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A Little Blue

Twenty Four

10/31/09 0930 Kingdom of Haven

Branwyn checked her watch. “They should be here in just a minute.”

Bellona glanced at her from where she leaned against a wall but didn’t respond. She straightened a few seconds later when five people appeared in the center of the clearing. “Good morning, Iain, Ygerna and Dominique.” She looked at the other two. “I don’t think we’ve met.”

The blue gray woman smiled and spoke in a heavy Noir accent. “We have not, as this is my first trip to Haven. I am Raquel.”

“And I am Vanessa,” said the other. “There are several people in Iain’s family that neither of you have met, although that may change today for the move.”

“Good morning, Bellona,” Iain said. “I wasn’t expecting you two to be here, but I appreciate your presence. I can guess how busy you are normally.”

Branwyn smiled. “There are some ruffled feathers over the way your last visit went and Kasumi suggested that high ranking members of the king’s family might help to keep unpleasant occurrences to a minimum. Her reasoning was sound so we agreed to be your escorts.”

“Well, your company is always welcome.” He glanced at Vanessa. She was wearing comfortable clothes and had her copper hair up in a tight ponytail. The half-moon glasses she wore when pretending to be a G-Poindexter perched on her nose. “Branwyn, do you know where your mother is?”

Branwyn looked thoughtful for a moment. “She’s at the clinic. Why?”

“I’d like to consult with her on a technical question,” Vanessa said, “if she’s free for an hour or so. Iain says she should find it fascinating and I hope he’s right. After that I can meet you at the library if you’re still there.”

Branwyn’s eyes became unfocused again. “She says yes. Do you know the way to the clinic?”

“I don’t, but I will after your twee sends me a map.”

The Unicorn blinked at her. “You’re very comfortable with twee technology.”

Vanessa chuckled. “I didn’t have much choice. We’re training with members of the outer harem. They don’t have psychic bonds with any of us but they do have twee and April insists our communications must be as flexible as possible. We have an artificial delta bond spell, but any spell that can be cast can also be broken so we don’t use it a lot. And since we can send things like video, maps and other images as well as messages, twee communication is much more effective than via most psychic bonds.”

Bellona looked thoughtful for a moment. “We hadn’t thought about it that way.”

“The other problem, and the really insurmountable one,” Dominique said, “is that Theodora can’t use a psychic bond and she is part of our team.” She gave Iain a sour look. “And thanks to Iain she gets very loud when she doesn’t get her way.”

Branwyn looked surprised. “She does?”

“She takes her status as the maharani of his inorganic harem pretty seriously,” Dominique grumbled, “especially the perks.”

Theodora appeared standing beside Iain. “That is not true,” she countered. “I take all of my responsibilities far more seriously than any perk and since I am his only inorganic woman I have very few perks indeed. You’re just upset because empirical testing showed that twee communication is more secure and faster than your magical spells or Canaan’s telepathic abilities.”

Iain raised a hand as Dominique’s jaw muscles visibly flexed. “Ladies, we’ve already had this discussion. We’ll use every means to its best use. I do believe I said that the subject was then closed.” He looked at Dominique. “You shouldn’t have said anything and you,” he turned to Theodora, “should not have needled her further by responding.”

Theodora nodded. “I am sorry, Iain.” She looked at Dominique. “I am sorry for aggravating you, sister. I was out of line.”

Dominique took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “And Iain is right. I shouldn’t be bitching about facts just because I don’t like them. I’m sorry, Theodora.” She gave Iain a half smile. “I’ll bet you’d like it if we could kiss and make up.”

He chuckled. “Now that would be awesome.” He looked at Theodora. “Now please go back to letting me pretend you’re not monitoring every nanosecond of my life.”

She smiled at him. “That’s femtosecond, not nanosecond and I will.” She vanished.

Branwyn was staring at him with a look of shock. “She’s the what of what?”

“Yeah, I know that it’s an unusual title for her. It’s also self-assumed, although technically it’s accurate and we accept it. Pokegirls are hierarchical in nature and that gives Theodora a place they understand and accept, even if they don’t all like her exalted rank.”

Raquel snickered softly. “It is easy ,” she said in her Noir accented English, “to accept a title for someone, even if she took it for herself, if she also controls your air and food a great deal of the time. The fact that her tactical acumen is second to none only cements her title in the minds of those of us who will never be a maharani.”

“So can I get that map,” Vanessa asked quietly.

“Uh, yeah, sure.” Branwyn looked surprised. “That was easy to do.”

“There’s a lot twee can do that you won’t know unless you can get them to volunteer to help more,” Dominique said. “Most people just seem to limit themselves to only a few basic uses.”

“The uses of a twee are important to know and we will be more than happy to help you explore them,” Iain said firmly, “after we get Ygerna’s books.”

“May I leave now,” Vanessa asked quietly.

He gave her a wave. “Have fun.”

She smiled at him and headed off; following the map Branwyn had given her. It led her to a new looking building that had the ubiquitous pokeball with a red cross over the door to show that this medical center served everyone. The building was crude and obviously hastily constructed, although the concrete was over a foot thick as she passed through the door. The foyer held a dozen chairs, a couple of low tables and a counter on which a compact computer sat. Other than the Catgirl wearing a blue uniform sitting behind the counter, the room was empty She smiled at Vanessa. “Good morning, how may I help you?”

Vanessa smiled back. “Good morning to you. My name is Vanessa Grey and I’ve got an appointment to see Poppet Wolf.”

The Catgirl’s ears quivered. “I will let Her Highness know that you are here. Please have a seat.” She picked up a phone as Vanessa settled down and spoke for a brief moment. “Her Highness is on her way.”

“Thank you.” Vanessa crossed her hands in her lap and resumed the mental game of chess she was playing with her twee. She looked up when Poppet came out of the stairwell and examined the Unicorn closely. With the understanding that she had never actually met this Poppet before, if she was like the one that Vanessa had known, Poppet looked more relaxed than she remembered. She’d also lost some weight and put on some muscle, but that only made sense if she had been training with her husband’s harem.

Poppet looked at the Catgirl, who pointed at Vanessa. “That’s her, Your Highness.”

Vanessa rose as Poppet approached. “Good morning, Poppet. I realize that the traditional form of address appears to be Your Highness, but I am not one of your subjects and I think Iain wants us to go out of our way to continue to point that out.”

Poppet chuckled and held out her hand. “I have heard that about him. I hope we have that meeting soon.”

“Just remind him that he said he would and suggest a time. Send the same message to Ninhursag and April so they know and he’ll get back to you as promptly as he can.” Vanessa shook the proffered hand. “I am Vanessa Grey and I was hoping we could speak in private.”

Poppet nodded. “I thought perhaps I should send it to Theodora too.”

Vanessa shrugged. “You can. Theodora will certainly remind him, but she won’t insist he respond like April and Ninhursag will.”

Poppet looked at her curiously as she led Vanessa to the stairwell. “Why not?”

“She doesn’t care about you. She’ll let Iain know she got the message but otherwise let him do as he wants in regards to it. It doesn’t mean he won’t reply, it just means that if he doesn’t want to she won’t pursue it. It’s not you; it’s that she’s only concerned about Iain’s wants and then that of our family.”

“I’ll remember that.” Poppet led her up to the third floor and down the hall to a small laboratory. She closed the door and waved Vanessa to a chair before sitting herself. “Is there a way to get her to care more for what we might want?”

“If Iain is right and our families intermarry then she’ll pay more attention to the wants and needs of at least some of your family, Poppet. Other than that, you could dump Shikarou and convince Iain to add you to his life.”

Poppet chuckled. “I’m quite satisfied with my husband.” She leaned back and folded her arms. “What project did you have that you are sure would interest me?”

Vanessa smiled again. “That was a minor subterfuge so we could meet and get a few things out of the way, in the interest of continued harmony between our two families.”

Poppet snorted. “There’s not a lot of harmony right now, Vanessa. A lot of people are more than a little unhappy about what’s happening, including my husband. Master Caspa has never returned a book given into his care. I think Shikarou was counting on that.”

“Iain says that’s not true, but that it hasn’t happened in a long time because nobody knew how to approach Caspa about it.” Vanessa cocked her head. “But the reason for this little meeting is about honesty. Realizing that you are not the Poppet from my world and I am not the Vanessa from yours, still, you don’t remember me?”

Poppet looked closely for a moment before shaking her head. “Should I?”

“Well, Iain says the history of our worlds is very close to identical and Eve and Kasumi’s relationship shows he could be right. In my world I worked for Poppet for a while on some of her genetic research projects. It was an offshoot of her primary project to breed a Harris that would be perfect for her needs. The specific program that I worked on was Project 96 Bravo subprogram November. If that happened to you as well, I figured you’d eventually remember me and admitting that we’d worked together before you did discover it would help to keep you from wondering what we were hiding. We are aware that your twee is cross indexing the memories it can find from before it woke up, so eventually you would remember me if I did work for you then.”

Poppet frowned. “Was the name you used Roberta Lindstrom?”

“It was.”

“Her hair was brown and very short and her eyes were a different color, but other than that she could have been a carbon copy of you.” Her eyes narrowed. “But you should be much older.”

“I, we, have longevity, Poppet. I have been around since the Revenge War and suspect your Roberta had too.”

“Then why didn’t she say anything to me about it?”

“You killed a lot of people in your hunt to perfect a tiny slice of humanity for your needs and you were quick to act, often without reason that others could see. That bred a lot of fear in the survivors. You weren’t trusted much in the community of war survivors, especially once it was composed of nothing but people with longevity. Having just found out we were to live a very long time we were loath to let you kill more of us.”

Poppet nodded and looked slightly embarrassed. “I was different then.”

“You were eaten up with grief for your first love, Poppet, and the Blue League never liked you in charge at the Conservatory, even though they thought the Harris men had you more or less under control. You had to be a lot more ruthless about potential security threats than you do now.” Vanessa smiled. “And I have been told by Iain that Shikarou, Jamie and Graeme were very good for you. I would also like to express my condolences for Graeme’s loss.”

Poppet looked surprised. “You know what happened?”

“I do. Iain shared his stories with his inner harem so that we would know about the Wolf family. He and I discussed this more while I was deciding to bring up this subject with you. We aren’t a threat, Poppet. This information has only been disseminated among the women in the family who would never leave Iain and they would never breathe a word of anything Iain gives them in confidence to an outsider.”

Poppet leaned forward curiously. “How much does Iain know about me?”

“Well, you do figure in most of his work, Poppet. And his stories take pieces from your life from the time you met Jamie Harris until when you left your world to come here. I presume he had a lot of notes on you.”

Poppet frowned. “You presume?”

“Iain is an odd man, Poppet. He doesn’t brag much and he doesn’t really show off either. He let us read his stories. I don’t think anyone has sat him down and tried to question him about why they turned out the way they did.” Vanessa looked thoughtful for a moment. “That doesn’t make a lot of sense. We are intensely curious about Iain and he claims you learn a lot about a writer by reading their writing.” Her thoughtfulness became a musing frown. “He doesn’t talk about his past. I need to tie him to something solid and question him.” When Poppet laughed suddenly Vanessa blinked and turned slightly red. “Um, to get back to the subject, more importantly for this conversation he has never written down or discussed his notes about people, other than a few general comments about how a writer has to have a lot more notes on subjects and people than ever comes out in the stories in order to make them come to life for the reader. In short, I don’t know what else he knows about you.”

Poppet’s laugh had become chuckles. “So, when I have this meeting with him, will I need to tie him down too?” Vanessa flushed bright red and Poppet laughed again. “Sorry, I couldn’t help teasing you about that.”

“That’s good,” Vanessa said. “I suspect that if you do tie Iain down and he lets you you’d better be prepared to do a lot more than that.”

Now it was Poppet’s turn to look surprised. “Why do you say that?”

“Iain told me that you can learn a lot about a writer as a person by reading the stories they write. Iain put you in most of his stories and the way you are portrayed suggests that he likes you. Given half a chance, he’d probably fuck you. Unless you’re willing to fuck him, don’t tease him. It tends to piss him off and that’s a bad thing.” She smiled thinly when Poppet gaped at her. “And I do remember your problem. I wonder if you’d keep your delta bond to Shikarou after you had one with Iain. That could get complicated.”

“That is so not going to happen,” Poppet sputtered.

“Then don’t talk about doing anything sexual with him,” Vanessa countered. “And certainly don’t act on it.” She managed not to laugh when Poppet glared hotly at her. “And since we now know you’re not going to, we can pretend this part of our conversation never took place.” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Can you understand why I wanted to discuss you eventually remembering me?”

Poppet also took a deep breath and let it out. “I do,” she said calmly. “It’s probably best that you came to me with this. It could have gotten confusing.”

“I agree,” Vanessa said as she rose. “And we’re supposed to save confusion for our enemies, not our friends. If you don’t mind, I probably need to get back to Iain and the others at the library. Could you give me directions?”

10/31/09 1015 Kingdom of Haven

Ygerna smiled at the semi-transparent figure in front of her. “Master Caspa. I hope you’re well.”

Caspa nodded his head and smiled back. “I am, Professor. I hope that you are too.”

“I’m not a professor anymore. I left the school when I left the island.”

“Yes, you did,” Caspa’s smile faded. “Iain reminded me on his last visit. Still, your absence has been missed.” He turned to Iain. “It is good to see you again, even if I know you are not here to talk with me.”

“I am more than willing to talk to you while we move books,” Iain said. “And I did say I’d come back when they’d let me.” He gestured to his right. “May I introduce you to two of my ladies? The redhead is Dominique and she is a mage. The blue gray lady is Raquel.”

Caspa bowed to them. “Greetings, ladies, I hope we can be friends.”

Raquel gave a throaty laugh. “Dominique loves books as much as you do, sir. I am sure you and she could be fast friends.”

“And you, miss?”

She shook her head. “I only learned to read recently. It is difficult for me still, although it is becoming easier. In any case, I prefer to be outside doing things more than I do reading.”

Caspa nodded. “Not everyone is suited to the life of a bibliophile, Raquel. You are still welcome here.” He turned to Branwyn and Bellona. “Your Highnesses, it is good to see you again.”

“Thank you, Master Caspa,” Branwyn replied. “Are the books prepared for shipment?”

“They are.” Caspa gestured to a metal container two meters long, one meter high and one meter wide. “This is one of the shipping boxes.”

Iain eyed it. “That shouldn’t be too hard to move. How many are there?”

“There are four hundred and fifty six boxes.”

Iain’s mouth dropped. “What?”

Caspa smiled. “The Ygerna Collection is composed of thirty two thousand six hundred and forty five books. I packed them as well as I could, but they are of the oldest style and average forty six centimeters wide and deep with a width of thirteen centimeters. At best, seventy five of them will fit in a shipping box.” His smile widened. “And that does not include the copies that King Shikarou ordered made. I have destroyed them.”

Branwyn blanched. “You did what?”

“Your Highness, they are copies of books that are not yours and you were not holding in good faith. I would not have them near the books of the Moonblood Library and you have no other place to keep them, so I destroyed them.” Caspa sounded slightly smug.

“Thank you, Master Caspa,” Ygerna said with joy in her voice. “If they want copies in the future, they must deal fairly with me for them.”

Theodora spoke in his mind as Branwyn obviously fought to control her anger. The best way to move them would be to land a shuttle outside the library and use drones with grav lifters to load and unload the shipping boxes. The design I see through your eyes doesn’t suggest they have internal gravity generators. I am launching a shuttle from the refueling station around Luna. It will be ready to land in an hour if you get clearance.

Iain turned to Branwyn. “OK, I didn’t realize there would be so many crates. We would be forever moving them by hand, so I’d like to land a shuttle outside the library and use drones to move the crates out of here. I’ll need permission to enter your airspace.”

Branwyn’s anger was replaced by surprise. “You can do that?”

“Sure. You’ve got access to Bastion and Alexandria, you could too. Heck if you’re limited in shuttles you could rent or buy some from me.”

“Iain, they do not think that way yet,” Caspa said. “They are limited by the technology they see as advanced. Shikarou has deliberately stunted their production capability by forbidding the use of weavers on the planet and seldom has things made off planet and transported here.”

“Oh.” Iain shook his head apologetically. “I’d forgotten about that. Where do they get their pokeballs and stuff?”

“Kerrik Wolf provides it for them,” Caspa replied.

“Oh.” Iain looked at Bellona. “I hope I’m not insulting when I ask this, but why haven’t you secured your own manufacturing base? Kerrik is your husband’s father, but we both know he’s already aggravated with Shikarou. Besides, Kerrik appreciates self-reliance.”

The Dragonqueen looked troubled. “We hadn’t considered it that way. I will speak to Shikarou as soon as we’re done here.”

Branwyn patted Bellona on the shoulder. “I’ve got this. You go and make him understand. I don’t like it very much either, but Iain is right.” She looked at Iain as the Dragonqueen vanished. “If it came down to it, could we buy equipment from you?”

“Yes, and I’ll give you fair price for it with an option of credit for land with twenty years to repay before it becomes mine.” He looked up. “Did you hear that, Theodora?”

Her voice came from the computer on his belt. “I did. Fair price with two decade land options until repaid in cash. Both equipment and technology, I presume.”

“That’s correct. So if Selene or anyone in authority here comes to you for an order I want you start production and then contact me. We already have an agreement in place for purchase.”

Theodora touched his mind. I know all that. Is this level of detail really necessary?

They need to hear it. You are a genius and I trust you. Them, they’re not going to be reassured unless they hear me ‘command’ you.

I wonder if they treat Selene and Alexandria as they expect you to treat me. I am so glad I am a Grey. “Yessir,” Theodora answered. “Begin production and then contact you for any additional instructions.”

Tension seeped out of Branwyn. “Thank you, Iain,” she said.

“You’re welcome. So, about that shuttle?”

She chuckled. “Please don’t damage the landscaping. This is the only place on the island where it’s complete. Other than that, you have my personal authorization for a shuttle landing here. I’m having Selene send Theodora today’s IFF codes.”

“Don’t ding the roses, aye.” He glanced upwards again. “Theodora, bring the shuttle in as close as you can.” He looked behind him. “Raquel, go get Zareen please.” She nodded and vanished as he turned back to Branwyn. “Is the elevator still broken?”

She gave him a puzzled look. “Yes, it is. Why?”

“I’d like to remove it from the elevator shaft, prop open the door at the top and bottom floors and then use it as the pathway for the drones. They’ll move faster and there won’t be any accidents or traffic snarls with students in the stairwells.”

Dominique grinned. “That’s a great idea. We phase the elevator, drag it out and stash it someplace out of the way until we’re done. What about putting it back?”

“That is something we can’t do. Besides, I’m going to suggest to Branwyn that she chop out the elevator entirely and have a modern lift or a drop tube put in. Neither of those will make noises that irritate Caspa and so he’ll stop breaking them.” He looked at Branwyn. “I’ll only do it with your permission, of course.”

“You can do that?”

He nodded. “It should be pretty simple. I just need a place to put the elevator where you can scrap it out or install it someplace else. The only thing we have to cut is the cables holding it up.”

“Can you move it all the way outside the library itself?”

He looked at Dominique and she nodded. “I can take care of that. Even if I can’t, Zareen can phase a drone and grav lift it out.”

“Just remember not to damage the landscaping,” Iain said with an amused smile.

Ygerna shook her head. “I don’t understand what you’re saying. I still have a lot to learn, don’t I?”

“You do,” Iain said, “and we can teach you while you teach us things we still have to learn about. But we’ll get your books and get them today.”

The Sidhe smiled. “That I understand.”

Iain looked up as someone came quickly down the stairs. “Vanessa. How did it go with Poppet?”

“I think it went well. She was interested in my idea and I think we’ll talk more later on. She asked me to remind you that you agreed to meet with her.”

“I remember. Freeing up the time is going to be a major pain in the ass, though.”

Vanessa nodded and looked around. She stopped when she saw the ghost. “Is this Caspa?”

“It is. Caspa of the Moonbloods, this is Vanessa Grey. Vanessa Grey, this is Caspa of the Moonbloods. She’s one of the ladies who agreed to share my life.”

Caspa drifted towards Vanessa. “You are very powerful, Vanessa Grey. Are you his wife?”

Vanessa blinked and suddenly her heart was in her eyes as she looked at Iain. “Am I?”

He smiled warmly. “Not just yet, but soon I think.”

Dominique’s eyes widened. “That’s right. She predates Ninhursag and you’ve already married her.”

“I have never bought into this order of marriage thing based on time in the family,” Iain said firmly.

“We know,” the Archmage replied. “It’s a harem thing.”

“Whatever.”

Vanessa slipped her arm through his. “What did I miss?”

“It turns out there are more than four hundred and fifty of those transport crates,” he pointed at that one Caspa had shown them, “just like that one that we have to haul out of here. Instead of spending the next month moving them by hand, I’ve gotten permission to land a shuttle here and load them with grav lifter equipped drones. The shuttle should be here in less than half an hour. Until then we wait.”

11/02/09 0430 Michael Ahern House, Ireland

“Ciaran?”

His eyes opened and he tried to sit up, only to realize Ceres was bracing her arm to hold him down as she sat up. Fire flared from her hand to reveal Baker. “What is it, Tamsin,” the Tantrasaur asked. “Are we under attack?”

“No.” Baker was dressed. “There’s a courier from Queen Ygerna waiting for us in the woods. He wants to talk to Ciaran.”

Ceres looked at him. “I’ll get the others ready while you dress. Do not leave without us.”

“I won’t.” Ciaran sat up as Ceres rolled out from under the thin sheet they were using. Her body temperature was high enough that a blanket just made him sweat when they slept together. It had to be way below freezing for Ceres to notice it. “Tamsin, I’m nude. Can I have some privacy?”

Baker chuckled. “Yes, Ciaran, although I must admit I’m tempted to peek. Libby is great in bed but I don’t prefer women, as a point in fact.”

“That doesn’t matter,” he said as she left the stall he’d been sharing with Ceres. “We both know you like me, but not that way.”

Her voice floated over the wall as he quickly washed and began getting dressed. “And just how do you know that, mister?”

“We’ve been traveling together for three months,” was his response. “We’d have already hooked up if you were really interested. You never said or did anything to let me know.”

There was silence for several seconds as he pulled on his boots. “Do you mean I could have been getting laid by you,” Baker asked incredulously.

He stepped out of the stall. “You said there’s a courier somewhere?”

She gave him a brief glare. “Answer the question.”

“I think you already have.” He shrugged when her glare became almost laser hot. “Tamsin, I certainly wasn’t going to make a move on you. You’re my only conduit to your queen and I am not going to jeopardize that by thinking with my little head.”

Elsa joined them. “You missed out, Tamsin,” she said teasingly. For once her tone wasn’t cruel, just teasing. “It’s ok, though. I got this one for you.”

“Stop teasing my mistress,” Libby said as she showed up.

“It’s your fault she’s still horny,” Elsa pointed out.

Libby shook her head. “No, it’s not. I don’t have the right genitalia to scratch that particular itch for my mistress.”

Ciaran was glad it was dark enough that nobody could see the heat he could feel on his cheeks. “I’m going outside so you can continue girl talk without me.” With that he shoved past Elsa and out of the barn.

Was my behavior too much, Elsa asked through her twee.

I really didn’t think she was interested. He waved to Victoria on the roof and she dropped down next to him. “I think I may have found a problem,” he said in a low voice as they moved away from the barn. “Tamsin may be interested in sex with me.”

Victoria sighed. “I was concerned this might happen. I know she prefers men and we’ve been traveling together for a while. How do you feel about it?”

“She didn’t make any sort of sign so I didn’t worry about it. Now? Now I’ve got five women in my life.”

“Then if she asks we’ll tell her exactly that.” Victoria wrapped her arm through his. “She waited too long and missed her chance. It happens to lots of people. Is this why you are up?”

“No, Tamsin said there’s someone around here from Ygerna and that he wants to talk to me. It’s one of her couriers.”

“I haven’t seen any strangers but I did see her go out with Libby and come back a few minutes ago. Then went and came back from the southeast.” Victoria’s lip compressed. “Then I should get my pack. If this is the summons to a meeting we should be ready to go.” She looked around. “Ceres had better hurry up. It’s not like she has to put on clothes or anything.”

“Hey,” Ciaran said, “that’s not nice. A hat can take a while to get properly positioned.”

Victoria gave him a curious look. “Are you serious?”

“I am, but not in this case. Ceres is not one of the dowagers I used to see in church with their huge hats. Do you want me to wait here while you go hurry Ceres up?”

“I would, but I don’t want you alone right now. There’s an unknown wizard not too far from here and the first one attacked you.” Kentarch came out and Victoria waved her over.

The Haunting was wearing her pack and carrying a second one. She offered it to Victoria. “Ceres wanted me to bring your pack to you. She and Elsa will be out in a minute with their gear and Ciaran’s pack.”

Victoria nodded. “What’s taking so long?”

“Ceres had to wash up. She was with Ciaran last night.”

“Oh. Yes, she was.” Victoria gave him a look.

“What?” Ciaran grinned. “I know you’re not expecting me to be chaste.”

“If she does,” Kentarch said, “let it be only when she’s with you.”

Ciaran frowned. “Why is Elsa coming out of the house? She was in the barn.”

Elsa joined the group. “I come bringing some biscuits and cheese I nicked from Aunt Linda’s pantry. I also left a note in case we have to leave.”

Tamsin, Libby and Ceres exited the barn. Baker eyed him but didn’t say anything for a moment. “Why are you carrying all your equipment?”

“This could be the summons from your queen.”

She gave him a nasty smile. “Oh, did I forget to mention that it’s not?” Her smile became apologetic. “Sorry. I’m just aggravated right now. Later we’ll need to continue that discussion we were just having.”

He nodded. “We will. So we’re not going anywhere today?”

Baker shook her head. “No. I don’t know what Her Majesty’s message is but I am certain we’re not meeting with her tonight. It’s not her way. I know this courier, he’s not a knight. He is a mage though but you shouldn’t fear his spells. He is here just to deliver the message.”

Elsa looked around. “So where is he?”

Spirit appeared. She pointed to their left. “He is a hundred and nine meters that way, trying to use some bushes as cover. I am watching him with a drone in case he becomes aggressive.”

“Isn’t that a bit paranoid,” Libby asked.

Spirit looked at her evenly. “Of the two members of the Order of Pendragon we have met so far, one of them has attacked us. So, as a group, the Order of Pendragon currently has a fifty percent attack probability. I am not being paranoid. If I were, we would recover his message from his corpse.”

Libby shook her head. “Why do I even ask?”

Baker scratched Libby behind an ear. The Nekomata leaned into her touch as Baker smiled. “You’re an optimist, that’s why. Sadly, the Order has not comported itself around Ciaran with the dignity I would have liked to see in its senior knights either, so I’m not going to be critical of what Spirit is doing unless she opens fire without a good reason for it.”

“Yes, mistress.”

Baker gave her one last scratch. “And just so everyone is aware of it, if a Queen’s messenger dies his messages die with him.”

“How is that possible,” Victoria asked.

“You will see.”

“So,” Elsa asked, “are we going to go see this courier or will he shout his message?”

Iain eyed the cloudy sky. Tonight the moon was full, but thanks to the thick banks of clouds it might as well not be there. “Ceres, shake us out into a travel formation. While the knight might not be dangerous there can always be ferals and it is very dark.”

“My drones are not affected by low light conditions,” Spirit said quietly. “Orbiting drones overhead will free up Elsa and Victoria for ground operations. I wouldn’t recommend it all the time because of other limitations with the drones, but the knight is out there and I do not trust him. Elsa and Victoria are our magical pokegirls and tactically they should be close to the knight.”

Ceres nodded. “That makes sense. Victoria, you’re on point. Kentarch, you’re rear guard. Elsa, you’re with me. Spirit has Ciaran and CAP.”

Baker frowned. “CAP?”

“Combat air patrol,” Spirit replied as she moved to stand with Ciaran. “I pointed out to Ceres that the military has a lot of terms for things we do and uses them to avoid confusion. If we have confusion among our ranks, as thin as they are, Ciaran among others could be killed. So we are adopting military terminology where we can. No, we are not going far, but it is night, there is no moonlight and on a dark night even normally unaggressive ferals will come close to a house looking for crops and trash to pick through.”

“Let’s get going,” Ciaran said.

“Yes, sir.”

The most distinguishing feature of the courier, Ciaran decided, was his huge unruly shock of tow colored hair. It was so light that it gleamed in the night. He watched them approach. “That took long enough,” he muttered irritably. “I thought I heard something and I really don’t want to be attacked by a monster.”

Ciaran didn’t smile. He might have heard Victoria moving past him to include him in the area she protected, but it was also likely that the nervous man had missed her entirely and focused on forest noises. Of course, there could be ferals around, but after their hunting he doubted it. Of course, when you knew there were no ferals was usually when you got attacked. That’s why he was glad for the drone orbiting silently overhead. “I’m Ciaran. You already know Dame Tamsin. I understand you have a message for me?”

Baker nodded towards the courier. “Robert is a squire in the service of my queen and someday soon he will become a knight.”

Robert smiled at her. “Thank you, Dame Tamsin; your words are too kind.” He turned to Ciaran. “I bear a message from My Queen for Ciaran Declan Sullivan. Are you he?”

“I am.”

Robert shook his head. “I need you to state who you are and say your full name to activate the message.”

Ciaran glanced at Baker, who nodded firmly. “I am Ciaran Declan Sullivan.”

Robert stiffened, his eyes turning golden and glowing softly. “I,” he said in a feminine voice, “am Ygerna, Queen of the Sidhe and Beneficent Creator and Sovereign Ruler of the Order of Pendragon and I bid you greetings, Ciaran Declan Sullivan.” The eyes swept the group and he nodded to Baker. “Dame Tamsin, I greet thee as well. You need not fear. The method in which you delivered Ciaran Declan Sullivan’s message to me was necessary and you shall suffer not for it.”

Baker nodded. “Thank you for your mercy, My Queen.”

The squire’s attention returned to Ciaran. “After reviewing your message, I have decided that the next death of the moon shall be an auspicious time for a meeting between us, as it heralds new beginnings and good favor. At that time, Dame Tamsin will bring you to the Order and thence to my private chambers,” Tamsin sucked air in surprise, “where we shall meet. Bring all of the messages your employer wishes me to receive and bring all of your pokegirls as well. I wish to meet them too.” The squire paused and looked at Ciaran expectantly.

Ciaran bowed. “I understand and I will obey.”

“I expect no less from you, messenger,” the squire said coolly. He turned to Baker. “Dame Tamsin, I charge you to bring this man and his pokegirls before me at moonrise on next death of the moon. Allow none to dissuade you from your task,” the squire’s lips thinned slightly, “not even those senior to you in the ranks of the Order. In this, to them you speak with my voice and you follow my will.”

Baker bowed deeply. “I understand and I obey with zeal, My Queen.”

The gold faded from the squire’s eyes and he took a deep, shaky breath. “You have received the message from My Queen. Obey it with all dispatch.”

Baker touched Robert on the shoulder. “You have done well, squire.”

He bobbed his head gratefully. “Thank you, Dame Tamsin. Am I to receive a reply?”

Baker shook her head. “No reply is necessary for the message you brought,” she said gently. “You are free to continue on.”

“Does he need anything to eat,” Victoria said from behind Robert. The squire whirled, his hand going to his pocket. “Don’t do anything hasty,” she said warningly. “I haven’t offered you a threat of any kind.” She waited to make sure nothing was going to happen. “We would like to be hospitable. Would you like some food or drink?”

Robert shook his head. “I thank you, but I have many miles to travel this night and I am not hungry.”

“May Her Majesty protect you in your travels,” Baker intoned formally.

“And may she protect you as well,” he said. He pulled the hood of his cloak up and instantly the garment took on the color and pattern of his surroundings making him difficult to see as he headed into the night.

Interesting, Elsa said to Ciaran through her twee. He became hard to scent, too. I’d like to learn that magic.

Ciaran watched the squire go before looking at Baker. “I have to ask. Was that actually Her Majesty talking to us or was it some kind of emulation spell that reacted to events around it?”

Baker chuckled. “That spell is one that only Her Majesty uses for her messengers. She has never taught it to anyone else and no one has ever seen it being cast, other than the messenger who retains no memory of the event or of the message itself either before or after he gives it.” A smile spread on her face. “And no one knows the answer to that question. Nobody has had the temerity to question Her Majesty about it and she has never volunteered the information as far as I know.”

“I see,” Ciaran said slowly. “Well, I guess it doesn’t matter then.”

Ceres looked around. “Ok, we’re headed back to the barn,” she looked at Ciaran, “unless you have other plans.”

He checked the time, grimacing. “It’s nearly five. Uncle Mike and Aunt Linda will be up in an hour.”

“I vote for sleep,” Elsa said, “and Victoria can’t vote.”

“I know,” the Angel smiled, “I’m on watch and have to stay up no matter what.”

“I vote sleep too,” Tamsin held up her hand, “even if I can’t vote.”

Elsa grinned. “Since you agree with me, you can this time.”

Ciaran shrugged. “Back to bed it is.” As they walked back to the barn he looked at Tamsin. “What is the death of the moon?”

“It’s the new moon. It’s considered a good time to start new projects.”

Ciaran checked his computer. “The next new moon is November 16th.”

Baker nodded. “That’s when I take you to meet with my queen.” She yawned hugely. “Now if you’ll excuse me I would like some personal time with my pillow.” She tapped Libby on the shoulder. “Come along, pillow.” Libby grinned happily and followed her mistress into the barn.

“I wonder if that works for me,” Ceres mused. She tapped Ciaran on the chest. “Come along, pillow.” She grabbed the fabric of his shirt and dragged him inside. Elsa laughed softly as he vanished.

11/04/09 0645 Jeremiah Ahern House, Ireland

A red point appeared in his vision and Ciaran carefully aimed at it. He fired. The grenade blew the wooden beam in two and the entire house groaned as part of the roof shifted. That should relieve enough stress on the structure for cautious entry, his twee said to him. The upper portion of the building is still lethally unstable, so do not climb the stairs or try to land on the roof.

Ciaran pulled the magazine from his shotgun and added a round from a pouch on his pokepack. “It should be safe to enter as long as we stay on the ground floor. Do not try to go upstairs or the building may come down.”

Jeremiah was staring at the beam. “What kind of shotgun is that?”

“It fires rounds that are tiny grenades.” He slapped the magazine home and dropped the weapon to dangle from the sling. “They’ll work in any shotgun that doesn’t have a choke on it.”

Victoria stopped in front of him, planting her spear as she looked up into his eyes. “Please remember the conversation we had this morning. I would prefer it if you didn’t enter the ruin. We’re going to have enough trouble protecting Jeremiah while he salvages what he can.”

Ciaran nodded. “Trust me; my ears are still ringing from this morning. In any case, I’m not a total idiot and have no plans to go in there. Besides, the truth is that I wouldn’t know what he wanted to take.” Ceres shifted to her battle form and flopped down in a grassy area full of sunlight. Ciaran grinned and sat down where he could lean against her back. “I’m good, Victoria. You and Elsa have Jeremiah.”

Jeremiah was staring at Ceres now. “My God,” he breathed before crossing himself. “Sorry, Lord,” he said with a glance at the sky. “She is huge.”

“That is her battle form,” Victoria explained as she took him by the elbow and headed for the house.

“Do you have a battle form, Victoria?”

She smiled. “Many pokegirls do not have battle forms, Jeremiah. I do have wings but I don’t have a different form for battle.” Her smile faded. “I am the only one of Ciaran’s girls who doesn’t have a battle form, although I’ve never seen Elsa’s.”

“And you won’t, either,” Elsa said as she came around the corner of the house. “Well, if we ever have a fight to the death you might, but otherwise I doubt it.” She eyed the house. “I know it’s supposed to be safe enough, but that thing screams death trap.”

“We will not be inside long,” Jeremiah said bitterly. “Most of the things I’d want to save are in my bedroom on the second floor or are in the attic.”

Elsa looked at him for a long moment. “When we’re done with the first floor, if you’d like we can carefully collapse the second floor and see if we can salvage something for you.”

He frowned. “I thought you wanted to kill me.” Victoria choked and he chuckled. “That is what she said.”

“I can be helpful now,” Elsa said with a smile. “That doesn’t mean I won’t kill you later if the opportunity presents itself.” Victoria made a strangled noise and glared at the Mazouku, who ignored her completely.

Jeremiah laughed out loud. “I like you. Honesty is important.”

Elsa’s smile widened. “If you want honesty I have a long list of things I can say to you.” Jeremiah chuckled and her smile faded. “But now that you’re not trying to kill my man you’re not that bad.” She eyed the house again. “You need a pokegirl of your own.”

Jeremiah stopped. “Why,” he asked bluntly. “You told Michael that he needs one too. Why would I want one?”

“She will protect and care for you,” Elsa answered calmly. “A pokegirl would either have driven off the Wasps or at least evacuated you if things went badly. And no one should be alone like you are. We go feral and lose our humanity. Humans go mad.” A smile flashed across her face and was gone. “I guess we’re not that different after all.”

“I’m not alone,” Jeremiah said defensively.

“I thought you prized honesty,” Elsa retorted. “And yet you lie to me now?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Jeremiah said evasively.

“I have spoken to Mike and Linda. You are alone. You have no friends and little family and you don’t see them either. According to Linda, this is the most she’s seen you since she married Mike. You didn’t even attend their wedding.”

Jeremiah looked at Victoria. “Do you agree with her?”

Victoria looked at the pain in his eyes and steeled herself. “I do, although I would not have brought it up.”

“Why not?”

“You might wish to be mad.”

Jeremiah stared at her for several seconds, his mouth moving without making a noise. Finally he shook his head. “Perhaps I already am.”

“No, you’re not,” Victoria assured him. “You are not anywhere close to stable, but you’re not insane.” She had been walking with them around the house and stopped. “That looks like the safest place to enter.” She looked at Jeremiah. “This is going to be very dangerous. The upper structure seems stable, but I don’t trust it.”

He gave her a smirk. “Would you allow Ciaran inside?”

Her face smoothed into blankness. “Does the fact that he wanted to help and we shouted him down tell you anything?” She smiled at his shocked expression. “What you saw a few minutes ago was me politely reminding him of our earlier discussion.”

Elsa put her pack on the ground, dropped to her hands and knees and crawled through the hole Victoria had indicated. She pulled the pack through and put it to the side as she stood and looked around. “She is often polite after she gets the yelling out of her system. This area isn’t as bad as I expected. There’s nearly a foot or so over my head.”

“Why did you bring your pack,” Jeremiah asked as he crawled in with her.

“Pokepacks can store a lot more than they look like they can. I emptied mine this morning so all its storage is available for your stuff.”

Jeremiah looked around with a sad expression. “This house was built in 1725 by an Ahern. It’s held my family ever since. The very building is part of my legacy and would someday have gone to Michael. How do you pick and choose the trinkets you would save from this?”

Victoria patted him on the shoulder. “Mike said that the top floor would have to be demolished, but that most of the walls of the first floor could be saved and would be kept as part of the new building.”

He sighed. “I should be grateful for that, but right now I’m just numb. Why did the Wasps do so much damage to my home?”

Elsa shrugged. “You shot one of them. That angered the others and they may have been smashing through the house looking for more people to take that rage out on. A lot of insects release pheromones when they’re distressed which agitates the rest of the colony. Insect pokegirls do the same thing.” She looked around. “But it really doesn’t matter, Jeremiah.” He looked at her and she nodded. “It’s done. There is nothing we can do to prevent what has already happened. Now we have to deal with it.” She hefted the pokepack. “This is the start of that.”

He grimaced. “You’re right. We’ll start in the library.”

11/09/09 1230 Rionach Sullivan House, Ireland

Ciaran stretched slowly, listening to muscles pop. Rionach cocked her head. “Are you all right?”

“I presume you’ve heard what happened to Jeremiah’s house?” She nodded and he continued. “We’ve spent the last five days helping him clean out everything we can before they demolish the second floor.” He glanced over to where Spirit and Kentarch were sitting on the floor together. “Spirit figured out she could phase furniture so we could move it out of the wreckage. Most of it was pretty heavy.”

Rionach smiled. “I am proud that you managed to reach him through his grief. He is a decent man at heart.” She glanced around the room. “How did you manage to divert Captain Baker?”

“We didn’t have to do anything,” Ceres replied. “Some members of the Irish Army heard a British officer was around and took her off to consult with her on tactics and such.” She shook her head slightly. “I suspect that involves a lot of storytelling and drinking.” She sipped at her tea. “This is very good. I haven’t had tea like this before.”

“It’s not tea as you’d recognize it before things fell apart,” Rionach said. “We can’t grow tea here in Ireland but we can grow herbs and steep them in an infusion that we call tea.” She gestured at the tray. “Sugar we grow from beets, but true tea is as impossible to get as coffee.” She looked expectantly at Ciaran. “Can you get me tea to sell?”

Ciaran frowned. Tea is not grown in the old US or United Kingdom, his twee offered. China, India, Turkey, Japan and Kenya are the largest producers. All are in turmoil right now, and would have to be approached carefully to protect you and your women. Eriu could produce it in time, but she would require tea seeds and the plants take a decade to grow to a productive size. She should be able to shorten that, but not to months and she’ll still need seeds.

“I don’t know,” he said slowly. “The problem is that anywhere I could think to buy tea they’re likely to shoot me and take my ladies if at all possible.”

“They’d try,” Elsa said with a quick flash of teeth.

“Fine, they’ll try,” he said with a smile. “I just don’t want to be shot again. So right now I can’t think of a way to get you tea.”

Rionach gave an exaggerated sigh. “I guess I can’t expect miracles from you all of the time, Ciaran.”

“He’s done miracles,” Kentarch asked.

Rionach nodded. “He’s here in my home. That is a small miracle. And soon I shall see my only remaining child, his wife and my granddaughter. That’s a miracle too.” She looked into her teacup. “I had despaired that I was the last of the Sullivan family,” she looked up, “and now I find that there is a new generation of Sullivans. I could easily have died without ever knowing they existed.”

“And now you’ll see them for Christmas,” Victoria added with a smile.

“And now I’ll see them for Christmas,” Rionach agreed. “You have one more relative here, Ciaran. Shannon is a Sheehan and is my cousin’s granddaughter.” She eyed him speculatively. “She’s also unmarried.”

Ciaran grinned. “Now you’re acting like grandmothers are supposed to.”

“And as my grandson, your response should be to seek out Shannon and court her.”

“No, I don’t think so,” he replied. “I have five women in my life and I couldn’t pay Shannon the attention I’m sure she deserves. I also really doubt she’d want anything to do with me after I informed her that I’m not changing my relationship with them for her, either.”

“Are you that set in your ways? Surely the right woman could convince you otherwise?”

“I have the right women in my life right now,” Ciaran said firmly. “I’m good. And my mother says I get my stubbornness from Jeremiah.”

Elsa got up and walked over to Ciaran. She turned his chair slightly and delicately sat down crossways in his lap. Purring, she rubbed her cheeks against his. “I speak for all of us when I say that you say the most wonderful things,” she said quietly. She turned slightly and her ears half flattened as she looked at Rionach. “As for you, you stop meddling with my man.”

Rionach pealed with laughter. The door cracked open and a worried looking Shannon peered into the room. “Lady, is everything all right?”

Rionach took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “It is, Shannon. Someone told a very funny joke and it surprised me.”

“Yes, Lady.”

Shannon started to close the door when Ceres spoke up. “Shannon, how old are you?”

Shannon blinked. “I am sixteen, miss.” When nobody else said anything, she shut the door again.

“That settles that,” Ciaran said. “Even if I were inclined, she’s too young. Where I grew up, she is still young enough to go to prison for having sex with her.”

“That doesn’t mean the same thing anymore,” Rionach pointed out. “She is old enough for a husband.”

“That’s her decision,” Ciaran replied. “And from what I just saw when you lied to her about why you were laughing, she has no idea you’re matchmaking. If you want to introduce her to eligible young men, that’s one thing. But to do it behind her back is another. I can’t countenance that.”

Rionach nodded. “Your parents raised you well. I am pleased. I will speak to Shannon later about eligible young men.”

“Of which he is not one,” Victoria said.

“Of which Ciaran is not one,” Rionach said. She leaned back in her chair. “When you were last here, you said you would give me a computer and show me how to use it.”

Ciaran motioned to Victoria, who produced a handheld from her pocket. “Indeed I did, Rionach, indeed I did.”

11/10/09 0830 Michael Ahern House, Ireland

As the pokeball sucked up the last of her sisters, the Eva looked around desperately for an avenue of escape. She suddenly charged Victoria, only to lunge to the side and dart past the swiftly spinning Angel. Victoria’s spear vanished and she fired a mana bolt at the Eva’s back. The impact of the magical bolt only made the Eva run faster.

The Eva dove for some bushes. If she could break contact, she knew that her chance of escape was almost certain. She laughed as she disappeared into them, only to shriek once as she came flying back out to crash to the ground flat on her back. Elsa stepped out of the bush, chuckling. “I called that one right.” Her wings unfurled and one of them slammed down, the iron hard bone running along the top of the wing taking the Eva in the back of the head as she muzzily sat up. The Eva was smashed to the ground again, her body twitching violently as her brain tried to reboot from the sudden impact.

Elsa summoned an energy blade and drove it through the Eva’s torso twice before she pressed a pokeball between the pokegirl’s small breasts. Then she looked up as the Eva vanished. “What’s today’s score?”

Victoria’s smile was serene. “So far it’s three for you and five for me with two for Ceres.”

Elsa scowled and picked up the pokeball. “Isn’t pride a deadly sin?”

Victoria snickered. “It is for a pack of Eva who think they can raid Uncle Mike’s grain silo.”

“They talk too much,” Spirit commented quietly to Ciaran, “when they should be hunting.” Elsa, Victoria and Ceres were sweeping the area around Mike’s house after they’d seen signs that pokegirls were interested in his grain. Kentarch was on the roof of the silo and keeping an eye out for new threats while they were fighting and Spirit was guarding Ciaran.

“Competition makes them push harder,” he replied just as quietly. “And verbal sparring is just as important to Elsa as physical sparring is. It’s her way of not using drones on a harem sister.”

“Why is it that they don’t want me to hunt? I could have caught all ten of the pokegirls we caught today without help.”

“And the fact that you’re not bragging is exactly why they want you guarding me.”

Spirit gave him a puzzled look. “I don’t understand.” Her eyes narrowed. “No, I do. Now I don’t understand why.”

“They want to fight just as much as you do and if you’re out there they most likely won’t because you’re just as greedy as they are and don’t like to share.”

“I can’t help it. They’re just so slow.”

“Then what you should do is catch some and then stand back and let them fight. If there are leakers then you can get involved. It would be like if that Eva had gotten into those bushes without Elsa being waiting for her. Then you could have caught it to help Victoria.”

Spirit made an amused sound. “I don’t need to help anyone. I could have caught all of them without help.”

Ciaran watched her out of the corner of his eye as he considered how some people who were so smart about some things could miss the obvious in other ways. Then he had an idea. “Would you say that this is war?”

Sprit turned to look at him. “Elsa warned me that sometimes you change subjects without warning and that I probably will not like where the conversation goes after that. Is this one of those?”

“We’ll see. You may actually like it. So, is this war?”

Spirit faded slightly as she considered. “No,” she finally said, becoming material once more, “this is not war.” She frowned. “But if we fight a pokegirl powerful enough it could become war.”

“I’ll agree to that.” He smiled. “Would you agree that Victoria, Ceres and Elsa are currently vying for status by who has the highest number of captures?”

She nodded. “I would.”

“So this becomes a squabble for status between harem sisters and therefore drones shouldn’t be used.”

Spirit’s mouth dropped and she stared at him in shock for several seconds before recovering. “You think I should limit my abilities when hunting ferals? The others don’t.”

“That’s not true. Neither Ceres nor Elsa use their battle form against them.”

Spirit snorted. “I haven’t seen Elsa’s battle form yet. Maybe she’s using it now and I just don’t recognize it.”

“Elsa hasn’t used it yet but has hinted that it’s very large.” He glanced at her again and decided to sink the harpoon home. “By giving the others a sporting chance you will prove to them that you want to compete fairly with them and so they’ll let you join them more often.” He waved a hand when she started to speak. “Now I will admit that putting a drone overhead is a smart thing if you only use it for spotting and you give location information to your sisters if they’re closer to the target than you are.” He turned back to watching the girls spread out to begin searching again. “You do have other abilities, right?”

“Of course I do,” Spirit almost snarled.

“I haven’t seen much of them and, more importantly, neither has Kentarch. How is she going to help teach our children what it means to be a Kentarch if she doesn’t know?”

“Elsa was right.” Her voice was flat. “I don’t like where this conversation went.”

“Would you like to hear that next time we hunt ferals I’ll insist you be one of the hunters so you can prove you want to play fairly and after that they should start a rotation of who gets to be my guard and who hunts. If they don’t rotate, I’ll insist they do.”

There was a long pause. “That I would like.”

Ciaran Sullivan

Victoria – Angel

Ceres – Tantrasaur

Elsa – Mazouku

Spirit – Astral Kentarch

Kentarch – Haunting

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