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A Little Blue

Twenty

10/09/09 1315 Carrickmore, Ireland

The sky was overcast and light rain had been falling on them intermittently since daybreak. The wind whipped the bushes into a frenzy of activity as it gusted around them. As Ciaran peeked out from under his hood at the sky, light flashed in the distance. “Ceres!” The Tantrasaur looked back at him as faint thunder rolled over them. “Lightning. Get Elsa on the ground.”

Ceres glanced at the sky and began speaking into her computer as Baker leaned over. “The weather is going to get worse before it gets better. We need to find some shelter.”

“I suppose we could beat on doors if we have to,” he said back. Baker smiled at him and headed towards where Libby was watching their surroundings.

Spirit touched him on the shoulder. “All of the houses around us are empty,” she said just loudly enough for him to hear her voice.

Ciaran looked at her in surprise. “How can you tell?”

“None of the chimneys are giving off smoke,” she replied. “And I sense no intelligent minds besides ours near us. There are feral pokegirls nearby, but that has not been unusual since I joined your group.”

Ciaran stared at her. “You sense no minds?”

“I have some minor telepathic abilities for localizing targets in darkness, fog or smoke,” she said very softly. “I have not told the others but you are my man and you need to know this.”

“I won’t tell them either,” he said. “It’s your right to tell them as much or as little as you want, as long as we are not in danger because you’re keeping secrets.”

“That is what I thought from the discussions I have heard between my new sisters,” Spirit said. “When Elsa returns, release me to explore and I shall discover an empty house for us to shelter from the storm in.”

“I will.” He turned to where Ceres had put her computer away and raised his voice so she could hear him over the wind. “When Elsa returns, I want Spirit to do a quick sweep. Since she can phase, she can quickly check for an unoccupied building for us to wait out the storm in.”

“Good idea,” Ceres replied, “but there’s no need to wait for Elsa. Spirit, I’ll take over as his guard. Go.”

Spirit nodded. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.” She and Kentarch both had divested themselves of their clothes almost as soon as they’d set foot on Irish soil and so she immediately shifted to her battle form, became insubstantial with a loud sound of relief and raced off as her armor began taking on the color of her surroundings.

Elsa landed and looked around with a scowl as her wings folded up. She gave Ciaran a brief glare. “Where is your guard?”

“I’m right here,” Ceres said firmly. “I relieved Spirit so she could scout us an empty house to stay in.”

Elsa’s ears half flattened and she muttered something under her breath. “Fine, I am now relieving you as his guard.”

“No, you don’t,” Ceres replied. “We’re stopping here. Go tell Victoria and the others to get back here.”

Elsa grimaced and started to say something before giving everyone around a glare and sprinting forward to where Victoria and Kentarch were on point. Ciaran watched her go. “I thought you said rotating out the guard would put her into a better mood.”

“This weather is awful,” Ceres replied. “With the cold rain and the wind changing direction so much flying through it must suck even more than being underneath it.”

“Yeah, that’s probably it,” Ciaran said.

A few minutes later Spirit returned. “I have found an empty residence for us to take refuge in.”

Elsa had returned and her ears half flattened. “What took you so long,” she snarled.

“I had to kill the two ferals in the building and clean up,” Spirit said simply. She looked at Ciaran. “It is unfortunate that I cannot carry pokeballs in my combat form because I possibly could have captured them. I could not drive them out and leave them alive because they were lairing in the house and might have tried to return while we were still there. They were both dragon pokegirls of some kind and according to what I’ve read in the pokedex dragons often become possessive of lairs.”

“Next time we’ll send someone with you,” Ciaran replied. “You shouldn’t have gone alone and I won’t make that mistake again. Show us the house.”

It was a cozy modern cottage with a single story and a damaged chimney. A lone drone sphere stood sentry just above the ruin of the shattered front door. It moved over to Spirit and landed in its holder as Victoria cleared the building. She came out with a frown. “All of the windows are open.”

“I did that,” Spirit said as she changed to her noncombat form. “I have found that the smell of death sometimes bothers people.”

“Where are the bodies,” Ceres asked.

“I tossed them into the river so they wouldn’t draw other ferals during the night.” She cocked her head. “I didn’t think we ate them, but I am not sure where all of our meat comes from. Should I have butchered them instead?”

“No,” Ceres replied, “we don’t eat pokegirls.”

Ciaran shook his head. “Ladies, let’s get the windows closed and moved in.” He eyed the chimney. “I want to see if it’s raining into the fireplace before I’ll chance a fire in it. Even if we can’t have one, it’s still dryer inside.”

They stopped in the first room to remove their rain gear. “Ciaran,” Victoria said as she returned from a quick sweep, “there are two bedrooms. One of the beds is torn up, though, and the undamaged one is only a single bed.”

“Tamsin and Libby can have it,” he replied. “We’ll take the floors.”

“I’ll hang a blanket in place of the door,” Libby said.

“Good idea,” Baker replied as she hung up her rain slicker to dry. “What is that burned smell?”

“Dragon pokegirl,” Spirit answered. “There were two here that I eliminated. They have damaged the other houses in the area and this was the best choice to avoid the rain.” She smiled slightly. “They agreed but were unwilling to share.”

Baker looked around slowly. “I don’t see any blood.”

“There was very little and I wiped it up. To keep the mess down I shot them in the eyes.” She turned to Ciaran as Baker’s eyes went wide. “There is a basement that I don’t think the ferals discovered. There are glass jars of food down there that might still be edible.”

Ciaran shook his head. “Thank you for the idea, but canned food really isn’t designed to last for more than a year. We won’t take a chance on it. Besides, we’ve got plenty of food.” He blinked in surprise when Spirit stepped into the fireplace and through the chimney. Light flared around her and she stepped out of the fireplace. She looked at him and shook her head. “Is it plugged?”

“There are a lot of bricks above that are blocking the chimney,” she answered, “and there is nothing to prevent the rain from falling onto the fire if it was unblocked.”

“We’ll do without a fire,” Ciaran decided. “We have plenty of blankets and the stew from last night is still hot.”

Ceres came by with Victoria. The two women were hauling out the broken bed. They maneuvered it out into the rain and dumped it not far from the house before returning. “We can put three people in the bedroom without crowding them too much,” she told Ciaran. “I’ll post two guards and the couch out here isn’t damaged so you cans sleep on it.”

“The floor looks more comfortable,” he said. “And I can share my bed with someone so we can stay warm together. Speaking of which,” he looked around. “Elsa, come here.”

She showed up from the hallway leading to the bedrooms and gave him a quizzical look as Ceres squeezed past her and back down the hall. “What do you want?”

Ciaran turned her slightly so she’d have as much room as possible. “Spread your wings as best you can, please.” Her ears half flattened but she did so. A quick check showed his thought was right in that her wings were wet and chilly to the touch, so he produced a thick towel from his pack and began industriously scrubbing them down.

A few minutes later Ceres stopped on her way to the kitchen and fought not to laugh at the loud purring coming from Elsa. The Mazouku’s eyes were almost completely shut and her head lolled back as Ciaran worked his way down her wings towards her body. He finished up by drying her hair and finally, her tail. Ceres quickly left as he patted Elsa on the shoulder. “Ok, you can fold your wings up now.”

“That was nice,” she said as she turned around.

“You’re welcome,” he said as he handed her the towel.

She frowned at it. “What’s this for?”

“You need to change out of those wet clothes and dry off the rest of you.” He smiled. “I’d do it for you but then you’d be warm and still wet, if only a little differently than you are now.”

Elsa gave a throaty laugh. “I’m already headed that way, you evil man.” She smiled at him. “Nobody has paid my wings any attention before, unless they thought they were in the way. Thank you, Ciaran.” She headed for the bedroom with an extra sway to her hips that Ciaran watched with an appreciative smile.

“I have this sudden urge to go outside and let my wings get soaked along with the rest of me,” Victoria said from where she was standing in the doorway to the kitchen.

“I’d dry them for you if you did,” he replied.

He wrapped his arms around her and she leaned against him for a moment before pulling away. “You did a nice thing for her.”

“I try to do nice things for all of you.”

“I know you do and we appreciate it.” She sighed softly. “Do you ever miss the days it was just you and me together?”

He nodded. “I do, if not in the same way you probably do. But you knew it wouldn’t last.”

She cocked her head. “I did?”

“You’re a celestial and your breed usually has precognition. I don’t know what exactly you knew or when, such as if you knew Eliana would die in advance, but you certainly had to know there would be others in our family, if not the specifics of whom.” He smiled as she frowned. “You certainly never fought any of them joining us very hard.”

She glared at him for a second before it softened. “Precognition is not me waking up in the morning and knowing how the day will unfold.”

“Of course it’s not or Sukebe would have known exactly how to win,” he countered. “But you didn’t respond to my statement. Were you trying to distract me from it?”

The glare returned. “I was. Stop being so clever. I’m not leading you by the nose if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“I never said I’m worried and I’m not. I didn’t think you were doing that to me and I don’t believe you are. You wouldn’t. Instead you’d approach me if there was something that you felt we really needed to do and you’d try your best to convince me that we should do this deed, whatever it is.”

She smiled at him. “You can be that clever, Ciaran. Yes, I knew there would be others. Yes, I had a general idea of when and where we’d find them. No, I didn’t think it would be wise to share that information with you. And, no, I don’t want to continue this discussion right now. We’re in too close proximity to too many people who shouldn’t hear this and they have too many ways to eavesdrop on us.”

He kissed her on the forehead. “Then consider this discussion over until you’re ready to reopen it. If that never happens, so be it. I trust you to do what’s right for us.”

She hugged him hard enough to drive the air from his lungs in a gasp. “Thank you for trusting me, Ciaran.”

He chuckled when she relaxed enough to let him breathe. “You’re my personal Angel, Victoria. If I’m not going to trust my own Angel sent to guide me and keep me safe, who can I trust?”

Her sudden smile was so bright it was almost blinding. “Why you can’t trust anyone, of course.” She let him go and gave him a wink. “Lunch will be ready in a few minutes. Have you washed up yet?”

His stomach growled and they both smiled at the sound. “I’ll take care of it right now.”

10/09/09 1930 Carrickmore, Ireland

While the fireplace had been too damaged to use and there was no power for heat, Kentarch and Spirit had discovered a large box of candles while exploring the basement and now their glow and warmth filled the living room where Ciaran was sitting with Kentarch on one side of him and Spirit on his other as they worked on Kentarch’s reading skills and the rain drummed on the roof overhead. While Spirit was functionally literate, Kentarch had been completely illiterate and working with both of them at the same time allowed Ciaran to improve Spirit’s paltry reading skills without insulting her while Kentarch was learning the basics.

“What took you so bloody long in getting here?”

At the strange male voice, Ciaran had started to lunge for his shotgun. Realizing that his weapon was several feet from him, he managed to turn it into a smooth rise to his feet and turn to face whoever was speaking as he sent a warning over his twee to Ceres, Victoria and Elsa. A tall man with a gray flecked beard and shoulder length curly hair stared back at him from the other side of the couch. He was wearing a dark green hooded cloak, dark brown trousers and a comfortable looking button down shirt of the same color. At his waist rode a pistol and a broadsword. I am feeding everyone visual imagery from your vision, his twee informed him.

Thank you. Thankfully, Kentarch and Spirit were watching him for some sign of what he wanted them to do. “And who might you be, sir?” He realized with mild surprise that the man was completely dry.

“I am Knight Commander Sir Duncan O’Keefe,” the man informed him in a heavy Irish accent. “Are you Sullivan?” He started to say something else but broke off with a strangled noise as Kentarch and Spirit stood and turned to face him, putting themselves between the newcomer and Ciaran. His face turned several shades before settling on bright red. “What’s this,” he finally managed to get out.

Behind O’Keefe, Elsa appeared out of nothingness. Her ears were flat and her eyes narrowed as she eased toward the intruder on silent feet. Ciaran reflected that the sudden sight of two identical busty nude redheads might be startling to someone unfamiliar with them and told his twee to ask Elsa to hold off for a moment. “They’re some of my pokegirls. Are you the person that contacted Captain Baker?”

He is man, slow and vulnerable. I can kill him before he can raise his hand more than a fraction of an inch. Shall I?

Ciaran didn’t recognize the echoing, almost mechanical mental voice. That was Spirit, his twee said. Her twee is, there was a pause, different but online.

Not yet, Spirit. “According to Captain Baker, you hadn’t requested that we hurry here, so I decided we wouldn’t.”

“You didn’t, Sir Duncan,” Baker said as she moved to stand next to Ciaran. Her eyes were on Elsa as she spoke to the knight. “Is there a problem, sir?” She glanced at Ciaran. “Call her off,” she whispered. “She might get hurt.”

Ciaran didn’t think Baker’s evaluation of the situation was accurate, but he wasn’t planning to kill anyone tonight either. “Elsa,” he said quietly. “Stand down but hold your position.”

“Any order from a ranking knight should be completed as quickly as possible,” Sir Duncan said without looking away from the women in front of him. “You know that, Tamsin.”

Elsa’s ears rose and she smiled predatorily as she relaxed and assumed a nonthreatening pose. “I hear you, Ciaran,” she said distinctly.

Sir Duncan whirled, his hand going under his cloak. “Where the fuck did you come from,” he snarled.

“You were threatening our man,” Ceres said as she stepped into the room and around Baker. Libby followed her and stopped next to her mistress. “Perhaps you did not deliberately intend to, but an unannounced arrival is going to be considered a threat to us all and we responded appropriately.”

“Captain Baker,” Ciaran said smoothly. “How about you and Sir Duncan adjourn to the kitchen so you can discuss things while we wait here? I’d really like there to not be any accidents if we can avoid them.” The room was way too crowded with aggressive pokegirls and he wasn’t completely sure which side Libby and Baker would support if it came down to combat between his family and the Pendragon knight, so caution was definitely called for.

Baker nodded. “Sir Duncan, he has a point. Libby can make you some tea and we can talk while Ciaran calms things down within his harem.”

Sir Duncan pointed at Elsa with his free hand. “You move around with the others.”

The Mazouku looked past him at Ciaran, who nodded slightly. Without a word, she walked around Sir Duncan, turning to keep him in front of her until she was standing slightly in front of Ciaran. Duncan turned to match her until she stopped moving. His eyes narrowed slightly at the collection of people who’d assembled before looking at Baker. “Lead the way, Tamsin.”

“Libby, get my pack. I think we’ll have the good tea.”

The Nekomata bowed slightly. “Yes, mistress.” She headed for their bedroom as Baker led Sir Duncan into the kitchen.

Ciaran looked at Ceres. “Where’s Victoria?”

“She’s standing by in case we needed a reserve. That and it was getting too crowded if we had to fight Sir Duncan.”

“There would have been no fight,” Spirit said. “I would have kicked the couch into him and decapitated him when it knocked him off his feet.”

“Only if I didn’t snap his neck first,” Elsa stated flatly. “And I was closer to him than you were.”

Ciaran gave a mental sigh. “You’re all wonderful killers, ladies. I’m sure he would have been dead several times over before his body parts hit the floor. Hopefully he won’t have to die today and we won’t have to clean up the resulting mess and smell. To that end,” he looked at Ceres, “let’s put a guard next to the door to the kitchen.”

Ceres smiled broadly. “And if that guard were someone like Elsa with enhanced hearing?” Elsa blinked and then flashed a toothy grin.

He shrugged. “If they don’t think to whisper or use magic to keep the guard from overhearing things, is that our fault? And if she chooses to relate that conversation to us later, she’s only being loyal.”

“I volunteer,” Elsa said.

“I should be the sentry,” Spirit said. “I, too, have enhanced hearing and, more importantly, this man does not believe that I or Kentarch are threats to his continued wellbeing.”

Elsa scowled. “Why do you think that?”

“Because he turned his back on us and,” she smiled slowly, “he never looked higher than my breasts. He could no more tell you my eye color than he could describe the inside of Ciaran’s shirt. All he sees is two naked women that he desires. You he feels is a threat.”

Ciaran glanced at the other nude redhead. Kentarch, can you hear this?

“Yes, Ciaran, I can.” Kentarch smiled at him. My twee has been functioning for some time. It is why I am learning to read so quickly, although I don’t want the lessons to end any time soon. I want to spend the time with you.

If that is true, then Spirit can use her twee with Kentarch’s to accelerate her learning how to use her new body better, his twee said. If one of them distracts Sir Duncan, what might both do?

Ciaran gave a mental nod. “Ceres, post Spirit and Kentarch at the door.” Ceres cocked her head curiously and he smiled. Both of their twees are working. It’ll be a good time for Spirit to begin training Kentarch in her new body’s abilities.

The Tantrasaur gave a quick feral grin. “You heard him, ladies. Spirit and Kentarch are on sentry duty at the door to the kitchen. Elsa, go get Victoria.” Her eyes met Ciaran’s. It will also put two of our family at Duncan, Tamsin’s and Libby’s backs if we need them there. I like the idea of them starting out being flanked by us.

I like the idea of not having to fight them at all since it probably makes my mission impossible. “Now we wait?”

Ceres watched as Spirit and Kentarch placed themselves on either side of the door to the kitchen and assumed identical parade rest poses. “Now we wait.”

10/09/09 2015 Carrickmore, Ireland

Baker came out of the kitchen and paused as she realized that Kentarch and Spirit were flanking the doorway. She looked at both of them before heading to where Ciaran was sitting and reading with Victoria. “Ciaran?”

He looked up. “Yes, Captain Baker?”

Her expression suddenly became wary. “Are you mad at me?”

“No, I’m not. I guess I’m surprised that Sir Duncan uses your first name. Shouldn’t you be Dame Tamsin to him at the very least?”

She glanced behind her at the doorway and lowered her voice. “I should, but I’m a woman and the male knights who outrank me take liberties with my name.”

“I can understand better why you were so upset when I insisted on calling you Tamsin when we met. Would you be happier if I stopped doing it?”

She looked surprised. “We’re friends, Ciaran. You can call me Tamsin.”

“Is he your friend?”

She shrugged. “No, he’s not, but he’s one of the Knight Commanders.”

“Then, if you don’t mind, I’ll call you Captain Baker or Dame Tamsin while he’s around.”

Baker looked at him for a long moment before smiling. “I think I’d like that. Thank you, Ciaran.”

“You are very welcome. What did you want?”

“Sir Duncan is ready to see you now.”

“Is he,” Elsa almost sneered. “Isn’t that nice?”

Ciaran got up. “Elsa, please be polite. Just because someone else is an arrogant git doesn’t mean we should be that way too.” He smiled as Baker flushed a darker brown than normal. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to call one of your superiors a git where you could hear it. Why exactly is he here?”

“He’s here to interview you before any prospective audience with Queen Ygerna.” She smiled. “Does that make it easier to put up with him?”

“Easier? No, it doesn’t. However, it does mean I am much more willing to. Do I have to meet with him alone?”

Baker frowned. “I’m not sure. He doesn’t have a lot of experience with pokegirls.”

“He doesn’t get out much, does he,” Ceres asked with a smile.

Baker smiled back. “No, he doesn’t. His duties keep him very busy at our headquarters.”

“Ceres is my tactical advisor,” Ciaran said firmly. “She goes with me.”

Elsa’s ears flattened for a heartbeat. “I am your guard.”

“Ceres can handle the visible part of that job too for the moment. You’ll be right here in case I need you.”

“We all will,” Victoria stated flatly. She looked at Elsa. “We need you out here to detect if Sir Duncan tries to bewitch Ciaran so we can put a stop to it.” She glanced at Baker. “Tamsin once suggested she could do something like that and I presume that Sir Duncan is supposed to be more experienced and better trained than she is.”

Baker looked surprised. “You remember that?”

“I remember every threat against Ciaran, whether it is carried out or not.” Victoria smiled slightly. “I even remember the ones where it doesn’t result in Eliana instantly trying to kill someone.”

Elsa’s head came around and Ceres chuckled. “It’s all right, Elsa. That story I already know and I’ll share it with you.”

“Later,” Ciaran said as he got to his feet. “Right now we have to meet with Sir Duncan. Will you be in this meeting, Dame Tamsin?”

She nodded. “I will, but understand I’m working for Sir Duncan.”

“I thought you would be. He is your sworn superior. I just hope your oath to Queen Ygerna never comes into conflict with your oath to Queen Anne.”

Baker nodded. “I hope that too. Now, come with me.”

Sir Duncan was sitting at the head of the table, but Ciaran had expected that little bit of theatrics. Baker indicated that he sit at the foot of the table before she moved to stand with Libby behind the Knight Commander. Ciaran sat and started to motion Ceres to sit next to him but stopped when she put her hands on his shoulders and stood squarely behind him.

Sir Duncan wasted no time. “What is your name?”

Ciaran frowned. “You don’t know?”

Duncan scowled. “Just answer the questions. What is your name?”

“Ciaran Sullivan.”

“Where is your residence?”

“I live outside Tulia in the Texas League.”

Duncan frowned. “Where is that?”

“It used to be the state of Texas in the old United States of America.”

“So you’re a Yank.”

“I am not.”

Sir Duncan blinked. “Explain.”

“I know people in the British Isles and Ireland like to lump everybody from the US as Yankees, but we’re not. I’m from Texas and I’m a Texan. You tell a Texan in Texas that he’s a Yankee and you might have a fight on your hands. It’s like telling an Irishman that he’s English.”

“What is your business with Her Majesty Queen Ygerna?”

“My employer, Iain Grey, has asked that I meet with her and present her with some letters from him. In addition, I have some verbal messages to deliver to her as well. I was informed and I can tell you that some of these messages have to do with a prospectively lethal threat to the Order of Pendragon as a group and to Queen Ygerna personally. Others are some offers for commerce between my employer and Her Majesty.”

Sir Duncan nodded and leaned back in his chair. “Send your woman to fetch them for review.”

Ciaran eyed the Knight Commander for a second before deciding not to sugarcoat his response. “No.”

Sir Duncan’s eyebrows rose. “What? I must review the letters and hear the proposals for Her Majesty.”

“I am under orders from my employer to deliver them to her. You are not her. You don’t get them.”

Sir Duncan made a dismissive motion. “You can deliver them after they’ve been examined and approved.”

“I didn’t misspeak. You don’t get to break the seals and you don’t get to read them. Nobody but Queen Ygerna does.”

“How can we tell if they’re not cursed or otherwise enchanted then? We have to protect our Queen.”

Ciaran shrugged. “Can I trust you to use magic to examine them without opening them?”

Sir Duncan smiled easily. “Of course you can.”

“You won’t open the messages for Queen Ygerna?”

“I will not.”

“That’s a lie,” Victoria said from the doorway. “I can detect lies, Sir Duncan.”

Sir Duncan’s face reddened. “You doubt my word, woman?”

“You haven’t given your word, so I can’t tell if your word is good, Sir Duncan. You did, however, just lie about not opening the messages. You intend to do just that.”

Sir Duncan’s flush darkened. “If I cannot examine the messages and verify their safety, you cannot present them to Queen Ygerna.”

“Isn’t that her decision,” Ciaran asked. “Considering that she’s more powerful than any human could ever be, she should be able to withstand magic that would turn us into treacle. In any case, I was reassured by my employer that there is nothing in the messages that are dangerous to Her Majesty. She shouldn’t be worried.”

Sir Duncan snorted. “She doesn’t know you exist yet, Sullivan. And if you don’t hand over those letters for me to check, she never will.”

“So she’s not in the loop for everything, is she? Are you protecting her from the world or isolating her from it?”

Sir Duncan pushed away from the table. “This discussion is over. Either you give me the letters or I leave.”

“Then leave,” Ciaran said coldly. “I will inform my employer of the totality of your helpfulness. The next step will then be up to him.”

Sir Duncan smiled. “Sullivan, surely you can be reasonable about this, can’t you? I’m not really asking for much.”

Upon thinking about it, Ciaran realized that Sir Duncan was right. He was just being cautious of his queen’s safety and it was part of the Knight Commander’s job after all. “Enchanting spell!” It was Elsa’s voice. As Ciaran started to turn and tell Ceres to get the messages from his pokepack, the Tantrasaur leaned over him, placed her palms on the table top and shoved. With a shriek of wood on stone as the legs scraped across the floor, the other edge of the table slammed into Sir Duncan’s ribcage.

The knight commander gasped as the air was driven from his lungs. Ceres jerked Ciaran and his chair behind her before pointing at the back door while Sir Duncan fought to breathe. “Get out,” she said firmly, “before Elsa gets in here and I can’t stop her.” She never looked at Sir Duncan, the whole time her eyes were watching Baker and Libby warily. “Ciaran, sir, are you well?”

He nodded slowly, blinking as the room spun slowly counterclockwise. “Other than a splitting headache, I’m fine.” He slowly looked around Ceres’ form. “Dame Tamsin, are you going to interfere in Sir Duncan being ordered to leave immediately?”

Baker looked from the doorway where Victoria stood with her spear to Ceres and shook her head slowly. “Your girls would swarm Libby and me under. Unless Sir Duncan expressly orders it, I will not. Am I included in the eviction?”

“You are not and neither is Libby.” Ciaran took a deep breath. “Sir Duncan you have mistaken my civility for weakness and attacked me without provocation. Leave now voluntarily or I will have you removed.”

Sir Duncan wheezed as he got to his feet. “You’re a right bloody bastard, Sullivan,” he snarled.

“And now you falsely insult my parents, who were married long before I was conceived. Get out of this house.” Sir Duncan pulled up his hood, jerked the back door open and stomped into the storm. Ciaran waited until he was sure the wizard wasn’t coming back before getting up. “Are we good, Tamsin?”

She gave a forced chuckle. “We will be when you call off Elsa.”

He stepped around Ceres to see. “Elsa, why are you standing behind Libby?” The Nekomata was standing stiffly at attention, her eyes wide as she tried not to move.

Elsa gave him a lazy smile. “I’m keeping the peace.”

“Well, leave her be and stop hovering behind her.”

Libby relaxed when Elsa vanished. “Thank you sir,” she said slowly.

“I’d like us to stay friends,” he answered. “You’re very welcome.”

Victoria eyed them both. “Tamsin, Libby, do either of you intend to attack us over what just happened?”

“No, we don’t,” Baker said. “You response to his spell was reasoned and defensive only.” She hesitated. “And I’m glad that’s all it was. We’re not going to attack you.”

The Angel’s spear vanished. “Good. Is he likely to come back?”

Baker shook her head. “I don’t see where he would. He’s not familiar with pokegirls and I don’t think he knew just how much danger he was in.”

Ceres smiled slightly. “He wasn’t in any danger until he attacked us.”

Ciaran patted her on the shoulder. “You did well. Tamsin, what are your orders in regards to us?”

She frowned. “Sir Duncan didn’t give me any new orders.”

“I mean what are your original orders? I’ve never heard what they are.”

“I’m supposed to be your contact with the court. I’m supposed to help keep you safe until Her Majesty decides when and if any meetings will take place. I’m also supposed to help you to navigate the court so that you can deliver your messages.”

“Your orders are to help me to navigate the court so that I can deliver my messages to their proper recipient or recipients?”

Her frown deepened. “Of course.”

He nodded. “Then I am going to have to insist that you carry out those orders.” He smiled at the puzzled expression that appeared on her face. “Here’s what I want you to do.”

10/10/09 0715 Order of Pendragon, ?

Her Majesty Ygerna, Queen of the Sidhe and Beneficent Creator and Sovereign Ruler of the Order of Pendragon, paused when she saw the items sitting on the cushion of her throne. She turned to her maid, a woman named Rachel who had served her for almost forty years and who functioned as her executive assistant. “What is this?”

Rachel looked at her in surprise. “Your Majesty?”

Ygerna motioned towards the throne. “What is this, Rachel?”

Rachel frowned and moved forward to peer at the throne. “Your Majesty, I see nothing amiss. Or do you require something?”

Ygerna started to frown and stopped. She reached out with a hand and nodded when she sensed the spell. It didn’t make the items protected by it truly invisible, it merely encouraged people not to notice the spell and what it guarded. She felt the spell with her abilities and smiled. Whoever had cast it was talented indeed, but it would not have fooled her higher ranked knights if they had arrived in here first.

They were forbidden to do so, of course, which begged the question of who had violated one of their Queen’s edicts.

With a tiny exertion of her power, Ygerna broke the spell. “I was speaking of that, Rachel.” She wanted her maid to understand that her Queen wasn’t being cruel just for the sake of being cruel. “Fetch my tea while I examine this.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

There were two items on the cushion; a letter written on modern paper and an electronic device of some kind that Ygerna didn’t immediately recognize. No other magics guarded the items, so when Rachel returned, Ygerna had opened the letter.

Your Majesty Ygerna, Queen of the Sidhe and Beneficent Creator and Sovereign Ruler of the Order of Pendragon, greetings. I am Ciaran Declan Sullivan and I act as the messenger for Iain Grey, carrying written and verbal messages for Your Majesty. I do not know the exact contents of the written messages, but I was informed that at least one of them involved a warning as to a threat to the existence of the Order of Pendragon as well as a direct threat to Your Majesty.

When I first came to the United Kingdom, I met a knight in your service, one Dame Captain Tamsin Baker. She was assigned both as my escort from the court of the human Queen Anne and as my escort and guide from Your Majesty’s court. As part of her orders from Your Majesty’s court, she was instructed to “help me navigate the court so that I could deliver my messages to their proper recipient or recipients”. This brings us to this letter and the video player that Your Majesty has just discovered.

As Your Majesty will see in the video already in the player, I was informed by Sir Duncan O’Keefe that Your Majesty was unware of the existence of these messages and would be kept unaware of them by Sir Duncan unless I divulged the contents to him under the guise of examining them to ensure their safety for Your Majesty. As per my instructions from Mr. Grey, I declined to provide them for his examination and Sir Duncan continued on his way.

His warning that Your Majesty would continue to be unaware of these messages forced my hand and I coerced Dame Captain Tamsin Baker into aiding me in getting this to Your Majesty. Please be merciful to her as she was following the orders given to her by her superiors in regards to me.

If Your Majesty does not wish to receive these messages, please inform me. If Your Majesty does wish to receive them, please inform me. I await Your pleasure.

Ygerna read the letter again and nodded to herself. It was obvious that Dame Tamsin had coached this Ciaran Sullivan in how to write the letter, but if he was correct in her orders then she was doing exactly what she had been commanded to do. Ygerna, of course, knew Dame Tamsin. The woman was a dedicated and honorable knight and far more skilled than many of the male knights of equivalent rank. In fact, Ygerna expected to promote her within the next five or ten years when one of the older knights retired, died or advanced.

She picked up the player and examined it. It was as simple device and easy enough to operate. If, as she presumed, Dame Tamsin had sneaked into the complex and placed it here, then the knight was guilty of a serious breach of protocol. However, if Ciaran Sullivan was correct and the knights were keeping information from her again, Dame Tamsin was entirely justified if she were indeed following orders.

She looked at Rachel. “I wish to be alone for a while. Court will start when I am ready. Inform the others.”

Rachel bowed. “As Your Majesty commands.”

Ygerna waited until she was gone and put up some spells to ensure her privacy before activating the video player and watching the unedited video of Ciaran’s interview with Sir Duncan from the moment he entered the kitchen until Sir Duncan had stormed out of the building and into the rain.

When the video had ended, Ygerna turned the player over in her hands while she thought. She had complete faith in her abilities and doubted that this supposed threat was anything that she needed to take seriously. As for the suggestion of trade, the Order didn’t produce anything and she doubted that this Iain Grey could begin to supply the more esoteric things that her mages needed for their studies. As far as that went, she was therefore uninterested in meeting with Ciaran Sullivan.

However, there were some intriguing things in the video that gave her pause. She was aware of the growing presence of pokegirls in the world and had some idea of the threat they represented to her goals of protecting the Isles. But their full range of abilities was still unknown. And the idea that they could actually be useful to the Order had been discussed by her advisors and dismissed. At the time, she had agreed with them.

Still, in audio provided with this video, someone, presumably a pokegirl, had determined that Sir Duncan was lying as he spoke. Another had detected his spell the instant he’d cast it. And in neither case had Sir Duncan been aware that he was being monitored. Both of these abilities could be useful in Ygerna’s court. If it was true that, as happened in some generations, knights of the Order were keeping things from her, someone who could tell if they were lying even if they had a spell up to hide that fact would allow Ygerna to discover exactly who was involved and why they were doing it. Both would be useful in determining the doom their Queen would pronounce over them.

And if this Iain Grey could provide her with servants with these abilities, then meeting with Ciaran Sullivan became strongly advisable, if not absolutely necessary.

It was a pity, Ygerna reflected, that Rachel had seen the items. Now the knowledge of their existence might be compromised. She held the letter and player up and they vanished into a special storage space that only she could access. At least now no one could discover their contents and use that knowledge try to hide from her when it became time for another purge.

She reached out and rang the bell on the tea tray. Rachel immediately opened the door she’d retreated through. “Your Majesty?”

“Court will begin in three minutes, Rachel.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

10/20/09 1140 Sallybrook, Ireland

The region around the town of Cork had held nearly four hundred thousand people before the Red Plague and its aftermath. These days, that meant that there were still nearly eighteen thousand Irish living in the area. It didn’t bother Ciaran, although he had to admit that it was a lot of people for a country boy like him. However, it did present him with a problem.

Somewhere in this region was the home and property of his uncle, Michael Ahern. Unfortunately, that’s all he really knew since when he’d been writing his uncle his parents had posted the letters for him. So they’d stopped in a little village just outside of Cork called Knockraha to ask for directions. A nice woman there had referred them to a church in Sallybrook a mile or so to the west.

Leaving the rest of the party outside, Ciaran and Victoria went into the church. An older woman was sweeping between the pews and she looked at them curiously. “Can I help you?”

“I certainly hope so. I was looking for directions to someone’s home and was directed here. I’m trying to locate my uncle, Michael Ahern. I know he has a farm somewhere around Cork.”

The woman eyed them for a moment. “You’re an American.”

“I am. My parents moved to the United States before I was born.”

“Are you an Ahern?”

He shook his head. “Only by blood since my mother’s maiden name is Ahern. My father is a Sullivan.”

She frowned. “You’d be Rafael’s son then?”

“You know my father?”

“No, but everyone has heard the tale of your parents.”

He hesitated. “I’m not familiar with this tale. Is this one of those tales where I shouldn’t let people know who my parents are, or should I be proud of what they did?”

She laughed. “Well, now, Mr. Sullivan, that depends on who you happen to be talking to at the time.”

Victoria looked at him. “That’s a definite keep it to yourself.”

“It does sound that way, doesn’t it?” He turned back to the woman. “If you know their story, hopefully you know where they’re from. Could you tell me where I can find my uncle?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know Michael Ahern. However, the Ahern family comes from Rathcormac. If you ask around there, I’m sure you can get directions to your uncle’s home.” She leaned on her broom. “You take the N8 north for about twelve miles to Rathcormac.”

Ciaran suppressed a groan. They’d just travelled down the N8 and he remembered passing by a sign for Rathcormac. “Thank you, ma’am.”

“You’re very welcome.” She gave him a bright smile and went back to sweeping as he stepped outside.

Victoria sighed. “I wish we’d known this beforehand.”

He took her hand. “We can’t know everything and it’s not really that far.”

“It’s half a day, Ciaran.”

“No, it’s not. We’ve been there, so you can teleport there.” He flashed a smile at her expression. “So, go talk to Ceres and set up transport to the N8 just outside of Rathcormac.” He glanced at the sky for a moment. “Actually, we’ll go back to the N8 from here and have lunch first. That’ll keep Kentarch from complaining she’s hungry if there’s a restaurant in Rathcormac and she can smell the food cooking.”

“At least she’s not as bad as Eliana was,” Victoria said with an amused smile.

“There is that. Now get going.”

10/20/09 1330 outside Rathcormac, Ireland

The door opened enough to show the double barrels of the leveled shotgun. The muzzles looked huge to Ciaran. “Get off my land. Michael Ahern does not live here.” The man holding the weapon on Ciaran was white haired with hard blue eyes that went well with his current scowl and the anger in his voice.

Ciaran held up his hand and slowly backed up. “We’re leaving, sir. Someone in Rathcormac told me he lived here. I don’t suppose you know where he lives?”

“He does not live here. Now leave my land now and don’t come back unless you wish to be buried on it.”

“Sir?” It was Ceres.

“Don’t,” he said softly. “We’ll leave. It’s his land and his right to chase people off it.” He glanced at Elsa. The Mazouku’s ears were flat and her tail was lashing angrily. “You heard me.”

She didn’t stop watching the old man, but nodded slightly. “Until that gun goes off, I hear you. After that he’ll be reloading.”

The man watched them until they stood on the road before slamming the door shut. Victoria let out a loud sigh of relief. “Now what?”

“Now we know what was so amusing to the other people in that pub,” Spirit said, “when that man gave us directions.”

Elsa’s ears had been rising but now they flattened again. She glanced at Baker before looking at Ciaran. “I don’t suppose we’re going to go back to there and ask them again,” she asked softly.

“I agree with Elsa,” Kentarch said.

“We were lied to,” Baker replied. “That doesn’t give us the right to go thrash them over it.”

Kentarch scowled. “It should.”

“Perhaps it should,” Baker replied, “but it doesn’t.”

“Michael is a God fearing man,” Ciaran said firmly. “We’ll find the closest Catholic Church and ask about him there. They shouldn’t lie to us.”

Victoria glanced at Ceres. I’ll be listening for lies this time. They won’t be able to and get away with it.

10/20/09 1500 outside Rathcormac, Ireland

Ceres put her hand on his arm as he started forward. “Victoria will find out if this is Michael Ahern’s home.”

“There’s no obvious threat to me,” he protested.

“There wasn’t at the other house either,” she replied, “until the owner produced that shotgun and there suddenly was. Now we play it safe.”

Victoria glanced behind her to make sure that, as they’d planned, Ceres had Ciaran before she knocked on the door to the farmhouse. A few minutes later a pretty middle aged brunette opened the door. “Good afternoon,” she said. “Can I help you, miss?” She glanced past Victoria and blinked at something behind her.

Since Kentarch and Spirit were wearing clothes, Victoria figured it was the sight of Ceres. It might have been Elsa, but as long as her wings were folded tightly the Mazouku’s inhuman traits were easy to overlook at a distance. “Is this the home of Michael Ahern?”

The woman’s eyes narrowed slightly at the Angel’s accent. “You’re Scottish.” She looked Victoria up and down and her eyes narrowed further. “What do you want with my husband?” The emphasis she put on the last two words were unmistakable.

Victoria grinned. “Nothing like that, I assure you, Mrs. Ahern. I am Victoria Sullivan and the man behind me is Ciaran Sullivan, your nephew from Texas. He’s come to see his uncle and you.”

“He’s come to see Mike,” the woman stated flatly. “He couldn’t have known about me since we didn’t marry until after the international post stopped.” She looked at Victoria. “Are you his wife?”

“No,” Victoria replied. “I’m a pokegirl and he’s my man.”

The woman looked past her. “I’m Linda Ahern,” she said almost absently. “My goodness, are all seven of you his pokegirls?”

Victoria chuckled and turned. “No, the black woman in the British Army uniform is Captain Tamsin Baker and the tailed girl standing next to her is her pokegirl, Libby. The rest of us are with Ciaran.”

Linda suddenly looked aghast. “Where are my manners?” She raised her voice slightly. “Come inside, everyone, so that I can meet you. I am Linda and I’m Mike’s wife.”

Ciaran looked at Ceres and she smiled as she released his arm. He shook his head. “I’m Ciaran Sullivan and it’s nice to meet you, Aunt Linda.” He looked back at Ceres. “For the moment let’s stack the packs just inside the door and everyone wipe your feet as you go in.” He turned back to Linda as people began moving. “So where is Uncle Mike?”

“He’s out in the fields. I don’t expect him back until supper.”

Baker frowned. “Aren’t ferals a problem?”

Linda shrugged. “Sometimes they are. The Army’s 1st Brigade is based in Cork and they work to keep them under control by capturing, killing or driving them off when they can.”

“While we are here,” Ciaran said, “we can hunt them too. I’ll be selling what I catch and I’m willing to sell to the locals.”

Linda smiled. “I think that would be a grand idea, but you should probably talk to Mike first.” She gestured towards the door. “So come inside and I’ll make tea while you tell me about yourself. Mike hasn’t said anything about having relatives in the USA.”

10/20/09 1650 Michael and Linda Ahern farm Rathcormac, Ireland

Michael stepped into the barn to clean up before going to the house and stopped in surprise. Their horses had died years ago during the Red Plague and he couldn’t afford to replace them, so the barn had become primarily used for storage. Now, all of the stalls had been swept out and fresh straw had been placed in each of them. Even the cobwebs were gone. Packs hung from the walls of four of the stalls and some coats and such hung next to them.

The bucket he used for cleaning up had been dumped, scrubbed and refilled. His towel was fresh and a piece of paper had been pinned to it. Bemusedly, he read it.

His wife’s handwriting was easily identifiable, but his eyebrows rose when he realized it had been written in blue ink with what looked like a ballpoint pen. Ink was hard to come by and pens were all but nonexistent and exorbitantly priced when they were available. And blue ink was as rare as hen’s teeth. “We have family visiting, Michael. Do a better job of cleaning than your usual perfunctory wash.” Michael shrugged. It was better to do what Linda wanted than to have her angry at him, especially in front of company.

He had stripped to the waist and was washing the mud from his skin when the door opened and a woman came in. She blinked tawny eyes in surprise and smiled at him. “You must me Uncle Mike.”

“Indeed, I must be. Who are you?”

“I’m Elsa Sullivan. We haven’t met. Your nephew Ciaran Sullivan has come to visit from Texas and we came with him.” She held up his scythe. “Ciaran wanted us to stay busy, so I was sharpening your tools. I just finished this and came in to hang it back up.”

Michael frowned and took the scythe from her. He tested the edge and grinned. “That’s perfect. It’s better than I’ve ever done.”

She took it back and headed for the tool rack. “Ciaran showed me how to do it when we were staying with his family for a while. I have a sword, but I don’t have to sharpen it.” She flashed teeth in a smile. “It only exists when I need to use it, and when I create it it’s always sharp. Still, knowing how to sharpen things is a useful skill.” She headed for the door. “I’ll let Aunt Linda know you’re home.”

He stopped her with an upraised hand. “I haven’t heard from Ciaran in years. How is it you and he have come to be here?”

She chuckled. “I’ll let him tell you that story. He hasn’t told your wife yet and she’s about ready to pummel him in frustration. After waiting all day in suspense, if you hear it first she might do something rash.” She turned and left, her tail dancing behind her.

He blinked. Tail? He finished washing and headed around the house to come in the back door as he always did.

He paused. A pair of identical redheaded women wearing identical blue dresses was kneeling on either side of a piece of fabric. On the scrap of fabric rested a pig’s head. One side of the head looked like it had been mangled by a chainsaw. One of the women touched the damaged side. “You have to fire two bolts in quick succession. When you understand more about time, we’ll work on what quick succession means.”

“I know how to count,” the second said sharply.

“Yes, but you don’t yet know how to time half and quarter seconds,” the first replied. She poked the damage again. “It’s not hard but you’re still getting integrated with my body. The first plasma bolt causes a steam explosion in the flesh, which creates a crater that lasts for a very short time. While that crater is open, the second bolt goes in and impacts on the bone. This causes a steam explosion in the bone, shattering it and driving fragments of the skull into the brain.” She smiled in a way that made Mike’s skin crawl. “The benefit is that the steam explosions cook the meat and minimize blood loss. So that’s why the pig didn’t bleed much until we gutted it.” She looked at her twin. “If the bolts are fired too slowly and are too far apart the crater closes and the second bolt hits more flesh. This is less likely to instantly kill your target. If the bolts are fired too quickly in succession, the second bolt can hit the steam cloud from the first and dump its energy into it. That means only the first bolt actually damaged your target and if it’s resistant to heat it might not be badly hurt and can attack back. One bolt will often kill a target, but two properly timed bolts are almost certain to.”

“I’ll remember that.”

Mike decided that trying to sneak around them might be unwise. “Um, excuse me, ladies.”

They looked up. The first cocked her head. “You are Michael Ahern. Elsa mentioned you were home.” She absently licked the blood from the hand that had been touching the head. “Is something wrong?”

“No, I just didn’t want to distract you from your discussion.”

“That is wise,” the first said. “I am still unused to being around people and sometimes I react poorly.”

“Names,” the second said.

The first blinked. “Yes, see, I sometimes forget manners. I am Spirit and my sister is Kentarch.”

Kentarch smiled. “My sister was never civilized and, until recently, was always alone. Now that she’s not, her old ways are still dying hard.”

“That is not true,” Spirit retorted. “I did not kill him when he came around the house.”

The back door opened a man stepped out. He smiled broadly. “Uncle Mike. I’m your nephew Ciaran Sullivan. Wow, you really haven’t changed much.”

Mike cocked his head. The boy definitely had Ahern blood, the curly red hair was a dead giveaway. But Ahern men were stocky and of medium height while this boy was tall. Fortunately, Mike had grown up with Rafael Sullivan and he could see the traces of the father in the son, even if what had been almost harsh in Rafael’s face was merely strong in Ciaran’s. But caution was ever the watchword in this brave new world. “Tell me something about your mother that only her son could know.”

Ciaran smiled broadly at the thought of announcing that his mother was pregnant again, but knew he couldn’t. “You’ll want to be careful around Mother the next time you meet. She found out you told me about when she married Father against her father’s will. She threatened to strangle you because of it.”

Mike grinned. “That sounds like my Martha.”

“She also told me that I should speak to you about meeting my Uncle Thomas. She said he and I are a lot alike in temperament.”

Mike shook his head. “I can’t do that. The best I could do is take you to see Thomas’ grave. He died three years ago.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Most importantly, I have brought with me a device that’ll let you talk to my mother and father,” Ciaran said. “So you can ask her if I’m her son yourself.” He smiled. “And then you and Aunt Linda can find out why I’m here in Ireland. Texas is six hours behind here, so it’s almost eleven there. She’ll be working on lunch.”

Mike came up the stairs and smiled. “You’re confident enough to be an Ahern. I don’t have electricity for this phone.”

“It’s ok. It has an internal power source. I’m going to leave one with you and I’ll show you how to take care of it before we go. The dining room is probably the best place since it’s got enough room for everyone, if only barely.”

Soon everyone was at the dining room table. Ciaran quickly pointed at people for Mike. “That’s Ceres, Victoria, Elsa, Spirit, Kentarch, Captain Tamsin Baker of the British Army and Libby. Tamsin and Libby are together.”

Mike had a hard time looking away from Ceres. “She has no clothes.”

Ceres smiled. “I have a hat, but I’m not wearing it right now.”

Linda smacked her husband. “They explained it to me. She’s a plant and needs sunlight or she’ll wilt. Stop staring at her.”

Ciaran placed the computer in the center of the table and activated it. “I want to talk to Martha Sullivan.”

Several seconds passed before Martha’s head appeared floating over the table. She smiled at her son. “Ciaran! It’s good to hear from you.” She looked around the table. “Hi, girls. Hi, Tamsin.” Then she blinked. “Michael?” Her eyes flicked back to Ciaran. “You made it to Michael’s!” She frowned. “Why are you calling me?”

“Well, I still enjoy talking to you but Michael wanted me to prove I am who I say I am.”

Martha laughed. “Well, I guess you can’t be too cautious these days.” Suddenly she frowned as she looked around again. “Wait a minute.” Her eyes narrowed slightly as she looked at the one person she hadn’t addressed. “Linda Fitzpatrick? Why are you there?”

Linda smiled. “It’s Linda Ahern now. I finally convinced your brother to marry me.”

“Congratulations then, Linda and welcome to the family.” Linda looked surprised as Martha smiled warmly at her. “I see you didn’t expect that.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“I take it you two have a history,” Ciaran said.

Martha’s eyes narrowed again. “If we do, Ciaran Sullivan, it was before you and it’s none of your business.”

Mike suddenly laughed. “That’s my sister.” He turned and clapped Ciaran hard on the back. “Welcome, nephew.”

“Thanks.”

“Speaking of nephews, Mike,” Martha said warningly. “You need to stop telling tales about your sister. Someday she may be able to come and visit and then what would you do?”

“I’d move to Dublin.” Mike smiled at his sister. “But considering everything, I think I need to worry more about the Blue League invading than I do you coming to Ireland.”

Martha smiled at her brother. “Mike,” she said in amused tone as her eyes twinkled merrily, “can you guess who sat in the chair next to me not three weeks ago?”

Mike eyed her suspiciously. “Rafael?”

“No, the man who is sitting next to you did.” Mike’s eyes went wide. “And I know how he got to Ireland so quickly.” She chuckled. “I don’t know when or if we would be able to visit, but I hope to and soon. Not to punish you, dear brother. It’s because I miss you and Thomas.”

Linda leaned towards the hologram. “Martha,” she said sharply. When Martha looked at her, she shook her head slowly.

Martha paled. “Thomas?” Linda nodded. “Oh, dear God. When?”

“Three winters ago. There was an accident while he was cutting wood and he got sick.”

Martha’s mouth firmed. “Ciaran.”

“Yes, mother?”

“Can you arrange for us to come to Ireland?”

I still have the pinnace, Eriu told him. I can make another one if they are to be traveling a great deal and you wish to provide regular transport for them.

Let’s take this one trip at a time. “Yes, mother.”

“Good.” She looked at Linda. “With your consent, we’ll be coming for Christmas.” She frowned. “We won’t be able to arrive for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, but I think perhaps by the nineteenth if you’ll allow.”

Linda smiled warmly. “You are welcome in our home for as long as you want, Martha.”

“Thank you,” Martha said simply. She looked at Ciaran. “Will the nineteenth be a problem for you?”

“I don’t see why it would. Are you bringing Beibhinn and Neem?”

“Of course we are.”

He nodded. “Then I suggest you work things out with them before December.”

Martha blinked and chuckled. “True. I’ll speak to them tonight at dinner. You’ll be there of course.”

“I’m not staying here and living off of Uncle Mike’s charity for two months. I have a job to do, but I’ll try to be back if I can.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Ciaran Declan Sullivan,”

He cut her off. “Has a job to do mother, some of which is not under my control in regards to scheduling and some of in which the opportunity to complete parts of may not come more than once. I will do what I can to be here for Christmas but I cannot and will not make you a guarantee of it nor shall I allow you to demand it of me.”

Martha glared into his eyes for what seemed an eternity before nodding. “Promise me that you’ll do everything you can to be there for Christmas.”

Ciaran smiled slightly. “No. You have an interesting way of interpreting promises to suit yourself that often seem to have nothing to do with the original intent of the promisor. I’ll try to be here. That’s all you get.”

She nodded once more. “Then I’ll accept you’ll do your best to be there.” Her eyes closed for a second. “Ciaran, would you light a candle for Thomas for me?”

“I would be honored to, mother. I won’t forget what else you asked me to, either.”

“Thank you.” She looked at Mike. “I have to go. Can I call you and Linda later?”

Mike nodded. “Ciaran said he’s going to leave me one of these devices and teach me how to use it so we can keep in contact. You’ll be hearing from me; we have years of catching up to do.”

“Good. Thank you everyone.” The display died as she disconnected.

“Who are Beibhinn and Neem,” Linda asked.

“Beibhinn is my younger sister and Neem is her Elfqueen, which is a type of pokegirl.”

Linda frowned. “Does everyone in America have their own pokegirl?”

“No, they don’t. Beibhinn wanted one because she’s had some trouble and wanted a guard to keep her safe. Neem also happens to have magic that makes plants be healthier and mature faster so she’s great for farming.”

Mike hesitated. “Don’t you have to have, um, relations with them?”

Elsa snickered as Victoria smothered a laugh. Ciaran nodded. “Sex is integral to the relationship between a pokegirl and her male or female.”

Mike shook his head. “I could use one on the farm, but I don’t see Linda letting one live here if that has to happen.”

“She could help,” Elsa said. Her eyes twinkled, but her face and voice were serious. “Ciaran says that we are also God’s children and that He made us and so He loves us and since we have to have sex or we lose our humanity, God understands what has to be done, so being with us cannot be a sin. In return we protect our people from the ferals and other people who would do them harm. Or, like Neem and Ceres, we become part of the family and help out the family business.”

“You’re part of this family too, Elsa,” Ciaran said.

“I know I am, but I’m not a farmer or a rancher. I don’t make things grow and I don’t fix things. I’m a hunter and it’s a good thing you are too.” She shook her head. “Too many people are going to be like these two. Linda won’t want a pokegirl here because she doesn’t want to share but she doesn’t understand that there are ferals out there, they will come here eventually and the pokegirl who doesn’t live here yet that she’s already jealous of will be the thing that will keep Mike coming home every day instead of being found out in a field half eaten.” Linda drew air in an angry hiss and Elsa’s ears flattened. “I’m sorry, Ciaran.”

“For what?”

“I probably just got us thrown out.”

Mike shook his head. “No, you haven’t. Whether my wife likes what you just said or not, you feel you’re telling us the truth. You won’t be told to leave over that.” He looked at Ciaran. “What do you think about what Elsa said?”

“I don’t know what to think, but my employer, Iain Grey, and his family know a lot about pokegirls. He’s terrified of exactly what Elsa just said and I’ve heard him tell people that the feral pokegirls can breed without needing any outside help and they’re doing so as fast as they can. He continues on to warn them that these feral pokegirls are going to run out of food and they will see us and our livestock and crops as easy meals. That’s how you’ll know it’s coming, when you suddenly start losing lots of animals.”

“I have a rifle and some ammunition,” Mike protested.

“The best and sometimes only way to fight pokegirls is with other pokegirls,” Victoria said. “Spirit, show him.” The Astral became translucent and Victoria waved a hand through Spirit’s face. Linda gasped. The Angel gave her a grim look. “A feral who can do this won’t even notice a bullet and the report of a gun will just get her attention focused on the person using it. Other pokegirls you can hit with bullets, but a rifle bullet will just make many of them mad. Many of us have ranged attacks, so she doesn’t even have to be close to kill her attacker.”

Baker cleared her throat. “Her Majesty’s government has done some studies on pokegirls. The studies themselves are classified, but I have noticed that anyone who has access to them is very serious about hunting feral girls and putting up defenses around camps and towns.”

“I intend to do some hunting while we’re staying here,” Ciaran said. “But there’s no way I can get them all. We recently had to deal with a lake full of water pokegirls that were attacking people coming to fish. The lake wasn’t that big and we caught or killed over a hundred pokegirls without depleting the population completely. It’s a wonder there are any fish in that lake.” He shrugged. “At best we taught the remainder to fear humans, but that won’t last forever. There were a lot of juveniles there we couldn’t catch and, God forgive me, the best thing for people is that they all die before reaching adulthood.”

Linda folded her arms. “Can we talk about something that’s not so depressing? Dinner’s almost ready and I don’t want this conversation to continue during the meal.”

Mike nodded and suddenly smiled. “Oh, we can, my dear. Ciaran and his ladies need to get a good night’s sleep for tomorrow.”

Ceres cocked her head. “Why?”

“My nephew has a lot of relatives he hasn’t ever met. Tomorrow we’re going visiting.”

“Speaking of that,” Ciaran said, “Mother wants me to visit Grandfather Ahern’s grave.”

Mike grinned. “That’s going to be difficult.”

Ciaran blinked. “Why is that? Are ferals infesting the cemetery?”

“No, it’s just that if you want to visit his grave you may have to stay here for a while. He’s not dead.”

Ciaran Sullivan

Victoria – Angel

Ceres – Tantrasaur

Elsa – Mazouku

Spirit – Astral Kentarch

Kentarch – Haunting

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