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A Little Blue

Sixteen

09/18/09 1845 Larne, Ireland

Using her spoon, Elsa carefully scooped out a chunk of white vegetable from her soup and held it up for inspection. “What is this?”

They were seated at a table in the house assigned to them for the duration of their stay in Larne. It had been abandoned years ago, but apparently the city kept it just for this purpose. The place had been recently swept and dusted, but it still smelled empty. Baker and Libby were staying with them, but Baker was meeting with the Royal ambassador and, as expected, Libby was with her mistress.

Ceres glanced at her. “It’s a piece of turnip.”

“It doesn’t look like a turnip. It’s white.”

“It’s an American turnip. You’re used to Scottish turnips, which are yellow.”

The Mazouku’s ears flicked. “So this is an American turnip. That answers what it is. Why is it in our food?”

“We need a more balanced diet,” Ceres replied, “and carrots and potatoes all of the time are boring.”

Elsa sniffed haughtily. “My diet is already perfectly balanced since I am an obligate carnivore.”

Victoria chuckled. “As Ciaran likes to say, nice try but I checked and you are not. You weren’t even when you were a Lioness.” Elsa gave her a dark look and nibbled on the piece of turnip. Her ears twitched and she quickly ate the rest of it. Victoria grinned. “I see the flavor isn’t too displeasing.” Elsa shot her a look and continued eating.

They were almost finished with dinner when Elsa paused, her spoon halfway to her mouth. “Do turnips cause hallucinations?”

Victoria shook her head as Ceres and Ciaran exchanged a smile. “No.”

“Then is what I’m seeing behind Victoria really there?”

Everyone turned to look. A bluish-white globe roughly six inches in diameter hung in midair a few feet from the doorway to the kitchen. Victoria summoned her spear as she shot to her feet. “What is that?” As she leveled her weapon, the globe vanished.

Ceres got up. “Victoria, you and I will clear the house. Elsa, you’re with Ciaran.” Spear ready, the Angel led the way as they left the dining room. A half hour later they returned. “We have done everything except physically disassemble the building and we didn’t find anything,” she announced. “I didn’t think that would be advisable as this house isn’t abandoned and we don’t own it.”

“I agree,” Ciaran said. “We’ll ask Kirkpatrick and Baker about it in the morning. Maybe it’s something they can explain.” He looked at his bowl. “Anyone want more?”

09/19/09 0235 Larne, Ireland

Ciaran eyed the picture before dipping his brush into the blue and painting a broad line of orange down the middle to neatly bisect the red field he’d already put on the canvas. He stepped back to evaluate the results, almost tripping over the ottoman that was still ambling in a tight circle. It finally annoyed him, so he quickly painted it yellow in order to not miss it next time. The ottoman stopped, shivered and violently shook, spattering yellow all over him and the walls.

The scream of mingled fear and fury shattered the painting, which cascaded to the floor with the sound of anvils falling. Ciaran threw down his paintbrush and palette and opened the roughhewn door that had appeared in the wall simultaneously with the scream.

Silhouetted against the leaden gray waters of the harbor behind her, a woman in a British Army uniform crouched against a low wall clutching a pistol in her hand. A constant rain of bullets hissed over the wall while others struck it and sent chips of stone flying as they howled off over the into the distance. She looked at him with despair. “Help me!”

The bodies of some soldiers were nearby and he quickly searched them for weapons, but didn’t find any before he joined her against the wall. “I can’t. There’re no guns.”

She nodded with a sad smile on her face. “There never are. I always have to do it myself.” She drew a second gun from a holster, turned, stood up so she could look over the wall and began deliberately firing back at whoever was shooting at them.

Ciaran reacted instantly, lunging at the woman’s knees and knocking her sideways as the incoming fire intensified until he fancied he could see the bullets whizzing by over the wall. Chips of stone rained down on them as one of her pistols skittered away from the impact. The woman glared at him. “I have to do this!”

Again Ciaran saw Eliana’s body go slack and he fought an urge to vomit. “No! You don’t get to commit suicide!” He grabbed her by the shoulders and ignored her struggles as he dragged her back through the door into the room where the ottoman had gone back to doing circles, this time crawling on its belly to wipe off the yellow paint in a long smear across the floor. He dropped the woman and slammed the door shut. It vanished. He turned and froze.

She was standing and the muzzle of the woman’s remaining pistol hovered an inch from his right eye. Deep inside the barrel he could see the tip of the bullet gleaming in the light. Her eyes glowed with anger. “You kept me from doing my duty,” she hissed in a deadly tone.

“It is never your duty to die for no reason,” he answered. “There was no way you could stop them and there was nothing to protect.”

The gun muzzle didn’t waver. “Everyone else in my unit is dead,” she snarled. “We failed in our mission and death is all that is left for us. It is my duty and my honor to die with them.”

Ciaran’s eyes narrowed. “It is your duty,” he yelled, “to live for them! Make their deaths mean something even if it’s only that they perished so you survived!”

The gun muzzle shook slightly as tears glittered in the corners of her eyes. “I don’t want to live without them,” she said softly. “I wanted to die with them.”

He gestured at the now featureless wall. “I can’t show you how to get back there. Maybe I shouldn’t have stopped you. If you feel I took your choice away from you, then pull that trigger. You can kill me and then yourself or just yourself if you want. I can’t stop you.”

The woman stared at him for several seconds and then, with a convulsive motion, spun the pistol in her hand and offered it to him, butt first. He took it and tucked it into his belt as she sank to the floor and began sobbing.

He eyed her for a moment before going to his painting and getting down on his knees so he could begin putting it back together. He had to finish it as soon as he could.

09/19/09 0710 Larne, Ireland

Victoria shut the door behind Kirkpatrick. “We’re almost done cleaning up from breakfast and you’re welcome to join Ciaran in the dining room while we finish up.”

Kirkpatrick followed her down the hall. “Does he make you do all the cleaning?”

“No,” Victoria said with a chuckle. “It’s just mine and Elsa’s turn today. Would you like some tea while you wait?”

Kirkpatrick frowned. “Will you be that long getting ready?”

“No,” Ciaran said as he entered the room. “It should be just a few more minutes, if Victoria gets back to helping Elsa.”

“I am just leaving,” the Angel said with a wink as she swept from the room.

Kirkpatrick laughed. “You have a good relationship with your girls.”

“We complement each other nicely,” he replied. “Can I ask you an odd question?”

She regarded him curiously. “You may.”

“We either saw something strange last night or we all had a group hallucination, which I think is doubtful. Have you heard anything about a flying ball of light about,” he gestured with his hands, “this big?”

The color drained from Kirkpatrick’s face. “You saw the Bean Si?” Her eyes swept the room as if she was looking for it. “Here?”

“We saw it right about where you’re standing,” he said. “I’m familiar with the legend but why do you think that’s one of the Bean Si? They’re supposed to look like women.”

She almost jumped across the room and crossed herself as she stared at the spot he’d indicated. “It’s an ill omen indeed to see the death spirits. Everyone who has seen it in Larne has had bad luck or died soon after.”

“I thought the Bean Si was supposed to wail first.”

Kirkpatrick nodded. “That’s true, but no one knows what this apparition is and someone called it the Bean Si for the misfortune that befalls whoever sees it. Now that’s its name.”

“But no one knows what it is,” Ceres asked as she joined them.

There is a pokegirl breed called the Spectra or Banshee, his twee said, but that was not one of them. I would have recognized it if that’s what you saw last night, but I could not identify what it was.

“Well, whatever you call it, we saw it last night,” Ceres stated flatly.

He didn’t look at Ceres. There are things that predate your creation, remember? Ygerna and Eoghan are proof enough of that.

She nodded once. “It floated here for a second and then disappeared. Did you say it harms people?”

“No,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s a harbinger of evil times to come. Misfortune has fallen upon everyone who sees it, usually within the next fortnight.”

“We will be careful,” Ceres was trying not to smile. Usually within the next fortnight? If you wait long enough eventually some misfortune happens to everyone.

Ciaran glanced at her. He wasn’t superstitious, but he’d seen too many strange things in his short life to dismiss Kirkpatrick’s concerns so blithely. “Ms. Kirkpatrick, we will be as cautious as we always are.”

“It’s Mrs. Kirkpatrick, actually, Mr. Sullivan.”

“You have my apologies for the mistake. What is the plan for this morning?”

She smiled. “There isn’t one. I was asked by His Honor the Mayor to see if you needed anything specific before going to my regular duties.”

“Do you think we need to talk to anyone else?”

“Did your give any of the government one of these radios?”

He nodded. “I gave one to the Guarda commander, as requested.”

“Then, Mr. Sullivan, I do not.”

“Then I thank you for checking up on us, but we’ll be leaving Larne this morning.”

“Then I wish you a good stay here in Ireland, sir.” She bowed to him. “And being a Sullivan and therefore one of us, I welcome you home to your true homeland as well.”

Ceres showed her out. When she returned, Ciaran was rubbing his eyes tiredly. “Are you all right?”

“I didn’t sleep well.” He shrugged. “I haven’t since Eliana’s death. Usually I dream I can’t find her and wake up only to remember that I know exactly where she is and it hurts all over again. Last night I had different dreams, but I still didn’t sleep well.” He looked at her. “Please make sure that Tamsin is ready to leave. I’d like to get moving soon, travel until noon and then I’ll call Theodora for that taxi.”

09/19/09 0810 Outside Tulia, Texas

Ciaran watched the shuttle take off before turning to Ceres. “Let’s get this moving.”

She nodded. “Is your chest still hurting?”

He realized he was rubbing it again and pulled his hand away. “It feels like I pulled something.”

“When he first complained of the pain this morning, I checked him with the medical scanner and he seems to be fine,” Victoria said. “He has no physical injuries and his heart is healthy. Do you want me or Elsa overhead?”

“You first,” Ceres replied. “Elsa hasn’t been here before and I want her to stay close. We know there are tamers with pokegirls in the area hunting the roads and Beibhinn has Neem. I want to keep the mistakes to a minimum.” She looked at Libby. “You’ve got Baker.”

“Of course I do,” the Nekomata replied. Her ears flicked and her expression became petulant. “It’s hot!”

Ciaran checked his computer. “It’s seventy five degrees. That’s about average for here in September. You’re just used to the fact that it’s fifty in Ireland and Scotland right now.”

Libby’s ears flattened for a second. “With all due respect, sir, what is hot here?”

“In July it’s in the nineties, about the same as you’d see in London but not outside the city.” He motioned to Victoria with both hands like he was shooing an animal and she laughed before taking off. “My parent’s farm isn’t too far from here and you know the way, Ceres.”

An hour later they turned onto his parent’s farm. About halfway to the house Ceres stopped. “There are people in the fields.”

Ciaran looked. “Those are my parent’s employees.” He waved. One of them waved back and two of them began running towards them.

Elsa held her hand up to shade her eyes from the morning sun. Her ears flattened. “Those are pokegirls. One of the ones coming has pink hair and the other’s hair is bright red.”

“The redhead is my sister, Beibhinn. And the girl with pink hair is probably Neem.” Ciaran replied. “They’re friendly.”

“Neem is an Elfqueen and Beibhinn’s pokegirl.” Ceres stated firmly. She gave Libby a hard look. “No attacking.”

The Nekomata’s tails flicked. “As long as my mistress isn’t attacked, I will not attack.”

“As long as you want to live, you will not attack,” Elsa muttered.

Beibhinn and Neem stopped at the edge of the fields. She blinked. “Ciaran?”

“Hi, Bee.” Suddenly he was enveloped in her hug. “It’s good to see you too.”

She pulled back to look at him. “What are you doing home so soon?” She smiled at Baker. “Hi, Tamsin.”

“Hello, Bee.”

Beibhinn’s eyes crinkled with humor as she looked back at her brother. “You didn’t get lost again, did you?”

He shook his head grimly. “I wish that were the case. We are here to bury Eliana.”

Beibhinn paled. “Oh, God no, Ciaran.” She looked around as if hoping to see Eliana grinning nearby and prove this to be some macabre joke. Then her shoulders slumped. “I am so sorry for your loss. I liked her.”

“I did too.” He nodded to Neem. “We haven’t met yet, but I know you’re Neem. I’m Ciaran and I’m Beibhinn’s brother. I hope you are well.”

She nodded back. Neem was short, the same height as Victoria, but with a much curvier figure. Her hair started white at the crown and turned pink as it moved down her back. “I am,” she said in heavily accented English. “Who are these other people?”

Beibhinn stepped away from him. “Neem, the green skinned woman is Ceres. The woman in the military uniform is Tamsin Baker. The Angel overhead is Victoria and this,” she broke off, looking at Elsa. “I don’t know you.” Her voice was suddenly cool.

“I am Elsa. I joined Ciaran’s family some time before Eliana’s death.” Elsa smiled broadly. “So no, I am not her replacement and you should not be angry at Ciaran for not caring about Eliana. He did and still does.”

Beibhinn flushed. “Was it that obvious?”

Ceres nodded. “It was, and Elaina would have appreciated your anger.” She motioned towards Libby. “This woman is Libby and she is Tamsin’s pokegirl.” She glanced up and waved. Victoria immediately banked and headed for them. “You were not told we were coming?” She glanced at Ciaran.

He held up his hands defensively. “I called mother.”

“She didn’t tell me,” Beibhinn said. “It’s probably because right now they’re not too happy with me.”

“What did you do,” Ciaran asked curiously. “This isn’t about Neem, is it?”

Neem smiled. “It is, actually.”

“Yes,” Beibhinn said, “but not like you think, you perv.” She let him go only to grab his hand. “I bought that land you loaned me the money for.”

He grinned. “Good. Being independent is important.”

She nodded. “Are you paying father to manage your farmland?”

“I am. He gets a third of my crop but it was either that or let it lie fallow.”

“He told me that he was going to charge me the same for him to take care of mine. I told him that he wanted too much. Then he informed me that if his people were going to work my land that’s what it would cost.” Her mouth thinned. “I told him that if Neem was going to work his land and vastly improve his yields we needed to negotiate how much he was going to pay us.”

“You stood up to father?” Ciaran blinked and began laughing. “He did not take that well.” It wasn’t a question.

Beibhinn smiled broadly. “No, he did not.” The smile faded as she shrugged. “That’s why they’re not happy with me right now. For the last few days father hasn’t spoken to me unless he had absolutely no choice. Mother has been giving me the silent treatment, although Neem and I still get to eat with them at the table.” Her eyes twinkled. “Unlike the time you really pissed them off.”

Ciaran didn’t want to remember that incident or have to explain it to his ladies and quickly pulled the discussion back where it belonged. “Are you serious about charging for Neem’s help?”

Beibhinn nodded. “I’d be willing to provide it for free if he didn’t charge me for helping me to work my land, but as long as he is I see no reason not to. And considering how he acted when I spoke up, he will have to make the offer.”

“Then you need to remind him that you haven’t negotiated the price of Neem’s help or he will never bring it up, you won’t get paid anything for it at harvest and he will still take a third of your crops because you already agreed to it.” Ciaran gave her a thoughtful look. “I don’t suppose you’d take care of my land for less than what he’s charging me, would you?”

Neem coughed politely. When everyone looked at her, she smiled cautiously. “To do more than I am now, I would require helpers that I approve of. Your father’s workers are not acceptable for that. That would almost certainly require that I start a small court. Beibhinn would have to help tame them if I did, unless the Elves were yours, Ciaran.”

He shook his head. “I’d have to be home to do well by them, that or take them with me, which would keep you in the same situation you are now. I’ll just have to keep paying father until things change.” He squared his shoulders and turned back to his sister. “Do you want me to try and make peace between you and father?”

“No,” she answered firmly. “I am an adult and it’s time father accepted it.”

Ciaran smiled. “Good luck with that. I’m not sure he’s accepted I’m an adult yet.” He looked at Neem. “I am pleased that you and my sister have accepted each other and I would like to welcome you into the Sullivan clan.”

Neem looked surprised. “I am not a Sullivan.”

“We are,” Elsa said in a voice filled with pride.

Ciaran glanced at her. “Neem, you are part of the Sullivan clan. If you wish, you may take the name Sullivan as well.”

Beibhinn frowned. “Why should she do that?”

“Sis, pokegirls are people just like you and me. Neem joined your family, which enhances her status compared to other pokegirls in general and other Elfqueens in particular. Shouldn’t she be allowed to proudly proclaim that with our name?”

“I hadn’t thought about it that way,” Beibhinn said slowly, “but I think you’re right. So Eliana is Eliana Sullivan and that’s why you’re bringing her home to lay her to rest.”

“That’s right.”

“I would like to be a Sullivan,” Neem said quietly.

“Then you are,” Beibhinn replied. She looked at Ciaran. “How do you think father will take this?”

“I don’t really care,” Ciaran answered. “If he won’t let me bury Eliana in the Sullivan plot on his land, I will start a Sullivan plot on my land and bury her there.”

“Father Andrew won’t consecrate a plot with a pokegirl in it,” Beibhinn warned. “He’s been asked already and refused.”

Ciaran shrugged. “After my last interaction with Father Andrew, as far as I am concerned Tulia doesn’t have a Catholic priest. If he’s still here when I come home to stay I’ll go to church at Saint Thomas in Amarillo.”

Beibhinn gave him a doubtful look. “That’s seventy miles from here. You can’t do that in a day.”

“Elsa can travel by teleport,” Ceres said. “We can go to Amarillo when we need to.”

“What’s that?”

Elsa smiled. “It means that,” she teleported from where she was standing to the other side of Neem, “within the limits of our ability to jump it takes no time at all.” Her eyes turned serious as Neem whirled to face her. “As you can see, it’s also an excellent tactical technique.”

Ciaran managed not to sigh at Elsa’s tone. “Look, we’ll talk more later on. I need to go speak to father and mother and see where I will be burying Eliana.”

Beibhinn squeezed his hand and let go with a sympathetic smile. “I’m glad to see you, but I’m not glad for the reason you’ve come home.”

“Thank you.” He looked at Ceres. “Let’s go.”

The farm house didn’t look any different than last time, and Ciaran left everyone else standing in front of the porch as he knocked loudly on the door frame. His mother opened the door. “Ciaran.”

Her tone caught his attention. “Are you mad at me?”

She shook her head and looked past him at the group of women standing at the base of the porch. “We’ll talk about it later. I believe you are supposed to introduce me to Elsa.”

“Do I need to make plans to camp off your land?”

She frowned and looked up at him. “Don’t be silly, Ciaran. Of course you do not.”

He nodded once and motioned to Elsa, who stepped onto the porch next to him. “This is Elsa. She joined us a little over a month ago. Elsa, this is my mother, Martha Sullivan.”

Elsa put her hands together and bowed. “Greetings, Mrs. Sullivan. I am pleased to meet you, even if the circumstances of my first visit to Ciaran’s home themselves are so sorrowful.”

Martha blinked before paling slightly. “I am so sorry, Ciaran. Everyone, please come inside. I’ll put on some tea.”

As soon as everyone had their tea, Ciaran looked at his mother. “Let’s go outside.” Elsa got up and he shook his head. “You can watch from the window but this conversation is private.”

The Mazouku blinked in surprise before nodding slowly. “Very well.”

“We could go upstairs,” his mother suggested.

“Mother, from where they are sitting, Elsa and Libby can hear everything that is said in this house.” He pulled her outside and away from the building until he was sure they were out of earshot and then carefully turned them both so their lips couldn’t be seen from the house. “You forgot why I was coming, didn’t you? What is going on?”

She glared at him. “You forgot to tell us some things during your last visit, didn’t you?”

“Huh?”

She put her hands on her hips. “Look at me, Ciaran. What has changed since you last saw me? Look closely, son.”

Ciaran had no idea what she wanted and reached for his twee. Help!

Just a moment. I wasn’t awake yet when you were last here so the memories aren’t as sharp as they could be. She appears to have lost weight and her skin is smoother. The hair she has grown since you last saw her is different. There is less gray in it.

He smiled. “You’re looking better. I think you’ve lost a bit of weight. And you’ve done something with your hair.”

“Ciaran Declan Sullivan, I have changed nothing! You did this to me!” She pointed at him. “You and your witchcraft!”

“What are you talking about?”

“Remember those pills you gave us? The twee?”

“Yes,” he said slowly.

“You said it would make us healthier. You forgot to mention that it would make me younger!” Her glare intensified. “Not only has it made me look younger, it has made me physically younger. I haven’t told your father this yet, but I am pregnant! We haven’t gotten your sister out of the house yet and now I’m going to have another baby!”

Apparently congratulations were not in order and Ciaran decided to try and distract his mother. “Well you might not have to worry about that last bit if you and father keep treating Beibhinn like she’s seven years old.”

Martha stopped whatever she was going to say and stared at him. “What are you talking about?”

“She told me about what you and father are doing with her, her land and Neem. She’s got her mother’s temper and if you push her she will most likely move out of the house and build one on her land.”

“She can’t. She hasn’t the money to do so.”

“She will after she asks me for it and I give it to her. I love you and father but Beibhinn is nineteen and an adult. She knows she shouldn’t have to pay a third of her harvests to you. At most it should be a fifth.”

Martha folded her arms. “You’re paying it.”

“What is my other choice? Let my land lie completely unused? I can’t take care of my land and so I pay. But Beibhinn’s situation is entirely different. She still lives here, she can take care of her land and with Neem’s help she’ll do better than you can imagine. And your land won’t improve at all if you antagonize her. In fact, it might do worse than it ever has.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Neem can control plants, mother, and she’s an Elfqueen. They tend to be proud women. If you anger her, she might tell your crops to stop growing even if Beibhinn doesn’t ask her to. Considering that my sister has your temper, I can only hope she won’t encourage Neem to do something like that.”

“What do you mean by my temper? She gets her temper from your father.”

“Do you remember when Uncle Mike came to visit when I was five?”

Martha looked surprised at the sudden change of subject. “I do.”

“Do you remember that we corresponded after that until the international mail stopped delivering? He told me about young Martha Ahern, the woman with the temper of any three redheads and about the shouting match at the Ahern homestead when she defied her father to his very face in order to marry Rafael Sullivan. Uncle Mike said you almost goaded him into a frothing fit.”

Martha’s mouth dropped and then her eyes narrowed. “I am going to strangle him,” she muttered. “He had no right to tell that story.”

“You’ll have to hire me to do that,” Ciaran said with a chuckle, “since I intend to visit him while I’m in Ireland. I know he survived the Red Plague and I hope he’s managed to stay alive since. If he hasn’t, I’ll tell his grave off for you.”

Martha frowned. “What other stories about me did he tell you?”

Ciaran smiled easily. “Nothing important,” he lied. “He did tell some interesting stories about father and some about my Grandfather Ahern that made me glad I never knew the man.”

“He wasn’t that bad, Ciaran.”

“According to Mike he was decent to his daughters and merciless towards his sons because he expected them to be extensions of him. The slightest disobedience was punished instantly and excessively.”

Martha frowned. “I can see where Mike would say that, but he was the black sheep of the family.” She shook her head. “I’ll speak to your father about her when he returns home.”

“About treating Beibhinn better or you being pregnant?”

She scowled. “Don’t push your luck, young man. He’s in Tulia for you speaking to Father Andrew about your Eliana.”

Now it was Ciaran’s turn to scowl. “Whatever for?”

She looked puzzled. “They’re discussing holding a funeral for her. What else?”

Ciaran’s jaw set. “He had no right to involve Father Andrew in my affairs. That man will not speak over my dead. His very presence would be an insult to Eliana’s memory and I won’t have him there.”

“I see you got a share of the Ahern temper.”

He took a deep breath. “It doesn’t matter what I have. Father Andrew will never lower himself to say God’s words over someone he doesn’t consider human and if he did, I’d be concerned he’d only be there so he could turn Eliana’s memorial into a sermon against consorting with evil or something like that. I won’t give him the chance to do that to her.”

“Father Andrew is a man of God, Ciaran.”

“And you won’t go to his services, will you? I will not let him speak for Eliana and that is that.” He smiled slightly. “Wherever I got my temper from, my stubbornness comes from my father.” He shook his head when she started to speak. “I don’t know if Eliana is going to go to heaven. I don’t know if I am. But I believe that God is loving and forgiving and that if I do make it to heaven I will see Elaina there. I also believe that there’s nothing Father Andrew can do to affect what will happen to Eliana’s soul. But he is a hateful man and I will not have him at her funeral in any capacity.”

Martha eyed him for a moment before shaking her head. “If you do make it to Cork and see Mike, I want you to ask him to tell you about your Uncle Thomas. If he’s still alive, seek him out and speak to him. You and he are a lot alike and I think you’d get along. You didn’t get your stubbornness from your father. You got it from my father, your grandfather Jeremiah Ciaran Ahern, and Thomas has it too.” She gave him an odd look. “And do this for me, Ciaran. Seek out the grave of your grandfather and tell him that I’m sorry the last words we spoke to each other were in anger and that I’m sorry he never met his grandson and daughter.”

Ciaran nodded. “I will do as you ask, mother.” He glanced at the house where Elsa was staring at them from the window. “We need to get back before she can’t stand it anymore and comes out here.”

“Why is she like that?”

“Because Eliana died in a moment and all we could do was watch. Elsa’s worried I’ll do the same thing if I’m alone.” He knew he couldn’t tell her that he already had died once more. She absolutely refused to discuss the day he’d died the first time and always acted like it had never happened.

“How did she die?”

“Some people were getting killed by feral pokegirls and we were the only people who could investigate. Eliana was scouting a place where we thought these ferals might be and she discovered it was Vampires and Vampira. While doing so, she was discovered by them in turn and killed.”

His tone was matter of fact, but his mother had raised him and she was one of a small group of people who wouldn’t be fooled by it. “What did you do?”

“They were hiding in a stone barn and I fired it until the walls cracked from the heat. Only one of them escaped and Victoria captured her.”

She put her hand on his arm. “Oh, Ciaran. Did you kill the last one too?”

“Victoria didn’t tell me about her until my anger had passed or else I would have. We sold her to Grey instead.”

She shook her head. “You were right to seek vengeance, but I fear the stain that a massacre like that leaves on your soul.”

“So do I, mother, but it was one of those things that had to be done.” He took a deep breath. “And done it is. You, on the other hand, still have things to do, and telling father should be one of them.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Don’t you dare tell him my secret.”

“I won’t.” He chuckled. “I have to sleep sometime and Sullivan women are sneakier than Sullivan men.” He waited until she started to relax. “I would say that both Sullivan men and woman are smart, too, and father will figure out what’s going on sooner than you might hope. You can’t keep this from him for long.”

“I know,” she said slowly. “And I will tell him soon.”

“Besides,” Ciaran said as he scratched his chin. “I don’t think I want father to find out that you told me first until my new sister or brother is at least fourteen. I might survive his discovery then.”

Martha laughed. “You must think he’s mellowed.”

“I’m hoping that by then he will have.”

Martha took his hand, still chuckling. “We need to get back to the house and my guests.”

“Are you in a better mood?”

“It’s hard for me to stay mad at you, Ciaran.”

His eyebrows rose in disbelief as they headed for the house. “That’s news to me. You certainly seem able to do it on command.”

“I must admit that you gave me a lot of practice over the years.” She smiled serenely at him. “But whose fault is that?”

Elsa was waiting for them at the door. He sighed. “As you can see, I am unharmed.”

She scowled at him. “I should have gone with you.”

“You could see me and my mother. If we were attacked you could have responded quickly. I still get some privacy when I want it, don’t I?” Elsa grumbled something under her breath and his eyes narrowed. “Elsa?” She looked up at him. “I asked you a question that deserves an answer.”

“You get privacy when you want it,” she said grudgingly. “And as long as the situation is safe enough.”

His eyebrows rose. “I’d better be the one who decides when it’s safe enough or I’ll never get any privacy.”

Her ears went halfway flat. “Can we discuss it with you if one of us thinks your threat evaluation is significantly in error?”

“You can, but the final decision is mine to make.”

She nodded as her ears rose. “Then I agree.” She smiled slightly. “I cannot agree for Ceres or Victoria.”

“I know you can’t, but you’re the most likely to be intransigent about it.”

She grinned. “I guess I am. I’ll let the others know.”

“Thank you.”

About an hour later he and his father stood on the porch. Nearby, a more content Elsa watched the surroundings while keeping an ear on her male. Rafael came straight to the point. “I’m sorry, son, but Father Andrew said he could not in good conscience hold Eliana’s funeral, either here or at the church.”

Ciaran chuckled. ‘That must have hurt him. He’s been trying to get you to give up your tithes for a while now and if you attend church he’d have a good reason to demand you turn them over.”

“I’ve been keeping them diligently,” his father answered with a mulish tone, “and I will give them to the priest who replaces him.”

Ciaran decided to try and be polite about the whole issue. “I thank you for the attempt, but it’s probably for the best that he said no.”

“To be honest,” his father said quietly, “I didn’t press him as hard as I probably should have because I agree with you.”

“Then everything turned out for the best,” Ciaran replied with a smile. “And that’s really all we can ask for.”

09/20/09 1530 Sullivan Homestead, Texas

Ciaran sat on a small hillock of dirt and watched the crops wave in the breeze. Eliana was buried and doing so and then saying scripture over her grave had brought him little solace. But buried she was and in the Sullivan plot where she belonged.

Victoria sat down next to him and offered him something with her hand. He took it and realized she’d given him a British penny. “What’s this for?”

“Your thoughts,” she said with a smile. “You look like you need to share them before they become too burdensome.”

“I’m just melancholy. I thought burying her would do something to make me feel better, but it didn’t. And my sister’s questions about Eliana’s head put me in a foul mood.” He rubbed his chest again. “And my chest just won’t stop hurting.”

Victoria’s eyebrows rose. “I healed you this morning. Did you do something strenuous since then?”

“No. I used the sensors again and the medical program suggested that the nerves may be firing randomly due to my twee. It’s rare, but it sometimes happens and in every known case it passes in a month or so.” He shrugged. “So we wait and keep an eye on it.”

Victoria nodded once. She was quiet for a few minutes before speaking again. “You said nice things for Eliana.”

“They were all true.”

She glanced at him. “Some of them were your perspective, but I agree. You also said she was with God. Do you think that’s true?”

“God gathers all of His children to him when they fall. He eventually judges them to determine if they go to Heaven, Hell or Purgatory, but we are all His children to collect.”

“But we aren’t His children,” she protested softly. “We’re pokegirls. We were created to hurt His children and not all that was used to make us was human.”

“God is in every place and in every time,” Ciaran said. “His hand is in the creation of everything, and that includes you and me. We are His children. Scott was nothing more than His instrument in your making, which doesn’t lessen your significance at all. You are one of God’s children and you have a soul. Pokegirls are as much people as anyone else. God loves you and cherishes you no less than He does me.”

She gave him a hopeful look. “You really think that?”

“I haven’t started lying to you, Victoria.”

She sighed and rested her head on his shoulder. “I’m happy to hear that.”

They sat that way until Ceres found them. “Your father wants to talk to you,” she said without preamble. “I got the impression it was important.”

“Oh, crud,” Ciaran muttered as he rose, pulling Victoria with him.

The Tantrasaur eyed him curiously. “Is there something I should know?”

“Yes, but it’s not my secret to tell.” He sighed. “Where is he?”

“He’s at the house.”

Rafael was standing on the porch when they approached the house. “I see Ceres found you.”

“She’s good at that,” Ciaran said with a chuckle. “She said you were looking for me.”

“I was. What are your plans right now?”

Ciaran shrugged; inwardly relieved this didn’t seem to be about his mother’s pregnancy. “I don’t really have any. I thought I’d stay a day or so and then go back to what I was doing in Ireland. Why?” Rafael visibly hesitated and Ciaran frowned. His father was a lot of things but hesitant was not one of them. “What’s wrong?”

“There’s a problem at the lake,” Rafael said. “People have been killed and the hunters in Tulia are too busy with some pokegirl related problems near town to investigate. You catch pokegirls but,” he met his son’s gaze, “people have died and,” he trailed off.

“Eliana died while we were helping some people with a similar problem and you’re afraid you’re sending us to die too,” Ceres finished for him. Rafael gave a grudging nod. “That’s true, but she would not have chosen to ignore the danger just because she might be killed. None of us would.”

Victoria gave Rafael a grim smile. “We are built to fight. We fought to conquer humans and now we fight to aid them. Personally I like what I’m doing now more than what I did then.” She looked at Ciaran. “We’re not on any set schedule.”

“No, we’re not,” he agreed. “And, yes, we should. Do you think we should invite Tamsin along this time?”

“I think she’ll hurt you if we don’t,” Victoria laughed. “What about your sister and Neem? This is a good chance to blood Neem in conditions that are a lot safer than the two of them doing it when we’re not around to provide assistance.”

“Not to mention,” Ceres said quietly, “they can assist us if we need it.”

“No independent scouting missions,” Ciaran stated firmly.

“Agreed,” Ceres and Victoria said simultaneously. They looked at each other and grinned.

“Then we’ll talk to Tamsin, Libby, Beibhinn and Neem. Whether they’re going or not, we’ll plan on getting on the road a little after sunup.”

“I don‘t think your sister should go,” Rafael said suddenly. “She’s still just a lass.”

“She’s nineteen, father, a woman and an adult. You can’t make that decision for her anymore.”

Rafael folded his arms. “As long as she lives under my roof, she’s still my child and she will do what I tell her to.”

“You need to talk to mother about what I told her yesterday before you say that to Beibhinn ever again,” Ciaran warned him. “If you don’t, you might regret it.” He looked at Ceres before his father could say anything else. “Let’s go find Elsa and the other ladies.” He looked back at his father. “We’ll come see you later so you can tell us what you know about the lake.”

Surprisingly enough, Elsa was with Beibhinn and Neem on the other side of the Sullivan fields. Ceres looked over the group with a suspicious air. “What are you doing here?”

“Neem wanted to learn to teleport,” Elsa explained. “I didn’t want Tamsin to see that I can teach it.”

“What are you charging her for this,” Victoria asked abruptly.

Elsa smiled slyly. “Ciaran wouldn’t want me to do something like that. That would be something an evil pokegirl might do.”

Ciaran chuckled as his sister and her pokegirl looked confused. “Yes, an evil one just might do something like that. But that’s not important. The lesson is over for today. We’ve got work to do.”

Elsa’s ears canted curiously. “We do?”

“Father wants us to investigate some goings on at the lake. I wanted to get you, them and Tamsin and Libby in case they wanted to go along and help with the fighting so they can hear whatever father can tell us.”

Neem perked up. “Fighting?”

“I don’t know any details yet, but it definitely sounds like there will be fighting.” He hesitated. “But I should warn you that father isn’t going to want Beibhinn going along. He’s already said so, in fact.”

Beibhinn scowled. “Did he trot out the old ‘it might be dangerous and she’s too young’?”

“Yup.”

“I’ll dangerous him,” she growled. “I’m a grown woman now.”

Ciaran smirked. “Yeah, the boobs and hips did kind of give it away.”

She gave him a frosty look. “You’re cruising for trouble, mister.”

He smiled innocently. “Did anyone hear me use the words wide or huge?”

She leveled a finger. “You have to sleep sometime,” she said in a warning voice.

“And I never sleep alone,” he replied. “Truce?”

She smiled abruptly. “No, but that’s because I’m not upset at you.” Her smile faded. “But I am not happy with father.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s why I wanted to warn you about it now.”

The dangerous glint reappeared in eye and her scowl returned once more. “I’ve been warned.”

“Oh, peachy,” Ciaran muttered as he turned to Ceres. “Let’s find Tamsin and Libby.”

09/20/09 1700 Sullivan Homestead, Texas

Rafael leaned back in his chair at the dining room table and pointed at Beibhinn. “I told you I don’t want her to go. And if she does not go then she has no business here.”

The redhead instantly bristled. “I am not a child, father! I am an adult.”

His jaw set angrily. “As long as you live under my roof you will do as I say.”

Beibhinn scowled at him for a second before nodding. “Yes, father.” She got up. “Come along, Neem. We have a lot of work to do outside.” She glanced at Ciaran. Take good notes. We are going with you tomorrow.

He blinked and waited until she was gone. “All right, father, tell us what you can about what’s going on at the lake.”

“What lake is this,” Ceres asked.

“It’s Lake Mackenzie,” Rafael answered. “It’s a reservoir that was dammed up in 1974 and was supposed to supply Tulia, Silverton and the rest of the Mackenzie Water Authority. It’s about a mile and a half down Tule creek, which is just south of my property.” He frowned. “After meeting your girls and Neem, I am more aware of how dangerous pokegirls can be and if there’s something going on at the reservoir I’m more than a little concerned since it’s pretty close to here. Starting a few months ago there were reports of attacks on animals in the area and even some livestock south of the reservoir. Nothing like that has happened in this direction, though. But recently a group of people disappeared while doing some overnight fishing there. The local hunters are working on a feral pokegirl problem on the other side of Tulia and can’t get here for at least another few weeks, so I thought since you’re here you could investigate and tell me what could be going on there. If it’s serious I can tell the hunters and try to get them to move a bit faster on it.”

“Did they ever find any sign of the vanished people,” Elsa asked.

“They found the campsite had been ransacked but not much else. It could be pokegirls or, well, there are still reports of bandit humans to the east who attack anyone they run across.”

“If there are bandits,” Victoria said thoughtfully, “they could have pokegirls and so it could technically be that both are involved.” She looked at Ciaran. “Pokegirls with tamers would be the worst possible combination. Ferals are usually easier to deal with.”

Tamsin nodded. “We can always retreat if the situation is too dire. It’s not like that time Ciaran was hurt. We both have pokegirls who can teleport now.”

“Ciaran was hurt,” Rafael asked with a frown. “I wasn’t told anything about that.”

“You don’t want to know,” Ciaran said firmly. “Things happened then that you really don’t want to hear about.”

Rafael’s eyebrows knitted. “I don’t understand. I am always concerned for your safety.”

“Are you ready to discuss what happened to me on my fourteenth birthday?”

Rafael paled slightly. “There’s nothing to talk about. You got hurt and went to the hospital. They treated you and you came home.”

Ciaran shook his head. “If you’re not willing to admit what happened to me on that day then there’s nothing more to tell you about my getting hurt in Scotland other than I got hurt and I got better.” He leaned back in his chair as his father went white. “Is there any other information you can give us about the happenings at the lake?”

“No, that’s all I know.”

Tamsin smiled grimly. “Are we leaving at five?”

“No, I want to wait until just before sunup to get on the road. The lake isn’t that far away and I would like to do a sweep around it looking for signs of what we might be facing but I don’t want to be stumbling around up there in the dark. There are abandoned houses on the north side that could be housing anything or anyone and it’s too dangerous at night. It’s also been some years since I went there and I’ll want some airborne surveillance to get a feel for the terrain. I’d like to avoid getting jumped by someone again if we can avoid it.”

Ceres glanced in his direction. Are we going to negotiate fees for this job or is the reconnoiter going to be free because he’s your father?

Although they’d discussed charging people for this sort of thing after the fiasco which had cost them Eliana, Ciaran wasn’t quite ready to bill his family for looking into the situation at the lake. If we run across any feral pokegirls we will sell what we catch. That’ll be payment enough, at least for the moment. He slid smoothly to his feet. “Ladies, I think we’ll take this outside and do some contingency planning before dinner is ready.” He nodded to his father as the others filed out of the dining room. “See you later.”

Beibhinn and Neem were sitting near a shed and anxiously watching the door. Ciaran motioned to them and they joined the group as it moved away from the house. “You do realize that father is going to be very angry at you if you go with us,” he said warningly.

His sister nodded. “He is, but he’s going to have a lot more than that to be angry about, Ciaran. You heard what he said and so did I. Neem and I have discussed it while waiting for you and we’ve made up our minds. Tonight we’re moving out.”

Victoria sucked in air in a hiss. “Do you have someplace to stay?”

“The property I bought is an abandoned farm and there’s a house there. It’s been empty for a few years and has some issues I wanted to repair first, but we’re not waiting anymore. Neem assures me that she can bring in a crop in a few weeks and so we’ll be selling fresh spring vegetables out of season and for a premium. I’ll hire Mason to ship the crop into town and I’ll have enough to repair the roof before the winter storms start.”

“When are you telling your parents,” Baker asked.

“I’ll do it after dinner. If I do it before dinner, my father won’t eat. I’m going to feel guilty enough as it is after he says what he’s probably going to, I don’t want that guilt from mother too.”

Elsa’s ears flicked. “What about your possessions?”

Beibhinn shrugged. “Father will say that the furniture is his, and I won’t argue with him on that. The clothes and the jewelry are mine.”

Ciaran had a sudden thought. “I didn’t cause this, did I?”

She smiled. “No, Ciaran, you didn’t. You might have precipitated it happening tonight, but I’d decided to move out a while ago when the time was right. I love my parents, but I can’t live under their rules anymore.” Her eyes glinted impishly. “I could use some help carrying my stuff to my new home, though.”

“You want me to side with you against our parents,” Ciaran said stonily.

“That’s not what I want at all. I just want some help.”

“And our parents will see me as siding with you against them.”

“If we let Beibhinn and Neem go with us tomorrow,” Ceres said thoughtfully, “especially after what she’s planning tonight, your parents will think we’re siding with them whether we help her move or not.” She looked the Elfqueen up and down deliberately. “Are your combat skills worth bringing that kind of trouble down on our family?”

Neem’s eyes narrowed. “They are,” she spat back. “Are yours?”

“We’re not potentially estranging your human from her family,” Ceres replied calmly. “Therefore my value is not in question.”

“Neither is Neem’s,” Ciaran interrupted firmly as Neem visibly bristled. “I trust Theodora and she would not have sent someone substandard for my sister.”

Ceres blinked and nodded. “I withdraw the question.”

“If we help your sister,” Elsa asked, “are we going to have to sleep outside?”

“I don’t know,” Ciaran replied. “It depends on how my parents react. Why do you ask?”

“Our camping gear is in your room. We should get it out now just in case.”

“She’s right,” Victoria said. “Let’s do that. We can lower it out the window so you parents aren’t aware of our plans.” She and Elsa headed inside.

Ciaran turned to Baker. “You don’t have to be involved in this, Tamsin.”

“What kind of friend would I be otherwise,” she said with a smile. “I do like your sister. I also like your parents but your father is more than a bit overbearing. My father was nicer than that.”

Ciaran frowned. “You told me you’re an orphan.”

“I am. All orphans imagine what their families are like and my father is a kind loving man who killed my mother after she gave me to the orphanage and refused to divulge where it was when he demanded she tell him.”

He blinked at the certainty in her voice and began chuckling. “Fine, your father is nicer than mine. My father is still a good man, he just happens to have control issues with his children.”

“That is putting it mildly,” Beibhinn said with a laugh. “Now what did father tell you about the goings on at the lake?”

“There’s not a lot to tell,” Ciaran admitted. “Some animals and livestock were attacked, no details provided, and some people disappeared while fishing at the lake. That was pretty much the extent of father’s briefing on the situation. He’s not sure if the attacks are from ferals, Sasquatch, those legendary bandits we hear about from time to time or some combination of the three. In the morning we’ll recon the lake and see what, if anything, we can find.”

“What is Sasquatch,” Baker asked curiously.

“It’s a local legend of a monster that predates the pokegirls,” Beibhinn answered. “There are lots of half stories and such but no solid evidence of its existence. It’s a lot like the Loch Ness Monster.”

Baker blinked and then smiled mischievously. “The Loch Ness Monster is real. I’ve seen it.”

Ciaran’s mouth dropped. “It is? You have?”

She nodded. “It’s a fey creature that answers to my queen. I was once a guard for her while she summoned it.”

“Why did she summon it,” Ceres asked curiously.

“I do not know. She did not explain and she didn’t use a language that I understand when she spoke to it.”

“It talked to her?”

Baker shrugged. “There was a great deal of magic in the air that night. Things that happened I may not remember and I may remember things that never took place. I think it and she spoke at length.”

“Stop pestering Tamsin,” Ciaran said firmly. His head came around when his mother called from the porch. “It’s dinnertime.” He looked at his sister. “How do you want to play this?”

Beibhinn looked thoughtful for a few seconds. “You stay out of the way. I’ll tell father after Neem and I have had a chance to pack our things. That’ll mean it will probably be later than sooner. I’ll come get you when I need your help.”

“Very well. Let’s go eat.”

09/20/09 2230 Sullivan Homestead, Texas

Ciaran rubbed his fingers firmly against the base of Elsa’s ears and her purring grew louder as her tail twitched back and forth. She was draped over him with her chest in his lap and the rest of her stretched across the bed. Victoria looked up from her computer and smiled before going back to her reading. Ceres just chuckled and kept reading hers.

The sharp rap on the door made everyone jump. “Ciaran?” It was his mother’s voice.

Ceres got up and opened the door at Ciaran’s nod. “Mrs. Sullivan, please come in.”

Martha stepped into the room. “Thank you,” she said absently. “Ciaran, can I get your help with something?”

He reached over Elsa for his shoes and socks. “Of course you can. What do you need?”

“Your sister announced she’s moving out and she’s doing it tonight.” Martha shook her head. “I should have listened to you.”

He looked up at her and put on a disarming smile. “If she was ready to mention it to me, her mind was probably already made up. Dad’s proclamation earlier today may have been the final impetus, but I think she’d made the decision to leave when she asked me to loan her money to buy some land.”

Martha looked surprised. “She did that? When?”

“She asked me for a loan when I was last here. She has a future to look towards and she feels that Dad has always made it sound like the ranch was going to be mine. Besides, land is cheap and we’d be foolish not to get as much as we can while it is. So what did you want?”

“I’d like you to help her with her things. That way I know she’s found someplace safe to stay.”

“There’s a house on her property, Mrs. Sullivan,” Victoria said softly. “She told us about it when she was thanking Ciaran for the loan. It probably needs a lot of repairs, but she and Neem won’t be sleeping outside.”

“Thank you for telling me that.” Martha eyed her for a moment. “You know, Ciaran buried Eliana as part of our family. All of you can call me Martha if you’d like, or even mother if you want, like he does.”

Victoria’s eyes widened. “Are you serious?”

“I am, Victoria.”

“Thank you,”

Ciaran eyed his mother curiously. “Can I call you Martha?”

She snorted. “Ciaran, don’t be silly. Will you help your sister for me?”

He smacked Elsa on the butt gently and the Mazouku gave a throaty laugh as she rolled off of his lap. “Get on your feet, wench. Mother, we’ll be happy to help.”

Victoria slipped past Martha as Ciaran put his shoes on. “I’ll go see if Beibhinn is packed to leave yet.”

Beibhinn looked surprised when Victoria stuck her head in the room. “I haven’t sent Neem to get you yet. Tamsin is helping me pack but we’re not quite ready to go. What are you doing here?”

The Angel smiled. “Your mother asked us to help you move so she can be assured that you’ve found someplace safe to stay. She and Ciaran will be along in a moment.” She cocked her head. “Did you make sure there are no ferals in your new home?”

“We did,” Neem said as she finished tying a sheet around some clothes, “but that was when Bee bought the house. We checked it again two days ago and found nothing.”

“We’ll explore it again before anyone goes inside,” Libby said from where she was folding shirts. “A feral can move into a house in minutes and not be seen for a while if she has no compunction about using it as a loo.”

Beibhinn grimaced. “I hope there’s nothing like that happening in my new home.”

“If there, is,” Victoria said reassuringly, “we can clean it thoroughly. So as soon as you are prepared, the move can begin.”

Ciaran Sullivan

Victoria – Angel

Ceres – Tantrasaur

Elsa – Mazouku

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