CROWN OF STARS, Solace of Manticore Book 2
Part 2: Fox Hunt, Chapter 5
Previously: Fox Hunt, Chapter 4
Solace groaned, wincing at the sound of small arms fire cracking against the plasteel wall near her head. Her head throbbed abominably and she couldn’t feel Gilly or Barnabie or Elsa anywhere. What she could feel was fear baking off Anna and Kristoff and anger baking off her own ‘cats. She looked around, recognizing the decor of Winterberg, but not the room itself.
“Wh… where are we?” she asked, having to clear her throat and half yell to be heard over the weapons. “And why are people shooting at us?”
“They’re trying to shoot down the door,” Anna said. “We’re in the Observatory Tower.”
“It’s connected to the rest of the palace by a narrow walkway. Too small to bring their battlewagon up,” Kristoff added. “It’s only wide enough for two people at a time… and the little robot did something to make the balcony retract.”
“I have merely activated the privacy function,” OLAF said. “In case the young lady and her gentleman would enjoy some privacy… the others seem most intent on being rude.”
“Where are Gilly and Elsa?”
“They’ve been taken into custody,” Anna said, then sighed as the firing stopped.
“Attention, terrorist scum,” a woman’s voice said over a PA. “This is Captain Anika Stoltz, Palace Security. Release the Princess back to the custody of her rightful husband and you will be merely imprisoned. Resist and you and all your conspirators will be shot!”
Anna gaped, then opened the door to the exterior walkway. The wind was howling pretty fiercely, but OLAF had a built in EON sound system (EON being short for Empty OrchestratioN), and so her words were probably audible across the twenty meter bridge. “I’m not married, Anika!”
“That’s what the Prince said you’d say. Don’t worry, we’ll protect you from the traitorous prole! Be aware, your comrades have already been arrested. Your plan has failed.”
Anna looked to Kristoff and whispered, “What plan? And why is Anika talking like this? She never uses words like prole… or scum. It’s like she thinks she’s in a bad holodrama.”
Kristoff just looked confused, but Solace swore. “I’ll bet you anything she is thinking exactly that. Yohan probably used the trip up here to push at her like he pushed at you… you were acting like a teenage girl in a teenage romance… Gilly’s made me watch more than my share of them… Maybe it’s easier for him to push stereotypes that are cultural touchstones than just random behaviour?”
Anna shrugged. “I dunno, but he better not hurt my sister… or your daughter… oh… oh dear… what if he’s influenced my aunt or grandmother… or the regent.”
“Regent?” Solace asked.
“Yeah. He said he’s here on orders from the Regent to bring Elsa back to appear before the Storting,” the princess explained, bringing Solace up to speed on all that had happened in the last fifteen minutes.
“Uh… Princess…” Solace said, “You do realize that the moment your sister was crowned, the Regent’s power ended. Your sister, not the former Regent, is the Head of State, and your uncle is the Head of Government. As of a few hours ago, Sophia Bellweather is a private citizen whose only public concern is as the chief administrator of the Gothel Institute.”
“Oh… well… he said… and… and Anika’s following his orders… what did she say?” Kristoff said, having spoken over the Security Chief’s words.
Solace replayed the words in her memory, then said, “She said, if you don’t come out, we’re going to blow the bridge.”
“What?!” Anna gasped, “But… but I’m in here!” She grabbed the microphone in OLAF’s hand and yelled, “Captain Stoltz! ANIKA! Stand down! This… this isn’t… you’re not thinking clearly! You don’t take orders from Yohan! He… he’s not even Jewelian!”
“Silence, you treasonous witch! How dare you kidnap your sister and bring her to these… these revolutionaries!?” There was a general growl from the men behind the Captain, their bunny ears having been traded for helmets with the crest of the Jewel Kingdom shining on the front and the scintillation of muscle augmenting systems gleaming on their all weather uniforms.
Solace peered out the window next to the door and eyed the woman. Her eyes were closed and she was breathing hard, her face twitching, and Yohan, standing next to her, was grinning sadistically. “Shit. He’s pushing her hard… I think he gets off on it. What I wouldn’t give for a gun right now.”
“There’s an old rifle I grabbed from the mantle over the fireplace,” Kristoff said, holding it out to her. “But there’s only three rounds in the clip. I don’t think they’ll go through public security uniforms… they look like sporting rounds.”
“Magazine,” Solace corrected, pulling out the bullet holder, checking that it did have three rounds in it. They were target rounds, the kind a biathlete would use, and she remembered that Queen Iduna had competed in the biathlon in her younger days. “And I’m not going to aim for the uniform.” She cycled the chamber with her teeth, then braced the rifle atop the small robot and told him to stand perfectly still as she peered down the iron sight, holding the gun with her good hand. “Anna, once I fire, cycle the gun for me.”
“You can’t seriously be planning to… it’s a blizzard out there,” Kristoff said.
“Don’t hurt Jane,” Anna said, worry deep in her voice. “She’s not-”
Solace wasn’t paying attention to their words; she was all in the moment, and with deliberation, she squeezed the trigger. There was a crack, a scream, and she swore. “I only grazed the bastard… Anna, cycle the rifle!”
As the princess did so, she watched the young princeling clutching the side of his face where his cheek had been ripped open. He was yelling at the Palace Guards, but they were looking shocked, confused, and he was reaching for something, grabbing a box out of what looked like a Tech Sargent’s hands. Solace breathed once, exhaled slowly, and fired just as the Princeling toggled a switch and pressed the first of two buttons on the remote… the thing exploded, taking part of Yohan’s hand with it. The scream was audible even over the howl of the wind, but was drowned out a moment later by the sound of plasteel supports ripping apart over the crunch-boom of composition explosives blowing away two thirds of the tower’s support structure.
As the tower began to pull away from the mountain’s face, the robot, three humans, and two treecats fell away from the door, sliding across the floor and ending up braced against the furniture that had slammed into the balcony walls on the far side of the room. “Oh… oh my goddesses… we… we’re… we’re going to faaaall!” Anna gasped, looking out at the valley floor far below.
“We’ve got to jump,” Kristoff said.
“That’s insane!” Anna pointed out, trying to climb the smooth wooden floor that was slowly becoming the wall. “We’ll die!”
“No… we won’t. Well, we might not,” the mountaineer said. “It’s a slope beneath this window.”
“And a cliff at the end of that slope!” Anna pointed out.
“Yeah… and there’s got to be a good seven or eight meters of fresh powder down at the bottom. If we can slow ourselves enough on the slope, we won’t shoot too far out.”
“That’s insanity,” Anna said, shivering as the windows began to crack from the torque of the tower’s slow breakdown and the weight of the heavy furniture.
“Here,” Solace said, wrenching something off her waist and pushing it to Kristoff.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“It’s an emergency anti-gravity unit,” she said, “Put it on.”
“Do you always plan on leaping out of high buildings?” Anna asked.
“If you’ve ever nearly reentered a planet’s atmosphere without a ship, you tend to be very well prepared,” Solace said. “I grabbed it when we got into the aircar… now put it on. It’s not enough to stop your combined weight, but it will slow you down enough… take Ruth and Naomi with you.”
“What about you?” Kristoff asked.
“I have a broken shoulder and that psychopath has my daughter. The ‘cats can get you to her. Rescue them.”
“What about you?” Anna echoed.
“I’m going to pull this trigger in ten seconds and blow that window lock apart,” Solace said. “You have until then to get that belt on Kristoff, and until then to get a very good grip, Anna. Save Gilly.” She raised the rifle one handed, aiming for the only thing keeping the balcony closed, and said, “Five, four, three-”
Kristoff grabbed Anna as he finished getting the belt into place and closed his eyes, saying a quick prayer and holding his breath. Anna whimpered, holding on tight, the two ‘cats half squished between them.
Solace eyed the weird Flygia thing and said “Sven… if you can understand me… take them to Arto…” and she pulled the trigger.
“And that’s the last we saw of her,” Anna explained to the Manticoran ambassador. Loyalty-unto-Death was a strange name, but the man was friendly and had brought cocoa. He’d apparently been fetched to Oaken’s shop by the redoubtable Ulrike after she’d left them there, and had made his way to the Sjora enclave after trailing the Palace Security forces. He’d been waiting for them when they arrived, guided by the all too happy Sven who didn’t seem to think that sliding down a mountainside with bits and pieces of crashing tower falling all around you… then falling off a hundred meter tall cliff to land in a hill of snow was anything but the height of fun.
Even now, Sven was squeaking and chittering to the other Flygia, almost certainly telling them about all the fun he’d had leading the clueless humans through the forest and evading the ‘cats, who looked very grumpy if Anna was any judge of xeno-beast expressions. They looked like they wanted revenge… and she was having trouble blaming them.
“Well, technically, I’m not supposed to get involved in matters that are purely internal to Jewel,” Loyal said. “But I can take you back to the city. Mister Kristoff, just so you know, the news is reporting that you, Erik Kristoffson, and your rebels attacked the wedding ceremony of Anna and Yohan, killing the princess before Palace security could kill you and your co-conspirators. They’re also claiming that my sister and niece were witnesses to the marriage, and that the death of her sister has driven the Queen, already unhinged, insane. Solace is listed as being among those slain by your people.”
“Why would they do this?” Anna demanded.
“I believe that Yohan is attempting a coup-de-maine as it were. The former Regent is presenting evidence in front of the Storting at this very moment that Elsa is unfit to rule, and that Yohan had been working with her people to uncover details of Pro-Havenite sympathies among the Worker’s Commune… I believe that’s the group you’re allied with, young man?” Kristoff nodded. “The news is claiming that your leaders, someone named ‘Vance Halberton’ and ‘Wodar Oaken’, have been killed,” he paused to wave to where the big man was brushing the fur of a large Sjora.
Oaken grinned and waved back. “Yoho!” he cried, oblivious to the fact that he was supposed to be dead.
“Incidentally, I believe very much this to be a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing,” Loyal said, turning back to his audience.
“Why do you say that?” Anna asked, shivering despite the warmth of the Sjora longhouse.
“Because Wodar Oaken is an agent of Palace Security who has been tasked with keeping an eye on the Worker’s Commune and its growing contact with a suspected Havenite agent who calls himself ‘Stilskin’… and whose file back at Manticore House says that he’s the aforementioned Vance Halberton. Everything our embassy has on Halberton says that he is a rabble rouser, not a terrorist. He’s a long term asset, not someone who tries to blow up the queen.”
“Is… will my sister be okay?” Anna asked, then added, “And your niece?”
Loyal frowned, but then shrugged, “Yes. At least for the time being. Elsa will be humiliated and dethroned, if this plan goes through. Gilly is probably fine. They need her to sign off this fiction of a marriage. This whole thing strikes me as half-assed. Yohan and Sophia have to be working together, and have to be hoping that no one sees through this ridiculous charade. It’s too audacious… and poorly executed.”
“So… what do we do?” Kristoff said.
“Do?” Loyal asked.
“To rescue the queen and your niece?”
“Ah… well, I suppose we storm the palace,” he said.
“We?” Kristoff said, looking at the six humans gathered in the room. “A supposed rebel, a legally dead princess, a legally dead maybe terrorist maybe palace security agent, a driver, and an embassy marine?” He waved vaguely at the young man standing near the door with a scanner in one hand and a pulse-rifle in the other. “Can’t we just go to Public Safety HQ?”
“We could… if we knew who to trust,” Anna said, understanding. “But then Yohan and Sophia might kill Elsa and Gilly.”
Loyal tapped his nose and grinned at the princess. “Got it in one, your highness. We need to recover the hostages and neutralize Yohan before he can work whatever mojo he’s up to… you don’t have any mental powers, do you?” he asked.
“No. I… I don’t think so. We could try and bring my cousin into this… but she’s been under the care of Professor Bellweather for years… Is that the plan? She gets Charlotte on the throne as Yohan’s wife? Is my uncle in on this?”
“I doubt it,” Oaken said, coming over. “The Grand Duke is a good man and he loved your father… and Iduna was his baby sister. No. I think the Regent has been playing us all.”
Anna considered, then sighed. “I know how to get into the inner palace… but I’ve never been outside the walls of the inner precinct unescorted.”
Loyal looked to Oaken, “Any chance you know a way through the cordon?”
“In theory? There shouldn’t be one… but if the conspirators really don’t know that I’m Palace Security, then… yeah, my ID should get us into the cordon, and then your Ambassadorial clearance gets us into the inner precinct.” The big man tried to put the Sjora down, but she was clinging to him and making a soft singing purring sound that was making Loyal and Kristoff’s pants very tight.
“Great,” the guard said, “We should get going then.”
“It’s not full dark yet,” Ulrike said, speaking up for the first time in nearly an hour.
“It will be by the time we reach the palace,” he said, frowning at the young woman.
Anna looked back and forth at the two of them, then at Loyal, “Are they dating?”
Loyal laughed, “Not hardly. Ulrike thinks Duty is a stick-in-the-mud, and Duty thinks Ulrike is a…” he frowned, “that she’s a little too enthusiastic.”
“She’s a creepy stalker whose attached herself to Solace and follows her everywhere like a puppy,” Duty snapped, glaring at Ulrike. “And she’s a pervert.”
“Duty?” Anna asked, then giggled, “Wait… is he your little brother? I know most Manticorans don’t have names like Loyalty, Solace, and Duty… he is, isn’t he!”
Loyal grinned, then shrugged, “He might be. My parents tell me he is. But he takes himself so seriously!”
The youngest Smythe grumbled something as Anna hugged him, “I know you’re worried about Gilly… and upset about Solace… We’ll get the people who did this. I promise. And they’ll stand trial for crimes against my kingdom, and yours.”
Twenty minutes later, they were gathered back into the Andermani aircar, a coalition of three nations trying to save their loved ones… and a kingdom from chaos. The weather was growing more brutal with every passing hour, the entire fjord frozen over now, every building coated in ice, and no one could figure out what the conspirators were thinking not turning off the weather system.
After pausing to meet up with an Andermani agent who provided body armor and small arms, the makeshift rescue team scooted through the cordon without trouble, thanks to Oaken’s ID, which had not been flagged at all. If Palace Security found it odd that the Manticoran Ambassador was riding in the Andermani Ambassador’s car with an agent of their own, they said nothing about it, and they did no more than give the vehicle a scan for explosives or nucleics before allowing it inside the government precinct of the palace.
Getting into the Inner Palace, where the Queen still had every right to be held even though she was under house arrest, took even less time, thanks to Anna’s intimate knowledge of the sprawling complex, a knowledge gained from nearly a decade of almost unsupervised exploration. Everything was, in fact, going along swimmingly… until all hell broke loose.
All over the palace, alarms and claxons began sounding, and security blast doors began dropping to cover the exits one after another. Within seconds, the palace was in complete lockdown… at least to the outside world. Inside, it was a madhouse as the computer system went into emergency shutdown. Everyone looked to Anna.
“What?! I didn’t do anything!” she insisted.
Kristoff hugged her shoulder and laughed, “I don’t think they were saying you did… What do we do now?”
“Oh!” She blushed, then muttered, “Sorry… ummm… I have no idea… I don’t know what could cause this… but it might help us… we don’t have to worry about security being reinforced from outside unless… unless… let’s head to the security control center.”
“Won’t everyone else be heading there?” Duty and Ulrike asked at the same time, then glowered at each other.
“Yes,” Anna said. “Almost certainly. There or my sister’s suite. But the system is locked down from there, or crashed from computing. Either way, the entire system is blind. If it’s locked down, we can try to take it over from central. If it’s crashed from computing, then we can take out whoever’s in command at central if they’re with Yohan.
“Bleek?” said a small voice from the ventilation shaft above her head.
Anna looked surprised, glancing around to where Naomi was perched on Loyal’s shoulder and Ruth on Oaken’s massive frame. “Who?” she asked, then yelped as the vent-frame bent and ripped free, dropping with a clang at her feet.
Barnabie’s head poked free and he grinned a toothy grin at them. He was covered in dust and his fur was alive with static electricity, but he seemed healthy. “BLEEK!” he exclaimed again, then dropped out of the vent with a twist and a fwump. “Bleek. Bleek-bleek. Bleeeeek!” he said, waving them forward. Bemused, Anna followed, and the others padded after her.
As they moved through the halls, they heard the squeaky chirping of Flygia more and more often, found more than one of the strange furry weasel-bats perched on a statue or dragging a pillow or book under a couch. Pictures and vases had been knocked over, and it became clear that somehow, the Flygia had invaded the palace and were, for some reason, causing chaos on a grand scale. In their Palace Security outfits, the troupe was largely ignored, as everyone who saw them simply saw them chasing yet one more fuzzy trouble-maker.
Eventually, they arrived at a door that was resolutely being guarded by two members of a guard-force that was definitely not Jewelian. The heavy combat armor looked like something members of a brute-squad would wear, and the crest on their chest was that of the royal family of Manderlay. The duo was ignoring the chaos around them, and the screaming from inside the room with equal calm… which turned out to be their undoing, as Ulrike and Duty were on them before they knew it and the duo went down hard, in a way that suggested that, if they ever got back up again, it would only be with serious medical assistance.
The door they’d been guarding resisted being opened… for the space of time it took Oaken to bodyslam it, the locking mechanism bowing, then snapping under the force of nearly two hundred kilos of solid muscle, bone, and lutfisk.
Bursting into the room beyond, Kristoff spotted a figure dashing out the side door, a figure dressed in a white formal suit and half his face bandaged. Thus, distracted, he missed what the rest of the group saw.
Strapped to a heavy medical exam table tilted sixty degrees downward, Gillian Smythe was topless and covered in welts and her own blood. Standing over her was Sophia Bellweather, holding a neuro-agonizer whip in one hand, and a spray bottle of something orange in the other. The room stank of medical grade disinfectant, sulfuric acid, blood, and urine, and from the state of Gilly’s body, it was clear she’d been enduring this treatment for several hours, probably since the Storting’s emergency meeting had been delayed until morning.
Two more Manderlayian goons moved to block the door their prince had rushed through, and another three moved to interpose themselves between the doctor and the interlopers. All five looked virtually identical and no one had any doubt that under their helmets, the two in the hall would prove to be more of the same gene-set. Still, even if they hadn’t been functionally identical, they all probably would have made the same mistake. Seeing armed humans, they aimed for them… which meant they weren’t aiming for the treecats.
With a roar like a buzzsaw, Barnabie launched his massive bulk off the floor and landed, all six sets of scimitar claws bared, right in the leftmost goon’s face. The man died nearly instantly as the hugely strong and intensely pissed off arboreal slammed two true-feet into his collarbone and, gripping his jaw and cheekbones with hand-feet and true-hands, jerked in two different directions at once, snapping the man’s neck with an explosive crack. With a twist, in the time it took the other four to even begin to process what had happened, the B had launched himself from the man he’d just killed, toward the second.
Distracted by the scene of a totally berzerk treecat, the two by the door died in nearly perfect unison as Ruth and Naomi lept from their perches and, with synchronization born of telempathy and decades of practice, ripped out their throats with casual savagery.
Goon three was comparatively lucky, therefor, as Oaken, still moving with the force that had shattered the door lock, simply bodychecked him into a wall so hard that the wood paneling and part of the ceiling fell off, revealing the underlying battlesteel.
Sophia Bellweather gulped, looking down the bores of Duty’s tribarrel, and squeaked, “I… I surren-” Which was as far as she got before there was a sound exactly like a pair of heavy metal buckle snapping. Gilly’s legs hooked forward and, grabbing the doctor by the neck, twisted with brutal efficiency, supplexing the woman into the table even as she wrenched herself free.
Gilly staggered to her feet, holding up one hand to keep anyone from touching her, least of all her still hissing treecat. She grabbed another bottle, this one a big two liter container, and splashed it over herself, stifling a groan of agony as the contents fizzed and sizzled on her skin, washing away the blood and dilute acid that had burned her skin. She took a towel from Ulrike, stepping over the gurgling form of the ex-regent, ignoring the woman’s spasms as her damaged spine tried to transmit signals from a half crushed skull.
“Where’s mom?” she asked her uncle.
“Dead,” Kristoff said. “Yohan dropped the Observatory Tower into the gorge. We saw it going overhead… she gave us her gravity belt.” He indicated Anna and himself.
“And told us to take them,” Anna said, indicating the cats.
“Do you know where the Prince was heading?” Loyal asked his niece, trying to distract her from her grief. “Or what’s going?”
“No… Barnabie escaped into the vents when they tried to cage him… but Prince Shithole wasn’t happy when he realized he couldn’t use his whammy on me… maybe he’s going after the queen?”
“Are you okay?” Anna asked, “I mean… you’re clearly not… but can you walk?”
Gillian looked down at herself and chuckled, “This?” she motioned the acid burned welts. “Believe it or not, but I’ve had worse. Let’s go.” No one questioned the assertion; it had been too matter of fact to allow much doubt.
With Anna pointing the way, and now surrounded by the contingent in a moving box, they made their way to the queen’s quarters… but they were empty. “M… maybe she’s in my parent’s rooms?”
“She’s in the Donjon,” a voice said from across the hall.
“Grandma?” Anna squeaked, turning to look into the window’d alcove. “W… what are you doing here?”
The Queen-Mother… or rather, Queen-Grandmother, chuckled dryly. “Everyone always forgets old ladies. I swear. It’s like we’re invisible or something. Who do you think crashed the palace’s security and has been keeping everyone locked out of weather control…”
“B… but why? The city’s getting buried!” Anna said, torn between panicking and being impressed.
“Because I know those idiots in the Storting!” the old woman chuckled, “In the last eighty-five years, they’ve delayed every meeting if there was a blizzard… even the fate of the Kingdom won’t get them out in weather like this!” She rocked on her heels. “That girl’s naked… get her something to wear… and then go get your sister… all this craziness over a little winter magic… humph.” She held out a hand and a Flygia landed on it, collecting a small gummy-bear, and chewing on it happily with much squeaking.
“Your grandma’s a crazy Flygia lady,” Kristoff half-whispered, then ooffed as Anna elbowed him in the belly. “And you hit like a very small girl,” he added.
Gilly refused her uncle’s jacket, claiming that her skin hurt too much for wool, but she did accept a plush cotton bathrobe liberated from Elsa’s room, though it tore right down the back the first time she flexed her shoulders. She shrugged. “Better than nothing.”
As they climbed the stairs of the Donjon, the tallest tower in the castle, they heard the sound of Yohan yelling at someone, though his words were largely incomprehensible until they got closer. The cold wind gusting down the tower’s single spiral stairwell told them that the windows on the top were open and the howling of the wind was both obscuring his words and carrying the tone to them. He was furious.
They burst into the room to find Elsa backing away from the prince, her eyes wide with terror and full of tears as he railed at her, threatening her with an old fashion cutlass. Her hands were encased in some kind of steel mittens and her head was crowned by some kind of technological device that was, no doubt, causing her enough pain to make focusing her abilities all but impossible. Still, the room was covered in frost and the horrible man was screaming at her, telling her how she’d ruined everything, how she’d killed her own sister and if she’d just been a little less of a bitch, everything would be better, everything would have gone fine, and the manticoran bitch wouldn’t have shot him in the fucking eye!
“Shame it wasn’t a throughshot,” Anna said, startling the Prince who had forced her sister back onto the balcony at sword point. It was clear that if Elsa moved even another couple centimeters backward, she’d fall off the tower, but if she didn’t, she’d end up impaled on that all too sharp blade.
Yohan growled, raising his blade to bring it down into the queen’s heart. “If I can’t have-” he began, but Gilly flung herself across the gap, bringing her hands together to catch the blade as it dove heartward. “What… the hell?”
“Ye… yeah?!” Anna said, “Why didn’t you just knock him off the balcony?”
“He’s got a chain!” Gilly grunted, holding the sword point away from her own chest but she could feel her palms getting slick despite the chill.
Anna looked and realized it was true. He had a chain in the other hand, the chain that connected to the cuffs her sister was wearing. “Hans… release my sister and we’ll… we’ll guarantee your return to Manderlay.”
“Return? Are you kidding? They’ll hang me just because I’ve embarrassed the family! Noo… I want-”
No one ever learned what he wanted as, at that moment, Gilly shoved him backward a centimeter and the top of his head disappeared in a shower of gore. Anna blinked, looking out across the city… that wasn’t possible. The only place that shot could have come from was almost six kilometers away… at night… in a blizzard. She looked at Gilly, then gulped. “Your mother’s a very scary woman.”
“She says to tell you that reports of her death have been greatly exaggerated… now, if you don’t mind… I’m going to pass out.”
The next few days were a riot of politics at its worst and at its best. Miraculously, Sophia Bellweather had survived her injuries, though she’d never fully recover, even with regen. There’d been too much brain-damage. Her notes however, accessed with her biometrics and set to scramble if she’d died, revealed much. It had been through her experiments, using samples of Charlotte’s genome and brain-scans, that she’d figured out how to augment Yohan, turning him into whatever it was that he had been.
Her notes also exonerated Anika Stolz, who, freed from Yohan’s control, revealed everything she’d done to the Queen’s council. To a man, the council decided to keep the knowledge of what Yohan had been capable of secret, knowing that the paranoia public knowledge of it would cause would outweigh any security advantage. Especially since there didn’t seem to be any way to detect it. The notes were classified, the institute absorbed into the Ministry of Health & Welfare.
The Grand Duke, under suspicion, earned or not, stepped down, and the Grand Duchess was forced to publicly admit how she was duped by ‘that horrible Bellweather woman’. Anika Stolz’s mother, Jane Stoltz, Minister for Public Safety, became the new Prime Minister.
Gilly and Solace recovered, and Solace had been forced to explain how she’d free-climbed the outside of a crumbling tower, reaching the top-side of it just as the last support failed. She’d then essentially used the tower as a massive toboggan, leaping free of the structure right before it could plunge off the cliff. It had been one hell of a hail-mary, and it almost hadn’t worked… except for OLAF, who’d pulled her out of the snowbank she’d gotten wedged in and hauled her back up the slope to the Winterberg… which turned out to have an arsenal and an underground garage.
To her family, and the Queen (and Anna) she admitted that only her link with Gilly had made the shot possible. She’d felt her daughter’s panic as she’d come back into the city, and, landing the royal aircar atop the nearest convenient building, had dialed in the shot as fast as she dared. And in the end, only the incredible flight-time of the shot and the functionally instantaneous nature of their link had allowed Gilly to get Yohan into position at the last possible second.
For their assistance in thwarting the coup, the entire crowd was given medals… even Sven, who was given the Jewellian Order of Merit (as were Arto and Anika… despite the later’s protest that she’d nearly doomed them all and definitely hadn’t helped! Politics and saving face, eh?). The treecats, Kristoff, Ulrike, and Anna were all given the Magnus Cross, the third highest award in the kingdom’s repertoire… While Solace and Gilly were given the Order of Freedom, the highest award, given to anyone, civilian or military, who risked grievous bodily harm or death in the service of the state and her people.
And then, as a special award, right there on the floor of the Storting, Queen Elsa, the Winter Queen, now confirmed in all her dignity by the body politic and with the full backing of her people (who now had their very own fairytale princess as queen and no one else did), gave Gillian Andros-Smythe a personal gift for personally saving her life. Gilly looked completely flummox as, completely off script, Queen Elspeth kissed her, full on the lips.
Anna, standing next to her sister, laughed and whispered to her monarch, “Hey! You can’t marry that girl! You just met her!”
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I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in very slow progress here. Please check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too. I also have begun a series of smaller jump-threads called EssJay’s Omake Theatre. The first, Big Box Isekai is about a Warehouse Store that’s reborn in another world. The second, Zed & The Walrus-Men, is a more lighthearted look at what might have been if I’d been made a jumper at age sixteen.