This work is fiction. The work has no relationship with any person existing at any time anywhere whether real or imaginary or copywritten. Everything in this work is mea culpa.
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Sofia appeared with Iain and stepped behind him after releasing his hand. She checked their surroundings as she pulled her GAR 15 to a ready position and verified it was loaded without looking down at the weapon. “All clear except for the Elf watching us from the tree line to the left.”
“I see her.” Iain waved and pointed to his wrist.
The Elf, out of comfortable earshot, nodded and tapped her temple.
“Our arrival has been noted and reported,” Iain murmured.
A second later, Raven appeared a handful of meters in front of him. “Good morning, Iain, Sofia” she said. She looked around quickly before taking a couple of steps towards them. “And thank you for talking to Kerrik and quashing this business with Misery.”
“It’s only delayed,” Iain pointed out. “Misery deserves children and I’ll bet she has some beautiful kids, but I’m glad to have been of some small help. I presume that since she hasn’t come by to yell at me she’s not aware of what transpired.”
“I am aware of it,” Misery said as she landed beside him. “And while I’m not happy with either of you I understand why she did it and I do appreciate the distinction between quashed and delayed.” She smiled winsomely at him. “If you think my daughters will be beautiful, would you want one of them?”
Iain smiled. “Misery, I expect I’ll watch them grow up and when they come of age we’ll see what happens.”
“What about my daughters,” Raven asked curiously.
What is it with these women and competing for everything? I guess Kerrik likes them doing it, Iain commented to himself. “Ladies, I’m not going to play what if all day long. I believe my teacher is waiting for me and if I’m late I will cheerfully throw you under the bus to avoid his wrath.”
“Right,” Raven said. “He’s inside waiting for you.”
A little while later Iain was sitting at a table and staring at a holographic display. “What is this?”
“It’s muscle tissue,” Kerrik said. “More specifically, it’s my muscle tissue right before I became the hybrid that I am. Compare it to your muscle tissue and note the differences.”
Iain pulled his muscle tissue imagery and put the holograms side to side. “OK, I see the differences.”
“The next sets of visuals give you the same comparison between my and your tendons and bone,” Kerrik said. “Look at them now.”
Iain did. “What is this for?”
“You’ve already boosted your strength with some of the physical changes you’ve made to yourself and then the organic upgrades your twee has given you have helped with endurance. But my system provides me with more strength, speed and endurance than yours can handle.”
“You’re not human,” Iain pointed out, “so it is to be expected that your physical abilities aren’t the same as mine.”
Kerrik nodded. “But when I wasn’t a hybrid like I am now, I boosted my physical capabilities to roughly the basic level I had when I became one. My old upper limit became my new baseline and I improved from there.” He gestured at the display. “So essentially that’s the upper limit I had before I became a hybrid.” His ears flicked. “And I did it with a variant of the same technique you used to change your physical appearance and modified your hearing, vision and olfactory sense.”
Sofia frowned. “Olfactory sense?”
“It’s his ability to detect odors,” Kerrik said.
Her ears flattened. “My twee told me what it was.” Her gaze switched to Iain. “But we did not know he had improved it or I would have factored it into his training program.”
Kerrik’s ears twitched. “Oh. Um, sorry.”
Iain gave her an innocent look. “Surprise?”
Her ears seemed to flatten even further. “I am not amused. Why didn’t you tell us about it?”
Iain didn’t look apologetic. “I haven’t said anything because I’m not done tweaking it to its theoretical maximum without having to change my physical shape too. And I don’t tell anyone until that point so I don’t have to listen to the unwanted and useless advice or the really unwanted demands that I stop before I hurt myself because someone else knows where my limits are far better than I do.”
Sofia wilted under his glare. “I am sorry, Iain. I trust you.”
Iain shook his head. “I trust you too, but I am still allowed to keep things to myself.” He turned his attention back to Kerrik. “So I should be able to do this now?”
“Yes and I want you to do so. It’ll help you with your training here and it’ll help you with your pokegirls and, more importantly it’ll make you a lot harder to kill.”
“I’ll get started on it,” Iain said. “I wonder if when you became a hybrid your baseline would have been lower if you hadn’t done the boosting prior to it.”
“I have considered that question too,” Kerrik said with a smile. “Since some other kami and Sidhe are weaker than I was at my baseline, I suspect the answer could be yes. However I’m not entirely convinced because each species also draws strength from their magic and I have never met a member of either species with my magic level at that time that was weak. So my magic might have something to do with it.”
“What about Jamie and some of the other people you have changed,” Iain asked. “Do they show tendencies either way based on their magic level when transitioned?”
“No, and that’s the frustrating part. I’d like this sort of thing to be predictable.”
“Little of magic is,” Iain pointed out. “Even the magic that everyone knows is stable isn’t really, not when looked at over large numbers of castings over long periods of time. All of them show some uncertainty, it’s just that some spells are more stable than others.”
Kerrik grinned. “I love talking to you. Do you know how many people just don’t get the subtleties you already know?”
“I’m starting to,” Iain said. “The mages of the Sisterhood have a love-hate relationship with me that just grows a little stronger every time we sit down and talk theoretical magic.”
Sofia chuckled. “At least not all of them hit you when they don’t understand what you are saying.”
He rolled his eyes. “Enough of them would like to.”
Kerrik’s ears flicked. “You could teach Dominique not to hit like that when she’s frustrated.”
“I could,” Iain admitted, “but when she does get something right it’s awesome to experience. Besides, she doesn’t hit that hard and we love the foibles in the ones we love as much as their good attributes and I am learning a lot from her. I put up with more from my teachers.” He gave Kerrik a sly smile. “Like the occasional midnight summons from you.”
“We’re trying to stop those,” Raven grumbled. “We want him in bed with us, not consorting with you.”
Kerrik shrugged. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had a student who wasn’t one of my children. And some of them are so fucking slow to pick up basic concepts about magic.”
Whisper came into the room and put down a tray. Yes, we understand that you have a new toy and want to play with it. But your sex toys would rather you play with them when it’s sex time.
Kerrik burst out laughing while Iain smothered his laughter. Sofia just looked amused. Kerrik got his laughter under control and gave Whisper a stern look that was spoiled by the amused cant of his ears. “Bad Whisper.”
She gave him a smirk back. You have to be a better Kerrik to get to see Bad Whisper. But you’d like her.
Iain just sighed and sat up straight. “Well, I guess Bad Whisper and a better Kerrik is as good an intro into the topic I wanted to bring up as I’m likely to get for a while.”
Whisper’s ears flicked. I do not understand.
“Well you can’t read my mind, so that makes sense.” She stuck out her tongue at him and he smiled. “Kerrik, have you felt that something big is coming?”
Misery scowled. “What, now you have precognition?”
Kerrik was nodding. “I have. Sometimes that feeling is wrong and I was hoping I was mistaken, but if you feel something too, it may not be anything we can ignore.”
Iain grimaced. “We’re crippled and you know it.”
Kerrik nodded again. “I do, but there’s nothing I can do about it until the twenty years is up.”
“There’s a way to shortcut the process,” Iain pointed out. “And it’ll let you solve some other problems.” He gave Raven a significant look that she missed.
Kerrik looked into Iain’s eyes for a long moment. “You understand there is substantial hazard for everyone involved.”
“I do, but at this point in time you being at full power is more important than any other consequence. My family lives here too and the lives you save may be theirs.”
Sofia put a hand on Iain’s shoulder. “What are you talking about?”
“Yeah,” Misery said. “Tell us.”
Iain looked at Kerrik. “May I?”
“Go ahead. I want to see how you explain this.”
“There are two conditions in which Kerrik’s full powers will return,” Iain began. “The first is that the time condition he set is fulfilled. The other is that one of the people that he loves is in dire threat of death or he is almost killed.”
“Iain is suggesting we consider the second condition,” Kerrik interrupted. “And he’s offering to help me establish the requirements that fulfill it.”
“Which of us is going to be in danger of death,” Raven asked. “I’ll volunteer.”
“Kerrik would never allow that and I would never suggest it,” Iain said flatly. “I’m going to try to kill him.”
“I don’t like this,” Raven said. Whisper’s and Misery’s ears were flat and Whisper’s fangs were revealed in her snarl. “Get Morwen and Autumn.” Misery vanished.
“Oh, you think you don’t like it,” Iain said, “my ladies are about to have a loud and probably rather public meltdown when Sofia tells them.”
He looked at the Ria but she spoke before he could. “Kerrik said this will be hazardous to you. How?”
“If I am truly threatened or believe that I am, at a certain point,” Kerrik said, “no matter how hard I try to avoid it, my automatic reflexes will kick in and I will try to destroy my attacker. I have already proven I am a superior combatant to Iain and he could easily die while achieving his goal.”
Is there a time requirement for when this has to happen, Theodora asked him in the privacy of his mind.
Sometime today would be best before I lose my nerve to go through with it. Why?
I am launching a shuttle with a full hospital suite that will be there in an hour. It carries remotes that can load injured personnel into the suite.
Why can’t I kill him for you?
His magic will activate during the attempt. Not his full magic, but enough that he could easily tamper with your sensors and throw off your aim.
Be careful, my love.
I will. I do have a plan.
Remember to tell Eve that.
The conversation with Theodora took less than a second as Iain looked around and back to Sofia with a raised eyebrow. She nodded. “I have not told them yet. Is there no other way to do this?”
“I don’t think so and I think that if Kerrik knew of another way he would have brought it up.”
“What about a bomb or something like that,” Sofia asked.
“It wouldn’t work,” Kerrik said. “We don’t know when the threat will materialize and if I am killed here I go back to my home universe and have to travel back to here. The time it takes me to return to my home universe can vary greatly. If what’s coming is what I think it is, they might try to isolate this universe from normal travel so as to keep it for their own use. If I’m not here and they do manage to isolate this universe, it becomes exponentially harder for me to return.”
“We think it is other truewizards,” Iain said, “specifically a part of the Dark Covenant. Mhodvitnar’s memories suggest he wasn’t working alone and this world is close enough to the one we came from to be one of their project worlds for harvesting. They want chaos and they’d go after us for me being a fledgling and also because we’re trying to institute a bit of order in the world.”
“They’d think they finally had a chance to kill me,” Kerrik said. “And so they would also come here.”
“I have to tell them,” Sofia leaned down and kissed Iain’s cheek. She looked around the room as Misery brought Morwen and Autumn into the room. “This room is too small for everyone that will want to be here for this. Explain to your women,” she said to Kerrik. “We should go outside for the incoming invasion.”
Iain nodded. “See you in a bit,” he said to Kerrik. “You know I wish there was another way.”
“It’s my fault for not considering that something like this might happen,” Kerrik said, “and I would have preferred some other method of resolving this too.”
“Theodora is sending a shuttle equipped with a hospital and it’ll be here in less than an hour, so we can do this after that.” Iain set himself. “Come on, Sofia.” They headed outside. “Theodora’s shuttle has a full medical setup on it. As long as my brain is still alive she can fix whatever else happens to me.”
Sofia eyed him. “Do you have a plan to keep your brain alive?”
“You bet your sweet ass I do.” He smiled. “I want to be able to have that ass again and death would make that kind of difficult.”
“Flattery will not help you in this,” she said with a smile. “I have to tell them.”
“No, I have to tell them,” Iain said. “And I’m already doing it.”
Eve appeared holding Lucifer’s hand. “The others who need to be here are coming, Iain.” She glanced at Lucifer. “Are you going to tell him or shall I?”
“I can still fight my battles, Eve,” Lucifer said firmly. “Iain, I desire a delta bond with you as you have given to the others. I want it so I too can find you if it becomes necessary.”
“And so you are equal with the other two maharani in the harem,” Sofia said with a smile. “As you are maharani of the Sisterhood. Allison will want one too, eventually.”
“There is that, too,” Lucy replied with a smile of her own. “We all crave all of the status we can get.” Her smile faded as she turned to Iain. “I too, saw something coming with my precognition, but I am not aware of many details except that it could be disastrous for everything that we have and wish to do here. Can you fill in any of those details?”
“Are you the reason Eve is not screaming at me right now?”
Lucy smiled again. “I am. I knew this visit to Kerrik would prove pivotal and I warned Eve and then everyone else.” She put her hand on his shoulder and squeezed. It was a gesture of respect between soldiers in the Sisterhood. “You will survive this day, but not unharmed. It will shatter your body and burn more scars into your soul but the reasons you do this are good.” Her eyes twinkled suddenly. “For the most part they are, at least.”
“What does that mean,” Iain asked.
“You are much like us in many ways, Iain Grey. You are looking forward to pitting yourself against Kerrik Wolf because even in his current form of reduced power you see it as one of your ultimate challenges of survival and skill. It is very much the way a pokegirl thinks of combat against her peers and betters so that she might improve.”
“That’s not really all that surprising,” Iain said. “It’s a human trait and that’s what we all are.”
Ninhursag appeared with Dominique. “Pandora is getting Siobhan, Heather and Dianthus. They need to see this and Siobhan needs to be here to heal you. Vanessa, April and Canaan are arranging for Lynn and Rosemary to watch the children. Zareen is ignoring my order to remain there and should be here momentarily.” She looked into Iain’s eyes. “Can we do this for you?”
“I don’t think so, but I wouldn’t let you if you could. This is so dangerous it’s not funny, but I have some ideas on how to mitigate the risk to me while still keeping Kerrik on the knife’s edge of death.”
Lucifer was shaking her head. “If any but Iain does this they will die this day and not them alone.”
“Well, you have it. The prognosticator has spoken,” Iain said with a smile. “It’s my job to fuck up.”
Pandora appeared and released Siobhan, Heather and Dianthus. “Stay here”, she said to them all. “Do not interfere in what is happening.” She turned to Iain. “You are very fortunate Lucifer convinced us you will live and that you have to be the one to do this,” she said with a deceptive calm. Her face was a study in frustrated fury. “If not for that, I would run with you until I couldn’t teleport one more time or just try to kill Kerrik myself.”
April appeared with Vanessa, Canaan, and Raquel. “Do we set up a perimeter?”
“Autumn’s Elves will have one in place as a matter of routine,” Ninhursag said. “And they would see ours as either distrust of them, a studied insult or both. No.”
Zareen arrived. The heavily pregnant Nightmare moved deliberately but quickly to Iain. “You should video this,” she said, “so we can send it to frighten our enemies.”
“Then you get the video from your twee,” Iain told her.
Zareen’s eyes brightened. “I will,” she promised.
Vanessa poked Iain hard in the shoulder, making him jump. “Don’t prove you’re a world shaking threat or Australia might just end up the Orange Islands again when some other Evangelion appears.”
“Shouldn’t she know about the one that’s already here and go somewhere else?”
Vanessa shrugged. “She’ll be very young. There’s no telling.”
“That sounds like a potential oh fuck,” Iain said.
“Everything is a potential oh fuck around you, Iain,” Raquel said with a straight face. Her smothered laugh a second later spoiled it.
“Did you know that because of one of my special abilities I can augment the powers of Celestials around me,” Vanessa said with a smile. “I boosted Lucy’s unique precognition and helped keep everyone else from coming after you with pillow cases and rolls of duct tape. Now tell us why you have to do this.”
“Everyone except Dianthus, Heather and Siobhan will have heard of Mhodvitnar,” Iain said just loudly enough for everyone else to hear. People began drifting towards him as he spoke. “But in summary he was part of a group of truewizards who helped Scott destroy the world we came here from. Our world wasn’t the only one that they did this to. They or someone like them also did it to this world and to the world that Barb and Siobhan come from too, as well as the world Shikarou’s people moved here from, along with others. According to Mhodvitnar’s memories, his group split up and visited the various worlds they’d ruined on a semi-regular basis to see how things were progressing and to nudge them along the right path if something wasn’t working out quite right. Mao, the Limbec Pirates and their tendency to hunt scientists working on feral and threshold prevention research were one such nudge. Sanctuary was probably another. One of those windows of time they could visit in is approaching and Kerrik is our only defense against them if they come here. Oh, I’m one too, but my powers are probably too feeble to bother any truewizard who can dimensionally travel without help. Kerrik locked away his powers and today I’m going to unlock them by trying my best to kill him without actually doing it. Unfortunately, while I’m doing it, as soon as his body and mind realize they’re about to die, he will do his best to kill me. Even without his full magic, his best is going to be pretty formidable. You’re here to witness and hopefully keep me alive afterwards.”
“And we are here to see just how badass our man is,” Zareen announced.
Iain shook his head. “Badass I am not. You are not here,” he continued, “to get involved in this battle in any way other than by healing me. You all understand this. If you can’t do it, you need to leave.” Nobody moved. “Then just remember that if you try to get involved, you could end up facing Kerrik’s harem. Do not do that.”
“I don’t hear shouting,” Morwen poked her head out the door and looked around cautiously. Her eyes were red as if she’d been doing some crying but her face was composed.
“If there was going to be shouting,” Ninhursag told her, “we would have done it at home so you didn’t have to listen to it.”
“You too, huh?” When Ninhursag looked puzzled, Morwen hastened to explain. “We don’t fight in front of outlanders either.”
“It’s odd to hear that word being applied to us,” Raquel said amusedly. “You’re the outlanders as far as we’re concerned.”
Iain turned to Siobhan. “I am counting on you to keep me alive if at all possible. You are our most powerful healer and I am likely to need all of the help I can get.”
The NurseJoy was wearing what was essentially a gi in a blue that brought out her eyes. Her testing in Israel had resulted in the brown Krav-Maga belt that she wore and as soon as she met the time requirements she would test for her black one. “I understand, master. I will do everything I can.” She smiled at him. “You have to live so I can keep teaching you.” He’d started taking lessons in martial arts from her.
“That is certainly the plan.” He looked back at Morwen. “I’ve got a shuttle inbound with a hospital on it for me. It should be here in about half an hour. Please let Kerrik know.”
She blinked. “You think you’ll need it? Kerrik said he’ll try not to hurt you too much.”
“And he means that,” Iain said, “which is why I expect I’ll live long enough to reach the hospital, but I am going to need it.”
“See,” Canaan said proudly, “just like Lucy said, he’s an honorary pokegirl.”
Iain frowned as Morwen snickered and went back inside. “I what?”
April hugged him. “It was a compliment.” She rested her head against his chest. “I wish you didn’t have to do this, but I know you do. Try not to get neutered, ok? I still want your children.”
“I’m sure between Siobhan and Theodora I can grow back anything I need.”
“I’d rather keep playing with the original equipment.”
“I’d prefer that too.”
Vanessa poked April. “My turn.” She wrapped him up in her arms when April reluctantly disengaged. “I’m surprised you’re not a nervous wreck.”
“You missed when I was. I did that yesterday instead of studying.”
“You knew you were going to do this?”
“I knew I was going to bring it up with Kerrik today. I didn’t know how he’d respond, but I planned for this as if he’d agree to do it. That’s why I have body armor on under these clothes.”
She frowned and patted his chest before pulling his shirt collar open to look inside. “That doesn’t feel like armor.” She blinked. “Oh. My twee says that’s Tirsuli kinetic armor and it’s about the best you can get without putting on powered armor. Is it the full suit?”
“I’m wearing everything except the helmet, which would have been a dead giveaway, and the gloves, which I’m going to put on before I try to kill him. Why else would I be wearing pants and a long sleeved shirt? You know I love shorts.”
“It’s a wonder you just don’t go naked most of the time like Zareen,” she said with a smile.
“He wouldn’t get more than three feet without being assaulted,” April responded, “or else he might just do that.”
“And kilts are too close to being naked for me to wear them either without certain individuals at the ranch presuming certain things,” Iain said. “I like kilts too so it is kind of a shame but that’s the world we live in. A man’s not safe with his privates hanging free.” Several people laughed.
Kerrik came outside followed by his harem. “What’s the ETA on the shuttle?”
A number appeared in Iain’s vision. “Fifteen minutes.”
“If you actually kill him, I will tear you into tiny pieces,” Raven snarled, “and I will feed them to Misery.”
Canaan laughed. “I’d watch who I’m threatening if I were you.”
Raven sneered at her. “Kerrik will be dead and won’t prevent me. And you cannot stop me, Hunter or not.”
“I wouldn’t fight alone and we’re tougher than you think,” Canaan shot back without heat. “But there’s something you’re not thinking about. If Iain does kill Kerrik, you will need a tamer until Kerrik returns. If you kill Iain, your choice becomes Shikarou or Faelan and you’d have to share them with their wives and women. Not to mention there’s no guarantee they could give you what you need in daily blood. Otherwise you’re back to murdering relatively innocent people every day since they can’t give you the blood you need and I know how unhappy that makes you.”
“Iain can’t either,” Raven said in a more thoughtful tone.
“Iain hasn’t tried,” Canaan replied. “When he gets a girl, he has always somehow given her what she needed and often what she wanted. I’m sure he’d do the same for you. And I’m sure he’d release you to Kerrik when he did return. Kerrik might have to fight his sons or anyone else for you.” She looked at the others. “And that goes for all of you. Iain will take care of you and he will give you back to Kerrik without a fight if you want him to. There are no guarantees with anyone else and if someone else could bond you closely enough you’d fight Kerrik for them when he came for you or refuse him to his face, at which point he would leave you to the fate that you chose.” Her antenna curled close to her head as she stepped forward. “Whisper, taste my mind and know the truth. Misery, you may touch me this one time. I can keep both of you from places you should not be as long as you do not fight me, at which point I will bleed you white.”
Whisper’s antenna unfolded as Misery grabbed Canaan’s wrist. She tells the truth. Iain will keep us, cherish us and release us as desired.
“Yeah,” Misery said as she released her grip. “But there are a lot of things she’s keeping from us.”
“Of course I am. Just as you do in regards to me,” Canaan’s antenna returned to their normal scanning position, “I have things you are not meant to know.”
“I don’t want another man,” Morwen said firmly.
“You’re an incredible young woman, Morwen, but I don’t want more girls,” Iain replied. “And frankly I’m not excited about being bitten regularly and having my blood drained if I do end up with more of them, so I just won’t completely kill Kerrik.” He looked at Kerrik. “But I will take care of them if I have to.”
“I know that,” Kerrik replied. “It was one of the reasons I agreed to let you help me get my powers back. You won’t keep any who want to go back with me.” Unasked was the question of who might want to if he was away for an extended time and they got used to being with Iain.
Without a sound, the shuttle hove into view and came to a hover as the landing gear cycled into position and the cargo hold began to open. It turned so its stern faced Iain and Kerrik and settled to the ground. As it touched, robots pulled two of the hovering coffin shaped medical units off the shuttle and moved them to near where Iain was standing. “I goosed the engines and got here early,” Theodora said as she appeared between the medical units.
Kerrik nodded. “Iain, are you ready now?”
“No,” Iain said firmly as he pulled the body armor gloves from his back pocket, slipped them on and connected them to the sleeves on the upper portion he already wore. “I’m scared shitless.” He took a deep breath in through his nose and emptied his lungs through his mouth. “But it’s time.” He loosened the pistol in his holster. “Where do we stand to do the least damage to anyone or anything else?”
“Here.” Kerrik marked two places on the ground five meters apart.
Iain moved to one of them and turned to face Kerrik as he took the second spot. Twee, please do as we discussed.
His twee’s response was immediate. Physical limiters offline. You can now exceed your body’s safety limits in speed and strength and in doing so you will tear muscle, tendon and possibly bone. Be careful speaking lest you shatter your teeth or sever your tongue. His breathing became deep and sped up. Super oxygenation of blood and tissues beginning. Should your circulatory system be compromised you will have a minute of extra activity before the muscles shut down. Pain receptors have been blunted so that you cannot receive incapacitating reports of damage, but will still be aware of injuries as they occur.
Iain drew his pistol and let it hang at his side as he focused his will, releasing his magic into himself as Kerrik tossed his gun belt away and began shedding knives from places all over his body.
“I’ve done what I can,” Kerrik said calmly. “And I will try not to see you as a threat until I have no other choice. It’s time.”
Iain activated the targeting system in his pistol and saw superimposed in his vision a picture of his leg and the ground as his twee interfaced with the gun. A pulsing cyan dot indicated the impact point of the projectile. Knowing what most likely was going to have to happen; Iain had been practicing for weeks with the weapon, which only looked like a GM-2. Theodora had badgered him into using what she considered modern weapons and while he had insisted his gear look identical to everyone else’s, his pistol was closer to a Tirsuli hornet in design. It was a coil gun that threw osmium pellets, but she’d modified the design to its maximum limits of sustained power output without regard for the long term life of the weapon for use against anything Iain might face on this world. With proper care, a hornet could be used for decades or even generations with minimal maintenance. Iain’s weapon would last only a few years before needing to be replaced but Theodora, his armaments supplier, didn’t care and already had a dozen more of them waiting in the armory for his use.
Kerrik watched Iain carefully. His automatic threat assessment ran in a range from ten to zero in increasing level of threat. When Iain had drawn his pistol, he had gone from a nine to a seven.
Iain took a deep breath and started slowly counting out loud. “Five. Four. Three. Two.”
Iain flicked up his gun and squeezed the trigger to its first stop as soon as the cyan dot centered on his first target, relaxed his finger slightly, shifted the weapons sideways and squeezed off another round. Then he relaxed his finger again as the gun twitched up and squeezed the trigger a third time.
Kerrik’s ears froze when the first shot cracked. Sneaky, going early like that. I’d been lulled by the slow count. He realized that Iain was not using a chemically powered weapon and his threat assessment went from seven to five even as the first hypersonic pellet severed his right leg at the knee. He had an instant to realize that Iain was firing from the hip and his left knee shattered. The third pellet hit him just above the heart and blew a ten centimeter crater through his torso, shredding his pulmonary arteries and veins as well as the top of his heart.
His threat assessment went from five to two. Kerrik fought not to react, because at this point he would normally already be killing his attacker. Do it!
Iain’s fingers twitched his gun up a few millimeters and, as he squeezed the trigger to the first stop, he could see that Kerrik’s ears were flat and his fangs were bared in a snarl. Light flickered deep in his amber eyes and Iain knew he was about to receive at least as good as he’d given, but he didn’t waste a second on a wish for survival. He’d already done everything he could do towards that and now it was time to wait for the counterstrike and hope his preparations would blunt the first hits.
His first pellet took Kerrik under the right eye and shattered his face as it burrowed deep into his skull. Then Iain pulled the trigger to the second stop and his pistol went to fully automatic fire.
Kerrik’s head exploded in a spray of bone and flesh even as his threat assessment went to one. He no longer had eyes, but his awakening powers knew where his foe was. He knew he couldn’t charge and instead his arms snapped out towards Iain, the right making an underhanded throwing motion while the left slashed sideways. His body was beginning to fall and also to tumble from the headshots, but his strikes were unerring.
Light glittered between Iain and Kerrik for less than a heartbeat and diamond hard razor sharp shards of ice ripped along the dome of force that Iain had forged over his head and upper neck to spray in all directions. Ninhursag yelped as one ricochet drew a bloody line across her torso, opening the flesh to the intestines as it passed. She clamped her hands over the wound and began healing it even as more ice whizzed past her.
The energy from the slash turned the air into razors that acted as extensions of Kerrik’s claws and shredded the armor under Iain’s clothes, but the armor did its job one time even as it was destroyed, blunting the attack that would have cut him into pieces into one that left bloody cuts that gleamed white from his ribs.
Kerrik’s energy sensed the protection to the head and vulnerability to the torso of his attacker and his attacks changed target instantly.
Target override, his twee shrieked and the pistol twitched to the right, blowing Kerrik’s left shoulder and arm off before he could use his wind razors to damage Iain too badly to keep from attacking. Iain twitched the pistol back onto Kerrik’s torso and head as the next volley of ice shards punched through his chest and out his back in a spray of crimson that wet the grass a dozen meters behind him. Lungs punctured. Circulatory system compromised. Blood pressure falling quickly. Heart still operable. Boosting heart rate to compensate for blood pressure loss, which will speed blood volume loss. Spine damaged. Secondary nerve controls to legs and arms functional.
Advance as planned, Iain ordered.
Iain blurred forward, muscles and tendons already tearing under stresses they couldn’t handle. He fought to keep the pistol on target as it kept firing but squeezed too hard and broke several fingers in his left hand, pulling the pistol left and incidentally severing Kerrik’s right arm at the elbow as the next ice attack ripped through his stomach and chest. Heart damaged. Ancillary organs damaged. Blood pressure plummeting.
Something overstressed in his right thigh snapped and he fell, sliding forward until his outstretched right hand grabbed onto Kerrik’s leg. His left released the gun and slipped on something before he closed it into a fist as he levered himself up on it and dragged himself forward. His energy surged down his hand and began sucking at Kerrik’s life.
A silver cocoon suddenly burst into existence around Kerrik, burning Iain’s right arm off to the elbow and throwing him several meters away to slam into the dirt. He tried to breathe but his diaphragm had been shredded and nothing happened.
I require medical aid and Kerrik’s power is returning now. When the cocoon vanishes, Kerrik will be at full power. Iain said over his twee to both his harem and Kerrik’s. Over his delta bond, he reached out to Canaan. Come to me.
She teleported to his side and dropped to her knees as the others rushed forward. What?
My left hand. How much do you dare?
Canaan pried his left hand open with hers and her eyes widened. I dare!
Theodora will be expecting you to go to her from the Sabine house. Do so now.
Canaan vanished as Siobhan knelt next to him, her healing power pouring into Iain.
I am putting Iain into a coma to protect his brain, his twee told Iain’s harem. Get him into the medic as soon as Siobhan has him stabilized enough to last a few minutes.
Ninhursag gripped Siobhan’s shoulder. “How long will he live?”
“Not very long,” she said grimly. “His torso and everything in it is just ground meat. His brain is getting no oxygen. It would take a dozen NurseJoys to fix all of this without killing him.” She looked up. “His clothes are the only thing keeping him intact and if we move him it’ll fall apart.”
“Heal his skin so we can move him,” Ninhursag ordered. “Ignore the rest.”
“Where the fuck did Canaan go,” Dominique growled as Siobhan went back to work and Iain’s skin began to knit.
Iain sent her to do something, his twee said. He can be moved now. Gentleness is not required. Speed is.
Dominique shouldered Siobhan aside and grabbed Iain up, spun and raced for the closest medic. The NurseJoy squawked angrily and jogged after her.
Ninhursag looked at Raven. “It looks like they’re both going to live. Do we have anything to settle?”
“No.” The Archmage’s eyes were a little wild. “How did Iain move so fast? I don’t think I could have defeated him if he’d done that to me.”
“I don’t know the details,” Ninhursag replied. “But rest assured that we are going to have a long talk about what happened today when he gets up and around.”
“I want a similar talk with Kerrik,” Raven admitted.
“So there’s no bad blood between us?”
“Kerrik told us what was going to happen. To be honest,” Raven admitted quietly, “I didn’t believe Iain could do it. I’ve seen Kerrik take too much damage in too short a time.”
“I find this hard to believe too,” Ninhursag said just as quietly. “That’s why Iain has some hard questions to answer when he wakes up.”
Raven nodded. “Share what you can with me?”
“I will if you will,” Ninhursag said with a smile.
Raven spat in her right hand and held it out. “Done.”
Ninhursag chuckled and did the same. “And done.” They shook. “You learned that from Morwen, didn’t you?”
“Elizabeth, actually,” Raven said. “Morwen says it’s barbaric, so I immediately made it the standard here.” Her head came around when the cocoon around Kerrik turned white and vanished. “Bye.” She teleported to Kerrik’s side. “Are you all right?”
Kerrik nodded slowly. “That was unpleasant to say the least. Cheating on the count and shooting from the hip was inspired. Did Iain survive?”
Raven pointed. “He’s in that box thing over there that’s headed into the shuttle.”
Kerrik’s head swiveled and his ears pricked. “That’s a medic. Theodora has him and he should be fine if his brain is intact.”
Theodora appeared next to Raven. “It is and he will need some time to heal but he should make a complete recovery. He’s quite the mess. How are you?”
Kerrik stretched slowly. “Adult and feeling much better,” he said cheerfully. “I don’t lock my power away often,” he said as he slid to his feet, his ears sampling in all directions. “And I remember what I had when I do, but whenever I get my powers back it’s like I never realized just how it felt to have them. There’s something about it that’s intoxicating and I’m going to need a couple of days to adjust and a few more for my ladies to get used to me looking like this again, or like this for the first time in the cases of Autumn, Morwen and Autumn’s court.”
“You could go back to looking like you did for us,” Raven suggested. “I’d like it.”
“That’s because I’m not so much taller than you when I’m younger.”
She smiled. “Isn’t that a good reason to want it?”
“Maybe for you.” He gestured and all of the blood, tissue and bone on the battlefield turned into smoke and wafted off on the breeze. “But I’ll think about it.” His hair spun itself into a braid. “I wish he hadn’t damaged my hair, but it’s a little thing in the bigger scheme.” His teeth gleamed in a sudden snarl. “Let the Covenant come now, they’ll wish they hadn’t if they do.” His snarl vanished. “When he recovers I want to see Iain as soon as possible. We have planning to do.”
“I’ll let him know,” Theodora said.
Kerrik’s ears cocked back. “Theodora, if you care for Iain I suggest you be a little more insistent than just mentioning it to him as you are normally wont to do. If I have to remind him I’m not likely to be in a good mood about it.”
Theodora regarded him for a long moment. “I’m not sure I’m going to like arrogant Kerrik more than Kerrik who wanted Iain as a friend. I will advise him to accede to your request, but he will get to listen to the recording of this conversation too and hear my opinion of it.”
Raven hissed angrily at her tone, but Kerrik put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed and she subsided. His ears twitched. “You’re right and I’m apparently a little drunk on my regained power. My apologies.”
Theodora shrugged. “Save it for Iain. You’re not inside my bubble except through him.”
“Now who’s being arrogant,” Raven snapped.
“Kerrik didn’t apologize for being arrogant and he didn’t apologize for being rude. He didn’t apologize for anything at all; instead he just tossed out the words and hoped I’d accept them at face value. Greys apologize for specific things.”
Kerrik chuckled. “Iain is clan, isn’t he?”
“I have little experience with other clans, but I came here knowing clan law and Tirsuli history, Kerrik, and Iain follows the strictures almost as well as if he’d been born and grown up inside the Confederation. He teaches them to his family and they follow them as best they can.”
“Well, Theodora,” Kerrik said calmly, “when he is well I need to talk to Iain about a possible violation of clan law as promptly as possible. It involves my privacy, so I will say no more.”
“I will so inform him, Clan Leader,” Theodora intoned formally.
“I am no longer leader of my clan,” Kerrik said.
“You have a new clan here,” Theodora pointed out, “and they are yours to lead. And whether you deserve them or not, you are all that they have so you have to lead them to the best of your effort.”
Kerrik burst out laughing. “I bow to your wisdom, Theodora. How can I do otherwise when you throw my own words to a new clan leader back at me? I see you truly do know our history. You would make an impressive Grey.”
“Perhaps someday I will, when Iain and the others tire of it, but until that day he is my Grey and I will advise and serve him to the best of my skill.”
Kerrik frowned. “What of your agreement?”
“I choose where I go when it ends. If I wish to remain with Iain, he has already said he cannot forbid it.”
“He has said he would not force you to leave or stay. Has he said that he would want you to leave?”
Theodora stared into Kerrik’s eyes for a few seconds. “He does not want me to leave.”
He shook his head. “You two would have to go down that road. You don’t understand what you’re setting yourselves up for.”
“If we truly do not understand and that is not yet proven, whatever it is,” Theodora said firmly, “we will face it together and with the massed might of our clan behind us.” She vanished.
“I don’t like her attitude,” Raven said.
“And yet you would have the same attitude if you thought you were protecting me,” Kerrik replied. He hugged Raven. “And both of you would be right to have them at those times. Now let’s go inside and I can show you where my being adult can be a lot of fun.”
The medic opened and Iain sat up and looked around. He was not on the Theodora and instead it looked like his bed had been moved out of his bedroom and the medic put in its place. Vanessa was curled up in a chair near the door and had been reading something on her computer but looked up when the molecular seals on the medic separated and air hissed in equalization. She looked him over without moving. “How do you feel?”
“OK. After all, I just had a week long nap.” He swung his legs over and got to his feet. “This is not going to be my new bed.”
“No, it’s not. We’ll put your regular bed back in here before bedtime. I presume you have no urge to murder the next person you see.” Iain blinked at her and she smiled as she uncurled from the chair with a sensuous grace that made his dick twitch. “Canaan and I have been training together and she told me about what happened when you awoke after assimilating Mhodvitnar’s memories. You’ve been thinking like him recently and we were concerned so she and I have been rotating out keeping you company.”
“No unusual urges.” Iain went to his closet in search of clothes. “Is Kerrik doing all right?”
“We haven’t seen him since that day, but Theodora says he’s back at full power.” Vanessa leaned against the wall as he dressed. “Is that good for us?”
“That depends.” His voice was muffled a he pulled a t-shirt over his head and down onto his body.
“He’s going to want to have a talk with me. How that talk turns out decides on whether or not his being at full power is good for us.”
Theodora appeared. “He requested it almost right after he woke up. He said there’s a possible violation of clan law and then he invoked privacy and refused to say more.”
“I’m not surprised.” He looked at Vanessa as he pulled on a pair of shorts. “I don’t suppose I could get a private moment with Theodora, could I?”
“Not on your life, mister.” Vanessa stepped in and wrapped her arms around him, resting her head on his chest. “Is Kerrik going to want your head for this?”
“Possibly he will, but not after I explain things to him.” He looked at Theodora, “right?”
“I followed your instructions carefully, Iain, and I can say that no violation of clan law took place. The precedents are clear and Kerrik’s actions after he woke up only make what you did less likely to be a violation of clan law. The only question is whether Kerrik will accept clan law as the controlling authority in this. He is a truewizard and they do tend to believe they make the law.”
“Well, we need him and he sort of needs us, so I’ll try to not be a jerk about it.” He looked at Vanessa. “I take it you haven’t let the others know I’m awake.”
“Canaan knows and she’s informing the others,” Vanessa said. “We’re trying to not mob you quite so much.” She raised her head and kissed him. “Welcome back,” she murmured against his lips.
He kissed her and pulled away gently. “I’d like nothing more than to drag you to bed but my bed seems to have disappeared.”
She blinked and scowled at the medic. “I’ll get that fixed immediately.”
“Please do, but in the meantime let me get outside and everyone else can mob me to their heart’s content,” Iain replied. “There’s not enough room in here.” He looked at Theodora. “Set up the meet with Kerrik for tomorrow after breakfast. Canaan will be my security and I’d like to request privacy for our discussion.”
“Vanessa will go too,” Theodora said.
Iain cocked his head. “And why should she do that?”
“You need to explain who she is. It’ll make Kerrik feel better about events.” Theodora folded her arms. “Lucifer says her presence will help alleviate any threat.”
“While the idea that taking someone as powerful as Vanessa to a confrontation will alleviate a threat is ludicrous,” Iain looked at Vanessa, “is it that time?” She nodded. “Then you come too. I will cheerfully alleviate as much threat as possible.” He took her arm. “And now to see if you can protect me from whatever is waiting for me outside.”
What was waiting for him outside was every woman he was currently sleeping with, absent Melanie, and adding Ygerna, Monica, Camille, Donna and Undine. He hadn’t walked two steps through the door of the house when Siobhan was in front him and sliding her hands under his shirt. Someone growled and Siobhan glanced over her shoulder. “I am checking our master’s health,” she said loudly. Iain felt her scanning technique pulse through him and she looked surprised. “You felt that, master?”
“I’m still learning, but yes. Later I’ll want to watch you work more so I can figure out how your power works.” He kissed her on the forehead. “And thank you for healing me.”
“You’re welcome, master,” she said as she hugged him tightly and let him go. “You are completely healed. I’m going to have to spend some time learning about that technology and how I can integrate it into the clinic I want as an adjunct to my healing skills. Now, master, go see your adoring fans.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll get my turn, master. I was with you the day before you went into the medic so I’ll wait.”
Iain raised his arms. “All right, people.” He did a quick head count. “I’m completely recovered from what I did, it had to be done, more importantly it’s over and no amount of nagging or reasoned discussion is going to convince me that it wasn’t necessary. I can never tell you just how much it means to me seeing all of you here waiting for me but I look forward to trying to do just that with each of you individually sometime in the near future.” He saw smiles and several of his women laughed. “Now unfortunately the fact that I can see all of your happy faces waiting here for me means there’s a lot of work that isn’t getting done right now, so if I could have Ninhursag, Eve, Pandora, Allison, Lucifer, Canaan, Silver, Sofia and April remain, I’d appreciate it if the rest of you returned to your assigned duties. I’ll circulate and try to catch up with everyone sometime today. Thank you very much for this.”
As people started to drift away he reached out and caught Daphne’s tail well above the fire on the end. She looked over her shoulder and he motioned for her to join him. “What is it,” she asked curiously.
Iain pulled her head down and kissed her thoroughly. When he pulled back her eyes were smoky. “What was that for,” she said in a low voice.
“Just because I wanted to,” he replied just as quietly. He took her hand and ran it over his growing erection. She blinked in surprise and grasped him firmly through his shorts. He grinned and winked. “Please tell everyone that I’m fine and it still works.”
Daphne laughed and pulled him in for a quick kiss. “I’ll be glad to, but don’t make me wait too long to verify that.” Then she turned and jogged off.
Allison was grinning when he turned around. “That’ll get the most important message out faster than we could.”
“Not only that,” Canaan said, “Daphne has no reason to lie about it and you might in order to protect Iain while he’s still recovering. She was an excellent choice for messenger.”
Iain looked the group over. “So what have I missed that Theodora didn’t brief me on when she wasn’t listing all of my injuries so I knew exactly how stupid I’d been?”
“Well if you’ve already had the important stuff,” Lucifer said, “I guess there’s not much more to tell.” Everyone laughed.
Ninhursag looked thoughtful. “Monica wants to talk to you about Poppet trying to invite herself to meet James. Amanda Sawicki has some forms for your approval and has the data you need for your next report to Captain Garrett. Hernando Ruiz wants to talk to you about some funding issue for the Society.” She shrugged when his eyebrows rose. “Lucy is their contact and he told her he had to talk to you.”
Iain looked at Lucifer. The Megami-sama pursed her lips. “He’s been making noises for a few weeks that the compensation for his work isn’t adequate. I told him it was. That’s the only thing I can think of that he might want to talk to you about. He demanded to speak with you about it and I passed it along as a courtesy so you’d know in case he tried to buttonhole you.”
“I’ll get with Monica and Amanda this evening since neither meeting should take long,” Iain rolled his eyes. “Now I’m afraid I haven’t met this Ruiz fellow but I know he hasn’t been with the Society long. Is his help invaluable?”
“No,” Lucifer replied. “He’s fundraising with interested people here in Texas who want to give money but not otherwise pitch in to save the world and while he has gotten some people to give that I didn’t expect to donate, his results haven’t been that impressive.”
Iain shook his head. “The Prometheus Society is your baby, Lucifer. I’m supposed to be a silent partner in it since Theodora is one of us and she and I work really well together. We started the Society because I don’t have time to do it. If you want to give him a raise, do it. If you want to tell him to sod off and he’s not worth it, do it. If you want to fire his ass, take Raquel and both of you use hellfire to get it done right. While I will talk to people if I have to, I am not, repeat not going to second guess your decisions. You have my absolute trust in this.”
“I don’t think he needs to bother you,” Lucy said firmly, her eyes glowing softly from the praise.
“Then I’m not available to speak to him.” He frowned. “How many children do you have?”
Lucifer looked surprised. “I’ve got twenty five daughters, why?”
“Eve has about a zillion children and doesn’t want me to meet any of them. Will I meet any of yours?”
Lucifer smiled at him. “Eve is concerned, and rightly so, that they are adult and will see you more as potential baby making material than as a male in a father role. Most of my daughters would be the same way, although they would hesitate to cross me to try and get to you.”
Lucifer took a deep breath. “Iain, remember that when we first met you had stolen Danielle from me when I sent her to know you and then you made her become Eve and forced her to evolve. I did not trust you and did not begin to trust you until relatively recently.” She hesitated when Iain’s eyes narrowed slightly and his gaze hardened. “It was my decision,” she said, “and at the time it was the right one.”
“And now I know that decision was a mistake, but how do I make it right?”
“It’s not hard, Lucifer. You got get them and bring them to their new family.”
She smiled slightly. “You say it’s not hard. I will have to live with the derision of everyone else.”
“No, you won’t. I won’t allow it.” Iain looked at everyone else. “Lucifer did the right thing in not letting us know she has young children. I don’t like it, but it was the right thing to do at the time. She is not to be given any shit about her decision, am I clear?” He looked at Ninhursag, who looked stunned. “And Eve isn’t to be given any shit about helping to hide their existence.”
“To her credit,” Lucifer said, “Eve told me that I was making a mistake and I refused to listen to her advice.”
“I couldn’t tell anyone about them,” Eve looked around the group without a trace of guilt. “I love Lucifer and I wanted her here with us and she would have left if I’d told about the children before she had the chance to get to know us and, more importantly, Iain. Now we get them all.”
Ninhursag nodded. “I understand. But that time is over and I’ll make sure that everyone heard the slam of Iain’s foot coming down. How many children and how old are they?”
“There are two, Olivia and Seraphina, and they are six years old. They are the reason I have been away so much, so I can spend some time with them.”
“Will you let us meet them,” Iain asked quietly. “But not until after tomorrow.”
Lucifer nodded. “They are my daughters. I’d like them to be our daughters and I’d like all of you to help raise them.”
“I think that sounds wonderful. I hope I just won’t blow the circuits in their tiny little Celestial minds.”
“I’m sure things will be fine. Children are resilient and I think they’ll like you more than you think they might.” She smiled at him. “I might have already told them a little about you.”
Iain looked at each woman in turn. “I want the word passed around. I am serious about Lucy not getting any flack over this. She was right then and now that she knows we are suitable, her bringing her children here to join us makes sense so she’s still right. I don’t want her given any grief over it.” He smiled coldly and Allison’s ears went flat at something she saw in it. “And if anyone says shit to those girls about the situation, I am going to lose my temper over it in ways that only a few of you have ever seen before. I am as serious a heart attack on this. This is not an opportunity for anyone to score harem status points off of Lucy or our kids. I’ll the have the hide of anyone who pulls that crap and they’ll be lucky if that’s all I rip off of them.” He turned to Lucifer. “So, are we going to survive tomorrow?”
She smiled. “Yes. Tomorrow is part of what I saw before. It’s not going to be pleasant for you, but you will survive the entire experience.”
Ninhursag looked at Iain. “Explain.”
“I can’t. Kerrik has invoked privacy and if I discuss it before he and I talk then he could hold anyone I tell responsible too.” He held up a hand as she scowled at him. ‘I believe this is the last potential life threatening event from Kerrik for a while. I promise I can’t think of anything else. And if it makes you feel better, Canaan and Vanessa are going with me as security.”
“Vanessa can’t stop him any more then Canaan can,” April pointed out.
“And if Kerrik was going to kill me he could have done it right here from where he is standing. He wants an explanation and I was expecting this so I have a really good one for him.”
“You hope,” Silver muttered.
“I do hope.” He looked around. “I don’t know if this will make anyone feel better but I didn’t come up with this defense. Theodora suggested it and it sounded better than anything I could come up with and so I put her to work refining it until she says it’s pretty much perfect.”
Lucifer regarded Iain somberly. “After this meeting with Kerrik will privacy law allow you to tell us what happened that he’s not happy about?”
“Yes and I will answer your questions until you are no longer upset at me. About that.”
April laughed along with several other people. “That’s all we can expect from you, Iain.”
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
Allison – Umbrea (Outer Harem Alpha)
Daphne - Whorizard
Lynn - Growlie
Chuck – Doggirl
Ryan – Unicorn
Winifred - Rack (German)
Rosemary - Mistoffeles (Uruguayan)
Silver - Pegaslut
Joyce – Milktit
Melanie – Iron Chef
Siobhan - NurseJoy (Glasgow)
Queendom / Outer Harem
Heather - Elf
Dionne - Elfqueen
Adrianna - Elfqueen
Dianthus Barbatus - Elfqueen
Heltu - Wet Queen
6 Wet Elves
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