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A Little Blue
11/11/09 0710 Michael Ahern House, Ireland
Kentarch, Spirit and Victoria were chasing some feral Milktits who’d decided they could succeed where Eva couldn’t. Up ahead, Ceres waited in hiding for them to be herded to her. Ciaran was beginning to wonder just how high the feral population was. They were seeing more ferals, not less. After destroying the Wasp nest it was like there was outside pressure forcing ferals into their now empty territory. If that were true, it meant the idea that the feral situation was currently stable was much less tenable than he’d previously thought.
Elsa laughed as a Milktit changed direction in mid sprint to avoid Ceres’ sudden appearance and ran straight into a tree, knocking herself out. Her laugh died abruptly. “Jeremiah is coming.”
Ciaran turned and watched his grandfather join them before returning his attention to his ladies and the Milktits. “Morning, Jeremiah.”
“Morning, Ciaran.” Ahern watched the pitched battle for a moment. “These, ah, ferals, is that what they’re called?” Ciaran nodded. “Those ferals have the biggest breasts I’ve ever seen.”
“That they do. They produce a lot of high milkfat milk,” Ciaran said. “People are starting to tame small herds of this particular breed, which is called Milktit, to replace cattle where they’re too rare to do anything but breed.”
“How much is a lot?”
“I think the average is around fifteen gallons a day per pokegirl. And they can live on forage that would kill a cow. But you really should have a combat breed around too if you are ranching Milktits. They are not fighters. If stressed enough, one of them will evolve into a fighter type but she’ll stop making milk when she does.”
“What does evolve mean?”
“Under the right conditions a pokegirl can change her physical form. It’s kind of like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. The change takes place in seconds, though. It’s called evolution. She becomes a new breed, usually one that is more powerful than her previous breed and often with different abilities. Sometimes the change is very substantial. They remember things from before they evolved and will usually remain faithful to a tamer, but sometimes their personality can change too.”
“I see.” Ahern was quiet for a few minutes. “While you were out yesterday, Rionach Sullivan came by. She is a most annoying woman. I never understood why Noah put up with her or ever wanted to marry her.”
Ciaran looked at him. “What did she want?”
“She came by to see you, but since you were out she did take the opportunity to show off the new toy that her grandson had given her. Imagine her delight when she found out I didn’t have one.”
Ciaran winced. “I have one for you.”
Elsa looked at Ahern. “Jeremiah, we didn’t think about it. When Ciaran told Rionach he’d give her a computer you’d just told him to sod off. At that point I still wanted to eat your kidneys.” She smiled at him. “Preferably right after I’d pulled them out of your torso so you could watch me.”
“Elsa,” Ciaran said warningly.
“No threat,” she responded. “I was just telling the truth.”
“I still think you’re backsliding.”
“Hey, I don’t want to eat his kidneys now. He’s become sort of OK.”
Ciaran and Jeremiah exchanged a look. “I’ll bite,” the younger man said. “What is sort of OK?”
It’s pretty much how I regard anyone who isn’t part of our family.” She smiled. “One day I would like to take him out and get him drunk enough to see what kind of stories he can tell about Michael and Linda or your parents.”
Jeremiah laughed softly. “Make sure you offer me a decent rum or brandy and you can do that any day, Elsa.”
He shook his head. “Whiskey is for everyday drinking. You want good stories you have to get good alcohol.”
Elsa’s ears flicked as she grimaced. “I had to find the one Irishman who isn’t a cheap drunk.”
“I might have been, but you promised me rum or brandy.”
“No I didn’t.” She looked at Ciaran. “Did I?”
“No, you didn’t but Jeremiah believes you can get it.”
“Damn.” She blinked. “Sorry. Nuts.”
“Ciaran doesn’t like profanity and he doesn’t want us to use it either.”
Jeremiah looked at Ciaran. “You don’t?”
“I believe a man can make himself perfectly understood without profanity. Besides it’s too easy to go from profanity to blasphemy without even realizing it.”
Jeremiah nodded. “True. Where did you learn that?”
“My parents taught it to me.”
Jeremiah shook his head. “Rafael was always a man of few words. I shouldn’t continue to be surprised that he seems to also have been a good father.”
Ciaran smiled slightly. “You’ve been angry at him for two decades. It’s a wonder you didn’t believe he raised me on human blood and flesh.”
“I suppose that is true,” Jeremiah said slowly. “However, I have to work past that. He isn’t that way and I will be seeing him and the rest of your family soon.” He leaned against a tree, watching as Ceres and the others finished up catching the Milktits. “Is your sister married?”
“No. According to her, finding a man that father approves of and that she approves of is proving rather difficult.” Jeremiah turned to look at him and Ciaran shrugged. “I don’t think she’s looking all that hard right now. There are some guys in town interested in her, but I think that’s mainly because she’s pretty. Most of them don’t know her and she’s not interested in knowing them.” Ciaran smiled again. “When he’s not busy feeding us human flesh, my father is a fine, upstanding man and, whether she’s aware of it or no, my sister compares the men she meets to him. I don’t think she’s found one that measures up yet.”
“She’s looking,” Elsa said. “We’ve talked about it with her and Neem. She’s just picky, which she should be. She is a Sullivan after all and none of us should settle for a substandard male. And you’re right; she uses her father as an example of what a good man should be like. She also uses you as one too.” She gave both of them that satisfied cat’s smile.
Jeremiah and Ciaran exchanged a long look. Finally Ciaran chuckled. “I can’t argue with that.”
“As she’s my granddaughter, neither can I.” Jeremiah looked over the field again. Ceres and the others were collecting pokeballs. “What are your plans for the rest of the day?”
“I want to hunt to the south. The Wasp hive was north of here and I want to see what the feral population looks like south of Uncle Mike’s place. It’s a good time to do a quick sweep since Tamsin and Libby are off with the Irish soldiers again.” He glanced at his grandfather. “What about you?”
Jeremiah shrugged. “Michael and I have hired some men to watch my flocks and I have no winter crops. I have nothing to do. When I was younger I used to dream of a time when I had nothing to do. Now it just frustrates me.”
Ciaran looked at Elsa. She gave a brief nod. “Jeremiah,” Ciaran said, “would you like to come with us? It could be dangerous.”
“I would,” Jeremiah replied. “I want to know more about pokegirls.”
“We’ll leave in a few minutes,” Ciaran was watching the pokeball search. “Do you have any weapons?”
Jeremiah shook his head. “I do not.”
“Do you know how to use an M16?”
“I do not.”
Ciaran used his twee to broadcast to all of his women. Jeremiah is going to go hunting with us today. He’ll stay with me and I’m going to teach him how to use the M16.
Victoria replied. Wouldn’t it be easier just to let him use a shotgun? I still have the two I acquired from the woodcutters in my pack. If they aren’t choked he could use your ammunition. If not, there were forty or so rounds of buckshot that I got with them.
I’ll see. Ciaran looked thoughtful for a minute. “Jeremiah, a while ago we ended up in possession of some shotguns. Victoria should still have them. Would you rather use them?”
Jeremiah nodded. “I would. I’ve never owned a rifle.”
A few minutes later Victoria handed him both shotguns and the bag of shells. He looked over the single shot and almost sneered as he handed it back. “This is crap.” The over and under he looked at carefully. “This is a fine weapon and it’s in excellent condition. Where did you get this?”
Victoria blinked and looked at Ciaran, who smiled. “We acquired both weapons at the same time after their owners tried to use them on me. It’s yours if you want it.”
Jeremiah looked at Ciaran. “This is a grand gift, Ciaran. Thank you.”
Victoria chuckled. “Now just don’t use it today.” Jeremiah looked confused and she continued. “We are Ciaran’s primary weapons. His shotgun, and yours too, should only be used as a last resort when we are hunting pokegirls. Many of them will not be injured by buckshot and you’d only serve to anger them and focus that anger on you and anyone standing around you, which would be Ciaran.”
“I said I let them do most of the fighting,” Ciaran said softly. “I get yelled at when I don’t.” Jeremiah’s eyebrows rose. “I put up with the yelling because Victoria is usually right.”
“And because she’s good in bed,” Elsa commented. Victoria shot her a look that made the Mazouku’s ears flatten halfway. “Are you going to tell me you aren’t?”
Victoria’s voice was low with suppressed anger. “I’m going to tell you not to discuss my sex life with our grandfather. I wouldn’t do that to you.”
Victoria turned to Ciaran. “I would like a ruling on that, sir,” she said formally. “This is a violation of my privacy.”
Ciaran looked thoughtful for a moment. “Jeremiah is here, he is part of this conversation and Elsa was discussing, albeit vaguely, Victoria and sex. I am going to have to rule in Victoria’s favor on this one.”
Elsa’s ears went completely flat and slowly rose. “What do you want?”
Victoria smiled thinly. “I want two apologies. I want the first for doing it in the first place and the second for lying about it when I called you on it.”
Elsa’s eyes had narrowed to slits as Victoria spoke. She forced them to relax and turned to Ciaran. “Do I have to grovel in front of Jeremiah?” Her voice said she was still pissed.
He shook his head. “No. Get me another guard first.”
Thank you, she said with her twee. “Kentarch,” she roared loudly enough to make Jeremiah jump. The Haunting turned and looked quizzically at them. “You are relieving me!”
For an instant Kentarch seemed to be in two places at once as she teleported from where she’d been standing to next to Elsa. “I have him,” she said.
Elsa looked at Ciaran again. “It’s moments like this one that make me believe that profanity has its place in the scheme of things. I can think of a lot of it I’d like to use right now.” He shrugged and she grimaced. “Come on then.” She led Victoria away.
“What was that about,” Jeremiah asked quietly as he watched them disappear into a small grove of trees.
“If you put two pokegirls in the same room, unless one of them is completely submissive to the other they will have three differing opinions between them. So they spat sometimes and I get to arbitrate.”
“That’s not true,” Kentarch said. “There will still be three different opinions. It is just that the submissive one will not feel strong enough to voice hers. If the situation changes and she gets the upper hand or just feels she’s equal to the first, she will voice her opinions as quickly and as much as we do.”
“I suppose that’s true.” He scratched his chin idly. “However, when they do spat, one of my jobs is to referee the disagreement lest it come to pokegirl techniques at point blank range. My ladies have learned that if they come to me with a problem I will play Solomon and sit judgment on the issue, with the understanding that my decision is final.”
Ceres and Spirit had joined them while he was talking. The Tantrasaur smiled at him but spoke to Jeremiah. “The fact that his decisions are almost always impartial only helps to encourage us to come to him with these inter-harem problems.”
Ciaran gave her a curious look. “I’m almost always impartial?”
She gave him a quick hug. “There’s no way you could always be impartial and still be human, Ciaran.” She cocked her head. “What brought up this discussion?”
Kentarch snickered. “Elsa got in trouble with Victoria. She’s off giving two apologies for it.”
Spirit looked surprised. “What did she do?”
“Rules,” Ceres said. “Gossip is bad. You have to ask Elsa or Victoria and they have to be willing to tell you.” She looked at the shotgun Jeremiah was holding. “Is he going with us?”
She knew that Ciaran knew he’d already told her and was playing the game that they didn’t have twees and the communication they offered, so he nodded once. “He is. He’s going to stick with me while we cower.”
Ceres gave him a quick smile. “I want you safe, not in hiding and you know it. Is it time for me to have that talk with Victoria?”
Ciaran shook his head. “Yelling is healthy, even when it’s aimed at me. She hasn’t laid a hand on me yet, so no.”
Ceres smiled again. “You Texans and your funny rules are amusing.” She looked at Spirit and Kentarch. “We’re heading back to the house to get our gear. Depending on the feral population we may be out overnight so we take everything.”
“What about him,” Spirit pointed at Jeremiah with her chin.
“Elsa is in Ciaran’s bed tonight,” Kentarch said. “He can use her bedding.”
“You can’t decide that for her,” Ceres said firmly. “But I’ll ask and see if she will. If not we’ll have to do some looting to find Jeremiah something.”
“I have a spare sleeping bag in my pack,” Ciaran said. “If we’re out overnight he can use it. It’s even clean.”
Victoria and Elsa returned. The Angel looked smug while Elsa’s face was as blank as she could make it. “Elsa,” Ciaran said before anyone else could speak, “you’re back to being my guard. Ceres, let’s get this cavalcade moving. The ferals aren’t going to catch themselves.”
The group headed back to the house and the barn. Ciaran took Elsa’s hand as everyone else scatted. “Just a second,” he said quietly. When everyone else was out of sight, he wrapped his arms around her waist and looked into her eyes. “Thanks.”
Elsa’s ears canted sideways. “For what?”
“Thanks for not telling Victoria to sod off and not apologizing to her today. I know you thought about it. I could see it in your eyes.” He stroked a loose strand of hair off her face. “We’ll go back to training soon and you’ll get to fight her again, you know.”
“Trust me when I say I’m looking forward to it,” she said in a low growl.
“And you’ll get to hit ferals later today.”
She shook her head. “I’m your guard. If I get to fight it’ll be because you’re under attack.”
He reached up and stroked one of her ears. It flicked and then stilled under his touch. “I intend to rotate other people in to be my guard while we’re out so you get some combat. It’s only fair for you.”
She looked into his eyes. “Thank you. Now I just hope we find some ferals while I’m part of the hunting team.”
He smiled broadly. “I have had Eriu surveying the area I wanted to investigate. She’s still got a drone up there so I know where all of the ferals are. I’ll be sure and discover some of them while you’re hunting. If we don’t run across them beforehand, there’s a small pride of Lionesses that should give you some exercise.”
She blinked and returned the smile. “You say the nicest things to a girl.”
Ciaran took her head in his hands and rubbed his cheeks against hers slowly and deliberately. “No, I say nice things to my girl.”
Elsa stared into his eyes for several seconds before hugging him so tightly that he creaked. “Thank you,” she said softly. “Don’t get hurt today. I have special plans for you tonight.”
His eyebrows rose. “Considering your normal plans at bedtime and how strenuous they can be, do I need to get a medical checkup from Victoria?”
She shook her head and rubbed her cheeks against his. “No, you don’t. I’ll take good care of you.” She winked. “Now let me go get my gear.”
“Um, you’re holding me.”
Her eyes twinkled merrily. “Right, so I am.” She squeezed once more and released him before sauntering inside the barn. Ciaran shook his head and followed.
11/11/09 1345 Ballincurrig, Ireland
The wall of the barn exploded outwards as Elsa went flying through it. She hit and rolled to her feet, extending her arms as the Lioness looked through the hole she’d just created with her opponent. Steamers of energy raced from the Lioness to Elsa’s hands as she sucked energy from her foe. The Lioness screamed in agony and threw herself sideways to vanish in the interior of the barn.
A long burst from Kentarch’s arm weapons shredded the barn’s wall, the bolts of plasma liberating their energy on impact and shattering the wood and stone. Smoke began to curl up from some of the impact points as the Lioness bellowed again, this time in fury. She smashed through the wall, screamed once and leaped at Kentarch.
Her hunting scream ended abruptly when Elsa teleported in front of Kentarch and impaled the oncoming Lioness through the chest with her sword. She tapped the Lioness on the forehead with a pokeball. “Scream and leap is a bad tactic when your opponent has a clue,” she said as the Lioness vanished into the capture beam. She dropped the ball and stepped back in case the Lioness fought her way free. Two of her sisters had done just that before being battered down by Spirit and Kentarch and once more caught. When the ball finally stopped jumping, Elsa scooped it up and jogged towards where Ciaran, Jeremiah and Victoria stood watching.
When she stopped in front of them, Jeremiah stared for a second, turned bright red and deliberately turned around to face the other way. Elsa looked at his back, shrugged and offered the pokeball to Ciaran. “Here’s the last one and that puts me six over the top on today’s catches. Kentarch gets a half point for the assist.” She glanced at Jeremiah again. “What’s with him?”
Victoria snickered. “It’s your dress.”
Elsa looked down at herself. The Lioness had shredded the front of her dress and it hung on her by threads. Her entire front was almost completely exposed and it was obvious she didn’t bother with knickers. “It’s combat. She scratched me pretty good too, but I healed that. I can’t heal the dress.”
“You’re naked,” Jeremiah said without turning around. “It’s not right to look at a naked woman. It’s not right you should be out in public naked. You should put on some clothes.”
Ceres, Spirit and Kentarch joined them as Ahern spoke. The Tantrasaur chuckled softly. “Now he sounds like Victoria.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Victoria snapped. “She shouldn’t be naked like that.”
Kentarch grinned. “So he needs a Celestial?”
“No, it means he needs anything but a Celestial,” Elsa replied amusedly. “Deciding what’s right for someone else is exactly what they try to do and the world needs less of that. Besides, Ceres doesn’t wear clothes.”
“She can’t,” Jeremiah said, still not turning around. “She needs sunlight to survive. You don’t.”
Elsa looked at Ciaran. “I’d like a ruling, sir?”
“I agree with you,” Ciaran said quietly. “If you don’t want to wear clothes you shouldn’t have to. Having said that, your current state of dress is more alluring than if you were completely naked and I’d like it if you didn’t give Jeremiah sinful thoughts about you. I’m supposed to be the man lusting after your luscious body.”
Elsa’s ears canted sideways for a second and she nodded. “That’s reasoning I’ll accept. I have more clothes in my pack. Give me a second and I’ll change into something else.” She eyed Victoria. “Do I get an apology from her for this?” Ciaran shook his head and she nodded again. “Very well, I accept your decision.” She went to her pack and finished tearing the dress off her body before putting on a knee length skirt and backless blouse for her wings. She stored the rags of her old dress in the pokepack and turned to Ciaran, striking a pose. “Better?”
“Jeremiah will probably think so.” Ciaran tapped his grandfather on the shoulder. “She’s wearing more clothes now.”
Jeremiah peeked over his shoulder, relaxing when he saw Elsa. “Thank you. An old man like me doesn’t need a pretty girl naked around him.”
Elsa glanced at him before turning back to Ciaran. “What’s next?”
“There is a large group of humans two kilometers away,” Eriu announced as she appeared next to Ciaran. “They are all armed and are wearing the uniforms of the Blue League.” A pause. “I have a count. There are twenty five of them and they are wearing flashes for Blue League infantry forces. I do not recognize the unit.”
Ciaran frowned. “There’s a platoon of Blues, here? What on earth for?”
“I don’t know. If they have radios they’re not turned on and none of them has a pokedex.”
Jeremiah frowned. “We need to talk to them.”
Ceres cocked her head. “Why?”
Jeremiah gestured around them. “They’re a long way from England and I’m curious. If they’re a problem we need to notify the army.”
“I’ll bet good money that we could destroy them,” Elsa said confidently. “And that’s before Spirit and Kentarch start shooting.”
“The problem,” Eriu said patiently, “is that if you attack them they will return fire. While they have the standard 5.56 millimeter weapons, a lot of bullets will be in the air and there’s no telling what might happen. Ciaran and Jeremiah will be especially vulnerable.”
Ciaran frowned as he thought. “We’ll move to intercept them while Eriu observes them. Once we’re close enough to make contact we’ll reevaluate the situation and decide whether to approach them or break contact and evade before warning the local military.” He looked at Spirit. “Do yours and Kentarch’s drones have the ability to hear?”
“They do,” Kentarch said before Spirit could speak. “They hear quite well.”
Spirit sighed slightly. “Precision is paramount, dear sister. The audio system in the drones is far superior to the hearing of an unaltered human’s or most pokegirl’s. It is, in fact, several times better than the visual systems, although I am not sure why. Unfortunately the designers of my breed are not around to question.”
“It might be,” Eriu said, “that your drones can do things you are not aware of, such as ultrasonic imaging and ground penetrating radar triangulation using multiple drones. Both would require very sophisticated wide frequency audio transmission and reception systems. When we get some time, we can run some tests.”
Spirit looked surprised. “I do have transmitters on my drones. I wasn’t aware of them before I wondered if they existed just a second ago. I agree that tests are required.”
Ciaran pulled his handheld from its holster. “Eriu, give me a vector and keep watching the Blues.” He looked at Victoria. “If there are a lot of Blues around it might be a good idea to talk to Tamsin about wearing civilian clothes for a while.”
Jeremiah frowned. “Both the Blues and the Royals are required to remain neutral by Irish law and treaty while on Irish soil.”
“Blues have proven they have little to no honor already and Irish law will provide us scant protection if they start shooting at us because of Tamsin’s presence,” Ceres pointed out quietly. “I’m just glad she’s not with us right now. I doubt she could keep her feelings for the Blues to herself.”
“When we get there, I’ll approach them,” Victoria said. “I look human and if I talk to them they won’t think I’m a feral pokegirl. If they’re attacking Ireland they’ll try to capture me and interrogate me for information or just to rape me. At that point you can mousetrap them and destroy them.”
“You don’t sound Irish,” Jeremiah pointed out.
She nodded. “According to Aunt Linda I can do a decent Irish accent when I have to. If they ask, I’ll tell them that I was visiting family when the ferries disappeared and I was stuck here in Ireland.”
“Tell them you’re an Ahern and you’re my kin,” Jeremiah said.
“Some of them could be Blues who are from Ireland,” Victoria replied. “They might even be from Cork.”
“Unless they’re from around here, they’ll never have heard of my family,” Jeremiah said firmly. “And if they’ve been out of the country they won’t know you’re not my kinfolk. I have many cousins who are Aherns and some of them live near Dublin. So you’ll be my cousin Niall’s daughter from Dublin. If they do know the name they’ll be cautious of you because of the legendary Ahern thirst for vengeance.”
“I will be her pokegirl,” Kentarch announced. “That way they will be less likely to start trouble because they will see Victoria isn’t alone.”
“Spirit,” Ceres asked, “can you protect Jeremiah and Ciaran and also use your drones to help me and Elsa if needed?”
“I can,” Spirit said confidently. “This is not hunting pokegirls and quarreling for status. This is war.”
Elsa frowned. “What does that mean?”
The Astral gave her a grim smile. “That means, sister, that if the Blues attack and you are not quick you won’t get to kill any of them.”
Elsa scowled. “Then I’ll just have to be quick.”
Ciaran shook his head and began walking, following the indicators on his computer.
Jeremiah moved to walk with him as Ceres ordered the group into a travel formation around them. “Why are they talking about who will kill whom?”
“For most pokegirls, everything can be a competition. While we were rescuing you, Spirit proved she can be extremely deadly. Elsa is pretty deadly herself and Spirit just challenged her to kill more than she will if we fight the Blues. Elsa accepted the challenge. Fortunately they know I won’t want them to attack first just to get a jump on the other’s body count. Hopefully we won’t have to kill anyone today.”
Jeremiah glanced at him. “Squeamish?”
“No, it’s just the Blues don’t expect to lose either and I’d like to not be shot again. Not to mention we all have to answer to God for every person we kill, and there’s no guarantee he will accept self-defense as an answer for every one of them. The more people you kill, the more likely he won’t accept that reasoning for each one.”
“You’ve been shot?”
“I’ve been shot three times so far.”
Jeremiah waited for a moment until he was sure Ciaran wasn’t going to continue. “Where?”
“I took an arrow in the chest, some buckshot in the chest and stomach and a bullet in my left leg.” He grimaced. “The buckshot incident was when we acquired your shotgun from the shooter. Victoria was here for the last two and her healing magic helped to ensure my complete recovery.” He glanced at the sky. “Ceres?” The Tantrasaur looked in his direction. “We know where they are and we have drones flying CAP. Can we pick up the pace?”
“We can and we will,” she replied.
A short time later Ciaran looked through his binoculars at the unit of Blue infantry. They were taking a break in the shade of some trees that opened up into untended fields that Ciaran’s s group was on the other side of. He handed the glasses to Elsa. “I know it’s unlikely but do you recognize the unit?”
She didn’t bother to pretend she needed them and handed them right back. “No. I do see the ranking officer is a captain and that he’s too stupid to darken his rank tabs. That could mean we’re looking at the lead platoon for a company and there are three other platoons around here somewhere or it might not mean anything.”
Victoria dismissed the spear she’d been leaning on. “There’s only one way to find out. Kentarch, let’s go.” The Kentarch dropped her pack and stripped off her dress. She stuffed the dress into the pack’s side pocket. Victoria frowned. “What are you doing?”
Kentarch ran her fingers through her bright red hair to shake it out behind her. “Humans haven’t learned yet. They don’t think naked pokegirls who look human are that dangerous. That knight we threw out of our cottage proved that. All they will look at is my tits and pussy.” She smiled thinly. “I could be carrying your spear and they might not notice.” She glanced at the pack. “In any case, I like that dress and changing to my battle form will ruin it.”
Victoria gave Ciaran a helpless look. “I can’t argue with anything she’s said. In this case nudity is to be preferred. It’ll also help to convince them that I’m not a pokegirl.”
He nodded. “Go, but be careful.”
“We will.” Victoria led Kentarch into the pasture at a brisk walk. Through his binoculars Ciaran watched a sentry see her and say something to a sergeant, who shrugged. About halfway across the pasture, Victoria stopped, waved and yelled. “Hullo!” Her voice came from across the field as well as through the computer resting on Ciaran’s belt. He also heard it inside his head through her twee. The computer was so Jeremiah could hear what was going on.
There was movement as the rest of the platoon noticed her. The sergeant spoke to the captain and waved her forward. There was more movement and more weapons readied when people saw Kentarch’s nude form walking behind her.
Victoria was a few meters from the tree line when the sergeant raised a hand. “That’s close enough, miss. Who are you?”
“I should ask who you are,” Victoria said in her best Irish accent as she folded her arms over her chest. “You’re Blues and while I’m glad to see you, my uncle is going to want to know why you’re here.”
The captain looked puzzled. “You’re glad to see us?”
“I hope your presence here means that the ferry is operating again,” she said. “I want to go to the Blue League and join the fight.” She smiled. “I’m Victoria Ahern.”
The captain smiled at her. “I’m Captain Abernathy, but you can call me Roger. Is that a pokegirl?”
“Yes, Mercy is mine,” Victoria said. “My uncle, well he’s not really my uncle, my father is his cousin, but he likes me to call him Uncle Jeremiah, gave her to me so I’d be an officer in the Blue League Army when I got to England and joined up.”
“You can join us, pretty thing,” a corporal called teasingly.
The sergeant glared at him and the man next to the corporal smacked him in the back of the head. “Sorry, miss,” the sergeant offered.
“I’m used to ignoring uncultured oafs,” Victoria said to the sergeant. She turned to the captain. “Has the ferry been restored?”
“No, ma’am, it hasn’t. We came over on a Blue League ship that has since returned. It’ll come back to get us after we complete our mission.” He gave her a curious look. “Do you live around here?”
“My uncle’s place isn’t that far away,” Victoria said. “But I doubt he’d have room to put up all of you.”
“Actually, miss, I was curious if you were familiar with the area. We’re trying to find someone, you see.”
Victoria gave him a guileless smile. “Who would that be?”
“Her name is Rionach Sullivan.”
Victoria frowned. “I know the name. I’ve heard she’s staunchly Irish, too, and touched in the head. What would the Blue League want with her?”
“It’s not her we’re interested in,” Captain Abernathy said reassuringly. “We’re supposed to escort her grandson back to the Blue League.”
On the other side of the field, Spirit looked at Ciaran. “How,” she paused. “Obviously they have spies in the Royal forces and learned something about us coming here. Unless is it possible that she has another grandson?”
“She doesn’t,” Jeremiah said grimly. “They’re looking for Ciaran.”
Elsa scowled. “And they’re here to ‘escort’ you back to Blue. I’d bet money escorting involves chains.”
Ceres shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. Ciaran, do we kill them? Victoria and Kentarch are almost perfectly positioned. We can distract them with our primary attack and they will finish off any survivors.”
Ciaran sighed. “We are not going to start the shooting. However, I won’t have them bothering Rionach. Let’s go talk to them.”
Jeremiah looked at him. “What happens if they try to take you into custody?”
Spirit became solid, pulled off her dress and wadded it up before shoving it into her pack, which she handed to Ceres. Then she shifted to her combat form. “If they try then they will all immediately die,” she said as her drones lifted off and she returned to insubstantiality. “I wasn’t sure in the beginning if I wanted a man or could trust Ciaran. Now I know I do and I do. They will not take him from me.”
Ceres looked at Elsa. “You have point. It is your decision at any time as to whether or not they are threatening us or Ciaran and to preemptively attack. Spirit, at that point you are weapons free. I will guard Ciaran and Jeremiah.” She cocked her head. “Victoria and Kentarch have been apprised of the situation and are ready to act.”
“Don’t I get any say in this,” Ciaran asked quietly.
Ceres gave a sour laugh. “You already did. You want to talk to them and you’ll have to identify yourself to get them to stay away from Rionach. I am planning for what happens next as is my job. If you don’t like it, replace me.”
“I hear you,” Ciaran said. “And you’re not being replaced. Do what you need to.”
Eriu appeared next to Ceres. “My drone is still overhead. The pokeballs won’t capture humans, but I can get closer and there they’ll act as less than lethal rounds due to their kinetic energy. I estimate less than ten percent fatalities from their deployment at the right range.”
“Do it,” Ciaran said, “but don’t worry about limiting casualties. If they’re attacking us, I want them stopped immediately.”
Eriu grinned, showing needlelike canines like Elsa’s. “Yessir!” A second later, she vanished. Her voice spoke from his belt. “I’m going to build some new drones with lethal weapons along with the pokeball launchers so that I will have greater versatility and standoff range for next time. Do I need to limit myself to terrestrial technology when I do?”
“No,” Ciaran said. “Keeping us alive is more important than worrying about letting someone here see a laser weapon.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Ciaran looked at Jeremiah. “You can stay here if you’d like.”
Jeremiah broke open his shotgun and checked the load before snapping it shut again. “You are an Ahern by descent and, unless Michael gives me grandchildren, probably my heir after him. I don’t care what side of this war he fights on, no bloody Englishman is going to take my family anywhere.”
Ceres didn’t hesitate. “Then let’s go people.” As they moved out, Spirit faded from sight.
Back at the platoon, Kentarch turned to look behind them. “Mistress,” she said, “I can hear them. They’re coming up to join us.”
Captain Abernathy looked puzzled. “Excuse me?”
“I’m traveling with some people and they’re coming to join us,” Victoria said. “My uncle is one of them and the other is someone we’ve met. When we saw your platoon we decided it would be easiest if I came to meet you while they waited.” She smiled disarmingly. “We thought Mercy and I would present much less of a threat and I could talk to you without any shooting. My uncle has lived here his whole life and should know where this Rionach Sullivan lives.”
Abernathy smiled. “That would be very nice indeed, Miss Ahern. Would you explain the situation to them?”
“I don’t have to,” Victoria answered. “My radio has been on the whole time and they heard our conversation.”
The sergeant looked surprised and then wary. “That’s impressive, miss.”
“I’m an attractive woman, sergeant,” Victoria noted with amusement. “And even with Mercedes’ presence a lot of people might try to be even more familiar with me than your corporal was. So we take precautions until I can get to Blue.”
Ciaran stopped a few meters from Victoria and the infantrymen. “Good afternoon,” he called, “Captain Abernathy. When you were talking to Victoria I heard you say you were looking for the grandson of Rionach Sullivan. I’m Ciaran Sullivan and I suspect I’m the man you’re looking for. I also heard you say you were here to escort me back to the Blue League. The problem is that I hadn’t any plans to travel to Blue so I have to ask what your actual intentions are towards me.”
Abernathy gaped at him for a second. “You’re Ciaran Sullivan?” He shook his head. “I’m Captain Roger Abernathy and I was sent to bring you to Blue to meet with some high ranking officials, sir.”
“Unfortunately, captain,” Ciaran stated gently but firmly, “I wasn’t asked if I wanted to go to Blue and meet with anyone. To be honest, to date my encounters with members of the Blue government have been entirely negative and I have no interest in going to Blue. So, I’m afraid I’m going to decline to be taken anywhere. Also, please don’t bother my grandmother.”
“And before you tell us that you are under orders and that Ciaran has to come with you,” Jeremiah said, “I promise you that you’ll die first.”
“Jeremiah,” Ciaran didn’t look at his grandfather, “please, we don’t go issuing threats.”
“You met with that traitor queen,” Abernathy said bitterly. “Why not meet with my government?”
Ciaran was not going to get into a political discussion about who was right or wrong in the war. “First of all, captain, I have never met Queen Anne. I was asked to meet with Her Majesty’s government. I haven’t been asked to meet with yours. Secondly, while Her Majesty’s government is sometimes harsh, they don’t torture their own citizens to death. Third, they weren’t planning to massacre everyone in a city if they couldn’t hold it, which the Blues were going to do in Glasgow.”
“That’s a fucking lie,” the sergeant shouted. “No such orders were given! And you’re a fucking war criminal for murdering all of those troops! You’re lucky you’re not in chains right now!” There was a murmur of agreement from other members of the platoon.
“Sergeant,” Ciaran said coldly, “I was passing through the area when I was shanghaied into the force going to Glasgow. As I had pokegirls, I was an officer and a tamer and I received the orders for Operation Mistletoe directly from General Fowler. If the city could not be held, I was to kill everyone I could find during the evacuation. That’s why I had no choice but to stop the invasion force before it got to Glasgow. And I committed no war crime in doing so.”
“I don’t believe you!”
“I don’t care what you believe, sergeant, I don’t have a reason to lie to you.”
“Sergeant Davis, shut up!” Captain Abernathy continued in a tone that said he was fighting for calm. “Yes, you do have an excellent reason to lie to us right now. We have you outnumbered, sir.”
“You have more men,” Elsa said, “but I know how you fight and we have you outgunned. If any of you points a weapon at Ciaran you’ll all die that second.”
“Elsa,” Ciaran said. Her ears flicked but she didn’t otherwise respond. “Yes, captain, you have us outnumbered a little more than four to one. But five of the ones on my side are pokegirls which means your force is essentially outnumbered. In any fight we have, sir, your men might injure me or even kill me, but my ladies will win.” His hands rested lightly on his shotgun, but he was ready to dodge and shoot at any second. “The problem is that, counting your platoon, I’ve met two groups sent to fetch me. You have been the more polite of the two I’ll admit, since the other just tried to kill me. I only learned about their orders about taking me to Blue afterwards when Elsa told me what they were supposed to do if they met me.”
Abernathy gave Elsa a puzzled look and she smiled toothily. “I was with a Blue force that was raiding into Scotland to spread fear among the civilian populace, take pokegirls from Royal tamers and catch ferals. The leader’s orders included a proviso that if they ran across Ciaran Sullivan they were to take him to Blue. Of course, their primary orders didn’t obligate them to get the identity of anyone they met before killing them, so they’d have never known who Ciaran was until after he was dead and they had looted his stuff. After his group defeated the Blue group, including me, Ciaran was nice enough to claim me for himself. Since I knew our orders, I happily told him of them. Now if you attack or try to detain Ciaran, I will cheerfully turn all of you into fertilizer.”
“You said five pokegirls,” Sergeant Davis said slowly. “You only have three.” He looked around cautiously.
Ciaran considered the truth for a second before dismissing the idea. Surprise was a weapon and there were an awful lot of Blues in front of him. “Considering my history with Blue forces, I am not going to approach your unit without having a few surprises ready to gift you with if the need arises. Captain, I’m not going with you. If the Blue government wants to invite me to visit, I will consider their request. But in light of everything that’s happened so far, at this point it’s going to have to come from an accredited member of your government and not from the Blue League military. If you try to use force, a lot of people on both sides are going to get hurt and many of those won’t survive the encounter. And finally, the real reason the Blues want to talk to me is to reach some kind of deal with my employer, either to provide equipment to Blue, to stop providing it to the Royals or perhaps both. If you attack us in order to spirit me to Blue, he is not going to receive any sort of offers from your government well, if indeed at all. So please pass this along to your government and if they want to have an envoy speak to me, I intend to be in the area until after Christmas and probably the New Year. After that, I’m not completely sure what I’ll be doing.”
Abernathy suddenly looked tired. “I see. I will let my government know what you have said. If an envoy does come here, how could he find you?”
Jeremiah spoke. “He seldom stays in one place for more than a day or two, but you can leave word for him at the Catholic Church in Rathcormac. Ciaran is devout and he’ll go there at least a few times a week, so he’ll get any messages before too much time has passed.”
The captain looked like he’d bitten into a lemon. “It would be much easier if you gave us one of the computers you’ve been giving the rebels.”
That was so not going to happen. “I’m sorry,” Ciaran said, “but I’ve already traded away all of the ones I had for release.” He paused. “I can suggest that your government just see if there’s a way for it to contact my employer directly. If your spies managed to find out I was coming here, they should be able to find a way to communicate with him.”
Captain Abernathy shrugged. “That information is way above my pay grade, Sullivan. I just do what I’m told.” His face smoothed. “And in following my orders, I have to ask that you accompany me to the Blue League. I can guarantee the safety of you and your pokegirls.”
“No, you can’t,” Elsa sneered. “I know all too well how the Blue League works. You can only guarantee our safety just as long as some colonel or general doesn’t decide to have some of us confiscated. And since we’re all combat breeds and especially since you’ll never have seen a pokegirl like Spirit it will happen and you won’t be able to stop it. The law that a man can only have a maximum of three pokegirls won’t even apply since Ciaran isn’t a member of the Blue League Army. And once we’ve been stolen, all the Blue League might do is offer him some pittance for recompense of the,” her voice became cutting, “loss of his property.”
“That’s what you are,” someone in the group of soldiers said loudly.
“That’s what I was,” Elsa snarled back. “And I will never be that again!”
Ciaran looked at Abernathy as the sound of weapons safeties being pressed came from what sounded like every member of the platoon. The tension in the air was almost thick enough to see. “Call off your troops or face the consequences.”
Abernathy spun. “Put those weapons down! Sergeant!”
Davis glared at his men. “Weapons down,” he said loudly. Weapons lowered, but Ciaran noted that nobody was putting their rifles on safe. “Captain,” the sergeant said.
Ciaran spoke before Abernathy did. “I think that Elsa’s statement speaks for itself. I’m sure you’d treat us with good faith, but you can’t really protect us without official documentation from the Blue government that you’d have already produced if you had. I think I’ll wait to hear from someone with the clout to make an offer of protection that actually can protect us.”
Abernathy didn’t look happy. “Is that your final word on the situation, Sullivan?”
“No,” Ciaran said. “It isn’t. However, it is my final word to you, captain. Any other words I might have I’ll save for whoever contacts me from your government.”
“You think you’re so high and mighty,” Sergeant Davis snapped. “You’re not anyone important.”
“Personally, I tend to agree with you sergeant. I’m just a Texas boy who came to the British Isles to do a job and to Ireland to visit family I’ve never seen. But this isn’t about what I think, is it? The Blue League sent a platoon of crack infantry into Ireland to give me a message about seeing them,” Ciaran countered. “I’d suggest that use of a resource that could be better used in a lot of places during the current war says I am somewhat important to the league, at least because of the connections I have with my employer’s business. And the fact that we’re not fighting each other right now tells me that Captain Abernathy and you agree with their opinion that angering my boss is counterproductive to the Blue League’s wants.” He turned to Abernathy. “I wish you a good day and a safe trip back to the league, captain, but you’ll be traveling there without me.”
Abernathy gave him a hard look before turning to Davis. “Sergeant, get them moving. I want to be as far from here as possible before dark.”
“Yes, sir,” Davis replied.
I will keep my drone overhead and watch until I’m sure they’re headed for the coast and Blue, Eriu said in Ciaran’s head, unless you want me to act differently.
No, please keep an eye on them for a while, he replied. “Ceres, let’s get out of here. Mr. Ahern, Miss Ahern, are you two coming with us?”
Abernathy perked up. “Miss Ahern, you could come to Blue with us.”
Victoria gave him a grateful smile. “I’d like nothing better, Roger, but I still have certain obligations to my uncle that I have to discharge before I can leave with a clear conscience. I’ll be along in a month or so if I can.”
“Well, when you get to Blue feel free to send me a message. Send it to Captain R. Abernathy, Lion Regiment, 2nd Company, 1st Platoon. We’re stationed in London right now, but addressing it that way will get a letter to me no matter where I am in the league.”
“I will, Roger. Thank you.”
Elsa waited until they were a few minutes away before looking at Victoria. “I think Abernathy was sweet on you.”
“Don’t remind me,” Victoria muttered. “He was hoping for grateful sex on the way to Blue. I don’t think his gaze ever made it to my eyes, but he could probably draw my breasts from memory.”
“Mine too,” Kentarch said amusedly. She’d put on her dress once they were out of sight. “Once again humans prove to be predictable. And if you’re predictable you are already almost dead.”
Jeremiah gave her a disbelieving look and Ciaran chuckled. “She’s right.”
“She is. Jeremiah, that’s why you hunt along deer trails and put rabbit traps along rabbit runs. It’s much more likely that an animal is going to come along for you to kill there than if you randomly wandered around hoping to scare one up. Humans can be just as predictable.”
“I guess you’re right. I just don’t like thinking about humans as being like animals.”
“Me neither, but I am willing to listen to my ladies when a concept works.”
“I have a question,” Victoria said. “If I remember correctly, Ciaran, you told us that you are not the slightest bit interested in having any dealings with Blue. When did that change?”
She gave him a puzzled look. “But you told Captain Abernathy that if an envoy sent you an official message you’d go to Blue.”
“No, I said I’d consider the invitation. I never said I’d say yes to it.” He smiled when she gave him a half glare. “If I’d told Abernathy that I was never going to the Blue League and that they could just sod off, don’t you think there might have been an argument at best and a firefight at worst?”
She looked thoughtful, but Elsa spoke before she could. “He’s right. And it wasn’t a lie. He would consider any requests to journey to Blue. He just already knows the answer and Abernathy didn’t ask about that.”
Jeremiah barked a quick laugh. “You are definitely Rionach’s grandson. Remind me to count my fingers after we do any trades.”
11/16/09 0430 Michael Ahern House, Ireland
Linda frowned when she sat up and sniffed the air. She could smell something good that nagged at her memory. She put on her robe and followed her nose to the kitchen. Ciaran looked up from the stove. “Morning. You don’t normally get up for another half hour. I hope I didn’t wake you.”
“What is that smell?”
“Coffee.” He motioned towards the pot. “Have some.”
Linda sniffed the pot and smiled. “I didn’t know you had coffee.”
“We had to grow more or I’d have given you some before now. We just roasted it last night. I’ll give you what we have before we leave, which is most of a ten pound bag of coffee beans and a grinder.”
Linda was getting a cup and paused to look at him. “What about you?”
“We have seeds and we’re keeping a couple of pounds for ourselves.” He started to say something else and stopped himself with an effort.
She patted him on the arm. “You’re worried about this trip.”
He shook his head. “You have no idea. This could be wonderful or it could be a huge catastrophe waiting to come crashing down around our ears and there’s no way to know which it is going to be until it happens. And by then it’s going to be too late to do anything about it.”
Linda filled her cup. “Well, if you’ll get away from my stove I’ll fix breakfast for you and your women.”
“You could go back to sleep for another half hour.”
“I get up earlier than this during shearing season, Ciaran, and I’m not leaving coffee for you to have to drink.” She gave him a warm smile. “But the kitchen is my domain and you go sit down.”
“Yes, Aunt Linda.”
Elsa came in as he sat down. She took in the room. “What’s she doing up? I told you to be quiet.”
“I was,” Ciaran said defensively. “The coffee smell woke her up.”
Elsa grimaced. “Great. What are we going to do with two people scarfing down all of our coffee?”
“That depends,” Linda said as she opened her pantry. “With coffee, you get fried ham, biscuits and eggs. Without coffee, you get porridge.”
Elsa blinked. “Please, Aunt Linda,” she said in a friendly tone, “you have all of the coffee you want.”
“I thought you might agree with me.” She looked at Elsa and winked. “And if one of the cows gets milked before I’m done, I’ll make gravy for the biscuits.”
Elsa’s ears came up. “Where’s the bucket?” She grabbed it and almost scampered outside.
Linda chuckled as the door shut. “Why are you up so early, Ciaran?”
“My employer wanted me to meet with someone. That person set up the meeting for today.” He stretched without standing. “So we have to go.”
“Surely you would have had time to prepare this afternoon.”
He shook his head. “She wanted to meet at moonrise.”
Linda blinked. “Why?”
Ciaran looked up from his coffee. “As far as I know, her reasoning was because she could. I wasn’t consulted. But moonrise today is at 7:53 AM, and to make that time Tamsin says we should leave no later than 7:15. We’ll leave at 7:00 but I want to be ready earlier in case an issue arises.”
‘When will you be back?”
Victoria came in from outside. “Everything is packed and Spirit is guarding our gear. Ceres and Kentarch will be along in a minute.”
Linda looked over her shoulder at them. “When will you be back,” she asked again.
“I don’t know.” Ciaran tapped his fingernails on his cup. “I don’t know when or even if we’ll be back anytime soon. It’s possible that the person we’re meeting may have something for us to do and that we’d have leave for that job immediately.” He leaned back in his chair. “And you don’t need me to run interference for Jeremiah any more. He’s a lot better now.”
“I appreciate you helping Jeremiah through his anger, but you are family, Ciaran, and you and your women have made a place here. Come back.”
Kentarch came in. “Our place should not be in the barn. The hay scratches in bad places during sex.”
Linda’s cheeks flushed scarlet but she otherwise ignored the comment. “Michael and I have been talking about it. There’s land available next to our property. If you bought it, we’d be neighbors. It’s good land, fertile and it was very productive until the previous owners died. There’s even a cottage. Granted, it’ll be too small once you start having children but that can be fixed before then.”
Baker, Libby and Ceres joined them as Elsa returned with a full bucket of milk. “Here you go, Aunt Linda,” the Mazouku announced before giving the bucket to Linda and sitting down across from Ciaran.
Victoria chuckled. “You have cream on your nose.” Elsa blinked and wiped her nose with a finger. She looked at it and sucked it clean with a smile.
“What did I miss,” Ceres asked.
“Aunt Linda wants us to buy the property next door and settle down,” Victoria replied with a smirk.
Ceres turned questioningly to Linda. “How much land is it?”
“It’s a little more than five hundred acres. There’re a couple of streams and a small woods.”
“Really?” Ceres shot Ciaran a look. “How much is it?”
“I’m not sure. You’d have to talk to the Cork government as they took custody after the owners died and the estate fell into arrears on the taxes.”
Ciaran grimaced. “We’ll be back eventually. Then we can consider buying land.” His grimace became a frown. “And there’s a blasted government with all of their rules and theft.”
Linda looked outraged. “The Cork government is honest and the taxes are fair.”
Elsa snickered. “What Ciaran heard you just say is that they’re honest and they steal legally. They just might not steal a large amount at a time.”
“What’s the government like where you come from?”
“Toothless,” Ciaran said quietly. “There are no taxes. The government is funded by land sales. When it runs out of land to sell, it’ll hopefully die. Right now the government gives a stipend to the soldiers and the Rangers.”
Linda frowned. “Who handles firefighting and police work?”
“We do. A few towns have professionals who contract out, but mostly firefighting is done by volunteers. Some towns hire investigators for thefts and such, but they’re also private individuals and paid for by the people who want things investigated.” He grunted sourly. “But that’s enough politics for today. I’ll consider buying the property and I’ll see how much it costs, both up front and from government extortion.” He stretched again. “Tamsin, what should we expect when we get to court?”
Baker had gotten her first cup of coffee and was sipping at it. She gave him an amused smile. “Normally the protocol for meeting Her Majesty would be quite detailed, but the specific instructions I received changed all of that.”
“Start with what’s normal and then we can discuss what’s different.”
She nodded. “Normally we’d arrive and you’d be escorted to the antechamber to the throne room to await Her Majesty’s pleasure. During court you’d be expected to be completely formal and polite in both manners and speech. Anyone found wanting at either would be summarily turned away if Her Majesty was in a fey mood.” Her eyes twinkled. “Interestingly enough, she almost always seems to be in a fey mood.”
“Ha.” Ciaran replied.
“Who is this person you’re meeting,” Linda asked. “We have no queens here.”
“That’s not true,” Ceres said. “There are Elfqueens somewhere around and the dominant ones will have courts. They’ll insist on being treated formally and with respect.”
“Is that, it, you’re meeting some wild pokegirl?”
Ciaran shook his head as Elsa laughed silently. “No, it’s not. I can’t tell you. In this case what you don’t know can’t come back and cause trouble for you later on.”
Tamsin gave him a curious look. “Her Majesty doesn’t keep her existence a secret, Ciaran.”
“No, but she doesn’t hire town criers to announce her either, does she?” Ciaran continued when Baker shook her head. “Imagine what the Blue League government might do if they discovered her existence and purpose. And if they thought they could use her somehow, you don’t have to imagine the lengths to which they’d go to try and find a way to her court. I don’t want my family in danger over my mission and I’m not going to put them in any more if I can avoid.”
Baker nodded. “That’s fair.” She drank more coffee. “Because of her instructions, once we arrive and the hue and cry over my orders dies down, I’ll take you to her private quarters and have you announced by her maid. After that, I’m not sure what’s going to happen. She’s never ordered anything like this before and there aren’t any precedents. I will advise you to be on your best behavior and to keep the snarky comments from your ladies to an absolute minimum.”
“We’ve already talked about that,” Elsa said. “We intend to play nice.”
“Please do,” Baker said. “Her Majesty’s word is law and she has the power of high, middle and low justice in our stronghold. If she decides she’s been insulted by you and that your death would cleanse the insult, you will be put to death by the knights. You might kill some of us, but that place has been our home for a very long time and we will eventually prevail. And Her Majesty is more than willing to do her own executions and she’s more powerful than you can imagine. I’m not really all that fond of you, Elsa, but I don’t want to kill you or watch you die.”
Elsa nodded. “Like I said, we intend to all be on our best behavior. If nothing else, we don’t want to screw up Ciaran’s mission.”
“Good,” Baker responded.
Linda called over her shoulder. “Breakfast is ready. Victoria, come help me carry plates.”
The Angel popped to her feet and headed towards Lisa eagerly.
11/16/09 0630 Michael Ahern House, Ireland
Baker stopped and turned to look at the group following her. “We will be traveling by ley line.” She pointed at the open space behind her. “That one.”
“What’s a ley line and I don’t see anything,” Elsa said.
“I know you can learn to see ley lines because I taught Libby how to see them and she says you’re a more powerful mage than she is. As for what it is, a ley line is a natural or artificial line of concentrated magical energy that extends from focal points all over Britain and, actually, all over the world. I have seen a ley line in Texas, not far from the Sullivan farm.”
Elsa frowned as she stared behind Baker. “How can one be artificial and where does the magic come from?”
“The Druids knew how to create and move ley lines. It’s one of the reasons there are so many of them throughout Ireland. Where they come from is a little more complicated. The earth has magic of its own and there are lines of magical force somewhat like lines of magnetic force, but they don’t follow any rule or reason that we know of. They start or stop without warning. The Order has been mapping them as we find them and have discovered that some of them drift and a few even disappear over time while new ones appear.”
That’s not entirely true, Eriu said in Ciaran’s mind. Ley lines don’t appear or disappear like Tamsin thinks. According to Tirsuli research ley lines exist everywhere on any planet that has magic. They come out of the earth, follow the curve for a ways and then go back underground. Sometimes these curves expand and contract, allowing the line seen on the surface to move, disappear or appear. Usually this movement takes place over hundreds or thousands of years. Artificial lines are normal ley lines that have been pulled from their normal area to another one. Nobody knows if it is possible to actually create a ley line and research suggests it is unlikely, so it is probable that the Druids were pulling underground lines to the surface and thinking that they were making new ones. Artificially moved lines seem to be unusually stable when compared to natural lines, but when they finally decide to move on their own, their movement can be rapid and severe. The Tirsuli don’t understand them completely, but their understanding is detailed enough to sometimes predict ley line movement. The math is interesting, although being magical focused math it doesn’t necessarily follow logically from one equation to another. It is also incredibly complicated and suggests that factors to movement include crustal plate movement as well as the movement of high density pools of magma in the mantle and the actions of ley lines on other bodies in the same solar system.
Ciaran knew immediately what to do with the knowledge. Please tell my ladies that information and warn them that Tamsin doesn’t know it and we aren’t going to correct her on it. It’ll make Elsa happy to know more than Baker does. He had an idea. Can her twee teach her how to see one?
Eriu’s response was immediate. Yes. The more magical a person is, the easier it is to see a ley line. As all pokegirls are at least a little magical, all of them can learn to see ley lines. You could too. I’ll inform the others. Do you want to learn this technique?
I do. Ciaran rubbed his eyes. “So how do we travel by ley line? Is there a ley line fairy that comes along to carry us or is it a train or something?”
Baker gave him a hard look. “No, I will use the ley line’s power to open a passage to the court. We will walk the path to get there.”
Ciaran’s eyebrows rose. “Don’t you glare at me; I don’t know what’s going to happen. You haven’t explained it before now and you’re being cryptic.”
Her expression softened. “You’re right. I haven’t and I shouldn’t be upset that you’re being sarcastic about it.”
“That was a wild guess, not sarcasm,” Ciaran replied loftily.
Baker laughed. “The location of the Order’s fortress is a closely guarded secret and ley lines are the only way to get there. Using one I can form a magical pathway to the fortress. Knights and pages are specially trained in how to do this, otherwise the spell caster will still find a path but it will take them randomly through the ley line and there’s no way to know where they’ll exit or how long it will take them to find their way out. There are stories of people who starved to death trying to find our fortress.”
Elsa’s eyes widened. “It’s pretty.” She looked at Ciaran. “It’s like a thick fogbank that’s filled with sparkling lights of different colors.” Now that I know how to see it I can teach everyone else.
He nodded. “Thank you for the explanation, Tamsin. Everybody, please remember that at the Order’s fortress she is Dame Tamsin. Please only address her as that while we are there.”
“We will,” Ceres assured him.
“Do we have to be polite to Duncan if we meet him,” Elsa asked suddenly. “I know I can’t punch him in the nose but he did bewitch you when we met.”
“We still have to be polite,” Ciaran said. “However, we don’t have to be friendly to him.”
“What if he tries it again?”
“We’ll deal with it if it happens. Keep your guard up just in case.”
Baker glanced at them. “If you intend to be polite then you’d better remember to call him Sir Duncan.” She then busied herself quietly casting a spell while Elsa shamelessly tried to eavesdrop. A curved archway composed of glittering fog appeared in front of them. “I have to lead because exiting is in the same order as entering and unknown people showing up in the fortress will be attacked. Just follow me and stay on the path.”
“What happens if we step off the path,” Ceres asked curiously.
“Some who do can find their way back to their original path. Most who stray are never seen again,” Baker said grimly. “We don’t know what happens to them.”
Eriu spoke to Ciaran again. The people who lose their way inside a ley line are ejected from the ley line in a different location in time and space. As long as the place is where the ley line existed at any time in the past or where it will exist one day, people can be thrown from the line there. As most of the lifetime and length of a ley line is spent underground, the vast majority of the ejected people die instantly. Tirsuli wizards have experimented with using this as a safe form of time travel, but the temporal and physical locations of the exit points have so far proven to be uncontrollable.
“You heard Tamsin,” Ciaran said firmly. “Do not step off the path.”
Baker stepped through the arch and vanished. Libby quickly followed. “Victoria, Elsa, Spirit, Ciaran, Kentarch and me,” Ceres said. “Now move.” People quickly filed through the archway. After Ceres entered, the archway shrank in on itself and dissipated into nothingness.
Ciaran found himself standing in a glittering hallway composed of brightly glowing fog that extended as far as he could see, or at least that’s how it appeared to him. Against the flashing colors of what looked like miniscule gems and the whiteness of the fog, Spirit’s form was difficult to make out and he hurried to keep close to her as they walked quickly down the path. To the sides, darker paths twisted away to vanish in the fog and he fancied he could see things moving on the edge of his sight. They tried to draw his attention with whispers that he could almost understand out and he suddenly understood just how easy it would be to turn off the well-lit path to try and investigate what was going on down the shadowy ways and become lost. He resolutely ignored them and focused on Spirit’s shapely ass to keep his attention on her.
In the past month he’d gotten used to the ghostly and cold way Spirit’s twee sounded and didn’t think of it as anything more than what it was, which was her. I find it interesting that I always know when you are looking at me, even when I cannot see you while you are doing so. I have asked Kentarch and she cannot do this, but as she is still learning my body’s abilities I am still unsure if it is because she hasn’t learned how to yet or if it is something that only I can do. I haven’t told her that I hope it is the latter and I am instead encouraging her to try to learn this ability.
Isn’t that a little cruel?
She looked back at him with a grin before looking forward to follow Elsa again. I do not feel that it is. If she can learn to do this, then she can enjoy this feeling. If she cannot do this then I will eventually tell her that I was mistaken and that I cannot feel it either and apologize for wasting her time. I will enjoy it more if she cannot, but if she can I wouldn’t deny this to her.
Women are weird, Ciaran thought to himself, careful not to broadcast. His next thought he did send to Spirit. Please don’t do anything to make her angry.
I will be careful not to.
He was never sure how long they walked when he heard Elsa’s voice. “We’re exiting, don’t miss the turn,” she called to Spirit, who turned and relayed the message to him. He obligingly passed the message behind him to Kentarch before turning as Spirit did.
He stepped out into a domed circular room roughly ten meters across. Metal rods that glowed on their top quarter were distributed regularly around the wall and provided light without the smoke that torches would. A single doorway exited the room, entering a hallway from what Ciaran could see.
A man who was nearly Ciaran’s height but whose arms were corded with muscle was standing in front of the doorway. He had cauliflower ears, so he most likely boxed or wrestled. Hanging from his belt was a tremendous broadsword that looked like it would be too heavy for Ciaran to lift. The man was obviously blocking access to the doorway as he watched people enter the room from the ley line gateway. Baker nodded to him. “Sir Nicholas, these people are here to see Her Majesty at her invitation.”
“I am aware of Her Majesty’s instructions regarding you and your guests, Dame Tamsin,” Sir Nicholas announced in a ringing voice. “I will need all of their names that I may record their entrance into our castle.” He smiled and his voice dropped to a normal level. “We get so few visitors that aren’t prisoners. Their presence needs to be preserved for the historical record.”
Baker looked surprised for a second. “It shall be as you order, Sir Nicholas.” He opened a large book and wrote as she pointed in turn. “This is Libby and she is my pokegirl. That is Ciaran Declan Sullivan and those are his pokegirls, Victoria, Ceres, Kentarch, Spirit and Elsa.”
Sir Nicholas frowned. “I wonder if I am to consider Libby to be a visitor or not if she is your pokegirl. You are the first to bring one here and claim her and Her Majesty has not ruled on the matter.”
“If the opportunity arises during the meeting with the Queen I will inquire as to Libby’s official status for you,” Baker replied.
Sir Nicholas smiled broadly at her, revealing that he was missing at least two teeth. “Thank you, Dame Tamsin. While she is the first it is unlikely that she will be the last and the precedents that are established about their status and conduct needs to be clear.” He pulled a wand from his pocket and waved it. A blue streamer of light shot out from the tip, curved around him and vanished down the hallway. “Mistress Rachel will be along presently to convey you to Her Majesty and until then you are to remain here.”
Ciaran spoke in a low voice as Baker joined him and Ceres. “I thought we were supposed to proceed directly to Her Majesty’s chambers without letting anyone stop us.”
“Sir Nicholas is not impeding our progress,” she replied in just as low a tone. “Rachel is Her Majesty’s maid and she will stop anyone from questioning our presence. Wandering around without her would cause a lot more problems and use more time than tarrying here for her, especially since Rachel should be waiting for the message that we’ve arrived.”
Ciaran nodded. “Anything that makes this go easier is welcomed. I’m nervous enough about this meeting.”
Baker gave him a friendly smile. “Take a deep breath, relax and try not to think that your life hangs on her whim.”
Victoria glared. “That’s supposed to be helpful?”
Baker’s smile widened. “No, that’s payback.”
The Angel scowled. “It’s your own fault you never inquired as to his availability until he was too busy for you.”
“That doesn’t make me any happier about it.” Baker shook her head, “even if it’s possible that you’re right.” She turned to Ciaran. “Just present what you are supposed to and don’t babble to Her Majesty. She isn’t capricious.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Will we have to give up our equipment before meeting her?”
Baker shrugged. “I’m not sure. Remember, I said that this hasn’t happened before. There are no protocols for a private meeting in Her Majesty’s personal chambers. She has always met people in the throne room and had it emptied if she wished to give a private audience. Knights are always armed in her presence, but visitors are sometimes disarmed beforehand.”
“So we play it by ear,” Elsa said. She looked at Ciaran. “Do we volunteer to disarm?”
“Never,” he replied. “If she demands it, we will, but Texans don’t voluntarily give up their weapons.” He suddenly looked amused. “Even if I’m the only person here who would actually be helpless if we gave up our gear.”
Kentarch laughed quietly. “You are right.”
Baker looked surprised. “I hadn’t considered that. I’ll have to bring that to the attention of our leadership.”
“Is that Mistress Rachel,” Ceres asked. Ciaran turned to see that a woman in her mid to late fifties or perhaps her early sixties had entered the room. She carried her age well, but the lines around her eyes gave her away. She had strawberry blonde hair and only a close look at the roots showed that it was an expert recoloring job. She was wearing a loose light green dress belted at the waist that was long enough to brush the ground as she walked.
Baker hurried towards her. “Mistress Rachel, it is good to see you again.”
“And it is good to see you once more, Dame Tamsin,” Rachael said with a slight bow. She turned to Sir Nicholas. “Her Majesty has requested Dame Tamsin and her companions to join her immediately. Is there anything else that they need to do for entry before I take them to her?”
Sir Nicholas shook his head. “No, Mistress, I give them into your gentle care.”
“Thank you, Sir Nicholas.” Rachel turned to Ciaran and his group. “Please come with me. It is fortunate that you have arrived early. Her Majesty does not appreciate lateness.” She turned and led them out of the room at a brisk walk. Without hesitating or waiting to see if she was being followed by them, she turned down a passage, walked a few meters and turned down another. More turns followed in quick succession and Ciaran realized after a few minutes that he was hopelessly lost. A glance back showed that Baker didn’t seem at all concerned, which helped him to relax slightly. Then he remembered that here she wasn’t really on his side and his anxiety returned with a vengeance.
Do not worry, Ciaran, Spirit said through her twee. My navigational systems can easily get us back to any intersection we pass or all the way to the room we arrived here in.
He gave her an embarrassed glance. Was it that obvious?
Elsa is probably aware that you’re stressed about something. Victoria might be. I doubt the others have noticed yet, but they will if you don’t relax. I knew you were suddenly very worried about something and thought this would be the most probable reason that you’d be more worried about something than you were about the meeting with Ygerna. So I tried to reassure you.
Thank you, you guessed right. And your words do help.
She looked at him and smiled. You are welcome.
A couple of minutes later Ciaran had a thought and queried his twee. Yes, with the enhancements that I bring you could find your way back to the entrance room on your own. I’d have shown you if it had become an issue.
They walked for another ten minutes before Rachel stopped in front of an ornate pair of arched doors that towered a good four meters overhead and wide. “Dame Tamsin, I charge you to keep them while I inform Her Majesty that you and they have arrived.”
“I understand and I obey,” Baker said promptly.
As soon as Rachel slipped inside, Victoria turned to Baker. “Can we talk now?”
Baker nodded. “Rachel won’t be long, but yes.”
Victoria turned to the others. “I want you to form a line behind Ciaran and keep quiet unless asked a question. He’s our leader and this is part of his job, the job that brought him to the United Kingdom and brought him to every one of us. This meeting is one of the primary reasons he is here, so let him do it as well as we all know he will.” She looked at Ceres. “I think Spirit and Kentarch should be on the ends. Having identical women on each side will provide a pretty counterpoint to the three of us in the middle.” Her eyes swept from Elsa to Ceres but her thought went to the other four members of Ciaran’s harem as well as Ciaran. And that will provide both of them clear fields of fire with their arm cannons if this queen decides to order Ciaran’s death or torture, leaving us three free to do as we need to.
“That sounds excellent,” Baker said. “And Libby can stand behind me to show that she’s mine.”
If we have to defend ourselves, Kentarch, you are to kill Libby as fast as you can. She is more dangerous than Baker, if only because her reflexes will be much faster than those of her mistress. Ceres seemed to consider the idea before nodding. “Victoria can stand right behind Ciaran and Elsa and I will be on his left and right. Do not look threatening in the presence of Her Majesty.”
She turned as the door opened and Rachel looked out at them. “Dame Tamsin is to enter first and take the honored place next to Her Majesty, along with her pokegirl. After that, Ciaran and his ladies will join us.” She motioned to Baker. “Dame Tamsin.” With a happy nod to Ciaran, Baker led Libby into the room. Rachel looked at Ciaran. “It will be just a moment.” Then she closed the door on them.
What about Rachel? Kentarch had been watching the maid closely. What is her target priority?
Unknown. Ciaran hated to get involved in planning this, but even Baker had hinted that dire hazard could lie beyond that door. And he would do whatever he could to prevent another one of his women from dying, especially at the whim of some person who fancied herself above the law. Put her third after Baker and Libby. Try to keep Ygerna alive, but she is supposed to be an accomplished mage. Her life is not more important than any of yours.
I’ll take care of Her Majesty if it becomes necessary, Elsa said to them.
The door opened and Rachel stepped out, closing the door behind her. She looked them over and pointed to the wall on the other side of the hallway. “Room.” The rock melted away to reveal a simple wooden door. It swung open to reveal a small, unadorned chamber. “Deposit your gear and weapons in there. They will be safe and you will collect them when you leave.”
Ciaran exchanged a look with Ceres and nodded. She looked as unhappy about it as he did. “Do it, ladies. Leave every weapon, including knives.” He pulled some paper from his pack and slipped it into his shirt before depositing everything except his sling with everyone else’s equipment. When they were finished, he turned to Rachel. “Mistress Rachel, we have done as you have instructed.”
She nodded and opened the door again. “Mr. Sullivan and ladies please enter and meet Her Majesty Ygerna, Queen of the Sidhe and Beneficent Creator and Sovereign Ruler of the Order of Pendragon.” She stood aside so they could enter, motioning for them to move to the left so they had a blank wall behind them instead of the one with the door.
The first thing he noticed was that Ygerna was taller than he’d expected. He estimated that she would stand at nearly his height, if standing. She was slender, with a thick braid of hair that glittered golden. In the bright light from the magical torches her hair almost exactly matched the gold in her eyes. Her skin was pale and her lips a red just a hint darker than ruby. She wore a pale rose dress with an empire waist and a gold and silver crown on her head. The stool she sat on was heavily carved and had a multitude of small gems of various sorts embedded in the decorations.
Can you look more closely at her neck, his twee asked.
Sure. Ciaran focused on Ygerna’s throat and his vision zoomed for a second. Why?
His twee sounded amused. Her hair, while truly a metallic gold in color, is really glittered. It looks like she dusts it with powdered gold. I can see light traces of it on the collar of her dress where her hair would touch it when she moves. Apparently vanity crosses species lines between human and fey. I wonder who learned it from whom.
That extraneous bit of news made Ciaran feel better, which was probably why his twee had bothered to pointed it out. Rachel motioned towards him. “My Queen, this is Ciaran Declan Sullivan and his women, who are Victoria, Ceres, Kentarch, Spirit and Elsa.”
So someone can observe what happens in the entrance chamber, his twee said. She was not present when Dame Tamsin identified us for Sir Nicholas and yet Mistress Rachel named us in the same order that she did. There was a pause. Do not refer to Ygerna as my anything such as my queen or my liege. She is Sidhe and words are very important. Using my when speaking with her could be easily interpreted that you believe she has sovereignty over you. That makes you and all you own hers to do with as she wishes, including all of your property and possibly your harem since pokegirls are property under Irish law.
Warn the others. Ciaran bobbed his head in a bow as his twee helped him to recite what he and Iain had worked out. “Your Majesty, I greet you for myself, my ladies and for my employer, Iain Grey. I wish to thank you for taking the time to grant us this audience and I hope that the results of it will be beneficial for all involved parties.” He took a deep breath as Ygerna cocked her head curiously. “My employer understands that the Order of Pendragon is an elite organization with very specialized needs and he believes that he has the resources necessary to meet many if not most of those. He has access to a variety of esoteric items that can be used in spell casting as well as ingredients in magical compounds, items and potions. In addition he can also supply many more mundane things that all people need. I also bear a letter for you from my employer. It is not only an introduction from him, it provides some information about the world that he feels you are not aware of as of yet.”
“I see,” Ygerna looked at Baker. “Dame Tamsin, do you feel that Sullivan’s employer could provide anything that we could use?”
Baker nodded. “I do, My Queen. There are several magic using pokegirls with Iain Grey and they are very knowledgeable. I know they do research and I suspect they use ingredients similar to the ones our scholars do. I also think they use ingredients that we never have, including parts harvested from feral pokegirls and magical stones that we haven’t begun to explore the properties of.” She met Ciaran’s gaze. “We stayed at his employer’s home for a time and I was given a long tour of a magical laboratory. I suspect the tour was so I would report favorably to you, My Queen.”
“It is very likely that you are correct, Dame Tamsin.” Ygerna returned her attention to Ciaran. “Does this list of resources include pokegirls?”
“It does, Your Majesty. He can supply you with both feral pokegirls for your knights to tame as well as possibly aid in recruiting aware pokegirls that might be interested in joining your cause.”
Ygerna frowned slightly. “What is the difference?”
Ciaran hesitated. “Your Majesty, the answer to that involves discussions of a frank nature about sex.”
“I am well aware of what sex is,” Ygerna said with an amused air. “Answer my question.”
“Pokegirls were created by a man who, for his own reasons, made sure that they had to have regular sexual contact with either each other or with people in order to maintain their higher brain functions and intellect. Without that contact, they will become much more animalistic and usually somewhat more aggressive, thus the condition is called being feral. When a pokegirl becomes feral, she can only be made aware by having sex with a human.”
“I see. What about me?”
Ciaran blinked. “I don’t understand the question, Your Majesty.”
“Could I also make a pokegirl aware if I had sex with her?”
While training for this job, he’d been coached on how to answer this question if it was asked. “Yes, Your Majesty, I was told by my employer that you could.”
Her eyebrows rose questioningly. “How does Grey know this is true?”
This question too, had been anticipated and Ciaran had been carefully coached on how to answer. His twee helped enormously. “That is an answer that is complicated and may take some acceptance of facts that even you may consider extraordinarily fantastic, Your Majesty.”
“I am in no hurry, Sullivan. Explain.”
“It has been told to me that there are many worlds that coexist with this one, Your Majesty, and that many of them are very similar in a multitude of ways. I have also been told that you are already aware of this fact, being a Sidhe mage.”
Ygerna nodded unconsciously. “I am.”
“Mr. Grey explained to me that he and his family are from one of these worlds and that they came here some time ago. On the world they journeyed here from, he said there were Sidhe who had pokegirls and who had hunted, captured and tamed ferals to awareness. He did not provide me with evidence of this, but I have not caught him in a lie yet and, Your Majesty, I don’t see why he would want me to lie to you in this.”
“Did you come here with him from this other world?”
Ciaran shook his head. “No, Your Majesty, I am from Texas. I understand that on the world Mr. Grey comes from that there is no Texas and, indeed, no land where Texas would have been. I was told it had been destroyed in a much more ferocious version of the Revenge War than we had here.”
“Why did Grey come to this world?”
“I do not know, Your Majesty. I asked that question and was told there was no need for me to know its answer.”
“Ciaran,” Elsa said quietly, “when I went shopping in Shield I was told by some of the soldiers there that they’d been brought here by Iain and his family because they thought they could make a difference here and help a keep a lot of people alive that would otherwise die in a few years when the ferals attacked. Victoria told me she’d heard that story too.”
“I hadn’t heard that.” He looked at Ygerna. “That is a good reason, but I can’t say Mr. Grey told that to me.”
“You are very careful to tell me that,” Ygerna noted.
“I was told to only tell you the truth,” Ciaran said. “Mr. Grey was very definite that I only tell you the truth and very specific about how I was to answer your questions so that you will believe the letter I carry and, hopefully, be willing to trust us enough to do business with us.”
“Do you have the letter or is it with your equipment outside?”
Ciaran pulled the paper from his shirt. “I have it here, Your Majesty.”
“Rachel, bring it to me.”
“Yes, My Queen.” Rachel plucked the letter from his fingers, rotated in place, crossed to her queen and offered the document to Ygerna.
Ygerna took it and eyed Ciaran briefly. “Do you know what this letter says?”
“I do not, Your Majesty, other than I was told it has both a greeting and warning in it.”
Her eyebrows rose. “What kind of warning would Grey be giving me?”
“As I said, I don’t know. However, my understanding is that the warning is of something that could threaten Your Majesty and the Order that Mr. Grey has become aware of.”
Ygerna looked from Ciaran to the letter. She pulled a slender knife from her belt and slit the envelope open, pulled out the paper inside and began to read.
Your Majesty, Ygerna, Queen of the Order of Pendragon, I bid you greeting. I am Iain Grey and my messenger, Ciaran Sullivan, has delivered this missive to you. I am very grateful for your being willing to grant him an audience and, someday, I hope that you will show the same graciousness to me so that we may also meet.
The first reason for sending you this letter is to let you know that, contrary to what you might think, I am more than capable of providing you with supplies and ingredients that, considering the state of the world today thanks to James Scott and his war of vengeance, are almost impossible to otherwise acquire and safely bring to the Order in a timely enough manner for them to be efficacious when they finally arrive. My messenger has a detailed listing of many of the things I can provide but if something you desire is not on it, please do not hesitate to inquire as to its availability. The list is far from exhaustive in regards to the resources I possess.
While it is possible and even likely that over the millennia of its existence the Order and Your Majesty have accumulated quite the fortune in valuables with which to purchase ingredients and other sundries from me, there is another item that we may also be able to trade in, that being knowledge. There are members of my family who have been trained in magic in schools and techniques that have never been encountered by either Your Majesty or your knights. You have developed a tradition of magic that we have not had exposure to and therefore trade in mystical knowledge may also be to the benefit of both you and me.
I also am developing a network of sources that provide information about the rapidly changing world that might be of interest to you as it touches on your interests of protecting the British Isles from the humans and monsters alike. The human political world is shifting with dizzying rapidity and I am building a comprehensive database on the governments and important persons that I would be willing to share with you, after suitable negotiation. This network will include detailed information on the pokegirls that you are undoubtedly interested in acquiring as you learn more about the talents and abilities these new people possess. Because of the access to technology that I have, this information can be provided in an easy to carry and yet very secure format that can be sent with your knights as they move around the world doing your bidding.
Finally, I wrote this letter to send you a warning about a possible threat to you and the Order. I must strongly advise that you do not speak of this aloud as, if this threat exists then the threat could hear you speak about it and thus be warned that you are aware that it is real. This should be avoided at all costs.
I must begin this warning with a quick review of certain historical events, some of which you are aware of and some of which you may not be.
A long time ago, a Druid of mixed Sidhe and human blood presented himself before the nobles of a Sidhe court and requested that he be tested to see if he could embrace his Sidhe heritage and come into his true power so that he could be accepted as Sidhe. During this test he used his Druidic abilities to mimic potential Sidhe powers instead of trying to actually access the powers he might have possessed from his Sidhe bloodline. This was discovered and he was summarily ejected from the court and told to never return. You may remember this event as I understand that it happened at the court you were staying with at the time. He would have had a second Druid with him, a half-brother who was of pure human stock, although they may have not mentioned the familial relation between them.
A few centuries later, as a group the Sidhe’s power was waning and they determined to use a ceremonial process to cast magic that would greatly increase their power and restore the glory they felt they had lost. All but a few Sidhe were present at this event. That night the Sidhe people attending the ceremony and most of those that were not suddenly and all at once died. Only you were left alive. For all intents and purposes, the Sidhe had been eradicated from the Earth.
Ciaran watched the color drain from Ygerna’s face as she read, making her already pale skin a ghostly white.
The letter continued. What you could not have known was that these events were interrelated. As a result of the banishment that was the logical result and consequence of his duplicity, the Druid was infuriated at his treatment by the Sidhe court and dedicated his life to two things, getting revenge on those he felt had wronged him and becoming Sidhe. But he knew that it was impossible to do those things within his human lifespan. So he became a master of necromantic magic and, at the end of his life, made himself into an undead abomination. He even went so far as to drag his half-brother into undeath with him, although his brother was actually quite keen to become more powerful even if it meant undeath. As undead, he was essentially immortal and that allowed him to amass the magical skills necessary to exterminate all of the Sidhe and, as soon as they assembled for the ceremony, he did so. His brother hunted down all of the others and killed them too, leaving only you. And there was a reason for that, for you were the author of the book that this Druid was desperate to get his hands on, the Grimoire of Danu, and the Druid hoped you would lead him to it.
For he had never given up his desire to become Sidhe, and the Grimoire could not only return him to life, it could give make his dream a reality and make his new life an immortal one. In you he also saw the womb with which he could repopulate the world with Sidhe and bring about a new golden age with him as the absolute ruler of it. And with the Grimoire he could make more Sidhe to give his and your children mates to breed with, if he didn’t find them comely enough to sire children from them himself. Yes, to answer the question you might be wondering, he is that wicked.
Ygerna’s head came up and Ciaran recoiled from the fury that pulsed in her eyes. “Rachel,” she hissed. “Summon the archivist. I have a research project for him.”
Wow, she looks pissed. That thought was from Elsa.
Quiet, Ceres said to everyone else. Do not be distracted from the severity of this situation.
“Yes, My Queen.” Rachel hurried from the room.
Ygerna took a deep breath and returned to the letter. Also unknown to you, ever since that time, this Druid has stood in the darkness and watched you intently so that if you ever found the Grimoire he could act swiftly to claim it and you for himself. With his magic and his knowledge, gained through centuries of observing you before you formed the Order and continuing afterwards, he knows you as well as anyone could. In addition, because of this he knows how to design his scrying spells to avoid your protective magic and he continues to watch you even unto this day.
And now, so that you may know the enemy that watches you from afar, I will name them. The Druid was in life and is still Eoghan and his willing associate, fellow Druid and half-brother is named Germanicus.
This warning is given in earnest and deadly seriousness and I hope that it will aid you in protecting you from events that are unfolding even as I pen this letter. If I can be of aid, please contact me.
Respectfully, Iain Grey.
Ygerna laid the letter in her lap and folded her hands over it. She realized that her hands were trembling slightly from the rage she felt and forced them into stillness before looking up at Ciaran. Her voice was even. “Grey says that you have a list of things that he could provide to the Order.”
“I do, ma’am,” he replied. “It’s outside in my pack. I’m sorry, but I didn’t realize I’d need it now. I thought that you’d want me to talk to someone who handled trade so you didn’t have to deal with it yourself.”
She nodded. “Normally I would do such a thing. Is it easily accessible?”
“It is, Your Majesty.”
“Then, while I wait for Sir Anton, I want you to fetch it for me.”
Ciaran nodded and looked at Ceres. “I’ll be right back.”
“Yes sir.” Please try to stay where we can see you, she said through her twee. Victoria nodded unconsciously. He opened the doors and crossed to the room where their gear was, deliberately leaving both doors open behind him. He had the list on his computer, but a paper version of it had been placed in the digital storage portion of his pack and it was but the work of a moment to retrieve it.
He was crossing the hall again when Rachel returned with a finely dressed man who had thick silver hair that spilled to below his collar and whose face was lined with age. “Why are you out here,” Rachel asked curtly.
“Mistress Rachel, Her Majesty asked that I bring her a list of items that my employer could provide to her.”
Rachel frowned and held out her hand. “Give it to me.”
He offered the sheaf of paper to Rachel. “Here it is.”
Rachel took it and tucked it under her arm as she motioned towards the door with her free hand. “Sullivan, Sir Anton, please enter.”
Ciaran rejoined Victoria and Ceres as Sir Anton pushed past him to drop to one knee in front of Ygerna. “Your Majesty, you summoned me?”
His queen waved a hand gently. “Rise, Sir Anton.” The knight rose smoothly to his feet as she continued. “You are to go to my early yearly journals and research an event that should be chronicled in them. I am not sure of which journal it will be in, but this event was during my tenure at the Court of the Green Mountain, so consult those journals first. A Druid of Sidhe blood was tested to see if he could come into his power as one of us and he was banished from the court after he used his Druidic powers to simulate those of a Sidhe mage. He would have had another Druid as a companion. You are to copy everything from the journal that pertains to the two individuals involved and bring it to me as soon as you can.”
“Yes, My Queen,” Sir Anton said quietly. “I will start my search immediately.”
“There is one other thing, Sir Anton.” He paused as Ygerna continued. “The names of the two Druids would be Eoghan and Germanicus.”
“Thank you, My Queen.” He quickly knelt and rose before Ygerna and then scurried from the room, carefully shutting the door behind him.
Ygerna looked at Ciaran. “Sullivan, where is that list?”
“I gave it to Mistress Rachel.”
Rachel was holding it out as Ygerna turned to her. “My Queen.”
Ygerna opened it. It was several pages, but she quickly read through it. She looked up. “Do you know what is on this list, Sullivan?”
“I do, Your Majesty. Iain and I went over it before I came to Ireland.”
“Can Grey actually supply all of the things on it?”
Ciaran nodded. “Your Majesty, there is no benefit to lying about being able to supply anything since you’d quickly determine if we could not. However, Mr. Grey reassured me that everything on the list was procurable.” He focused on his twee. Can you contact Eriu and ask her to verify the industrial items on the list?
I cannot. There is no access to any communication format that will allow contact with Eriu in this place.
That worried Ciaran more than he was willing to admit. Thanks anyways.
Ygerna placed the papers in her lap and smoothed them over the letter from Iain. “I look forward to seeing if he is correct. However, it is pokegirls that I am most interested in procuring, especially some that can do the things that yours can in detecting magic and lies. Are yours for sale?”
“No, Your Majesty, they are not. My women are free and cannot be bought or sold.”
“And, Your Majesty,” Victoria said suddenly, “we have discussed it already and none of us are interested in joining the Order. Our place is with our male.”
Ygerna didn’t look pleased. “I see.”
“Your Majesty,” Ciaran said quietly, “Mr. Grey would be more than willing to sell you feral pokegirls with the potential to use those abilities. If they, once made aware, do not have these abilities, arrangements could be made for them to be taught any extra skills or spells you might require.”
“Why can’t I just purchase pokegirls who already have these abilities?”
“The only way to know for certain is what abilities she has is to awaken a pokegirl by taming, Your Majesty , and, according to Texas law, once that’s done she is a free pokegirl and a person. And under Texas law, the sale or purchase of people is slavery and is illegal. Ferals can be bought or sold because until they are tamed they are not people and they have to be tamed to stop their destructive behavior.”
“I would not see pokegirls as the equal of my knights,” Ygerna said.
“And that is perfectly fine here, Your Majesty, but my employer cannot and will not sell you Texas pokegirls that are aware. If he did, he would quickly be unavailable to sell you anything, for slavery is a capital crime and the penalty for it is death.”
The doors slammed open and a skeletal human strode into the room. It was clad in rotting clothes that some ancient nobleman would have worn It had lanky hair and a sparse beard rested on its chin. Behind it entered another skeletal being, this one wearing robes and carrying a sword that dripped blood onto the floor. The first being faced Ygerna. “How did you find out about us, my bride to be?” Its voice sent a frisson of fear down Ciaran’s spine.
Do not move, Ciaran’s twee shouted inside his head. I am warning the others too. That has to be Eoghan and Germanicus. Attacking them would be useless and would only draw attention to us. None of your girls could likely harm them in the least and most certainly would be killed. Slowly ease back against the wall. If they move far enough from the door, perhaps we can run for it.
Ygerna shot to her feet and pointed a hand at the lead creature as the papers in her lap tumbled in all directions. A beam of violet light shot from it and impacted on Eoghan’s head, with no effect. Eoghan shook his head slowly. “You have no spell that can touch me, my bride.”
Baker whipped a wand out of her clothing and aimed it at Eoghan. “Libby attack!”
Germanicus moved so quickly that even with his twee’s help, Ciaran was never sure if the lich ran or teleported, but in an instant he was between Baker and Libby and striking with his sword. Libby was cut in two across the chest as Baker’s head tumbled away from her torso in a spray of blood. Germanicus finished the move facing Ciaran and his women, his sword held in a ready position. The red points in his eye sockets shone brightly as he cocked his head. “You do not fight us.”
“We can’t hurt you, can we,” Elsa spat bitterly, her ears flat. “Dying unable to destroy you serves no purpose.”
“That is true,” Germanicus said. “And such wisdom shall be rewarded. You will live to carry word to your master that all will serve us.”
Say nothing! Ciaran eased backwards until he was next to Ceres as Germanicus turned to face Eoghan and Ygerna.
Rachel dropped to one knee. “My king, she summoned the archivist after reading a letter that man brought from his employer, Iain Grey and told him to research your name. It must be how she learned of you.”
Eoghan looked at Germanicus. “Restrain my bride while I discover the truth of this.” He turned to face Ciaran and his women as Germanicus moved towards Ygerna.
Ciaran’s eyes went wide as, at the periphery of his vision, the shadows behind the furniture darted up the wall to swallow the magical torches and plunge the room into total darkness. A loud double bang told him that the doors to the room had slammed shut.
Do not move!
Ciaran suddenly heard the rush of many feet and the sounds of a struggle. Someone screamed briefly before going silent and suddenly the noises were gone, leaving only the sound of someone harshly breathing.
Light flared and became an electric lantern held by a silver colored reptilian pokegirl. It’s a Dragoness, his twee told him. Another lantern lit, this one held by a man standing behind the Dragoness. The light revealed Eoghan and Germanicus were buried under piles of other pokegirls, while a strange woman held Rachel in an iron grip. Only Ygerna, standing in the middle of the room, the man, the Dragoness, an armored pokegirl standing just behind Ygerna, Ciaran and his women stood unrestrained. The air was filled with what looked like a softly glowing blue fog.
The man smiled. “As you have probably already determined, Eoghan, the blue light denotes a magical field that is suppressing all other magic inside it. You can’t cast anything or use any of your abilities. The pokegirls holding you and your brother down are either as strong or are stronger than you are and so you can’t escape. And neither you nor Germanicus can speak, so I don’t have to listen to your empty threats.”
“Iain?” Elsa’s ears were halfway flat. “What is going on?”
“Yes,” Ygerna demanded. Her hand was on the hilt of her dagger. “Who are you and what have you done here?”
The man glanced at her. “While I wish the circumstances could have been better for our first meeting, I am Iain Grey.” He nodded to Ciaran. “Mr. Sullivan. Ladies.”
Rachel moaned piteously and Ygerna’s face set. “Release my maid this instant!”
“Julia, I don’t think you need to break Rachel, just keep her from attacking anyone.” The woman holding Rachel loosened her grip as Iain touched his belt and two beams of red shot out to coalesce into Dominique and Eve. “Are you aware that your maid is an agent of Eoghan’s? And from what I suspect, she’s a willing one at that. She’ll be released when we’re done here. Eve, explain to Her Majesty what’s going on while I deal with the lich brothers.”
Eve turned to face Ygerna. For the first time in a long time, she was wearing metal armor and a steel sword. “Your Majesty, I am Eve Grey and, as Iain’s letter tried to warn you, when you spoke Eoghan’s name either he heard it or Sir Anton got word to him of what was happening.”
Ygerna’s mouth dropped for an instant. “Sir Anton?”
The silver Dragoness snorted. “Queen who was never mine, among other people in your sworn ranks that undead creature suborned the archivist and the queen’s maid centuries ago. The maid was his eyes into your life and the archivist was the first person you were likely to consult with should you encounter their names from your past. Every new maid and archivist was taken and broken to that creature’s will within weeks of their appointment to the post. First the brother monster would take them and later, when pokegirls were regularly present within your halls, we did.” She looked at Iain. “My lord, should we fetch the archivist for Her Majesty’s pleasure?”
Iain glanced at Ygerna. “Sure, Eirian. Maybe it’ll make her a little less unhappy at us.” He frowned. “No, we aren’t known here and any of us roaming the halls looking for Sir Anton will just let the knights know we’re here. Then we’d have to kill them and I really don’t want to do that.”
“I know where the library is,” Dominique said. “It should be in the same location, so I should be able to safely teleport there.”
“And if you’re wrong,” Eve said, “you’d be dead. No, you’re supposed to be watching Iain.” She looked at Ciaran. “Get your gear.”
He shook his head. “We were asked to remove it for our meeting with Her Majesty. We are still meeting with her and she hasn’t given us permission to get our equipment. The fact that you disrupted that meeting doesn’t change anything in regards to the mission that Iain is paying me to carry out.” He forced himself to look at the part of the room he’d been pretending didn’t exist. “Can you help Tamsin or Libby?”
“It’s too late for them,” Eve said sadly. “I’m sorry.”
Iain knelt in front of Eoghan so he could see the prone lich easier. “When we did our initial threat assessment, Eirian was sure you’d take down several of my dead harem before we could immobilize you.” He smiled in way that made Eoghan jerk violently before the pokegirls restraining him could force him still again. Iain rose. “But that projection was based on waiting for you to discover our presence and come girded for war. Fortunately, there was another way.”
“What are you talking about,” Ygerna asked.
“Eoghan and Germanicus are liches.” Ygerna paled and he nodded. “Yes, that means they’re pretty much immune to any spell you know, and that’s before you factor in the fact that they’ve been studying you for several thousand years while working hard to increase their own mystical powers. Someone I know fought them on the world we came here from and only defeated them through trickery. That Eoghan had created slave liches of his own to do his bidding out of pokegirls that he stole from the Order’s collection after that Queen Ygerna mandated that pokegirls be incorporated into the Order’s line of battle. When he was destroyed, the slaves were left where he’d posted them. I acquired them and now they’re mine. However when we traveled to this world they became a liability as well as a useful weapon in that eventually Eoghan or Germanicus would have sensed their presence and investigated. They would have found what they would have seen as a young necromancer, that person being me, and several liches that they couldn’t control. The only option they would have conceived of was to destroy us. The ensuing battle would have been bloody and likely we would have either lost or, at best had a Pyrrhic victory. Fighting them in their den would have been even worse. But by using you to lure them out while they were still unaware of our existence, we made it possible to take them down without,” he sighed and looked at the bodies in the corner, “much loss of life. Damn it, Tamsin, if you’d have just stayed still.” He grimaced. “It doesn’t matter. She didn’t and they’re dead.”
Ygerna pointed at Eoghan. “I demand vengeance on them for destroying my people!”
Iain shook his head. “Do you know who among your ranks serves them?” He nodded when she didn’t speak. “No, you can’t. And an investigation and purge will take time. So I can’t trust them not to get free again and if that happens I can’t be sure I’ll be able to take them down a second time. So you don’t get to try to destroy them. I know how to do it and you can rest assured that they will soon be in the lands of the dead, and that only if I don’t manage to destroy them utterly. Speaking of which,” he turned to Eirian. “When we leave, I want you to remove all of the traps from Eoghan’s den, strip it of everything and then open it up so the knights can find it.”
Eirian’s head bobbed once. “Yes, my lord. Shall I place the books in your library?”
“Not until we manage to find and neutralize all of the trapped ones. I don’t want someone accidentally opening the wrong book and getting turned to water.” He smiled suddenly. “But there’s a way to quickly discover which are trapped and which are not.”
“Are we to capture all of the knights and make them open the books until we run out of either books or knights?” Ygerna looked aghast at Eirian’s words.
Iain grinned. “No, Eirian, that’s not what we’re going to do.” He knelt in front of Eoghan and looked at the red Dragoness holding the lich’s head. “Beryl, hold him completely still. I have to remove part of the absorption field near his head as I do this.”
“Yes, my Lord,” the Dragoness said with grim smile.
Iain touched Eoghan’s skull with a fingertip and pulled away a golden globe of light. Moving slowly, he stood and moved to kneel in front of Germanicus. “We can’t be sure that Eoghan was the only one trapping the books. Hold him still, Matilda.”
“I have him my Lord,” the White Tigress growled. “He will not move.”
Another touch with a different finger and Iain had two globes of light. He pressed them together and they merged. Then he slowly stood and backed away from Germanicus. “Eirian.”
The Dragoness moved in front of him and dropped her head. “My Lord.”
“This has both of their memories, but since they haven’t spent the final three hundred years the others did, they will have no memories of killing you or the others. Are you willing to accept their memories into your mind?”
She nodded. “I am, my Lord. The others will want this too.”
“I can pull them out of your head and make more copies for them if they want.” The globe split into two spheres of the same size. He pressed one into Eirian’s forehead where it vanished.
Eirian gave an echoing chuckle. “The others will definitely want to know what I just learned. If not and you freed us, I would win in the ensuing war.” Beryl hissed angrily and Eirian’s chuckle became an open laugh. “See, my Lord?”
“Iain, no!” Dominique lunged towards him as he pressed the other globe into his own forehead. She grabbed his wrist and jerked it away. “Why?”
“I need to know what traps Eoghan and Germanicus have waiting for us. Don’t worry, I stripped everything that could possess me from the memories,” he said. “If not, I wouldn’t dare give it to Eirian or the others. With their abilities and his knowledge, we would be doomed if he could control them.”
Dominique looked into his eyes searchingly. “I want that.”
“And I’ll give it to you later.”
He nodded. “You have my word.”
“My Lord,” Eirian almost snarled. “I know where they hid their life essence.”
“Good. That will make destroying them forever much easier.” His gaze swept over Eoghan and Germanicus. “Get them out of here and start cleaning out their cavern.”
“Yes, my Lord.” Eirian stopped in mid turn. “Sorrel will remain to help guard you.”
Iain looked at Dominique. “Do you or Eve have a problem with Sorrel staying?”
Dominique scowled. “You mean besides the fact that it is Eirian’s way of saying we can’t protect you?”
“If I remain I will intercept attacks on my Lord while you stop the ones attacking him,” the armored woman standing behind Ygerna said firmly. Ygerna started and whipped around as Sorrel continued. “Only if you fall will I go on the offensive.” Her helmet covered her upper face, but her lips curved in a grim smile at the Sidhe woman. “I am here because you are too good a swordswoman to be allowed to cross blades with my Lord.”
“It is a compliment,” Iain said from where he was standing. “And hopefully you will appreciate it.”
“I do not,” Ygerna said. A hint of a smile played around her mouth. “And I will not until I see how good or bad you are as a swordsman.”
“I do not object to Sorrel’s presence,” Eve said.
“Good. Let’s get moving.”
Ygerna’s eyes narrowed. “Rachel is mine to judge and you are not to take her.”
“And we won’t,” Iain replied, “just as I leave Sir Anton and the other suborned or corrupted knights to you.” The undead dragged Eoghan and Germanicus to a shadow and all of them sank into it as Sorrel moved to place herself between Iain and Ygerna. “Hopefully that’s the last you’ll ever see of those Druids.”
Ygerna gritted her teeth as she looked at the remains of Baker and Libby. “I must take care of my fallen knights first, but I would speak with you again, Grey.”
“Ciaran has a device that he will give you that you can use to contact me. It won’t work inside the Order’s fortress, though. I regret their deaths, but we couldn’t act until the instant we did. They are too dangerous not to attack with complete surprise and both of them were totally focused on Your Majesty and their curiosity in that second.” His gaze met Ygerna’s. “Ciaran didn’t know what was planned and neither did his family. They couldn’t or else someone might have gotten the information from one of them. As my employees and my friends, they are under my protection. If you might seek their deaths or some other kind of vengeance to balance any imagined wrongdoing on my part regarding the deaths of Tamsin and Libby or for any other event that transpired this day, they should leave now.”
Ygerna folded her hands in front of her. “Dame Tamsin and her servant gave their lives trying to protect mine. They were facing a mortal threat to me and that threat was not you. I have no reason to seek retribution against you or yours. In fact, we are both aware that I owe you my life. Sullivan has succeeded in his mission to intrigue me as to what aid you can possibly provide to my people.” She looked at Ciaran. “I am aware that Dame Tamsin and you were friends and I would ask that you remain as my guest until Dame Tamsin and her pokegirl can be laid to rest in a few days.” She nodded towards the door to her chambers. “As a sign of my favor, you and your women may now always be armed in my presence.”
“We would be honored to stay for her funeral,” Ciaran replied.
Ygerna blinked when the blue field collapsed and vanished. Iain smiled thinly. “I will need to leave soon. What do you want Julia to do with Rachel?”
Elsa’s ears came up. “If it’s ok, I’ve got her, Ciaran.”
Ciaran looked at Ygerna. “Is that acceptable, at least until she can be placed in a holding cell?”
“It is, Sullivan.” Ygerna opened her door and waved a hand. “I am summoning some knights, but Grey is correct in that I cannot yet know who I can trust.”
“Ask them if they are loyal to you,” Ciaran said. “Victoria and Elsa can tell if they are trying to deceive you.”
“Is it that simple?”
“It is,” Victoria said, “especially if they don’t know we are seeing if they are lying.”
Julia shoved Rachel in Elsa’s direction. “I have dislocated her jaw so that she cannot cast verbal spells.”
Elsa took the human with a cheerful smile, spun her around and jerked her arms up behind her back until Rachel whimpered. “Thanks. I’m sure somebody can heal her when Her Majesty is ready to interrogate her properly.” Her smile widened when Rachel moaned fearfully. She looked at Victoria. “Is it wrong for me to enjoy this?”
Victoria glanced at the bodies of Tamsin and Libby. “Her friends killed some of our friends. No, it isn’t.”
Kentarch moved to stand next to Ciaran. “If I hadn’t been told to stay still, I would have attacked those things. It would have been a mistake and I am glad you commanded me to not do so.”
Ciaran didn’t try to explain that his twee had acted. “I’m just glad we’re all unhurt.”
“I think we’d better leave before your knights show up and are confused with the extra people,” Iain said quietly. “Your Majesty, you can contact me directly or use Mr. Sullivan to do so.”
“I will,” she said.
He nodded and returned Eve and Dominique to their pokeballs.. “Sorrel.” The woman took his hand and they sank into the shadows. A second later, Julia followed them.
For an instant the only light came from the torches in the hall. Then Ygerna summoned a light. “I was not aware of that this place could be entered by any means other than by using a ley line.”
“He didn’t tell us anything about it,” Ciaran said. “I wonder if it’s less hazardous than taking the chance of getting lured off the path in a ley line.”
“I will ask him,” Ygerna murmured. Her face calmed when the first knight appeared in her doorway. She held up a hand imperiously. “Enter, Sir Michael, and close the door behind you.” She looked at Victoria. “I will question them one at a time to ascertain what we seek. If they answer falsely, I will deal with them. However, if you feel I require your aid, do not hesitate.”
“We will be ready,” Ceres said. “Sprit, you and Kentarch find something and cover the bodies.”
Victoria – Angel
Ceres – Tantrasaur
Elsa – Mazouku
Spirit – Astral Kentarch
Kentarch – Haunting