath, wincing as the movement pulled at her shoulder, the princess moved the mouse pointer to click on the 'connect' icon on the screen. The small video window, which had been displaying "Ready to Connect", cleared, to be replaced byá

á a black screen.

Frowning, Evelynne checked to make sure that she had pressed the correct button, and not one marked "Cancel", or "Format", or "Self-Destruct". Yes, that was correct. So why wasn't it -

The window came to life suddenly, displaying an older, bearded, red-haired man sitting at a desk, who was looking off-camera as the screen activated. He was speaking to someone off-screen as the camera focussed on him.

"- blasted machine. Patrick, come and take a look at this, will you? I pressed the button like Ikon told me to, but it isn't doing anything. I swear, these infernalá things are alive. There's just this message, and I don't knowá"

Evelynne looked at her father through blue eyes suddenly filled with tears. She hadn't realised how much she had missed him until this moment. Looking at King Jad Richard ibn Jad deMolay, it was easy to see where Evelynne had inherited her hair from. A big man, King Jad wore a thick, full beard and an unruly mop of shoulder length hair. Both were a bright orange-red colour, made even more vivid by the fact that his face was also red hue, perpetually looking as though he had just stepped out of a shower. It was a well known fact in Atlantis that an entire legion of stylists and hairdressers had tried and failed to tame the King's wild locks. King Jad had finally given up, and now simply let nature take its course. A generation of editorial cartoonists thanked him for it, since it made any caricature of him instantly recognisable. Added to his blue eyes, a shade darker than Evelynne's, the combination of hair, beard and size made him look as though, by rights, he should really be leading some bloodthirsty Viking raiding party, axe in one hand, and with a woman thrown over one shoulder. Instead, he was one of the most loved monarchs Atlantis had ever known.

Close friends - and a few enemies - still called him Richard the Red.

At the moment, though, the Viking mien was showing, as he ranted at his computer. "I don't know what this means. This bloody -"

"It's the cursor, za," Evelynne said into the microphone with a watery smile, interrupting his tirade.

Jad's gaze snapped to his own monitor, and her father's worried face stared at her through the screen. "Evy, is that you? Why can't I see you?"

"Because you've minimised the window, za." This time the speaker was a clean-shaven young man who stepped into the camera's field of view. Dark blond hair and delicate features characterised his face. Combined with his simple clerical robes, he could not have looked more different from the King, and only identical deep blue eyes announced to the world that they were related. The young man adjusted something out of sight of the camera, obviously a control of some sort, since the King's face immediately cleared, a broad smile replacing the frown, as he caught sight of his daughter.

"Evy, how are you feeling? Are they treating you well there? Are you in pain? When do you think you'll be coming home? How -" The questions came rapid-fire.

"Hel -" Evelynne had to pause to clear her throat. "Hello, za. It's good to see you, too," she interrupted. "Hi, Patrick." Despite her indulgent smile, Evelynne's emotional state was clear in her tone.

"Hey, there, little sister," Patrick replied, grinning fondly at his younger sibling. "You just can't stay out of trouble, can you?"

"Bite me, estu," the princess shot back. "This is all your fault, you know. If you had only taken the damned Inheritance like you were supposed to, I wouldn't be here right now."

"Is that any way to speak to a man of God? As you know, I responded to a higher calling, far transcending these mere earthly concerns." Patrick put on an expression of exaggerated piety, clasping his hands together and looking towards the heavens.

"Excuse me!" interjected King Jad forcefully before Evelynne could form a rejoinder. "I am still the King, you know! And I'm your father, which is even more important." Glaring at his oldest child, the King's gaze softened as he looked at the princess again. "Seriously, Evy, how are you feeling?"

"I hurt, za," answered Evelynne, her voice suddenly softer as she let her weariness and pain show. She knew she didn't have to put on a brave face with her father like she did with Uncle Arthur and the doctors. "And I was scared, and I thought I was going to dieá" Before she knew it, she was crying quietly, letting the events of the past forty-eight hours finally catch up with her.

"Oh, Evy," Jad's voice was pained, and the camera showed him trying to reach out to his daughter, along with his expression of frustrated impotence as he realised his inability to comfort her as he wished. His son, Patrick, laid a hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently, offering his support, and both their eyes were wet. "I'm sorry I can't be there for you. I wanted to go and be there for you, but my Security Advisor flatly refused to let me leave Lantl. She threatened to sit on me if I tried." This image caused a hiccuping giggle to erupt from Evelynne. Inti n'Aboatl was the King's Advisor of Personal Security, and was a tiny woman, massing maybe a third his weight. The King probably wouldn't notice if she wrapped herself around his leg. As Evelynne's giggles died down, taking most of the tears with them, King Jad continued, "I've been getting reports from your doctors. They seem optimistic. The report from Drá Corbeil, is it? She says you can probably fly home tomorrow. Once you're here, we can take better care of you." You'll be safer, was an unspoken addition.

"What about Ally?" the princess objected.

"Ally?" asked her father. Patrick's expression mirrored the question.

"Alleandre Tretiak," she explained, unaccountably blushing. "The woman who saved my life. What will happen to her?"

"Ah, yes, Alleandre Tretiak," the King nodded. "From what I've been told, none of the doctors know when she'll wake up. They also say that she'll have to spend at least some time in physical therapy. The Crown will, of course, pay for any medical costs associated with her recovery. We'll also arrange transportation for her back to Canada." He shook his head bemusedly. "She is quite a remarkable woman."

Evelynne had been about to object to the King's plan, but the last comment threw her off track. "Of course she's remarkable," she said, with more of her customary fire. "She threw herself in front of a bullet for a total stranger."

"No, I mean more than that," King Jad said. "I had Intelligence get some information on her."

"What do you mean, you had Intelligence get some information on her? She saved my life!" asked Evelynne incredulously.

"Please, Evelynne," Patrick said placatingly. "A totally unknown woman jumps out of nowhere and saves your life. She turns out to a tourist visiting from Canada. There's absolutely no way za is not going check out her background."

Evelynne looked ready to object some more, even though she knew it made sense, but Jad forestalled her. "You know, she has a bit of a habit for doing this kind of thing."

This took Evelynne aback. "What kind of thing?"

"Are you sure you want to know? You want to invade her privacy?" Now that he knew his daughter was safe, King Jad was able to tease her a little.

The princess' curiosity warred with her sense of protectiveness towards her saviour. The struggle must have showed on her face, because her father and brother looked on with surprise. Usually Evelynne's curiosity totally overwhelmed any other sense. Finally, though, curiosity won. "Tell me."

Her father nodded and looked at what she realised was a file on his desk. "About four years ago, when she was still in school, a fire broke out in her school's chemistry lab. She managed to pull three students and a teacher out before the place exploded. She spent several days in hospital with minor cuts and scrapes, and a broken arm."

Evelynne's eyes were wide as she digested this bit of information. Her father wasn't finished, though. "After that she seems to have led a fairly normal life. Graduated near the top of her class, went to university, graduated last year with a degree in physics, then set off to backpack around the world." He paused, checking his report. "One of our analysts did a general world internet search. Alleandre Tretiak showed up about five months ago in an Australian newspaper. Apparently, in the course of her travels, she stumbled across a young girl who had been kidnapped by a serial rapist and was being held in an abandoned house outside of Brisbane. She managed to rescue the girl and subdue the kidnapper, and was given the fifty thousand dollar reward which the girl's parents had offered for her safe return." By this time, Evelynne's mouth was hanging open. Her father's next words were sardonic. "That time she managed to stay out of the hospital. She managed to stay out of most of the spotlight by her own request."

"Isis," Evelynne whispered. In spite of its shocking nature, the information she had just received firmed her decision. "Has anyone managed to contact her family?"

Patrick shook his head. "Canadian officials went to their house, but nobody has been home for some time. A neighbour said they were away on vacation, but didn't know where they had gone. The RCMP is trying to track them down."

"Za, I want her to stay with me."

"I - What?" asked Jad.

"I need to be here when she wakes up. I need to see that she's going to be alright. I need to be able to help her if she needs it."

"Evyá" her father tried to interrupt.

"No, za. If she hadn't been there I'd be dead right now." Her tone turned pleading. "Despite what the doctors say, she might never walk again because she saved me. Ifá When she wakes up, I need to be able to look her in the eye and, at the very least, thank her for it." When her father looked as he was going to object again, Evelynne turned her pleading up a notch. "Za, I owe her my life. If I have to, I'll invoke Viamadi."

That shocked both her father and brother. "Evelynne," Patrick said, sharing a glance with the King, "nobody has formed a Life Debt in a hundred years. Especially someone in the Royal Family. It's a very old tradition."

"But it hasn't been Renounced. Please, Patrick, I need to do this. My honour is at stake. The Family's honour is at stake." The princess knew her last statement would affect her father. He took his honour very seriously.

After sharing another glance with his son, King Jad appeared to be thinking furiously. Finally, he said, "Very well, Evy, this is what I'll do. I'll let you stay in France another week." Before she could object, he cut her off. "Inti would override me if I tried to let you stay longer. I'll have to talk fast as it is. If Ms Tretiak hasn't woken up by then, you're coming home. You can keep track of her progress from here. When she does wake up, you may offer her the chance to stay with you here. She may decide to go home to her own family. Whatever she decides, I will pay for her medical expenses out of my own Purse.

"In the meantime, the Canadian officials are doing a good job keeping her name out of the press. It will leak eventually, of course, but until then we'll do our best to help." Looking suddenly weary, the King rubbed his eyes. "All this over one little girl," he sighed. "Whom I haven't even seen yet," he added.

Evelynne had been listening with growing satisfaction. "Actually, she's right here." She turned the camera to point at the bed next to her.

"Evelynne, you're staying in the same room? Are you sure that's safe? I -" He broke off as he took in the form lying there, and Evelynne couldn't hold back a grin of dark humour. For all his fierce appearance and bluster, her father had a weak spot for small wounded creatures. The sight of Alleandre's small, frail form was obviously bypassing the King's intellect completely and hitting him right in the emotions, Evelynne mused. "Well, that isá hmá" He coughed lightly, obviously embarrassed by his perceived weakness.

"It's okay, za. As you can see, she isn't much of a threat to anyone right now. And if the press asks, you can say I moved in here for security concerns. That's how I sold it to Sir Arthur."

"Really." The King's tone promised a long discussion with the hapless bodyguard at some future date. "Well, anyway, that's my offer. Take it or leave it."

"I'll take it, za." The princess could always try to extend the deadline later if she needed to. But I won't need to, she thought firmly. Ally will wake up in the next few days.

"Then I'll let you get some rest, Evy. You look tired. Get some sleep. I'll talk to you again tomorrow. And Evy, just remember," the King continued, and now the unshed tears were back, "we both love you." Patrick nodded his agreement.

"I love you too," Evelynne husked, and her vision blurred just before the screen went dark.

Alleandre rose towards consciousness, and almost gave up when the pain became too intense. Fighting the urge to give in to the welcoming darkness, she set about trying to contain the pain, controlling it. Pain is a mechanism built into organisms by millions of years of evolution to inform us when something threatens our survival. It is a stimulus, information sent to my brain by my body. My mind acknowledges the information, and therefore takes away the brain's need to process it. Without processing, it is no longer pain, merely data. Data is painless. Pain is a mechanismá The mantra continued, as she worked to control her body's reactions, taking the pain and locking it into a corner of her mind, acknowledging its presence, but no longer considering it to be important. Then she was able to turn her thoughts to other things. It was a tricky balancing act. On the one hand, ignore the sensation too much and the control would slip as her concentration waned. On the other, too much attention would give the pain the power to move to the fore. Either way, the agony would cease to be an abstract concept and become a true feeling once again.

For the moment, though, the balance held, allowing Ally to take stock of her current situation. With her eyes still closed, she first concentrated on her body. Her head felt surprisingly clear, with only the barest hint of a headache. There was something in her nose, and when she breathed in, the headache would subside slightly before she exhaled. Oxygen, pure, her brain translated. Her mouth felt anything but pure, though; more like a mass of parmesan cheese that had been left long enough to evolve a complex civilisation. The civilisation had fallen, and the rotting remains were lying in Ally's mouth. The disgusting sensation was relegated to the same corner of her mind as the pain, and the young woman continued her analysis.

The data that her mind was translating into pain seemed to be centred around her right shoulder, and Ally shied away from the area, deciding to leave it to last. The rest of her upper torso seemed to be fairly intact, though it ached in sympathy with her shoulder, and it felt like there were several small objects stuck in various positions. Ally's right arm was strapped to her side and felt quite stiff. Her left arm was lying free on the bed, and the back of her hand itched. A very slight movement of her fingers to Ally that there as foreign object stuck in her hand, and she could feel it shifting slightly as she moved. Needle, probably intravenous line, she decided. Taking the data she had collected so far, she concluded, Hospital.

Moving further down her body, Ally avoided another concentration of pain, this one in her back, and had to conclude that, other than this, her lower torso felt relatively intact. A most uncomfortable feeling in a very intimate spot left her confused until her mind extrapolated on 'Hospital' and came up with 'Catheter'. The acute embarrassment she felt threatened to disrupt the young woman's concentration, and she fought to keep it under control. Of course it's a catheter. It's not as though you've been getting up to go to the toilet. And before you start getting embarrassed about someoneá seeing you, it was probably a doctor or nurse. A professional. Someone who's seená that kind of thing thousands of times. Ally wasn't sure if the last part made it better or worse.

Satisfied that her body was more or less intact, Ally turned her attention to external stimuli. Her ears picked up the sound of two people speaking softly nearby. Straining slightly, she was able to identify her friend Chorus' deep male voice, along with a lighter female one that was somehow familiar. Ally thought she recalled the female voice speaking to her at some point when she was asleep, though she couldn't remember the words. At the moment, both voices were engaging each other in conversation, and Ally decided to listen for a while before revealing her awareness.

"So how did you get the name Chorus, anyway?" the woman was asking. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm glad you have it, since I would never be able to keep Keitumá whatever straight all the time. But why 'Chorus'?"

Chorus laughed. "Keitum-whatever. Ally called me the exact same thing the first day we met. By the way, it's Keitumetsemosimaniwapula. In Setswana it means 'Thank you for the boy of the rain'. I was born during a thunderstorm. Which is funny, really, since my last name, Tladi, means 'thunder'. Doubly appropriate, I suppose. Anyway, when I was in elementary school in Botswana, my teacher was a British woman called Mrs Douglas. She was asking us our names the first day, and when she got to mine, she said, 'Goodness, it sounds like you have a chorus in there.' None of us knew what a chorus was at the time, but the nickname stuck."

The feminine voice giggled, immediately picking up Alleandre's spirits with its light, cheerful sound. "I can imagine. Well, if you see Mrs Douglas again, tell her that the world thanks her."

As Chorus gave his assurances that he would do so at the first opportunity, Ally couldn't stand not knowing who the unknown voice belonged to and opened her eyes. Blinking rapidly at the sudden light, though it was actually quite dim, she tried in vain to focus her eyes. Two fuzzy figures - one dark, one light and topped with fire - were situated near the end of her bed. Ally assumed they were sitting, since they were both too low to have been standing. The rest of the room was a uniform white, with blotches of blurry colour situated around it.

Blinking one last time, Ally reflexively reached for her glasses.

Her low, choked scream instantly drew the attention of the two sitting figures, and their eyes snapped to the figure in the bed. Both were at Ally's side a moment later, Chorus beating Evelynne by a few seconds, as the princess had to manoeuvre her wheelchair around the side of the bed.

"Ally, can you hear me?" "Alleandre, what's wrong?" They both spoke simultaneously.

Ally didn't answer them. Her eyes were shut tight, her entire body was tense, and the tendons in her neck stood out as she bared her gritted teeth in a near soundless scream. Her breath came in short, sharp gasps.

Chorus looked quickly over to Evelynne and blurted, "I'm getting the doctor." He was gone before he finished speaking, wrenching the door open and yelling for help.

Evelynne nodded, never taking her eyes off the woman before her. She held Ally's clenched left hand gently in her own. The force of Ally's fist had caused the IV needle to pull out, and a small trickle of blood crept out from under the tape holding it in place. Sitting forward in her wheelchair, ignoring the strain it placed on her own wounded shoulder, Evelynne used her other hand to carefully stroke the distressed woman's forehead. Stroking gently, she kept up a steady stream of comforting words. "Ally, it's okay. You're safe here. It'll be alright. The doctor's coming. Breathe, Allyá" The woman showed no signs of hearing her, and Evelynne had to hold back her own sobs of sympathy as she saw tears leaking from between Ally's clenched eyelids.

It seemed like hours, but was really less than a minute before Dr Corbeil swept into the room, accompanied by a pair of nurses, Chorus, and Lieutenant Susan Martinez, who had been on duty outside. Taking one look at the now crowded room, she started barking orders. "You and you," she snapped, pointing at Chorus and Martinez, "out. You," she pointed at Evelynne, paused as though considering, then continued, "can stay. But move back, let us in."

Though reluctant to do so, Evelynne let go of Alleandre's hand and backed her wheelchair out of the way, leaving room for a nurse to take her place. Though her face and head showed marginally less stress than before, Ally was now keening softly in pain, punctuated by gasps for breath. Through her own tears the princess watched as the middle-aged nurse performed a quick check of Ally's vitals.

"Pulse is 145, blood pressure isá off the chart."

"I can see. I think it might be a spasm. Help me lift her to check," Dr Corbeil ordered. As gently as possible, the doctor and nurses rolled Alleandre part way onto her side, careful not to twist her spine. Despite their care, the stricken woman tensed again, and went silent, no longer able to spare the energy to moan. Examining Ally's back with her fingers, the doctor nodded, "Okay, down." She shot off an order for some type of medication, the name of which Evelynne wasn't able to catch. The syringe was quickly passed to the nurse on the left side of the bed, who proceeded to inject the contents into Ally's uninjured arm. "It's a combination of muscle relaxant and painkiller," the doctor explained to Evelynne, who was watching with worried eyes. "It should take effect very soon."

True to the doctor's word, Alleandre seemed to be slowly relaxing. After a questioning glance to Dr Corbeil for permission, Evelynne took up her post again by Ally's side, once again taking hold of her hand and stroking it gently. The hand was no longer clenched so tightly, and it relaxed further under Evelynne's ministrations. Ally's breath was no longer coming in short bursts, but was slowly evening out into a more comfortable rhythm. As the minutes passed and the medication acted on the young woman's system, Dr Corbeil watched her patient's vital signs carefully and Evelynne continued her comforting.

Finally, Alleandre relaxed completely and opened her eyes. Every muscle in her body pulsed with a dull ache, and her throat felt raw, but at least the sensation of someone driving a red-hot spike into her head and down through her spine was gone. At first she had desperately tried to control and harness the pain, but it had been too much to control. Panicking, she had tried to fall back into unconsciousness, but even that had been denied her, remaining tantalisingly out of reach on the other side of an invisible wall. Finally, all thought had fled, leaving behind only the pain.

Now, though, thought had returned, and Ally reluctantly opened her eyes. The first thing she saw were two brilliant blue eyes, made even more so by the tears shimmering in them, looking into her own. They were close enough that Ally's near-sighted vision could make them out quite clearly, although the rest of the room behind was a group of fuzzy blobs. A feeling of déjà vu swept her. I've seen those eyes before, she thought, but her tired brain couldn't find the energy to make the connection. Ally briefly considered reaching out with her mind to take the information from behind the eyes in front of her, but couldn't. No energy. Besides, it's against your rules, she told herself.

Besides, the owner of the eyes was speaking, and Ally forced herself to concentrate on the words. "Ally? Do you feel better?"

Evelynne wanted to kick herself for saying something so stupid. She's no longer screaming in agony. Of course she feels better! Just don't ask her if she's okay. You know the answer to that one. Her guilt chose that moment to cut in. Yeah, she got shot saving your life.

Princess Evelynne deMolay! Alleandre's memory finally identified the young redhead before her. She looked quite different without her makeup and with her mass of wavy flame-red hair tumbling across her shoulders. If anything, Ally thought she was more even more attractive out of her regalia. Of course, she'd probably be even more attractive in nothing at all. The thought slipped out before she could censor herself, letting Ally know that despite the damage to her body, her libido was still active and paying attention. Shit, I've been spending too much time around Chorus. Realising that she was staring, Ally sought to reassure the princess that she wasn't a vegetableá yet. "Hello," she croaked, wincing at both the sound of her own voice and the pain that erupted in her throat. "Ouch." Great, now you sound like an idiot. Way to go Ally, her libido mocked. The rest of Ally's mind, too tired to put up with it any more, told her libido to shut up.

The young woman's words had alerted the doctor, who now sought to capture Ally's attention with a gentle hand on her face. "Bonjour, Alleandre," she said in a soft, concerned voice. Ally tore her eyes away from Evelynne's and peered blearily at the motherly sounding woman beside her. She was just too far away for Ally to make out her features. "Do you know where you are?"

Ally paused a moment while her tired brain protestingly dredged up the answers. "H'spital," she whispered hoarsely. "M'seilles."

The blob above her seemed to smile. "Good. Now, do you know who you are?"

Even her tired brain found this one easy. "All'ndre Tr'tiak. Fr'm C'n'da." She turned her head back to Evelynne. "Hurts," she whispered. "Tired. Sl'p now. Stay," she mumbled as she let the blackness - not as deep as before, but more welcoming - pull her down.

Evelynne watched as Alleandre slipped back to sleep. "I'll be right here," she reassured the unconscious woman. "I'm not going anywhere." Still holding Ally's hand, she reached up to carefully tidy her brown, sweat-soaked hair. "I'll be here when you wake up."

Continued in Chapter 4

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