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From where he stood at the ship’s wheel, Iain could see his namesake steaming a mile off of the Defenseless’ port bow. Both ships were heading westerly at two knots, which was just enough speed to make way in the seas around them. He activated the radio. “Good morning. Are you ready to begin the exercise, over?”
Idun’s voice replied. “We are. Set your course as discussed and come to fifteen knots.”
“I don’t think she wants you to get away again,” Dianthus noted amusedly.
“I understand and will comply,” Iain said. He deactivated the mike and smirked. “I do believe you might be right.” A compass had been installed next to the throttles and Iain looked closely while it began to turn as he spun the ship’s wheel. When it began to approach his designated heading, he turned the ship’s wheel back to neutral and watched the swing slow and finally come to a stop. He activated the radio as he moved the throttles forward. “My heading is now two seven zero degrees true and I’m bringing my speed up to fifteen knots. Inform me when we’re at twelve kilometers, over.”
The ship’s radio officer, a cute Cherry named Arsenath who didn’t remind Iain at all of Eve, replied briskly. “Understood and we will so advise. Iain Grey over and out.”
Dianthus chuckled. “I think she’s upset that you were mean to her captain. Doesn’t she understand that as satellite clan you own her ass?”
Iain gave her a surprised look. “I don’t own her ass, I don’t want her ass and I’m not interested in the rest of her, either, except as a tool to get the Alliance.” Lieutenant Arsenath was one of the Alliance personnel who had come over from Four.
Dianthus nodded. “Good. None of them are worthy of you or of us.”
Iain was watching as the Iain Grey turned away and accelerated to open the range. “I hope they remember to warn us before they open fire or things are going to get interesting quickly. And by interesting I mean fucked up.”
“Should we leave now?”
He shook his head. “We’re safe enough for the moment. Idun doesn’t want me dead, she wants me compliant. I will admit that if I’m not compliant in a timely enough manner she will eventually decide that me being dead will work just as well as me being a prisoner. Still, she’s not at that point and we’ll have time to evacuate as planned before she starts shooting this ship to pieces.”
On the Iain Grey, Idun gave a smile of satisfaction. Tracking the Defenseless was going perfectly and she watched through the bridge window as outside the three triple eight inch turrets pointed to where the Defenseless had slipped below the horizon. As she turned away the turrets shifted slightly in response to input from the tracking radar.
“Target range is ten kilometers,” the XO announced.
“Thank you,” Idun said. She looked at Lucifer, her smile holding steady. “This should be interesting. We’ve shelled some atolls, but this will be our first exercise against another ship.”
“I certainly hope you are right,” Lucifer said.
“I am.” Idun turned to the XO. “Launch the drone and bring our speed to ten knots.”
A minute later smoke belched from the farthest VLS cells and a missile shot skyward. Once at altitude it deployed a stealth reconnaissance UAV which began silently winging its way towards the Defenseless. As it flew, it searched for its target with passive sensors so as not to give away its presence.
There’s a recon drone from the Iain Grey shadowing you, Theodora said to Iain. It thinks it can’t be seen.
It is part of the plan, he replied. He locked the bar back over the ship’s wheel. “Autopilot engaged.”
It also means you need to evacuate now.
Soon, he countered, but not right now. He activated the microphone. “Iain Grey, your silence is starting to make me nervous. When are you going to start shooting at me, over?”
The radio operator turned to Idun. “Ma’am, it’s the Defenseless.”
Idun took the microphone. “What do you want, Iain?”
“The steering has been locked and the speed is where it is supposed to be. Are you ready to open fire? I would like to be gone before then, over.”
“Try politeness,” Lucifer said softly as Idun scowled.
She looked back at the Megami-Sama and nodded once before activating the microphone again. “Iain, we are not yet at speed and our range hasn’t opened to twelve kilometers. I’d like you to stay on board in case there’s a problem with the target until we’re ready to engage. I’ll let you know well before I begin firing so you can safely evacuate.” She paused. “Over.”
“Thank you,” Iain’s voice came back. “When this is all over, I’ll buy the first round after the debriefing. Defenseless over and out.”
Back on the Defenseless, Dianthus glanced at him. “That was Idun, right?”
Iain chuckled. “Yeah, it was. Apparently she’s switched to honey instead of vinegar. I’m not sure why, but unless it involves a knife in my back I’m cool with it.”
“I thought we’d have been attacked by now,” Dianthus said as she moved from window to window.
“Apparently they missed their chance,” Iain replied. “Right now we’re waiting to talk to Idun again and we have to do that or she’ll know something is wrong and she will have to respond by sending someone over to find out what’s going on in order to keep her cover. Their best opportunity to snatch me was before the rendezvous.” He shrugged. “Nobody is perfect. If I were them I’d have considered trying to grab me long before now.”
Dianthus shook her head. “No, if you were them you’d have asked us to help them. Lucifer would probably have been more than willing to assist some of the Celestial Alliance’s goals. Even if she wouldn’t have helped all of them, it would have gotten them closer to you and made plans to capture you much easier.”
“They do have this innate arrogance that they know what’s best for others,” Iain pointed out quietly.
“And so do Lucifer, Eve and Pandora to one degree or another,” Dianthus shot back. “But they’re not usually stupid about how they go about getting you to help them with their goals.” She smiled amusedly. “Even Seraphina and Olivia aren’t that heavy handed about getting your help and they’re children.” Her smile faded. “But it doesn’t matter. The Alliance chose the path that it now walks and they should have known the price that might be demanded of them when they decided to go down it.”
The radio clicked on. “Defenseless, this is the Iain Grey, over.” He immediately recognized Arsenath’s voice.
Iain activated the mic. “Iain Grey, this is the Defenseless, over.”
“Stand by for Captain Idun, over.”
On the Iain Grey, Idun took the mic from the radio operator. “Iain, I will commence fire in six zero seconds from now. At the three zero second mark I want you to evacuate, over.”
“I understand and I’ll see you at the debriefing. This is the Defenseless, over and out.” He slung the mic on its hook as in his mind he started counting. “Barb, it’s time to go.”
“Why are we waiting for twenty more seconds?”
Ian shrugged. “It doesn’t matter to me. We can leave now.”
Dianthus shouldered her bow and grabbed his hand. “I agree.” Several seconds passed. “I cannot teleport.”
Iain frowned. “What?”
The Elfqueen was looking around unhappily. “Something is blocking my attempts.” She looked at Iain. “This is a stupid time for the Alliance to try and take you.”
Iain lunged for the radio. “Iain Grey, do not fire! I repeat do not fire! We cannot evacuate!” His face went bleak when light flickered on the horizon. “They’re firing.” Lucifer, he said across the delta bond, we can’t evacuate. Cease fire! His eyes hardened when there was no response. He looked at Dianthus. Barb, blow me. She was still watching the area and didn’t respond.
Their heads came around when there was a hissing sound and they looked to see the bar he’d locked over the ship’s wheel turn cherry red and weld itself to the wheel and the metal case it was mounted on. “Well, fuck.”
“I cannot contact anyone,” Dianthus said in a calm voice. “I can’t even reach Theodora.” She looked at Iain and he saw the growing desperation in her eyes. “I cannot teleport and I do not know how to fly. I can’t save you.”
“I think flying lessons are in order for everyone who is part of my primary guard as well as me,” Iain said almost idly. “Flight time for the shells at this range is almost a minute and ten seconds due to the high angle they’ll be using but the ship’s main guns can fire every eight seconds. Idun will want to hit the deck and superstructure where the armor is the thinnest.” He smiled mirthlessly. “And I gave her passively homing shells for her weapons.” He took Dianthus by the hand. “But we’re not dead yet and until we are we do not give up.”
The first salvo hit the bow of the ship and detonated, throwing the vessel sideways and knocking Iain and Dianthus off of their feet. The Elfqueen grabbed him around the waist and twisted with catlike reflexes so that she took the impact when they slammed into the deck and rolled under a counter. This actually saved both of their lives when the second salvo detonated on the main deck behind the bridge. The windows exploded inward and shrapnel buzzed overhead in a swarm that would have chopped both of them into pieces if they’d been standing.
“Don’t fight me,” Iain shrieked as he clamped his hands over Dianthus’ hands around his waist and wrapped her in his power. Or at least he was almost certain that he shouted but he couldn’t hear anything as the explosions had ruptured both of his eardrums as well as temporarily deafened him. He tried to roll towards the nearest shadow but Dianthus fought his attempt until he drove an elbow into her gut with all of his strength. She stopped resisting as she instead tried fruitlessly to breathe with a paralyzed diaphragm, giving Iain the chance to roll them into the shadow where they sank out of sight even as the next salvo detonated on the Defenseless’ stern.
Iain rolled off of Dianthus and lay on his back as he focused his magic to heal himself. Pain shuddered through him as it always did when he was hurried but he ignored it to sit up and check on Dianthus. The Elfqueen had blood trickling out of both of her ears and Iain considered trying to heal her, but he’d hadn’t done that to anyone other than himself and wasn’t sure he wanted to start experimenting on someone he actually liked. I’m sorry, he said through their delta bond.
Dianthus held her head in her hands and healed herself. “I must remember,” she said slowly as she looked around them, “to compliment Siobhan on her training. That strike was perfectly executed.” She looked into his eyes. “And you were saving our lives, which I cannot fault. No apology is necessary. Was that shadow walking?”
Iain nodded and slowly got to his feet. “Sorry about the sudden introduction to it.”
“Ganieda told me about it and Dominique explained to all of your regular guards what it could be like in case we had to travel with you. I don’t like the way it makes me feel but I go where you go.” She rose smoothly to stand beside him as she readied her bow. “Where are we?”
“I don’t know.” They were in a room with a single rounded doorway nearly three meters high. The room’s walls, ceiling and floor were of metal and a row of dim lights were evenly spaced on the walls a meter from the floor. “I didn’t have a specific destination in mind when I took us off the ship and, besides, the intervening steps are, as far as I know, essentially random.” He moved towards the doorway. “But it doesn’t matter since I can get us home from anywhere.”
“Stop.” Iain paused and Dianthus got between him and the doorway. “My place,” she said over her shoulder. “Do you need healed?”
“Later,” he replied. “I’m functional.”
Dianthus stepped up to the doorway and carefully, without revealing any more of her body than absolutely necessary, peered out. “You will want to see this,” she said in a whisper.
Iain joined her and looked outside. They were at the top of some kind of structure and in front of them a steep ramp made of the same metal as the building headed downwards towards the ground a few hundred meters below. The ramp was seven or eight meters wide and, more importantly, wasn’t empty.
On it were strange creatures that, to Iain’s eye, resembled large slugs weighing more than an equine pokegirl in her centaur form. All of them were mahogany colored and, unlike real slugs, dry. A few seemed to be headed down the ramp but most were slowly undulating up it in groups of varying sizes towards the top where Iain and Dianthus watched.
“Do you know where we are now,” Dianthus asked softly.
“I have never been here or imagined this place,” Iain replied just as quietly. “But I suspect we want to be leaving immediately.”
There was a loud hiss and Iain looked to see that a smaller member of the closest group had reared up, its eyestalks extended as high as they could go and was staring at the top of the ramp. “Why do I think we’ve just been spotted?” The others in the group immediately copied the first one’s posture and more hisses sounded. All of them changed color from mahogany to bright yellow before turning around and heading downward. Iain noted that while they looked like huge slugs, when in a hurry they moved by jumping and while doing that they were faster than a running gazelle. As they shot through another group, those creatures also turned bright yellow and whipped around to follow the first group. “Creatures that can work metal in the amounts it would take to make this place usually have some serious weapons hidden somewhere. I think we need to go right now. Give me your hand and step with me when I tell you to.” Dianthus thrust her hand in his. “Now step.”
The world rotated around them and they were standing on a rocky outcrop surrounded by snow and ice that stretched to the horizon on all sides, broken up only by more rocky outcrops dotting the surface here and there. The air was still and the temperature far enough below freezing that the moisture in his breath froze on his nose hair when he inhaled. Above them the sun was a tiny white disk that brightly lit up the area without bringing any heat.
Before they could do more than look around there was a rumble and a hundred meters away part of the ice was thrust outwards. A large wormlike creature undulated out from under the ice and moved perpendicular to where Iain and Dianthus stood. Iain estimated it was probably close to the size of three or four train cars laid out in a line. It moved faster than its bulk suggested and it quickly moved across a rocky outcrop to another patch of ice and began to burrow into it with a grinding noise they could hear as its rows of teeth chewed into the ice.
Suddenly a dozen pony sized creatures emerged from the hole the worm had left. They looked like giant spiders with huge mandibles. The first crouched and sprang forward in a low arc that covered a dozen meters in the single jump. Three others followed it but the forth looked around, saw them and sprang towards much easier looking prey. Others quickly followed while the group chasing the worm realized what had happened and quickly changed direction.
“I think we need to go,” Dianthus said as her first arrow took the lead spider in mid jump. Steam gushed from the creature as the electric imbued arrow baked all of the meat around it. The creature went into convulsions that continued once it landed.
Iain took her by the elbow. “Step.”
They emerged from the shadows and were now in his bedroom suite on the Theodora.
You’re safe, Theodora said in his head in a relieved tone. Please show me what happened since you’re not where you’re supposed to be. Iain gave her access to his memories of the last hour. I’m informing your family that you’re safe.
“Thank you, Theodora,” he said.
“While she’s telling everyone that you’re safe, please have her mention that what happened wasn’t my fault,” Dianthus murmured.
“Done,” Theodora replied as she appeared. “I’d theorize that at least part of the Alliance considers your being dead is as good as or better than you being under their control.”
“It’s probably someone from Four who survived an encounter with Kelvin and the Des Moines and learned something from it,” Iain said.
“I doubt that since she was dumb enough to come here with us,” Theodora replied acidly. She glanced at him. “You do realize what this means.”
“I won’t be allowed anywhere again without an escort?”
“You probably won’t be allowed outside period, mister.”
Iain shook his head. “I have too many commitments that won’t allow me to be sequestered and that doesn’t even count dating Kasumi. We’re supposed to go see another nogaku and I really liked the first one so I’m not missing it.”
“I know that, Iain. However, I’m also aware of how the inner harem is reacting to the news that you and Dianthus were almost killed. Analysis suggests that they used a spell similar to the dome that was over the Zombabe Glasgow but without a physical barrier component. Nobody, especially not me, is happy about how smoothly they severed all of our lines of communication with you without our knowing they’d been cut. It means they can do it again.”
Iain shrugged. “Then Dominique and Ganieda need to figure out how to detect that sort of thing happening and create a spell to do exactly that. We’re smarter than the Alliance and we have better people and resources. If we can’t outthink them, maybe they should capture me.”
“They are not going to like hearing that,” Dianthus said quietly. “I know I don’t.”
Iain smiled grimly. “No they won’t but it will motivate them, won’t it?”
Dianthus looked thoughtful before nodding. “It will.”
“Then the Alliance, presuming it was them who tried to kill me and not one of the many leagues or other people who would like me dead, whoever it was fucked up royally. They failed to murder me and in doing so they revealed some of their abilities. Abilities we can outmatch if we put our minds to it.”
The Elfqueen frowned. “I hadn’t considered that it could be someone else trying to kill you.”
“I know,” Iain said. “But they’re not the only ones who want me out of the picture and they’re not the only ones who could have done something like this. If we can figure out who did this, we’ll figure out some way to reward them for their stupidity. But first we need a way to plausibly explain how we managed to escape what was a pretty good death trap without disclosing my hidden talents.”
“Do you have any suggestions,” Theodora asked.
“I’d work up the idea that I took Heltu with me and Dianthus and that she was in her pokeball so nobody saw her. When I realized we couldn’t teleport out, I swapped her out for Dianthus and she used her magic to hide us both as we leapt into the water, went underneath the Defenseless and then dove deep before swimming to safety and from there to shore since the Iain Grey was still firing its main guns.”
Dianthus regarded him solemnly. “How do you come up with ideas like that so quickly?”
“I’m a problem solver and I’m good at my job.”
She nodded. “That you are. What do we do next?”
Iain chuckled. “You get rotated out for another guard and I get smothered in affection for the next three or four days while everyone reassures themselves that I didn’t die and that I still care for them.”
That got him a smile. “Do I get to help smother you?”
“Yes, you do.”
“Idun was not aware that anyone was going to try to kill you,” Canaan said confidently during the daily after breakfast meeting of the command staff. “None of the Alliance personnel we have identified in the Sisterhood knew about any plans to do so either. If it was the Alliance who did this, then they have compartmentalized this operation a lot more than we’ve ever seen them do in the past.”
Lucifer nodded. “I have scheduled a meeting with the leadership of the Alliance in a week. I will be taking Eve and two assistants with me. If you or Ganieda would like to be one of them, we can start our infiltration at that meeting.”
“It depends on what Iain is doing at that time,” Canaan replied. “If he’s studying on the Theodora then you might get both of us.”
“What’s the meeting about,” Iain asked curiously.
“Officially we’re meeting to see if there are any points along which the Alliance and the Sisterhood find themselves in agreement and can therefore manage to work together to help people around the world,” Eve said. “It’s actually to see if the leadership is compatible enough to do so. If the leadership isn’t, then the groups automatically aren’t.”
Iain raised an eyebrow at Lucifer and the Megami-sama shrugged. “We didn’t want to get along when I was younger. If I had then known what I do know about the feral years that are coming I’d have tried much harder to convince them to work with me. This time I will try diligently to impress upon them what is coming and see if they are willing to work with us.”
“They could work with you on the feral problem and still try to kidnap Iain.” Ninhursag pointed out.
Lucifer’s smile was as cold as liquid nitrogen. “And if they do then I will have much more information about their bases, force levels and composition as well as who among their ranks might be worth keeping alive for bonding into the Sisterhood after I have destroyed them.”
Silver smirked. “I think Iain is a bad influence on you. You’re looking forward to that too much.”
“Lucifer has always been this way when angered,” Eve said carefully. “Iain and she don’t quite feed off of each other’s anger like he and Canaan or he and Ganieda do, but they are a good match in that regard.”
Lucifer glanced at her lover and chuckled. “I can assure you, my dearest Eve, Iain and I happen to be a perfect match in many other ways than just that.” Everyone laughed at the sultriness of her tone, even Ygerna and Kasumi.
“And on that note,” April said, “according to the agenda that finishes this meeting. Does anyone have something to add?” When no one spoke she nodded. “Iain has a meeting with Ganieda and Dominique in half an hour and then he’s got free study for the rest of the day. As for everyone else, I have your duty assignments and the teams you’ll be leading.”
Dominique took his hand and pulled him to his feet. “Let’s go. Ganieda will meet us in half an hour.” She took him into the basement to the door which led to the Theodora. “Today, Ganieda and I want to learn more about how you use your perception.” They stepped through into the rotunda on the ship. “We hope it’ll give us more ideas about how to use ours and maybe give some insight into how a spell that does something similar might be crafted.”
“Some of it you may not be able to duplicate for a long time, if ever.”
“I still want to try,” she said. “Even if I can’t, I’ll learn more about new ways to think about how spells might be made, which could help with some other projects I’ve been working on for a long time.”
“Until you learn a lot more about formal magic,” she tucked her arm in his, “I think the best way for you to do things is to continue to try and mimic them with your style.”
“I do too.”
“With that in mind, next week Ganieda and I want to see if you can begin to learn to fly.”
Iain shot her a hard look. “Don’t tease me. That shit isn’t funny anymore.”
“I’m not teasing. I shouldn’t have bowed to the pressure put on me last time and we both know the only reason I did is because I’m also worried about you hurting yourself flying and so it was an easy way out for me. But the truth is that if someone doesn’t teach you, one day you’ll teach yourself and, honestly, there’s no telling what you’ll actually teach yourself to do. At least this way you can begin learning one way that we already know works unless you seriously fuck it up. Other ways could kill you with only the tiniest mistake.” She looked at him as they entered her laboratory. “Having said that, do not expect me to ever want to teach you how to phase. That can kill you in a heartbeat.” He raised an eyebrow and she nodded. “Even though we both know you intend to learn it someday, I won’t be the one to teach it to you.” She shrugged. “If nothing else we both know that Zareen isn’t going to chase you off when she teaches her daughters how to do it and she listens to peer pressure about as much as you do.” She smiled nastily. “Fortunately most people haven’t realized it’s because she doesn’t think she has any equals in the family except you.”
“What about teleportation?”
“First you master flight to your harem’s satisfaction. Flight can save your life if you exit a teleport five hundred meters in the air and deliberately teleporting high is a good and safe way to learn how to accurately target and arrive at a destination.”
“You said to my harem’s satisfaction, not yours.”
“I did. This is the way it has to be, Iain, otherwise they’ll just do their absolute best to keep you from getting any lessons at all.”
He nodded. “In the interest of domestic tranquility, as much as that happens with pokegirls, I tentatively agree. However, I’m not waiting decades to be told that my perfect flight is satisfactory.”
“I understand and I will do my best to keep them from doing that to you.” She flashed a bright smile. “If nothing else, you can let them know you’re getting bored and thinking about creative ways to become self-entertaining about flight.”
“That really bothers them so much?”
“You have no idea. You being self-entertaining is considered to be on the same level of hazardous as a bored Jokette with a nailgun.”
“I don’t think I’ve heard that joke.”
“That would be because it isn’t a joke, Iain. She’d shoot people around her, walls, lights, animals and possibly even herself if she found it entertaining enough. A bored Jokette often thinks everyone and everything else is a toy to be used to amuse her until she is no longer bored.”
“You know, I’ve never had the opportunity to play with a nailgun,” Iain mused.
“You’ll find you can do a lot more damage with the pistol you wear,” Dominique pointed out.
“That I can, but I was thinking about woodworking.” He slipped his arm free of Dominique’s and sat down in the chair he tended to use when in the lab. “Can I see the list of things you want to try to accomplish this visit?”
She nodded. “I’ll get it.” He settled back and watched her head for where she kept her tablet.
Theodora appeared as Iain felt the rotation of the tunnel segments aligning. He looked up at her in time to see her smile. “It’s time for a snack and it’s also time for you to stop using your book and do some independent study.” He was trying to lessen his dependence on his truewizard tome and Theodora was helping by keeping an eye on the clock when he was studying it. Because it was focused around his interests at the time the book was created, it was very easy to get lost in it for hours on end.
The book flowed back onto his arm as he stretched. “What am I having?”
“Do you remember that pelt you brought back from Israel?”
Iain did. He’d found the old animal skin in a shop and had purchased it with some vague idea of using it in his office as a decoration because he liked the way it felt. He was still looking for a theme for his office and it was starting to look like it was going to be either cabinet of curiosities or eclectic. He wasn’t sure if he liked that thought but hadn’t decided on anything definite. “What about it?”
“You brought an unknown organic material within my reach,” she said with a smile. “So I sampled it per protocol. It’s Arabian Oryx and nearly fifty years old but it still had viable DNA, although I had to destroy eighty percent of the sample to find enough for cloning. They’re almost extinct in the wild, so I used the genetic variance program and I’ve got three thousand embryos of them growing so we can release them in Israel in two months. Lucifer explained to the Israeli government the release plan and they’re excited to get them. Apparently they were already releasing small numbers from zoo bred Arabian Oryx and were trying to reintroduce the breed successfully into the wild, but until we began selling them pokegirls, ferals were a major problem in the successful restocking. In return for our animals they’re going to send us samples from the animals they already have so I can add to my genetic knowledge of the breed.”
“So am I having fresh Oryx or am I eating the remainder of the pelt?”
“I should fetch you what is left of the pelt to match the poor taste of that joke,” she said with a chuckle. “But I know you’d rather have the steaks instead.”
“I would indeed and I won’t forget to tell you just how good they are.”
“Gracious as always, I see,” she said. “How are you feeling?”
“You know how pokegirls tend to reassure themselves about me after I’ve been in danger.” She nodded. “That would mean I haven’t had much sleep since the incident with the Iain Grey. Since I try not to use my magic to sustain me unless I feel it’s necessary, I’m tired but functional.”
“You need to get some rest,” Theodora said as the tray floated into the room and settled down next to his desk. “Why don’t you take a nap after eating?”
“I want to work on some stuff first, but that sounds like a great idea for later.”
“What are you working on, if I may ask?”
“I want to consider this whole thing about the spirit changing the self and what I can do to take control of what’s happening to me.”
“I take it you still don’t want to be a dragon?”
Iain started to say something and stopped. He was quiet for a few minutes before snorting softly. “If I had set out to become a dragon it would be different, but the fact that someone else has done this to me just irritates the snot out of me.” He smiled. “Dragons are cool. When I was a kid I fantasized about being a dragon. I fantasized about becoming a dragon.” His smile vanished. “But I never fantasized that someone else would make me into a dragon because they wanted to and didn’t give a shit about what I might want.”
“Do you think that is the case?”
Iain gave Theodora a brief glare. “I don’t remember signing a permission slip and I certainly don’t remember asking for this to happen. That means this was done without as much as a by-your-leave.”
“Who do you think could have done this to you?”
Iain shrugged. “I don’t want to get into that right now. Like Kerrik didn’t quite come out and say but he did hint broadly, it’s done and I have to live with the fact that it is done. It doesn’t mean I have to accept it gracefully.”
“You are aware that you just said you have to accept it and then said you don’t have to accept it gracefully, right?”
Iain made a face. “Fine, I’m being contradictory.”
“As long as you know you’re being contradictory. Now eat.”
Iain didn’t need to be told twice and tucked in eagerly.
Iain opened his eyes without moving. Four hours of thinking about his spirit and being a dragon hadn’t really done anything except make him sleepier. He tried to avoid napping in the daytime in an attempt to make sure he slept more at night, but right now the thought of a nap was just too appealing to ignore. So he hopped up on his desk, stretched and then curled up before lying down and draping his tail over his nose as his eyes closed.
Seconds later his eyes popped open and his head came up to stare down at the thing lying on the desk in front of him. It was covered with a tight pattern of black scales trimmed with silver and it twitched as he stared.
“Iain?” His head came up to see Theodora standing next to the desk. She was watching him with a worried expression. “Iain?” When he didn’t respond, he felt her touch his mind almost timidly. Iain?
He looked at the thing in front of him again and back up at Theodora. “That’s a tail.”
She sagged in relief. “You still have your mind. That’s good.”
“Why is there a tail on my desk?” Iain cocked his head curiously. “I still have my what? What are you babbling about? Of course I still have my mind. It’s inside my pointy head.”
“Iain,” she said gently, “that’s your tail. You’ve turned into a dragon.” She frowned. “In fact, you’ve become the dragon you saw in Kerrik’s image of your spirit.”
“Hold on.” Iain looked at the tail again and this time followed it around, his head turning as he traced it back to where it connected into a lean quadrupedal body that had powerful looking wings tightly folded against its back. “Wow, my neck is flexible.” He turned back to Theodora. “The dragons I fantasized about being were mighty engines of destruction feared by friend and foe alike. When on the rampage they devastated their surroundings. I, on the other hand, fit on my desk. I easily fit on my desk. I’m what, four feet long?”
Theodora smiled. “You are a hundred and sixteen centimeters long.”
Iain did the math. “That’s three feet and nine inches. So I’m not even four feet long. About the only thing I could devastate would be a ham sandwich.” He tried to frown but his new face wouldn’t contort that way. “Or maybe some ice cream.” His stomach growled. “Ice cream sounds great.”
“Iain, I need you to focus. Should I send for some of your family?”
“Ice cream is definitely worth focusing on,” he said. “So I am focused on ice cream. Can I get some?”
Theodora sighed. “Ice cream is on the way. What flavor do you want?”
Iain nodded decisively. “Vanilla.”
“It’ll be nine minutes,” Theodora said.
Iain sat upright and looked down at himself. He had a deep chest, a flat stomach which ran down his body and ended at a recessed penile sheath but no obvious testicles. On impulse he held out his hands. He still had opposable thumbs, but they were definitely dragon hands with the same scales as the rest of his body and short powerful looking claws. He flexed them into fists, noting how the claws retracted into the fingers as they curled so that they didn’t puncture or at least poke into the scales in his palms. When he relaxed his hands the claws extended again to about a quarter of a centimeter long. “Yes.”
“I want you to summon Dominique and Ninhursag if you can get them here without sending up some kind of alarm with the others.” He looked up at her. “If you can’t then I want you to wait until you can.” He looked at his hands again and winced. “And I should go to medical so you can do a complete new set of testing on me, shouldn’t I?”
“I would appreciate that. Are you all right?”
“I think the answer to that is a definite no. I also suspect my mind is just a teensy bit fogged by shock right now. I should be slightly more excited about becoming a dragon. And on top of that, I have no idea how I did this, so I have no idea how to undo it and return to my human form, which could prove problematic when I have to next fuck one of my ladies.” He steeled himself. “Show me what I look like.”
Suddenly he could see himself in his mind. The first thing he noticed was that his head was broad and powerful with forward looking eyes of a predator and still with nearly full circle peripheral vision. When he opened it he discovered his mouth was full of long teeth when he opened it experimentally. His tongue was long and slender. “How can I talk like this?” His mouth moved, but it didn’t look quite like it matched his words. “I have lips but they’re not really flexible enough for speech and the tongue is all wrong for it.”
“I am not completely sure but I suspect you’re making all of the sounds for speech with your vocal cords alone,” Theodora said.
“Great,” Iain said. “So I can move my mouth however I want and I’ll just look like I’m badly dubbed?”
“Essentially, that would be what it would look like,” Theodora admitted with a smile. “On the other hand it could also mean you could make a much wider range of sounds.”
“That doesn’t make me feel any better.” He sighed. “At least I’m not chained up and stuck in a Goblin run bank.” He rumbled a laugh. “And the Alliance would kick me out of the way in their search for a me they recognize to capture. At least until I savaged someone’s ankle.” He glanced at her. “What’s the status on Ninhursag and or Dominique?”
“They won’t be done with training for an hour. Under your restrictions for summoning them we will have to wait until they are done.”
Iain realized his tail was thumping on the desktop from his annoyance and glared at it until it was still. “Open the tunnel. I might as well head for medical so you can start poking and prodding me with needles.”
The floor started vibrating. “What about your ice cream?”
“You can keep it frozen, right?” She nodded. “Then it’ll be my reward for putting up with what you’re about to do to me.” He made a fist and looked at it before suddenly punching the top of his desk. The surface split in a long crack. “I seem to be stronger than it looks like I should be for my size. Please repair that for me.”
“I will, Iain. According to the information in the Wolf database that is typical of most sentient draconic races. The tunnel is now open.”
“Cool.” Iain hopped off of the desk and loped down the tunnel.
“How are you doing that?”
Iain immediately tripped and slammed into the wall. He flipped upright and glared at Theodora. “How am I doing what?”
“You have no experience running as a quadruped and yet you were moving faster than you can run as a biped.”
“I am deliberately not thinking about it, that’s how. Apparently my body knows how to do certain things automatically as long as I don’t interfere or I’m not distracted.” His head cocked. “I was moving faster than I can run as a biped?”
“That’s interesting. I wasn’t really pushing the pace. I’d have called my speed a brisk walk.”
Theodora chuckled. “I suspect that ‘that’s interesting’ is going be used a lot for a while about you.”
He chuckled. “So nothing changes?”
She laughed. “Yes.”
“Do you have any idea what this is about,” Dominique asked Ninhursag.
“Theodora asked me to come up here to be one of the first to see something new and different in medical,” the Elfqueen said. “She was being very mysterious.”
“She used the same lure on me. Do you think it has something to do with Iain?”
Ninhursag shrugged. “We’re almost there, but not everything has to do with him.”
Dominique smiled. “That was nicely done. You almost sound like you believe that.”
The Elfqueen chuckled. “I do, don’t I? What do you think he’s done this time?”
“Theodora wanted to keep it low key, so it’s probably something that will set the family abuzz,” Dominique noted. “I wonder how badly he hurt himself.”
“Iain is uninjured,” Theodora said from the air in front of them. “There has been a development, however, and we agreed that the two of you needed to find out about it first.”
Dominique frowned. “He’s being reasonable? That does not bode well.”
“Would it reassure you that what looks like reasonableness is more a development that comes from a condition of practicality since he cannot hide his new condition and therefore we decided it was best to break the news immediately? You two were picked because you needed to know and also because you could take him to the person who Iain believes can help him resolve the situation.”
“That’s better but his having a new condition is unsettling,” Ninhursag said.
“The discovery of the new condition will not make it any less so,” Theodora replied. “However, I reassure you that he is uninjured and in full control of his mental faculties.”
“Are you trying to reassure us or frighten us,” Dominique asked curiously.
“I am trying to inform you,” Theodora said. “While studying, Iain turned into a dragon and he wanted you to find out about it first.”
“Why didn’t you tell us about it immediately,” Dominique’s tone was angry. “This is kind of important.”
“If I had told you while you were on Earth there is no way Canaan or Ganieda wouldn’t have found out about it,” Theodora said flatly. “And instead of you two seeing what has happened under controlled conditions, the entire harem would be here demanding access to him. He’s already in a bad mood because of everything that has happened and there is no way to tell how he would have responded to the tumult. I’m sure he would be very apologetic afterwards, but his teeth and claws are very sharp.”
Ninhursag put her hand on Dominique’s arm. “She has a point,” the Elfqueen noted. “And considering what we know about Western dragons he could bite someone in half by accident.”
Theodora smiled slightly. “That might be a little more difficult than you think.” They came around the corner to medical as the door slid open. “But you’ll see what I’m talking about when you get inside.”
There was a rhythmic noise that mystified them until they stepped into the room. One of the healers was open and Iain had hooked the claws of all four feet into the fabric of the padding in the interior and was busy flapping his wings as hard as he could. He looked up and watched them enter the room as he stopped flapping and carefully folded up his wings. “Yes, it’s me Iain and, yes, I’m a bit smaller than anyone expected.” There were loud popping noises as he pulled his claws free.
Dominique giggled and looked shocked at the noise she had just made. “Sorry,” she said. “It’s just, um, not what I was expecting.”
“I know,” Iain said. “This is not I am dragon, fear me.” He snorted softly. “Unless, that is, you happen to be a bunny rabbit or a plate of bacon.”
Ninhursag gave Dominique a hard look and sat down on the padding of the healer near him. She reached out towards him and stopped before her hand touched. “How are you feeling?”
Iain butted his head against her hand and she smiled and stroked his head and neck. “I know physical contact is important when you’re worried, my dear,” he said gently. “I feel like me. The biggest problem I have right now is that I don’t know how to turn back into my human form. I’m hopeful that Kerrik can show me how to do it.”
“So you’re sure you have a human form,” Dominique asked.
“I am. I had some pretty extensive notes on this type of dragon and they’re extremely versatile shape changers. More importantly they have three primary forms, one of which is very human looking. Once I figure out how to change to it, things should head back towards as close to normal as possible.”
Dominique looked at the hologram standing nearby. “What does his DNA look like, Theodora?”
“Understand that I just took the samples and I am only beginning my preliminary analysis. All I can tell you at this point is that he has seventy six chromosomes and possibly more base pairs of DNA than any pokegirl or human, but I won’t know definitively until after my DNA analysis is complete. I can tell you that his DNA is nothing like what it was at the last time he was tested. Also, in the Wolf database are some suggestions that as a magical creature changes its form its DNA will also change as it does. His human form could have a significant portion of its DNA and chromosomes much closer in type and function to what he originally possessed.”
Iain made an amused sound. “Instead of a mighty dragon I’m a lowly lab rat.”
Dominique chuckled. “So what can I do to help him, Theodora?”
“Kerrik has experience with this sort of thing,” Iain said. “He helped Shikarou when he couldn’t change back from one of his forms. Hopefully he can help me do the same.” He gestured at himself. “But I’m going to need an escort so I don’t get killed by someone who doesn’t recognize me.”
“Ok.” Dominique sat down on the other side of the healing machine from Ninhursag. “Are you done taking samples, Theodora?”
The hologram nodded. “I am for now.”
“We should contact Kerrik first,” Ninhursag said. “Please do so, Theodora.”
“I’m on it.”
A moment later Kerrik’s form appeared in front of Theodora. “Good afternoon, Theodora,” he said pleasantly. “What can I do for you?”
She gestured towards Iain. “We’ve had a development.”
Kerrik’s head turned and he blinked before smiling amusedly. “Iain, you’ve changed.”
Iain shrugged, the motion making his wings rustle. “Change is a constant, Kerrik. None of us are who we were a few minutes ago. However I’d like your help in learning how to return to my human form.”
“I’m glad to hear your mind is still working well,” Kerrik said with a nod. “As long as everyone understands that I’m not familiar with the breed of dragon you’ve become, come to my place in an hour and we’ll see what we can do.” He smiled again. “Otherwise things could get awkward for you tonight around bedtime.”
“Yeah,” Iain said. “We’ll be there in an hour.” Kerrik vanished and he turned to Ninhursag. “Can I skip the obligatory bodyguard for this trip?”
“No you cannot.” Ninhursag scooped Iain up in her arms and stood. “Fortunately for you Dominique and I are both in the guard rotation, so we don’t have to get anyone else involved right now.” She looked down at him. “But we are going to have to tell everyone else about this and you’re going to have to demonstrate your new abilities.”
“I know.” He curled up to try and keep his claws away from Ninhursag. “It’ll be fun,” he muttered. “I’m sure we’ll find out I have no idea what I can do either, so learning what my new abilities are is going to be another one of those voyages of discovery.”
“Did you get a sperm sample from him,” Dominique asked suddenly.
“I did,” Theodora answered.
“Good.” She looked at Ninhursag. “Let’s get him to Kerrik’s. We can wait the hour out nearby and it’s likely to be safer than staying here unless Theodora is willing to seal medical.”
“Take him to his quarters,” Theodora suggested. “That’s easy enough to seal. If I locked down medical and someone came to visit there would be questions that might be difficult to answer.”
“That works,” Iain said.
“Shall I send your ice cream there,” Theodora asked.
Iain shook his head. “I’d really like to have it and I find those kinds of sudden urges suspect. But please have some cheese delivered there. If I need the calcium I can get it that way while avoiding all of the sugar. And if I need protein there’s jerky in my quarters.” He turned his head to look at Ninhursag. “Would you put me down so I can walk?”
Her arms tightened around him and her eyes were serious as she looked into his. “I’d rather not. What’s happened to you is pretty scary and right now holding you is very reassuring to me.”
“So hugging Iain works as well as being hugged by him,” Dominique asked.
“Right now it seems to. Can I keep you in my arms, Iain?”
He nodded, keeping the sigh from escaping. He did not want to be carried around like a toy. “Of course, if it helps you.”
Kerrik looked at Iain where he sat on the table and shook his head. “Although you may not think so, I’d be willing to bet some serious money that you were in control during your transformation.”
Iain cocked his head curiously. “How so?”
“You became this size of dragon because you were probably in a space too small to accommodate your full sized dragon form. Subconsciously you knew this and so controlled how your initial transformation took place.”
“So can my subconscious control my returning to my normal form and if so, how do I make it do it?”
Kerrik’s ears flicked and he shook his head. “That may not be possible, at least not in that fashion. When you became a dragon, the form of a dragon became your normal form. Now you have to learn to turn into your alternate form, which was originally your normal form.”
“I think lots of profanity is acceptable in this situation,” Iain said, “and I am beginning to seriously consider indulging myself. Can you help me to learn to do this?”
“I think he’s cute,” Misery said. “We should keep him as a pet.”
Iain sat back on his haunches and regarded her evenly. “I don’t think I’d make a very tractable slave.”
“I said pet, not slave.”
“If I am sentient and not free because I am under your control, is there a difference?”
Misery grinned at him. “But I just want to scratch your belly and see if you’ll thump your leg.”
“Misery, if you touch me I may keep whatever hand you touch me with.”
The Snugglebunny grinned at Iain. “I don’t think you can.”
“Misery,” she glanced at Kerrik as he spoke. “This may not be a good idea. I would advise against it.”
“You don’t think I can do it? He’s never been that fast. He’s just a human.”
Kerrik’s ears flicked. “No, he’s not. He’s a small dragon right now and I think that this is a really bad idea. We have no idea of what his capabilities are. I do know that kilo for kilo dragons are very strong and they’re often very quick. How about we find out what he can do before you try anything stupid.”
“Don’t do it,” Raven said suddenly. “In fact, I order you not to.”
Misery gave her a quick glare. “Why should I?”
“He wants you to try. In fact, he’s baiting you into it.”
Misery blinked and looked back at Iain. “What makes you think that?”
“Look at his body language. He’s as open as he can be without rolling over onto his back, but his attention is completely focused on you. He’s inviting you to try for him. He wants you to try and he wants to seriously hurt you when you do so much that he doesn’t really care if you hurt him while he’s hurting you. In that kind of a situation it often no longer matters if you’re faster than he is since he has to move a much smaller distance than you do, he can get you when you’re pulling your hand back and if he hooks those claws in your arm it is very likely that you are going to have to beat him loose.”
Misery cocked her head. “Is she right, Iain?”
Iain’s voice was conversational. “If I can make an example of you, Misery, then nobody else here will dare to try and fuck with me, will they? Between me and my ladies I’ll heal anything short of death and since you can’t kill me, what do I have to lose?”
Misery’s ears flicked. “I want to see how sharp your claws are. Give me your hand.”
Iain’s head shifted slightly and his hands twitched anticipatorily. “Misery Wolf, this is not a training session and I am not part of your harem and therefore not subject to your authority. If you don’t use the word please to turn your demands into requests, then wait for me to agree or disagree to that request and you reach for any part of me you will find out just how sharp my claws are when I bury them in your flesh.”
Misery had been extending her hand and hastily pulled it back as she looked at Kerrik. “I’d like a ruling on that threat.”
Kerrik shrugged. “He did make a threat but it was a threat to defend himself from you. He didn’t ever say he would attack you.” He looked at Iain. “Having said that, don’t you think you’re going a little overboard on this?”
“I am not going to be manhandled by anyone,” Iain said firmly. “The fact that I’m only a hundred and sixteen centimeters long does not make me a plaything. I am still Iain Grey and I wouldn’t let Misery play with my body before I turned into a dragon. I see no reason for that to change.”
“I agree,” Ninhursag said. “And I certainly don’t want Misery’s hands anywhere near my male’s cock. If she wants to leave Kerrik and petition to join us she can do it the regular way.”
Misery looked from Ninhursag to Iain and back to the Elfqueen as her ears drooped. “I hadn’t thought about it that way and I apologize,” she said quietly. Her gaze shifted back to Iain. “The apology is for you and it’s for me being an idiot and a bitch.”
“Thank you,” Iain said. “I accept your apology.” He held out his hand, palm up. “You may examine my claws.”
Misery carefully cradled his hand in both of hers and tapped on a claw tip with her thumb. “The point is sharp but they’re not very long.”
“Move your thumb,” Iain said. She did and jumped when his claws extended another two centimeters. “Better?”
Misery tapped a claw with her thumb again and lifted it to watch a bead of blood well up. “Those fuckers are sharp.”
Theodora appeared. “The inside edge of his claws are serrated and have folds to strengthen them like the teeth of many theropod dinosaurs and imaging shows they have multiple layers like a cat’s claws. The structure of his teeth is very similar to his claws as well, making for a very destructive bite.”
“That’s all well and good,” Iain said, “but unless I can bite my way back to my human form, it’s not important right now.” He tugged his hand free from Misery’s grip. “Can you help me, Kerrik?”
“He cannot.” At the new voice, everyone turned to look. It was a tall, slender woman with long black hair swept back in a ponytail. She was wearing a loose fitting tunic and leggings and a bronze sword hung from a belt around her waist. “Iain, come with me.”
Kerrik stepped forward and bowed. “Lady Nightraven, you grace us with your presence.”
“Kerrik.” She looked around the group before returning her attention to him. “You cannot help Iain. His condition is one that you have no experience with. I am familiar with it and I can help him if he comes with me.”
“Why can’t you help him here,” Dominique demanded.
The woman’s bright green eyes shifted to the Archmage. “I will not help him here, Dominique Grey. Either Iain comes with me or he will remain as he is, for it is vanishingly unlikely that he will teach himself how to change back to a form that can accommodate your sexual needs.” She looked past Dominique at Iain. “I will return you to this place and time when your lessons are complete.”
Iain dropped down to all fours. “Dominique.” She looked back at him. “I’ll go with her. Ninhursag, just like before I shouldn’t be gone for long.”
The Elfqueen scowled. “We both know you were gone for ten years last time.”
Iain shrugged and jumped off of the table. “And in this form I am useless as a male for any of you. I don’t really have a choice and neither do you. I’ve already informed April, Lucifer and Allison that I have to leave. If I’m not back in time you’ll have to explain what is happening and why I had to go.”
Ninhursag nodded. “If you’re not back in a few seconds I’ll explain to the others.” Iain could feel her unhappiness and knew just how much she was fighting to present the calm exterior everyone else could see.
He stopped when he was standing in front of Nightraven. “I’m ready.” Multicolored energy swirled around him and Nightraven both and then they were gone.
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
Allison – Umbrea (Outer Harem Alpha)
Daphne - Whorizard
Lynn - Growlie
Chuck – Doggirl
Ryan – Unicorn
Winifred - Rack (German)
Rosemary - Mistoffeles (Uruguayan)
Silver - Pegaslut
Joyce – Milktit
Melanie – Iron Chef
Siobhan – Nurse Joy (Glasgow)
Queendom / Outer Harem
Dionne - Elfqueen
Adrianna - Elfqueen
Heltu - Wet Queen
6 Wet Elves
Eirian - Silver Dragoness
Aurum - Gold Dragoness
Skye - Blue Dragoness
Emerald - Green Dragoness
Beryl - Red Dragoness
Julia - human
Ling - Cheetit
Matilda - White Tigress
Liadan - Twau
Sorrel - Armsmistress
Natalie - Blazicunt
Maria - Slutton
Rhea Silvia - Chimera
Geradine - Human
Mother s & Children