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Loose Threads

Twenty Seven

“The vessel started moving again a couple of days ago and is headed in system,” Iain said. In the hologram floating between him and Kerrik the tiny planet, sun and moons didn’t look like they were in motion until the viewer looked closely at the sky behind it and watched the stars shift sideways. “It accelerated to about twenty percent of light speed and its velocity has been holding steady ever since. Its course, however,” a second display appeared above the first, showing the movement of the vessel from a distance, “is all over the place. Here it almost doubles back twice. Still, it’s definitely headed towards the Earth area right now. The problem is that as erratic as the course is, giving any sort of an ETA other than eventually is impossible. All I can say is that it could be here by midnight or it could be here in a year. Any luck from your end?”

Kerrik shook his head, his ears flicking in annoyance. “No. Tanika does tell me that the men of the Covenant are pretty much as slimy as you thought they were, but she couldn’t find anything in the archives or the trophy room like this. Of course, only a small percentage of truewizards are in the Covenant so it’s not definitive.”

“And their records go back for thousands of years,” Iain pointed out. “On top of that, their organizational skills in recordkeeping leave a great deal to be desired. They need to hire some filing clerks.”

Kerrik chuckled. “And spend money on an unnecessary service that they have to pay more dues to support? That’ll happen.”

Iain got a thoughtful look. “When I am finally able to travel there, I think I’ll offer to have my people do it for free, as part of my petitioning for membership.”

Kerrik’s ears flicked. “Why? I am sure that someone in my family will be willing to sponsor you so you don’t have to petition. The petitioning process is degrading.”

“That would be because I can copy everything while organizing it.”

“While that might be a decent reason, do you really want to subject your girls to that place? There’s no way to guarantee their safety among the mages of the Covenant.”

“That I am well aware of. I thought I’d use robots or remotes under Theodora’s control. The worst that happens then is I have to replace some of them when they get dismantled by some idiot. If I make them look like genderless tree creatures nobody’s technology phobia or sexual fetish is likely to come into play.”

“That might work,” Kerrik said thoughtfully.

Iain reached into the hologram and zoomed in the display so the planet filled the view. “I think it will too.” He glanced at Kerrik. “Recently, someone constructed a building on the planet,” the view shot downwards to show a large castle with a moat around it. There were two drawbridges; one on either end and each had a massive gatehouse with a portcullis in it. Inside the outer walls of the castle a palace had been built of white marble and translucent precious and semiprecious stones in windows reminiscent of stained glass. “I’ve done some research and it’s a pretty generic design for a time period without cannon, counterweight trebuchet or gigantic creatures since the outer walls are only a couple of meters thick and don’t have the soft outer berm needed for cannon resistance or protection against giant or catapult lofted boulders. The only decoration is this sigil above each of the portcullises,” the image swooped towards the uppermost gatehouse to reveal an abstract set of lines cut in the rock and filled with a shiny metal. “Spectrographic analysis suggests it is made of pure iridium, which could mean nothing except they wanted to use a pretty metal.” Kerrik made a disgusted noise in the back of his throat and Iain shrugged. “If you’re looking for miracles, you can try the grove to the Wolf God that Naomi set up at the Bishop ranch.”

“I am well aware of it,” Kerrik grunted. “It is a very nice grove.”

“It is. We may end up building one here too. Is there any chance of getting a priestess sent to One?”

“You really want a priestess here? Aren’t there enough women in your life?”

“I was hoping she could build a temple in Shield. I’d be willing to donate time and materials. I might even be her first convert.”

“Why do you want a priestess of the Wolf here?”

“I want her to give the fucking Celestials of this world something better to do than make my life more difficult,” Iain almost snarled.

Kerrik watched him intently. “What’s going on that I’m not aware of?”

“That’s quite a book, but there’s a potential problem with the Celestial Alliance and the Sisterhood of the Thorn. We’re investigating now.”

“Is this something I need to get involved in?”

“If it is, I’ll let you know.”

Kerrik nodded. “I’d appreciate that.”

There was a knock on the door and Ygerna poked her head in. “Oh. Hello, Kerrik. Theodora didn’t tell me that you were here.” She looked at Iain. “Should I come back later?”

Kerrik smiled at her. “Come in, Ygerna. You’re not intruding. Besides, I’d like to convey my congratulations on snagging Iain. I hope he’ll be a good mate for you.”

Ygerna came in and shut the door behind her. “I mean no disrespect to your blood through your children, but I think it is most truly Danu’s will that I didn’t marry Faelan. Iain is a much better match for me and this is where I belong.” She frowned, looking at the holographic display. “I thought we’d exterminated them millennia ago.” She gave a slight shrug and smiled at Iain. “But according to your theory of the multiverses, then they must still exist somewhere.”

Kerrik’s ears flicked. “Who?”

She nodded towards the image. “The Fomorians. That’s obviously a Fomorian castle.”

“We weren’t aware of that,” Iain said. “How do you know?”

She reached into the display and let her fingertip hover over the set of abstract lines. “That’s the sigil of the Fomorians as a race and it is the sigil of the Fomorian High King as an individual if the metal inlay is of anything but copper.” She looked from one man to the other before stepping over to Iain and taking his hand. “What am I looking at?”

“That’s a planetoid inside this solar system that someone constructed,” Iain explained. “It has its own sun and moons and it’s currently on its way to Earth.” He reached into the display with his free hand and reducing the zoom so she could see the entire construct.

She looked at the image again and smiled wryly. “And I’m only finding out about it now because I just joined your family. It is things like this that make me appreciate you even more, Iain.”

Kerrik looked surprised. “I would have bet it would have pissed you off.”

“That he can keep secrets that need to be kept, even if those secrets need to be kept from me?” She laughed softly. “That is a reason to celebrate my union to him since I know it will be almost impossible to keep my secrets from him and now I know that I don’t have to worry that they will become common knowledge. He can be trusted and that is very hard to find these days.” Her laughter faded. “And now that I am privy to these secrets my satisfaction with him will only increase.” She looked at Iain. “Does Kasumi know of this?”

“No. She’s not one of us.”

“Good.” She looked at Kerrik. “The Fomorians had mages who were very powerful, easily the equivalent of Sidhe wizards during the height of our power. That is why they were so difficult to eradicate. But I have never heard of one that could create a world, even a tiny one such as this.”

“Did you fight them?”

“The campaigns against them ended before my birth, but I read the records of the wars when I was a girl. My tutor insisted and my mother agreed. It was very dry and dull and I do not remember much, but the sigil I do remember because the queen of our court at the time had a battle streamer with that on it to celebrate her victories during a winter campaign against a Fomorian army. Supposedly the streamer was made from the hide of the Fomorian king that she defeated in single combat during that same campaign.”

“Did your mother fight them?”

“Kerrik, my mother was not a warrior nor was she a mage. She was the castellan for our king and queen when they were away. She was very proud when I became a mage and a warrior, but I knew that in her heart she always wanted me to inherit her position.”

“Did you?”

“I did not.”

Kerrik nodded and looked at Iain. “Iridium is not copper. If this one follows convention he or she believes that they are the Fomorian High King.”

Iain shrugged. “If we’re right, that place is owned by a truewizard. They sometimes decide they are whoever they feel like being.”

“It would most likely be a male,” Ygerna said. “The Fomorians did not believe women had the strength to bear arms or use combat magic and according to the histories that I read their females were relegated to other professions, such as those involving academia.”

“I don’t know much about Fomorians,” Kerrik said. “I’ve never encountered them and I’ll have to do some research.” His ears flicked. “In the meantime, I may go take a closer look at that planet. We should meet in a week unless circumstances require sooner.”

“I’ll just keep an open slot in my schedule every week at this time,” Iain replied. “If my teachers know about it they won’t complain if I have to use it and if I don’t they’ll keep me busy.”

“Sounds good.” Kerrik rubbed his eyes. “I’ll see you later.” He bowed to Ygerna. “I bid you a good day.”

“And I bid a good day to you, Kerrik.” She turned to Iain as the kami vanished. “Do you have a few minutes?”

“I’ve got about an hour until my next thrashing by Siobhan.”

“I wanted to talk to you about Kasumi.”

Iain raised an eyebrow. “This bodes to be interesting. Do you want to get a beer?”

She smiled. “A beer sounds wonderful right now.”

A short time later they were seated outside at a picnic table, with Ygerna sitting on the same bench next to Iain. Ygerna took a drink and put her bottle down. “If you trust my judgment at all, I want to advise you not to wait as long with Kasumi as you did with me. In fact, I’d recommend you start courting her immediately.”

“That was not what I was expecting to hear,” Iain said dryly, “considering the circumstances. As for courting her, I thought I’d wait and give her some time to process her divorce.”

“That would be a mistake. She doesn’t need time to brood over what happened and she will and in doing so it will just make things worse. In addition, eventually Shikarou will manage to talk to her and he can be very persuasive when he puts his mind to it. More importantly, he knows how to guilt Kasumi and right now she’s terribly fragile. Only you can make her strong.”

Iain rolled a suddenly stiff neck to loosen it. “I’m surprised you’re here advocating for her. We just got married and we haven’t even had your requested week.”

Ygerna slipped her arm through his. “Iain, you were right earlier when you said that we essentially have the rest of eternity together. I am married to you and that is not going to change. That’s why I’m not jealous of the time you will be spending with Kasumi. I have been given a sign from Danu herself that we will be together for a long time, if not forever.” She took his hand and laid it, palm up, on the tabletop. “Don’t fight me. I’m going to cast a spell on your hand and for all I know you can prevent me from doing so.”

She waited, looking at him with an expectant look until he nodded. “I won’t fight you.”

“Good. Trust is important.” She quickly traced a symbol on his hand. It glowed for a few seconds and sank into his skin to vanish. “It has been so long since I have cast this spell,” she said as she finished, “that I had to review it in the Grimoire first.” She looked up at him. “I want you to feel the sign that Danu has given me so that you, too, will know we were fated to be together and that is why I do not fear Kasumi’s presence in our lives.” She lifted her blouse and slid his hand onto her stomach. “Close your eyes and feel the sign Danu has given to us to show that we were meant to be.” Iain’s eyes closed for a second before snapping open in shock. Before he could speak, Ygerna nodded. “Yes, you feel our son and our daughter slumbering in my womb. Danu blessed us on our wedding night and I carry the first Sidhe to be born in a thousand years.”

“That is,” Iain said slowly, “wow.”

“You would try to encompass the greatness of the blessing of my goddess with such a tiny word,” Ygerna said with a smile as she put both of her hands over his on her stomach and pressed his palm firmly against her skin. “I told April and Ninhursag before I sought you out and with this and what has happened with Siobhan already the stories about the potency of your seed are spreading amongst the clan.”

Iain shook his head. “That is all I need.”

“Relax,” she said gently. “They will merely use it to reinforce in their minds your overarching superiority over any other male they could conceive of. It is a boon and you should accept it as such.”

“I’m not sure there’s much in that I can relax with. I’ve already heard that some of them are claiming that I am getting them pregnant instead of Ninhursag and the Earth Mother technique.”

“You are a truewizard and you created the Earth Mother technique. It might not be unreasonable to suspect that you have a male version of it that you use with her,” Ygerna replied, “and in any case, what they believe about this will not harm you, for we all know that you would not use your powers on outlanders.” She chuckled. “It is an interesting and, in many ways, a fascinating social construct that you have created here. It is unique in my experience.”

“What do you mean?”

“On Haven I was resented because I was not a pokegirl and therefore I could not be controlled by the alphas as one. In return, I looked down on them for being pokegirls as for three centuries I have seen that they are less than humans, who are in turn far beneath the Sidhe. Here they are my sisters and I am theirs for we are all clan and that overrides the differences we have. I know your women have pushed you to take a human wife because of the brainwashing that they have received at the hands of the leagues, but the truth is that she, as I am and Kasumi will eventually be, would quickly stand equal with every other clanswoman who shares your life and your affections. With this clan you have created an equal footing for all, be they human, kami, Sidhe or pokegirl.” She flashed a grin. “You have managed to create the closest thing to parity that can ever be, even while knowing that parity is impossible. If Sanctuary had come to you and beseeched your aid and given you a free hand they would have ended up the most powerful nation on their world but their inability to trust proved their downfall.”

“Actually, one of the other authors I was in contact with had evidence that the Celestial Alliance was the one running the show and had used Sanctuary as its agent to test and see if we could alter reality even while operating their own plan in the background.”

“Then they were even greater fools than I had thought. The fact that you love Eve and Lucifer show that you could have worked with the Alliance if they had been open with you and that they missed a great chance when they did not approach you.”

“Yeah, well, that particular little discussion may not be quite over yet.”

Ygerna twisted around on the bench to face him. “Explain.”

“Lucifer believes that she has recently uncovered signs that the Alliance of this world may be trying to subvert elements within the Sisterhood, possibly with the intention of bringing me and us under their direct control. And they may be seeking a way to contact the Alliance on the world we came here from to seek their assistance as they have greater numbers and power. We’re supposed to start investigating soon to see how deep the rot has spread in the Sisterhood.”

Ygerna looked incredulously at him. “There are some within the Sisterhood who believe that anyone can protect them from you and Lucifer while they contemplate treachery? The Alliance should seek better allies for in this case they have tied themselves to fools. Nothing will save betrayers of her trust from Lucifer’s justice. And your fury at betrayal goes without saying. They will be fortunate if it is only death which awaits them.”

Indeed, Skye said in his mind from where she rode on his upper right arm. My lord, give them to us and they can serve in your dead harem forever as a sign of what awaits betrayers of your trust. And here they would willingly provide all of the details of their treachery and might be able to lure the agents of the Alliance into a trap where they too could become your servants and increase our might.

Iain shivered at the naked hunger in her imagery. I’ll keep that in mind. He gently pulled free from Ygerna. “Oh, if they’re being stupid we will stop them. We will not be proxies again.”

“I agree and I will fight alongside my family.” She pulled her shirt back down and leaned forward to kiss him gently but firmly on the lips. “Now Kasumi needs you, even if she may not realize just how true that is. Go to her and bring her to us that she may mingle her blood with yours and take us one step closer to invincibility.”

“Are you aware that your megalomania is showing,” Iain asked dryly.

Ygerna laughed. “Once a queen is always a queen, Iain, and nothing that I said is wrong. Besides, she has become my friend and I do not like seeing her in such pain. Heal her.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

“That is all I can ask, husband.”

***

Ganieda’s ears flicked idly as she looked around the unremarkable hallway before focusing on the door in front of her as her twee informed her of the time. “Theodora, please inform her that I’m here.”

I will. Theodora said in her mind. Did you see something wrong with the hallway?

It’s plain. I was wondering if you were going to decorate them or put out plants or something.

I have been considering it but hadn’t made any firm plans yet.

The door opened and Dominique glared out at her. “I’m busy. What do you want?”

Ganieda was proud that she didn’t react to the emotion the Archmage was displaying. She knew Iain didn’t want her to kill anyone he cared about. As she gained more control over the voices in her head it was getting easier, but sometimes it was still hard, like now since, among others, her Bladebunny portion took any strong seeming display of emotion as a challenge to be violently responded to. So she carefully kept her voice mild as she replied. “I went to the trouble to make an appointment to see you in your laboratory and you accepted that appointment. I am going to insist that you keep that obligation and meet with me.”

Dominique scowled at her. “What part of busy didn’t you hear? Reschedule.”

Again, Ganieda was proud that Dominique was still breathing but she was dismayed to realize that her ears were slowly folding back to keep them safe. She forced them back upright. “No.”

“Or what?”

“You are too close to me to safely ask that question,” Ganieda said. “At this distance I could be all over you before you could shut that door and then you’d be knocked unconscious, tied up and then you’d still meet with me after you woke up. It would, however, likely take more than the half hour we agreed upon and you’d miss more of your research. I realize,” she continued as Dominique blinked in shock, “just how much research can be addictive and how much you don’t want to be interrupted, but this is important and I am going to insist this time.”

Dominique snorted as she fully opened the door. “And what would you know about the lures of research?”

“I was blended with at least two magic using pokegirls like yourself, Dominique. Both the Enchantress and the Bramage that are inside me loved research and, if allowed, would have forgone food or rest to continue it.”

Dominique shook her head. “Get in here but don’t touch anything except the floor.” She waited until Ganieda had entered and shut the door behind the Splice. “Why do you say at least two?”

“I don’t remember them all,” Ganieda said simply. “Didn’t Iain tell you my history?”

“He wouldn’t unless you gave him permission,” Dominique said as she pointed to a small table and pair of lightweight chairs. “Sit. Do you want something to drink?”

“I would, but I don’t want to make you have to give me hospitality on top of the annoyance of my presence,” Ganieda said with a smile as she looked the chairs over. “And those look too fragile for my frame.”

“They’re made of a composite resin Theodora put together,” Dominique said as she hooked a chair with a foot and pulled it out to drop into. “It’ll hold far more than Canaan’s weight, much less yours and yet they’re still not ugly as sin.”

Ganieda uncurled her tail out from under her rump and let it swing to the side and below the hem of her dress so she could sit without slicing up the seat. “Very well. Shall we exchange the customary pleasantries or should I get to the reason I wanted this meeting?”

“I’d prefer the second,” Dominique said with amusement.

“With the understanding that I am blended with magic using research capable pokegirls, I am here to ask how much progress have you made in understanding and duplicating some of Iain’s abilities?”

Dominique’s scowl returned. “Not much.”

“I’ve read the publicly available records of your research and I must admit you are very creative and yet methodical.” Dominique looked surprised. “It’s unusual and to be admired. However, I want to suggest that there might be a different approach to this that you haven’t considered, at least in your released research.”

“I haven’t put any of my work on Iain’s magic in the library.”

“I am aware of that. I’d love to read it, but from your work I can analyze the way you think. You’re a powerful mage and a great researcher.”

Dominique cocked her head. “But?”

“There is no polite way to say this, Dominique. You have been free for a very long time to pursue things your way, first as an agent of the Order and now as Iain’s primary magical consultant. You have a justified assessment of your abilities but sometimes it leads to an incorrectly presumed arrogance about the supposed limitations of the abilities of others. It doesn’t bother me and I haven’t mentioned it to anyone else.”

“Then why mention it now?” Dominique sounded genuinely curious.

“It is because this time your arrogance is about Iain and your suppositions about him.”

Dominique looked thoughtful for a moment. “Without admitting you’re right, you might have a point. Continue.”

“Am I correct in deducing that up to this point you have had Iain access one of his abilities while you observe and then tried to reproduce it using your magic? It is your normal modus operandi.”

Dominique frowned. “You’re like Zareen, aren’t you?”

Ganieda looked confused for a second. “You mean in my not parading around my intelligence unnecessarily? I suppose that is a valid comparison, but to be brutally honest it’s only a recent development thanks to Iain saving my sanity. Before that I was often as unhinged as I acted.”

“Your deduction is correct.” Dominique got up and produced a bottle of wine and two glasses from a cabinet. She filled both glasses half full and put one down in front of Ganieda. “Where are you going with this?”

“Have you considered Iain’s side of this?”

“I don’t understand the question.”

Ganieda picked up the glass and sipped the wine. “So far you haven’t been able to duplicate Iain’s magic by asking him to perform something and then trying to recreate it. Have you considered avoiding the whole process for the moment by having Iain duplicate his abilities in you or another suitable subject?”

Dominique stared at the Splice in shock. “No, I haven’t,” she finally said. “I doubt he could do anything like that.”

Ganieda smiled amusedly at the Archmage. “Could it be that is the arrogance I mentioned before? I think you are making an assumption about Iain’s abilities without ever having had him make even one attempt and you are deciding that he can’t do something because you can’t.”

Dominique stared at her for several seconds. “Fuck,” she finally said.

“The Bramage part of me never enjoyed it when someone had an answer that she didn’t, so I can understand your chagrin.”

“It’s not that. I am aggravated because I was an absolute idiot. The fact that you’re right about it is nothing compared to what I did and what I have failed to do because I am arrogant.” She shook her head, making her crimson braid whip behind her. “Now I’m wondering what Iain and I could have done together if I hadn’t been that arrogant.”

“Iain’s not dead,” Ganieda observed. “You still have the chance to find out the answer to that question.”

Dominique gulped down her glass of wine. “We do.”

Ganieda frowned. “What?”

“We have that chance. You’ll be helping me.”

Ganieda held up a hand in protest. “I can’t. I am his bodyguard and I’m happy there. I don’t want to spend my time with you when I could be with him.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Dominique said. “You pointed out something that I couldn’t see. I need that in case I don’t see something again and if you refuse me in this you could be failing Iain just as I did.”

“I would really like to kill you right now,” Ganieda said tonelessly.

“If you did, on top of all of the other problems you’d bring down on yourself, you’d have to replace me trying to help him with magic.”

Ganieda’s eyes narrowed. “I was wrong. Now I really want to kill you.”

“You’ll get over it. We have a great deal of work to do.” She rubbed her hands together eagerly. “I’ll contact Iain and have him come here immediately.”

“I’d suggest you wait. If I am to help you, I’d advise we put together a program of experiments and the first thing we need to do is properly articulate what the goals of the program are and then to design the experimental protocols to ensure we progress towards them. Otherwise we run the risk of working towards our goals with only a vague concept of how to reproduce the results properly later on, which I have found to be extremely frustrating when achieving success and having no idea how it happened, much less how to apply it again.”

Dominique looked thoughtful. “You’re right. And if we screw around too much, Iain is not likely to prove cooperative for a long period, especially if it involves us admitting he did something right but it’s useless because we weren’t ready for his success.”

Ganieda nodded. “I would agree.”

“Should you leave his protective detail to work with me? My initial response is no.”

The Snugglebunny Splice shook her head. “That would tip Iain off that something is up and put him on his guard.”

“Ganieda, you haven’t been here very long, but you need to know that no matter what some of the people around here will tell you, we don’t often surprise Iain. Somehow he usually knows what’s going on but doesn’t bother to get involved unless it becomes a problem. I know he has a source inside the inner harem, but I haven’t yet figured out who it is, mainly because it’s not important. However, my first bet would be on one of the quiet ones like Raquel.” She rubbed her nose with a fingertip. “However, you should stay on his detail. I’ll give you access to my notes and you’ll spend the next week digesting those before we’ll discuss what times you’ll be here.”

“If I get access to your lab, won’t other people wonder?”

“Yes, but I’ll talk to Ninhursag and explain I need you here and that it’s about Iain’s safety. For that she’ll do what we want.” Crimson eyes looked into Ganieda’s emerald ones. “And she does that because I haven’t lied to her about when his safety is and, more importantly, isn’t involved. Don’t.”

“You are aware that Iain often denies himself the pleasure of a kill to prove to himself that he has not become a monster?”

Dominique nodded. “I am.”

“I have similar urges due to the different parts that were blended into me. The urge to lie to family to make my life easier is one of them and one I will always resist to prove myself worthy of him.”

Dominique smiled. “If you weren’t worthy of him and of us you wouldn’t be here.”

“That is nice to hear,” Ganieda said as she drained her glass and rose to her feet. “But I have to remind myself of that every day lest I fail in my duty to him.”
Dominique walked her to the door. “I’ll let you leave with this question, Ganieda. Do you really think you are alone in that?” The Splice looked surprised and the Archmage nodded. “You’re not. We all question that sometimes. I’ll talk to Ninhursag and then we’ll put together a schedule for you to help me.”

“I’ll be waiting.”

***

Iain draped his arms around Allison’s neck from behind and nuzzled one of her ears with his lips. The Umbrea made a humming noise and lifted her tail sideways as she rocked her hips backwards to rub her ass through her shorts against his groin. “I know you’re not here for me,” she said softly, “and if you keep doing that I’m going to stop caring and hold you down and fuck you right here in front of her.”

“Damn,” he whispered back. “Now I’m conflicted.”

“No you’re not,” she chuckled as she pulled free of him. “And I will fuck you tonight.”

He looked sadly at her as she turned to face him. “Only once?”

She smacked him lightly in the chest. “Yes. All of the other times I expect you’ll be holding me down and fucking me.”

He flashed a grin. “I like that plan.”

“I’m glad you do.” She pointed to the right. “Kasumi is over there. Take her and her women with my blessing.”

“She has to learn.”

“She does, but today we’re rounding up feral hogs for sale and as far as Kasumi is concerned, the hogs have already won.” Her ears flicked. “She needs the break. Tomorrow I’ll start her on something easier.” She grinned. “We found an empty homestead with a dozen or so feral cats.”

“I thought you said easier. Cats are a huge fucking pain in the ass to catch.”

“I’ll have her catching wild chickens tomorrow, Iain.” She glanced past him at other woman who was guarding him that day. “Pandora is the reason we’re catching cats, so she gets to catch them tomorrow.”

Iain shook his head. “Now, now, there’s nothing all that wrong with cats. It’s not like they aren’t edible.” Behind him Pandora sighed loudly and he smiled. “Except for Squirrel, of course. She probably tastes like rotting shellfish.”

“What do you have against cats,” Pandora asked.

“I don’t like them. I’m not that fond of dogs either, so there you go.”

“What kind of pets do you like,” Allison asked curiously.

“That’s the problem. I’m not into pets. Dogs and cats were domesticated to be tools and if I need them I’ll use them. They’re not pets to me and they’re certainly not people. For us, cats and dogs don’t really serve a purpose except to breed more cats and dogs to sell to people for whom they can be useful.” He smiled at her. “I get it that some people want pets. I don’t mind that Pandora has Squirrel as long as my order on Squirrel not being in my rooms is followed and thankfully I have Theodora to enforce that rule. But I don’t need a pet of my own. I was a loner before I came here and I was happy as one. And before you get bent out of shape, while sometimes you’re needy and sometimes you’re annoying as hell, you are a person and one of my women and they are that way sometimes. You are not and never will be a pet.”

“I didn’t think so,” Allison said. “You don’t fuck pets.”

“And she proves that she gets it,” Iain said with a smile. “Come along, Pandora.” He led her towards Kasumi but stopped when out of earshot of everyone around. “Are your feelings hurt about the fact that I’m not that fond of Squirrel?”

“If you’d asked that six months ago,” she said thoughtfully, “my answer would have been no and it would have been a lie. Now I see that I wanted Squirrel for all of the wrong reasons, those being that rich people from my life had them and I wanted to be like those rich people. But I do like having Squirrel around and I want to keep her.”

“Take Rosemary with you tomorrow when you go after those cats,” Iain said quietly.

“Feral cats don’t seem to like cat pokegirls,” Pandora pointed out.

“True, but Rosemary has a very good tracking spell and another one for telekinesis that she can use to grab the cats from a distance and pop them into cages. That’ll turn an all-day chore into one taking only a few hours.”

“I’ll do that, but why do you care?”

“They are useful to other Texans and your happiness is important to me,” Iain pointed out. “Now let’s get Kasumi.”

Kasumi was sitting with Nishiko and Giselle while Ayame stood guard nearby. All were drinking from canteens and all looked worse for the wear, with Ayame’s clothes having torn and bloodstained legs. “Are you all right,” Iain asked the Enchantress.

“I am, sir,” Ayame replied. “Early this morning one of the hogs doubled back while we were chasing a group and attacked me. It probably weighed as much as I did and it was quite fast. It cut my legs up before Giselle could kill it.”

“I’m glad you could be healed. Did you signal Allison to let her know you had to kill a hog?”

Kasumi looked up. “I’m sorry, in the confusion I forgot. I’ll let her know now.”

“You can, but it was really so the body could be picked up to be turned into sausage or bacon,” Iain replied. “It’s probably too late for that.” Kasumi’s face fell and he hastened to add. “It was an honest mistake and you won’t make it again, will you?”

“I will not,” she assured him.

“Then as the Grey, I pronounce the issue closed. You smile, nod your acceptance and leave the guilt right over there,” he pointed at an empty piece of ground. “Besides, you and your ladies are coming with me.”

“But, sir,” Giselle said, “we were supposed to finish this break and go back to herding pigs.”

Iain raised an eyebrow. “Are you arguing with me about getting to do something much more interesting?”

“Sir,” Giselle said carefully, “with all due respect you have not yet said what we are to be doing. For all I know you could be planning for us to clean out the cow pens with our bare hands as punishment for being unable to chase a simple hog.”

Pandora laughed. “That simple hog is smarter than most Indigo politicians and wilier than a scared feral Peekabu. I’d say that they were easily the hardest creatures to herd out here, but that’s only if you include the ones that don’t have magic.”

Nishiko frowned. “What animal has magic?”

“You’re going to find that cows can hide in places that can’t possibly be big enough or give enough cover for them,” the Archangel replied. “Some of them must have magic. And some kattle are even worse than that.”

“But not today,” Iain interrupted. “Today you’re going with us back to the house and getting cleaned up before changing into some decent clothes. We have a trip to take.”

“Sir, where are we going?” It was Ayame.

“First we’re going to Austin and then we’re going to Nippon.” He folded his arms behind his back and smirked at them. “And it’ll go much faster if you lot get off your asses and get cleaned up.”

“We should probably stay and help with the pigs,” Kasumi said slowly.

Iain’s smile widened. “I’m sorry, but did you hear me phrase that as a request or as an order?” He glanced back at Pandora. “What did you hear?”

“I heard you tell them to get moving and that they were coming with us.”

“That’s good. That’s what I meant to say.” He turned back to the four women. “I deliberately left Ganieda and Dianthus back at the house while getting you because I’m not sure Ganieda wouldn’t start hitting people if you proved reluctant, as you currently are. As for Dianthus, she can be unpredictable. Let me be blunt. Your time for brooding over what you did in Haven is at an end. And since that’s over, Kasumi’s attempt at self-flagellation in wanting to chase hogs since it’s the worst job she can think of doing right now, well that’s over too.” He met Kasumi’s eyes and deliberately ignored the pain in them. “I have to go to Tokyo. I am not an expert in Nipponese culture and I need an advisor. You four know a lot more than I do so you’re elected to go with me and help keep me from doing the social equivalent of peeing on the emperor, although I have never met the man and I am unlikely to ever do so, which is probably best for us both even if I would never really pee on him. So in an hour I expect to see all four of you waiting at the house, ready to go. We have no formal meetings and I not rescinding my ban on ties anywhere near me, so the dress is clean casual. See you there.” He took Pandora’s hand and they vanished.

They came out near the house. “Do you think I was too hard on them,” Iain asked quietly.

“I do not. Right now it is necessary to be firm with them and in time they will relax. What do you have planned for Nippon?”

“What do you mean?”

“I know you, Iain.” Pandora gave him an amused look. “You are being entirely too cute not to be planning something on this trip.”

“You know, I don’t think cute is a word I would ever apply to myself.”

“I think it could fit you perfectly,” Pandora noted, “if it’s being used to mean annoying or irritating.”

“Why not just say I’m being annoying or irritating?” She gave him a flat look and he chuckled. “I am not planning anything for this trip.”

Pandora looked surprised. “Really?”

“Yes. The planning part is already complete, so while I have planned things the planning part is already over.” He grinned at her as her eyes narrowed. “And, yes, I am already aware that I am an evil man.”

“Well, as long as you know. What are we doing for the next hour?”

“You mean after I get to listen to a few variants of people telling me that anyone else in the clan would be ready to go in ten minutes?”

She flashed a smile. “Presume that’s already happened.”

“I want to be here ten minutes before the hour is up so they can’t wander off when they decide I wasn’t serious or I’m running late. Other than that, I thought I’d review the Ranger paperwork that’s going to Garret tomorrow and see if Amanda has anything pressing we need to discuss while you get the rest of my guard detail together.”

“So you’ll be inside while I’m getting the others?”

“I will.” He frowned. “There will be some ground travel and right now I don’t have a centaur in my bodyguard. Should I get one for this trip or see if I can bum a ride off of Giselle?”

“I can carry you.” Ganieda pushed away from the wall of the house where she’d been, her color rippling as it changed color from matching the house to its normal white and black horizontal zebra stripe pattern.

“You have a centaur pokegirl in there somewhere,” Iain asked.

Ganieda smiled amusedly. “Yes. She’s right above and in front of my left kidney. I have him, Pandora, so you can get the others.”

“Iain said he was going to his office to do paperwork.” The Archangel vanished.

“So, are we actually going to your office,” Ganieda asked.

“I’m dragging Kasumi and the others to Nippon after that, so my bedroom is out,” Iain replied. “And with you on duty, my bedroom is definitely out.”

“Oh?”

“If I were in my bedroom with you and my bed, my mind would immediately go to you in my bed and then me in my bed with you. That would take far more than the hour I have before I meet Kasumi and would definitely compromise your ability to protect me as part of your job being on duty.” He gestured towards the house. “So it’s off to my office. After you.”

She smiled. “You go first. I want to look at your ass for a change.”

“Ah, it’s going to be one of those days, is it? Great.” He headed inside and then towards his office. “I’m already worried I’m pushing Kasumi too hard and now you take my fun away.”

“I’m never sure when I’m taking your fun away,” she said as he led the way into his office. She took one of the chairs for the bigger women in his family, dropping her tail into view and laying it in her lap as she sat. “You’re not perverse, but you do find amusement and fun in unusual things.” She shrugged. “I’ve learned to trust what I feel across our bond and not what comes out of your mouth.”

He activated the holographic display on his desk. “You don’t have a truth detecting spell like everyone else seems to?”

“I know several variants of truth spells, actually,” she said as she curled up in the chair. “I don’t normally want to use them on you, though, and I’ve heard you’re smart enough to make them fairly useless. I do wonder why you put up with such an obvious display of their trust issues with you.”

“I put up with things I don’t like from the women I love because I love them. I don’t put up with everything, however, and I don’t think Eve can turn her truth detecting abilities off.” He was paging through the display as he spoke. “And if I can’t make her stop, I shouldn’t make anyone else stop either. And, more importantly, our enemies use them too, so this is good practice for me in not lying while not really telling any important truths.”

“So this is part of your trying to stay a handful of steps ahead of everyone else?”

Iain looked through the display into her bright green eyes. “What choice do I have? I can’t outfight anyone here. I can’t outrun them and I certainly can’t do more magic than they can. The only thing I have is the ability to sometimes outthink them. Since that is the only advantage I have, I will use it ruthlessly and I will practice it until it is as powerful an ability as I can possess.”

“Yet you’re learning more fighting and working to make yourself physically more adept as well as mastering your magic.”

“I am. But as part of outthinking everyone I can, I know better than to put the three words that puts every pokegirl on her guard in any of those statements of my ability. If I did, the lessons would slow down and probably stop.”

Her brow furrowed. “I don’t understand.”

He smiled without humor. “I can’t outfight anyone here, at the moment.”

Her ears flicked. “Immediately they start worrying that you are trying to improve to the point that you won’t need them.”

“Exactly.” He leaned back in his chair and began paging through the document hanging in the air in front of him. “It would be easier if I didn’t care as much for all of you as I do.”

“It would be easier for you,” Ganieda said. “It would not be easier for us.”

“That’s the problem. If I didn’t care, how more difficult it would be for you wouldn’t matter to me.”

Ganieda was quiet for a while as he worked. “I heard that Dominique was training you in regular magic.”

He cocked an eyebrow. “Regular?”

She flashed a grin, all fangs and white teeth. “It’s regular as opposed to your normally used magic. Comparatively speaking, your magic is very irregular.”

He nodded. “She was, for a time. She was pressured to stop when I seemed to be learning something from her. Now she’s kind of busy for that.”

She nodded and was silent long enough that he went back to the report. “I know that the hope is that Kasumi will become your teacher now, but until she does I could give you some lessons if you would let me.”

His eyes refocused on her. “You can teach?”

“There is an Enchantress who was a graduate of Vale’s general magic program. After graduating she became an associate instructor there and taught a variety of courses for nearly twenty years before being kidnapped and blended with me.”

Iain didn’t look away from her eyes. “Geraldine was a real bitch to you. It’s almost surprising that she’s an analog of me.”

“No, it isn’t,” Ganieda disagreed. “She gave freer rein to the darkness inside her soul than you have but I think she and you are more alike than you want to admit.”

“I’ve never denied the existence of the monster inside of me,” Iain countered. “But if I were inclined to be that kind of asshole I wouldn’t take it out on someone I had brought into my life. I would never trust anyone I was doing something like that to against their will.”

“Geraldine didn’t trust me, Iain. She was careful to fuck and bond every pokegirl I was blended with before the blending happened. She never fucked me after she started this game of hers.”

“She either did or intended to since she was trying to turn you into what she wanted you to be,” Iain pointed out. “I would do this to an enemy, not to someone I intended to have kids with. But if you want to teach me, I’d be honored to be your student.”

“You should be,” she said calmly. “I’ll talk to April about scheduling and Dominique so she knows what’s going on and so she can either free up the time to help or try to kick my ass if she feels I’m usurping one of her prerogatives.” She gave him a smile that faded quickly under his even stare. Her ears flicked uncertainly. “What is the matter?”

“I’m just waiting.”

Her ears flicked more. “What are you waiting for?”

“I’m not entirely sure. I feel like there’s something else about all of this that you haven’t yet told me and it has something to do with you and Dominique. Care to share?”

“If you’re not sure, maybe there isn’t anything to be concerned about, Iain.”

He eyed her for long enough that she had to suppress the urge to squirm under his gaze. “Perhaps you’re right,” he said quietly. “And if you’re not, I’ll eventually find out what’s going on and then we’ll see what we will see.”

“That’s true,” she said slowly.

“I guess right now it doesn’t matter,” he said. He pointed at a cabinet against the wall. “There are some drinks and snacks in there if you want something, but I do have to finish reviewing and annotating this report so if you don’t mind I’d appreciate it if you sat quietly until I’m done.”

“I will.” Ganieda kept herself from visibly relaxing, but she suspected he still knew she had as he returned to his display and the report.

Thirty minutes later Iain had finished the Ranger paperwork and moved on to a report about some potential rebel forces Lucifer was vetting for Prometheus to consider contacting when his twee informed him it was time to go wait for Kasumi and her women. He looked up and smiled slightly. As he’d expected, Ganieda had fallen asleep in her chair. “Hey,” he called softly, “pretty doe it’s time to wake up.”

The Splice came upright in an instant, her head rotating as she surveyed around her. She blinked and he watched the insides of her ears turn a dull red. “I am so sorry, Iain. I’ll report my lapse immediately.”

“I take it Pandora didn’t mention to you that in my office you are off duty,” he said soothingly. “Theodora is responsible for my security in here. I don’t have organic guards in my office because some of the communications I deal with in here are restricted under privacy law.”

“She is?”

“Yes, so you didn’t do anything wrong when you fell asleep. If you had, I wouldn’t have let you fall asleep in the first place.” Ganieda’s posture loosened as her tension drained away. Her ears started to return to their normal color as Iain pointed to a recessed door. “There’s a washroom in there where you can freshen up before we go wait for Kasumi and the rest of my guards.”

“Thanks. I’ll be just a moment.” When she came back Iain was putting on his gun belt. “Is that really necessary?”

“Yes, it is. You’re a fantastic guard but in the end I may have to protect myself. And while you’re not a fan of firearms, I don’t have all of your nifty powers to fight with.”

She nodded as she smoothed down her skirt. “I don’t want a male who can’t protect himself. Fortunately mine can.” She got the door and waved him through before shutting it and hurrying past him to take the lead as they headed outside.

Pandora, Heather and Dianthus were waiting for them outside. Pandora looked at him. “Do I need to send someone to get them?”

Iain checked the time with his twee. “They still have twelve minutes.”

“Do they get demerits if they’re late like everyone else,” Heather asked curiously.

Iain frowned. “What demerits?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Pandora said to him. “And yes, Heather.”

“Good.”

“What demerits?” Iain’s tone said his temper was starting to fray.

“I said not to worry about it, Iain.” Pandora gave him a disarming smile. “It’s internal to the harem.”

“It’s not if Kasumi can accrue them,” Iain pointed out. “And I’m curious as to what will happen if I’m late.”

“You never are,” Pandora said.

“Are you saying I can’t be late? Anyone can be late.”

“No, I’m saying that you’re more than a tad obsessive about time and you are never late. Like today, the vast majority of the time you’re early. If you are late, it’s because the world is ending and we’re all way too busy to care.”

“She’s right,” Heather said softly. “I have never seen you be late for anything.”

“So what you’re really saying is that I need to talk to Ninhursag.”

Pandora looked thoughtful for a moment. “That will do for now.”

“You know I’m not going to let this go.”

“I am well aware of that,” she said. “And you are well aware that Ninhursag is the proper person to ask about harem protocol.”

Iain rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Fuck me.” He sighed. “Heather?”

“Yes sir?”

“Thank you for trying to help Pandora.”

“You’re welcome sir. The demerit program affects our standing and times, sir, which affects our ranks in harem competitions. That is why you, Kasumi and Ygerna all are involved too. But for the details you’ll have to talk to the maharani. It’s pretty complicated and I’d just confuse myself trying to explain it.”

“Thank you, Heather.”

Eventually Giselle came running outside. “My mistress will be along in a minute. Are we late?”

Iain checked his twee. “You are on time. Everyone else has two minutes and six seconds before they all have to be here. After that, apparently you start accumulating demerits.”

“Crap.” The Pegaslut turned and ran back into the house.

Pandora sighed. “We’re already a bad influence on them.”

Iain was more interested in the fact that apparently even Giselle knew what the demerit program was. However there was work to do and he ignored Pandora as he contacted Theodora with his twee. Confirm our appointment please.

Your appointment with the Nippon Embassy was confirmed yesterday and again this morning when they contacted us to make sure your plans had not changed. Apparently they want to make sure you’ll be there on time. Do you think Kuniko will be there? Maybe she’ll ask you out this time.

That’s a little forward for a Nipponese woman, isn’t it?

She’s spent a lot of time here so there is really no way to know for certain about her behavior.

True. Not to mention that everyone is different.

Giselle, Ayame, Nishiko and Kasumi all came pelting outside and stopped in front of Iain. “Time,” the Archmage almost but not quite yelled.

“You still had forty seven seconds,” Iain replied after checking. “So nobody is late.” He turned to Kasumi. “You will want to put the delta bond spell on each of your ladies.”

“I did this morning,” she replied with a smile. She, like her harem, was wearing a comfortable looking skirt and blouse. “It won’t need renewed until this evening.”

“Very well, our first stop is the new Nipponese embassy in Austin. I know you’ve been to the old one but have you been to the new one yet?”

“No, sir, we have not,” Giselle replied.

“Dianthus, take her there and back,” Pandora said immediately.

The Elfqueen stepped forward and held out her hand to Giselle. “Come.” Giselle took it and they vanished, only to reappear a few seconds later.

Pandora didn’t wait. “Heather, Dianthus deploy.” The Elf and Elfqueen vanished as Giselle moved to her mistress while Pandora looked at Iain. “The arrival point is clear.” She turned to Giselle. “The Nipponese like spit and polish so look sharp while we’re there. Your team protects Kasumi while we have Iain but if there’s trouble we will assist you. As Iain’s team leader I am in overall command, as we previously discussed.”

Giselle nodded. “Understood and thanks.”

Ganieda grasped Iain’s shoulder gently and the scene changed. The new Nipponese embassy was purpose built and covered with a façade of local marble that gleamed in the morning sun. It was three stories tall and towered over most of the other nearby buildings. Heather and Dianthus stood sentry on either side of the marked area for teleport arrivals just outside the three meter wall which surrounded the property. Two plainclothes sentries stood guard just inside the gate, watching them impassively.

Pandora appeared, followed quickly by Giselle and Kasumi and then Ayame and Nishiko. When Pandora nodded, Iain headed for the gate, followed by Ganieda. He stopped and nodded to the guards. “I’m Iain Grey and I have an appointment.”

The guard checked a notebook that was hanging near the gate and opened it. “Mr. Grey, you and two of your ladies may enter.”

Iain didn’t move. “The woman in the light blue dress is Kasumi and she has three of her own guards. It should be listed in the appointment and all of them will need to enter.”

The sentry checked the notebook again. “My mistake, sir. They may enter as well.” He pointed to a side door with a sign above it that said “Administration” in Nipponese. “Please go in there, sir.”

“Thank you.”

Heather and Dianthus moved into a shady area as everyone else headed through the gate and to the administration door. Iain knocked and a man opened it. “Good morning, Mr. Hachiro.” He glanced back at Kasumi. “This is Kachida Hachiro, who prefers to be called Mr. Hachiro instead of Mr. Kachida.”

Hachiro smiled and fully opened the door. “You remembered me, Mr. Grey. Please come in and all of you sit while you explain how I can help you.”

“It’s actually very simple, Mr. Hachiro. I am going to Tokyo soon and I am taking some people with me who haven’t been to Nippon since your government instituted the program requiring foreigners to carry government IDs so they’ll need to get them today.”

Hachiro sat down at his desk and activated his laptop. “I see. As you are aware that I have to take photos of them I presume they’re here with you, Mr. Grey.”

“They are. This is Miss Kasumi Tendo, Giselle, Ayame and Nishiko.”

Hachiro looked curiously at Kasumi. “She is not a pokegirl? That could complicate matters.”

“No, she is not a pokegirl but she is still a Grey and my clan will take legal and financial responsibility for all four of these ladies.”

Hachiro nodded and smiled. “Then that returns things to their simplest form, Mr. Grey.”

“And that is the way I like them, Mr. Hachiro.”

Kasumi didn’t look at Pandora. How could my not being a pokegirl complicate things?

With the resumption of the Emperor being the true ruler of the country and the creation of regional lords, Nippon has become more feudal in many ways and Iain and Kerrik both behave like the leaders of the Nipponese clans of old. The Nipponese government both recognizes their behavior and appreciates it as something they believe they can understand. Your family is unknown and therefore something for them to be wary of, especially since there have been several terrorist attacks inside Nippon on behalf of the Shanghai League. Humans seeking entry into Nippon have to undergo an investigation before they are granted access to Nippon and that can take several days. Mr. Hachiro understands that Iain is taking responsibility for you and your girls and that puts you in a category he can easily accept. And since Iain vouches for all of you, the investigation requirement for you is waived.

A door leading deeper into the building opened and a pretty Nipponese woman wearing a lieutenant’s uniform came in. She smiled warmly at Iain. “Iain, I didn’t find out you were coming until now. Is there anything I can help you with?”

She’s lying, Pandora said to Iain over their bond.

That isn’t the truth, Kasumi said to him through her twee.

“Good morning, Kuniko.” Iain glanced at Mr. Hachiro, who was keeping himself busy with his computer. “Mr. Hachiro was helping me get some IDs for four new people who are going with me to Tokyo on my next visit. There wasn’t any reason to bother you for that, but since you’re here I’d like to introduce you to Miss Tendo, Giselle, Ayame and Nishiko. Ladies, this is First Lieutenant Tokunaga, my liaison with the Nipponese government.” He smiled. “She helps me when Mr. Hachiro can’t. Kuniko, Miss Tendo hasn’t lived in Nippon for several decades and so I figured she’d be an expatriate and would need an ID too and since they’re all joining the clan I decided to shortcut matters and just list them as members of Grey.”

Tokunaga eyed Kasumi in an unfriendly way that made the kami’s hackles rise before she turned back to Iain. “I am glad to see you are still helping those in need. Since she is joining your clan I presume she will not be seeking to reclaim her Nipponese citizenship or will she?”

“As far as I am aware she will not,” Iain said.

Tokunaga doesn’t like you very much. Kasumi frowned mentally but managed not to move at the unknown voice in her head. This is Ganieda and I felt you should know she doesn’t like you since it could be important.

You are psychic?

You are not yet clan and there are many things about many of us that you do not yet know. One of them is that I have some limited psychic abilities.

I see why Iain wants you as a guard then, even when you are so new. Why does this woman dislike me so?

She feels you are too old to be a threat to her desires but she is still concerned that you might be able to influence him in ways that would make her job even more difficult than it already is.

I do not understand.

Ganieda’s ears twitched almost idly. Tokunaga is Iain’s liaison. However, her primary mission is to get close to him and bring him more into the Nipponese sphere of influence. To that end she has been instructed to seduce him if possible as it has been noted that the women he is having sex with have a great deal of influence with him. She is fertile and it is hoped that during this seduction she will become pregnant and that too would be used to tie him more tightly to Nippon, who desires his and Kerrik’s more direct involvement in their war with Shanghai.

Kasumi’s eyes narrowed and she caught herself as she started to hiss angrily. She feels I am too old to be a threat? What does she know about me?

That is a good question and one worth finding the answer to. It is interesting that apparently Nippon has agents on Haven and she thinks she knows exactly who you are as well as about your rift with Shikarou. She knows you are significantly older than Iain and feels he would not be sexually interested in you when compared to her youth and beauty and especially considering that you are damaged goods in being divorced. She is not aware that you are kami or of what you have been doing with us, since Nippon has no agents in the clan, there was a brief pause and an amused feeling touched Kasumi’s mind, although they may have some in Shield. Yes, they do.

You found all of this in her mind?

No. Colonel Hiromi Miura is the embassy’s intelligence officer and he is inside the building. He knows of the agents in Shield, although not of their identities. He also runs the spies in Haven.

Kasumi managed not to glance at the Snugglebunny Splice. I find it hard to believe that you have limited psychic abilities.

I never said that was all I had.

The entire conversation between her and Ganieda had taken place in the space between heartbeats and she returned her attention to Tokunaga as the lieutenant smiled at Iain. “When will you be back in Austin?”

“I’m not sure, but probably in two weeks. Why?”

“The Austin Theatre is presenting an American play that I have never seen and I was hoping you’d go see it with me. I would like it if you’d help me to understand the American nuances that I’d otherwise miss.”

Iain shrugged. “What’s the play?”

“It’s Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw.”

He frowned thoughtfully. “As soon as my schedule firms up I’ll let you know. That’s the best I can do right now.”

She almost beamed at him. ‘Thank you, Iain.” She looked at her watch. “I have to go. Can I send you a message about the play’s dates?”

“Please do.” Iain waited until she was gone before looking at Mr. Hachiro. “Should I take them to the photography room for you?”

Hachiro chuckled softly. “You know very well, Mr. Grey, you cannot be allowed to go anywhere unescorted inside the embassy.”

Iain looked surprised. “Really?” He and Hachiro shared a smile. “Well, if you have to insist Mr. Hachiro.”

“I am afraid that I must, Mr. Grey. This will not take too long.”

Hachiro was true to his word and less than an hour later they stood outside the embassy again. Iain caught Kasumi looking at her new ID card. “If being affiliated with us bothers you we can go back and get that changed when we get done with this trip. It’s just that the process would have taken a couple of days otherwise.”

She smiled at him. “You do not consider any of us to be someone that you have to shield as a father is supposed to shield his daughter, do you?”

“I do not.”

“Then I appreciate this being expedited as much as possible. What is Lieutenant Tokunaga to you?”

“She’s my liaison.” Iain looked at Giselle. “Let’s go to the Barton house outside the front door.” He took Pandora’s hand and they vanished, followed by everyone else.

When Giselle let Kasumi’s hand go, Iain was looking around. “Be careful what you say around the embassy. A pokegirl with enhanced hearing could have easily heard all of that conversation and the local spymaster, a Colonel Miura, is dumb enough to think he can surveil us without getting caught. Lieutenant Tokunaga is my liaison and that’s all I want her to be. I am aware that she has her directions about what to seek from me and I am aware that Nippon would use her to try to get me or Kerrik to act more directly against Shanghai. They’re really interested in the idea of orbital bombardment since they know about what Kerrik did in Africa. We have discussed it and he’s aware of the situation too. Right now she’s effectively harmless since I won’t be alone with her and I have no intentions of sleeping with her.”

“You will be alone with her during this play, will you not?”

Iain made a face. “We sponsor forty percent of the Austin Theatre’s works, including Pygmalion this year. In return, they set aside a date before they open any of their productions to the public and do a performance for the entire clan so my ladies can be entertained. So I’ve seen it already. It’s not bad, but I am just not a fan of Shaw or of his work. I’d really like to see more Gilbert and Sullivan, some Shakespeare or maybe something from Cole Porter. So instead of going to see Pygmalion with her, I’ll come up with something else for us to do that’s more public and better lit. Maybe it’ll be a nice and noisy preseason rugby game where she and I are surrounded by the clan.”

Ganieda snorted. “Tell her the truth and tell her to go away. If Nippon wishes to commit suicide by refusing our aid after that, they deserve to become Chinese.”

Iain glanced at Pandora, who shrugged. “I find her reasoning hard to argue against. We have been wasting too many minutes trying to outmaneuver Tokunaga to keep her from being alone with you. I even thought about suggesting you get it over with and have sex with her, but then she’d discover you’re good in bed so she’d never go away and we still couldn’t trust her.”

Heather laughed. “True.”

“I think I’ll continue to be a lot more particular than that about which people I let that close to me,” Iain said. “I am not going to have sex with every woman I know.”

“Good.” Kasumi turned bright red as everyone turned to look at her, including her three pokegirls. She bowed deeply. “Please forgive me for I should not have spoken on such a matter.”

“No,” Iain said slowly. “I will not.” Kasumi stared at him and he smiled. “I believe I have made it plain that I want you to have an opinion on that particular matter and I want you to speak your mind on it. If that is the way you feel about me sleeping with strange women, I want to know it.”

Kasumi licked suddenly dry lips. “It is not my place to venture an opinion on your bedmates.”

Pandora chuckled. “I am inner harem, as is every woman here except for you, Giselle, Ayame and Nishiko. We talk to each other, perhaps a great deal more than your former family did, and we are well aware of where your future lies with us. Iain just told you that he values your opinion on a subject that is important to you. Why are you arguing with him over it when you could be instead relishing the fact that he does when Shikarou never did?”

“Please do not mention that name,” Giselle murmured as Kasumi winced. “She is not ready to compare him to Iain.”

“We have the cards,” Iain said a little more loudly than he intended. “So now it’s off to Tokyo. You haven’t been teleported to the entry point we normally use yet, so I’d like Pandora to carry Kasumi while Giselle follows.” He nodded as Giselle didn’t look happy. “It’s a long jump and Pandora isn’t comfortable carrying more than one person that far or she’d take you too. And you aren’t that great on multiple long jumps in a short period of time or she’d take you and let you come back and get Kasumi. So, for this jump, I’d like you to trust us to get Kasumi safely to the destination while you follow using the delta bond spell.”

The Pegaslut exchanged a look with Kasumi and nodded. “I will, sir. Please understand it is hard to trust since we have not trusted others with our mistress for many years.”

“My ladies have the same problem with me and it hasn’t been nearly that long for us yet, so I can sympathize.” He looked at Pandora. “Let’s do this.” She tossed two pokeballs to Iain, who caught them and returned Heather and Dianthus to them. Ganieda held out her arm and Iain gripped it just below the elbow. She glanced at him. “Transition in five, four, three, two, one, now.”

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

Ganieda – Snugglebunny Splice

Heather - Elf

Dianthus Barbatus - Elfqueen

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

Dionne - Elfqueen

Adrianna - Elfqueen

Heltu - Wet Queen

6 Wet Elves

Dead Harem

Eirian - Silver Dragoness

Aurum - Gold Dragoness

Skye - Blue Dragoness

Emerald - Green Dragoness

Beryl - Red Dragoness

Julia - human

Ling - Cheetit

Matilda - White Tigress

Liadan - Twau

Sorrel - Armsmistress

Natalie - Blazicunt

Maria - Slutton

Rhea Silvia - Chimera

Geradine - Human

Mother s & 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

Comments (1)

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  • Nekuyasha
    I have been reading each chapter with Tora, and we both have enjoyed them immensely! If anything, this chapter felt too short! We of course are awaiting the next one with baited breath. I'll email you sometime soon. Until next time, my Kami. /bows reverently/