This work is fiction. The work has no relationship with any person existing at any time anywhere whether real or imaginary or copywritten. Everything in this work is mea culpa.

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A Little Blue

Eighteen

09/21/09 1930 Mackenzie Lake, Texas

Elsa and Ceres were supposed to be on guard, but Ceres had put Neem on watch in her place and now stood with Victoria, Spirit and Kentarch on the slope between the camp and the lake. The sun had set an hour before, so Victoria had scattered light globes around the edge of the lake and they dimly lit the area where the group was.

“As an Astral pokegirl,” Ceres asked, “you have access to all of the techniques you knew before your death, don’t you Spirit?”

“I do,” the Astral said. “And I will teach Kentarch how to use her new body as well as I did. What I do not know are my abilities as an Astral pokegirl.”

“It’s good to hear,” Victoria replied, “that you are aware of that potential weakness. Fortunately, if you stay we can help with that, but before we approve or disapprove of you and Kentarch joining our family we need to see what you can do and how useful you would be. We don’t wish to degrade our abilities.”

The Haunting instantly bristled but kept quiet when Spirit raised a hand towards her. The Astral nodded. “Your reasoning makes sense. I, too, would not want my unit’s capacities impaired by an inferior member. But Kentarch has no control over her abilities and so this is not a fair evaluation.”

“We trust that you will keep your word and teach her, so we are primarily evaluating you,” Ceres said.

Kentarch’s eyes narrowed. “And if we fail in this evaluation?”

Spirit’s face was calm almost to the point of serenity. “If this evaluation of my abilities is fairly executed we have nothing to fear, Kentarch.” She turned to Ceres. “Proceed.”

The Tantrasaur smiled. “What can you tell us about the Kentarch breed? We know it was never really produced or deployed but what is its purpose?”

“The Kentarch is a heavy combat breed. We were supposed to complement the weaknesses of the GunValkyrie and to command units of them in combat. Someday, perhaps, we were supposed to replace them since we do not share their liabilities. We are stronger, faster and smarter than they are. They have more gross firepower, but our defensive abilities far outstrip theirs while our firepower is much more precise.”

“Let us see your combat form,” Ceres ordered.

“Very well.” Spirit shifted.

Ceres blinked in surprise. Spirit’s combat form was centaur and tremendous in size. Her standard form was the same height as Ciaran, but her centaur form stood that tall at the shoulder, making her eighteen hands high. Her new height was right around twelve feet tall and her body, both human and horse sections was massive like a Percheron. Ceres estimated that she probably weighed three thousand pounds or so.

Her entire form was covered in seamless armor that was changing color to match its surroundings as she watched. Thick metal guards ran from the wrists of her human arms to the elbows that added another six inches to their diameter. Over the hip of each back leg were four vertically mounted cylinders, each nine inches in diameter and two feet long. She either had no tail or it was hidden beneath the armor. “Remove your armor.”

“I cannot.” Spirit’s voice came from a pair of speakers mounted one on each of her human shoulders. “It is integral to this form.”

Victoria was peering at Spirit’s head. “How do you eat?”

“I eat in my standard form,” came her answer. “But I am capable of operating for several days without rest or sustenance and I can accelerate recharging by tapping into available energy sources. We are designed for intense combat, not sustained campaigns.”

Ceres walked around the Astral Kentarch. “Is your primary weapon the energy blade?”

Spirit laughed softly. “No.” The guards on her arms slid sideways and a seven barreled minigun lifted out of each of them, locking into position as the guards slid back into place. At the same time, six dark spheres moved to hover around her, spreading out until they were over a yard away. The spheres shimmered for a second and began to change color just like Spirit’s armor was doing.

Ceres blinked. “Where,” she started to ask, only to stop when she realized that they’d come from the tubes mounted on Spirit’s flanks. “What are those,” she asked instead.

“They are my combat drones,” Spirit replied, “and my primary reconnaissance and weapon system. They can operate at maximum use for a little more than an hour before needing to return for recharge. I normally use between two and four of them, rotating them out with fully charged drones when they become depleted. Charging time is half an hour if I have sufficient energy, and I can restore my internal reserves quickly indeed.”

“I only see six of them,” Victoria cocked her head. “But you’ve got eight storage tubes.”

“The last two are not for drones.” There was a soft hum and a blue hemisphere of light sprang into existence around the Astral Kentarch, between her and her drones and covering her completely. “The last two stations are my shield generators. My shields are much more energy intensive and I only use them,” the field vanished, “if necessary. They are also very visible, which draws undue attention to me.”

“What happens if a drone is destroyed?”

“If my drone racks are undamaged I will grow a new one in seven days,” Spirit replied. “If a drone rack or shield generator is destroyed I can regrow it in two weeks. I can do the same for lost limbs.”

“What do they do?”

“They fire bolts of plasma identical to those used both by my arm weapons and the GunValkyrie’s cannons. The effective range is over two thousand yards.” Spirit’s head turned to look at Ceres. Even the helmet was completely sealed with a blank faceplate. “I will be an effective fighting force for this family and so will Kentarch when she is properly trained.”

Ceres looked at Victoria, who shrugged. “I think she’s right. She shows as much promise as Elsa did.”

I showed much more promise, Elsa said through her twee, and I fulfilled that promise too. Even if they aren’t as good as I am, I vote yes.

Victoria blinked and then grinned. “I say yes, but I’m concerned about Kentarch. Until she learns more about her abilities she could be a danger to those around her from accidents, especially Ciaran. They could both hurt him while learning about their new selves.”

“I will work diligently with her,” Spirit said.

“And I don’t want to hurt him,” Kentarch stated flatly. “He protected me and now I want to protect him.”

“Very well,” Ceres said. “You’ll get the chance.” She looked at Victoria. “Pokeballs?”

Spirit shifted to her human form and looked surprised when the Angel produced two pokeballs from a pocket. “I am dead. I don’t think one of those will work on me anymore.”

Victoria looked at Ceres, who smiled. “I was briefed on this during my job as Security One. Kentarch is alive and can be pokeballed. You are a ghost, but you can become solid and we can pokeball you at that point. After that, it doesn’t matter whether you are solid or not, you can be pokeballed. It’s to your benefit since you can be healed while in a pokeball. The only unusual thing is that whenever you are pokeballed, you become solid for the duration you are inside it and are solid when released.”

I wonder, Ceres’ twee said to her. Spirit can become solid and, in many ways behaves as if alive when she does. If her body is alive enough, then perhaps she can be given a twee.

The Tantrasaur blinked. I don’t want to risk it. If it doesn’t work, we’d be murdering a twee.

She felt vast amusement in her mind. We are not alive even when we are inside a living being, Ceres, but without one we are not anything. If it succeeds she can be part of the tactical net as Kentarch will be. And, succeed or fail, making the attempt after explaining what you intend to do to Spirit will undoubtedly make her happier with everyone here and less likely to feel lethal levels of jealousy about being left out if the attempt fails or if it is never tried once she learns of the twees existence. Besides, the developers of the twee would think this a wonderful experiment into the flexibility of their creation. Contact Kerrik Wolf and ask him what he thinks of the idea.

Why him?

He is one of the oldest of the Tirsuli and was most likely involved in or at least knew some of the people who were involved in the creation of the twee. According to the stories from Iain his clan was involved with the process from beginning to end.

Ceres turned to her pack and retrieved her computer as Spirit worked to become material. “Victoria, I’m going to step away for a moment. I’ll stay in sight.” She activated the computer as she moved a little way away from the group. “How do I do this?”

Tell it who you wish to speak to. Say you believe it’s important.

“I’d like to contact Kerrik Wolf.” She hesitated. “I think it’s important.”

A few seconds later the holographic drivers activated and she was looking at Kerrik’s head floating above her computer. He frowned and then smiled. “Ceres, good evening.”

“Good evening, Kerrik.”

He nodded and his smile faded. “So, having dispensed with the formalities, what is it that you think is important?”

“We’re adding an Astral pokegirl to the family.” Ceres found herself rushing to explain without understanding why. Despite his calm expression, something in his eyes suggested he wasn’t necessarily pleased at her call and she felt uneasy under his gaze. “That’s a ghost type pokegirl.”

“I’m familiar with the breed,” Kerrik said dryly. “One of my sons is bonded to one.”

“Oh. Maybe this is a moot question then. She can become material enough to be placed in a pokeball, which we’re doing, but I wanted to know if you thought it might be a good experiment to try to give her a twee. Or maybe you already know if it’ll work or not.”

Kerrik’s ears flicked and he smiled broadly. “What a marvelous idea, Ceres. Please do give her one and carefully document the results. Nobody has considered offering one to Midori. I should have been smarter than that. If this works,” his voice trailed off as his eyes grew distant. Suddenly they refocused. “I’d be appreciative if you would keep in contact with me as to the progress of this experiment. If it doesn’t work, I have a couple of ideas as to alternative methods of implantation that might be viable.” He blinked. “Oh, don’t worry, no matter the result your Astral pokegirl should be unharmed.” He blinked again. “But you already know that, don’t you. I mean, she’s already dead.” He gave his head a little shake. “Sorry, I’d never considered this and it’s intriguing. I’d like to be there to observe but I’m hip deep in snakes right now.”

Ceres cocked her head. “Is there a problem that might affect Iain and his family?” By that they both knew she was really asking if it was something that would impact Ciaran and his harem.

Kerrik chuckled. “No, it’s nothing like that. The Sunshine League is up to something new. They’re charging me as a war criminal and trying to get the Texas League to extradite me so they can shoot me. The Texans are busy laughing at them for trying to get me extradited from a country that the Sunshine League claims does not and has not ever existed and for a crime that is not a crime but self-defense.” His smile died. “Still, I find myself having to waste valuable time dealing with the Texans who want to know just what we did do during the Sunny invasion and don’t understand I’ve already told them everything I am going to. I just hope Sunshine doesn’t try anything dumber than this. If any of my ladies get hurt I’m going to be unhappy with whoever hurt them and whoever ordered the attackers to hurt my people.”

Ceres nodded solemnly. “From what I’ve read I understand that could prove unhealthy to a lot of people in the Sunshine League. I hope for your sake, the sake of those you care for and those who you would feel bound to kill that those unhappy events don’t come to pass.”

Kerrik smiled again. “Well said, Ceres. I too hope this can be avoided. Will you keep in touch with me about this experiment?”

“I’ll talk with Ciaran about it first and if he and Spirit agree we’ll try it.”

Kerrik nodded. “Thank you. Is Spirit the Astral’s name?”

“It is.”

“What breed is she?”

“She’s a Kentarch. There’s no information on her in the pokedex we have.”

Kerrik frowned. “I’ve never heard of that breed.”

“She claims she’s unique, or at least she was before she died.”

“That’s a pity. New breeds are always interesting.”

Ceres smiled. “Something I found even more interesting is that while she did die, her body didn’t stay dead.”

Kerrik’s ears flattened for a moment. Then they rose as he took a deep breath and slowly let it out. “I know you’re taunting me with information I don’t have and it’s not going to work. Can I come and visit?”

Ceres chuckled. “What happened to those snakes you were just mentioning?”

He smiled suddenly. “Clever. They’re important but not as important as the experiment you’ve suggested to me. So, can I visit?”

“I’ll have to ask Ciaran, but I don’t think he’ll say no. I’ll contact you in a few minutes.”

“Thank you.” His head vanished.

Ceres returned to where Victoria, Spirit and Kentarch were waiting. “I have to talk to Ciaran before we can go any further. Victoria, start teaching them what guard duty entails. I should be back in only a few minutes.”

Ciaran was cleaning his shotgun and looked up when she stopped in front of him. She gave him an impish smile. “I had to talk to Kerrik about something and he wants to come and see our unique pokegirl.”

He blinked. “What,” he asked curiously, “did you need to talk to him about?”

Ceres looked around. Libby and Baker were nowhere around. “Where are Tamsin and Libby?”

He nodded towards some buildings a hundred yards or so away. “They went looting.” He flashed a quick smile. “Apparently looting is addictive to all humans, either natural or supernatural, it doesn’t matter.”

“I called Kerrik to ask if Spirit could accept a twee.”

Ciaran frowned. “The Haunting’s name is Spirit?”

“No, the Astral Kentarch’s name is Spirit.”

His frown deepened. “I thought she was the Kentarch.”

“She was. She gave that name to the Haunting and chose the name Spirit.”

“So the Haunting is the Kentarch and the Astral, who was the Kentarch, is now Spirit?”

“Not quite. The Haunting is now just Kentarch and not the Kentarch. She feels it isn’t right to be the Kentarch since her goal is to help Spirit create more Kentarchs.”

Ciaran sighed. “I am glad you know what’s going on because I am lost.”

“I thought you’d have had a chance to learn their names.”

He shrugged. “As soon as they came back from cutting brush, Libby took them away and put them to work setting up camp and stuff. During dinner the Haunting was busy stuffing her face and the Kentarch,” he blinked, “I mean Spirit was off somewhere else. After dinner Libby took charge of them again, I suspect so she could have them do dishes and whatnot so she didn’t have to and then you came back and dragged them off for this evaluation. I haven’t had a chance to talk to either of them yet. So, how about we get back to the topic of Kerrik?”

“Spirit is dead but she can materialize and she has a metabolism enough to need tamed and food, even if it’s life energy, so my twee suggested she might be alive enough to take a twee. According to the stories, Kerrik knows a lot about that sort of thing and so I asked him if she could.”

“What did he say?”

“He doesn’t know but wants us to try and to gather data for him when we do. I suspect he’d really like to be here to observe the beginning himself and teased him with bits of information until he couldn’t stand it anymore.”

“Do you think Spirit would be interested in a twee?”

Ceres dimpled at him. “She’s a pokegirl and this is a potential advantage over other pokegirls.”

He smiled ruefully. “Forget I asked. I don’t see why Kerrik couldn’t come see this. Just inform him that Tamsin and Libby don’t know about twee and I’d like to keep it that way.”

“I will.” She squeezed his shoulder gently. “Even if this doesn’t work, the fact that we tried will make a strong impression on her.”

“I’d rather we succeed than try and fail,” he said, looking up into her eyes. “Kerrik might be able to help make that possible and that is another reason why his presence is welcome.”

Ceres bobbed her head in a nod. “I will contact him as soon as I get back with the others.”

She started to go but paused when Ciaran held up a hand. “I think,” he said quietly, “I’ll call him if you don’t mind.”

“I don’t. Is something wrong?”

He shook his head. “No. I just want to be clear on what he can’t do while he’s here.”

Ceres frowned and then nodded. “That might be prudent. Thank you.”

“We all help each other.” He grinned. “That’s what families do.” He waited until she’d headed off before getting out his computer. “Ciaran Sullivan calling Kerrik Wolf.”

A few seconds later Kerrik’s head appeared. “Mr. Sullivan.”

“Mr. Wolf.” Ciaran smiled at him. “I’m calling for Ceres. You are free to visit and observe both Kentarch and Spirit with the understanding that they’re not your lab subjects. If you want anything from them, you must ask.”

Kerrik’s ears flicked. “I don’t have to clear it with you first?”

“They will be joining my family and I will protect them, but they’re not my possessions to give or withhold permission for. As for any concerns that you might ask for something untenable, in all of the stories I’ve read about you and in what I have heard of you, you have never acted other than honorably with those who are honorable towards you.”

Kerrik smiled with warm humor. “And now you have placed the onus to act honorably squarely upon my shoulders. Well played, sir. I accept. When would be a good time to visit?”

“I believe Ceres is expecting you promptly,” Ciaran replied.

“Excellent, I’ll be there in approximately fifteen minutes. Good day, Mr. Sullivan.”

“Good day, Mr. Wolf. Eriu will give you the coordinates for our location.” Kerrik vanished as the call ended and Ciaran went back to cleaning his weapon.

09/21/09 2200 Mackenzie Lake, Texas

“I’d like to take a cheek swab of Kentarch,” Kerrik said suddenly. He brought a satchel of supplies and pulled out a buccal swab kit. He smiled in a friendly fashion. “It’s to collect a genetic sample and it’s with her permission of course.”

The nude redhead eyed him suspiciously. “Why?” Before he could answer, she looked at Ciaran. “Should I?”

Ciaran hadn’t intended to join the demonstration, but had been prompted to by Elsa when she’d come through on one of her patrols and pointed out that he didn’t know anything about Kentarch or Spirit and might want to learn something before he bedded them. “I’d like to hear Kerrik’s reasoning before I try to advise you,” he said soothingly.

Kerrik nodded. “That’s only fair. I want this sample for two reasons. First, of course, I’m curious and I’d like to map the Kentarch’s genetic code. I’d also like to add it to the pokedex that we have and upload it to the one people are putting up on the internet in case Spirit was lied to and there were other manufacturing facilities producing Kentarchs. Second, and more importantly, I want to get a copy of this information to Iain. He already has the facilities in place to produce pokegirl clones and with his help we can ensure that Kentarch isn’t the last of her breed even if the worst happens and she dies again. She can and should still have kits, of course.”

Victoria frowned. “He does? Is Iain becoming another Sukebe?”

Raven smiled. She’d brought Kerrik to this meeting but had otherwise mostly carried things for him and stayed out of the way. “Iain lost some people before coming here and he kept samples so that someday kits from them could be produced. One of them was a unique breed like Kentarch is and he wanted to ensure the breed didn’t die with his woman.” Her smile faded. “It was actually sweet since he intends to raise the children with his other children and tell them about the mother who they will never know.” She glanced at Kerrik. “Just in case, Iain has copies of each of the members of Kerrik’s harem’s DNA, too.”

Kerrik’s head came around as his ears went flat for a heartbeat. “You never mentioned this before.” His voice had an edge to it that made Ceres’ skin tighten.

Raven nodded. “And that’s for two reasons. First, you’d sound just like that and second we were hoping to have the samples destroyed after our first litters were produced and never have to tell you about it.” Her eyes narrowed slightly. “Or are you hinting that we aren’t unique enough to have our breeds preserved?”

Kerrik blinked and smiled suddenly. “Like I’m dumb enough to even touch that question.”

Raven grinned and chuckled. “I always said you were smart.”

Ciaran shook his head. “Kentarch, I think that I can advise you that I believe letting Kerrik take this sample is a good idea.”

“You do it,” she shot back. “Not him. You are my male.”

“Not yet he isn’t,” Victoria said warningly.

Kerrik shrugged. “It’s simple enough to do,” he said to Ciaran, “noninvasive and if it makes her happier if you do it, then I don’t see a problem with it.”

“What does that mean,” Spirit asked from where she’d been watching ever since her part of the demonstration had ended. “What is noninvasive?”

“It means it won’t hurt her or make them have to stick needles or anything like that into her,” Ceres replied.

“I see,” Kentarch said. “I still want Ciaran to do it.”

Kerrik looked at Ciaran. “If that’s what she wants then you need to put on the rubber gloves that’re in the kit and let’s get started.”

Ceres cocked her head. “You weren’t going to wear those gloves?”

Kerrik smiled thinly. “I am quite familiar with my genetic code and I seldom cross contaminate a sample. I won’t take the chance that Ciaran might accidentally do so.”

Ciaran had already slipped on the gloves. “I’ve worn these before when I helped tend to some wounded. It’s not a big deal. What do I do next?”

“Kentarch opens her mouth and you rub this swab around the inside of her right cheek. Then you place it carefully on the wrapper it came in and use this second swab,” Kerrik held it up, “on her left cheek and repeat. Then your part is done. I let the swabs dry for five minutes and put them into a cooled storage pack that I’ve got in my kit.” He smiled slightly. “And then we move on to the real reason I asked to come here, that being twees.”

“What is a twee?” Spirit regarded them curiously.

“It’s a family secret,” Victoria stated. “It gives us several advantages over people who don’t have them. And you need to remember that neither Tamsin nor Libby know about them nor do we want them to find out about their existence.”

“They know about them?” Spirit nodded towards Kerrik and Raven.

“We do,” Raven replied. “We have them ourselves and they are very useful.”

“The problem could be,” Ciaran said carefully, “is that while we are sure Kentarch can be given one, we’re not sure about whether or not Spirit can accept one. That’s why Kerrik is here, he is an expert on them.”

Spirit blinked and turned to Ciaran. “You brought him here to help me?” She smiled warmly when he nodded. “That is very nice of you. I begin to see why Kentarch is so attached to you.”

Victoria gave her an annoyed look. “Neither of you is attached to him yet,” she said curtly.

“That’s true,” Kerrik’s tone was thoughtful. “You should probably bond them before they’re given twees if you’re concerned they might leave abruptly.”

Kentarch stomped a dainty foot and tossed her head angrily, making her red hair shimmer in the firelight. “I will not leave him!”

Ciaran waggled the fingers on his right hand. “Let’s get these samples done first. Kerrik, will you sample Spirit too?”

Kerrik frowned for a second. “Sure, why not, although I suspect that when something separates from her body it will become immaterial again.”

“That’s easy enough to test,” Ceres said. She looked at Spirit, who had become immaterial after complaining that it was too tiring to remain corporeal. “Become solid.” Spirit’s form lost its translucency. She held up her hand to Spirit’s face. “Lick my hand please.” Spirit regarded her skeptically before leaning forward and running her tongue up Ceres’ palm. “Now become a ghost again.” Spirit did so and Ceres turned back to Kerrik, holding her hand out. “It still feels wet.”

He tested it with a finger and smiled as his ears flicked. “An excellent experiment, Ceres. So we will sample her DNA the same way and I’ll see if I can get a DNA reading from her.” He looked thoughtful for a moment. “There is a lot that has not been investigated about pokegirls in general. The Researchers didn’t have the means to do some of this, didn’t think about it because each had his or her own narrow specialty or never published what they’d determined. This is especially true about the so called ghost pokegirls.”

“What do you mean,” Raven asked. “Is something wrong with Morwen?”

He smiled reassuringly. “As far as I know, she is perfectly well. My questions are about the breeds like Spirit here now that she is Astral. These are pokegirls that everyone knows are dead, yet they require sustenance in the form of life energy. While some dead like to feed from the living, ghost pokegirls require it, which normal undead do not. On top of that they require tamed just as the living pokegirls do. That should not be the case if they are truly dead.”

Raven eyed him curiously. “You have a theory.” It wasn’t a question.

“I’ve spent some time talking with Midori and I do have a rather tentative one even though she’s refused to allow me to run some tests on her.”

When he paused, Victoria looked at Raven and smirked at the frustration on her face. “I see that Ciaran isn’t the only male to evoke the desire to choke him until he talks.”

Raven grinned and laughed. “No, he’s not.” She looked at Kerrik sternly. “Stop being smug and share.”

He gave her a crafty smile. “Me?” His smile grew when she folded her arms and glared harder at him. “All right. I have a very tentative theory that pokegirls like the Astral are another stress based evolution to escape death, if imperfectly, and that they’re not really dead at all.” His ears flicked. “Well, some of them might be. Like I said, it’s a tentative theory and I’m not going to try to apply it to other ghost pokegirls without much more research. But the Astral seems to be that way. She must feed or she ceases to exist. She must be tamed or she goes feral and fades the same way, probably because she stops feeding. You see, feeding the way she does as an Astral isn’t natural to her and so she can only do it consciously. When feral she doesn’t know how to do it and starves. But having to feed or starve shows she has a metabolism of some kind and having a metabolism is one of the definitions of being alive. True undead may crave the energy or blood or whatnot of the living, but they can survive in some fashion without it for centuries, only to fall ravenously on the next hapless living thing that disturbs them. Astrals can be hurt and can heal and be healed, which is another mark in favor of them being alive. True undead can be damaged, but it doesn’t really affect them much unless it cripples them physically.”

“So I am not dead,” Spirit said slowly.

“Like I said before, this is tentative, but I don’t really think so.” He grimaced. “I should be able to do the real tests to find out when my powers return. There are a lot of questions, like can you have offspring and, if so, will they also be Astral. Also, if so, why haven’t any had offspring to date?”

Spirit looked confused. “What date are you talking about?”

Kerrik blinked. “Oh, damn. Sorry, I’m confusing worlds and timelines again.”

Raven grinned. “Pay no attention to the Wolf behind the curtain.” When he glanced at her she chuckled. “You were sampling people, remember?”

Kerrik cocked his head for a second and then smiled. “And I keep getting distracted, don’t I? Ciaran, take the first swab and we’ll start with Kentarch before moving on to Spirit.” The sampling didn’t take long, the longest part being the five minute wait for the swabs to dry before Kerrik could seal them.

Ceres watched Kerrik closing up the packages and labeling them. “Why the long wait before you put them away?”

He smiled slightly. “The human mouth is full of lots of things. If you seal up wet swabs from someone’s mouth without letting them dry and leave them alone for any length of time you often open them up later to find mold or some other yeasty fungus growing on them. Not only do fungi contaminate the sample, they often consume the DNA you were going to examine. I plan to process these as soon as we get back to the ranch, but it’s still a good habit to keep. After all, we might get attacked or some other distraction might appear and these might end up sitting for a few days.” He loaded the samples into his kit and closed it. “And I should be leaving or else I’ll be here all night with questions and ideas.” He looked at Ciaran. “I would recommend giving Spirit her twee orally just as you have for everyone else. If that doesn’t work, contact me and we’ll explore some more exotic methods of primary implantation.” He glanced at Spirit. “She reacts enough like a living being that, my theories aside, I have high hopes that oral implantation will work as it usually does.”

Victoria frowned. “There are other ways to give someone a twee?”

“Of course there are. Using a pill form and having the subject swallow it is just the most convenient one for everyone involved.”

“Enough,” Raven said. “The night is not getting shorter.”

Kerrik chuckled and took her hand. “That is true. Good evening, ladies, Ciaran. I'll be in touch as to how things are going with Spirit and Kentarch. Take us home, Raven.” They vanished.

“That was a little rude,” Kentarch said.

“I am willing to bet money that tonight is Raven’s night,” Ceres said with a broad smile, “and she doesn’t intend to spend it watching him here.”

Victoria and the other pokegirls laughed as Ciaran shook his head. “Well, I have some things to attend to before bed.” He looked from the Angel to the Tantrasaur. “I’m willing to entertain suggestions about tonight.”

“I will be tonight,” Kentarch announced.

“You are not part of this family yet,” Ceres stated as she stepped between the Kentarch and Ciaran. “But I will tell you that Ciaran does not like rudeness and neither do I. So far you have announced that you are joining our family. That’s rude. Let’s hear you ask to instead.

Kentarch’s face turned bright red as she flushed. She sighed heavily and nodded. “I have been rude and you are right, he doesn’t like that.” She looked past Ceres to Ciaran. “I would like to join your family and I would like Spirit to join too. May we?”

He looked at the back of Ceres' head. "Recommendations?"

She glanced back at him. "I think they can be an asset in the family and definitely an asset with keeping an open relationship with Kerrik. Yes."

Victoria spoke before could ask. "I'll give a conditional yes. I'm concerned as to your safety around Kentarch before she masters her abilities."

"I can't live on the other side of the continent while she does," he said gently.

Victoria dimpled. "At least you considered what I might want. Let them join."

I agree, Elsa said in his mind. We will keep you safe while Kentarch learns about her new body.

"Ok," Ciaran said as he turned to Ceres. "Kentarch tonight and Spirit tomorrow night?"

"I do not want you alone with Kentarch," Spirit said. "I've been told you can be trusted but still, I have a problem trusting you with her safety."

"Then be with us," Kentarch told her. "I will share him with you."

The Astral nodded. "Very well, I agree."

Ciaran blinked. "The two of you?"

Kentarch nodded. "Yes."

He swallowed hard. "Are you sure?"

It's not like you haven't done this before, Elsa said through her twee.

I haven't.

Surprise carried to him across their link. I hadn’t realized it, she said slowly, but in all of the time I have been part of this family you have never had sex with two of us at once. Every other tamer I have known with two pokegirls has done it regularly, if not almost every night. Why not you?

It was an easy question for him to answer. The one constant among all of you is the complaint that I do not spend enough time with each of you. Considering that I want to make all of you happy, why would I voluntarily cheapen the time I spend with any of you by having you share me with someone else?

Spirit and Kentarch exchanged a look before the Astral nodded. “Yes.”

He took a deep breath. “Then I’ll meet you in my tent in a few minutes, ladies.”

After they appeared in the parking lot, Raven let Kerrik’s hand go and gave him an arch look. “Will you want anything else from me tonight,” she asked hopefully.

“No, he won’t,” Misery said flatly as she stepped into the light. “And neither shall we.”

Raven grinned. “Fine, be that way.” She winked at him before heading off.

Misery gripped his hand and her eyes widened. “Wow.”

His ears flicked. “What?”

“Your mind is racing faster than I’ve ever felt it. What are you thinking about?”

He smiled slightly. “I’m considering possibilities, permutations and potentialities.” His smile vanished. “I shouldn’t ask this of you on top of everything else, but can I get a couple of minutes before we head to bed?”

“Of course you can.” She released his hand. “I’ll grab a snack from the kitchen and see you when you get done.”

He watched her leave before making a decision. “Misery?” She looked back at him. “In the freezer, on the back shelf on the left side under the rolls of hamburger is a plastic bag with my share of the gingersnap cookies Morwen made last time. Get those and some milk and I’ll share them with you.” He’d have to find a new hiding place for his treats, but he always did to keep ahead of the snoopers like Misery. And he knew how much she liked the things Morwen baked when young Vampire felt like it, which was why he was offering this gift for the unselfish way she’d given up some time for him.

Her eyes went wide. “You’ll let me eat in your bed?”

After some food related mishaps that had resulted in multiple mattress replacements to get the smells out of his room, Kerrik had instituted some ironclad rules about that sort of thing. “Just for tonight.”

Her face lit up. “Thank you!” She raced off.

He waited until she was out of sight. “Cassiopeia, please ask Theodora if Iain is available. I have a question for him.”

“Yes, clan leader.”

A minute later Iain’s hologram appeared in front of him. “This doesn’t involve you hitting me with an axe again, does it?”

Kerrik smiled slightly and shook his head. “What can you tell me about the Kentarch?”

Iain’s face suddenly became guarded. “You met one.”

“She told me she was the only one, but yes.”

“It’s a combat breed I came up with in order to address some of the obvious flaws of the GunValkyrie. It’s quick, smart and armed for a modern battlefield. I never submitted it for admission into the pokedex, mainly because I was tired of the whining about how my submissions were getting in because I was friendly with other admins. It was because I didn’t submit much and I took a lot of time thinking and tweaking them. That and I made them more original than most did and it made the rip writers uneasy.” He made a face. “One of the worst things you can read in a submission is that the writer threw it together the night before along with three other pokegirls he wanted to submit. Those words never bode well if you’re hoping for a quality work.”

“Why is the combat form a centaur? I’d think you’d want something with a lower profile.”

“It’s a centaur because I like horses, quadrupeds are hard to knock down and it allowed placement of the drone racks and the shield generators without making her look completely lopsided.” He shrugged. “It also gives her a way to hide what she is until it’s time to shift to her combat form. As for making her lower profile, that’s impossible for a modern battlefield with pokegirls on it. Her armor is bulletproof and a tank gunner would have to be the luckiest man alive to hit her with a round when her shields were down. Where did you see her?”

“She joined Ciaran’s harem outside of Tulia.”

Iain sighed and shook his head. “I intend to go by and pay my respects to Eliana’s grave in a few days. If he’s still there I’ll meet her.”

“Why? You didn’t know her.”

“I did meet Eliana briefly, but you’re right. Still, she was one of my employees and it’s polite to be grateful for their sacrifices.” He met Kerrik’s eyes. “And we both know it increases their gratitude and therefore their utility if we make gestures like that.”

“I won’t say that it does, but I know that it can if you have employees with the proper motivation,” Kerrik said. “Has he made contact with Ygerna yet so you can evaluate whether or not Eoghan exists?”

Iain shook his head. “No, but Eve assured me that if he took the job it would happen. Normally I’m skeptical of her predictions, but he did pretty quickly run across Baker.”

“Is that important?”

“Tamsin Baker is one of the Order’s wizards and Ygerna’s agents.”

Kerrik cocked his head. “That’s interesting. I wonder what would happen if you introduced her to your Ygerna.”

Iain’s eyes narrowed. “While she and I are not good friends, Kerrik, Ygerna is not a bad person and I’m not going to humiliate her by forcing her to face the fact that an analog of hers currently has what she once did. Shikarou and his family already hurt her too much with that along with the whole dangling a home in front of her that they’d never give her. Besides, knowing she had a twin would more than likely antagonize this world’s Ygerna and I don’t need that until I have my answers.”

Kerrik smiled widely enough that some teeth showed. “Are you telling me not to confront her with that either?”

“I’m not dumb enough to try and give you orders, but I did kind of hint broadly that I’d appreciate it if you left her alone.”

Kerrik’s smile faded. “I’m glad you’re smarter than that. You’re also right when you said my sons had treated her poorly. I’m also pleased you didn’t point out that I didn’t do anything to alleviate their treatment of her and I probably should have. She is Sidhe, after all.”

Iain shrugged. “You were in a difficult spot. She is so lonely that she’d have seen your intercession as something much more than it was and when you rebuffed her advances it would have hurt her even more. It’s likely she would have fled to the United Kingdom and, while she’s adapting quickly, at the time she wasn’t ready for the almost modern world. She’d have been going to her death, whether it was from the humans, an indignant native Ygerna or Eoghan. Someone would have killed her or, potentially worse, tried to keep her against her will.” He folded his arms. “And, as it turns out, she’s not that bad of a person if she’s not being a stuck up bitch. It also turns out that’s a mostly defensive behavior on her part. Will you leave Ygerna alone?”

Kerrik nodded. “I see no reason to disturb her refuge with you. The Wolf family has treated her poorly enough already.”

“When will I get the genetic samples?”

Kerrik’s ears went still and his eyes glittered for a heartbeat. “I don’t like you being able to predict my actions that completely.”

Iain’s chuckle surprised him. “You’re a scientist at heart, Kerrik, just as I am. You said that this Kentarch thought she was the only one of her kind and I know I would have gotten DNA off of her somehow. As far as I know, Cassiopeia is not set up for large scale pokegirl cloning and I am. Alexandria might be, but you’re still not happy with everything that’s happened between Shikarou’s family and you and yours. I’m the logical choice.”

“Do you realize just how much danger you were in for a moment?”

“I have an idea, yes. I also know that it is a lot less than the danger I’ll be in when, one of these days, I slip up and Nightraven gets an inkling of how much I know about her.” Kerrik’s ears came up and Iain shook his head. “And if she finds out by learning I told someone else what I know I’ll be dead almost instantly, as would the person I told and anyone or anything she thinks was within ten or fifteen miles of the conversation or they might have told. She’ll probably scrub everything down to the bedrock too, just to make sure she got any method of recording that information.”

“But you do know what she’s doing?”

“I am so not going there,” Iain said firmly. “I’m not even going anywhere near there. When can I expect the samples?”

“I can have Morwen bring them by right after lunch time, if you don’t mind.”

Iain chuckled again. “We both know Morwen is lonely for people from Blue. Have her show up before lunch and I’ll make arrangements for blood so she can dine with us and then she can stick around and visit for a while.”

“She’ll like that.” Kerrik’s ears flicked. “Question: I also have DNA samples from an Astral Kentarch. Will they be viable too and should I send some of them to you as well?”

Iain nodded. “They should be. I’ll let you know if you there’s some kind of snag.”

Kerrik gritted his teeth. “Ciaran gave the Astral Kentarch a twee. Do you think it’ll take?”

Iain eyed him for a second. “Are you going to be more aggravated if I give my opinion and it turns out to be correct or if I keep my mouth shut?”

“I’ll probably be aggravated either way, but you have access to things I never have and you might know the answer to this.”

“I have never seen it done nor have I written it into a story, but my opinion is that it should work. The things an Astral has on or inside her stay that way when she goes from material to insubstantial, so the twee should too. Astrals have a metabolism in that they need to be fed and they need tamed. Their behavior isn’t rote, so there’s something going on inside that head that approximates neural activity. I think it’ll be enough for a twee to grow and function normally.”

Kerrik’s ears flicked. “I have this theory that Astral pokegirls and other ghost pokegirls like them show enough signs of being alive that they meet the definition. What do you think?”

“I think you can say that but ontology is not a strong suit of mine,” Iain said thoughtfully. “Is there a definition of life that includes all of the beings you’ve ever met that you might call alive?”

“For someone who says ontology isn’t their strong suit, that’s an excellent ontological question,” Kerrik said with a smile. “And it throws the onus on me to come up with a definition of life.”

“I don’t throw things at you,” Iain countered. “I’m not that silly.”

Kerrik cocked his head. “Do your women like your wit?”

Iain chuckled. “Depends on the woman, depends on the time.”

“I suppose that’s true for all of us,” Kerrik said. His ears flicked. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, Misery is waiting for me as patiently as she can.”

“You called me, Kerrik,” Iain pointed out. “I’ll let April know that Morwen is coming by tomorrow. Theodora, of course, already knows what is happening even if she’ll pretend she doesn’t until I tell her.” He vanished.

Kerrik shook his head slowly. “Magdalene was right. He is certainly unusual.” He turned and loped out of the circle of light.

09/22/09 0845 Mackenzie Lake, Texas

Ceres looked at where Ciaran was resting under a shade tree and back at the woman blocking her from going to him. “How is he?”

The glare Victoria shot her was so venomous that she took a slow step away from the smaller Angel. “I warned you about this,” she hissed. Her right hand curled as if holding an invisible pole and Ceres took another step backwards in case the furious Angel actually did summon her spear and attack her.

Victoria jumped when a hand closed on her shoulder. “I am not dead this time,” Ciaran said with a lightness he didn’t feel. “And things will be different next time.”

Victoria whirled away from him and shot him a glare too. “Next time? What’ll be different next time?”

“We’ll stop by Grey’s on the way back to Ireland and purchase some restraints,” he replied soothingly. He continued when she blinked and her face lost some of its fury. “It wasn’t their fault and it wasn’t mine. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. Nobody had even considered what might happen.” He shifted slowly. “And most of the pain is gone.”

Elsa joined them. “What exactly did happen?” Her ears flattened when Victoria glared at her. “I was on watch and just got relieved by Neem. You pull in those claws.”

“Long story short,” Ciaran answered, “nobody thought about what the details of Spirit’s story might actually mean. She’d never had a human and so she was a virgin where men were concerned. More importantly, she’d only been with pokegirls like her and had never had to worry about controlling her strength. I’ve been spoiled because all of you have enhanced strength but control it well and I didn’t even consider that it might be an issue. As for Kentarch, she’s been in that body so little time it still has that new body smell to it. Between the two of them I ended up with a wrenched back, a pulled shoulder and elbow and cracked ribs.”

“We need a better healer,” Elsa said. “I’m not denigrating your abilities,” she said as Victoria’s face reddened, “but were you able to completely heal him?”

“No, but every time I do heal him he gets better. He should be completely healed before midafternoon, except for the bruising. The damage is healed, but the body still needs to reabsorb the blood and that’ll take a regular amount of time.”

“We already have five women in this family,” Ciaran said firmly. “Victoria’s abilities are more than good enough that I see no reason for there to be six.” He looked coolly at Elsa. “Or were you volunteering to leave?”

The Mazouku started to snarl and suddenly laughed softly. “Well played. You are far smarter than the bumpkin you sometimes pretend to be. Why would I want to leave someone who is so interesting?”

Ciaran hugged Victoria hard enough to make her squeak. “I thank you for once again putting me back together. I wish you didn’t have to do it, but I am glad you’re here to do so when I need healed. I am very glad that I didn’t kick you out of my room that night.”

“You saved my life at risk of your own in a burning building,” she said softly as she hugged him back. “I should have realized then what a brave idiot you are, but it wouldn’t have stopped me from giving myself to you.”

Elsa looked at Ceres. “Have you heard the story about how they met?”

The Tantrasaur shook her head, still watching Ciaran and Victoria. “No, I haven’t. She’s made me curious now as to how it happened.”

Victoria gave them an amused look. “You’ll have to decide how much that story is worth to you.” She focused on Ciaran again. “When we get back to the Grey Ranch, I’ll see if someone would be willing to teach me more healing magic, if we can spare a few days.”

“I would like to see if I can learn some too,” Ceres said. “We need to cross train more.”

“For that we can.” Ciaran let Victoria go and looked around. Spirit and Kentarch were watching the group from nearly twenty feet away, both with nearly identical forlorn looks on their faces. “I think you should apologize to them, Victoria, and bring them back to us.”

She didn’t look at them. “Do you think my words were too hasty?”

“I think your words scared them spitless. I already explained that what happened wasn’t their fault. Your threats, on the other hand, were most definitely your fault, not to mention bloodcurdling.”

“Did you bond them before you were too injured to continue,” Elsa asked suddenly. The look Ciaran gave her made her grin. “That’s a yes! I’d expect no less from my male!”

“You are incorrigible,” Victoria muttered. “I’ll apologize to them, but until we get those restraints you don’t sleep with either of them alone. Agreed?”

“I wasn’t sleeping with either of them alone last night,” he pointed out with an amused smile.

“You sleep with one of them and with one of us so we can hold her down,” was her curt reply. “All of us have better than human strength and we can help protect you.”

Elsa’s ears flicked. “Angels are as weak as humans. You’re not. How is that?”

“When we evolve, sometimes we keep things from our previous evolutions,” Victoria answered. “Among other things, I kept my strength.”

The Mazouku frowned. “What were you before you became an Angel?”

“What are your full range of techniques, spells and abilities,” Victoria asked her back. “You tell me and I might tell you.”

Elsa’s ears went flat. “Don’t make me regret making you Infernal.”

“Don’t make me regret making you Blessed.” Victoria turned to Ciaran. “Do you agree to the sleeping arrangements until we get the restraints?”

“It makes sense,” he said slowly. “I just prefer paying attention to one woman at a time.”

“We prefer it too,” Ceres said. “But you will probably continue to need help putting them into restraints for a while even after we’ve got them. But we can leave after that.”

“I’ll apologize to them,” Victoria said. “I’m still worried about your safety around them.”

“Neither should want to hurt him on purpose,” Ceres said. “As for accidents, we’ll get him out of the line of fire when Spirit starts teaching Kentarch techniques.”

Ciaran watched Victoria head for the newest members of his group and then deliberately changed the subject as he turned to Ceres. “What’s the count?”

“Eriu has been invaluable by allowing us to focus on attacking without worrying about having to decide when to capture them,” the Tantrasaur replied. “With her help, we’ve captured over a hundred Titodiles and a couple of their higher evolutions. We have probably thinned their numbers enough that regular quarterly passes by the local pokegirl hunters should be able to keep them in check.”

“Good. How did Neem work out?”

“She meshes well and has some flair at combat,” Ceres looked at Elsa. “Now tell him what you did.”

The Mazouku grinned. “I tested her, at her request. She’s not bad. She doesn’t have a lot of spells, but the ones she has definitely widened her range of tactical usefulness.”

Ceres folded her arms. “Tell him or I will.”

Elsa gave him that cat’s smile. “Victoria and I made her Blessed and Infernal. That gives her some fire attacks and makes her less weak to fire.” He smile faded. “She’s fairly tough and she doesn’t lose her head when the situation changes. Whoever promoted her to Elfqueen made a good decision. Anyone who attacks the Sullivan farm with her around will get hurt.”

Ciaran nodded. “We’ll leave Beibhinn and Neem a supply of pokeballs and a healing machine. We can get replace anything we leave with them when we pick up the restraints.”

“Then I suggest we leave her Eliana’s pokepack,” Ceres said. “We can get two new ones so you don’t have to watch Spirit or Kentarch carry it.”

Ciaran grunted like he’d been hit in the gut. Emotions played across his face for several seconds before his mouth set. “Agreed,” he finally said. “We’ll leave all of Eliana’s personal belongings here. My family can give them away to people who can use them.”

“Keep something for yourself,” Ceres countered, “so you can remember her with it.”

He shook his head. “I already have some things that she made for me. I need to take nothing that was hers. But if anyone else wants a memento, then go ahead.”

Elsa’s ears flicked. “She made something for you? What on earth could she have made for you while we’re on the road?”

Ciaran smiled sadly. “She asked me some questions about Catholicism and then made me some rather pretty crosses out of wood and stone.” Elsa’s ears flattened and slowly came back as she scowled and muttered something under her breath. “What was that?”

She shook her head slowly. “How does one compete with a dead woman?”

“Is this about Spirit?”

Her eyes narrowed. “Ciaran, you know it’s about Eliana.”

“You don’t,” Ceres said. “You can’t, so don’t even bother to try.”

Ciaran put his hand on Elsa’s shoulder and squeezed gently. “I treasure the things Eliana gave me because she gave them to me, not because she’s gone. I didn’t treasure them less while she was still alive. I’m angry with her because she left me and I am inexpressibly grateful that you, Ceres and Victoria are still here.”

Elsa frowned. “Don’t Catholics believe in predestination? Doesn’t it mean that Eliana’s fate was sealed when she was born?”

He nodded. “We do. But predestination is God’s knowledge of what we will choose to do and not His imposing His will to make us dance to His tune. It is still our choice to make those choices. He just knows what we’re going to do.” He looked past her as Victoria led Kentarch and Spirit to them. “Good morning, ladies. I hope the morning’s misunderstandings have been cleared up.”

Spirit nodded. “The fact that Victoria was angry that you were injured is only logical. I am glad that she was able to heal your injuries. We shall be more careful in the future.”

He smiled at her. “Indeed we will.” He looked at Ceres. “If the Titodiles are under control, I think we need to head home. My parents are probably worried from when we didn’t come home last night.”

“I called mother,” Beibhinn announced as she joined the group. “I told her our plans to stay overnight so she wouldn’t panic.” She gave Ciaran a wicked smile. “I didn’t tell her about Spirit and Kentarch so you can surprise her with them.”

“Gee, thanks, sis,” he said dryly. “Ceres, where are Tamsin and Libby?”

Eriu replied from his pokedex. “They went hunting this morning. I lifted the height of my drone and have kept them under observation. I believe she’s jealous of your success here and wishes some for herself.”

“Have they caught anything,” Victoria asked.

“They have captured two Titodiles, the last about fifteen minutes ago.”

“Good,” Ceres said. “Tell them to get back here. We are striking camp and I don’t think they want to be left behind.”

“I have delivered your message.”

“Thank you.” She looked at Elsa. “Fly over to them and deliver it again.”

The Mazouku laughed as she spread her wings. “Can I say it with lightning?”

“No, be nice.”

“You are such a spoilsport.” She vaulted into the air and winged away.

Beibhinn watched her fly off and smiled at her brother. “How did you end up with her? Elsa, I mean?”

“It’s a long story.”

“I’ll bet it is, considering what she is.”

Ciaran blinked. “What does that mean?”

“It means Victoria talks too loudly sometimes. I overheard her mention that Elsa was a Mazouku last night and looked the breed up.” Victoria gave her a horrified stare.

Ciaran looked hard at his sister. “Please don’t tell mother or father.”

Beibhinn’s smile faded. “I wouldn’t do that to you. Elsa has been nothing but polite and responsible. Mother and father might not understand that what is in a pokedex entry is just a bunch of generalities and individuals can vary widely from what’s in there. I do and I won’t take that chance with them.”

“I’d not mention what they did for Neem, either,” Ceres said quietly.

Beibhinn frowned. “I don’t understand.”

“We made her both Blessed and Infernal,” Victoria said. “That gives her access to more abilities and made her stronger.”

“She told me about that but I haven’t had a chance to research it.” Beibhinn’s eyes went blank for a second before widening. “Wow. That’s scary. No, I’m not mentioning that to either of them until Neem’s been that way for a while and hasn’t killed anyone we like.”

“Do you want one of the Titodiles for your harem,” Ciaran asked.

Beibhinn blinked. “For me?” She shook her head. “I didn’t know how much of a responsibility Neem was going to be. If I had, I would have had to think a lot harder about making her part of my life. She and I are still working things out and I think introducing a new personality into that would be insane. Maybe I’ll revisit that in a year or two if things work out well.” She gave her brother a sad smile. “Considering everything that’s happened in the last few years finding a husband is easy. Finding a man I want to marry is a lot harder, especially now he’ll have to be both Catholic and willing to accept Neem as a permanent part of our family. As I was told, I’m living in sin after all.”

Ciaran’s lips thinned at the pain in her voice. “Did Father Andrew do or say something to you?” She looked away from him. “What was it?”

“We ran across each other in Tulia and he called me a whore,” she answered in a small voice, “and said I was going to Hell.”

Ciaran took his sister’s hands. “You are not a whore. You never have been. God knows what He did to His newest children and what it requires us to do. Neem is part of your family and I am sure He understands that you have to help Neem with her needs just as you would with the needs of anyone else who was in your family.”

Beibhinn gave him a warm smile. “You should become a priest. You’d be a better one than Andrew.”

“He will not,” Ceres said firmly. “We are his women and we wouldn’t allow him to become celibate. Should we do something about Father Andrew?”

Beibhinn looked shocked, but Ciaran merely shook his head. “While I appreciate your dedication to our family, Father Andrew is allowed to be a pig headed bigot and insult women he meets in the street. He is a Yankee after all.” His eyes hardened. “But if he lays a hand on her, then I’ll have to reconsider your question.”

Elsa flared overhead in a wash of air and landed behind Victoria and Spirit. “They’re coming,” she said cheerfully. “I was told they’d be back in around ten minutes.”

“Good,” Ciaran said. “Ceres, start striking the camp. Let’s go back to my parent’s house.”

Ciaran Sullivan

Victoria – Angel

Ceres – Tantrasaur

Elsa – Mazouku

Spirit – Astral Kentarch

Kentarch – Haunting

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