This is for LivEvil, whose numerous and kind reviews were a wonderful, wonderful boost while I was writing A Series of Crises. 

Marie- Louise sat at her dressing- table, sunlight from the huge floor to ceiling windows glinting in her hair. 

            "You have such beautiful golden curls." the long- dead Queen of Neo- France admired, running her slim fingers through them. 

            "Exactly like yours." the King observed from his post in the doorway. 

            The Queen gasped and whirled around in a flurry of skirts, putting a protective hand on the shoulder of the Princess sitting behind her.  "Don't sneak up on us like that!  You scared the wits out of me."

            "I didn't 'sneak.'" the King retorted.  "Besides, you've wits enough to spare a few."

            She scowled at him, but he could see the smile lurking beneath it.  "Speaking of sneaking," she said conversationally, "there's someone sneaking up on you right now."

            The King glanced over his shoulder.  "There is no one there."

            "That's because you're asleep." she replied, in a tone that put you dolt at the end.

            The King stared at her.  Perhaps she'd laced that corset too tightly…? 

            The Queen gave her daughter's shoulder an affectionate squeeze.  "Do you remember the sword I gave you?"

            "Of course."  It was an ancient one that she'd found herself, and had had restored as a present to him in celebration of Marie- Louise's birth.  It was now hanging above the King's bed as both a tribute to her and a silent reminder of his resolution to never fail to protect his family again. 

            "Use it." she commanded, and the golden light from her hair drifted down and started blurring her.  "Use it well."

            "Wait." the King pled, striding quickly toward her and stretching out a hand in supplication.  "Please, wait…"

            She only smiled at him again, but instead of joy, this one was tinged with sadness and her eyes had a profound, knowing look.  She shimmered and faded, and the King was left staring at where she'd been. 

            Marie- Louise gave him the same sad smile.  "Time to wake up, Father." 

            And with a jerk, that was exactly what he did.  He lay aching for a minute before abruptly sitting up and grabbing the sword. 

            A glint in the darkness, above his head…

            Aged though they were, the King's reflexes were still quick, and the ring of steel meeting steel filled his bedchamber.  The King's mysterious assailant sprang to the floor on the side of the bed and made another attempt with his sword, blocked again by the King as he shouted for guards and scrambled out of bed. 

            The would- be assassin chased the King with his blade, landing a shallow slash on the sovereign's back and another on his side before they simultaneously hit the floor.  The intruder pressed forward, his blade darting this way and that like a snake's tongue. 

            "Guards!" the King bellowed, blocking another strike and having his counterattack blocked in return. 

            The doorway finally filled with dazzling light, blinding the King, who immediately began fiercely blinking; he could hear the shouts of dying men, what would undoubtedly be extremely expensive property damage, and the thuds and grunts of men hitting the floor; a burning smell from the guards' guns and the odor of a great deal of blood filled his nose. 

            His eyes finally cleared, only to find his elite guards sprawled on the now- bloody floor.  The ruins of paintings and statues lay everywhere, and there were numerous holes in the walls. 

            The King dashed into the hall; more dead guards.  "Where did he go?" he demanded of one of the injured. 

            "That way, Your Majesty…" the man replied, pointing.  "But Bouriste got him, sir, he's hurt…"

            The King ran down the hall, sword clutched tightly in his hand, heart going a mile a minute. 

            He's headed toward Marie- Louise's wing…


            The Princess was having a rather pleasant dream involving George de Sand and copious amounts of roses when the sensation of being picked up and slung around like a bag of grain brought her annoyingly awake. 

            "What the…?" she asked, at opening her eyes to find herself draped unflatteringly over the shoulder of a man clad all in black, with a sword at his side and a gun in one hand; the other was on the backs of her knees, holding her in place.  "Let me go!" she demanded, pounding her little fists on his back.  "Let me go this instant!"

            "That chance is as fat as you." her abductor huffed, jumping out one of the closed windows. 

            Marie- Louise watched the ground rushing up to meet her with an earsplitting shriek, but the man merely bent his knees- and landed on his feet, much to her half- fearful and half- grateful astonishment.  He ran toward the wall- but that's insane, she thought in panic, the security system will fry us both!

            Doors all over the palace opened, and a veritable army of guards came streaming out.  Marie- Louise's attention was drawn to her kidnapper again as he fired a different gun from the one he'd had the last time she'd looked; a line shot from it, attaching itself to the wall.  The next thing she knew, they were in the air, and the man landed on the top of the wall and jumped down.  She was reminded, for an instant, of when George had saved her from Gentle Chapman… but the difference between that situation and this was brought forcefully home to her when he unceremoniously dumped her down and twisted an arm behind her back. 

            "Run." he growled.  "Any mistakes and I break your arm."  He wrenched it, and she cried out. 

            "I understand!"

            He didn't answer, but instead shoved her forward, and Marie- Louise began running as best she could. 

A/N:  I always pictured Marie- Louise's mother as being younger than her father, and looking a lot like her daughter- only more mature and with a slightly different face.  I've also always pictured her wearing clothes kind of like something from Gone With the Wind, since Marie- Louise's dresses have a bit of that feel about them; and in my mind the somewhat odd dress comes from an interest in and respect of the past.  Oh, and the guards' guns are like Chibodee's; they shoot energy, not bullets.  Cookies to anyone who reads this.