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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Loose Threads

Sixteen

The shuttle landed and the hatches cycled open as people began to drift in that direction from the house. A young redheaded woman followed by a pink haired pokegirl pushed through the people and stopped at the bottom of the landing ramp as it finished extending. She waved at Iain as he came down the ramp. “Hi, Iain.”

He smiled at them. “Hello Beibhinn. Hi, Neem.” He looked around as Zareen and Lynn appeared and moved to be near him. “Quite the group of people you’ve got here.”

“Well, this will hopefully prove to be fun and these jackals want to pick over the carcass when we're done.”

Iain shook his head. “Awesome. How are your parents and your new little brother?”

Neem smirked. “They are fortunately far away where they’re quiet. Niall discovered that he has lungs and he’s been using them as much as he possibly can.”

Iain chuckled. “I’ll stop by on my way back and see if there’s anything we can do.”

Beibhinn Sullivan cocked her head. “Is there some way to keep him quiet?”

“Smothering,” Zareen said.

Iain glanced back at her. “Should we do that with our daughters?”

“No, they’re perfect.”

Lynn laughed. “No, they’re not, but I’ll admit they are close to it.” The Growlie looked around curiously. “Where’s this lake at?”

“It’s a few kilometers from here,” Iain said. “It’s far enough that Beibhinn shouldn’t be bothered by the Titodiles but close enough to worry about them.”

Beibhinn shook her head. “They’re starving and they’ve made it to my parent’s place. We lost some cattle and some of your crazy sheep to them.”

Lynn gave Iain a curious look so he explained. “Titodiles are perfectly capable of traveling long distances overland. And as you know, they’re preferential carnivores capable of surviving on an omnivorous diet.”

“What are the crazy sheep,” Lynn asked.

“Sorry, I answered the wrong question. Those are kattle.”

“Oh.” Her ears flicked. “I see.”

“Yeah. We’re here to try something new on the Titodiles.” He looked at Beibhinn. “Like I said earlier, this is probably going to kill everything in the lake along with the Titodiles if it works.”

Beibhinn nodded. “Iain, when I said they were starving, I meant it. We killed one and captured two from the group that attacked my parent’s place. All three of them were more than slightly emaciated.”

Neem snorted. “Easy kills. They wouldn’t stop eating even when I attacked them. Instead they grabbed some food and ran instead of trying to fight back.”

“Good.” Iain looked back at the shuttle. “Theodora, find me some dead feral hogs.”

Her hologram poked its head out of the hatch just as if she was a crewmember as a pair of drones lifted off and shot away to the west. “That shouldn’t be hard,” she said. “A survey the last time we were here showed that this area is lousy with them.” She ducked back inside.

“Thank you, Theodora.” Iain looked at Beibhinn and dropped his voice. “Eriu's survey was rushed and she didn't run the search underwater and so she missed a couple of hidden chambers where the young and strongest Titodiles live near the dam. It's no fault of hers, she just didn't have time for a complete search of the area and she was very young at that time. That's where all of them are coming from. Theodora's survey last week suggested another two or three hundred of them are in the lake. It's no surprise they're starving and her video showed they're at least partially cannibalistic.”

One of the hunters frowned. “You want hog carcasses? Those may be hard to find.”

Iain looked at him and managed not to laugh in the man's face. “Theodora is going to find live hogs and make them dead. Then we'll collect the dead hogs.”

“Oh.” The man turned and left.

Beibhinn snickered. “Joe's not the brightest guy in the world, but he's a dead shot and doesn't panic under fire. That and he'd got a Neo Iczel for a pokegirl and she's very tough.”

“Hey, we all work towards our strengths,” Iain replied. He twisted his torso and Beibhinn gave him a curious look. “I pulled a muscle this morning during training with Siobhan and she didn't think it was serious enough to heal. I've worked most of the stiffness out but there's this residual pain I can't seem to reach.” He shrugged. “If it were really bad I'd have someone fix it, but it's still annoying.”

Theodora spoke out of his pokedex. “I've killed several hogs, Iain. Shall we go get them?”

“Yeah.” He looked at Beibhinn. “I didn't know all of these people would be here and my shuttle isn't configured as a troop transport. There is room for you and Neem, though, if you're interested.”

She nodded. “Let me tell Robert that he's in charge and to wait here.” She headed off, her Elfqueen in pursuit.

We could fit most of them in, Theodora said through his twee.

Yes, but this isn't a capture mission and that's what they're looking for. I don't really want to listen to them cry when they figure it out.

I want to listen to their crying.

Iain laughed and Zareen gave him a curious look. “What is it?”

“Theodora wants to hear the crying when these fellows figure out we're not on a capture mission.”

The Nightmare grinned. “I'm with her. Their crying will be wonderful.”

Lynn snickered. “I think we'll hear it no matter whether they are with us or not.”

Beibhinn and Neem came trotting back. “Robert is not happy with you. He wanted to come on this hunt.”

Iain smiled cheerfully. “I didn't invite him, did I? Now I won't be able to sleep tonight, worrying about how I can get back into his good graces.”

“My mother already says you're a bad influence,” Beibhinn laughed.

“She's right,” Iain said. “Now get inside.”

Once the shuttle had lifted off, Iain turned to Beibhinn, who was strapped in at the back of the flight compartment. “What were all of those yahoos doing there?”

She sighed. “Father went into town and mentioned you were coming to try and clear the lake and he said when you'd be here. The next thing I knew I had a yard full of hunters asking to be fed and watered and for free.” She leaned back in her chair. “Why not do this at your lake?”

“My lake isn't infested with feral pokegirls,” Iain said. “I've got some but we have resources you don't and hunt them regularly.”

“Ever since I found out about them, I've wondered where they came from.”

Iain nodded. “It's a good question. I suspect a unit of water pokegirls got dumped here, maybe by accident. I'm not sure either, but I do know they're a serious danger to the whole area.” He checked the display. “We're coming to the hogs, so hold up a minute.” He slowed the shuttle and activated the tractors to pull the carcasses into the hold. “And we're off to the lake. Theodora, do you want to take over for the preliminary approach?”

“I do, Iain and I have the conn.”

“You have the conn, Theodora.” Iain swiveled his chair around to face Beibhinn. “One of the reasons I didn't want to bring those hunters along is because this isn't a capture mission. If we do this right there won't be many survivors to catch.”

Beibhinn nodded firmly. “Good. I don't want to have to bury my parents because of those creatures. I don't care if you catch them or exterminate them.”

“This is a test. Hopefully it'll work, but if it doesn't I'll make sure the ferals are neutralized no matter what. And, sometime next week, we'll restock the lake with fish.”

Beibhinn blinked. “You can do that?”

“I know someone who has some fish farms and I'm going to buy his current stock of fish that are for sale and drop them off here. If nothing else, fish are needed in the lake to keep the water clear and, eventually, to feed ferals and fishermen.”

The shuttle slowed and two dozen drones shot ahead. “We'll hold position here while the drones get into position,” Theodora said. “We're almost in what I estimate will be the best spot to begin our attack run.” She looked at Iain. “Weapons free?”

“Weapons free, just don't destroy the lake.”

She smiled. “I won't.”

“What kind of weapons,” Beibhinn asked.

“This shuttle is a one of a kind and is specifically designed to hunt feral pokegirls,” Iain said. “The drones have plasma weapons like those of Ciaran's two Kentarch pokegirls, but the shuttle has coil guns and plasma cannon for antipersonnel and light anti-armor roles, both of which are perfect for killing pokegirls. However, water hunting adds some specific problems. High explosives will kill in water by concussion, but in the wrong area, will also destroy any dams or other structures you might really want to keep, coil rounds won't penetrate more than a relatively short distance and plasma is useless underwater unless I want to boil the lake. So we're trying something else today.”

“The drones are in position,” Theodora told Iain. “Shall we proceed?” Iain nodded. “I'm sending the visuals to your twee.”

In his mind's eye, the shuttle climbed slightly as it shot forward. Weapon bay hatches opened in the chin and stern of the shuttle and an array of coil guns and plasma weapons slid out of the superstructure and into position as the shuttle advanced. Meanwhile the drones had moved into advantageous firing positions around the lake, focusing on concentrations of Titodiles and the handful of advanced evolutions out of the water. As soon as the last of the shuttle's weapons had clear shots, both it and the drones opened fire.

The plasma weapons on the shuttle were designed to defeat unshielded armor units and even a bolt that hit an extremity would most likely eventually kill from shock unless immediate medical care was given. Guided by Theodora and sophisticated targeting software, almost all of the bolts hit center of mass, blowing the Titodiles they hit apart in a spray of steam and gore. The coil guns threw pellets similar to Iain's pistol, but far heavier. In some cases the Titodile exploded and in others the pellet merely killed from hydrostatic shock as it passed through the torso to cut great gaping holes in the mud beneath them.

By the time the feral Titodiles began to realize they were under attack, most of the ones with any portion of their bodies out of the water or near the surface were already dead or dying. Of the rest, a few looked around for their attackers and died while the others, operating under the rules evolution had laid out for them, raced for the water. Only a few of them managed to make it to the water's edge and disappear into the depths.

Iain looked at the clouds blood and pieces of carcass floating all over the surface of the water and cursed. “Never mind the hog carcasses. There's no way they'll draw survivors with all of that crap in the water.” As they watched a handful of aggressive Titodiles surfaced and were shot by the drones or the shuttle.

Beibhinn and Neem were wide eyed with shock at the brutality of the attack. “That was incredible,” the Elfqueen finally said.

“I was trying for overwhelming,” Iain replied as he checked the console of the shuttle. “Too many people treat catching ferals like a sport. They don't seem to understand this is still war and will be until the feral threat is at some kind of reasonable level.” He looked up, his eyes grim. “But we haven't hit the peak yet and it's going to be very bad. The historical evidence from the world we came from as well as the world that Kerrik's people came from is spotty because the smaller communities were just swarmed under by mobs of feral pokegirls or by just a few powerful ones and didn't survive to report what happened. When they hit the cities, it was still horrible since the average feral pokegirl is as maneuverable as an infantry soldier or UAV, has the wits of a wild animal and is as powerful as a light suit of powered combat armor. The humans who thought they'd learned how to fight them during the Revenge War had no idea what was coming or how to deal with it. Pokegirls during the Revenge War were tough and wily, but they were still people. Now they were fighting supernatural predators and the war was very different. What saved a lot of places was that the land Typhonna destroyed wasn't available to breed ferals and that's not the case here.” He gestured around him. “The problem is that only two groups can build these and we don't have a lot of love for most of the world's humans. In addition, the ones who have an inkling of what's coming and what Kerrik and I can do to fight it are operating under a severe misconception.”

Beibhinn cocked her head. “What is it?”

“There's an aphorism used by humans that says that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. It makes a couple of presuppositions that neither Kerrik nor I follow, like the assumption either one of us is a reasonable person and can't stand by and watch other people die without stopping the destruction. We're not. I am perfectly willing to let the feral pokegirls savage the leagues while I help the handful of groups I do like. If the ferals wipe out the leagues, well then most of them will starve and eventually humanity will expand from the groups that survive to take over the rest of the world after the pokegirl populations stabilize. The loss of genetic diversity will be worth the destruction of the leagues in my opinion and it won't be the first time humanity has had to overcome a population bottleneck.”

Beibhinn eyed him curiously. “How do Lucifer and Eve feel about this?”

Iain smiled thinly. “If the leagues win, I will die and any of my family who survive my death will be raped for the rest of their lives by the very people who killed the ones who didn't die. Even with that truth, they're not happy about my decisions about humanity and the ferals. Rather than waste energy fighting me over it, they're working with the Prometheus Society to make as many friends as possible for us to help before that day comes and I'm not impeding them in that work. In point of fact, I'm helping as much as I can. I'm running this experiment here because you and your family are friends of ours, but this will be repeated all over the planet if Lucifer and Eve, among others, have their way.” His smile warmed. “And most likely they will because we all love each other. But the truth is that no matter what we do, the leagues are going to get savaged, we are not and we will help pick up the pieces, at which time we will push our agenda just as hard as we can. Some of the leagues will fall and people there will be able to decide how they want to live their lives.”

“The ones who survive,” Neem said quietly.

“Yes,” Iain said.

“Proceeding to stage two,” Theodora said. “The surviving Titodiles are either waiting in the water or in the air filled brooding chambers. For our purposes it doesn't really matter where they are since I intend to collapse the brooding chambers next.”

“Please continue,” Iain said.

“Missiles away,” Theodora announced as cylinders dropped from the shuttle and split up as they raced for the water below. They slowed to a safe speed for the density of the water and disappeared into the depths to bury themselves deeply in the mud. Shaped charges fired, driving the ends of the missiles deeper into the substrate. Then they also detonated.

On the surface the only sign of the destruction of the air filled chambers was large masses of bubbles that began frothing portions of the surface. Seconds later enraged Titodiles hurled themselves out of the water to destroy whatever had attacked their young and were mowed down by the waiting shuttle and drones.

A heavy cable dropped from the stern of the shuttle and as soon as it slipped into the depths, the shuttle began moving forward at a walking place as the cable continued to unwind to keep the end in place. When it reached the other end of the lake it halted and a second cable descended into the water. Abruptly a handful of Titodiles crawled out of the water and were blown to bits.

“Energy depletion is well within expected limits and I will easily be able to hold the current output with the generators and the batteries for the desired hour,” Theodora announced. “I am releasing the drones to hunt for pokegirls around the lake region since I do not think it possible for enough Titodiles to exit the lake at one time to overwhelm the shuttle's weapons.”

“What is going on,” Beibhinn asked.

“We're running a moderate voltage and high current into the lake,” Iain said. “And we'll keep it going for the next hour to make sure that all of the Titodiles either die from their burns or drown. When we're done the lake will be as empty as I can make it without draining the lake. The Titodiles in the water are either dead or paralyzed. While they have enhanced lung capacity, the muscle contraction from the current makes most of them expel the air from their lungs. Even for those that didn't, none of them can go without air for an hour.” He shook his head. “Even if the lake is empty when we're done, ferals will eventually move back into it, but not in the numbers you have had and if your hunters keep visiting they'll easily keep the ferals under control.”

Beibhinn looked at the water in the display. “My parents and little brother are safe?”

“They are as safe from this as I can make them.”
Her voice was hard. “I remember what they did to Spirit when they killed her. Kill every one of them that you can.”

***

“I really don't like this,” Theodora said to him.

“I have to do this eventually,” he replied as he checked the balance of his pokepack. “It's got way too much potential to ignore and eventually we will encounter someone else who knows how to do it.” He tugged at the cloak he wore. “Granted I hope I don't look as silly as I feel with this thing on.”

She nodded, but still didn't look happy. “I wish I could go with you.”

“Trust me, I wish you could too.”

She gave him a pleading look. “Come back soon, Iain.”

“I intend to.”

We will always be able to find our way back, Eirian said in his mind. All of us are on you for this so you will be as safe as we can make you, my lord.

I'm still nervous. Iain took a deep breath and unlocked his power. “It's time.”

The holographic sun in the sky began to visibly move, heading for sundown. As it did, shadows began to creep from his desk and table. Iain waited a few seconds and stepped into the closest one. He focused his will and gave Theodora a smile. “Geronimo.” He released his will and sank into the shadow.

The universe around him exploded into light and then faded until it was merely brilliant instead of blinding. Heat pounded at him as Iain looked out over a sea of lava that extended in all directions from the small island of stone he stood on. “Cool. OK, not cool,” he chuckled as sweat began to bead on his face. He stepped into the edge of a shadow from a stone overhang and, once more, focused and released his will before sinking out of sight.

The light flared again, but not as brightly this time as Iain was ready for it so he could see as he stepped out of the shadows into his bedroom in the Barton Springs House. Theodora was waiting with an anxious look on her face that didn't go away when he appeared. “Did you make it back on your own or did they have to bring you back?”

“One of them would have to be holding me somehow to bring me back,” Iain said. “How long?”

Seven point one seconds, his twee whispered to him.

“One second,” Theodora said.

“Is that exactly one second or are you rounding for my organic brain?”

She smiled, her anxiety vanishing in the face of his amusement. “Point seven three seconds.”

“There's a time mismatch,” Iain said, “and in the opposite direction than I expected.”

“How much,” Theodora asked curiously.

“I was gone ten times longer than you say I was. That could have tactical uses.” He shrugged. “It's interesting, but academic until I get a lot more used to traveling this way.” He shook his head. “The return leg is going to take a little bit longer.”

“How much?”

“I'm not sure.”

“You forgot the important question,” Theodora pointed out. “You report problems with alertness when you travel the shadows but you show no issues now.”

Iain blinked. “I hadn't realized it, but you're right.”

“I usually am. The question becomes, why is it different now?”

He stuck out his tongue. “Wench. Maybe my magic is protecting me. I haven't had my magic active when I did this before.”

Theodora nodded. “I'll see what I can find in the Wolf database. I haven't found any references to shadow walking but it could be he calls it something else. Don't be too long, all right?”

“I don't intend to stop for a picnic.” He stepped into the closest shadow and vanished into it.

The light flare was almost nonexistent with his new changes and he was completely aware when he stepped out from the shadow of a tree limb in front of a stone house with a wide open doorway. A rough porch covered a plain stone bench against the wall next to the doorway. “Eirian and Skye.”

They leapt from his body, watching around them. “My lord,” Eirian said without ceasing her vigil. “I sense no life other than you nearby, but there is death here and,” her head dropped and she hissed as a skeletal Dragoness covered with strips of tan hide raced out of the open doorway and skidded to a halt in front of her. The skeletal Dragoness crouched, her ragged wings spread and her mouth wide open in an obvious threat display. “My lord, back up slowly.” Emerald and Aurum left his body and took up station beside and behind him.

“I'm stepping backwards,” Iain said as he began to carefully back away as directed. His four Dragonesses moved in step with him until after seventeen paces the skeletal Dragoness abruptly folded her wings and stood, watching them.

“My lord, stop.” Iain froze, one foot in the air. “You may relax, my lord, at least for the moment.” He slowly put the foot down.

Emerald was scanning around them. “Is this the world where you said you saw the female analog of you, my lord?”

“I believe so.”

“That Dragoness is like we were when you bound us, my lord. I would speculate that she is operating under instructions to protect someone or something and her master may be no more. Bind her.”

“That's kind of rude,” Iain noted, “and failure tends to cause a lethal reaction in the subject towards the invoker.”

“When we were mindless the failure of other spells to control or attack us would result in the death of the caster. The one who slew us made us wait for three failures of the correct words to bind us before we would attack in case he misspoke.”

“She wasn't made by your killer,” Iain pointed out.

“No, my lord, but she was made the same way we were.”

Iain looked at Aurum. “Step forward one pace.” She did and he slipped sideways until he was standing in the shadows of a tree. “If this fails, I'm going to run. I'll meet you at the Barton House.”

“Very wise, my lord,” Eirian said approvingly. “Now bind her.”

Iain readied his will and poured his magic into the words as he spoke. “I am Iain Grey. Nyclioch ameloth zalestiel rholaeipt. Kalieth lhurept.” The Dragoness immediately dropped prone and curled up into a tight ball. Iain realized that all four of his Dragonesses had turned and were facing him. “What?”

“Your power has grown, my lord,” Eirian said. “It is possible that you could steal already bonded subordinate liches as strong as you are. Even bonded to you as we are, we feel your power calling to us.”

“It's a good thing you're already mine,” Iain said. “Is she bonded to me?”

“I feel her presence, my lord, as a sister among us so she has become yours.”

“When I bonded the two Dragonesses known as the Legacy, I also bonded the rest of you. Has that happened again?”

“Call her, my lord, and tell her to bring her sisters.”

Iain stepped past Eirian. “Dragoness that I have not yet named, stand.” The Dragoness uncurled and stood, curving her spine down to keep her head as close to the ground as possible. “Are you mine and mine only?” Her head came up and bobbed in a nod before going back to staring fixedly at the ground. “Do you have sisters?” Again the overly submissive nod. “Are they bound to me through you?” Yet another submissive nod. “Are they currently on duty that would result in the loss of something valuable if brought here.” The Dragoness lifted her head and regarded him for a few seconds with the bright red dots that served for eyes before swinging her head once to the left and again to the right before returning to her ground staring position. “Then summon your sisters here.”

The skeletal Dragoness lifted her head, spread her wings and her body vibrated as she pantomimed a bellow before returning to her submissive posture.

“We could communicate without words,” Emerald said. “These are not as sophisticated as we are, but their power is nearly equal. They have not yet been awakened.” Her head came around. “Something comes by ley line. Could it be they do not know how to travel the shadows?”

Suddenly the rest of Iain's undead harem surrounded him. He shook his head. “Let me see, ladies.”

“If you can see,” two of Rhea's heads said at the same time, “my lord, you can be attacked.”

“It wasn't a request,” Iain said. A line parted in front him so he could watch as a ley line opened a hundred meters away and forms left it to race towards them. “I count five and all are Dragonesses. That would match with the world we came from.” The new Dragonesses were also all skeletal and they lined up with the first before duplicating her posture. “Beryl, clear the house.”

“My lord.” The red Dragoness stepped forward and passed the skeletal Dragonesses without incident. She paused at the doorway and touched the frame. “This was breached with explosives.” Then she continued on to disappear inside.

Eirian was watching the new Dragonesses. “Matilda and Sorrel, clear the area around us.” The White Tigress and Armsmistress raced off in opposite directions. “My lord, we should recruit pokegirls with wingless flight.”

Iain blinked and eyed her suspiciously. “You wish to continue growing the undead harem?”

“The clan's strength must grow, my lord. We are yours and so we are clan. Our strength must grow.”

“I'll point out we just added six more members.”

“They are of limited use in their current form, my lord.”

“I'm working on that,” Iain said. “I've got some ideas on how to make them more useful.”

Skye chuckled. “My lord, you should give us time to set up our betting pool before you solve these problems or we will never win anything.” Several of the other undead laughed.

Iain resisted an urge to sigh. “You too? What do you bet for?”

“We have things that must be done as do the living, my lord, but in truth most of our bets involve who will guard you.”

“I'd wondered about that. The rotation didn't seem to follow a specific schedule but somehow it didn't seem random either.”

There was a crash from inside the building and dust shuddered from the walls. “Natalie, Maria, aid Beryl,” Eirian snapped. The Blazicunt and the Slutton charged into the house.

There were more bangs and crashes before the three appeared again, dragging a struggling human looking skeleton with them. Its eyes blazed crimson and its jaws snapped at the air as it fought against its captors. It was clad in rotting skin and stained and torn clothes and the stench of relatively recent death washed over Iain as they approached with it.

Eirian stepped forward and sniffed the still struggling corpse. “My lord, this creature is a lich, but it has not been created through the method our killer uses or that we employ. I believe, however, that it can be treated as ours can and bound to you.”

Iain swallowed hard. “I think I know what happened to it. Is it female?”

Eirian tore the remains of the shirt off. “There is a brassiere, my lord. It is adult, so an examination of the pelvis would be necessary to confirm, but it is likely female, my lord, and human as well. Few pokegirls wear breast constraints.”

Iain was staring at the head. Just below the right eye the cheek bone was shattered and a ragged hole disappeared into the skull. “I think it's my analog from here,” he said quietly. “And she was dragged into unlife from her bonds with her dead harem. If so, it suggests I really don't want to get killed.”

Skye snorted loudly. “My lord, your living harem is reason enough to want to stay alive.”

“True.” He sighed. “I was looking forward to meeting her and seeing if we could help each other. I wonder who killed her.”

“She was killed by a single round to the head, my lord. If not for her magic, that would have rendered her unsuitable to become one of us. When she is bound, she will be able to provide more information, but she has the potential to be of great use to us.”

Iain nodded. “We'll take her too.” He looked around. “And suddenly I'd like to be inside.”

“Beryl, secure the other.”

As Iain watched, Beryl made a motion and glowing bands of light wrapped around the human skeleton and contracted until it couldn't move. The Slutton grabbed the skeleton by the neck and dragged it to the side. “The way is clear, my lord,” Maria intoned emotionlessly.

Eirian pointed at the skeletal Dragonesses. “Hide yourselves until called for and take that with you.” They scattered and burrowed into the ground to vanish, one of them dragging the bound human skeleton.

The interior of the house was fairly neat with the exception that a heavy stone table and some crude wooden chairs been shattered and strewn about. Three rooms led deeper into the building and Iain figured they represented the rest of the house. He shook his head. “Search the house and take everything you can find. I especially want any electronics and books. And if you find a crystal spear, do not touch it but let me know immediately.”

“What of her tome, if it is present, my lord,” Skye asked.

“If it's here, let me handle it, just like the spear. Eirian and Skye are with me, ladies.”

Eirian nodded. “Sorrel and Matilda have returned and are on guard outside.”

“Excellent. I really don't want a bullet in the head too.” Iain leaned against the wall as part of his undead harem scattered to search while Emerald and Aurum shoved the remains of the table and chairs into one corner of the room.

The pile of loot was small. There was a single pokedex, a few ragged paperbacks, some clothes, most of which were clean, some canned food, some jewelry and twelve pokeballs. Iain quickly scanned them and determined that three were occupied. “Well, shit.”

“Once awakened, my lord, they may provide information on what happened here,” Eirian suggested.

“True. I just hope that none of them are Dire or Dread Wolves.” He slipped the empties into his pocket and put the occupied balls into his pack.

“And if they are, my lord, they will not be Scheherazade and you will cherish each for who she is, not the memory of your lost love.”

“I'll certainly try.”

Eirian's head came up. “Sorrel reports that humans and pokegirls have teleported into the area around the house, my lord. We are surrounded.” She snarled. “They are BLSF forces and a teleportation block has been erected around the entire area.”

Beryl grinned. “That was stupid. Now they cannot easily run from us.”

Iain hadn't locked his magic and made several preparations as a magically augmented voice rang out. “You in the house, this is the BLSF Blackguards and you are surrounded. Come out of the house with your hands up and your pokegirls in their balls!”

Iain snorted. “Let me talk to them.”

“My lord, considering the presence of the BLSF and what that presence likely presages, it is probable that your analog was killed by a sniper. Caution is advised.”

Iain blinked. “Fuck. Yeah, that would make sense. Keep out of sight.” He focused his will and then stepped towards the door. “I'm coming out!” He raised his hands and stepped outside to find a bunch of rifles pointed at him by humans and pokegirls. Sorrel and Matilda stood one on either side of the doorway, apparently ignoring the presence of the soldiers. “Good afternoon.”

A woman wearing the rank tabs of a full colonel pointed a wand at him. Iain noticed she wore no name tape on her uniform, a policy that only the Blackguards followed. “Put up your pokegirls immediately.”

“My lord,” Sorrel said in a low voice, “perhaps you should do as she commands and return us to our pokeballs.” He saw inside her helmet as she gave a slow wink. We are ready to appear to comply, she said in his head.

“I have to get out my pokeballs,” Iain said without moving his hands. “They're in my pocket.”

“Slowly,” the colonel ordered. Iain carefully lowered his hands and pulled two pokeballs from his pocket. He activated them. Sorrel and Matilda turned into glowing red clouds and attached themselves to the palms of his hands underneath the pokeballs. He felt a strong itching sensation and almost dropped the pokeballs in surprise as the itching moved over his skin and down his arms to under his shirt sleeves. He dropped the pokeballs back into his pocket and raised his hands back to his shoulders. “Done.”

“Is that all of your pokegirls,” the colonel asked, still not lowering her wand.

“Do your people’s spells detect anyone alive other than us,” Iain replied, working very hard not let any sarcasm leak into his voice.

The colonel smiled coldly and lowered her wand. “Name.”

“Iain Grey.” Unfortunately he knew what was probably coming next and that was going to prove a bit of a problem since he didn't have Theodora to set him up in this Blue League's computers.

“Toss your pokedex this way,” the colonel ordered.

Iain slowly pulled it out of his pocket and lobbed it towards the colonel. An Enchantress snapped her fingers and the pokedex changed direction before it hit the ground and flew into her hands. “Please note I am being cooperative, colonel,” he said politely. “I should warn you up front that there may be some issue with my identity in your system as I am not listed as a tamer in Blue.”

The colonel ignored the Enchantress as she plugged a bypass into his pokedex. “And where are you a tamer, Grey?”

“I'm registered in Silver River,” Iain said truthfully. At least it was the truth until she asked which Silver River League, but honestly he didn’t think that particular question would come up.

“You don't sound like you're from Silver River,” the colonel said fluently in the dialect of Spanish spoken in Silver River.

“No, I don't, but I am registered as a tamer there,” Iain replied in the same language. “As many people in the cities do,” he continued in Spanish as the colonel almost managed to conceal her surprise, “I learned English before learning Spanish, so I don't have the accent of the rural population, where the situation is usually reversed.” He switched back to English. “And you should know I didn't come through customs when I came to Blue, colonel, so there's likely to be no record of my presence here. I just arrived at this location via magical transport, so I haven't had the chance to register here yet.”

The Enchantress looked at the colonel. “He's not registered in Blue, colonel.”

“How did you get past the monster,” the colonel asked, ignoring the Enchantress' words.

“I didn't find anything alive when I arrived here,” Iain said carefully. He figured that at least one of these people had a truth detection spell up. He would if he were them.

The Enchantress muttered something and blanched. “Colonel, he's just like the Wolf woman!”

The colonel reacted instantly. “Kill him!”

Iain had been expecting something like this and was faster than she was, releasing his will as all of the soldiers Iain could see who had weapons aimed at him opened fire. He staggered under the impacts of the bullets but his shield held. “Eirian, don’t let any of them escape, otherwise they’re yours.” He stepped sideways as his undead harem poured out of the building and charged past him before running inside and out of the path of the bullets. Screams started and broke off quickly as Iain dumped his shield. “Off.” Sorrel and Matilda appeared and he put his shield back into place.

They exchanged a look and Sorrel raced outside as Matilda moved to stand between him and the doorway. “My lord, there are many mages outside. You must remain here where they cannot easily target you.”

Iain smiled grimly. “You don’t see me trying to go outside, do you? Right now I’m really looking forward to listening to April yelling at me for this and if I die she won’t get to do it.”

The White Tigress shot him a quick feral grin before returning to watching the doorway.

It was interesting, Iain noted absently while listening to what was going on, that while he was almost certain that no two people outside would sound the same during a conversation; among the chatter of rifles and the sounds of various techniques the quick screams were almost indistinguishable from each other. Even gender was hard to discern from the noises he could hear. Then it abruptly became very quiet.

Eirian appeared in the doorway. “My lord, your foes have been vanquished.” Bullet wounds in her chest were already closing.

Iain had been considering what to do next and while on one level he hated to do this, they had tried to kill him without warning. “What you said earlier about the clan was right. Take the ones you want for the dead harem. Can you return them to the place you’ve constructed on One without me or do you need my help?”

Eirian cocked her head. “My lord, we have never been able to stop between destinations as you have done today, but once here this becomes the beginning and destination when we return. We can travel here without you now.”

“Then leave some here to take your selections. And then you will take me to this world’s Eoghan’s hideout. And bring the skeletal Dragonesses along with us. Their gems should be there.”

“I will have to have one of the skeletal ones take me there through the ley lines since they do not appear to know how to shadow walk, my lord. I will return promptly.”

Iain nodded. “Leave me Skye, Sorrel and Matilda and we’ll move away from here while waiting for you to come back.”

Eirian bobbed her head once. “My lord, it is wise that you spread the protective detail as you do amongst us.”

“Since you bet amongst each other to guard me, I’d better realize that you might be capable of jealousy amongst each other. The last thing I need is for infighting to weaken your numbers while someone regenerates when I need you at full strength. Hopefully this will help.” He stepped past her and through the doorway, expecting to see piles of gore and blood everywhere. Bodies were all over the place, but they looked surprisingly peaceful. Iain knelt and checked one only to realize that the man’s chest had been crushed to kill him. Obviously Eirian had been planning to approach him about recruiting as this method would almost certainly save the skull and spine. Iain had read in one of Eoghan’s about books how the transformation was done and the undamaged spine, while not absolutely necessary for the process, would significantly speed the crossover from corpse to undead.

Eirian had followed him and Matilda outside. “It will, my lord.” She looked to her right as the skeletal Dragonesses reappeared, one still towing the human undead. “One of you which is not holding your dead mistress will take me to Eoghan’s demesne so that I will know the way.”

One of the skeletal Dragonesses stepped forward, her wings vanishing as she beckoned to Eirian. The silver Dragoness cocked her head and looked back at Iain. “Were we as difficult to tell apart before you woke us, my lord,” she asked curiously.

“And afterwards in the beginning as well, which is why I made each of you different,” he replied with a smile. “And yes, I’ll probably do the same for them. Fortunately up to this point all of the other additions didn’t look alike.”
“That may change after today, my lord.”

“Then I’ll deal with it,” Iain replied. “Seraphina and Olivia can’t hide who they are from me, so there’s hope that I’ll be able to tell identical members of my undead harem apart too. Now we need to go before the Blackguards realize we’ve slaughtered their first wave and send another.”

Skye ran up to him and stopped. “My lord, you are right. We should leave this area immediately. Sorrel, Matilda, become tattoos.”

Matilda grinned as Sorrel became smoke and poured onto Iain’s left arm. “You don’t call it in front of him what we do in private?” Iain looked at her curiously and she grinned again. “We call it riding you, my lord.”

Iain chuckled. “Of course you do. Now ride me, Matilda.”

“Of course, my lord,” the White Tigress purred at him before ending up on his right arm.

Iain shook his head. “Am I going to have to revisit that taming discussion again?”

“That might be unwise, my lord,” Skye said as she wrapped her arms around him. “Do we go in a particular direction, my lord?” Her wings spread as she crouched.

“Considering I don’t know where here is, no.”

“Yes, my lord,” She sprang into the air, flew in a circle and headed towards the sun.

Iain was still curious. “Why could it be unwise?”

“My lord, you told us that if we were interested in taming with you, you would attempt to work past your automatic dislike of our undeath. We informed you we were not interested. Since that time we have become much more alive in many ways because of our regular close association with your life energy. Unless you have overcome your dislike of our state, I would counsel you not to ask that question again for you would feel impelled to act in regards to the answers you might receive.”

“I see.” He was silent until they landed on a cliff side above a river. “Sorrel, Matilda, off.”

They left him as Skye folded her wings. “I have him,” the blue Dragoness announced. “Secure the area.” Her head swiveled around to scan for threats as they left. “My lord, will we empty out the chambers of the one who slew your new Dragonesses?”

“I don’t see why not,” Iain replied. “And since you can travel here without me you can empty it while I’m home being told how stupid this trip was.”

“You were in no danger, my lord. Sorrel has learned how to extend her protection to you and her armor is enchanted to be proof against any human portable firearm or melee weapon.”

“I don’t think that’s going to matter to my living women.”

“Then do not tell them of this trip.”

Iain grinned. “Now that would get me into a really deep pile of shit.” His smile faded. “However, I’m not sure I want to spring on them the fact that I’m still adding to my undead harem just yet.”

“When would be a good time for that, my lord,” Skye asked amusedly. “Is there truly one?”

“I’m thinking after some terrible calamity where my undead harem has to save my living family would be best. It’s almost a pity that’s unlikely to happen. Barring that, maybe never.”

“Enlist the aid of those who would not find what you have done to be repulsive, my lord.” Iain frowned at her and she smiled as unthreateningly as she could. “If the undead human is your analog and she can be bound then it is likely that there will be a second truewizard for Dominique and me to study.” Iain’s eyes went wide as she continued. “And with your orders, this one would prove far more compliant as a test subject than you have, my lord. For that, Dominique will stand with you against the others. The skeletal Dragonesses will hopefully prove useful and the other new additions from today will be trained Blackguards, with all that entails. Mages will want their mystical knowledge and April and Sofia will want their physical conditioning program information for the clan’s training regimen.”

“I’m sure that will eventually become important, but I’m afraid that yelling at Iain is much dearer to them than you realize.”

“You do not like it, my lord, and yet you allow the behavior to continue when you could easily stop it. Why?”

“We do stupid things for the ones we love, Skye. Hell, I do stupid things for the ones I care for, much less love.”

“You mourned Sable’s destruction, my lord. You care for us.”

“I do. I was terrified of you in the beginning and of what you represent, but I’m not anymore. You are mine and I accept and appreciate that you are.”

Skye froze for a second and shook violently before returning to her surveillance. “Thank you, my lord.”

“Are you all right?”

“For a brief instant I wanted to hug you, my lord.”

“We share a bond, Skye, one that I should probably share with the rest of my undead harem. It’s likely that as my power grows, if you do truly become more lifelike from being in proximity to me, you will become more and more lifelike. You are a pokegirl and pokegirls tend to be physically affectionate.”

“My lord, such behavior was never allowed in court while I was there.”

“What about in private with your tamer?”

“I had no set tamer, my lord. My first loyalty was to the queen who is not mine and nothing was allowed that might interfere with that.”

“The fact is that such behavior seems to be natural for most pokegirl breeds, Skye, and you are a pokegirl. I don’t mind hugging and such when you’re not actively guarding me.”

“My lord, physical contact with you would likely lead to desires to do more physical things with you, things you do mind with us.”

“All things change, Skye.”

“And what does that mean, my lord?”

“Skye, you are mine, both body and soul in a way that nothing alive can understand.” Iain placed a hand on her back and she went completely still. “More importantly, you are no longer a creature to me. You have become a person. I mourned Sable because she had, along with you and the other original Dragonesses, gotten inside my bubble when I wasn’t paying attention. If you truly desired something with me and I didn’t feel I could give it to you as you are now, it is within my power to change you into something I could.” He patted her on the back and put his hands behind his back. “And I should stop distracting you.”

“Yes, my lord, you should.” She spoke again a moment later. “But I have much to think upon when I am no longer in a position where you can distract me.”

***

Eoghan’s personal quarters were almost identical to the one Iain had seen before. There was still the huge fireplace and the little tables with the experiments and open books piled on them scattered around the room. But he had changed and, in some ways, significantly. He could read the words on the pages of the open books and he could guess about some of the experiments.

He turned to the line of chests against the wall, also identical to the ones he’d seen a few years ago. He reached out to the important one, holding his hand palm out a few centimeters from it and felt the trap waiting to destroy him. Then he reached out with his magic and drained the power from the trap into himself, neutralizing the danger.

The obvious danger, he reminded himself and stepped back. “A little trust goes a long way,” he muttered. Eirian, the six skeletal dragonesses, Sorrel, Skye and Matilda stood nearby. “Eirian, do you or Skye know how to open this chest?”

Skye stepped forward with a chuckle. “My lord, the lock is magical, but ripping the top off worked last time, even if it cost me my arms. However,” she placed her palm against the lock and it clicked. “With you removing the magic from the chest you have also removed the magical lock so the manual lock can be opened with a simple spell.” She lifted the lid and stepped back.

“I’ll have to learn that one.” Iain pulled out the box and tucked it under his arm as he pulled out the belt he remembered. “I think I’ll give this to April.” He opened the box and checked to make sure the diamonds were inside and smiled at the sight.

“She will like that, my lord, once she determines that you truly will not take it no matter how persuasively she argues for you to.” Eirian looked at the skeletal Dragonesses. “Form a line in front of our lord.”

Iain quickly fed them their diamonds. “Now I need to return home before I’m gone so long that Theodora decides it's necessary and raises an alarm.” He looked at Eirian. “When you can, loot this place too. There will be some differences and, more importantly, where the books are identical I can think of a few magic users who might want to purchase the spares.”

“At a nominal price, my lord,” Skye asked.

Iain grinned. “Oh, no, these get sold for a premium. If the buyer doesn’t scream in pain we haven’t asked for enough in trade for these books.” He turned back to Eirian. “If they don’t know how to shadow walk, how are you going to get them back home?”

“We will carry them, my lord, just as we carried the other bodies that will be joining your undead harem. In time they will learn to use the shadows as we do.”

“Ah. I should have realized that.” He frowned. “I have the special magic bond with you and the other four original Dragonesses. Consider whether or not I should form the same bond with the rest of my undead harem so they can find me if you are incapacitated or destroyed.”

“I will, my lord. You probably should, but it gives us, the originals, status over the rest and for that reason I hesitate to agree.”

Skye laughed loudly. “You too, Eirian, now show more life than mimicry of life.”

Eirian froze for several seconds. “This is the truth. What do you know of this?”

“Our lord and I discussed it earlier. I will share what we spoke about with you later. For now I will remain and watch the newest additions while you three escort our lord home. We will begin packing this place for removal.” She turned to Iain. “I wish to explore the status of the Order of Pendragon. Will you forbid this, my lord?”

“What do you intend?”

“The Order has libraries of its own, my lord, although the Usurper’s libraries will include its books. I wish to find the books of the history of Blue. They will tell us if there was a Kerrik Wolf here and if he has taken this world’s Ygerna away with him. It is obvious that the Usurper has been destroyed or the opening of that chest would have summoned him and his brother.”

Iain went white. “I never considered that they might still exist here. That was stupid.” He tapped himself in the forehead. “Important safety tip, mister. Think before doing.” He looked at Skye. “I’m curious about that too. I’d like to know the differences since my analog here was female. I’d also like to know why Blue killed her. Forced breeding is much more their style.”

“That is the style of the Blue League we came from, my lord,” Matilda said. “This is not that place. They try to kill you.”

“That is an excellent point and the differences with the other Blue should have kept me on my guard here. Of course, I didn’t intend to tangle with the BLSF, but to be honest, I should have kept on my guard about any eventuality. More lessons learned and cheaply too, since they didn’t cost me my life.”

“And the lives of those we killed, my lord,” Sorrel asked.

“It’s not my fault they decided to shoot me,” Iain replied. “Let’s go home.”

***

Ninhursag looked around the room at the rest of the so called command staff and back at Iain where he sat at the front of the room. “Why did you ask us here?”

Everyone else looked from her to Iain and he managed not to squirm under their gaze. Canaan frowned. “What did you do?” Her antenna twitched and she gasped. “Oh, shit. You think there’s only going to be yelling?”

“Let me tell it and some of this is your fault too,” Iain almost growled. “OK, people, yes I called this meeting so you could all yell at me at once. Today I broke several of the rules you have insisted that I follow but not made me promise to since you really didn’t think I could break them without you knowing about it beforehand.”

Lucifer smiled disarmingly at him. “Please explain, Iain.”

“How long have I been pestering all of you to teach me to fly?” People exchanged looks. “Yeah, it’s been a pretty long time. I even had things set up with Dominique after we got back from Two and Glasgow but suddenly she backed out.” He looked around the room. “And who thinks I’m too stupid to figure out why she suddenly didn’t think her flying spell would work on me? I guess that would be the same people who figured I didn’t know you had fixed my shield ring to do exactly what you wanted it to.” He met Canaan’s gaze. “And you wouldn’t try to teach me either. I got so frustrated I almost tried the Dragonball Z method of flight on my own.”

“I am not familiar with that,” Eve said cautiously.

“You summon your power, which I can do and I hope is similar to what they do, and push down with it until you begin to lift off. I was kind of worried I’d push too hard and end up in orbit.”

Lucifer chuckled while several people looked worried. “That is how your luck does seem to run sometimes. So what did you do?”

“I’m getting to that. I’ve also been interested in teleportation, but nobody will show me that, either, so I decided to become self-entertaining.”

“Fuck.”

Lucifer turned in her seat. “April, you don’t curse often.”

The Duelist didn’t look at her, instead watching Iain with a worried expression. “I save it for when it’s appropriate, like whenever you hear Iain say he’s self-entertaining. What did you do, Iain?”

“Well, I didn’t ask my dead harem to teach me to teleport or fly. I was told by people here that they’d teach me and I trust them to follow through. I mean, they wouldn’t deliberately deceive me.”

“Iain, I’m sorry,” Dominique said. “I wanted to teach you to fly. I still do. I was overruled.”

“It’s ok; I know which people still think my life isn’t mine. It’s not your fault.”

“What did you do, Iain?”

“April, I know of another way to get around and I decided to see if I could learn to use it.” He leaned back in his chair. “I did take my dead harem with me in case of disaster, but this morning I did my first solo shadow walk, which was successful.”

Eve went white. “You did what?”

“I didn’t stutter or mutter.” He smiled. “Interestingly enough it turns out that when I do it under my own power, it doesn’t bother me. And when Eirian is leading me and I have my power unlocked, it doesn’t bother me as much as it once did.”

Lucifer frowned. “What is shadow walking? My twee says there’s no information on it anywhere.”

“That would be because nobody except my dead harem uses it as far as I know.” Iain rubbed his eyes. “And I learned a lot today and none of it is going to make some of you happy. Dominique is going to be fascinated, but others are going to go from pissed to panicky.”

April turned to Canaan. “What is he gloating about?”

“He’s keeping me out,” the Splice griped. “All I was able to see was that he was successful.”

“Iain, please tell me what this is,” Lucifer said gently.

“I called it shadow walking because it uses shadow to open a conduit that you pass through. I’m not sure that’s necessary, but if not, it does make things easier. I tried to open one in a bright light and it didn’t work.” He looked at April. “And I’m not gloating. What happened today is pretty fucked up. You see, when someone travels by shadow walking, they see different things as they move from their starting point to their destination. Unless you have a lot of control, what you see is sort of random. Two people traveling together won’t see the same thing, either. And it turns out that is very important, and not even the Dragonesses knew how much and still don’t until I explain it to them.”

He grabbed a bottle of water he’d stashed before calling this meeting and took a drink. “While we were still moving from the gate to Two, I had the Dragonesses run some tests. It turns out that shadow walking isn’t stopped by standard phase blocks or teleportation blocks. Not even gate spell blocks will prevent shadow walking from taking place. That means that the next person who grabs me will only keep me for exactly as long as I want to stay in their prison.” He looked around the room. “And the distance limitation that teleportation has are shredded by shadow walking. I had some of my dead harem run a test on that too and they crossed light minutes of physical distance in only a few steps.”

“What is sort of random,” Eve asked curiously.

“The steps you take between the start and end of a shadow walk cross into places that have some kind of connection to the person walking. I’m not sure how that’s determined. What is important about these places is that each is a discrete dimension or universe and once I see them I know where they are, which means I can go to them as a destination of their own. This is important. Today, as my first solo, I deliberately walked to one of these places.”

“Wait,” Dominique said; her eyes wide. “Did you just say that you can shadow walk between universes?”

“I did. Every step in a shadow walk crosses a continuum. It’s how the walk works.” He frowned for a second. “Hyperspace travel using mainstream Tirsuli technology involves forcing open a doorway into a different universe that runs parallel to the one you’re traveling through. Every point in both universes line up together, but the hyperspace universe is smaller so that for every unit of distance crossed in it, a much larger unit of distance is crossed in the original universe. So when you come out, you’ve traveled a long way in what would be a very short period of time in relation to the distance covered. Shadow walking seems to do the same thing when you’re going between two points in the same universe, but instead of using a single different universe every step goes through the most convenient one for the path you want to walk.”

“Every time you leave this universe the clan is supposed to go with you,” Ninhursag said evenly, but Iain could see the unhappiness in her eyes. “We all agreed to it.”

You all agreed to it. Since I can’t open dimensional gates without your help, I wasn’t consulted.” He smiled when her eyes narrowed. “No.”

She blinked. “No what?”

“No, I will not vow to drag all of you along when I shadow walk. I can’t take Theodora, which in hindsight could have been very useful today.”

Vanessa chuckled. “She usually is. Now what happened that made you wish you had her with you?”

“I haven’t been to Eoghan’s chambers here so I couldn’t use that as my target.” He grinned suddenly. “And shadow walking laughs at hyperdimensional spaces. I hadn’t realized that. I wonder if it could be used to get into someone’s tent spell.”

“You have plenty of girls to fuck here,” Canaan said. “Now stop being distracted by shiny thoughts and talk, mister.”

“I’d been to someplace interesting before so I picked it and arrived successfully before returning to the Theodora. Then I got a teensy bit ambitious.”

Lucifer frowned when several people visibly winced. “What is the matter?”

Vanessa smiled. “One of the times Iain got ambitious with me he taught me how to create miniature black holes so I could kill Typhonna. His ambitions tend to be a little outrageous.”

Canaan glared at them both. “Let him talk.”

“Sorry. Please proceed,” Lucifer said with a smile.

“During an earlier shadow walk I saw what I thought was an analog of me, complete with truewizard book and a bound lich Dragoness. I wanted to talk to her and see if we could work together.”

“Are you sure this wasn’t about banging another woman,” April asked with an amused smile.

“No, it was not,” Iain said grumpily. Several people laughed. “And it doesn’t matter. It turns out that she’s dead, probably murdered by that world’s BLSF Blackguards.” The room went silent. “I found her body being guarded by a lich Dragoness, which I bound to me along with her five sisters. It was the only way to keep her from attacking us.”

“You have six more Dragonesses,” Lucifer said slowly. “What are you going to do with them?”

“I’m waiting for their minds to wake up before I make that determination,” Iain replied. “The reason I think she was murdered by the Blackguards is because while I was examining her house for information the house was surrounded by a Blackguard platoon. They demanded I come out and talk to them, which I politely did. Then they tried to murder me and in response my dead harem killed all of them.” Everyone froze. “At that point I decided it was time to move somewhere else so we left. If we’d stayed, I figure I’d just have gotten to watch my dead harem kill more Blue troops.” He raised a hand, although no one had moved. “I recorded video of the entire incident which Theodora has and will provide on request.” He smiled. “And no, I wasn’t even scratched by them. Then we went to Eoghan’s quarters, I gave the six new Dragonesses their diamonds and picked up a gift for April before coming back to the Theodora and immediately setting up this meeting so I could try to stay as much out of trouble as I could.”

Most of the people in the room laughed as Dominique raised an eyebrow. “What did you get April?”

Iain smiled. “Do you remember that belt you permanently pulled the magic out of and into your body?”

Dominique’s eyes went wide. “There was another one?”

“There’re actually two more if there’s one in the stuff we took from this world’s Eoghan’s quarters. He made it when he was still alive, so I think there is. Unfortunately it all got packed into the equivalent of some shipping containers and we’re still inventorying them.” He picked up a bag that was next to his chair. “And this one is for April, since she likes combat so much.”

For an instant undisguised greed shone on April’s face before it vanished and she shook her head. “I remember that belt. You can wear it.”

“What does this belt do,” Lucifer asked.

“It makes the wearer as strong as you or Eve is,” Canaan said, “and it reinforces the body to safely use that strength.”

“I see. Then April is right. Iain should wear it.”

“I am not going to,” Iain said firmly. “First of all, you all share the desire to keep me out of hand to hand combat. That means the belt is pretty much just decorative around my waist. April likes melee, so she could really use it. The rest of the primary combatants already have a lot more enhanced strength than April does.” His eyes flicked around the room. “In addition, I am modifying myself and that belt will just skew the results of those changes. If I have it I won’t push as hard as I should because I won’t need to.” He grinned. “Finally, I refuse to wear it. If April doesn’t want it I’ll either leave it someplace where everyone can stare at it or I’ll offer it to someone else, like maybe Allison.”

April looked at the Umbrea, who tried to hide the eagerness in her eyes when she realized she was being watched, got up, walked over and settled comfortably into Iain’s lap. She draped her arms around his neck and leaned forward until they were nose to nose. “I’ll find a way to thank you properly later,” she said to him a low voice. “After Siobhan has given you a checkup to ensure you’ll survive.”

Ninhursag chuckled. “Be careful what you tell Siobhan, April. She might just stress test him by trying to outdo what you have planned.”

April wriggled in Iain’s lap once and got up with a lazy grin. “She can’t know him that well yet.” She gathered the bag to her chest and mouthed “thank you” at him before returning to her chair. Suddenly she snorted a laugh. “And it worked, Iain. I no longer want to yell at you.”

“That wasn’t my plan, but awesome.”

“If we teach you to fly will you stop this,” Eve asked.

“He can’t,” Lucifer stated firmly. “The time to keep him from doing this was before he felt driven to learn how to do it. His magic is as much a part of him as it is of each of us and now that he knows this ability he must master it along with the rest of his power or it will master him. All of us have heard stories of thresholds that refused to use their powers and some of them died directly from accidents as a result. We don’t want to lose Iain, so he must master all of his power that he can.” She looked into his eyes. “I must admit that this shadow walking sounds dangerous. Will you take me so I can see what it is like?”

“I will take anyone who wants to know what it’s like,” he said, “but Lucifer gets to go first since she asked.”

“Are you going to tell Ygerna about this,” Dominique queried.

“I don’t think she needs to know right now,” Iain replied. “As much as she and I get along, this is clan business and she’s not there yet.” He smiled suddenly. “Speaking of Ygerna and clan, I believe she wants to take all seven weeks with me in one lump. I realize that under the rules I can’t complain about it but I was wondering if some of you might not want to sit down with her and express your concerns about me being gone that long.”

Ninhursag grinned. “It’s already done. She wants this time just with you and some guards that we negotiated, so in return she gets no more than two weeks at a time with you. Are we allowed to pool our time with others if we wish?”

“I think Seraphina and Olivia already proved you can.”

She nodded. “I doubt anyone will since they’d have to share you with someone else, but I wanted to make sure in case someone was willing to accept two weeks with you and one other person as opposed to one week alone with you.”

“I can’t complain unless it’s something extraordinarily stupid,” Iain said. “How the weeks are apportioned isn’t my business, as we agreed the first time this came up.” He looked at Lucifer. “When do you want your trip?”

She didn’t hesitate. “The girls are helping Joyce by eating as many grapes as they can before she can pick them for her latest wine tests. That should last a few more hours so right now would be more than acceptable.”

Ninhursag laughed. “I’ll go by and make sure there are too many grapes for anyone to finish early. I have to talk to Joyce anyway since she should have a place picked out for the great grape bushes she wants to try working with. I think she’s worried that so far she’s just copying what the Archers are doing and wants to branch out in directions they haven’t considered.”

Iain chuckled. “When I asked her to try her hand at brewing, I was just hoping for something decent. I had no idea she’d find her bliss in it, but I’m happy she has. And the fact that she makes me outstanding stouts is just the icing on the cake.”

“It’s the perfect job for her,” Ninhursag said. “She’s smart, innovative, does better without supervision and she gets to eat some of everything she does. The fact that doing so makes you happy with her in a way that nobody else can compete with just makes it perfect as far as she’s concerned.”

“Well, I will try very hard not to screw up perfection,” Iain said. He looked around the room. “I hope I haven’t pissed anyone off too much, but Lucifer is right. I have to master my gifts and you’re not going to be able to go with me on every ride. I will say this: I give my word that no matter what I will always do my damnedest to come home as safely as I can. You are all important to me and while I don’t deserve you I will always try to return. And while I would really prefer a different way of doing things, I know that yelling at me and lecturing me are all part of your mixed up feelings about me, which is why I haven’t ever tried to stop you from doing it.”

April grinned. “Pokegirls normally seek reassurance through sex. Would you prefer that?”

Iain assumed an innocent expression. “Far be it from me to turn away one of my women in her hour of need.”

Canaan snorted as others laughed. “Right, as if it would only take you an hour to reassure some of us.” The laughter grew louder.

Sofia stood. “This meeting is over.” She glanced at Iain, her eyes twinkling. “I will not complain if the rest of you take only an hour with him. I however, am glad he takes as long as he does with me. It is a great thing that our male is so virile.”

The laughter almost drowned Iain out as he leaned over to Lucifer. “Let’s go. Take us to the doorway please.” She nodded as he gripped her shoulder and they vanished.

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

Dianthus Barbatus - 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

Lucifer

Olivia: Megami-sama

Seraphina: Megami-sama

Zareen

Caltha: Nightmare

Kim: Nightmare

Xanthe: Nightmare

Epona: Nightmare

Philippa: Nightmare

Nott: Nightmare

Nyx: Nightmare

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