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A Little Blue

Twenty Six

***

11/19/09 1345 Michael Ahern House, Ireland

Ciaran watched the knight, whose name hadn’t been given, step back into the ley line portal and vanish as the portal closed behind him. He glanced at Ceres. “Perimeter.”

The Tantrasaur nodded. “Victoria is overhead. Spirit is on point and I’ll bring up the rear. Elsa has Ciaran and Kentarch is free to roam.”

Victoria summoned her wings and vaulted into the air as Spirit headed forward.

Ciaran pulled out his handheld and settled down under a tree. “I’ve got to make a call.” He pulled up an index and frowned. “I can’t believe this.”

Elsa’s head swiveled briefly to make sure there wasn’t a threat before focusing back on him. “What is it?”

“I have given away over a dozen computers and more of those cheap phones to the Royal government and I have only one com code with which to contact them.”

Her ears flicked. “I never had a high opinion of their intelligence. This doesn’t help.”

“Yeah, it doesn’t help me much either. Well, if I have one com code, I guess it makes deciding who to contact easy.” He activated the code.

Several seconds passed before a trim blonde wearing a major’s uniform appeared in his display. She looked at him for a moment before her eyebrows rose. “Mr. Sullivan.”

“Good afternoon, Your Highness,” he replied. “I probably should apologize for bothering you, but the truth is that I needed to get in touch with someone in your administration and this was the only com code I have available with which to contact the British government.”

She frowned. “How did you get mine?”

“Sergeant Emmerson gave it to me after we met so I could make the necessary arrangements to meet Queen Anne.”

“I see. I will see to it that you are given other codes as soon as I can. However, since you have contacted me, may I inquire as to why?”

“Your Highness, I’m afraid that I’m calling to give you some bad news. This is the first opportunity I’ve had where my com would link with ones in Great Britain.”

“Is this about the deaths of Captain Baker and Libby?”

He blinked. “You know about that?”

“A representative of the Order of Pendragon informed us yesterday that they’d died in the line of duty.”

“You know about them?”

She smiled. “Mr. Sullivan, the British government has been aware of the existence of the Order of Pendragon for over three hundred years and we knew that Captain Baker was a member of that group. I will admit that their report was rather sparse in the details. Can you shed more light on how they died?”

“I can try. On the sixteenth of November I was meeting with Queen Ygerna when she was attacked by two enemies of hers and the Order’s. Captain Baker and Libby tried to protect her and were killed by one of the attackers during the attempt. Afterwards, the attackers were defeated, but it was too late for them. There’s really not a lot more to tell. It all happened so quickly that we didn’t have time to get involved to try to save their lives even if we’d wanted to. That and we’d been disarmed before entering the queen’s presence.”

“Why were you meeting with her, Mr. Sullivan?”

“My employer knew of the Order’s existence and wanted me to let them know that he could provide them with items for their magical researches.”

“I see. Those items aren’t on the list that was provided to us. We have mages of our own, Mr. Sullivan, and have had so for some time. Could Mr. Grey provide them to us as well, or was this an exclusive offer to the Order?”

Ciaran didn’t miss the sudden coolness of in her voice and carefully injected some contrition into his reply. “Your Highness, neither I nor Mr. Grey were aware that you had wizards and I will send you the list of supplies that Mr. Grey offered to the Order as soon as we get done speaking. If he’d realized that you could use it too, it would have been part of the prospective purchasing lists you already have. I will also tell you as I was asked to tell Queen Ygerna that this list is not exhaustive if there’s something special that one of your wizards might wish to request then do not hesitate to inquire as to its availability.”

She regarded him for several seconds before nodding. “I apologize for my tone, Mr. Sullivan. We do not advertise that we have users of magic and I should have remembered that you are not a member of my government.”

“It’s all right, Your Highness. You’re in the middle of a vicious civil war and I understand that those can be a mite distracting.”

Zara chuckled. “Indeed they can, Mr. Sullivan.” She cocked her head. “Do you require another liaison with my government?”

“I do not believe so, Your Highness. If you could get me those other contact numbers I can use them instead of bothering you, too.”

“You should have them later today.” Curiosity shone in her eyes. “Have you been able to schedule a time when you can get to Edinburgh to meet with my mother the Queen?”

“No, Your Highness, but as I seem to have some free time in the near future, I was going to try and do so early in December.”

“I think that would be an excellent time, Mr. Sullivan.” She glanced to the side. “I’m afraid I must be going.”

“Thank you for your time and I’ll send you that list immediately.”

“Please do so. And you should have those contact numbers within a few days, Mr. Sullivan. Good day.” The display went dark as she cut the connection.

“That brings up a question,” Elsa said as Ciaran sent the list to Princess Zara. “Are we still employed by Iain?”

He nodded. “We are until he tells me otherwise. While we’re in the area I’ll be visiting more people to see if they’re interested in his wares.”

“Good. We can do more hunting too.”

“That’s the plan.”

***

11/25/09 0630 Michael Ahern House, Ireland

Iain Grey is calling you, Eriu said in Ciaran’s mind. As she finished speaking, his computer buzzed to indicate an incoming call.

Thank you, he told her as he pulled his computer from his belt. “Aunt Linda?” She looked over from where she was teaching Victoria and Kentarch to make biscuits. “I’ve got an incoming call. Do you want me to go outside to take it?”

Linda shrugged. “Breakfast isn’t ready yet so Mike’s rules aren’t in effect.” Mike didn’t believe in distractions during breakfast.

“Thank you.” He put his computer on the tabletop and activated it. Iain’s head and shoulders appeared in midair. “Good morning, Iain.”

Iain smiled. “Good morning, Ciaran.” He looked around. “May I be introduced to the cook since I don’t recognize her?”

“That’s my Aunt Linda Ahern. Aunt Linda, this is Iain Grey.”

Iain bobbed hid head. “Good morning, Mrs. Ahern. I’m Iain Grey and I’m Ciaran’s employer.” He smiled. “And good morning, Victoria, Kentarch.”

“Hi, Iain,” Victoria replied. Kentarch was rolling out dough and merely gave him a quick smile and a nod.

Linda smiled at him. “For a Texan you certainly sound like an Irishman.”

“That would be because recently I spent a couple of years in Ireland.” He smiled. “At least one of my pokegirls is decidedly Irish, too, and helps me to keep the accent. You’re Michael’s wife, aren’t you?”

Linda looked surprised. “I am.”

“Good. Ciaran filled me in on some of his adventures and that’s the reason I’m calling.” He turned back to Ciaran. “I would like to set up a meeting with you and your family, hopefully including Uncle Mike’s family, your grandfather and grandmother, your parents and Beibhinn. You told me in one of your messages that your parents are coming to visit for Christmas and I hoped I could get an appointment for after they’d arrived.”

Linda frowned. “Why do you want to meet with everyone?”

“I need to explain something to Ciaran and I have it on a rather strong recommendation from Eve,” Iain rolled his eyes, “that it is in his best interest if I share this information with the rest of his family at the same time. I’m not sure if I agree with her, but she’s insistent about it and it’s not that big a deal to me.” A wry smile appeared. “I could just tell Ciaran and let him decide who to share it with, but I will be believed a lot more than he would since I can provide evidence that I’m not out of my mind. And just for the record, if I explain it much more I might as well tell everything right now, so I’m not.” He turned back to Ciaran. “Now if you want me to tell you about it in private first, I will.”

Ciaran frowned. “Is it something that’s an emergency?”

Iain shook his head. “I don’t think it is. I don’t set up appointments for emergencies. I just resolve them as soon as they pop up.”

“If it’s not an emergency I don’t need to hear about it immediately and I’ll wait so I don’t aggravate anyone else by knowing first. As for a meeting, I’ll talk to everyone and get back to you but I don’t think it’ll be difficult to arrange.” Ciaran cocked his head. “Did you deal with your prisoners yet?”

Iain raised an eyebrow and glanced at Linda. “No, they’re still in holding until they can be tried for their crimes. Since you did witness them murdering Tamsin and Libby there isn’t any doubt on the verdict but there are certain things that have to be done first before I can have them executed.” His smile returned as the Mazouku came through the door with a bucket. “Good morning, Elsa.”

Elsa put the bucket of milk on the counter. “Iain! How are things in Texas?”

“Considering that it is half past midnight here, things are dark.”

She chuckled. “If it happens to be that late in Texas what’s a busy rancher like you still doing up?”

“I wanted to speak to Ciaran about arranging a meeting with his entire family and I figured if I called when it was morning for him he’d have more time to try and get me that meeting than if I waited.” He turned to Ciaran. “While I said it wasn’t an emergency, I would like to suggest that having this meeting is important, not only to me but to you and your family as a whole.”

Ciaran frowned. “How important is it?”

Iain looked thoughtful. “I think that if it isn’t addressed soon then it will most likely become an emergency sometime next year.”

Ciaran blinked. “Really?”

Iain grinned. “Cross my heart and hope to almost die.”

Elsa frowned and sat down next to Ciaran. “Why isn’t it an emergency now?”

Iain glanced at Linda, who was watching them curiously. “Certain events have to happen before this becomes an emergency. Considering the persons involved, those events will very likely begin to occur before the middle of next year. After that, the dominos will begin to fall and things could quickly spiral out of control. Unfortunately, even if I wanted to I’m not able to continuously monitor these persons and so I wouldn’t know when they began to move until bad things started happening to the Ahern and Sullivan families, among others.”

Linda gave him a curious look. “What others?”

Iain grimaced. “Ok, I would like to say that I have a representative sample, so I am going to ask you, Linda. When a man puts up a sign saying that he’s going to explain something to a certain point and no further until the time is right, do all Irish women immediately tear down that sign, chop it up and burn it in front of him before demanding he continue or is it just the ones I’ve met so far?”

Linda’s eyes hardened for a second before she laughed. “I can’t speak for all Irishwomen, but I haven’t yet met one who wouldn’t.”

“I haven’t either. And I’m not going to explain further at this time.” Linda gave him a glare and made a rude gesture before turning back to watching Kentarch.

“I’ll have to find a place big enough for everyone,” Ciaran said quietly.

“I can handle that if it comes down to it. I have some tents big enough for a single ringed circus or, more likely, I’ll just bring a shuttle. We can arrive the night before and set one up, which will also let everyone meet me and my family.” Iain grinned. “That way Linda will have time to really dislike me.”

Linda turned back to the table. “In my talks with Victoria and Ceres they have told me that you are a courteous and honorable man with a tendency towards colorful profanity. As long as you can control the profanity part of your personality you are welcome in my house, Mr. Grey.”

Iain regarded her for several seconds. “I cannot promise there will be no profanity at all, but I will do my best to keep it to a minimum, Mrs. Ahern. And my name is Iain. Mr. Grey is what governments call me when they want something I’m not going to want to give up.”

“When you show up,” Elsa said, “bring coffee. Aunt Linda will forgive a lot for coffee.”

Iain smiled. “Is that it? I have been doing some traveling and we’re now growing tea, coca and cacao too, although I haven’t processed any of the cacao into chocolate yet. Oddly enough, Milktit butter doesn’t want to mix with it well so we are having quite the time getting cows used to being milked again while we try to figure out why.” He made a face. “Trying to milk three quarter ton cows that have never been handled by humans in their lives isn’t anything I’d recommend for an evening of fun and fulfilling entertainment. Still, we’re making progress.”

Ciaran frowned. “Why are you growing cocaine?”

“It has legitimate medical uses and I think I’m still rebelling against all the old rules I used to have to follow.” Iain grinned again. “I’ll be heading to Asia to find poppy too.” His smile faded. “And Ninhursag has reminded me that I’m supposed to bring cocoa seeds for Ceres as per their agreement. I will.”

“Thanks,” Ciaran said. “I’ll let her know. I’d also like some tea seeds as well.”

“Consider it done. Well, I’ve taken enough of your time,” Iain said. “I’ll bid everyone a good day.”

“Iain,” Linda called. His image spun to face her. “If I’m to call you Iain then you should use my first name too.”

“Thank you, Linda, I will.” He bobbed his head in a nod. “I look forward to meeting you in person.” He vanished.

Linda watched Ciaran collect his computer. “Do you think whatever Iain wants is really that important?”

Elsa chuckled. “If anything, it’s probably more important than Iain suggested. He has a tendency to understate potential issues. His statement of bad things happening to the Sullivan and Ahern families probably involves them spontaneously combusting or being messily murdered in public forums.” She looked at Ciaran. “If he’s right, we are going to want to enlist his aid somehow.”

“That depends on how serious this problem is,” Ciaran said gently.

“Eve insisted that Iain tell us,” Victoria noted. “That means she thinks it’s serious.”

“As much as I’d like to make fun of Celestials sticking together,” Elsa said, “Victoria’s right. And while Eve is sometimes prone to hyperbole in her statements of doom, her forecasts themselves are scarily accurate.”

Ceres came into the kitchen. “Morning.”

“Iain just called,” Elsa said. “He said he wants us to set up a meeting with him and the Ahern and Sullivan family members we know and that it is important that this meeting takes place.”

“If he said it is important, than it probably is,” Ceres said as she got herself some coffee. “We’ll have to set up this meeting so we can find out what is going on.” She headed for the table. “Until then I’d advise not wasting time worrying about it.”

“Iain said he’s bringing cocoa and tea seeds,” Ciaran told the Tantrasaur as she settled down at the table.

“Now that’s important,” Ceres said cheerfully. “Rionach will like the tea.”

“She isn’t the only one,” Linda said. “Mike loves tea and it is a rather popular drink here in Ireland.”

“Well then we should have a good market,” Ciaran said wryly. He glanced at Ceres. “Is Jeremiah up?”

“He is,” she replied. “I saw him come out of the bathroom and head for his room to finish dressing.”

“Good. That means I can ask everyone except Rionach who is here in Ireland this morning about that meeting. Then I’ll talk to her and, finally, my parents and Beibhinn. Hopefully I’ll have some kind of response for Iain either tomorrow or the day after.”

12/2/09 2215

Iain’s head and shoulders appeared and he looked around. “Good evening, Victoria, Elsa and Ciaran. It’s been a long day and I’ve still got a lot to do, so may I inquire as to why you’re calling me?”

Elsa nodded to him without ceasing her surveillance of the area around the clearing where Ciaran and Victoria were sitting while Victoria waved. Ciaran frowned. “It is after sundown there, right? I wanted to catch you after the day ended.”

Iain nodded once. “It is after sundown but it’s the night of the full moon and I’ve got an execution to hold at midnight.”

Victoria looked surprised. “Really?”

“The phases of the moon have a lot to do with magic and the way it can work,” Iain replied. “The full moon is a good day to destroy my two prisoners and midnight, being the death of the day, is the best time. This is going to be difficult enough, so I’m listening to my experts in magic on how to best proceed.” He absently rubbed his chest right above his heart. “So what’s up?”

“Did you hurt yourself,” Victoria asked.

Iain blinked and pulled his hand down. “It’s an old war wound and sometimes I forget and touch it when I’m stressed.”

“I finally got everyone to agree on a date for a meeting,” Ciaran said. “I tried to push for earlier, but the first date everyone would agree on was the 28th of December. My family is arriving on the tenth, but they got together with Rionach and Jeremiah and made plans. We’re going to be traveling pretty much nonstop until Christmas. They want to visit all of the relatives anyone can remember and see who is alive and who isn’t, including Rionach’s Sheehan family and Jeremiah’s relatives in Dublin.”

Iain sighed and rubbed his chest again. “I really didn’t want to travel between Christmas and New Year’s Day, but I said it was important so I’ll treat it like it is important. Expect us to arrive sometime on the 27th.” He looked at Victoria. “Understand this, celestial. Everyone has agreed to meet on the 28th, right?” She nodded hesitantly. “Then I intend to meet with these people on the 28th. Anyone who changes their mind is going to piss me right off. I’m not blaming you if they break their agreement with me, but I would like you to stress to anyone who seems to be wavering that I will remember their actions and that if someday they need my help, I will take that into account. Other than your immediate family I don’t have any sort of attachment to any of them and I don’t feel myself under any obligation to rescue them, no matter what I reveal on the 28th and no matter how adroitly you or anyone else pleads their cases later on.”

Victoria blinked and nodded slowly. “I was wondering where this was going. I understand, Iain. Is it likely that they might need or want your help in the future?”

He shrugged. “The powers that I’m going to discuss are, in mine and Eve’s opinion, too strong for Ciaran and you to deal with. Whether or not Ciaran’s relatives might want help from me depends on how these powers respond to certain revelations, and I’m not sure how they will, but worst case they might kidnap every relative they can get their hands on.”

“And this has to do with Ciaran,” Elsa asked.

“Yes, but not for any reason that you can come up with,” Iain said cryptically. He smiled slightly when her ears went flat and she growled. “No, I’m not going to explain it before the 28th, but the fact is that there’s no way you can know the truth as of yet. I have information that you couldn’t have gotten.”

Elsa’s ears came halfway up. “And on the 28th you explain everything to my complete satisfaction?”

Iain gave her a crooked smile. “You are Ciaran’s pokegirl, aren’t you?”

The Mazouku looked surprised. “I am.”

“You intend to stay Ciaran’s pokegirl, don’t you?”

Elsa obviously had no idea where Iain was going with his questions. “I do.”

His smile widened. “Then I’m not going to do anything that involves your complete satisfaction.”

She blinked and then glanced at Ciaran before turning bright red. “Yes,” she muttered.

“And on that note,” Iain said, “I think we’re done here. We’ll arrive on the 27th and set up someplace to meet in and camp out until the 28th. And no, I won’t impose on anyone to put us up. We’ll take care of it as long as we have a place to camp. Good day, everyone.” He vanished.

Victoria grinned at Elsa. “He made you blush. You?”

Elsa scowled darkly at her. “Shut up.”

12/10/09 1245 Michael Ahern Residence

The pinnace landed and the hatches cycled open as the landing ramp extended. Ciaran stood at the bottom of the ramp and watched as his family headed down it. “Good afternoon. I hope you had a nice flight.”

“I certainly did,” Rafael said as he hugged his son. “You mother slept the whole time. She hasn’t been sleeping well and, when she isn’t, neither have I.”

Martha shot her husband a look and hugged Ciaran. “I will admit that those chairs are very comfortable. How are you?” Without waiting for an answer she moved on to hug Ceres.

“We’re ok,” Ciaran said. “We just got back from London where I had to visit Tamsin’s official grave.” He grimaced. “I knew the coffin was empty, but that was too close to going to her funeral twice.”

Elsa grinned as Martha hugged her. “Ciaran got a medal and we all got to meet Queen Anne.”

Rafael shook his head. “I’m not sure I want my son consorting with British royalty. I’m pretty sure that’s against Irish law.”

“It’s a good thing I’m a Texan.” Ciaran grunted when his sister hugged him hard. “Hi.”

She let him go. “I’m glad you weren’t hurt again.”

‘We all are,” Victoria said as Martha let her go. “And we’re glad all of you are doing well.” She looked at Martha as the woman moved down to hug Kentarch. “And how is the baby doing?”

“He or she is doing just fine,” Martha said with a smile. “Granted it’s been nearly twenty years, but from what I remember this is the easiest pregnancy so far.”

That would be because her twee is keeping her hormones and other things in their proper balance, Eriu said in Ciaran’s mind. All of her pregnancies from now on will be much easier than they were before she had one.

That’s good to know. He looked at Neem. “What, no hug?”

She looked surprised. “Why would you want a hug from me?”

“You’re a Sullivan too and we hug.”

“Oh.” The diminutive Elfqueen hugged him, tightening her grip when he hugged her back. “I like this,” she said as she let him go. “Can I hug the others?”

Victoria chuckled. “Please do, my little sister.”

Rafael looked around as everyone else finished swapping hugs. “I’m surprised you’re alone.”

Elsa smirked. “Things were arranged so that everyone else was busy elsewhere so you didn’t get mobbed. Aunt Linda is working on dinner and we were forbidden to help. Uncle Mike and Jeremiah are out in the fields, where Kentarch’s drones are keeping an eye on them while they check on the sheep. Rionach and Shannon are at Rionach’s home and getting ready for the trips we’re going to be taking.”

“Who is Shannon,” Beibhinn asked.

“She’s sixteen, a Sheehan and one of our distant cousins,” Ciaran replied. “She’s also Rionach’s maid.”

Rafael frowned. “I smell my mother’s manipulations. How is it that you know how old Shannon is?”

“We asked Shannon how old she was after Rionach suggested that Ciaran marry her,” Victoria said. “She annoyed Ciaran when she did, too, since Shannon wasn’t in the room when she made the suggestion.”

Rafael just sighed. “I love my mother, but I see she hasn’t changed a whit. Was anyone offended at the time?”

Ceres shrugged. “Shannon was not and, as far as we know, is not aware that Rionach tried to arrange a match. Ciaran was amused, but called Rionach to task for trying to play matchmaker without Shannon’s knowledge or approval. We, his women, were intrigued, but that is because Ciaran might someday want a human in his life. We have agreed not to protest as long as she is willing to accept us as we are. Rionach seemed amused at Ciaran’s behavior, but hasn’t tried anything like that since. We are unsure if that means she agrees not to.”

Ciaran managed not to stare at Ceres when he heard her comment that they were willing to let him have a human wife. He made a mental note to have a long conversation with all five of his women about not springing that sort of thing on him in front of people he wasn’t having a romantic relationship with. “Well, in any case, since everyone is off doing their own thing, I thought we could divide and conquer your meeting everyone. Since Aunt Linda is closest, we should probably start with her.”

Elsa cleared her throat loudly. “There is one thing, Martha.” Ciaran’s mother looked at her curiously. “We are aware that you and Aunt Linda have a history and we know what that history is.”

Martha’s eyes hardened. “And what did she tell you about that?”

“Nothing,” Elsa said gently. “Jeremiah told us that at one time you and Linda were vying for Rafael’s attentions.”

Martha looked shocked. “He had no right!”

Elsa nodded. “I agree, but he was trying to breed distrust between Ciaran and Linda at the time. He has changed since then and I doubt he would be that kind of a dick again. More importantly, Linda loves Michael and does so without reservation. She has no regrets about not marrying Rafael and wishes you and him only the best.”

Martha’s lip curled. “And you believe her?”

“Victoria and I can tell when someone is lying,” Elsa said. “Linda is not. Her only regret about her marriage to Michael is that they have no children. And if Ciaran gets them to accept twee, she probably will be able to address that particular issue sometime after that.”

Rafael took his wife’s hand. “Why are you bringing this up?”

“Because,” Victoria said quietly, “Linda’s scared of meeting all of you. She won’t admit it, but she is. She went from trying to get you to marrying Martha’s brother and is afraid of Martha hating her for any or all of it.”

“Not me,” Rafael asked.

“She has made her peace with your memory, Rafael, and has no concerns about what you might think of her. But for some reason Martha’s opinion is important to her.” Victoria gave Martha a pleading look. “She’s a good woman and what she may or may not have done in regards to Rafael and you was over twenty years ago.”

Martha’s eyes narrowed. “Did she ask you to intercede for her?”

“Martha, she is as proud as you are and could never do that. A woman any less proud would never have invited you to stay with them. She has no idea we are talking about this and I hope she never finds out because she would be furious with us. But as I said she’s a good woman and part of your family. And, no, she doesn’t feel she settled for Michael.”

“And how do you know all of this if she hasn’t told you,” Martha asked, her anger slowly cooling.

“I am a pokegirl.” Victoria said simply. “I am part of a harem and a family. What is going on between you and Linda takes place inside my family every single day on multiple levels and over many things. We pokegirls vie for status with each other and for Ciaran’s attention every waking hour. In our family, ignoring that competition can result in abrupt violence, bloodshed and possible death, so we are sensitive to it, even in others. After that, some roundabout questions and Linda revealed everything without knowing that she did so.”

“She didn’t sleep with him,” Ceres announced. “She tried, but Rafael had his eyes on you and refused her. Yes, she did try, but she was using the weapons in her arsenal, just as I am sure you were doing at that time. And, in the end, you were victorious. Please be gracious in your victory.”

Martha took a deep breath and slowly let it out. “You’re right. What happened between Linda and me was a long time ago and it is over.”

“I just find it hard to believe that women were competing for Dad,” Beibhinn said.

“Your father was very dashing in his youth. Many women tried to catch his eye,” Martha said primly.

“Dashing?” Beibhinn shook her head. “I knew you were old, Mother, but men haven’t been dashing since the twenties.”

“Stop teasing your mother,” Rafael said. “What I was or wasn’t in my youth isn’t important now. What I am is your father and Martha’s husband and that’s what counts.”

“Well said,” Victoria smiled at him.

“So you’re not going to attack Aunt Linda, right?” Ciaran regarded his mother curiously. “She’s been nothing but nice to us since we showed up on her doorstep unexpectedly.”

“Why would I do anything like that,” Martha asked loftily. “Linda is my brother’s wife and we’ve been friends since we were four years old.”

“You just keep that mindset,” Ciaran replied. “Now let’s go meet Aunt Linda.”

Ceres looked at Elsa. “You’re on overhead watch.” Her gaze swiveled to Neem. “And you’re on point.”

Neem grinned and snapped to attention for an instant. “I’m on it.” She went dashing forward as Elsa sprang into the air.

12/27/09 1845 Cork, Ireland

A blue gray figure shot over the horizon and hovered for a second over the spire of the tallest building in Cork to orient before flying away. It happened so quickly that below no one even noticed her presence.

She landed a couple of miles from Michael Ahern’s property and vanished, reappearing almost instantly with a red headed, black skinned woman. The redhead let her hand go and disappeared, leaving the gray figure behind.

A few minutes later the redhead returned, holding the hand of a sandy haired bearded man. Other women began appearing around them and red light flared as pokeballs released still more women.

Iain looked at Ninhursag, but she was already snapping out orders to shake the group into a patrol formation. He turned to a woman with bright blue hair wearing a loose pale blue dress. “You’re my ride today, Silver.”

She nodded and shifted to her centaur form. Her fur was pale blue, matching the dress almost perfectly. “I’m ready.” Her eyes swept the area around them. “There’s a lot of magic here. Has it always been this way?”

Iain slipped onto her back. “It has. Between the fey and the Druids, a lot of ley lines have been pulled from their resting places to the surface of the planet and the local ambient magic has increased because of it. It can be rather distracting if you’re not used to it. Is it going to be a problem for you?”

Silver shook her head. “I haven’t been a Pegaslut long, but I’m your steed. Nothing will distract me from protecting you.” She flashed a smile over her shoulder at him. “Or Zareen will probably kill me.”

“She will not,” Sofia said from where she stood a few feet away. “You won’t fail and thus she will have no reason to be angry with you.” She smiled. “We will not fail.”

Iain looked at Canaan. “Anything to report?”

The Splice was watching their surroundings. “I sense a lot of ferals around, but nothing close enough to bother us.” She glanced at him. “The hunting would be rich here.”

“So what’s the policy of the Irish government towards non-citizens carrying around a lot of firepower and hunting ferals on their soil,” Iain asked.

Canaan grimaced. “I have no idea, as you well know, but it is unlikely to be positive. I get your point.”

“We live on over six hundred square miles of property. I’m sure we can find enough ferals to hunt.”

Canaan shrugged. “Probably, but we’ve been too busy ranching to hunt them.”

Iain frowned as he thought about it. “You’re right. Want to go hunting next Saturday? We can take all day, camp and come back Sunday afternoon.”

Canaan showed her fangs in a grin. “I’d love to.”

“It’s a date.”

Ninhursag joined them. “We’re ready. Pandora is overhead, Eve is on point, Zareen has the rear, Raquel, Dominique and Ryan are roaming, Silver is your steed, Sofia is your bodyguard and Canaan and I are your backup.”

Iain made a face. “I feel like a carrier surrounded by destroyers, cruisers, aircraft and submarines. Let’s get task force Iain underway.”

“It’s not that bad, Iain,” Ninhursag said as the group began moving.

“It is that bad but I’m not going to argue with you about it,” he said. “It’s a waste of my time. I can’t make you stop guarding me like I’m a Faberge, at least not yet.”

Silver came to a complete halt and twisted her human torso to look back at him. “Iain, we care for you and you care for us. You protect us just as much as we protect you. The only difference is that your protection isn’t as obvious, but then your resources are much greater than ours. We have only our bodies with which to protect you.”

“What are you talking about,” Ninhursag asked.

“Theodora watches us wherever we go,” Silver replied. “If anything happens, she will alert Iain immediately, just as she did when I was being harassed by that man in Orange who wanted to fuck me and steal me away. I thought it was luck that she saw what was happening and got Iain and Canaan to rescue me, but when I talked to her about it she explained that it’s part of her job, given to her by Iain. Under clan law she can’t report everything she sees and can’t even keep records of most of it, but she sees everything.” She looked at Iain. “So please stop complaining about our protection.”

“It’s always the quiet ones that are the most dangerous,” Iain said with a chuckle.

Sofia poked Silver in the side. “Let him complain.”

“It gets tiresome,” the Pegaslut replied.

“When he’s not talking, he’s the quiet one,” the Ria said. “Then he’s got the free time to be thinking about things. Let him think too long and he will figure out a way to not need our protection. He will do that eventually no matter what, but I’d like to keep protecting him for as long as possible.” Her eyes glowed with emotion as she looked at Iain. “He has done so much for me, for all of us and this is the only thing we can do for him and someday he won’t need it anymore.” Her ears flattened and her tail stiffened angrily as she glared at the Pegaslut. “Do not hasten the arrival of that day.”

“Oh.” Silver looked at Iain. “Complain all you like.” She faced forward and started walking again.

Ninhursag was looking at him askance. “How long?”

“Since Theodora joined the family.”

Her eyes narrowed slightly. “Are our twees involved in this?”

He turned to face her squarely. “Do you want to die?”

She blinked. “Of course I don’t.”

“Neither does your twee. It’ll yell for help if it thinks you need it. Otherwise, it doesn’t provide tracking information to Theodora. All of the twee are that way, even mine.”

“Then how does she monitor us all of the time?”

“Are you going to tell me all of your secrets?”

She blinked again. “Once I would have, but you told me that I didn’t have to tell them to anyone and I’ve grown to like not having to give up who I am. So no I am not.”

“Yeah, well, neither am I. And neither will Theodora.”

While not satisfied with the answer, Ninhursag realized that was all she was going to get for the moment and drifted away to keep an eye on the others. Iain waited for a while before speaking softly to Sofia as she walked next to Silver. “There is more you can do. You could give me children.”

One of the Ria’s ears rotated in his direction. “I had several brothers and sisters, and yet because my family was poor, my family was small compared to that of a well to do merchant. They could not support more children. Our family is not poor. We are far wealthier than anyone I have ever seen or heard of. I will give you many children, Iain, and I will start soon enough. We all will.” She glanced at the sky. “Even Pandora will in time, as will Silver and the rest of the outer harem. But we are warriors and protecting you is what we are supposed to do.” She looked at him briefly. “It is what we want to do and what we need to do. That is why Canaan has voluntarily left her children with April and Vanessa and is here today. It is why, if you had asked, April and Vanessa would have left all of the children with Allison and the outer harem and would also be here.” Her lips curved in the tiny smile that he knew so well and loved seeing because it was so rare. “Now stop talking and think about that.”

He snorted. “Message received loud and clear. Shut up and deal with it, aye.”

“I have long known that my male isn’t stupid. Thank you for proving that again.”

He frowned. “Male?”

“I like that word better than tamer. You have shown me that I am no beast to be tamed into submission.” Her ears flicked and she looked at him. “But you did tame me, didn’t you? You just did it with love instead of pain.”

“You are not tame, Sofia. You are not the slightest bit tame. I just showed you that you didn’t have to live a life of nothing but fear.”

“I am still afraid of things,” she said thoughtfully, “but you are right. I am not afraid that there is anything that we will not get through together.”

“And you would be right. We will,” he replied confidently. “Now pay attention.”

“Yes, Iain.”

12/27/09 1855 Michael Ahern Residence, Ireland

I see Pandora with one of my drones, Kentarch said to Ciaran through her twee from where she was hanging laundry for Linda on the other side of the house. And I see Eve approaching from the northwest.

Thank you. He turned to Victoria. “Kentarch has seen Iain’s group coming from the northwest. Please go meet them and show them where they can camp.”

Her wings appeared and spread. “You’ll stay here?”

Ciaran indicated the pile of wood. “I still have a lot to split. I won’t go anywhere until one of you ladies comes to get me or I finish.”

“Thank you, Ciaran.” Victoria launched herself into the air and climbed as she turned and headed north.

A few seconds later, Spirit appeared. “It’s about time she left,” the Astral Kentarch said sourly. “Stand back.” Ciaran did and she grabbed a piece of wood, summoned an energy blade in her free hand and split the log evenly down the middle. “Now we can get this stupid job done before tomorrow.” She dropped the split wood on the pile and looked at Ciaran as she grabbed the next piece of firewood. “You know this is make-work and could be done much more efficiently. Why do you put up with it?”

Ciaran shrugged and began stacking the split pieces where they belonged. “It’s good hard, honest work and it lets me spend time with one of you.”

“There are better ways we could be spending time together. There are ferals to catch and ship to their men. That is much more profitable as well as beneficial.”

“True. So why didn’t you help earlier?”

“Victoria would have told me to go away. She thinks this keeps you out of trouble.”

Ciaran nodded. That much he already knew. “And what do you think?”

“There is a lot of trouble in the world these days. Your share of it will come no matter where you are or what you are doing.” She looked at him for several seconds. “If this trouble comes for you when we are hunting ferals it is less likely to spread to involve the other people living here who do not have us to protect them. Only Beibhinn has Neem. The rest have no pokegirls and you would expect us to protect them, making it harder to protect you.”

“I can’t force them to accept pokegirls into their lives.”

“No, you can’t. It doesn’t mean I don’t wish some of them did. Otherwise it is likely that one or more of them will die. You have only recently met your Irish relatives and you seem to like them now that Jeremiah isn’t so angry all of the time.” She cocked her head and Kentarch appeared from her mental summons. “Help me get this wood split so the three of us can go see Iain and his family.”

Kentarch nodded and began splitting wood as quickly as she could do so neatly.

As soon as they were done, they headed out to find the location Victoria was supposed to be settling Iain and his group for the night.

Iain’s eyes lit up when he saw them. “Good afternoon. I was hoping I’d get a chance to talk to you before tomorrow.” He chuckled. “The only members of your family I’ve seen so far besides Victoria are Neem and Beibhinn and they didn’t want to talk to me.”

Ciaran frowned. “Oh?”

“Yeah, they went off with Eve, Ninhursag and Dominique.” Iain shrugged. “I’m sure I’ll find out what’s going on just a little too late to do anything about it even if I wanted to.”

Spirit laughed, as did Sofia from where she stood nearby. The Kentarch looked at Sofia. “Do you know what is going on?”

The Ria shook her head. “I am not high enough ranked to be involved in whatever it is. It does not matter as my maharani has not led us astray yet and I doubt she will now.” She glanced at Iain and cocked an ear. Should I press my status as maharani of my own harem to try and find out what they are doing for you? He looked thoughtful for a second and gave a tiny shake of his head. I agree, but I had to ask for your sake.

I appreciate your willingness to spy for me, but let them have their secret. It’s probably some spell or something for Neem. He looked at Ciaran. “I wanted to express my sorrow for Tamsin’s and Libby’s deaths. I wish we could have acted sooner, but we were only going to get one shot at taking down Eoghan and his brother with the greatest probability for success and I had to wait until the perfect moment to act. I liked them and I’m going to miss them.”

Ciaran nodded. “I miss them too.” His eyes hardened. “The last time we spoke you said you were going to execute the brothers. Did you?”

Iain gave him a feral grin. “It was a lot more difficult than anyone expected it to be, but yes. Eoghan and Germanicus are permanently dead.”

“Good.” Ciaran hesitated. “Can I ask a question?”

“Sure. What is it?”

“I thought I’d met your entire harem and other than Eve and Dominique I didn’t recognize any of the others who were with you. Who are they?”

Iain regarded him for several seconds. “Please ask Elsa to join us.”

Ciaran reached out with his twee. Elsa, Iain would like you to join our conversation.

Elsa appeared not far away and jogged over. She looked around eagerly. “Ok, I’m here. What is it?”

Iain didn’t waste any time. “Elsa, what do you know about necromancy?”

“Not much.” The Mazouku shrugged. “I make people dead. Once they are dead I don’t really care about them.”

“You knew enough not to attack Germanicus and Eoghan.”

“That was thanks to Ciaran’s warning,” Elsa said. “Later Eriu explained what a lich was and I was very glad I listened to him. Anything I could have tried would have been as useless as someone attacking me with balls of paper.”

Iain nodded and turned back to Ciaran. “Do you remember that I said I’d acquired the slave liches that had belonged to the Eoghan from the world I came here from?”

“I do,” Ciaran answered.

“The pokegirls you saw that night were some of my liches.”

“But they didn’t look like Eoghan and Germanicus did,” Elsa protested. “They weren’t skeletal.”

“I could sense they weren’t completely alive,” Spirit said. Behind her, Kentarch nodded. “But I didn’t know what they were. I thought they were dead pokegirls inside living bodies like Kentarch.”

Iain smiled. “The confusion you had is from the fact that I am bonded to my dead harem and from me they get a semblance of life. It works both ways. If they’re close enough to me, they can help hide my life from those seeking to find me.”

Elsa cocked her head. “Are they as powerful as Eoghan and Germanicus were?”

“That’s hard to define. None of them are as old as the brothers were and liches get more powerful as they age. On the other hand, mine were pokegirls while alive and they have the abilities they had as pokegirls in addition to the powers that they gained as liches. As you saw, some of them are physically much stronger than a lich that came from the death of a human.” Iain frowned. “Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that if I could have acted soon enough to save Tamsin and Libby without risking the brothers putting up a fight and escaping I would have.” He scratched his beard. “If they’d had the chance to fight back everything alive in that room would have died, including me and all of you.”

Ciaran shivered. “I couldn’t see how fast Germanicus moved when he killed Tamsin and Libby. He’d have butchered us easily.”

“It shocked me too,” Iain said quietly. “Eirian said it was an enhanced haste spell of some kind that she’d never seen before. Her Germanicus certainly hadn’t had anything like it, but he hadn’t wanted to become a lich and was never interested in spell research. This one did and was. Apparently his spell repertoire was a lot bigger than the one from my world. That must make me even happier I didn’t give Eoghan a chance to show me what his spell library looked like. I’d have regretted it.” He gave a grim smile. “Briefly, I suspect.”

And now we have everything they knew, Eirian said in his mind from where she rode on his left arm.

That’s awesome for you and the rest of my dead harem, but I can’t cast spells yet. Iain sighed. “I just hope you don’t blame me for the death of your friends.”

“You did not kill them,” Kentarch said. “We cannot blame you.”

Elsa chuckled. “There you have it, genius from the dead.”

“Genius or not,” Iain said, “I’m just glad to hear it.”

“Did the liches suffer when you executed them,” Spirit asked. When Iain looked at her she smiled. “It would please me greatly if they did.”

“Oh, you’re a fun one,” Iain said. “And yes, the process of execution was excruciatingly painful for both of them.”

“Good,” Elsa and Spirit said together.

Ciaran sighed. “God forgive me, but I’m happier to hear that too.”

Iain frowned. “There wasn’t another way to perform the execution, but if there was and it hurt them less, it might have been difficult for me to choose this other less painful method.” His frown faded. “Eve and Lucy would probably have talked me into it though.” He shrugged. “Dead is dead.” He glanced at Spirit and chuckled. “As long as it’s not undead.”

Kentarch laughed. “True.”

Sophia tapped Iain on the shoulder. “Zareen needs help with her tent.”

He nodded. “Gotta go. I’ll see you either later today or tomorrow. Either way, be well.”

12/28/09 1145 Michael Ahern Residence, Ireland

The shuttle was similar to the one that had taken Ciaran, Tamsin and their pokegirls off of the space station, which meant it was larger than Michael’s house. It silently landed in the field and the passenger airlock cycled open as the ramp descended and evened out.

“If everyone will follow Sofia, she’ll take you to the conference room,” Iain said. He did a quick headcount and frowned. “We’re missing someone.”

Ciaran looked around. “No, we’re all here.”

Iain checked faces against his memory of names. “We are missing Shannon.”

Rionach gave him a slightly confused look. “She’s my maid. She has no business here.”

Iain smiled. “She’s a Sheehan, isn’t she, just like you are? Then she needs to hear this too.”

“I am a Sullivan,” Rionach said stiffly.

“I’m sorry; I meant to say that you’re from the Sheehan family. Nevertheless, Shannon is invited too. I’ll go find her.”

“I will go find her,” Silver said. “You are not going to go wandering off alone.”

Iain started to say something and stopped when he looked into her eyes. “Very well.”

“They’re very protective of you,” Jeremiah said as the Pegaslut ran for Michael’s house.

“That they are,” Iain replied. “I’ve had some rather nasty adventures when I was alone and they don’t let me forget it.”

“As nasty as Ciaran’s,” Elsa asked curiously.

Iain gave her a look that made her ears flatten for a heartbeat. “Mine were much, much worse and that’s all I’m going to say about that.”

“Stop pestering Iain and come with me,” Sofia said firmly. She glanced at the sky. Dark clouds were sweeping in from the south. “It will rain soon.” She looked at Eve. “He’s yours?”

The Megami-sama nodded. “I’ve got Iain.” The two of them watched Sofia lead everyone else inside. “Do you still want Canaan for the lecture?”

“I want you too, but Canaan’s telepathy is going to let me know how they’re reacting.” He grimaced. “I don’t want her to have to do this since it goes against our beliefs, but they have to believe me or a shit storm is going to roll over them sometime next year.” His grimace became a frown. “And it’ll be my fault.”

“It is our fault,” Eve said. “We knew what the repercussions were going to be and we decided that it was worth it to our family.” She poked him in the chest when he shrugged. “We decided it, Iain. The decision was never just yours. Any guilt from that decision gets shared amongst us.”

Zareen came trotting down the ramp. “Sofia has everyone settled and tea is being served. All we’re waiting on is you and Shannon Sheehan.” Her eyes swept from Eve to Iain. “What?”

“Iain’s worried they won’t believe him.”

The Nightmare snorted. “They will or they’ll probably die. The choice is theirs.”

“We’re friends with some of them now,” Iain said mildly.

“Friends,” Zareen shot back, “are not family.” Her gaze shifted. “Silver is returning with a human.”

Silver stopped and nodded towards Iain. “Shannon, this is Iain Grey. Iain, this is Shannon Sheehan.”

Iain smiled. “We didn’t really get to meet yesterday. That’s kind of my fault since I was so busy, but I’d like to apologize. You’re invited to this meeting too.”

“Why,” Shannon asked bluntly. Her eyes roved around and widened as they stopped on Zareen. “She’s naked!”

The Nightmare looked down at herself. “I am not. I am nude.”

“My ladies are allowed to decide how they will dress,” Iain said. “This is Zareen and in her case she doesn’t really like clothes. Ceres is the same way.”

“I haven’t met any of them,” Shannon said quietly. “Mistress Rionach keeps me busy and I’m not supposed to socialize.”

“Don’t you have weekends off,” Iain asked.

“I have Sunday off, Mr. Grey. But then I have church and my other responsibilities. Even when I do have some time free, it’s not like my cousin has been around for me to meet.”

Iain nodded. “I see. Well, this is my place and here you are my guest and not Rionach’s maid. I’d like you to pretend it’s a weekend and you have free time right now.” He smiled gently. “I’d also prefer if you called me Iain. Mr. Grey is what people tend to call me when they want something. However, I will not insist on it, because that wouldn’t be fair to you.” He gestured to his side. “This is Eve and she’s going to show you to where everyone else is and show you where to sit.” He turned to Eve. “Don’t let Rionach put her to work, all right?”

Eve nodded. “And if Rionach threatens her employment?”

“I doubt she’d do that, but if she does then we can hire her.” Iain smiled. “I doubt Shannon wants to be a maid forever and we can provide her with other opportunities.”

“What kind of opportunities,” Shannon asked. When Eve looked at her the young woman smiled shyly. “I like Mistress Rionach, but Iain is right. I don’t want to be her maid for the rest of my life.”

"I'd take you to Texas to train with one of my other agents and some of my family on how to work for me. At the end of that I’d return you here to Ireland and help you start a business as my agent.”

“Why would you do something like that for me?”

Iain smiled. “You’re smart enough to ask that question. Also, you’re Ciaran’s cousin. He’s done an outstanding job working for me and I think you’d as good or a better job than he has.”

“I’m only sixteen,” Shannon protested.

“Ah, but by the time we get your parent’s permission, you finish your apprenticeship, you come back here, we find a suitable place for the business, build the place and get you set up you’ll be seventeen and an adult under Irish law.”

“I have no parents,” Shannon said. “They’re dead. That’s why I was sent to Mistress Rionach’s to live.”

“So I only have to ask you if you’d like to do this.” Iain raised a hand as she started to speak. “You don’t really know me, but after this meeting I’ll arrange for you to spend some time with your cousin, Ciaran. You can question him and his ladies about me and find out if I might be a man you can trust.” She nodded hesitantly. “Eve is going to take you inside now.”

Zareen looked at Silver. “She knows you. Go with her and Eve.”

The Pegaslut nodded and smiled at Shannon. “Let’s go.”

Eve looked at the Nightmare. “I am supposed to be Iain’s guard today. I’m transferring that to you.”

“I am his guard.” Zareen waited until they were alone before taking Iain’s hand and pressing his palm against her lower belly as she looked searchingly into his eyes. “I am empty. I wish to be full.”

He smiled and she relaxed. “When?”

“Soon.” Her eyes closed and she trembled. “My twee is piecing together memories of when I was feral. There’s so much I may never know about myself.” She sighed when Iain wrapped her up tightly in his arms. Her voice was so soft that only Iain’s modifications to his hearing allowed him to hear her. “I was born feral. So many years lost. So many daughters I couldn’t love. I was a Unicorn and yet my mother fought in the war three hundred years ago. We were caught and she was awakened. I didn’t understand the words at the time but I remember her telling them about it. They were more careless with me and I escaped before I could be awakened. How is it that I lived so long?”

“Did you know that Ninhursag and I returned to where we found you the day after we met?”

Zareen’s eyes opened and her gold ones stared into his blue green ones. “No. Why?”

“I had a suspicion. I gathered as many samples of your blood as I could find. I wanted to run some tests. So I knew you have longevity only a few days after that.”

“You said nothing.”

“I wasn’t sure what you would remember or if you’d care and you having longevity wasn’t important at the time. We were all pretty much doomed at that point, remember?” He rubbed his nose against hers and she smiled. “Since I had blood from you as a Unicorn I went ahead and ran the DNA to see if my hunch was right.”

She rested her head against his. “Was it?”

“There was a single batch of Unicorns created that had longevity. Your mother had to have been from that batch. Technically, that makes you Poppet’s niece and Jamie’s cousin, since she’s from the same batch. Your DNA before you evolved was identical to Poppet Wolf’s DNA.”

“So my children will have it too.” She kissed him gently and wriggled out of his arms. “I want them very soon. But now you have to deal with the humans inside. Be firm. Too many of them are used to having their own way.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Just don’t hit any of them. They’ll break.”

“As long as they don’t hit you, I won’t hit them.” She took his hand and led him up the ramp.

The conference room was just big enough to comfortably seat everyone at the tables that were arranged to give Iain an open place at the front of the room in which to speak to the seated occupants, but that wasn’t a surprise to Iain since the interior could be reconfigured and he’d specifically requested something cozy for this meeting. Two tea trolleys were parked in the center aisle in the room and Sofia was filling cups to hand out. Canaan stood sentry near the door while Eve and Dominique were at the back of the room. Pandora was standing near where Iain would be giving his lecture, waiting to take back her usual role as his bodyguard. The only other member of Iain’s harem in the room was Silver and she was sitting and quietly chatting with Shannon, who had carefully been seated on the other side of the room from Rionach Sullivan.

The door slid silently shut behind Iain as he moved to the front of the room. Pandora looked at Zareen. “I have him,” she said firmly.

The Nightmare gave her an amused glance as she found a place against the wall near Iain. “No. I am his guard today.”

Pandora looked shocked for an instant. Her expression changed to one of disbelief. “I said I have him. I am relieving you.”

Zareen didn’t bother to look at her. “I said no. I am senior to you. You may not command me.”

Iain glanced back at the two pokegirls as Pandora’s eyes narrowed angrily. What is going on, he asked the two of them.

For some reason Zareen is being stupid, Pandora replied instantly.

I decided the last time she dismissed me out of hand that it would be the final time, Zareen said in his head. Iain could tell she was not including Pandora in the discussion. I was in the harem before her and I was delta bonded to you before she was. In every way that is important to her, I am her senior and she treats me like a kit. We all guard you, but she acts like she is the only one who can keep you safe. Eve transferred responsibility for your protection to me. Pandora cannot take it from me if I don’t give it up to her. There was a pause. I know how important this is to her. I will allow her to assist me if she desires.

Iain blinked. The idea that she would get to assist you is going to piss her off royally.

I know. The only thing that will not anger her is if I let her win completely. I will not. It is this or nothing for her.

Iain reached out to Ninhursag, who was elsewhere in the transport. Harem politics strikes again and at a bad time.

Explain, she answered. Iain quickly filled her in. Zareen is right. Eve coddled Pandora when she first joined the harem because of her pain and the fact that she was a Celestial. I continued doing so without evaluating if was necessary or desired, and didn’t evaluate it again when she became an Archangel. I should have. The offer for her to assist Zareen will anger Pandora less than cutting her out entirely, and will make her think about the fact that she cannot muscle in on your guard when she wants to anymore.

Thanks. Iain turned around. “Pandora?” She turned her glare from Zareen to him. “Ninhursag assigned Eve as my guard today. Eve passed that responsibility to Zareen when I gave her something else to do. You can’t take it away from her just because you want to.” He raised a hand when she started to speak. “However, you can assist her as long as you remember that Zareen is the lead in this and you have to follow her instructions.”

Pandora’s face went professionally blank and she nodded once. “Yessir.”

I know she’s angry, Ninhursag said through their link as he turned back around to face the Sullivan family, but that was nicely done. She will accept your ruling more easily since you didn’t use Zareen’s rank to beat her into place. I’ll arrange a match between the two of them later to let them work out their frustration with each other. Other than one mistake that won’t upset Pandora, your words were perfect.

What mistake?

He could feel his Elfqueen’s amusement. You just turned the single bodyguard that you resent into a security detail. Even if the two harems are starting to blend together Allison is going to rightly demand outer harem representation in it and I will have to match her numbers.

Fuck. He gritted his teeth for a second and took a deep breath before forcing a smile on his face. “I want to thank all of you for agreeing to join us for this and I believe you’ll find it’ll be to your significant benefit to learn what I’m going to reveal today.” His smile faded slightly. “But first, I need to lay down some ground rules for this meeting, so it doesn’t dissolve into some kind of shouting match or argument. I like chaos in the lives of my foes, not mine.” He gestured off to his right. “A hundred meters or so that way is the border of Michael Ahern’s property. This transport sits on land that is currently owned by the Irish government.” His smile faded completely. “The reason I deliberately sited the transport here is because I am aware that several of you nice people have a tendency to trot out the old canard of my house, my rules.” Beibhinn snickered loudly, earning her a hard look from her father. Iain chuckled too. “As a Texan I don’t have a problem with that, but I wanted to make absolutely sure that I wouldn’t hear that today. In point of fact, I own this transport, so this is my property and my rules apply.” He looked around the room. “This is important because one of my rules today is that while you agreed to and then came here of your own free will, I am not going to let you leave until I am done speaking. That rule is because I know I am going to say some things that some of you are not going to want to listen to. I don’t intend to be cruel, but I don’t care. You don’t get to stomp out and you don’t get to keep other people from hearing what I say today if you don’t like it. Of course, I can’t force you to listen to me, but I can keep you from preventing others from listening if they want to.”

“The next rule is that questions are allowed while I am speaking, with the understanding that I may not be able to answer them to your satisfaction at that point. I have a rough order in which I intend to reveal things today and I am not going to rush that just because someone wants me to.”

“Then I have a question,” Ciaran said. “If someone does try to leave or disrupt this meeting, what are you going to do about it?”

Iain and Ciaran had worked together beforehand to make sure this question got asked, so Iain wasn’t surprised by it. “Until I ask her to or some kind of emergency takes place, Theodora won’t open that door. There are phase and teleport blocks in place to prevent other methods of leaving and any pokegirl techniques powerful enough to breach the door or a wall would likely kill a lot of people in this room as an unfortunate consequence.” He looked around the room. “I don’t anticipate anyone being rude enough to disrupt the meeting, but if it happens they’ll find themselves slapped against the back wall, glued to it for the duration of this meeting, and gagged.” He smiled. “But I don’t expect anyone to be that much of a dumbass today.”

“Profanity,” Rafael rumbled.

Iain shrugged. “I curse. I’ll try not to curse at a completely offensive level, but my completely offensive is going to be rather different than yours and, hey, my place, my rules.” He smiled again. “The last rule that comes to mind at this time is that every person in this room who is not a member of my immediate family is a guest and an adult. As my guests you have no responsibilities other than to listen to what I have to say. That means that Rionach cannot order Shannon to do anything and Rafael and Martha can’t try to have their children excluded from the discussion.” His eyes met Rafael’s. “I like you, but if you try to tell me that your daughter has no business here I’m going to laugh in your face. Due to the circumstances, she has more reason to be here than you do.”

He looked around the room. “Are there any questions at this point?”

Ceres nodded. “I realize we can’t leave, so I have to ask what about using the bathroom?”

“There is a bathroom at the back of the room. Right now you can’t see it because the door matches the wall but it will open when you get close to it.” He didn’t look at Martha but reached out to her with his twee. I know about your pregnancy. I’m not aware if everyone else here knows so I’m not going to say anything out loud but if you have to go suddenly, just do so. I’ll pause what I’m saying until you return.

Martha smiled at him. Thank you but I’ve told my family already.

What about Rionach and Shannon?

Martha looked startled. Rionach knows but I’m not sure about Shannon.

And that is why I didn’t announce anything. Iain continued. “So if anyone needs to use the bathroom, just go. I’ll wait until you return to continue. Are there any other questions?”

When there weren’t any, he nodded. “Then let’s get started. First of all, I need to put some things into context. My name is Iain Grey and I am not native to this Earth.” He waited for a second. “There are parallel universes that sit right next to each other. I can prove they exist and later, after this meeting, I will for anyone who is interested, but for the moment please accept that I’m right. The closer the universes are, the more identical they are. In a universe not very far from here in those terms, a group of bad people reached into a third universe and kidnapped me from it. This wouldn’t be important for this discussion except for the fact that in the second universe as well as here I seem to have some powers that I didn’t have in my home universe. The important one for this talk is that I know things that I shouldn’t be able to. I don’t normally talk about them; my mind cannot be read without my permission and, thanks to some unfortunate circumstances in the second universe, I am confident that I cannot be broken by torture, so those secrets are pretty safe.”

“What kind of unfortunate circumstances,” Jeremiah asked.

Iain’s face became completely expressionless. “On multiple occasions I was tortured for information and didn’t break,” he said quietly.

“What kind of torture,” Elsa asked.

“That isn’t germane to this discussion,” Iain replied. “And, frankly, isn’t something I want to relive for your benefit.” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath for a second. When his eyes opened, his face came alive once again. “I escaped from my captors and, over the course of my adventures on that world, found many of the ladies in my family. Also during that time we determined that it would be to our advantage to move to this world, where none of our enemies could pursue us.”

“On that second Earth, before I arrived, there existed two undead creatures.” A hologram appeared behind him of the Eoghan and Germanicus that Iain’s people had captured. Jeremiah visibly recoiled as Beibhinn and Rionach gasped in shock. “They were a very powerful form of free willed spellcasting undead that were thousands of years old. They were evil, murderous, vicious, amoral, cruel and petty. They were defeated and destroyed, although I will freely admit that I had nothing to do with that.”

Iain got himself a glass of water and took a deep drink. “Because I know things that I shouldn’t, I knew about the existence of Eoghan and Germanicus on this world too.”

“Who,” Martha asked.

“Those are the names of the monsters,” Ciaran supplied. “Eoghan is the one on the left and Germanicus is the one on the right.”

“How do you know that,” Rafael asked curiously.

“I’ll get to that,” Iain interjected, “but for the moment I still have the floor.” He waited to see if anyone else had something to say before continuing. “Eoghan and Germanicus were very powerful and I knew that eventually they would sense my presence and the presence of my ladies. Because of a peculiarity of my magic, they’d investigate, decide we were a threat and move to eliminate us. A force estimate concluded that victory for us, if at all possible, would be incredibly costly in terms of the lives of my family.”

“What peculiarity is that,” Beibhinn asked.

“I’m still learning what I can do,” Iain explained, “but I’ve already discovered I have a strong affinity for necromancy. I haven’t decided how much of that affinity I intend to learn to use, but I suspect that if I don’t master that particular set of powers then they may manifest on their own and uncontrollably.” He smiled slightly. “While necromancy doesn’t really appeal to me, having the dead rising around me at random intervals is even less appealing.”

“Anyways,” Iain said, “since the idea of Eoghan and Germanicus slaughtering my family wasn’t acceptable; I started trying to come up with a better plan even before we came to this world. Finally, I decided that going after them before they knew about us was the least risky plan, as long as we could take them by complete surprise.”

He refilled and drained his glass. “But Eoghan and Germanicus weren’t likely to visit London to take in a show and attacking them in their lair would be just as dangerous as waiting for them to prepare and come for us, so I decided they had to be lured out to a battleground of our choosing. I knew a way to lure them, but someone had to act as bait. I decided it would be me and started making plans to journey to Ireland.”

He looked past his guests to Eve, who gave him a determined smile. “Most Celestial breeds of pokegirl have a power called precognition. As an Angel, Victoria has it, and so does one of my wives, Eve, as well as Pandora. As Eve is a Megami-sama and unimaginably powerful, her precognition is a lot stronger than that of the average Celestial.”

“Not only can I see the potential events,” Eve said loudly, “I can estimate probabilities. I calculated that Iain had a fifty percent probability of success in this mission if he did it himself and an eighty eight percent probability that in doing so he would be killed. If this mission failed, his chance of dying went to ninety four percent.”

“At that point,” Iain took control of the discussion again, “my family revolted and told me that if I so much as thought about trying such a foolish plan, they’d pack me and everything we had into the Theodora and we’d try our chances in a random universe far from this one.” He glanced at Pandora, who looked blandly back at him. “Considering that I have a couple of teachers who would not appreciate my disappearing and have the power to make that displeasure known no matter where I might be, and since that displeasure might kill most of my family as they stood around me, running wasn’t really an option either.” He sighed. “So the most magically adept members of my family got together with Theodora and figured out a plan. And that plan was to find an individual with a particular set of criteria and send this person to lure Eoghan and Germanicus out instead of having me try to do it.”

“My precognition told me that the right kind of individual would exist here,” Eve explained, “and that we could find them. Using this individual the chance of success went up to eighty six percent and the chance of Iain dying went down to seven percent.”

“What about the chance of the person doing this dying,” Elsa asked suddenly.

“The chance of the lure dying was twenty seven percent,” Eve said.

Ceres frowned and then stared at Iain in shock. “Is Ciaran the lure?”

Iain chuckled. “No, he is not the lure.” His chuckle died as Ceres visibly relaxed. “He was the lure.”

Victoria shot to her feet. “YOU SENT HIM IN THERE WITH ONLY A THIRTY,” she broke off suddenly and struggled visibly as she fought against some unseen force. Slowly she turned to face the back of the room.

Dominique gave her a grim smile from where she stood. “That’s a neat spell, isn’t it? The longer I hold it on you and the harder you fight it the more it starts to hurt. I am well aware of the freedom Ciaran allows you and your volatile temper with him. My husband is not Ciaran and you do not even begin to threaten him.” She gestured with her right hand and Victoria almost collapsed before catching herself as the spell was released. “You were warned not to disrupt this meeting. Do not do so again.”

Iain hadn’t moved. “Thank you, Dominique. Victoria, please be seated.” The Angel slowly sat down. “Although you didn’t ask a question, I will treat your explosion as though there was one in it. Yes, I planned to send Ciaran in as my lure with him having one chance in three of dying. At the time, I hadn’t met him and we were not friends, so his life wasn’t important to me. For the record, that changed and we began to take extra steps to ensure his safety as well as yours and your sister’s as best we could.”

“You don’t care about the lives of others,” Rafael asked.

“That’s a difficult question to answer without sounding like a complete asshole,” Iain replied. “If someone is important to me I do care about their wellbeing and will help them if they want or need it. If someone isn’t important to me, I am not going to expend resources to keep them whole. Their life holds no intrinsic value for me. However, I am very loyal to my friends, and during his training with us Ciaran became a friend.” He smiled. “Since then, so have some of the members of his immediate family.” His smile faded. “I do regret the deaths of Tamsin and Libby, but they hadn’t managed to become friends with me and so I don’t mourn them as I did Eliana when she died.”

“You waited when Tamsin and Libby were attacked because circumstances were not quite right. What would you have done if Germanicus had continued on to attack us,” Spirit asked.

“I would have attacked both of the liches and taken my chances,” Iain said without hesitation. “The odds would have been worse than they were when I did act, but not insurmountable.”

Spirit nodded. “I believe you.”

“We hadn’t heard anything about this,” Rafael rumbled. “We were just told that Tamsin and Libby had been killed and that Ciaran couldn’t talk about it yet.”

“I had instructed Ciaran that certain portions of his job couldn’t be discussed. I didn’t relieve him of that and I’m pleased he followed my orders,” Iain said. “The short version of what happened is that Ciaran had to meet with someone for me. He believed he was meeting with her to solicit sales of items that I’m providing and to deliver a letter from me to the person he was meeting with. That was all true, but I knew that during this it was very likely that Eoghan and Germanicus would become involved as a direct result of this meeting, giving me the chance to take them down. The letter was a warning to her about them, but it was also a calculated effort to get her to do certain things that would help get their attention. She’s arrogant enough that her behavior in certain things can be predicted. It worked and Eoghan and his brother showed up during this meeting. Although loyal to the English Crown as a soldier, Tamsin was also loyal to the woman Ciaran was meeting. When Eoghan and Germanicus arrived, the woman attacked them to defend herself and Tamsin did so too, ordering Libby to help her. At that point, Germanicus killed Tamsin and Libby both. I had deliberately given Ciaran enough information to know that attacking Eoghan and his brother would be fruitless and he kept his ladies from getting involved, saving their lives as well as his.” Iain smiled. “If he hadn’t become my friend, I wouldn’t have given him that information and, to be honest, we wouldn’t even be having this meeting. A short time later my opportunity came and my forces moved in and secured Eoghan and Germanicus. Later, I executed them.”

“How did you know to be there?” It was Shannon, who flushed when everyone looked at her. “It’s a good question,” she said defiantly.

“It is an excellent question,” Iain agreed. “Ciaran informed me of when and where the meeting would take place. It was one of the places we had thought might be the meeting location and had scouted it ahead of time so as to know what the place was like. As soon as he started on the trip, we moved out and managed to get into position before he and his group arrived. We had to wait quite a while before we could get involved, but since we won it was worth it.” He paused when Martha suddenly got up and headed for the back of the room. “And we are going to take a five minute break,” he said calmly. “Sofia, would you refresh the tea or coffee of anyone who would like it, please?”

The wall opened when Martha approached and she turned back for a just a second. “Tea, please,” she said before disappearing into the bathroom.

Iain looked at Victoria. “Are you going to stay angry at me?”

“You really would have gotten involved if Germanicus had turned on us?” Iain nodded. “What would have happened if you never had the opportunity to stop them?”

“Are you asking if the lure hadn’t worked?” She nodded. “They would have killed my family and eventually decided to take Ireland, Great Britain and the rest of the world, pretty much in that order. There are some other people who might have stopped them, but they also might have abandoned this world to its fate, depending on how they evaluated the danger to themselves.” Iain sipped at his water. “Even if I had never met Ciaran and he’d never come to Ireland, he and everyone he is related to would have been hunted down and exterminated.” He smiled slightly. “Not that you would have cared.”

“Oh?”

“You know how precognition works. Ciaran and you met because Eve saw it was the most beneficial path and so we put him on it. You and the women who came after you into his life maximized his survival chances.” He chuckled once. “Because of what Eve saw we played merry hell for most of his training period keeping him from ending up with a pokegirl or three from the ones in Shield who were looking for a man. If you hadn’t been on the best path for his survival, you’d still be doing what you were before the two of you met. You and Ceres and Elsa and Eliana and Spirit and Kentarch were a large part of what raised his survival chance above that thirty percent.”

“Did Eliana have to die,” Ciaran asked.

Iain shrugged. “Don’t you believe that God knows the decisions you are going to make but doesn’t force you to make them or rescue from their results, even when they’re bad? Eve doesn’t normally know who is going to die or when. She sees broad probabilities. If she did see specifics and had seen Eliana’s death, I’d have sent word to you in an attempt to protect Eliana’s life. But I can’t answer the question about whether she had to die or not. That one is way above my pay grade.” Martha reappeared and returned to her seat. “Does anyone else need a bathroom break or anything like that?”

Beibhinn stirred. “You asked if Ciaran believed in predestination. What do you believe? Are you Christian?”

Iain hesitated for a second. “I’m not going to discuss my religion with you, Beibhinn, not in this forum. That’s something for a private conversation, if ever. I will, however, admit to not being Catholic. I was raised Baptist, which is common in Texas.” He glanced around the room. “I take it everyone is good on the bathrooms, so I’ll continue my discussion.”

Sophia quickly swapped out his glass of water for a new one. Ice clinked when he picked it up and he smiled. “You know my weakness.” He gulped down a mouthful of water and returned the glass to its resting place.

Her ears flicked. “I know many of your weaknesses.” Her head cocked. “And yet I do not know your tell.”

He just grinned and turned back to his guests. “As I have said already, I needed someone with a particular set of criteria to act as the lure to Germanicus and Eoghan. I’ve also said I don’t talk much about the things I know, so pay attention. These criteria had little to do with the meeting with the woman and more with an obsession of Eoghan’s. Ciaran met those criteria, which is one of the primary reasons why I hired him.” He fixed Rafael and Martha with a hard look. “Understand before I explain this that neither of you has ever been unfaithful to the other. So when I tell you that Ciaran’s genetics reveal that he is over ninety percent Sidhe, it isn’t because someone else slept with Martha and it’s not because Rafael fucked some Sidhe woman and she replaced Martha’s child with Ciaran.”

“Can you watch the profanity,” Rafael snapped.

Iain flashed a quick grin. “You know, normally my response would be something else profane or to say that I can’t watch my profanity because I can’t see the words as they come out of my mouth, but in this case the word is used accurately. It has been explained to me that when a Sidhe woman uses her magic to bewitch a human man, what results from it isn’t making love and it isn’t having sex. It is fucking. There’s no romance, there’s no love, there’s no affection. There’s nothing except the unending compulsion to slam your dick into her until she’s satisfied.” He realized Shannon was turning bright red and sighed. “I’m sorry if I have embarrassed you, Shannon. I’ll try to keep your presence in mind.”

She gave him a hesitant smile back. “Thank you, Iain, but I am familiar with that word. I was just surprised to hear you talk like that.”

“The truth of the matter is I’m trying to get Rafael a little pissed off,” Iain admitted.

“Why,” Martha asked.

“Because the two of you have lied to your son for years, I’m tired of it and when I reveal that lie it’s most likely going to piss both of you off. If I can pick what you’re upset at, I can channel that anger and keep it from ending up with both of you glued to the back wall.”

Martha scowled. “I have never lied to my son!”

“What lie do you accuse us of telling him,” Rafael was obviously trying to keep a grip on his temper.

Iain smiled coldly. “You and your wife both know that Ciaran cracked his skull open and died on his fourteenth birthday.” Martha went white. “And instead of thanking God when he didn’t stay dead and helping him come to terms with what happened to him you instead confused and hurt him by denying that it ever happened, even when he knew otherwise. It’s no wonder he didn’t tell you that it happened again in Scotland.” Iain turned to Ciaran as Martha swayed in her seat. “It was your Sidhe blood that kept you from staying dead in both cases. Although you are what can be termed unawakened Sidhe, which means you can’t access any of the talents being Sidhe might bring you, your magic is already powerful enough that without conscious control it is trying to keep you alive.”

Ciaran’s eyes were wide. “Oh. Wait, my test showed I had no unusual magic.”

Iain grinned. “Dominique lied.”

Beibhinn frowned. “If nobody cheated and Ciaran is not a changeling, how is it that he’s Sidhe?”

“Technically he’s still human and will be until his powers come fully awake. As to how he is that way, it’s because that every one of your relatives in this room have Sidhe blood.” Iain’s eyes swept the room. “It’s why Jeremiah is still so active at his age. It’s why the people of the Sheehan clan don’t age very fast. Even Linda is nearly a third Sidhe. You are as much Sidhe as Ciaran is.” He glanced at Martha. And so is the child you now carry.

Rionach was staring at him. “How is this even possible? Is everyone in Ireland Sidhe?”

Iain shook his head. “Nope. It’s actually quite rare. And for the explanation as to how this happened I’m going to have to defer to an expert.” He clasped his hands in front of him. “Before I came to this world, there was another group that came here from yet another Earth. This group had also faced their world’s Eoghan and Germanicus and had destroyed them. Because of that, they had contact with the last living Sidhe from their world, a deposed queen named Ygerna.”

Ciaran started. “But,”

Iain cut him off. “Yes, you met the Ygerna of this world, and the Eoghan and Germanicus from this world as well. She is still queen here and will likely remain that way for a long time since the one that came here with Shikarou’s group was deposed by her Eoghan and Germanicus in roughly 2300 AD. Since I’ve destroyed them, she won’t be dethroned by them.” Iain looked around the room again. “Ygerna has been the last Sidhe for thousands of years. The rest had been destroyed by Eoghan and Germanicus, after Eoghan tried to have his Sidhe powers awakened by a Sidhe king and was thrown out of the court for breaking the rules. Until very recently, Queen Ygerna was not aware of this and the discovery was quite a shock to her.”

He drank more water. “The Ygerna that came here with Shikarou I’m going to refer from now on as Ygerna. The other is Queen Ygerna, so I can keep them straight in my head. I know Ygerna and she and I are friends. She’s here today and I’m going to bring her in to explain how it is that you have so much Sidhe blood. Oh, and the door is going to open, but a door farther down the corridor is closed, so don’t try to dart past her.”

The door slid open and Ygerna entered, followed by a Dragoness and Ninhursag. She looked around the room as she entered. The Sidhe woman was wearing jeans, comfortable looking boots and a red floral print blouse. Iain nodded to her. “Ladies and gentlemen, the golden haired woman is Ygerna. Ninhursag you already know and the Dragoness is Radha. She’s on duty right now as Ygerna’s bodyguard, which means you don’t talk to her and you don’t give Ygerna a hard time if you like your liver to remain where it is. Ygerna, these are members of the Sullivan, Ahern and Sheehan families. Please join me.”

Radha took station near Pandora as Ygerna stopped in front of Iain and gave him an unhappy frown. “What is the meaning of this,” she asked quietly. “I don’t think you are likely to ask me to perform tricks for your friends and if you are I am going to have to reevaluate our friendship.”

“I’m sorry I had to keep you in the dark about this, but when you understand what is going on I hope you’ll agree with me when I say I have a good reason for it,” he replied in a normal voice so everyone else could hear him. “I need to prove something to the people here and I need your help to do it. The reason I didn’t talk to you about it before is because I didn’t want you to come into this with any preconceptions and this room is as spy proof as I can make it.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Has anyone told you that sometimes you are too clever for your own good?”

“Yes, we have,” Eve said loudly. “It doesn’t seem to help.”

Iain smiled slightly. “Behind you, sitting between an Angel and a Tantrasaur is Ciaran Sullivan, one of my employees. A few months ago we talked about how you hadn’t met him, even though apparently you’d tried when he was at the ranch. The truth is that we worked very hard to make sure that the two of you never met before today. He is the agent I used to meet with this world’s Ygerna and the one who I used to smoke out Eoghan and Germanicus. Please turn around and meet him and find out why we did all of that work.” His smile grew. “If you can.”

Ygerna’s eyes narrowed slightly and she poked him in the chest with her finger. “Too clever by half, you are,” she said in amused tones. “I will play your game.” She turned around and glanced at everyone in the room before her gaze settled on Ciaran. “You are Ciaran Sullivan?”

Ciaran rose to his feet so as not to be rude. “I am.”

Ygerna gave him a pretty smile and held out her hand, leaning partially over the table towards him. “I am Ygerna. I understand you have met my analog from here, but I am not her.”

Ciaran took her hand gently. “You don’t really look like her.”

Ygerna cocked her head. “How do we differ?”

“I don’t think she’d ever be caught dead in jeans, but the truth is that it’s hard to describe, but you look,” he hesitated, “happier is the only word that comes to mind, but that doesn’t really seem right either.”

She released his hand and smiled. “You are very perceptive. While I am not truly happy, I am not as unhappy as I was when I was at the point in my life that my analog is.”

“Well, I hope you do find happiness one day.”

“That is very kind of you, Ciaran. I hope you do as well.” She frowned and made a motion with her hand as he sat back down. Her eyes widened. “Goddess,” she murmured. Her eyes swept the room and she backed up suddenly. “These people are Sidhe. There are no more Sidhe. How is this possible, Iain?”

“I have a theory, but you may need to corroborate parts of it.”

“Speak, Iain,” she snapped at him. “No more riddles.”

“Ygerna.” She didn’t look at him. “Ygerna!” Her head whipped around. “You are under my protection here and these people are no threat to you. These people have been nothing but polite to me, other than some snarky behavior from Jeremiah about Zareen and clothes. They have not awakened to their power as Sidhe.”

She relaxed minutely but went back to warily watching the other people in the room. “Tell us your theory.”

“Throughout the legends of the Sidhe,” Iain began, “there are stories of Sidhe who dallied with humans.”

Ygerna shook her head slightly. “Those stories are mostly fable. In my culture, lying with a human is the Sidhe equivalent of bestiality. It did happen, but not nearly as often as the humans say it did.” She glanced at him. And I am well aware that I did sleep with humans from time to time and that you know of it. I would prefer not to have my words thrown back in my face.

I would never do that to you, Iain replied. “But it did happen on occasion and offspring did result from some of these unions, right? What happened to these half-bloods?”

“It depended on the court and the time period. Sometimes such crosses were brought into the court as the children of whoever sired them. Other times they were ignored and on some few instances they were hunted down and destroyed.”

Beibhinn frowned. “Sired? Didn’t Sidhe women ever have sex with human men?”

Ygerna nodded. “It did happen, but all children from a Sidhe woman were Sidhe and brought up by her in the court that she belonged to. We don’t abandon our children. Some Sidhe men were not so honorable, or the woman they had impregnated couldn’t be found later.”

Iain continued. “So the crosses that were ignored grew up in human society and, presumably, passed their blood on to other generations. I think that the people in this room are a result of that.”

Michael leaned back in his chair. “But that blood should have been diluted over time. You claim our blood isn’t.”

Iain nodded. “Normally that would be true. I think that the Sidhe blood was diluted for a while, but I also think that Sidhe blood has magic of its own and when someone with Sidhe blood met someone else with Sidhe blood that he wasn’t closely related to, he was drawn to her. I also think that due to the inherent magic in the blood, in a union two people with Sidhe blood that blood was concentrated instead of further diluted.”

Ygerna looked surprised and then thoughtful. “That is entirely possible. Things like that have happened in our history.” She turned to face Iain. “If this continued eventually a child would have been born that was Sidhe and had access to its power. If you hadn’t destroyed Germanicus and Eoghan, they would have exterminated these people for their blood.”

“That was why I chose Ciaran,” Iain said. “If they hadn’t shown up at the meeting with Ygerna, they still would have observed it and would have eventually realized Ciaran’s bloodline. Knowing he had no real power they would have gone after him immediately and I’d have taken them when they did.”

Ygerna frowned and turned back to the table where Ciaran sat. “You met Queen Ygerna.”

“I did.”

“She didn’t recognize what you represent?”

“No, not that she said.”

“The fact that she let you go speaks to the fact that she didn’t recognize your potential. But she will remember your meeting and eventually she will recognize what she missed seeing in him and when she does she will be furious that you have escaped her.” Ygerna looked at Iain. “She will send the knights after him to fetch him back to her. When she finds out about the others here, she’ll send her knights after all of them too. She will insist they be under her absolute control or dead. They are in terrible danger.”

“I know. That’s why we’re having this meeting.” Iain looked at the people in this room. “Ygerna is right. Queen Ygerna will eventually realize what slipped through her fingers and will move to acquire Ciaran with the intent of forcing him to father her children. When she realizes just how pure his blood is, she’ll investigate his family to see if there more like him.” Iain’s face was grim. “And she won’t care that you’re related either. She’ll force you to produce children for her to bring up as Sidhe and as her subjects. And the reason that I’m here explaining this to you is because it’s my fault.”

“Because you brought Ciaran to Queen Ygerna,” Spirit said.

“That’s correct.”

Ygerna blinked. “Were there analogs to these people on my world? Did I miss such powerful blood too?”

“Yes and no,” Ninhursag said from where she stood. “In our world as well as in yours, Rafael and Martha and their children died when Typhonna destroyed Texas along with most of the United States. The others,” she shrugged. “Even if they survived the war and subsequent unpleasantness, you didn’t have any reason to search Cork for Sidhe. And if you’d found them, you had no idea that Eoghan was watching. He would have destroyed them.”

“Pokegirls have their own magic,” Iain said suddenly. “I suspect that their increasing presence would have kept the concentration from continuing and instead would have caused the dilution to begin again and continue until any Sidhe blood became thin enough as to be useless. So within a few generations there would have been nothing for you to find.”

Ygerna turned and stared at Iain. “The Grimoire,” she breathed. “We have it and its presence changes everything.”

“The possible use of the Grimoire as a solution is for the future. At this point its presence changes nothing,” Iain replied. “We have the more immediate danger to these people from Queen Ygerna to be concerned about.”

“What can we do,” Rionach asked. “We cannot fight the Sidhe or her knights.”

We can,” Elsa snarled.

“Even if you are extraordinarily powerful pokegirls Queen Ygerna’s knights would swarm you until you were neutralized or killed,” Ygerna disagreed. “And then they would take away Ciaran and everyone in this room. And if you survived they’d probably tame you into their service. Every day you would be able to watch Ciaran and not touch him ever again.”

Elsa’s growl echoed made the hair on Ciaran’s neck lift and he shivered as she looked at him possessively. “Never,” she whispered through clenched teeth.

“What you can do is you can let me help you,” Iain said.

“Why would you do that,” Jeremiah asked.

“I’m friends with Ciaran, Neem and Beibhinn, I’m getting to be friends with Martha and Rafael, and I have several portable consciences who would be furious as hell if I just protected them and left the rest of you to hang.”

Linda gave him a curious look. “What’s a portable conscience?”

“In my case, their names are Eve, Vanessa, Pandora, Lucy and sometimes April,” Iain said with a smirk. “They follow me around and sometimes they tell me when I’m being insensitive to the plight of the helpless.”

Eve laughed. “He’s right. We advised him on this strategy without concern for what the fallout would be on the people around our mission of survival. Now that it’s complete, we can turn our attention to helping you survive the repercussions of what we had to do.”

“I expect that the current purge will keep Queen Ygerna busy for some months,” Iain said, “but it won’t last forever.”

“Purge,” Ygerna asked. “What purge?”

“For millennia, Eoghan had suborned your maid and your archivist because the maid let him keep an eye on your day to day operations and the archivist would be where you would go first if you had any historical questions about him. This world’s Eoghan did the same thing and Queen Ygerna discovered this bothersome fact recently and is conducting interrogations to determine who else might have been Eoghan’s puppet. She’s being quite thorough and isn’t in any sort of a hurry to clear any of her people.”

Ygerna sighed. “And I missed all of this? I deserved to lose my throne.”

Iain shook his head. “Nobody in your position could have anticipated that level of betrayal. You had no way of knowing you even had enemies in your midst. Your checks for loyalty would never been complete enough to find his agents.”

“I appreciate your kindness, Iain, but I know the truth, I failed my subjects in my responsibility for their protection from such threats. Monsters like Eoghan were the reason I formed the Order in the first place and the fact that we never knew our most formidable enemies even existed, much less lived in our midst, shows how much of a failure we were.”

Iain started to say something and stopped, putting his hand on her shoulder. “We’ll talk about this later,” he said quietly. “I’ve got to finish what I’m doing right now.”

She nodded. “You won’t change my mind.”

“Perhaps not,” he said, “but I wouldn’t be much of a friend if I didn’t try.” He raised his voice. “Rionach, Shannon, Rafael, Martha and Beibhinn are safe at least for the short term. While Tamsin may have reported their existence and their relationship with Ciaran, she can’t lead other knights to their homes. But a knight came here to deliver a message to Ciaran and he can bring others straight to Michael’s house and everyone who lives in it. And once Queen Ygerna has one of you, she’ll bewitch you and you’ll tell her everything she wants to know.”

“So kill Ygerna,” Canaan said firmly. “That should end the threat permanently.”

“The Order does serve a useful purpose,” Ygerna said. “Killing her would destabilize it as badly as it was when I was deposed. And I sent my knights out to fight the ferals when they attacked the cities in Ireland. I fought with them and together we saved Cork and Dublin from annihilation during the early years, until there were enough tamers to protect the humans. A human ruler of the Order might not be so charitable and would not be able to add the power I did in support.”

Canaan’s bared her teeth menacingly. “So we replace her with you. That puts the Order on our side.”

“That part of my life is over and I will not willingly revisit it,” Ygerna said. “If the Goddess had wished me to be queen, I would still be queen of my own Order. I will not be the shadow queen of someone else’s.”

“Could we reason with her,” Pandora asked. “Offer her support with our goods in return for her leaving these people alone.”

“And we could offer her information,” Eve said. “She will undoubtedly realize its power.”

“We are talking about the recreation of her race,” Ygerna replied. “She will not hesitate to do whatever she thinks is necessary and unless you offer to help her do exactly that, she will not listen to you.”

Theodora appeared standing next to Iain. “May I ask a question?”

He nodded. “Go ahead.”

She bowed slightly to him. “Thank you, clan leader. Ygerna, when your world was going through the transition that is happening now, how did you feel about the Blue League?”

“They were barbarians,” Ygerna said without hesitating. “They remained barbarians for nearly a century.”

“How did you feel about the British, who are the Royals now?”

“I had a civil relationship with the British Empire for many centuries,” Ygerna replied. “My knights helped the British to develop their own cadre of mages. In turn, they aided us in a few small things when asked.”

Theodora nodded. “Do you think that Queen Ygerna might feel the same as you did?” Iain’s eyes went wide and he stated to say something but held off when Theodora glanced at him and shook her head slightly.

Ygerna looked thoughtful. “I would suspect that she despises the Blue League even more than I did. On my world, the Blue League’s coup was well planned and successful. They decapitated the British government and it never recovered enough to put up much of a fight. The Blues had only to consolidate their hold on the country and then move against Ireland later the same year. The Blue League of this world is as repressive as the one from my world, but their coup failed and now they find themselves embroiled in a war they may or may not be able to win. Many of their people take that frustration out on the hapless Blue citizenry. I would have found that to be reprehensible. I am certain she does too.”

“You know more about the situation than I thought you would,” Ninhursag said.

“Monica had some questions about the war, the Blues and the British and so I did some investigating,” Ygerna replied. “Knowing the reality of the situation, I did not journey here, but Theodora was willing to give me as complete a briefing as she could and then was nice enough to go into detail in the subjects I showed some interest in.”

Theodora cocked her head. “Right now the war is essentially at a standstill, but barring a complete catastrophe the supplies and knowledge we are giving the British will eventually tip the balance against the Blue League. However, eventually could take some time. If provided with information on Blue vulnerabilities, some pokegirls and training in their effective use, Queen Ygerna’s forces would have the mobility and firepower that could prove pivotal in ending this war quickly and ensuring that the British prevail. Queen Anne would owe her much. Couple that with the fact that we possess the Grimoire of Danu and you could make some of her knights Sidhe and the question then becomes would she be willing to leave these people alone if we request it?”

“Such an agreement would have to be carefully negotiated,” Ygerna said slowly, “but I believe that she would.” She looked around the room. “But as your friend I have to point out that she will want your aid in this for some time to come and you still have to negotiate with me to have me perform as you would like. Do you understand the price you will eventually pay for this?”

“We do,” Iain said.

She looked at him curiously. “Are these people worth it?”

Iain chuckled. “If they weren’t, Theodora wouldn’t have asked her question. Now I have to agree with what you just said and admit that we will need your help in doing this. Would you be willing to do so?”

“What happens if I refuse?”

“Nothing will change in our relationship, if that’s what you’re asking. As for dealing with Queen Ygerna, I have one other option that I know will work.”

Ygerna frowned for a few seconds and then her eyes went wide. “Does this option involve Eirian?”

“It does.”

Ygerna turned to Eve. “And you would allow this?”

Eve smiled thinly. “For one reason I would.”

“And what reason could that be?”

“If she isn’t dealt with one way or another, eventually Queen Ygerna will send her knights for you and, in turn, for us.”

Ygerna looked shocked. It quickly faded into acceptance. “She will find out about me whether I help or not. I am Sidhe, I am female and I am going to be seen as a threat if only because she will consider that I could do what Canaan suggested and take her place without her knights knowing. She will want to neutralize me and hopefully capture me in such a way that she can breed me for children.” She looked at Eve. “She may try the same thing with Shikarou and Faelan or even with Kerrik.”

Iain laughed. “Kerrik can take care of himself and as for the brothers; if they can’t keep out of Queen Ygerna’s clutches then I can bargain with Kasumi and Branwyn to rescue them.”

Ygerna chuckled. “You would make an excellent Sidhe, Iain.”

He laughed again. “I make a much better Iain. Will you help us?”

“You know what I want.”

He nodded. “I cannot just give you that. You have to earn that one. However, you have Dominique on your side already and I happen to like you, as do several other members of my family. I will promise you one thing. I promise that I will never treat you like Faelan and Shikarou did.”

Ygerna smiled amusedly. “Are you aware that I have read some of your stories?”

“He is,” Theodora said. “I got his permission before I provided them to you.”

“Then I require his word.”

Iain nodded. “You’ll have it, just not here.”

“With the understanding that I will receive it within the next three days, I agree to help you.” Her smile faded. “And there is one other thing.”

Iain’s eyebrow rose. “What?”

“I insist that I do the negotiating with Queen Ygerna. Your people may be there and, in fact, I want them for the added security but I do the actual bargaining.”

“Why you,” Pandora asked.

“I am Sidhe and I understand the pitfalls of negotiating with Sidhe. Either Queen Ygerna will conduct this negotiation herself or she will assign a senior knight to do it. A senior knight will not understand how to get the better of me and, in that case,” she smiled broadly, “my incredible resemblance to his sovereign will throw him completely off balance. If Queen Ygerna deigns to negotiate herself, I won’t fall into the traps she will lay for the unwary. Some only a Sidhe will be able to discern.”

“And in that situation,” Canaan said, “the fact that you are her twin might still throw her off.”

“Yes,” Ygerna replied.

“All right, you’re our negotiator with Canaan as your aide and backup,” Iain said. He looked at Ciaran. “I was going to suggest that everybody you know move to Texas where I’d have a better chance of protecting them, but if this works they should be safe where they are.”

“What if it doesn’t,” Mike asked.

“I go to plan B.” Iain idly scratched his beard. “Plan B will keep you safe too.”

“What’s the difference between the two plans,” Rionach eyed him curiously.

“Plan A doesn’t involve anything that I need to give confession for.” He rubbed his eyes. “Ok, I’ve explained things and we’ve come up with a way to keep you safe that has good odds of being workable. Are there any questions?”

There was silence. Canaan chuckled. “I think you’ve answered most of the questions they could come up with right now. Later they’ll probably have more for you.” Her head swiveled and she glared at Rafael. “No!”

Rafael gave her a confused look. “What are you talking about?”

“You are thinking about insisting on being in on the discussion with Queen Ygerna because you don’t think it’s right your family isn’t giving up something to be protected and we’re doing it all. Don’t. You only have two things to offer that Queen Ygerna might accept and you don’t want to give up your life and become her slave nor do you want to sire children off of her. And I’m pretty sure that Martha wouldn’t want that either.”

“Is that all we are to her,” Jeremiah asked.

“You are nothing to her right now,” Ygerna said. “And in truth you do not want to be more than that in her eyes. I remember that time in my life. The Revenge War had destroyed the things I had created the Order to protect and I was obsessed with gathering power to keep what was left of the British Isles and Ireland intact. I respected my knights and little else. If our negotiations fail then Queen Ygerna will see you and your offspring as nothing more than things for her to manipulate to increase that power. At best she will force you to breed your relatives. At worst she will use magic to make you Sidhe and then excise everything which makes you human, replacing it with what she feels a Sidhe warrior should be and ensuring that what you would have then become would serve her loyally forever. And with as much Sidhe blood as you already possess, she will not need the Grimoire to complete your transformation.”

“No, she might try,” Iain said. “She might even succeed in what she considers a normal world. However, I’d act to interfere and, at that point, the likelihood of her succeeding becomes remote indeed.”

Canaan grinned. “So does her likelihood of surviving the failure.”

“Enough kibitzing,” Iain said. He turned back to his audience. “If there are no questions, I’ll bring this meeting to a close.” The door slid open. “I’d like to thank you for being patient with me. I put out a lot of stuff and when you have more questions, please feel free to contact me. Just call, don’t bother Ciaran with them, please. Sofia will show you the way out.” He looked at Ciaran as people started filing towards the exit. “I’d like you and your ladies to stay for a moment.” He turned to Shannon. “And you too, please.”

“I want my maid back, Iain,” Rionach said firmly, “soon.”

He nodded. “Rest assured that I will only keep her for a few minutes, Mrs. Sullivan.”

Mollified, Rionach joined the crowd moving towards the door.

Linda stopped at the door. “Iain, are you and your family leaving immediately?”

He smiled. “Well, that depends on what you say next.”

“I’d like to invite all of you to dinner.”

“Does that invitation include Ygerna?”

Linda nodded. “It does.”

“Then we will be happy to attend.” He waited until the room was empty except for his family, Ciaran’s group and Shannon. “Ninhursag?”

She pushed away from the wall she’d been leaning against. “What is it?”

“We are not a small group and Zareen alone would make quite the dent in Linda’s supplies. It would be rude to offer to help provide for the meal, but I think a couple of hundred pounds of fresh vegetables and fruit might be well received in late December.”

“Linda is a coffee fiend,” Elsa said.

Ninhursag nodded. “It’s a good idea and I’ll take care of it.” She smiled. “I have new seeds for Ceres anyways.”

“I’ll help if it can wait until after whatever Iain wants,” Ceres said.

“Have you seen the size of Linda’s food storage,” Ninhursag asked.

“I have.”

“Good. You can help make sure we fill it to overflowing.”

“I am only going to take one regular helping,” Zareen protested loudly.

“I know that,” Iain said fondly, “but between all of us, Rafael’s family, Ciaran’s family and Jeremiah, that’s a lot of regular helpings for Linda to dole out.”

“I’ll let Allison know the change to our plans,” Eve said, “or else she’ll worry when we don’t come home on time.”

“I have already informed her,” Theodora said. She looked at Iain. “If you don’t need me right now, Eriu and I are designing her war hull.” She vanished when he waved at her.

“So what did you want me to wait for,” Ciaran asked. “And what do you want with Shannon?”

“Shannon’s a pretty girl,” Iain said with a sly smile. “There are whole host of nefarious reasons I might want her for.”

Shannon turned bright red. “Don’t tease me, sir. I am an orphan living off the good graces of my family. I have few prospects.”

Iain nodded. “I’m sorry if I embarrassed you. And I think you’ve been spending too much time around Rionach. You’re starting to talk like a Victorian novel.”

“I have nowhere else to go,” Shannon pointed out.

Iain looked at Pandora. “Phone.” She tossed him something and he caught it before turning back to Shannon. “This is the same computer that Rionach and the others have. With it you can contact me when you finish thinking about that offer I made you outside.”

“What offer,” Victoria asked.

“That is between Shannon and me until she makes a decision,” Iain said. Shannon stared at him, holding the phone in her hands and he nodded. “I was serious about it. Oh, and,” he looked at Ciaran, “make some time to be available for your cousin. Rionach doesn’t give her much free time, so be flexible for her. She hasn’t had time to get to know you or your ladies and she’d like to. It’ll also give her a chance to learn more about me and whether or not I’m some kind of monster.”

Shannon looked at the device in her hands and back at Iain. “I accept your offer.” She turned to Ciaran. “But I would still like to spend some time with my cousin, if you can.”

“I’d like that too,” Ciaran replied with a smile.

“Iain,” Shannon said, “I would like to find a replacement for Mistress Rionach.”

Kentarch laughed. “A potted rosebush.”

Shannon frowned. “What?”

“You could easily replace Rionach with a rosebush.”

Iain sighed. “I see Kentarch spent more time with my harem than was probably healthy. If you want to find someone to take over as Rionach’s maid, I understand. In fact, it’s nice that you want to. Do you have someone in mind?”

Shannon shook her head. “I’d have to go back to my homeland. A lot of Sheehan’s were orphaned during the sicknesses that came through.”

“That won’t be a problem. We’ll arrange transportation for you and help with the search if you’d like,” Iain said gently.

Shannon stared at him for a long moment. “There is something else.”

“There always is,” Iain cocked his head. “What is it?”

“My younger sister, Heather is living with one of our aunts. I’d like to see her again when I go back. Is that all right?”

“How old is she,” Eve asked.

“She will be thirteen in February.”

“When you’re seventeen,” Eve said, “you’ll be an adult and can be her guardian. Why don’t we take her with us to Texas and she can stay with you while you’re training?”

Shannon’s eyes glittered at the edges. “I could do that,” she asked quietly. “You would let me?”

“I think that if we don’t fetch your sister along with us then some of my ladies might just sneak back over to Ireland and bring her to Texas even if I said you couldn’t, which I would never do,” Iain said quietly. “I lost my sisters and mother when I was kidnapped from my home and I miss them terribly. I would never keep you apart from whatever family you have.”

“Thank you.” Shannon started crying softly and Silver gathered the young woman into her arms.

Iain smiled slightly and turned to Ciaran. “As for you, I wanted to see if you were going to stay in my employ.”

“Why would I not,” Ciaran asked.

“You have Eriu and the Cnoc Raffan. I know you’re supplying your sister with supplies that she’s selling, and I know that they’re not coming from me.” He raised a hand as Ciaran started to speak. “I don’t care; the asteroid belt is full of gold and other valuable minerals if I was worried about being rich. I am doing what I am doing as a means to an end.”

“What is that end,” Victoria asked.

“To keep humanity from being completely crippled when the ferals come to eat everyone,” Iain said simply. “Oh, it’ll take a long time, but the league takeovers set humanity back decades and the league militaries won’t be able to protect more than a small part of their populations when the ferals start hitting the urban areas. The leadership will set their forces, such as they are, to defend what’s important to them. That would be their mangy hides more than anything else, leaving a lot of their populace hanging in the wind when the ferals come. I can’t help everyone, but people like you are getting supplies out where they will do at least some good.”

“Why not just give them the supplies,” Victoria asked.

“People are funny,” Pandora said. “Most of them don’t appreciate free things and they certainly don’t take good care of them. I really don’t want to see a bunch of humans not appreciating the pokegirls they have just because they didn’t cost those humans anything to get them. So we charge a small fee for them.”

“The other problems with giving out a bunch of supplies are usage and proficiency.” Iain rubbed his eyes for a moment. “When someone buys something, they intend to use it or keep it for future use and will usually learn how to use it effectively. If we just give people things, they’ll toss them into a corner and forget about them. When the bottom drops out, they might or might not remember what we gave them and might or might not remember how to use it without hurting themselves or, more importantly, others. All I need is some fucking idiot grabbing a paraspray plus dispenser and accidentally zapping the people trying to help him fight an attack. They’d be so high they wouldn’t know what was happening while they were being eaten.” His voice was grim. “At least I’d hope I was high enough I didn’t know anything was going on until I reached St. Peter and the Gate.”

“We can provide equipment on a scale that Eriu can’t just yet, but the volume she can produce is more than adequate for you to make a very nice living off of and so you might want to strike out on your own,” Eve said as she sat down on the edge of one of the tables. “And then there’s the little fact that we did deliberately send you into harm’s way. If nothing else, your pokegirls aren’t going to be too fond of us because of that. Which is why we’re asking if you’re going to keep working for us.”

“How many people do you have doing this work,” Ceres asked.

Iain chuckled. “I have more than I want and less than humanity needs, but at this moment you are my only salesman in Ireland and Scotland.”

“What about Great Britain,” Victoria asked.

Iain’s eyes narrowed for a heartbeat. “I have no agents helping the Blue League. Yes, it’s a calculated risk in that they might beat the Royals and take over, but it’s a chance I’m willing to take.”

Ceres cocked her head. “What about the people living in the league who are not involved in the league government?”

Iain shrugged. “They get screwed. Helping them helps the league.”

“What do you have against the Blue League?”

“It’s not just them. I’m not fond of any league,” Iain said. “None of the true leagues are an improvement in the lives of their citizens than whatever government was there before. And that is saying a lot when you consider that the lives of the North Koreans are worse under the leagues than they were under the old regime. Oh, some of them are more organized than whatever government preceded them, but the group that started the whole league takeover project was big into absolute control and absolute power. Every league has echoes of that beginning. My agents are supplying people who will oppose the league governments and not just to replace them with their own power base.” He smiled. “I have agents in the least repressive regimes, but they’re still mostly dealing with the rebels and other individuals or groups who might cause positive change when the ferals destabilize the status quo.”

Elsa’s ears flicked. “What is a true league?”

“There are a few leagues out there that aren’t really a product of the process that created the leagues. Nippon isn’t recognized by the other leagues because it is just the Nippon Empire under a new name but with the Emperor’s power restored. Texas isn’t really a league either. There are a few other so called leagues out there that are the same way, along with a few governments that weren’t considered worth taking over.” He flashed a grin. “And a few countries in Africa where the leagues took over and then were removed by a coup from forces that were much more used to carrying out a revolution than the league idiots were.”

Ciaran frowned. “I’ve been reviewing my sales and I don’t see where we’re selling that much.”

Iain nodded. “You wouldn’t. The primary sales aren’t all that impressive. However what’s been happening is that you make a sale and leave a computer or phone and not long after that the person you sold to contacts me with a request for a much larger shipment that the rest of the, say farmers in the area, have pooled together. After that I get more orders from the same region as word spreads about what I’m offering. I’m giving them access to technology that wasn’t available when the ferals swarmed in the world I came here from and some that never existed on this world before I introduced people to it. That technology allows what they buy to act as a force multiplier for the pokegirls they are being introduced to and will help them protect a larger region from predation. After all, I’m providing the three things they need the most. Pokegirls provide most of the firepower and fast transport while my technological toys provide communications. Now people can find out where ferals are attacking and get there fast enough with enough firepower to stop or capture them.” He nodded towards Spirit and Kentarch. “Even without them, you would have been able to take down that Wasp nest with hit and run tactics, healing your pokegirls between raids. The Irish army would have had to use a company of pure tamers or a battalion of mixed tamers and infantry to do the same thing because they haven’t access to the healing gear you do and they would still have suffered at least ten to twenty percent losses in doing so.”

“What have you sold to the Irish army,” Victoria asked.

Iain shrugged. “They haven’t shown any interest in my wares. I am, however, making sales to some local reaction forces that came from your contacts in Larne and some of your family here in the Cork area.” He rubbed his eyes. “So, would you like to keep working for me?”

They exchanged looks and Ciaran nodded slightly. “We would,” Victoria said. “Where are you sending us next?”

Iain nodded. “After the New Year I’d like you to head up to Waterford and then on to Dublin. Now that you’ve got Eriu in your family I’d like to expand your role to include infrared surveys of the feral population so we can start building a profile of how bad things really are. I’m doing the same thing in parts of Texas. After Dublin I want you to swing up through Dundalk to Belfast, over to Londonderry and then to Sligo and Galway. After that, stop off at Limerick and Killarny before making your way back to Cork. I’ll try to keep setting up appointments ahead of you with enough warning that you’ll know who to be looking for when you reach each township.” He smiled. “While the Irish Army response to my offers has been tepid at best, I’m hoping that after more soldiers see your harem that will change, hopefully quickly.” He turned and looked at Victoria. “Now that the lecture is done, if you still want to yell at me I’ll put up with it for a while.”

The Angel shook her head. “I’m still not happy that you put Ciaran in harm’s way like that and didn’t even bother to let us know he was bait.”

Iain gave her a grim smile. “Out of all of Ciaran’s family, you being a celestial means you are the person who should most understand that sometimes you have to do what’s necessary with the tools at hand and that sometimes you can’t tell those tools how they’re being used. However, to be honest I’m not happy about what I did to your group either.”

Victoria looked surprised. “You’re not?”

“I have learned that in life and death situations I’m not a good delegator,” Iain replied. “People who are willing to send others out to die for them while they sit at home anger me. I really don’t like being one of them. It’s different when I can be there with them, which is why I was actually happy that I had to be present for the takedown of Germanicus and Eoghan to work as planned. I will avoid putting myself in harm’s way when I can, but not by putting my friends in danger just so I can avoid it.” He glanced at Pandora and then Eve. “It’s one of the reasons my family and I argue so much about what constitutes an acceptable level of risk for me. My definition is very different from theirs, especially when they have to accept more risk so I have less than they do.”

“We’ve had that problem,” Ceres said. “We all want a brave man, which we have in Ciaran, but deep down we’d like him to be a coward when the fighting actually starts,” She smiled at her male, “which is something that we most certainly do not have in him.”

Ninhursag nodded. “It is wonderful and fucking terrifying all at the same time.” She turned to Iain. “Speaking of time, if I’m going to grow crops for Linda before dinner, I need to get started soon.”

“I guess that’s our cue to get moving,” Iain said. “Shannon, after dinner I am going to come to Rionach’s house to talk with you about taking you home, getting Heather away from whoever has her and finding Rionach another maid.” He frowned. “Where is your home?”

Shannon smiled. “I’m from Ennis and I will be free after Mrs. Sullivan goes to bed.”

“Silver, show Shannon how to send me a text and she can let us know when I can arrive without disturbing Rionach.”

“I’ll be glad to,” Silver replied.

Ciaran got up and went around the table to Iain. He dropped his voice so Shannon couldn’t overhear him. “I want to offer twees to my family members who were at the meeting who don’t already have them. Is that all right?”

Iain smiled and replied in the same low tone. “I gave those to you to give out at your discretion. I trust your judgment and I’m not going to second guess who you choose to provide them to unless I find out you’re selling them. Now I’ve got to be going.” Stepping back he looked at Ninhursag. “Let’s get this cavalcade moving.” In less than a minute, they were gone.

It is going to start raining in half an hour, Eriu said to Ciaran.

Thank you for the warning, he replied. “Ceres, if you’re going to be helping Ninhursag we need to leave as well.” He looked for Shannon and Silver, but the Pegaslut was already escorting his cousin out.

“Once we’re outside, Kentarch, you’re on point,” Ceres said. “Elsa, you’re overhead and Spirit is guarding Ciaran.” She looked at him as they headed down the passageway. “What are we going to do next?”

“I think we’ll talk to the Cork government about buying that property Aunt Linda told us about. Eriu can make us a house for it and it’ll give us and my family a place to stay even if we don’t decide to set down roots here.”

Ceres nodded. “I’d like that. We have more diversity on the land here than your land in Texas. It does mean that probably one of these days there will be a Blue League official there with an invitation to visit the league. What then?”

“Iain and I discussed it. Since he’s not going to make a trade agreement with the Blues, I’m not to go to the Blue League. If they try to force me, I’m to explain what control of the high orbitals means and how Iain would bombard military encampments in Blue until we were released.”

Ceres’ eyes widened. “He would do that?”

“He says he would and I believe him,” Ciaran replied. “So I’ll politely tell him to go away and we’ll continue doing our job catching ferals and selling survival supplies and pokegirls to anyone who wants them.”

Ceres grinned and took his hand. “I can’t wait to get started.”

FINI

Ciaran Sullivan

Victoria – Angel

Ceres – Tantrasaur

Elsa – Mazouku

Spirit – Astral Kentarch

Kentarch – Haunting

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