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Loose Threads

Four

The assault shuttle slowed to a hover over the slowly rolling waves and the airlock slid open. As soon as it was fully open a nude woman with blue skin and shoulder length fluorescent yellow hair dropped into the water to disappear. A moment later she shot from the waves and her outstretched arm was grabbed by a large silver haired woman who pulled her back inside.

Ninhursag released the hand. “Well, Heltu?”

“We’re close but it is further west, I’d estimate at least four or five kilometers.”

Ninhursag looked up, but the shuttle was already turning west and accelerating.

In the cockpit, Allison flew the shuttle while Eve sat ready in the copilot’s chair. Iain cycled open the cockpit hatch and closed it behind him as he moved into the troop compartment, his boots squeaking on the deck as he walked. “How are we doing?”

“We are close,” Heltu said as she dripped onto the deck. “The water tastes right and I feel how close we are.”

Iain sat down in the chair nearest the airlock and shook his head. “It’s fascinating that you can read magnetic fields and water quality to find this base. A lot of marine life can do that. I wonder where Sukebe swiped it from.”

“This would be faster if we deployed drones to search the seafloor,” Ninhursag said.

Heltu shook her head. “No. Iain tells me that after all of this time my birthplace will still have power. If that’s true, the anti-submarine defenses could also be working and so could the self-destruct that would activate if the anti-submarine defenses are defeated.”

Ninhursag scowled. “Considering the plan you two cooked up, I can’t say it would be a tremendous loss if that happened.”

Heltu bobbed her head at Ninhursag, making her shoulder length hair spatter water wildly. “You are my queen, maharani, but our male wants this to happen. Should I defy his wishes to obey you?”

Ninhursag just grumbled quietly. “I wish we’d brought the other Wet Elves,” she said suddenly.

“I advised that we do so for security,” Heltu pointed out. “You said they were needed at the lake. He will be safe with me. I will not let harm come to him during the descent or entry into the facility and as soon as we are inside you will join us.”

Ninhursag glared at the floor even as she reached to Iain through their bond. I do not like this one bit.

Heltu is one of us and I trust her, he replied evenly. She has not tried to force her way into the inner harem since that one attempt that you crushed.

And slowly the outer harem is becoming one with the inner harem and so she gets what she wanted no matter what I think of the situation, Ninhursag shot back at him.

We all agreed that it was necessary and you were more in favor of it than I was. And she will never be maharani and she will never take the place you hold in my heart. And we both know that what she really wanted was to be maharani.

She will never be maharani?

Unless I wake up one day and there is nobody else but me and her, no.

Ninhursag glanced at him with the quiver of a smile dancing on her lips. Then I shall strike her down as my last act to keep that from happening.

How about instead you don’t die in the first place, he said wryly as the shuttle slowed once more.

Her smile solidified. If that brings you the least grief, I shall endeavor to do so.

Iain gave her a wink before turning to the Wet Queen. “Heltu, it’s time for another check.” Without a word she dove from the open airlock into the ocean. “We’ve got an impressive view, but that water is cloudy as fuck. What happens if she lands in front of a great white or something like that?”

“While I’m not that fond of Heltu as a person,” Ninhursag said as she crouched to watch the water below them, “she is a combat veteran. Unless the shark is attacking something and she falls into its mouth, it won’t catch her. If she does fall in its mouth, she will probably kill it as it bites her.” The Elfqueen chuckled. “And anything less than an adult Sharptits will get the same treatment from her. She is nearly as tough as she thinks she is.”

“But she isn’t anywhere nearly as tough as you are, is she?”

Ninhursag just flashed him a grin. “No, she’s not.”

Yellow flashed in the water as Heltu surfaced. We are very close. I could find it if I dove.

Wait one. Ninhursag looked at Iain. “I could send her down alone instead of you going with her.”

“I’m the author, remember? What if she gets murdered by the defenses and it turns out I have pass codes that could have kept her alive? Besides, Heltu sucks at bypassing security and I’m awesome at it.”

“Fuck,” she muttered. “Fine. I don’t like the fact that communications will be problematic when you get close to the bottom, Iain.”

“Look, as soon as you can safely teleport down, I promise to let you know.”

Ninhursag stood and wrapped him up in her arms. “Do your damnedest to do exactly that, Iain. If things get too dangerous, Heltu can teleport you back up here and we can deal with the result.”

Iain hugged her back. “I haven’t forgotten and I do not intend to die or even get seriously hurt today.”

“You never do.” She slowly let him go. As he watched, she wiped all of the fear and uncertainty from her face. Heltu, he is coming down now. She glanced at him with a tiny smirk. “Just remember that if you don’t come back you won’t get to fuck fifty two new women, all of them Elfqueens.”

Iain shook his head slightly as he moved to stand in the airlock. He’d already changed into his diving suit. It looked like a steamer wetsuit with integral hood, gloves and soft soled boots but had sealed seams instead of zippers and had an integral heating and cooling system if required. However it was very well insulated and the power pack had been pulled from it. “You know, before I was kidnapped by the Goths the number of sexual partners I’d had could have been counted on the fingers of two hands. That number has increased greatly and now you’re offering me another fifty two?” He grinned at her. “Don’t worry; nothing will keep me from coming back.” Before she could say anything, he stepped into the air and plummeted into the ocean.

Heltu caught him before he’d sunk more than a dozen meters and held him steady with his chest against hers. Her fingers tangled in his hair to hold him still and she kissed him hard. Iain opened his mouth against hers and tried not to struggle as Heltu forced the water from her lungs down his throat and into his. Air burst from his nose and shot for the surface. She loosened her grasp, letting his face drift away from hers as he coughed the last of his air out and sucked in the first full lungful of water until his initial panic at drowning passed and his body accepted the fact that his lungs should be full of aerated seawater. Her eyes bored into his. My magic will let you breathe freely for the next twenty four hours and will protect you from the pressures at depth. A timer began running in the corner of his vision as his twee fed him data. When the time comes I will renew it as needed.

I trust you, he replied. My life is in your hands.

Heltu smiled. Your life is mine when we are here. My life is always yours, no matter what my queen wants or says. She fears I will steal you, but I have learned and I now know you can only be taken where you wish to go. While it is not so good that she is over me, she commanded me and I came. I accept that. She fought me and she won. I accept that. But you are my male and I will always obey you over her. She turned with him and began diving straight down. But never forget that I am not her and she is not me. She offers you other queens of her ilk to bed that they may strengthen the family and the clan. I accept that and I appreciate her willingness to sacrifice to improve our power. As our queen, she should do exactly that. Heltu pulled his head to her and kissed him hard again, this time hungrily. I will never share you with another queen of my race, whether she comes to us as a queen or becomes one in my service. She or I will die before I allow that. I will accept other queens into my queendom but they will not be with my male. It would feed their ambitions and cripple my power base.

I understand. There may be other Wet Queens in this facility. If so, we will find them homes elsewhere in Texas.

The water quickly darkened as they descended. Heltu slowed to a hover. The facility is at the bottom where there is no light. If we make light, it could draw predators to us. I do not fear fish, but I am concerned about defending you from ferals. Few go as deep as we will, but they might cruise the depths we must pass through and you would be a tasty morsel indeed. So dark it must be. If I were alone, I would make light and dare any to attack, but I cannot with you here.

Iain took her head in his hands. As you have shared your magic with me, let me share mine with you. Close your eyes. She did so and he gently kissed each of her eyelids. Now open them.

She did and could see as easily as if they were just below the surface. Her eyes widened as she looked around before returning to his smiling face. You have not shown me this before.

If I show you everything I can do at once, you might tire of me and find another male.

A shy smile bloomed on her lips. That is unlikely. You are not my first male, but I think you may well be my last. You have said that you cannot teach me your magic, but I know that sometimes Dominique can learn to do the things you can with her magic. Can she do this?

I haven’t tried to teach her this ability, but she has learned something similar, so I believe so. Shall I teach her this and ask her to teach it to you?

Heltu smirked and began taking them downward again, quickly increasing speed as they dove. I always hunger to grow more powerful. This would be quite an advantage. Please do so.

The fell for a while in silence until an hour had passed. Status check, Theodora said to him. Iain allowed his twee to send her his metabolic data and other pertinent information. You are a little cool, but that should be expected on this dive. Oxygen levels are nominal and otherwise you seem well. I will inform the others so they don’t pester you.

Thank you.

Shapes swam in and out of his sight, some with their own faint light, but nothing approached them closely as they descended deeper into the darkness. Finally Heltu slowed them to a hover. It tastes like we are near the facility. I want to check but I do not want to leave you unguarded.

I have to go down eventually and it might as well be now, so take me with you. If we are attacked, I will try to stay out of the way while you fight. He wasn’t armed except for his living staff because of concerns with the base and sensors that might detect technological items. He reached out to Theodora. Heltu thinks we are near the base. No other information at this time. Last communication until we are inside or things go sideways.

Theodora’s response was faint, but then he knew his twee would have problems receiving a signal this deep without a repeater. From Ninhursag: You are forbidden to go sideways, Theodora replied. From me: be careful Iain. Many people are counting on you to come back to them. Your world will not be the only one to end if you die.

Being careful, aye aye, he responded. He switched his attention to Heltu. Let’s do this.

Heltu smiled. Are you finished lying to the others and telling them that you will do absolutely nothing that is the least bit dangerous? You are my male and my male is safe when he can be but does not let that keep him from doing what is necessary.

Yeah, I’m done with that.

I have listened to the currents and tasted the water. We will not die today. She righted them and then began slowly descending.

Do you think there would be any sort of psychic or magical defenses?

She frowned and then shook her head. There are no technological psychic or magical sensor systems that I am aware of. Any living psychics that would be necessary to serve as an organic sensor system would be long dead, in stasis or feral at this point.

Iain reached out with his perception and pointed downward and to the right. I see a structure that looks like an airlock over that way.

This is that vision that no one else can duplicate? Heltu began drifting them in the indicated direction. It is impressive.

I’m sure that if I use it around her enough Dominique will figure out how to copy it.

She nodded. Good. I want that too.

He had a thought. How do aquatic Elves communicate underwater? You’re not psychic.

She smirked at him. We use hand signals unless we have a mage who can link us and we do not normally go this deep without some kind of lights. They slowed until their movement was a crawl. There used to be lights at this point, but with your magic I can see that this is the entrance. There was a security system that would activate if human sized objects approached too quickly. It was never explained exactly what speed would activate it so that we would not test the system too closely. I remember it killing most of the members of a team returning from missions who were in a hurry to celebrate. At least that is what the single survivor said when asked why she was violating approach rules. There was a pulse of light and part of a bank of lights on either side of the airlock began to glow. They were aimed at the airlock to illuminate it and not blind approaching swimmers. You were right. There is still some power.

Iain realized he was breathing harder and that it was not completely due to anxiety. Is something wrong?

Heltu looked at him critically before giving a quick shake of her head. It is nothing you can change. The water has less air for you to breathe at this depth. Take deeper breaths and breathe more quickly. It may be worse inside the facility.

The local oxygen is depleted in the chemical reaction that allows decomposition of the organic material falling from above, his twee informed him. You’re breathing corpse and shit soup.

That we planned for, Iain reassured Heltu while ignoring his twee.

Heltu stopped just inside the glow of the lights near a stanchion. I want you to hold onto this while I open the airlock. Iain obediently wrapped his hands around the stanchion. I will return as quickly as I can. The airlock was a round hatch with a hand wheel in the center of it set horizontally in the bottom of the facility. Heltu grasped it and swung up to put her feet in metal stirrups on either side of the hatch. Iain heard her grunt and begin slowly turning the wheel. It is more difficult than I remember, but you said this would be a good sign if it was because it would show that it was stiff from disuse and that would mean nobody was living inside unless they could phase.

Iain smiled. I’m glad you were paying attention.

A good queen is not stupid and a smart queen listens to her advisers. The wheel stopped turning and Heltu shoved the hatch inward. I will tell you when Ninhursag may join us. Until I expressly tell you that, it will be too dangerous for her to do so. She is not protected against the pressure as you and I are. While I do not like her insomuch, I do not wish to be the reason she is dead. You love her and you will not forget such an action, be it deliberate or accidental. She swam over and took him in her arms again. Are you ready?

I think it’s a little late to say no. What can I expect?

We will go into the second airlock and then go into the first airlock. It will drain and then depressurize us to match the atmospheric conditions inside the facility. This will take roughly an hour if everything works properly. Then the inner door will unlock and let us enter the facility proper. We will then have to see if the teleport block is still in place and remove it if it is. Only then will it be safe for others to join us. She swam into the airlock and stopped next to some handholds. Hold onto these so I can shut the hatch.

The airlock was a cubical chamber big enough to hold a couple dozen people comfortably and was tall enough for someone nearly twice Iain’s height to stand without bending. Lights mounted equidistantly in the ceiling were glowing softly. Rungs were spaced around the chamber except on his right where another hatch was mounted vertically on the wall. He grabbed onto the rungs and watched Heltu close the hatch and begin spinning the hand wheel to dog it shut. Why are there two airlocks?

It is for safety. With two airlocks, a failure of one of them would trap the personnel inside the facility until it could be repaired. If there was only one airlock, such a failure could easily result in flooding, doom everyone inside and destroy the equipment. As the hand wheel stopped, a red dot appeared in the center of it and a green dot appeared in the center of the hand wheel on the wall. Heltu moved to that hand wheel and began spinning it to unlock the hatch. Iain drifted over to watch and the Wet Queen gave him a warning glance. The inner chamber should be full of water and pressurized. If it is not, this hatch will not swing out. At that point you will have to decide if we cut our way in.

He nodded. We will wait and see first.

The hatch unlocked and Heltu pulled it open. She gave him a triumphant smile and slipped into the first airlock. She was back a second later and took his hand to pull him into the chamber with her. This room was almost identical to the one he’d just left, with the exception that both hatches were mounted on opposite walls and some of the lights weren’t working. Next to the hatch opposite the one he’d just entered through was mounted some kind of control panel, a large gauge and several handles. Iain swam over and looked at the control panel while Heltu pulled the hatch shut and began locking it. There was only one button on the panel so he looked at the large gauge. He blinked at it. This thing says we’re at a hundred atmospheres.

Heltu glanced at him without stopping what she was doing. I could not read before I came to the clan, but I have heard that number said before.

That means we’re a thousand meters down. I should be dead. I didn’t realize your magic protected me from this much pressure.

My magic should protect you at any pressure. To me, a thousand meters is just a number. It means nothing. The hatch locked and a green dot appeared in the center of the hand wheel next to Iain. Heltu gently pushed him to the side and pressed the button in the center of the control panel. If this works, the water should be forced out by the air pumps. If not, we’ll try the backup system. Five minutes dragged past without any change before she gritted her teeth. I hope the backup system works. I always had a hard time remembering the order in which I am supposed to turn the valves and it has been several years since I last did it.

Iain smiled. It’s easy. The valves are marked. You open the water drain first and then open the air inlet. When the water is gone you close the air inlet and the water drain and then open the air equalization valve to vent the pressure down to whatever is inside the facility. When you were illiterate it would have been open the green handled valve and then open the white handled valve. Close the white handled valve and the green handled valve and then open the blue handled valve to equalize pressure. Close the blue handled valve once pressure is equalized according to the gauge. I presume there’s a regulator in the line somewhere to control the rate of depressurization so we don’t explode. He tapped the wall over some faded lettering next to the valve hand wheels. The instructions are painted here.

Heltu eyed him for a moment. Then why haven’t you started the process?

You were doing this and several years in the US Navy taught me to never touch valves unless I know exactly what happens when I turn them. Doing otherwise is a good way to die.

I am glad to see your caution. I want you to live as long as possible. Heltu read the instructions before looking at him. I want to live as long as possible too.

Good. I want you to as well. The safest way is to open one valve and wait for a few seconds to see if anything bad happens before touching any of the others.

I will do that. Heltu turned the green valve and waited, her fingers still on the hand wheel in case she needed to close it immediately. Iain felt the water swirl slightly, but nothing else happened. Then she opened the white valve. He felt and heard a roar as a jet of bubbles shot down from the ceiling. For a moment the bubbles simply dissolved into the water to vanish, but then they started boiling to the ceiling and began to accumulate.

Iain took a cautious breath. Blood oxygen levels are starting to increase, his twee told him. We can breathe that, he sent to Heltu.

You were concerned?

With my luck, that could be pure nitrogen. Iain watched as the water level began to slowly drop. Be ready to close the drain if the air flow starts to slow. It is possible that there might not be enough air pressure to completely drain the water before we try to equalize and enter the facility and the last thing we want is for the water to start coming back in if that happens.

Heltu blinked at him in surprise. I hadn’t considered that possibility.

Paranoia is part of my job. Iain watched the water level continue to fall. What do I do when the water is too low to breathe?

Expel the water from your lungs and you can go back to breathing air. The spell will continue to operate and you can go back and forth as needed. I was told that the gift of water breathing was intended to let us keep our males with us safe in our kingdom.

Iain cocked his head. You need a permanent version of this spell.

There is one and I know it. Iain looked surprised and she smiled. Every Wet Queen I have ever met agrees that it is better to remind our males with a daily kiss that their lives are entwined with ours and dependent on our continued goodwill. It can only be cast by queens and we do not tell our subordinates about its existence.

Iain looked thoughtful and then shrugged. Well then you’d better not tell anyone else about the permanent version of this spell or some of my harem might get a bit pissed off at you over not using it on me.

It does not trouble you that I have not?

The water was at the top of his head and he glanced at it for a second. No.

She waited a moment as the water continued to lower. When it was at her chin she stood straight and forced the water from her lungs in a stream. “That’s it?”

Iain tried to do the same thing and coughed violently as not all of the water immediately obeyed him. When he’d finally coughed the rest of it out, he nodded as he wiped water from his face. “Either I trust you to help keep me alive or I don’t. I do and that’s why I told you my life is in your hands. I meant it.”

Heltu watched him expressionlessly until the water was to their knees. “Why do you trust me so much? Ninhursag does not.”

Iain shook his head. “She doesn’t like your personality, but she is able to look past her dislike of you and see if you are trustworthy. If she didn’t trust you, we wouldn’t be here now.”

For the first time since he’d met her, Heltu looked uncertain for an instant. “I don’t think I could do that.”

He nodded. “I know. That’s why Ninhursag is maharani.”

Disappointment and acceptance crossed her face in turn to vanish. “And I will never be, will I?”

“I think we’ll use the system that Bishop’s Elfqueen Naomi uses.”

Heltu frowned. “I am not familiar with her.”

“She has subordinate Elfqueens, as Ninhursag does with Dionne, Adrianna and you. Each of them is a queen in her own right and has her own queendom. You are my queen of the waters.” He smiled at her. “I don’t think I’ll have more than one of those unless you suddenly become untrustworthy. I don’t see that happening.”

Her normal confidence filled her eyes. “No, you will not.” The water was reduced to puddles and she turned the green and white valves together before slowly opening the blue valve. Air began to quietly whistle near the door.

Iain looked at the gauge. “Well this thing still seems to work.” He did a fifteen second count and a quick mental calculation. “And a little over an hour should get us to one atmosphere.”

“Good.”

Iain turned when he heard Heltu’s teeth chattering. “Are you all right?”

She shook her head. “The water was cold and so is the air in here.” He could see her shivering. “It always happens. I’ll warm up eventually.”

Iain moved to stand in front of Heltu and touched the throat of his diving suit, the seal opening down to his waist. “Put your arms around me and press against my skin.”

She slid her arms inside the suit and did as instructed. Immediately she gasped. “You are so warm!”

Iain wrapped her up in his arms to keep from shuddering away from glacier he was suddenly holding “And you’re a fucking icicle.” He realized his breath was steaming in the air.

Heltu pressed her face against his neck and nipped him lightly. “It’s funny. I am freezing and your smell is arousing me.”

“We are so not having sex in here,” Iain said firmly. “There isn’t anything soft to lie on and I’ll bet the floor is not only soaking wet, it’s just as cold as you are. You’re going to have to suffer until we can get out of here.”

“But I can be warm,” she asked in a playful tone as her arms tightened around his waist.

“Yes.”

An hour later Iain was sitting on the floor of the airlock with Heltu curled up in his lap to keep her bare feet from touching the floor. She’d given up trying to convince him to have sex with her and now she was asleep in his arms. Of course, he’d have had blue balls except for the fact that one of her knees was jabbed painfully into his side and keeping him distracted from the weight of her on his groin.

He cocked his head when he realized that the omnipresent whistle of air might be softening in pitch. He listened carefully and it was, so he shook Heltu gently. “Wake up.”

Heltu’s eyes blinked open and she looked around, coming completely alert but not moving other than her head. “Trouble?”

“No, but I think the pressure is about equalized.”

Heltu nodded and slid out of his lap. “The floor is still cold. That means the heaters either aren’t working or were turned off when the facility was shut down.” She tried the hand wheel of the airlock leading into the facility. It turned freely and she spun it quickly to its stop. Then she pulled hard. It quivered under her hands but remained closed. “We still have a few minutes.”

“Is it time to bring the others down,” Iain asked quietly. Heltu gave him a sour look and he chuckled. “I’ve actually enjoyed this time with you. But this is about the mission, not about us.”

“Can we do this again later at the lake?”

Iain thought about how to answer that question and decided on what would make her the happiest. “I’d like that a lot.” It was sort of the truth. He did like her, sex with her was fun and she, like a lot of these women was confident in battle, self-assured in her own superiority and hopelessly needy when it came to spending time with him. It was easy to see why many of the so called tamers could become so completely arrogant about what they could do to their pokegirls without fear of retribution. It was also sometimes deceptively difficult not to go down that road himself. It helped if he gave in to their wants sometimes instead of only indulging his own. And, like he’d noted before, sex with her was fun.

But he was going to have to think of a way manufacture time if his life got any busier.

“I think we should wait a few more minutes until we’ve checked the facility’s systems,” Heltu said after thinking about it for a moment. “We know there is power and that means there could be functional defenses that might detect technology. That’s why we didn’t bring any down with us and Ninhursag is supposed to bring the equipment to set up normal communications with the surface in a pokepack.”

Iain nodded as he sealed his suit back up. It was designed to function as lightweight body armor and could help to protect him. His compound bow appeared in his hands. “You’ve got a point and you’ve got the lead once you get that hatch open.” He reached out with his perception. “I don’t see any activity on the other side of that hatch, but some lights are on and some computer stations are lit up.”

Heltu tried the hatch and this time was able to pull it open. The other side was sparsely lit by overhead lamps. Iain could see many more that were either inoperable or powered down to conserve energy. “Magic should be all right you said?”

Heltu nodded. “Yes.”

He created several light globes and they floated through the hatch into the room to brighten it up to near daylight levels. “Will we have to go to the control room for the defenses?”

“No.” Heltu was making a quick search of the room. “There’s a security station down the hall that will let us do everything we need to bring the others here. It should also have a map of the complex on the wall.” She glanced at him. “I was created here and I served on the defense teams but I didn’t stay long. Undoubtedly the pass codes have been changed.”

“People are very good at making security systems vulnerable to penetration. It’s been my experience that pokegirls are just as likely to do that as anyone else. If they haven’t, we still have a couple of other methods.” He frowned. “Do you know where the office of the head of security is?”

“I do. Why?”

“She should have a safe or something with the pass codes in it in case the base commander or someone else really senior is suddenly incapacitated. It’s so they can get into the systems to reset the passwords for the next potentate or give them to the next commander for her use. She should also have her own override codes so she can snoop through the network without anyone else knowing.” He smiled when she gave him a puzzled look. “I spent some time picking Ceres’ brain about how security works under Sukebe’s rules the last time I visited Ciaran and his family. She remembered details about answers I hadn’t even considered asking the questions for until she volunteered the information.”

“I see. Where do you want to go first, the security office or the station down the hall?”

“Let’s try the station first. If we’re really lucky we’ll learn there’s no defense system online and we don’t have to worry about anything until we power up the installation.”

The Wet Queen nodded. “Follow me closely,” The door exiting this room reminded Iain of a door on a surface ship that was used to secure watertight bulkheads, with a four centimeter lip around it and latches on the sides, top and bottom that could be engaged with a single lever. This far under the surface it wouldn’t keep the water from flooding past it but it would significantly slow the rate of spread if the airlocks were breached.

After securing the airlock hatch shut, Heltu turned toward the rightmost door and headed down the hall. Again, just like in the room they’d left, only every sixth light was dimly lit. He followed her until she opened another bulkhead door and entered a small room. He waited just outside as she checked a faintly glowing control panel. When she looked up, relief showed on her face. “The defense systems were left disengaged when the facility was shut down.”

“You remembered the pass codes?”

She shook her head. “I was illiterate then, remember? We were shown a simple sequence of colored buttons to push that would make two lights activate. The pattern they gave would show us if the system was on or off. It’s off, so it’s safe to bring Ninhursag down.”

Iain nodded. Theodora, can you hear me?

Faintly.

It is safe for Ninhursag to come to me. I repeat, it is safe for Ninhursag to come to me. He jumped as the Elfqueen was suddenly standing next to him. “Hi.”

She smiled. “Hi to you too.” She was wearing two pokepacks and slid them off of her shoulders to the floor. “Good job you two. Is it safe to use our bonds?”

“The place looks abandoned,” Heltu said. “I used Dominique’s spell to check for the presence of active pokegirls and only found something on the ocean floor about two hundred meters west of here. That’s past the limits of the facility as far as I know. If someone is still here, she’s in stasis.”

“That’s what we’re hoping to find,” Ninhursag said. “OK, everyone else will be on the way in a few minutes.”

“Slippers,” Iain said.

Ninhursag gave him a puzzled look. “What?”

“Have someone bring slippers for Heltu. This place is at ambient temperature, which is somewhere close to freezing, and she’s barefoot. Anyone else barefoot will probably want them too.” He glanced at the Wet Queen. “I’d suggest some more clothes until we get power back to this place and the heat turned on, but that’s up to you.”

“I’ll be fine with the slippers,” Heltu replied, “and thank you for thinking of them. How did you stay so warm on the trip down?”

He smiled. “Well, I am a functioning endotherm.” When she made a rude gesture he chuckled. “I used my magic to boost my metabolic rate.”

Ninhursag frowned. “Won’t that make you eat more?”

“Yes, but I’ll just compensate by taking in more calories on a regular basis.”

“Mockery isn’t pretty coming from you,” the Elfqueen noted sourly.

“It was boost my metabolism or freeze on the way down. Which would you have rather I’d chosen?” He raised a hand when she started to say something. “And staying on the surface was not an option, so you only get to choose from the two options I presented. You can’t add others.”

Ninhursag just glared at him and nudged one of the packs with her foot. “This has the repeater and this hallway s as good a place as any other to set it up in.”

Heltu shook her head. “There’s a small armory next door to here. We won’t be spending much time there so I’d recommend setting up the repeater in there. We may need access to this room.”

Iain grabbed the pack. “Ninhursag, there should be a map of the complex on the wall so you can deploy the teams. Heltu, show me.”

Heltu led him to the first door he’d seen with a lock on it. She quickly cut it off with an energy blade and pulled the door open. “It seems this wasn’t emptied when the base was closed.”

Iain slipped past her and smiled at the racks of weapons and cases of ammo. “Cool, we have loot.” The only light came from the hallway and so another light globe appeared. “I see a dozen MP-5 submachine guns, a bunch of Sig Saur 9mm pistols and some Remington M1911s with ammo for all of them. I also see some gas grenades. We’ll be sure and take this with us. It’ll sell well in Texas.” He pulled the keyboard for the pack and searched through the contents before releasing a domed object about the size of both of his fists together. He checked briefly and shoved it against the wall up near the ceiling of the room. There was a soft hiss as the repeater molecularly bonded itself to its new home.

There you are, Theodora’s voice in his head was heavy with relief. Is everything all right?

“It is,” Iain said aloud. “Heltu and I just placed the repeater so we have normal communication with the surface and the teams should be inbound to set up our generators and link them into the power system here as well as to find a place to give you access to whatever computer network is down here. The storage system Heltu remembered should be around here somewhere and once we wake it up we’ll see if we have a trove of Wet Elves or not.”

Heltu smiled. “Theodora?”

Iain nodded. “Right in one.”

“That wasn’t a hard one to guess. She worries about all of us so much.”

You are my family, Theodora said to them both. We are supposed to worry about each other. Now you have work to do and the sooner you get it done the sooner you can come home.

Iain chuckled. “Yes, ma’am.”

***

Raven stuck her head in the door. “You busy?” Kerrik cocked his head and she smirked. “Yes, I know. Your answer is ‘always’. Anyway, Helen is here and she wants to talk to you.”

Kerrik’s ears flattened and he grunted. “Great. I can guess what this is about.”

“Want me to tell her no?” Raven’s smile showed her fangs. “I’d be more than happy to. Maybe I’ll get lucky and I can enforce the message with breaking a few of her bones.”

“I’ll bet you’d like that but she’s family.” They exchanged an amused look. “No, if this is what I think it is about she’ll just come back later for the same thing. I’ll see her and could you bring us a couple of bottles of beer?”

“Which brand of beer do you want, the Archer beer or the Grey beer?” Raven fought not to smile as she watched him think about the question. Iain had brought some beer to one of his training sessions. Iain based his beer off of Irish and Scottish beers, his personal preference and Kerrik had immediately decided he liked the dark rich stout over the more American lager put out by the Archer Winery and so beloved by Misery, so Iain brought some over every time Kerrik’s family ran low. Raven had a private project going where she was evaluating how much her male liked a particular visitor based on which beer he offered them.

“The Grey beer,” Kerrik said. “And remind me to let Iain know he should probably name it something else or it will be the Grey beer forever.”

Raven just grinned. “You mean it isn’t already?”

“I think Iain hopes it isn’t. Now shoo.” When Helen arrived he rose and hugged her before waving her into a comfortable looking chair. “Hi, what brings you here?”

“I think you know, father.” Helen leaned back in the chair, her ears flicking slowly. “And since you didn’t ask how your grandchildren are doing, I am pretty sure you know.”

“My grandchildren are fine and, according to the individual mothers, each and every one of them is the pinnacle of grace, beauty and intelligence.” Kerrik’s lips curved in the smile that kept his teeth covered. “And I think they’re all pretty much spot on.” Raven appeared and put two open bottles down on the table. “Thank you.”

“Welcome,” she said before disappearing again.

Helen picked up the bottle and frowned. “I don’t see a label. Is Archer putting out a new beer?” She sniffed the bottle and her eyes lit up before she took a small sip. “This is wonderful! Where did you find the time to go to Scotland?”

“I didn’t. Iain is making beer and that’s some of his.”

Helen stared at the bottle before looking up at him. “You’re giving me Iain’s beer. You know why I’m here.”

Kerrik nodded and reached for his bottle. “I think I do, but the beer isn’t some kind of omen. I like his beer and I know you’re from Blue so I thought you’d like it.”

Helen took another sip and smiled. “I do. Is he marketing it?”

“No, as far as I know he’s not planning to take production to a commercial level. But you might be interested to know it’s another piece of evidence of Milktit magic.” Helen looked confused and Kerrik chuckled. “Joyce makes all of his beer.”

Helen blinked. “We have corresponded but never met, but sill she never mentioned that.”

“Like you, my dear, Joyce isn’t a braggart. Her pride comes from the fact that Iain asked her to do a job for him that he said nobody else could do and he really enjoys the product and appreciates the producer. That’s a personal thing that I don’t think she’d share. In her own way, she may be even more private an individual than you are.”

Helen gave him a teasing smile. “It sounds like you like her. I hope you don’t like her more than me.”

Kerrik shook his head. “I haven’t exchanged a dozen words with Joyce. I don’t go to Iain’s that often, but she makes herself and her girls scarce when I do. I noticed and so I asked about it. Iain said she senses the predator in me and my ladies and it makes her nervous so she takes her daughters and goes somewhere else. The only time I really see her is during rugby games since she’s a referee.”

“I knew they played rugby but I haven’t been invited to watch a game.”

Kerrik’s ears flicked. “I don’t know he’s issuing invitations to anyone. They’ve got a league put together and I can send you the schedule if you’re interested. I like watching contests of skill and strength and so I went to a game and took my ladies who expressed interest. The result of that is that Raven and Autumn are angling to get an expansion team out here for next year so they’re learning everything they can and dragging everyone they catch on game days to the Sabine Ranch to watch. On top of that it turns out that Morwen played some rugby as a child and so she’s been roped into advising.” He shook his head. “I’m not sure we’ll be ready for our own team by then, especially if Raven expects us to have a strong showing. Iain’s people are good, but there are three teams from Shield who are professional level and it’s a pretty sure bet one of them will be champion this year.”

“What happened to wreckball?”

“I offered the rules as requested and I know some people tried it, but rugby was far more popular and apparently Iain introduced it at just the right time for it to take off in Texas. There’s the normal pokegirl division which has five teams from Shield, the Sabine Survivors, a team from Orange, with another one gearing up for next season, and teams from Austin, Houston and Dallas. Iain expects teams from San Antonio and El Paso to debut next year or the year after that. There is also a standard division for humans and low powered pokegirls to compete in and that one is picking up teams even faster than the pokegirl division. The standard division is run by a group of entrepreneurs out of Houston and they may have to split it up more and have regional playoffs in a few years.” He chuckled. “There are even two unofficial teams, one which is standard division, both of which cross over from Louisiana to play in pickup games and practice games against Texas rugby teams. Some of the fans are spies from Indigo, but the teams themselves seem to be apolitical. They want to join the rugby league too, but so far the Texas owners haven’t said yes or no. I think they’re still worried about the war.”

Helen shook her head. “Iain’s been busy.”

“He is even busier than I am, but this one isn’t his. He’s a stockholder in the league, but a group of pokegirls out of Shield handle the enhanced league. Each of the team’s owners is also part of the administration and Dominique and April are the owners of the Survivors. Daphne handles the day to day working of the team and acts as the manager while Sofia and April take care of the team’s training as part of the normal training program for the Grey Clan.” He smiled humorlessly. “I think Raven and Ninhursag are going to go that route, which will be a pleasant change from the haphazard training we’ve been doing.”

“Really? Your training program seems pretty good to me.”

Kerrik shrugged. “Iain and I believe in the adage si vis pacem, para bellum. Because Shikarou and Branwyn don’t think that the kingdom is in any real danger your family has fallen out of that mindset. Do you even do harem training anymore?”

Helen shook her head. “We train individually, but no. We all have lives.”

Kerrik’s ears stilled. “I see. Well it is what it is and you’ve got a lot of water to keep invaders away.”

Helen’s ears went flat. “You think we’re making a mistake.”

“I didn’t say that.”

Her ears quivered like they were trying to flatten even more. “Do you think we are making a mistake in not training together?”

He cocked his head curiously. “Do you train as hard as you did when you lived on your other island? I’m not asking about others, I’m asking about Helen Wolf.”

She didn’t hesitate. “No, I don’t. My son is less than a year old and I don’t have time. And no, I didn’t train as hard as I did when we were living elsewhere before I got pregnant with Kevin.”

“Then I think you’re making a mistake, but what I think doesn’t matter.”

“It does,” Helen protested.

“No, it doesn’t and I don’t have a problem with that. You’re all adults and I’m not responsible for you.”

“Is that why you don’t visit?” She blinked when Kerrik’s face went completely blank. “What is it, father?”

“You like using that word, Helen, and I like hearing it except when you’re doing stuff like this. Don’t push.”

“I’m sorry.” She sighed. “We worry about you and why you stopped visiting. And a lot of us miss you. You were supposed to be our guide into being kami or Sidhe.”

“I never promised anything like that.”

“No, you didn’t. But you did live there and suddenly you didn’t and then you even stopped visiting.”

Kerrik looked at her evenly. “And other than you and Elizabeth, who visits us? People on that island don’t like some of the choices I’ve made and some of the decisions I’ve made and some of them don’t like the people I associate with and so they don’t visit me and mine. Why in hell should I come see you after it’s been made plain to me that my women aren’t welcome? On top of that, everyone there seems to expect my seal of approval on your government and lifestyle. No, no one has said anything explicitly, but it has been implied several times.”

Helen’s voice was small. “You don’t like what we’re doing?”

Kerrik shrugged. “Not judging. But in Scotland everyone was free to come and go and the laws were light and aimed at helping pokegirls be free and rise to their potential. Now you have an absolute monarchy and your king and queens had to decide if they were going to let Elves who wanted to leave go or not when they decided they would be happier with Autumn. Sometimes I wonder what that decision would have been if Autumn hadn’t been part of my family. Caradoc wasn’t welcome there because Naomi wouldn’t kiss their asses and I know other Elfqueens have been turned away, and that number would have included Autumn if she hadn’t stopped at my place. You and the rest of the royal family have continued on as you did in Scotland. I’m not so sure about the people who share that island with you. No, your kingdom isn’t evil. But I still don’t want to live there.”

“Is that why you told Elizabeth no?”

“I’ll tell you exactly what I told her. I can’t give you the stories Iain gave to me. They’re not mine to give. They belong to him. He was very specific that the stories he gave me after I specifically requested them were for my use only and for some of my harem if I felt it really was necessary. Yes, there are stories in there that he didn’t write and don’t belong to him as such, but the entire database is his. He gave it to me for personal use and I am not going to violate the spirit of that agreement.” His ears flicked. “No, I will pass judgment on one thing that has happened recently. What Elizabeth and you are asking for me to do is exactly what happened with Ygerna. Shikarou and whoever was involved in the pinching of Ygerna’s library were way out of line and I really find it hard to believe that they didn’t know exactly what they were doing while they were doing it. They more than deserved the beating that Iain gave them over it and they had better be very glad that I am not Ygerna when it comes time for her to seek redress for that wrong.”

“We’re afraid of what she’s going to demand,” Helen said quietly. “We asked Caspa what he would seek in a similar situation and it wasn’t nice.”

Kerrik stared at her for a second. “It’s actually much worse than that. Caspa is clan and Ygerna is fey and they are very different. Ygerna had an agreement with Faelan and Svetlana and, indirectly, with Shikarou. They all accepted that. For what they did to her she had and still has every right to declare every single person involved to be forsworn under the laws of the Sidhe.” When Helen didn’t react, he shook his head slightly. “You don’t know what that means do you? She could call down the wild magic that exists in this world and as oath breakers they would have no way to resist whatever it did to them.” He gritted his teeth as Helen went white. “I shouldn’t tell you this, but you are my daughter and I don’t like scaring you. It is unlikely that Ygerna will do anything that severe. She will seek Iain’s counsel, he will advise that she do otherwise and she will almost certainly listen to his words of wisdom.” His lips quirked in a smile as she obviously relaxed. “That is as long as you and yours don’t fuck her over any more in the meantime. She is Sidhe and she still thinks of herself as a queen and worthy of that respect, especially considering the way she’s been treated by Faelan and his family. And Iain is her friend and he will not react well to more stupidity on your family’s part towards her.” He frowned for a moment. “I have a question.”

Helen visibly settled herself. “What is it, father?”

“Ygerna didn’t get the Grimoire from Shikarou, did she?”

“No. We made sure it wasn’t in the books she received before she left with her library.”

“That’s strange. I thought I saw her reading it during one of my visits last fall.” He shook his head. “It was at a distance and I guess it must have been another book that looked like the Grimoire. Would you care to listen to a word of advice?”

“Father, I will always listen to what you have to say to me.”

An eyebrow rose. “So you’re not going to try to get me to give up Iain’s stories again?”

“No. You said you wouldn’t and that means we will have to approach Iain to get them if we want them. What is your advice?”

“I’ll send you a list of people that might have the best results talking with Iain. I’d suggest you pay attention to it.” He raised a hand as she smiled. “That’s not the advice I was going to offer.”

“What is it?”

“I would strenuously suggest you copy everything you can out of the Grimoire before Ygerna comes to reclaim it.”

Helen’s mouth dropped. “She can’t take it from us. She’s not that powerful.”

“I am not entirely sure just how powerful Ygerna is, but that doesn’t matter. She could quite easily demand it and other books from your library in recompense for breaking faith with her. And that is something that Iain would think of and might suggest to her when she seeks his counsel.”

“We wouldn’t let her have it.”

Kerrik’s ears canted. “Didn’t Shikarou agree that Ygerna deserved restitution for the incident? I saw the video and he did. If you deny her something reasonable and taking books that would hurt you is eminently reasonable, he would be doubly forsworn. He really, really doesn’t want to go there. There are protocols involved in that sort of thing and it could get the Sidhe gods involved, or it could get me involved on Ygerna’s side.”

Helen’s mouth dropped for a moment. “How could it get you involved?”

“Iain knows things, remember? If Shikarou refuses Ygerna something reasonable for redress, Ygerna could turn to me and request my aid in this so she doesn’t have to invoke the wild magic and destroy your family. Iain may know that and he’s still trying to look long term at the fact that his family and yours may interbreed someday. My intervention would keep anyone else from dying over that book.”

“If he did something like that, we would never allow such a union,” Helen said firmly.

“And I’m sure that’s almost exactly what the Capulet family said about their feud a couple of years before that nasty mess with Juliet and the ruffian Romeo Montague.” Kerrik drained his beer. “But I suggest you concern yourself with one problem at a time. My advice would be to bargain fairly for those stories. Iain probably won’t part with them cheaply, but that only make sense because it will give you a window into his soul and some ideas on how to work with him or manipulate him if you’re stupid about it. He probably wants you to have that window, but if he just gives it to you, well you won’t use it as wisely as you will if you have to pay through the nose for it.”

“You think he wants us to have the stories? But you said we could use that information against him.”

Kerrik smiled warmly. “Remember when I said that Iain is trying to think long term? His women call it being sneaky. He gave me those stories even though he didn’t have to. I asked for them. I could not rightly demand them. He knew you’d find out I had them. Hell, he told you in his last visit to Haven that I have them. He wants you to have those stories so you’ll feel you’re on a more level playing field with him since with those stories you can tell a lot about his personality and drives, which will help Shikarou and his advisors feel they can use that to counter how much he knows about you. So I think he’s manipulating all of us to make you bargain for those stories so you’ll value them and use them for exactly the purpose of helping you in your future negotiations with him so you don’t feel cheated when you do.”

Helen’s mouth gaped again. “That,” she swallowed, “Kerrik, just how intelligent do you think Iain is? Nobody on our side estimated he could be that bright.”

“His mind can’t be read by anyone who isn’t loyal to him,” Kerrik said quietly. “And Whisper has said she can’t read their information about him from their minds. So we can’t tell how smart or crafty he might be. But I think he’s very smart and I think he’s thinking a dozen or so steps ahead of where anyone else thinks he is. And so far he’s shown himself flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances and still stay that far ahead of everyone else.”

Helen’s ears flicked uncertainly. “I am suddenly very glad we haven’t managed to turn him into an enemy.”

“So am I,” Kerrik replied softly. “And I strongly suggest you don’t turn him into one. Now I would also strongly suggest that you hurry home and have a firm and frank discussion with your husband about reining in some of the more reactionary elements in his kingdom because from where I sit it looks like some of them are trying to do everything in their power to drive Iain to exactly that result.”

Helen gulped down her beer and stood. “I’ll do that and I’ll also be waiting for that list of people who should talk to Iain. Will this list be based off what you’ve read in his writing?”

“In part, yes. His stories suggest a strong emotional response to several people. I might not hesitate to use the word infatuation, but since he knows you’re real now, I’d say he’s probably too smart to let these people use that to gain an unfair advantage over him unless they would be willing to go a lot farther than might be prudent in their relationship with him.” His eyes were amused as he leaned back in his chair. “And if any of them do go that far, it might be hard to get them to willingly return to Haven.”

Helen looked aghast. “You think some of us might fuck him?”

Kerrik carefully kept his voice even and light. “Helen, my daughter, you are not a pokegirl anymore. But you still retain almost all of the drives you did when you were one, as do your sisters, whether they are pokegirl, kami or Sidhe. Whether she acts on it or not, every pokegirl evaluates every person she meets or interacts with on an unconscious level that is entirely sexual to see if they are a suitable partner. It is what they are designed to do. In a powerful pokegirl’s case in a strong relationship she doesn’t often find someone who might be equal to her worth, but it does happen. It is why Svetlana fucked Shikarou when Faelan couldn’t provide for her. It is why most pokegirls are so protective of their males or females from outsider girls, because they know any other pokegirl who meets them thinks about being with them, even if they are perfectly happy with their current partner. Raven dislikes you and Elizabeth without understanding that she’s aware that although she knows you are unlikely to consciously consider sleeping with me, your unconscious has already decided that I am more than acceptable should the need arise. It is why pokegirls salvaged from tamers don’t often fight their new tamer. After all, he or she has already proven their superiority over the pokegirl’s previous owner and are therefore a viable breeding partner. It is nothing to be ashamed of, but all pokegirls need to accept that it is nothing that they can stop.”

Helen’s eyes were slightly wild and her nostrils flared as she breathed deeply. “And, physical combat or not, Iain has already bested Shikarou in their encounters and so a part of us might see him as superior to my husband.” Her voice was shaky.

“I’m not saying that anyone will do anything with him,” Kerrik said quietly, “But you cannot deny that almost all of you will consider it on some level and some of you will decide he would be acceptable. If it makes you feel better, human women do it too.”

“I need to talk to Shikarou and the others,” Helen said. “Thank you for meeting with me, father.”

She held out her arms and he rose and walked into her hug. “You are always welcome here, Helen.”

She hugged him hard and stepped back. “I will talk to some of my sisters about how they’ve been demanding you visit us and have not considered reciprocating.”

Kerrik shrugged slightly. “I appreciate that, but don’t force anyone to do anything against their will. They will or will not and I’d rather they not visit and be cheerful than visit and be sullen.”

“I will.” She vanished.

“You’re wrong, you know,” Raven said as she slipped into the room and grabbed the empty beer bottles.

“I am?”

She nodded. “You’re wrong about me not consciously knowing that they on some level think about joining us. I’m well aware of it. They’d be stupid not to. You are obviously far superior to either Faelan or Shikarou no matter what kind of supernatural creature they are.”

“I didn’t think she needed to hear that. She has gotten enough shocks for one day when I suggested that Iain is somehow superior to a kami.” He cocked his head curiously. “You didn’t say I was superior to Iain.”

Raven’s fangs gleamed in her smile. “No, I didn’t. My mind isn’t completely made up on that subject. So why don’t you drag me off to your bed and show me that you are?”

He grabbed her around the waist and threw her over his shoulder. “What a good idea.” She laughed and tossed the bottles into the trash can as he carried her out of the room.

Iain Grey

Inner Harem

Ninhursag Grey - Elfqueen & maharani

Eve Grey - Megami Sama

April Grey - Duelist & beta

Dominique Grey - Blessed Archmage

Pandora - Fiendish Archangel

Canaan - G Splice (Hunter Amachamp & Alaka-Wham)

Zareen - Nightmare

Raquel - Fiendish Rapitaur

Sofia - Ria

Vanessa – Evangelion

Lucifer – Megami Sama

Outer Harem

Allison – Umbrea (Outer Harem Alpha)

Daphne - Whorizard

Lynn - Growlie

Chuck – Doggirl

Ryan – Unicorn

Winifred - Rack (German)

Rosemary - Mistoffeles (Uruguayan)

Silver - Pegaslut

Joyce – Milktit

Outer Clan

Melanie – Iron Chef

Siobhan - NurseJoy (Glasgow)

Queendom / Outer Harem

12 Elves

Heather - Elf

Dionne - Elfqueen

Adrianna - Elfqueen

Heltu - Wet Queen

6 Wet Elves

Dead Harem

Eirian - Silver Dragoness

Aurum - Gold Dragoness

Skye - Blue Dragoness

Emerald - Green Dragoness

Beryl - Red Dragoness

Julia - human

Ling - Cheetit

Matilda - White Tigress

Liadan - Twau

Sorrel - Armsmistress

Natalie - Blazicunt

Maria – Slutton

Rhea Silvia - Chimera

Mothers & Children

Vanessa

Myrna

Saoirse

April

Dorothy: Duelist

Meara: Duelist

Regan: Duelist

Canaan

Hannah: Huntress

Rebecca: Huntress

Joyce

Lisa: Milktit

Sherrie: Milktit

Harriet: Milktit

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