Chapter 4: Stornoway
                “So explain to me why you want to move at least three kilometers before setting up camp for the night,” Branwyn asked.
                “Two reasons. First of all, camping near dead bodies is usually unhealthy. Even if you burn or bury the bodies there is still all the blood that was spilled. It tends to draw predators.” He shuddered. “And the spirits.”
                “Secondly, when my pokedex sent a message about the Sanctuary Goth, it uplinked to an old military satellite that sent on the message and slugged a location stamp on it. That would suggest someone may be coming to visit the battleground and I’d prefer to be somewhere else should that happen.”
                Branwyn looked skeptical. “That satellite has to be ancient and its maps probably predate all of the changes that the Legendaries made to the environment, so how accurate could it be?”
                You might let her know that while the satellite was launched during the Bee Gees era, the British Isles haven’t changed that much since then.
                Shikarou nodded. “Great Britain wasn’t that affected by the Legendaries. It was the plagues that caused most of the problems here. The maps are still fairly accurate, with the exception of the landbridge across to what used to be France.”
                Branwyn pulled to a halt. “We’ve gone nearly five kilometers,” she announced over her shoulder.
                Shikarou pulled out his wand and summoned the tent and campfire before sliding off Branwyn’s back and reaching for his pokeballs. “I think I’ll make dinner tonight. We all need a break after today. You ladies can decide what we have.”
                A little while later everyone was sitting around the table, which Shikarou had moved outside.
                His pokegirls had been feeling experimental so the table fairly groaned with magically created food, and each of them had insisted that he try whatever she had decided she wanted. Shikarou’s choice, a very spicy curry, had been sampled politely and then ignored by everyone except him, which suited him just fine.
                There was a second flurry of activity when Shikarou had offered to create desserts and the table was quickly cleared, with the leftovers going into the kitchen. Then he pulled out his wand and announced that he was once again taking requests. Soon the table again looked close to the point of collapse. Shikarou’s choice this time, a chocolate truffle ice cream, was so popular he had to make another carton before he could get some.
                Shikarou was teaching Misaki how to eat from the whipped cream canister when the voice came from the darkness. “Heeeellllloooooo?”
                Shikarou came to his feet and glanced around. “I’d like to tell you to spread out, but we’re probably under observation already. Yushiko, Niamh, be ready to go airborne in an instant.” He faced where the voice had come from and listened briefly. “About ten meters out. They’re downwind, so I have no scent.” He released a detection spell silently into the night.
                Kiyoko moved to stand next to him. “I’m your partner tonight,” she whispered.
                He nodded and raised his voice. “Come and join us.”
                Two figures slowly moved in from the edge of the firelight. One was Lorelei and the other was a Catgirl clad in a white cotton shift and wearing a bunch of gold jewelry.
                Lorelei smiled. “Sorry, it took us a while to find you since you moved.” She sniffed the air. “What is that?”
                Branwyn chuckled. “Mainly sugar, we were finishing up dessert.” She glanced at Shikarou, who nodded minutely. “Would the two of you care to join us?”
                The Catgirl smiled. “Thank you. I am Bastit.” She stuck out her hand at Shikarou as Branwyn smothered a gasp.
                Shikarou eyed it briefly before taking it. “My name is Shikarou. It is a pleasure to meet you. So, are you going to invite your other friend to join us?”
                Bastit cocked her head. “There was nothing for you to hear, how did you know about her?”
                He smiled. “With all due respect, that is my business. Would she also like some dessert? We have a popular flavor of ice cream tonight.”
                Bastit’s eyebrows rose. “Did you say ice cream?”
                “Chocolate truffle. It’s quite popular.” He smiled easily. “If you don’t care for that flavor I’m sure I can come up with one you will like.”
                “How can you be so sure?”
                “I’m a mage. I can make any flavor you might like presuming, of course, that there is a flavor of ice cream that you do like.” He frowned slightly and gave his head a small shake as Kiyoko moved to join the other pokegirls, who’d started to gather around the table again.
                “What is it?”
                “Are you trying to get me to ignore the presence of the pokegirl who’s still out there somewhere?” His frown deepened and he murmured a quick spell. The result was obvious, suddenly he sneezed violently. “Pheromones, huh? It would have been easier just to say she wasn’t going to be joining us.”
                Bastit’s eyes narrowed. “How did you throw off the effect?”
                “My magic treats them like any other poison and makes me immune for the next twenty four hours.” He sighed. “Look, we’re all tired and unless you offer us violence, we aren’t going to be violent at you. Why don’t you stop the tricks and just have some dessert with us. If not, just go away.”
                The activity in the camp ground to a halt as everyone turned to stare at him. Shikarou glanced around and his ears began to fold back as he turned to Bastit once again. “If you persist in trying to control my harem, I am going to have to decide that you are offering us violence.” His words were calm, but a growl rumbled in his voice. “You are starting to abuse my hospitality and I won’t stand for that.”
                She watched him clinically for a moment and then nodded. “Very well.” His nose informed him that the air was starting to clear. “I do not know if Sexmet will join us, but I will go ask her. I should be back in just a minute.” She vanished.
                Branwyn touched his shoulder. “What was that about?”
                “She was giving off some kind of control pheromone.” Shikarou was still watching the night around them. “I didn’t notice it, but my twee was unaffected and alerted me to the unusual changes in my judgment.” He took her hand. “You are probably still under it’s affects, but I’m not going to remove them until I know if premature removal will hurt you.” He smiled. “It gave me a splitting headache and I don’t get those very often.”
                “Oh, ok.” Branwyn went back to join the others. Shikarou marveled. Even after being told, she didn’t care. Those pheromones were obviously very potent indeed and he should be very careful around Bastit.
                A short time later two figures walked out of the darkness. Bastit nodded to Shikarou. “This is Shikarou, he’s their Tamer.”
                The second figure was another Catgirl. This one was taller than the first and was wearing leather scale armor and an armored skirt with greaves and sandals. A swordbelt graced her hips and the Persian sword known as a shamshir dangled from it. She looked Shikarou up and down. “I am Sexmet.”
                “I am pleased to meet you.” Shikarou bowed slightly. “Would you like some dessert? Or coffee, perhaps?”
                A slight smile appeared. “I can’t stand Western coffee.”
                “Neither can I. Would you like some with foam or without?”
                Her smile widened and became genuine. “With. Heavy sugar and cream.”
                “I’m going to pull out my wand,” Shikarou warned as he reached for his armpit. He slowly removed the wand and conjured a tray with three already filled cups, a steaming pot, and a small covered dish on the ground between them. He gestured carefully after holstering his wand. “Please, sit.”
                Bastit looked from Shikarou to Sexmet and back. “You don’t like me, but you are getting along with her? I don’t believe this!” She stomped past him to join his pokegirls.
                Shikarou settled down crosslegged and picked up a cup to offer to Sexmet. “I hope you don’t mind the mugs. I like a bigger cup than is traditional.”
                Sexmet smiled. “This will do nicely.” She sipped at her drink and her eyes widened. “This is outstanding.”
                “Thank you.” They drank their coffee in silence and Shikarou refilled Sexmet’s cup before his own when it was empty. He smiled. “Now that the first cup is done we can talk business. Why are you here?” He uncovered the dish. “Baklava?”
                “Thank you.” Sexmet helped herself. “I need to know what happened. Lorelei isn’t the same as she was before she left this morning.”
                “The succinct version is that we came across a battlefield upon which we found the remains of five Dameosaurs and one Sphinx. Yushiko, my Armsmistress, insisted that the Sphinx was still alive and urged me to save her life, which I did using a specialized form of magic. I asked the Sphinx to let me put her into a pokeball for further healing and she agreed.”
                “While she was undergoing the healing cycle, we were attacked by five more Dameosaurs and one Sanctuary Goth. All of them were killed in the process of defending ourselves and afterwards Lorelei teleported away, presumably to her home. We moved far enough that we wouldn’t be disturbed by any predators which might be summoned to the battlefield and made camp. Then you showed up and Bastit used her pheromones on my pokegirls and me.”
                Sexmet watched him over her cup. “Short and precise. You’ve had military training.” It wasn’t a question. “Where?”
                “The name wouldn’t mean anything to you. I’m from offworld.”
                Sexmet blinked. “That is an unusual thing to reveal freely.”
                Shikarou shrugged. “You are reputed to have a temper. If you are here to try to kill me then revealing my origins is unlikely to sway you either way.” He smiled slightly. “So far you have been more civil than Bastit.”
                Her ears flicked. “You said ‘try to kill you’. You don’t think I could succeed?”
                Shikarou watched her carefully before he spoke. “If you are here to kill me, then we are about to find out. If you aren’t, it’s a moot point. My statement was in no way a challenge.”
                “You aren’t afraid of me?” Her voice had a slight lilt.
                “You haven’t given me a reason to be.” He sighed. “I don’t suppose we could dispense with the verbal sparring?” He put down the cup. “Are you here because you feel you have a wrong that needs redressed?”
                “You are blunt and yet still polite.” Sexmet smiled. “No, I don’t. I’m here because I don’t understand what happened to Lorelei and she is one of my foster children.”
                “I don’t have any answers for you.” Shikarou placed his hands on his thighs. “I’ve never used that spell on a human before and I’m unsure of what the long term consequences will be.”
                “What is the best case scenario?”
                “Nothing unusual happens to her.”
                Sexmet put down her cup and picked up his to offer it to him. Shikarou accepted it. “And the worst case,” she asked as she refilled hers and took a long drink.
                “My life energy was poured into her to bring her back from the brink of death. The only thing alive was her brain, and it was dying. She could take the life energy I gave her as her own and become somewhat like me.” He shrugged. “My father’s people have the ability to turn others into their own kind, although I don’t know the process.”
                “What are you?”
                “Hard to kill and effectively immortal. The humans where I come from call us kami or forest spirits, if we are benevolent. If we aren’t, they call us oni or demons, but they use both kami and oni for many things that they don’t understand. Here in the Blue Continent we would be called Sidhe or Fey.”
                “What will her children be like?”
                “If she’s unchanged, then they will be normal. If she’s become like me, then they will be like nothing seen upon this world before.” He smiled as she blinked in shock. “I mean they will be like her no matter what. If she becomes kami to any extent her children may be unusually colored or unusually powerful. They won’t have extra heads or anything like that. My genetic line is very stable and such things seldom happen. They will, however, be hard to kill and long lived.”
                “How hard to kill?”
                “I’m not going to reveal family secrets to someone I’ve just met.” Shikarou met her gaze squarely. “While I don’t fear you, I do respect your reputation, and you are still a possible foe.”
                “Can you breed with pokegirls?”
                “I can breed with humans, yes.” He smiled slightly. “To my people, you are still completely human. However, I have made myself sterile for the time being, to avoid accidents. By the bye, I cannot lie, so what I have told you is the truth, no matter whether you believe me or not.” Shikarou leaned back slightly. “So, what do you want?”
                “You just told me that Lorelei may become like you. I don’t understand what that means, so I want you to take her into your harem.” Sexmet smiled. “Any Tamer would kill to have a Sphinx in his harem.”
                “I’m going to have to decline that honor.” Shikarou nodded. “I don’t think that would be a wise option at this particular time.”
                “I don’t think you understand. I said I want you to take her into your harem.”
                Shikarou’s ears flicked. “And I want an orbital complex with pinpoint bombardment capability. Sadly, I suspect that we are both doomed to disappointment.”
                Sexmet glared. “What is going on, have Sphinxes suddenly become unfashionable? First Devon sent Jennifer away without an argument and now you are telling me you don’t want Lorelei.”
                Shikarou frowned. “Devon. Devon Harris?”
                “You know him?”
                “No, I know of him. According to Poppet, he’s just about given her a bleeding ulcer.”
                Sexmet gave an amused smile. “That’s Devon.” The smile faded. “What is your excuse for not wanting Lorelei?”
                “Two things. I get the impression she’s very young and I have a Unicorn in my harem.”
                “I still don’t understand, Shikarou.”
                “Unicorns are rare enough. If I show up with a Sphinx as well, I’ll be battling pokegirl thieves and Tamers wanting a salvage fight every time I take a breath.”
                Sexmet gave him a thoughtful look. “Wisdom? I don’t expect that in a Tamer these days.”
                Shikarou shook his head. “This isn’t my first career. Look, under other circumstances I would cheerfully let Lorelei join my harem, but only if she wanted to, not because you ordered it. However, I’m trying to keep a low profile and Branwyn and Lorelei together would make that almost impossible. Besides, I have enough kids in my harem.”
                “So you are looking for maturity? That’s going to be rather hard to find in a pokegirl.”
                He snorted. “I’m starting to realize just how accurate that statement is. I may have to try and find a good pokewoman instead of a pokegirl for the next addition to my harem, and most of them are too smart to want to go adventuring.” He smiled briefly. “And I’m fairly sure I won’t be all that interested in the stupid ones. So I really need to find a pokewoman who’s having a sudden short term lapse in judgment.”
                Sexmet put her cup down. “Very well. May I keep in contact with you, in case something does happen to Lorelei?”
                “I think that would be a good idea. I will try to help if I can, if only for Lorelei’s sake.” Shikarou rose and offered her his hand. She smiled and let him help her to her feet.
                Branwyn looked up as they approached. “So, what is going on?”
                “Sexmet wanted Lorelei to join the harem, but it didn’t work out.”
                She frowned. “Why not? I’m sure that she’d be a useful member of the harem. And we’re already getting along.”
                Shikarou looked over at Bastit. “When will this wear off?”
                The Legendary shrugged. “In a couple of hours. Why aren’t you going to take her?”
                Shikarou pulled out his wand and summoned his backpack. “Ask Sexmet.” He rummaged through his pack and pulled out a small golden chest which opened at the touch of his wand. He closed it quickly as Bastit leaned forward curiously. “If you don’t mind?”
                She gave him an annoyed look but moved away. Shikarou opened it back up and pulled out a golden ring. “Branwyn.”
                She came over, smiling. “Yes, Shikarou?”
                “This is a loan. Understand. A loan. Now, give me your hand.” He slipped the ring onto her ring finger.
                Branwyn shivered and put a hand to her forehead. “Gods but that hurts.” She gave him an annoyed look. “What did I do to you?”
                “Tell me your opinion of Lorelei joining the harem.”
                “That’s an insane idea. You’d have people sneaking into your room at night to either try to steal the two of us or challenge you to a pokegirl battle.” She gave him an exasperated look. “I’d expect something smarter than that from you.”
                Sexmet grabbed Branwyn’s hand and peered closely at the ring. “What is this?” She looked up at Shikarou.
                “Mine. Now let her go and please leave.” He dug around and came up with a slip of paper and a pen. He scribbled his com code on it and handed it to Sexmet. “There.”
                Sexmet nodded. “Lorelei, it’s time to go.”
                The Sphinx looked up from her cake. “Bye. I’ll see you later, mother.”
                Sexmet gave Shikarou a glance. “You are going with us, child.”
                Lorelei frowned. “I want to stay here. If you drag me away, I’ll just come back.” She looked at Shikarou. “Don’t you want me to stay,” she asked in a hurt tone.
                Shikarou put up his hand as Sexmet started to speak. She gave him an unhappy look. “I am not used to being interrupted, Shikarou.”
                “Tough. Lorelei, why do you want to stay? You don’t owe me anything, since you didn’t ask me to save your life.”
                “Actually, I do. You did save my life and I owe you a lot for that, but I could give you something from mother’s treasure horde for that. I want to stay because I’m tired of the Dark Continent and mother keeping me from having any fun.” She smiled. “It doesn’t hurt that you are cute and Yushiko says you are a good lover.” Her smile broadened. “But I really want to travel and battle and have real harem sisters, like I’m supposed to. Mother keeps saying that she’s going to find me a good Tamer, but none of them are ever good enough, so I chose you.” She grinned and pointed with a lazy finger. “Shikarou, I chose you.” She giggled suddenly.
                Shikarou looked at her intently for a moment and then looked at Branwyn. She shrugged. “Lorelei, welcome to the harem,” he announced. “Branwyn is my alpha and if you give her any shit you will answer to both of us. Is that clear?”
                Lorelei jumped to her feet and swept the two of them into a huge hug. “Of course, master!”
                Sexmet gave a good impression of a rumpled cat. “What just happened?”
                Shikarou peeled out of Lorelei’s grasp. “She gave me a good reason to join my harem. All you were telling me was how it would benefit you or me.”
                Yushiko circled ten meters up and released Shikarou. He landed easily and looked around. They’d deliberately landed on Lewis Island about ten kilometers north of Stornoway to avoid unwanted attention. Yushiko feathered in to a landing next to him. He smiled. “Do you remember when you used to cover me with debris when you did that?”
                She chuckled. “I guess those afternoons of touch and go landings helped after all, no matter how much I hated them at the time. Is Niamh all right?”
                Shikarou nodded. “She’s fine, she just got tired out over the ocean, so I put her up when she started to head for the surface of the water. She insisted on trying but she’s not really designed for long distance flight. I admire her spirit, though.” He pulled out Branwyn’s pokeball and released her. “Yushiko, do you want a rest?”
                “No, Honored Lord, I am well. I’ll take overwatch unless you would prefer Lorelei to do it.”
                He smiled. “Get up there.” The Armsmistress took off and started a racetrack pattern overhead.
                Branwyn looked around. “Lewis Island, I presume.” She shifted to her quad form. “Do you want to make it to town today or stop somewhere for the night?”
                Shikarou slid onto her back. “Let’s find someplace nice to camp. I want everyone rested for tomorrow. Hopefully, we can go straight to the gym, but as you well know, I’ve got some pokegirls that they are going to be lining up to try to take, no matter how strenuously I say no.”
                Branwyn laughed as she shifted into a smooth trot. “I can see it now: ‘You looked in my direction, I challenge you’ or ‘I don’t know your name, but we have unfinished business, you and I’.”
                He sighed. “Laugh it up, mare.”
                She bucked, flipping Shikarou off. He landed on his hands and shoved off to land heavily on her back, causing her to whuff from the impact. She gave him a mock glare over her shoulder.
                Shikarou chuckled and grabbed her around her upper torso. “Tree.” Branwyn skidded to a halt just before impact.
                “You bastard,” she said without venom.
                “I didn’t let you hit it, now did I?” She snorted and fell back into a trot.
                Kiyoko looked around. “I expected more than this.” Stornoway wasn’t even a village. The only industry appeared to be the gym. It was huge, covering more than five acres, and completely dwarfed the three nearby houses.
                Shikarou frowned. “So did I. I knew it is at a remote location and the records indicate that this gym gets the least number of visitors of any on the Blue Continent. I guess I didn’t really think about what that might have meant.”
                A blue mouse type with a ball on her tail was sweeping off the porch of the gym when they approached. She looked up and smiled sweetly. “Let me guess. You got washed up on the beach and have no idea where you are. Did I guess it?”
                Shikarou frowned. “No, this is the Stornoway gym, right? I’m here to challenge for a badge.”
                The Pool Mouse gave them a startled look and then beamed. “James will be so happy you are here. We haven’t had a challenger for three months, and with winter coming, we didn’t expect any until spring. Please, come inside. Would you like some tea or coffee?”
                Kiyoko gave Shikarou a look as the Pool Mouse ushered them inside. “James?”
                “The gym leader is James Irizarry. He placed three times for Scotland before retiring from active competition and taking this gym. He loves Ice and Water pokegirls, so this was a good place for him.”
                “How do you know all that?” She sounded amazed.
                “Faelan sent me the Who’s Who in the Blue League.” He chuckled. “Then Poppet gave me a second copy.”
                The Pool Mouse led them inside the gym and past the empty desk. “That’s my normal post, but usually I just read or play games.”
                “May I inquire as to your name?” Shikarou bowed. “I am Shikarou.”
                “Oh, where are my manners?” The Pool Mouse grinned. “I’m Cathleen.” She had one of those personalities that practically bubbled. “James will be so excited when he gets back. He’s off fishing and won’t be back until tomorrow afternoon, but I’ll com him immediately so he’ll know that you are here.”
                Shikarou smiled. “So, I don’t suppose that there is a hotel or something where we could stay?”
                “Why, you’ll stay here, of course. I won’t allow you to go away.” She smiled prettily. “James would be very upset if I let you get away, but more importantly, I’m lonely. You wouldn’t want to let me stay lonely, would you?”
                “Well, no, but I’m mildly concerned that you will report to James about my harem, and that wouldn’t be exactly fair since I won’t know about his pokegirls, with the obvious exception of you, until we battle.” Shikarou smiled. “So we’ll just spend the night outside in our tent.”
                Cathleen grinned. “You’re a smart one. You’d be surprised how many Tamers fall for the old ‘silly me’ routine.”
                “You’re very good at it.” Kiyoko chuckled. “I was taken in. So James will be back tomorrow afternoon, you said? When will he be ready to meet Shikarou in battle?”
                Cathleen shrugged. “I’ll ask him when I call. He is going to be very happy, we don’t get many visitors and most of them are lost.”
                Shikarou pulled out a piece of paper and wrote down his com code. “Call me when you know. We’ll have a party after the gym battle, regardless of the result. I’ll provide the food.”
                Kiyoko looked at him curiously and then grinned when he nodded. “You are going to love this,” she warned.
                “Really? A party? I can’t wait!” Cathleen spun in a circle. “I’ll call him right now!” She bounced out of the room and disappeared.
                “I think we’ll let ourselves out, Kiyoko.”
                “Ok. I saw a nice clearing about a half a klick from here that will make a good campsite.” She took his arm and led him off.
                James was waiting for them outside the gym. He smiled as Shikarou came up. “Can I presume that you are my challenger, Shikarou Urufu?”
                Shikarou chuckled. “I’m impressed that you picked me out of the throng pressing at your gates.”
                James laughed. “I got a very precise description from Cathleen. She almost had an aneurism when she discovered you’d left while she was calling me.” He gave Shikarou a mock glare. “You frightened my Pool Mouse out of a year’s growth.”
                Shikarou smiled. “You’ve got a very canny little spy there. I’m sure she followed us to make sure we actually made camp.” He’d smelled Cathleen’s scent around his camp when he’d left the tent this morning.
                James gave him an inquiring look. “You already know the answer to that. Your Dark Kitsune would have smelled her.” He waved Shikarou inside.
                “Why yes, she would have and she would have reported to me if she had.” They moved to the desk, where Cathleen waited attentively. The check-in went smoothly while James stood by and watched his Pool Mouse with approval.
                “What I’d like to do is a have a one on one style of battling, allowing you to substitute from amongst all six of your pokegirls while I use four of mine. I think that would be a sufficient handicap to give you a chance to win a badge from me.” James smiled. “Hopefully it will also drag out the battle for a while. I get so few of them this time of year.” He shrugged gracefully. “However, someone has to be the most remote gym, and most of the time I’m quite happy to be its leader.” He frowned at a sudden thought. “I’m sorry, I forgot to ask, you didn’t intend to challenge for a sex badge did you?”
                “Not at this time. My pokegirls and I are still getting acquainted and I have been focusing more on straight battling. Once I learn more about their strengths and weaknesses then I can decide who is the best suited for sex battles.”
                “Sounds like you are trying to be reasonable. I’m glad to see that.” James led Shikarou down a long corridor and into an arena. It was composed of grass dotted with pools of water.
                Cathleen trotted into the room and grabbed the flags before moving to the referee’s area. “I hope you won’t have a problem with Cathleen officiating. I don’t have any students right now so she has to wear many hats here.” He laughed. “Right now. I don’t have any students period. My last one headed for the Crimson League, where she intends to try her hand at Widow fighting.”
                “I’ve heard that’s a pretty hazardous occupation.”
                “You’d better believe it. However she’ll get the opportunity to train against some powerful Tamers and has grandiose dreams of getting rich.” He grinned. “So what are your dreams?”
                “Right now, my dreams include getting my first badge in the Blue League from here.”
                James nodded. “Then we’d better get started, especially since Cathleen is curious about this celebration that you promised.” He nodded towards his Pool Mouse. “Begin.”
                Cathleen drew herself up proudly. “This battle is for the Stornoway Gym Iceberg Badge. The battle will be between Shikarou Urufu, the challenger and James Irizarry, the Stornoway Gym leader. This battle will be a four on six single-combat battle with no time limit and will continue until one side is unable to continue.” She raised her green flag and looked at Shikarou. “Does the challenger have any questions?” When he shook his head she dropped the flag. “Begin. Oohh this is going to be so much fun!”
                James pulled out a pokeball. “Rin, lets get this started.” He released a Corala, who promptly dived into the nearest pool of water.
                Shikarou released Niamh. She grinned as he gave her a smile. “You’re up. Get up near the ceiling and get over that pool of water. Tell me what you see when you get there. There’s a pokegirl in there, so watch out.”
                She nodded and took off, cruising just under the ceiling as she flew.
                James smiled. “A Ladyba should prove to be an interesting choice. We’ll have to see how she does.”
                Niamh circled over the pool, avoiding crossing directly over it. “The water’s all muddy and I can’t see anything,” she reported over the communication spell. “What do you want me to do?”
                “Let’s see how much water is in that pool. Hit the pool with your bloom attack and keep it going until I say otherwise or she attacks.” Niamh went into a dipping hover and used her wings to blow the dust into the pool at an angle.
                James looked puzzled. “What are you trying to do?”
                “Now, now.” Shikarou waved a finger at him. “I’ll be glad to discuss my tactics after the battle.”
                James smiled. “Very well. Rin, spike cannon.”
                Shikarou muttered. “Niamh, switch to lust dust. You are going to get hit, but you can take it.”
                The Corala exploded out of the water and oriented before firing her spike cannon at Niamh. Dust settled across her body as she plunged back into the pool. Niamh managed to dodge most of the attack, but was still spun in midair. She recovered and went back to blowing bloom into the water.
                Suddenly Rin bailed out of the pool. Her breasts had swollen to the size of wreckballs from the bloom powder that had settled into the water and the Corala looked to be in some distress. “Niamh, takedown.”
                James was startled but recovered almost instantly. “Rin, spike cannon.”
                Niamh flew into the teeth of the spike cannon attack and right before she hit Rin, she pulled handfuls of lust dust from her pouches and threw them at Rin. The hit sent both pokegirls tumbling. Rin slowly stirred while Niamh lay like a broken doll.
                Shikarou put Niamh into her pokeball as Cathleen announced “Niamh is unable to battle.”
                Rin moaned loudly and began to tremble as the lust dust settled into her system. James put her away. He clapped loudly. “Good show. Except for that takedown, there’s nothing she can use her recover ability on. I’d call that round a draw.” He pulled out another pokeball. “Carmen. Let’s see how you do.” A Kool Kat materialized and grinned. “I’ll win this for you,” she announced as she loped forward.
                “Kiyoko.” The Dark Kitsune appeared and Carmen suddenly slowed, wary. “Flamethrower.”
                “Snow Storm.” The fury of a blizzard filled the entire arena but before the scene was blotted out, Shikarou was fairly sure the flamethrower had gotten a piece of Carmen.
                He was confident that James would have difficulty communicating with his pokegirl while the storm raged, but Shikarou knew they would have set up contingency plans. Fortunately his spell wasn’t hampered. “Kiyoko, pull back to the wall. Watch your back.”
                “Aye.” There was a moment of silence. “Good call, the pussy tried an ice punch on me but I’d moved.” Light flared in the storm from Kiyoko’s response. “Missed, dammit,” she grumbled. “Do you have any suggestions, lover?”
                “If you remember what the place looks like, teleport two meters to one side and get ready to use psychic.”
                “Not bad. I’ll try a variant. It looks like the storm is settling down now.”
                “Be careful, if there’s a lot of snow she’ll be hard to find.”
                “I’ve got an idea. One from you actually.” The storm was definitely abating, the snowflakes settling down. Soon Shikarou could make out Cathleen as she huddled against the wall. He gave her a wave and she waved back.
                Just as he’d thought, the arena was covered with snow and Carmen was nowhere to be seen. Kiyoko stood near the wall, looking around uncertainly. “Kiyoko, get moving,” Shikarou ordered. She ignored him.
                Suddenly Carmen broke cover a meter or so to Kiyoko’s rear and darted forward with her ice punch attack glowing around her fists. She punched right through the Dark Kitsune, and went skidding with a surprised yelp as the illusion faded. Kiyoko rose dripping from the water pool where she’d been hiding and a flamethrower blast swept over the Kool Kat.
                Carmen burrowed into the snow and disappeared, but it was obvious she’d been hurt. Kiyoko ran to the wall and put her back against it as she methodically stripped water from her fur. “That’s fucking cold,” she muttered.
                “Good job.” Shikarou fought a grin and gave up. “That was masterful.” She gave him a quick bow. “Stop the grandstanding.”
                She snickered over the link, but went back to attentively watching her surroundings. “You do it.”
                “Yeah, and I get into trouble for it, too.” Shikarou raised his voice. “I will allow you to substitute for Carmen if you’d like. A short rest may help her to regroup.”
                James looked surprised. “That is very gracious of you, and I will happily accept. Carmen.” She came out of the snow on the other side of the arena, limping and favoring her right side, which was severely burned. He put her into her pokeball with a sigh. “I don’t think I’ll be bringing her back out, she looks too badly hurt.” A smile appeared. “Unless your chivalry extends to allowing me to heal her as well?”
                Shikarou chuckled. “Only if I can heal Niamh.”
                “So sorry, old chum, but I can’t do that.” James sounded honestly regretful. “Rules, you know. You can’t leave the arena once a battle starts, except under very special conditions.”
                Shikarou nodded. “Kiyoko, do you feel up to taking on another opponent?”
                She looked up at him. “You know he’s going to pull out a water type, don’t you?”
                “Yes, I do.” He frowned and looked around. Cathleen had wandered over to his station. “Shoo.” He waved a hand at her.
                “I don’t see any radio. How are you talking with her?”
                “I said shoo. Go away.” He refocused on the arena as Cathleen smirked and scampered back to her post. James had released a very near human that Shikarou’s twee identified as a She Captain. “Kiyoko, this is a water and fighting type. Psychic.” Her eyes glowed and the She Captain staggered under the mental assault.
                “Anne, close and use water sword.” The She Captain charged.
                “Kiyoko, keep away from her and use psychic attacks.” The Dark Kitsune waited until Anne was almost within attack range before teleporting to the other side of the arena and hitting her with a confusion attack. The She Captain put her hands to her head and screeched. Kiyoko used confusion again and Anne went to her knees. She began flailing at unseen opponents.
                James tried to get her attention, but to no avail. Anne was in her own world. Kiyoko used hypnotize and Anne keeled over. James recalled her with a smile. “Good job. While you don’t see many Dark Kitsune, the few Tamers that I have battled who owned one tended to neglect the psychic side of her nature to focus on her fire related capabilities.”
                James released his last pokegirl, a Foxxymaiden. “Ronnie, you’re my last chance for a win,” he told his pokegirl as she listened attentively. “Our opponent there, Shikarou, still has five pokegirls available.”
                “We’ll just see about that,” she announced confidently as she spun to face Kiyoko.
                Kiyoko’s ears flicked. “She sounds pretty overconfident for an ice type.”
                “I know, I just hope she doesn’t have a good reason to be so self assured.” Shikarou frowned. “She’s also a magic type, so be careful.”
                “You are going to have to start having magic classes.” Kiyoko attacked with a flamethrower attack. Ronnie dodged and began casting a spell. Kiyoko teleported out of the way as the Foxxymaiden finished the spell and a glittering light encircled the Foxxymaiden.
                Kiyoko hit her with another flamethrower attack and watched the flames diminish and vanish as Ronnie started another spell.
                Shikarou’s eyes narrowed. “She’s got some kind of flame absorbing spell up. Psychic.”
                Ronnie got her wateraga spell off first and Kiyoko was smashed against the arena wall by the torrent of water. She slid to the ground, unmoving.
                Shikarou returned Kiyoko to her pokeball and released Yushiko. “You’re facing a Foxxymaiden, an ice/magic type with some spells. She appears to be high level.”
                Yushiko drew her sword and went into a low guard position. “Command me, honored lord.”
                Shikarou glanced over towards the podium, making sure Cathleen couldn’t overhear. “Start with chi blast and see if you can get close enough to use your sword.”
                The chi blast staggered Ronnie but she gamely replied with a power bolt. Yushiko deflected it as she charged. James called out, “Ronnie, use snow storm.”
                Once again the arena started to fill with snow. “Yushiko, get against the wall and focus energy. Then shift six meters to your left and charge and hold your thunderbolt.”
                “Hai,” she murmured.
                Shikarou glanced at Cathleen. She was watching him intently and muttering to herself. He rotated an ear in her direction and realized that she was describing what he’d said to Yushiko. He smiled. “You’ve got a radio. Let me guess. You can read lips.”
                Although out of earshot she gave him an apologetic smile. “Fine.” He turned his attention back to the snow filled arena and switched to Japanese. <Yushiko, do you understand me?>
                <Yes, honored lord. I thought you wanted me to speak English.>
                <Keep low and fly to the other side of the arena. Be ready to use your thunderbolt the instant you see the enemy.> He glanced over at Cathleen, who was glaring at him. “Fuck you,” he mouthed at her and smiled.
                There was one brief flash of red in the snow storm, but it was so fleeting that even Shikarou wasn’t really sure he’d seen it. Cathleen missed it entirely and James couldn’t see it from where he was.
                The storm finally started to abate and visibility began improving by the second. Suddenly there was the crack of lightning and the thump of superheated air collapsing, followed by a cry of pain.
                James’ frowning face became visible as the snow settled. He gave Shikarou a quick frown and glanced at Cathleen, who gave him a helpless shrug back.
                The snow settled enough for the Tamers to see into the arena as Yushiko unleashed a feather shuriken attack which knocked Ronnie sprawling. She started another spell as she climbed back to her feet and Yushiko charged. The air quivered as her Roulette spell activated and Yushiko collapsed into a skidding heap.
                Shikarou recalled his Armsmistress as James chuckled. “Nice try. Three pokegirls left.” He grinned. “What are you going to impress me with next?”
                “Lorelei, I need you to do what I tell you.” She materialized and James’ eyes bugged.
                “Yes, master. I’m ready to kick ass and take names.”
                “Good. Use whirlwind and then teleport behind her and use slice n dice.” The whirlwind swept the snow into a blinding cloud again and a scream rang out from it. As the snow settled, Lorelei became visible, stretched out in the snow. Ronnie broke cover to approach slowly, an ice blade shimmering in her hand.
                Shikarou ground his teeth and reached for the Sphinx’s pokeball. Suddenly Lorelei lunged to her feet and hit Ronnie in the chest with a sabre claw attack. The Foxxymaiden catapulted a good ten meters before crashing through the ice covering one of the ponds which dotted the landscape.
                When she didn’t come up for several seconds, Shikarou sighed. “Lorelei, fetch her out of there.” She glanced at him and used feather shuriken to break the ice covering the pool into shards before wading in to retrieve the limp Ronnie.
                Cathleen raised her hand. “Ronnie is unable to battle.” She looked at James. “Do you wish to reintroduce your Kool Kat?” She continued when he shook his head. “This duel is over. Shikarou is the winner.”
                James walked around the arena as Lorelei landed next to Shikarou. “I’m cold,” she complained. He pulled out his wand and touched her with it. Steam wisped off of her body as water evaporated and she grinned. “Thanks. Did I do good?”
                “You did an excellent job.” Shikarou hugged her hard. She chuckled and returned the hug hard enough to make his bones creak as he grinned and rubbed his nose against hers.
                James held out his hand. “Good job.” Shikarou looked at it briefly before taking it. “So, can I see the rest of your harem?”
                Shikarou considered. “Very well.” He released his Unicorn. “This is my alpha, Branwyn.” Then he released Misaki. “And this is Misaki, an Ivywhore.”  
                Misaki dropped a quick curtsey. “Gym Leader.”
                James looked around and shook his head. “You’ve got a rough path to ride, young man, with a Unicorn and a Sphinx in the same harem.”
                “I know, but what can you do?”
                James grinned. “Exactly what you did when you came here. Hide one or both of them as much as possible and kick the ass of any Tamer who looks at your harem.”
                “It was what I was planning to do.”
                Cathleen threw her arms around Shikarou and gave him a big hug. “That was great.”
                “I saw what you were doing. I should spank you.”
                James chuckled. “If you do, you’ll have to tame her. She likes that sort of thing.” Cathleen grinned.
                Branwyn tugged on Shikarou’s arm. “How did it go?”
                “He lost four, we lost three and took the win.”
                “Why would you want to punish Cathleen?”
                “She had a radio and was passing my orders on to James. She’s a lip reader.”
                James smiled. “There aren’t any rules against that here in the Blue League. Anything goes and she was on the battlefield.”
                Shikarou considered that for a moment. “You’d better get a human to referee your matches.”
                “Why?” This from Cathleen. “Did I do a bad job?”
                “No, but if I ever face James again, you’re going down first.”
                James nodded. “Now you understand. I could have used her in the battle itself since she started out the duel already on the field.” He smiled. “A lot of people miss that little idea.”
                Shikarou shrugged. “My family’s style of martial arts stresses creativity and mental flexibility.”
                Cathleen frowned. “We need to get all of the pokegirls healed quickly. You two are talking during the time we should be partying. You can still talk shop when I’ve got my treats.”
                James glanced at Shikarou out of the corner of his eye. “I suppose she might have a point. Let me show you to the healing unit and I’ll give you your badge.”
                “All right. Blood knows I wouldn’t want to tempt the fury of a Pool Mouse.”
They’d stopped for lunch when his com chirped. Shikarou smiled at the blue-eyed blonde when he answered it. “Hi, Poppet.”
                “Hi yourself. Congratulations on your first badge.”
                Shikarou had told Poppet about his first gym battle in yesterday’s message to her. “Thank you, but I suspect you didn’t call just to offer your congratulations. Is there something I can help you with?”
                She raised an eyebrow. “Are you coming anytime soon?” She looked startled and blushed suddenly. “I mean will you be traveling here anytime soon?”
                Branwyn turned to watch his response, an unreadable expression on her face. Shikarou chuckled. “I wasn’t planning on going to the Conservatory for a week or so at the earliest, but if you need something I might be able to alter my plans.”
                Poppet nodded. “I may need a favor from you. I just got a request for help from Devon. This is the only time he’s requested anything from me since he left, and I’d like to help him if I can.” She smiled. “From what I know, I can’t. I know you are on your Tamer’s journey and I didn’t want to disturb you, so I asked Faelan. He said he’s unwilling to help Devon.” She paused for a moment. “He wouldn’t say why, only that he wouldn’t. Do you know why he’d say that?”
                Shikarou nodded. “Yes, I do. Faelan thinks Devon is an arrogant little snot.”
                Poppet looked surprised. “I suppose you could have said that when he was younger, but he’s changed.” A ghost of a smile appeared. “Now he’s an angry little snot. Mostly at me, and I’m coming to realize that I deserve at least part of his ire, but still, his anger seems to define him right now.”       
                Her smile grew. “Were you aware that you and he share the same opinion of the Sheriff of Lairg?”
                Shikarou smiled. “Branwyn told me. She also mentioned that you aren’t all that happy with him, either.”
                Poppet nodded. “He’s always been a corrupt little Snorlass, but recently he’s apparently started a vendetta against the Conservatory. He’s a politician more than a champion of the law and owes his job to the fact that his brother is the mayor and he has several more relatives on the town council who get cuts from his graft.”
                “He really has no idea just how much influence I have with the Blue League Council and I suspect that it will be his undoing.”
                Shikarou snorted. “Not if I get to him first.”
                Poppet looked amused. “What are you planning?”
                “Some dark night I think I’ll let all of his blood out and see how well he does without it.” He noted idly that Poppet’s expression of astonishment was almost exactly mirrored on Branwyn’s face. Nature or nurture, he wondered to himself.
                “I don’t know if I could let you do that to him. He is a public official and all.” Poppet sounded slightly apologetic.
                Shikarou snorted. “Should I decide to act, I don’t think you could stop me. You might be able to make my life a trial afterwards, but I don’t think you could save his.”
                “Look, as your friend, I really recommend you reconsider. Killing a policeman is bad enough, but killing a sheriff would have the Blue League putting a pretty steep bounty on your head.”
                “Fine,” Shikarou retorted. “I’ll think very carefully before I do something that stupid.”
                Poppet looked relieved. “Good. I don’t have so many friends that I can afford to lose you.”
                “So what is it that Devon needs help with?”
                “I understand that he’s been tasked to hand carry something to a company in the Sunshine League and he has become concerned as to whether he’s carrying some kind of forbidden tech. You come from a place with a different tech level and I thought you could help him to decide if he’s being used as a smuggler and deal with it if it’s true.” She frowned. “The man who sent him on this mission is highly placed in the Blue League, and so if there is a problem, it would be better if it just went away.”
                “You want me to knock him over the head and take it, if it’s illegal?” Shikarou shook his head. “Rob a courier, but don’t remove a corrupt politician. You are inconsistent.”
                “No, I’m trying to protect those important to me.” She blinked. “I mean I don’t want Devon or you to get in trouble unwittingly. If the technology is forbidden, we can make it look like one of the Teams or the Limbec groups took it. That would get Devon off the hook and put more pressure on them. It’s a win-win.” Her eyes narrowed. “If it is forbidden technology, I want it destroyed as opposed to you running off with it. Forbidden technology is restricted for a reason. Do you understand me?”
                “I understand you can’t give me orders,” Shikarou replied dryly. “However I agreed to help and if Devon is couriering forbidden technology, I’ll destroy whatever he’s carrying.”
                “Good. Ming Die will be here tomorrow afternoon at three. That’s morning in Indigo, so you’ll have all day there to evaluate what is going on.” She smiled. “I really appreciate this Shikarou, more than you know. When will you get here?”
                “Sometime this evening.”
                “I’ll be looking for you.” Poppet ended the call.
                Branwyn gave him an odd look. “Why wait until this evening? We could go right now if you wanted to.”
                “Come here.” He gently pulled the Unicorn into his lap. “Are you upset by my friendship with Poppet?”
                Branwyn sighed and leaned against his chest. “A little. I worry that she might replace me.”
                “Poppet may be my friend, but you are my alpha. I wouldn’t replace you, not with Poppet, not with anyone.”
                “Yes, but you only took me into your harem because Poppet asked you to.”
                “That’s not true.” He continued when Branwyn gave him a puzzled look. “It isn’t. I accepted you into my harem because I wanted you in it and because you wanted to join it. My friendship with Poppet did give me the opportunity to meet you, but that’s all. That’s why I shut her up when she started to extol your virtues. I didn’t care why she wanted you with me; I cared if you wanted to join my harem.” He nuzzled her cheek.
                “You are my alpha and my friend. I don’t see your presence as doing Poppet a favor, I see you as someone who’s become an integral part of my life.” He smiled. “You are the only member of my harem that I wouldn’t ever consider trading or putting into long term storage. I know that may sound bad for the others, but while I will take good care of them, they don’t mean as much to me as you do.” He sighed. “I should try to think of all of my pokegirls as people, and in a fashion I do, but they have a slave mentality and slaves don’t have the same rights as the free. Not here, and not where I come from.”
                 “What about Lorelei?”
                “She’s unusual, I’ll grant you that, and in time I may come to think of her in a more positive light, but she just wanted to get away from home. Any decent Tamer would have done just as well. I can respect that, but it means that I don’t have any personal attachment to her.”
                Branwyn ran her fingers down his chest idly. “Sexmet would be very unhappy if you traded her away.”
                “I know, and I’ll take that into consideration, but Sexmet doesn’t rule my life and the decisions I have to make. I do.” Shikarou smiled slowly. “You have some input as well, which is why we’re talking about Poppet right now.”
                “So if I didn’t like it, you’d give up your friendship with her?”
                “I don’t know about that, but I’d be willing to consider changing my relationship with Poppet in order to make you happier. She is my friend and right now she’s my only friend outside the harem. Well, her and Candace.”
                “What are you going to do about Candace?”
                “I asked her to join me on my travels. Perhaps I was a bit hasty, but still I did offer and she would be more than welcome in a support role in my harem.” He shrugged. “However, from the messages we’ve exchanged since I got on the road, I’m not sure she was serious about leaving and I’m not going to pressure her about it. If she thinks she’s happy, then she is, and good sex isn’t an acceptable long term substitute.” He bumped his head against hers. “We were talking about Poppet and how you feel about her, remember?”
                “Yes, I remember.” She smiled at him. “Knowing that you are willing to reevaluate your relationship with her because of me makes me feel better about us, and I think I was just worried about us.” Branwyn frowned slightly. “You know, Poppet had pinned most of her hopes on Devon and I think he’s a dead end for what she wants. Tobias never seemed to interest her quite as much and if she gives up on Devon, I’m not sure what she’s going to do. What if she wants something from you?”       
                “Why would Poppet want anything like that from me?”
                “She likes you. Really likes you and I can’t remember her liking anyone like this before. What if she wants to join the harem?”
                “Unlikely. Harem pokegirls go into pokeballs, and I remember you mentioning that she doesn’t want to go into one of them. I suppose she might just want to travel with me, but I still don’t see it happening. She’s invested almost half her life in her current project.”
                “Exactly. If it doesn’t pan out she might decide to cut her losses and look elsewhere. You already fit most of her requirements, you’re long lived and physically superior to normal humans.” Branwyn looked up at him. “What if she wanted you to settle down and have a family with her?”
                “I’m here for other reasons and she’s my friend, not my wife.”
                “Is there anyone here that you might consider marrying?” Branwyn gave him a curious look.
                “I’ve only been here for a short time. I think that conversation is a bit premature.”
                “But I am your favorite, right?”
                “Yes, you are.”
                Branwyn looked smug. “Good. You go ahead and be my mother’s friend and lover. She’s influential and could prove useful, even if she’s older than dirt.”
                Right on schedule, Ming Die appeared. She nodded to Branwyn and looked at Shikarou. He waited patiently as a minute passed, and then another. The Alaka-Wham frowned and turned to look at Branwyn again.
                The Unicorn nodded. “Shikarou, Ming Die is requesting that you drop your shields so that she can communicate with you.” She smiled faintly. “She’s rather put out about them.”
                Shikarou looked at Branwyn levelly for a moment. “I see,” he finally said. “And what is your opinion?”
                She shrugged. “Ming Die only communicates telepathically, so she wants your shields dropped so she can communicate with you.”
                He nodded absently. “Is she likely to have anything to say that I’ll want to hear?”
                Ming Die’s eyes narrowed as Branwyn smothered a gasp. “She thinks you are being very offensive.”
                “Well, I think her request is offensive. If I wanted people to have access to my mind, I wouldn’t have shields in the first place.”
                Branwyn sighed. “She says that we aren’t going anywhere if she can’t communicate with you.”
                Shikarou’s ears flicked. “Fuck. Well, since I’m doing Poppet a favor I guess I don’t have much of a choice.” He closed his eyes for a moment. “Done.”
                It is about time. Ming Die sounded faintly annoyed. Are you ready to go?
                “We wouldn’t be having this conversation if I wasn’t.” Shikarou returned Branwyn to her pokeball. “So take me to Devon.”
                Why are you upset?
                He took a deep breath. “I have had some unhappy experiences with mind control and don’t like being unguarded.”
                I see. She frowned. How do you have such powerful shields? Your mind has little telepathic ability.
                “I’ve used magic to mimic telepathic ability. I mainly use it for shielding, but it also has other uses.”
                Oh? Her eyes widened. You have penetrated my shields and are reading my mind as I read yours. A pause. I cannot keep you out. How can this be?
                “I use your probe as a carrier for mine, so it never has to deal with your shielding.” He smiled. “I suspect you found out from my mind, as only one telepath I’ve ever known has been able to detect it, and she also knows magic.”
                Willow. So magic is needed to fight magic. Her eyes narrowed. I will have to do some checking. In the meantime, how am I to communicate with you?
                Shikarou smiled. “Sounds like you have a dilemma. As you gather information from me, I do the same to you. Do you think your secrets are so valuable that they aren’t worth mine?”
                I could just destroy your mind. Ah, you have a spell set up to prevent such damage and your regeneration might render the attempt useless even if I succeeded.
                “I guess you’ll have to find another way to render me harmless.” Shikarou smirked. “In the meantime, I believe you are taking me to meet with Devon. I understand he is in the Sunshine League?”
                Not quite. He’s currently at Professor Stroak’s facility in the Indigo League. He is waiting to catch an airship from there as none of his teleport capable pokegirls has been to the Sunshine League.
                “Very well. Shall we be off?”
                Ming Die took his hand and the scenery changed as they emerged about twenty meters from Stroak’s building.
                “I’m putting my shields back up.”
                How shall I communicate with you?
                Shikarou seemed to consider for a moment. “You could always talk to me.”
                I have never spoken.          
                “By choice. You have the ability.”
                Ming Die’s eyes narrowed. You have learned a great deal. What else do you know?
                He cocked his head. “I know about your sisters and your secret facility.”
                Will you make the same promise to me that you made to Poppet?
                “Poppet is my friend. You are not, even if we think more alike then you know.”
                What do you mean?
                “I’ve been experimenting. I can shield portions of my mind while leaving some of it accessible. While I still can’t leave enough uncovered enough for telepathic communication without leaving myself vulnerable for attack, I can already hide things from you without you even knowing that it is hidden, which is why you don’t already know how we are alike.” He shrugged. “As far as the two of us thinking somewhat alike, we are very alike in our practicality. I’m just more happy go lucky about it. Of course, as you develop more emotions, you may become more, I suppose the word would be ‘something’, about it.”
                What do you think I should do with you? You presume to be a threat to my existence.
                “No, I don’t. You assume that anyone with knowledge about you and yours is a threat. However, you have no evidence that I am or that I will be. And trying to kill me could prove problematic. If you succeed, my brother may become involved and if you fail, bad things are likely to happen to you. I would also have to seriously consider preemptive attacks on your sisters because I know that if you try to kill me and fail, they will continue attempting to destroy me until one of us is dead.” Shikarou smiled cheerfully.
                “In other words, you could well create the threat you are concerned about. I think you should find some way to ensure that I am not a threat.” He looked thoughtful for a moment. “You know, I suspect that leaving me alone would work just fine.”
                Why should I trust you?
                “Your biggest problem is one that besets many humans. You believe that someone like me thinks you are important. That is incorrect. I don’t care a damn about your issues. I also don’t care about your Tamer or the work you and Poppet have done.” He snorted. “Slipshod genetic engineering is not my problem.”
                Could you do better?
                “Me? I’m not a genetic engineer. I know a couple who probably could, but they aren’t here.” He grinned. “That doesn’t mean that I can’t recognize that you and Poppet both had results that you didn’t want, and yet you are willing to be satisfied with the outcome. That is what makes your work shoddy.”
                If you don’t care about Devon, then why are you willing to help him?
                “A friend of mine asked me to.” Shikarou shrugged. “I suppose it is possible that I might like Devon, but I’ve yet to meet the young man.” He smiled softly. “I like you. You are trying to be protective of what is important to you, and I find that hard to fault, even while you are considering how to kill or otherwise neutralize me.”
                You are an odd man.
                “No, I’m Shikarou, and that is the only way to describe me. I am not now, and never have been human. Even if I was, I was raised in a place that values personal responsibility above almost everything else, so I can admire your protectiveness of what’s important to you.” He took a deep breath. “I am not at this time a threat to anything that I am aware of being important to you.”
                An interesting and accurate sentence. However, you do understand that I must consider you as a potential threat to our plans. It was not a question.
                “Indeed I do. So, will I be allowed to meet Devon or are you going to take me back to Poppet’s?”
                I believe that Devon could use your help. Devon believes this as well, so you need to meet him. Ming Die opened the door. Shall we go see him?
                Shikarou shook his head. “You can’t invite me into someone else’s house. I’ll need to be invited in by a member of the household.” He released Branwyn from her pokeball. “You could either go find someone who lives here or you could bring Devon out to meet with me.”
                Ming Die stared at him for a moment. I’ll see what I can do. She disappeared inside the facility.
                Shikarou looked at his alpha. “We’ll need to find a place to set up camp after I get permission to enter the property. I understand that Professor Stroak will put up travelers, but that he’d really prefer if they found someplace else to stay.”
                Branwyn chuckled as they settled against the wall. “I’ve heard that too. I’m pleased that you’ve done your homework.”
                “I’m a Tamer and he is one of the world’s leading authorities on pokegirls, so of course I’ve researched him thoroughly. I didn’t expect to meet him for several years, but you never know what the future will bring.” He glanced around. “I also understand that the area around his lab is full of feral pokegirls, I’m just not sure what his stand on hunting around here is.”
                “I think it depends on how annoying they’ve been when someone asks. Are you planning to add to the harem?”
                “Not ferals and not right now. I’m still not used to Niamh.” Shikarou made an annoyed sound. “I realize I’m supposed to be civilizing feral pokegirls, but they are just so stupid.”
                Branwyn nodded. “You seem to prefer intelligent females in your life, and if it’s anything like her normal conversations, I doubt that Niamh’s pillow talk is that intellectual. Your new T2 design made her fluent when she chooses to speak, but it can’t change the fact that she doesn’t talk much or know much to talk about.”
                Shikarou nodded. “Neither does Misaki, Kiyoko, Lorelei or Yushiko.” He sighed. “I’ve been spoiled by the women from home, who work hard to be intelligent.”
                “What’s it like there?”
                He smiled. “In many ways, Tirsul is a lot like this place. There are way too few males for the female population, so competition for breeding rights is very intense on both sides, especially since a female often would rather not breed than lower herself to breed with an inferior male and the males are equally picky. Most people are into group relationships of one form or another and so that isn’t all that different. The biggest differences are that people are judged on their personal accomplishments, and the fact that females are the equals of males.” Shikarou snorted. “If the situation there were like here, there would be teams of men and women going out to capture the feral children to raise them in a civilized environment. The feral adults would be either captured for civilizing or exterminated.”           
                “Is that why you seem to have a low opinion of Niamh?”
                “No, it’s because I’ve given her the tools necessary to learn, and she doesn’t care. That’s a problem with almost everyone in my harem. They don’t want to improve themselves and I’m not supposed to have to push them to. I consider it unnatural.” Shikarou shrugged. “Where I come from the drive to achieve, to win, has been bred into everyone. Only the fact that the most intense competition one can have is with oneself keeps my people from a state of constant fighting. That and an elaborate system of cultural rules.”
                “Like not going into someone’s house without permission?”
                “Right. Violating private property is almost a sin for us, and if you see me do it, I must consider the owner beneath contempt, for it’s a studied insult.” Shikarou rotated his ears to focus on the building. “Someone’s coming.”
                A moment later the door opened, revealing a man wearing a lab coat and a slightly harried expression. He looked at Shikarou and frowned. “Are you the man who refuses to come inside?”
                Shikarou smiled. “Not exactly. Where I come from it is extremely rude to enter someone’s home without an invitation and someone who is merely staying at a place doesn’t have the power to issue that invitation.”
                The man blinked in surprise. “I see.” He looked thoughtful for a moment and then a smile bloomed on his face. “I wish more people thought that way. I’d have fewer interruptions.” He stuck out his hand. “I’m Professor Stroak.”
                Shikarou took it with only a slight hesitation. “It is my pleasure to make the acquaintance of one of the world’s leading authorities on all things pokegirl.”
                Stroak’s smile broadened. “I see you’ve read the article that stated I live on praise.”
                “No, I’m merely repeating the words of Professor Tanaka of Edo.” Shikarou shrugged. “I’m just a beginning Tamer, so my opinion is of little weight.”
                Stroak was obviously pleased. “He said that? That was very nice of him.” He nodded in the direction of the doorway. “I formally invite you inside my home and laboratory. I’ll have a room prepared for you.”
                Shikarou shook his head. “I understand you don’t care for uninvited guests, so if it’s ok with you, we’ll just camp nearby and visit during daylight hours.”
                Stroak nodded. “You know me better than some of my friends. They’ve never realized that I don’t invite people over often, they just come,” he replied in a droll tone. “Feel free to camp wherever you want.” He glanced out in the woods. “I wouldn’t be upset if you thinned out the local ferals while you were at it. They’re a blasted nuisance right now.”
                Branwyn smiled. “We’d be glad to, professor.”
                Shikarou smiled. “This is Branwyn, my alpha.”
                “Ah, the last of Poppet’s daughters.” Stroak glanced at Shikarou. “She must really like you.”
                “I just think she got tired of having Branwyn around,” Shikarou muttered. His Unicorn shot him an annoyed look.
                Stroak laughed. “Nevertheless, welcome.” He nodded towards the door. “I don’t suppose you’d like some tea?”
                “If my choice is tea or western coffee, I’ll take tea.” Shikarou and Branwyn followed Stroak inside.
                “Who are you and where is Faelan?” This from the unhappy looking blue haired young man who’d come around the building to where Shikarou had created a picnic table near his tent.
                Shikarou looked up as Niamh continued to try to pull down his left arm with all four of hers. “Gimmie!”
                “Faelan’s not here. I’m Shikarou. Anything else I can answer for you?” He looked at his Ladyba and raised his arm, lifting her from the ground. She growled and began beating her wings to continue pulling. “I believe there is a word you’re missing.”
                The young man was nudged by a Ladyien. She whispered something to him. “Uh, I’m Devon. Devon Harris.”
                Well, Devon Devon Harris, I’m the person you are looking for.”
                “Now!” Niamh jerked on his arm. “Raspberries!”
                “Nope, that isn’t it. Try another word.”
                Devon gave Shikarou an annoyed look as his Ladyien focused on Shikarou’s hand. “Just one Devon. Do you know when Faelan will be arriving?”
                Shikarou spun and whipped his arm. Niamh came loose and fought to arrest her flight as he opened his hand and flipped the raspberry at the Ladyien, who caught it automatically and popped it into her mouth. “He’s not.” He watched Niamh glare at him before flying into the tent in search of more treats. “Apparently he doesn’t like you.” He bowed towards the couple. “Poppet asked me to come instead.”
                The Ladyien frowned. “I’m Katherine. Where did you get fresh raspberries? It’s almost winter.”
                “I’m a mage. I made them.” He smiled. “We’ve got a couple of pounds of them in the tent.” Katherine’s eyes went to it with an interested look.
                Devon sighed. “Business first, Katherine. Later, if we’re still talking to them, I’ll see if I can buy you some.” He looked at Shikarou. “I suppose I’m grateful Poppet found someone, but I doubt you can help me. Faelan’s got some specialized information that I was hoping would help.”
                Shikarou smiled. “Devon, you really need to take a deep breath and relax. Poppet contacted Faelan because you specifically asked for him, but he said no. So she called me. It is likely Faelan would have ended up calling me even if he’d arrived because I have more of that specialized information you are so cryptically referring to.”
                “I don’t see how that could be possible,” Devon answered skeptically. “If Faelan won’t help me, then it’s very unlikely you can.”
                Shikarou took a deep breath of his own. “If you’ll drop the whole “I know everything” attitude and stop being an ass for just a minute, you might learn something, like the fact that I’m Faelan’s brother and actually have a lot more experience with what you would consider lostech then he does.”
                Devon’s eyes narrowed. “What is the name of the city you and Faelan came from?”
                “Faelan and I both came from Tirsul, which is a world in an alternate dimension and not some gods cursed city. Stop trying to trip me up.” Shikarou’s ears flicked. “Look, I’m willing to try to help you, but the idiocy has to end. Otherwise I’ll be getting back to the stuff that interests me.” He shook his head. “And so far, boy, you bore me.”
                Devon looked at Shikarou evenly for a minute and then nodded suddenly. “All right.” He rubbed his forehead. “I’m just so tired of the crap.”
                Shikarou waved at the table. “Have a seat and name your poison.”
                “What?” Devon gave him a confused look.
                “I was asking if you wanted something to eat or drink.” Shikarou sighed. “I used a phrase that has apparently fallen from use around here.” He pulled out his wand and waved it. Three pints appeared. “How about having some beer?”
                Katherine beat Devon to the beer. “Thanks,” she announced. Devon took his with a rueful smile.
                Shikarou lifted the last pint. “So, what I understand is that you have some unknown technological item that you’ve been tasked to deliver to someone in the Sunshine League and you are concerned that it might be forbidden technology. Poppet also indicated that if it was, she’d appreciate it if we arranged for you to be robbed and this item destroyed.”
                Devon looked surprised. “She did? That was unusually nice of her. I wonder what she wants this time.”
                Katherine snorted. “She wants you, remember?”
                Shikarou gave them a considering look. “What has Ming Die told you about what is going on with her and Poppet and you? I know she’s told you something, I just don’t know how much.”
                Devon looked startled. “Why do you want to know?”
                “I know what is going on and I’m trying to decide if I want to talk to you about it.” Shikarou drank some beer and made a face. “Ick.” He tapped his glass and the beer changed to a deep red wine. He sipped again and smiled softly. “Much better.”
                Devon watched him for a moment. “She’s told me that Poppet set up a breeding program to create the perfect Harris man and that I was supposed to be it. The fact that I can’t stand her is the only snag.”
                “I don’t think that’s the only snag. There’s also that little point of Ming Die shanghaiing the project for her own ends.” Shikarou frowned. “Poppet knows she screwed up and I’m not sure she believes it is fixable. Right now she’s just trying to not alienate you further while she decides if the situation can be salvaged. So she asked me to help when Faelan said no.”
                Devon nodded. “Faelan told me he can’t lie to people. Are you the same way?”
                “Yes I am.” He grinned. “I sometimes get accused of lying, but that is because people only hear what they want to.” A chuckle. “Poppet’s going to find that out soon enough.”
                “What do you mean?” Devon sounded interested, and more importantly not defensive for the first time.
                “She’s probably going to try to tell me that I lied during the conversation we had about the fact that I intend to kill the sheriff of Lairg.”
                Devon’s eyes widened. “You too? I’d like to kill him myself.”
                “Not like, going to.”
                Devon blinked. “What did he do to you?”
                “Let’s see, he robbed me, he touched me without my permission, and most importantly, he tried to take Branwyn away from me. Twice. Once he tried by himself and once by attacking me with his pitiful gang.” Shikarou took a deep breath and forced a smile. “The robbery I could blow off, but trying to take Branwyn is another matter entirely, even though I did get some nice pokegirls out of the attack.”
                Devon frowned. “What about Molly?”
                Shikarou smiled. “I think she’d look just fine draped across my bed.” He shrugged. “I only have to decide if I want to haul her kids around with me or if I want to wait until they grow up. In either case unless I change my mind, the sheriff has less than a decade of life left, even if he doesn’t know it yet.”
                Suddenly he shook his head. “Sorry, my relationship with the sheriff isn’t really all that important. I believe you had something you wanted me to examine?”
                Katherine blinked at the sudden change of topic and nodded. “Yes, he does.” She looked at her Tamer. “Would you like me to get it?” She pushed to her feet at his nod and padded away.
                Devon watched her idly. “She’s better than I deserve.”
                “Probably.” Shikarou grinned as Devon frowned at his reply. “I’ve been reading the literature and comparing it to my pokegirls as well as what Poppet said about you. We both realize that civilized pokegirls are just as much people as you and I are. Ferals are another matter, some of them are barely self aware, but in their defense I suspect that Romulus and Remus didn’t come from the teat reading Latin.”
                The tent opened and Branwyn came out. Devon stared and his eyes narrowed. The Unicorn noticed him and she grinned before giving him the finger. He blinked and smiled back. “Branwyn! You mean Poppet finally found someone dumb enough to take you with him?”
                Branwyn popped him on the head. “You might want to rephrase that, kid. I happen to be Shikarou’s alpha, and I can make sure you don’t get invited to dinner tonight.”
                Devon cocked his head. “Why should I care about that?”
                “Shikarou is cooking. Trust me, you want that invitation. Besides, I know that Professor Stroak and his staff will be there, so unless you want to go hungry?” She smiled as her voice trailed off.
                Devon gave Shikarou a puzzled look. “What are you, some kind of chef?”
                “No, I create the food with my magic and I’m willing to take requests.”
                Devon nodded. “I could live without that, but I suspect that Branwyn would tell my harem and then my life would become hell.”
                Branwyn grinned and nodded back. “Exactly. So, have we solved his problem yet?” She chuckled. “Or should I specify which problem I’m asking about?”
                Shikarou sighed. “I take it you two are friends.” He was watching Devon as he spoke and mentally relaxed as the young man gave an unconscious nod.
                “Branwyn was one of my tutors and about the only pokegirl that never hit me.” Devon gave a rueful grin. “She did bite off one of my fingers once, but I deserved it.”
                Katherine came back around the building and Shikarou bit off a comment. She was carrying a backpack and handed it to Devon with a frown. A very near human with ankle length red hair wearing a pink cheongsam slouched along behind her. “Here. Apparently you ordered Rhiannon to watch your pack and make sure no one took anything from it.” She gave the Dark Lady an annoyed glare. “I think she and I are almost due for another talk.” She smiled at Devon. “I’ll need to borrow Paulette and Hatsumi.”
                “Later.” He dug into his pack and pulled out a small black case. “Here it is. I’ve bypassed the primary lock but I can’t open the inner container without a password. Faelan’s opened them in the past, so I presume you can do the same thing.”
                Shikarou pulled out his wand and summoned his backpack. “I should be able to.” He removed a silver box a meter on a side and opened the lid before popping the case inside it. “However, I really don’t need to and this way I don’t have to deal with any silly mechanical traps or indicators. He flipped up a panel on the box, revealing a keypad, and quickly punched in a long series of numbers.
                Devon watched curiously. “What is that for?”
                Shikarou smiled as he shut the panel. “Actually the whole thing is a dodge. The box is a sophisticated analysis unit and the keypad is the security system. The unit will self destruct unless I type in the right number and the keypad samples the correct DNA.” He winked at Katherine. “The number doesn’t matter, just the number of times I depress a key.”
                Devon stared at the backpack. “How did you keep that in there? My pokepack has a size limitation that won’t let me keep really large things in it.”
                “It’s not a pokepack.” Shikarou smiled. “In fact, I need to get a pokepack so I can dismantle it and analyze the technology. We tend to use magic for extradimensional space creation and your way might prove useful in low magic environments.” He shrugged. “If nothing else, I may be able to market it as a novelty.”
                Rhiannon glared at him. “Nothing of my master’s is a toy and you shall not speak to him that way.”
                Shikarou looked at her evenly. “You need to listen more carefully. I offered your master no insult and you were not part of that conversation.”
                Rhiannon hissed in anger as Branwyn tapped Devon on the shoulder. She leaned over and whispered into his ear. “You might want to either call her off or put her up. Shikarou doesn’t back down from a fight, not even from a pokegirl, and I’m not sure who would win.”
                Devon nodded and rose to his feet. “Rhiannon, back off.” She moved slowly to his side, still hissing in anger. “Is this analysis going to take a while?”
                “It will probably take several hours to complete, but less than a day.” Shikarou sighed. “You don’t want a pokegirl battle do you?”
                Devon shook his head. “I’ve had enough of those recently.” He returned Rhiannon to her pokeball without her knowing it. “I was really just looking forward to some downtime when this stupid job came up.”
                Shikarou nodded. “I can understand that.” He cocked his head for a moment. “How long do you have before you have to deliver your package?”
                “I’m not really on a schedule, but I’m expected there in two weeks, why?”
                Shikarou smiled. “Ming Die knows about a very nice island somewhere that is uninhabited. Take your pokegirls and spend a week there. I’ll stand in for you and take care of any problems that crop up. During that time I’ll send Kiyoko through to the city you are supposed to go to so that she can take one of your teleporting pokegirls there when you get back.”
                “You trust them to release her?”
                “Not every pokecenter is a hotbed of corruption. Besides, I’ll put a timer spell on it to let her out no matter what.” He smiled slightly. “And if they find a way around that, then I’ll travel to the Sunshine league myself and get her back.”
                “What do you want for this favor?” Devon sounded suspicious.
                “If you have to do something for me, how about you take Branwyn to the shop where you got that katana.” Shikarou motioned to the sword in Devon’s belt. “It looks like a quality weapon and I want to get one for my Armsmistress. She’s from Edo and has been stuck with a western sword so far.”
                Devon considered for a moment and looked at Katherine. She gave him a smile and a nod. “Done.” He spat in his hand and held it out.
                Shikarou looked at him briefly and then spat in his own hand before shaking hands with Devon. “And done.”
                Shikarou smiled to himself as he watched Devon step out of Hatsumi’s arms. Young Mr. Harris looked much more relaxed and had picked up a nice tan during his week’s absence. Devon turned to face him with a lazy grin. “So, did the world end while I was gone?”
                “Not quite. I suspect Poppet is still annoyed at me for stepping into your shoes for a week, but overall I think you’ll be pleased with what has taken place.”
                Devon frowned slightly. “Oh, Hatsumi, this is Shikarou. Shikarou, Hatsumi.”
                The Demon-Goddess bowed to Shikarou. “Hatsumi greets you, Tamer Shikarou.” She frowned and stepped closer to Shikarou to peer into his face. Suddenly hissed and backed away. “Do you wish my master good or ill?”
                Both Devon and Shikarou looked at her with equally surprised expressions. Shikarou recovered first. “I’m friendly.” He glanced at Devon, but kept most of his attention on the pokegirl. “What is her problem?”
                Devon shook his head. “I’m not sure. Hatsumi?”
                Hatsumi gave a much deeper bow. “If you mean my master no harm, then I welcome you Honored Lord.” You could hear the capitals in her words.
                “Devon, is your pokegirl mental?”
                Devon was still watching Hatsumi with a slightly bemused expression. “Yes, but not usually like this. What is the matter, Hatsumi?”
                “Hatsumi was not aware that Hatsumi’s master had befriended a kami. Are you kunitsukami or amatsukami?
                Shikarou turned white. Slowly his color returned and he turned to Devon. “I have freely admitted to being kami or a nature spirit, but your pokegirl is accusing me of being either a god or descended from the gods.” He took a deep breath. “That is quite a thing to say.” He turned to Hatsumi. “I have no shrines and no worshippers, which the gods all have.” A slight smile appeared. “If I were one of the gods, asking questions like that would be very offensive as well as provocative. Historically the gods tend to respond badly to pesky mortals.”
                Devon shook his head and took Hatsumi’s arm. “Stop that. Shikarou may be many things, but a god he isn’t.”
                Hatsumi’s eyes narrowed. “As you command master, Hatsumi will obey.”
                Devon sighed and returned Hatsumi to her pokeball. “So how did you manage to annoy Poppet? I thought the two of you were friends.”
                Shikarou smiled. “We were and still are. She’s just upset at the fact that I keep sending the paperwork she’s been sending you back with revisions and suggestions.”
                Devon blinked. “You’ve actually been reading it?”
                “Of course I have. You’re supposed to be reading it, and since I’ve been standing in your place, so have I.” He grinned. “I also took the time to read the Conservatory charter and bylaws. That is what really annoyed Poppet, since I’ve been making her do her job.” His grin grew. “I hope you don’t mind, but at one point you threatened to fire her.”
                Devon started laughing. “I can do that?”
                “It’s in the bylaws. You have the right to hire and fire whomever you want. Jamie made sure he had real power when he became Chairman, and Poppet never changed the bylaws after his death.” Shikarou shrugged. “She was, of course, angry, but she’s gotten over it. Either that or she’s calmed down because she’s plotting my murder.” He flicked an ear. “She’s really not that bad, it’s just that she’s been in charge for centuries and she’s not used to being put in her place. You will find that if you don’t push too hard she shouldn’t be that difficult to work with.”
                “Since I’m not taming her, I doubt she’ll listen to me.”
                Shikarou gave him an odd look. “What does that have to do with it. Poppet may be a bitch and a serious alpha personality, but she’s a consummate professional and the Conservatory is her life’s work. If you even try to meet her halfway, she’ll be thrilled to work with someone who gives a shit about the place. Part of her problems stem from the fact that ever since Jamie, no one has really cared to actually act like the chairman and she’s had to shoulder the entire load, one that she once shared with Jamie.”
                Devon looked faintly uncomfortable. “I wasn’t aware of that.”
                “Neither was I until I read the minutes of all the board meetings. Most of the chairmen never even bothered to show up.” He gave Devon a stern look. “That includes you.”
                “I don’t really have time.”
                “Bullshit. Make the time to carry out your responsibilities or give them up.” He shrugged. “Speaking of responsibilities, most of the job about your delivery has already been taken care of.”
                “So what was it?”
                “It was a schematic for a fusion reactor and an MHD generating system. Remarkable, really, in that it had been designed to use the technology base available on this world. It will be large, but it should run rather well.” Shikarou gestured at the table, and two pints of beer appeared. “Sit down.” He continued. “The reactor isn’t restricted technology, since it never existed on this world. From the plans it looked like your friend found a small cache of stuff left over from the war. I think Sukebe had these plans made up from otherwhen tech and adapted it to this world’s tech base.”
                “Poppet contacted a high level member of the Blue League administration and he was very interested in having the development of the reactor stay within the confines of the Blue League, so I’ve already returned the plans to him. Apparently some people are slightly resentful of the Jahanna Corporation getting all of the credits. You still have to go on to the Sunshine League, but only to let the company that is expecting the delivery know that it’s not going to happen. And your friend who gave you the original order has been sacked and is up on charges of theft. It turns out that he didn’t even find the plans himself, he just removed them from an archaeologist’s find.”
                Shikarou shook his head. “That’s a stuffy bunch. Have you considered quitting?”
                Devon snorted. “I tried. They won’t let me.”
                Shikarou smiled. “You just don’t have the right attitude. If you stop answering their calls and doing their bidding, eventually someone there will figure out that you’ve quit. I would finish the current assignment though, since you did accept it. Not doing their bidding is one thing, but breaking your word is something else entirely.”
                Devon nodded slowly. “I’ll keep that in mind.” He suddenly grinned. “I don’t know about you being a guardian spirit, but you’ve certainly made my life easier.”
                Shikarou turned slightly pink. “Just trying to make mine easier while I was standing in for you.”
                Devon picked up his beer. “So how was the rest of your week?”
                “Pretty good, actually. Professor Stroak is pleased with us since we thinned out the local population of ferals by a good sixty percent or more and surveyed the ones remaining. Poppet’s happy, since the Conservatory is going to be producing a bunch of good starter pokegirls this year, and apparently that’s been an issue in the past. Some of the other ranches were upset that they had to carry the load of starter pokegirls while the Conservatory didn’t have to produce any.”
                “Niamh evolved to Ladyien while we were catching feral pokegirls. Other than that, it’s been a quiet week.”
                Devon nodded. “Where do you go from here? Are you going to stay in the Indigo League?”
                “I need to return to the Blue League. I still need to get some more badges and I’ve got some other stuff to do. Why?”
                “I just wanted to warn you about the Tendo ranch if you were going to stay.”
                Shikarou blinked. “Did you say Tendo?”
                “Yes, I did. Have you heard of it?”
                “I came across the name in one of the Pokeranch rankings reports, but otherwise no. Why should I beware of it?”
                “It’s run by Soun Tendo and he’s frantic to get rid of some of his pokegirls, especially his own daughters.” Devon put his mug down. “He’s actually kind of balmy about it.”
                “Soun Tendo.” Shikarou sounded astonished. “Widower? Daughters named Kasumi, Nabiki, and Akane?”
                “Among others. He’s got a whole load of daughters. You really sound like you’ve been there.”
                “No, I’ve never been there,” Shikarou commented absently. “But I think you are right that I should stay far away from there.” He abruptly refocused. “Where is it? Edo?”
                Devon laughed. “No, it’s not two days from here.”
                “Here? How odd. I would have expected Edo. No matter.” He shook himself. “Thanks for the warning. Anything else I need to be aware of?”
                “Not that I can think of. Oh, Ming Die wants to talk to you before you leave.”
                Shikarou suddenly looked like he’d bitten into a lemon. “I suspected that she might. Tell her I’ll meet with her this evening, after moonrise.”
                Devon nodded. “All right. Now, tell me all about these powers I have as the Chairman.”
Name:                                                     Urufu Shikarou                                                    
Age:                                                       250                                                                                         
Residence:                                             Wick, Blue Continent                                                         
Region:                                  Scotland                                                                                               
Status:                                                    Active                                                                                   
Rank:                                                      20                                                                                           
Security Clearance:                              Delta                                                                                      
                Tamer                                     Y                                                            
                Master Tamer                       Y                                                            
                Researcher                            N                                                            
                Watcher                 N                                                            
                Breeder                  N                            
Active Harem
Species                  Name                                                      Level     
Unicorn                  Branwyn                                                42
Dark Kitsune                         Kiyoko                                   36
Sphinx                                    Lorelei                                                    33
Armsmistress                        Urufu Yushiko                      26
Ladyien                  Niamh                                                     26
Ivywhore                               Misaki                                                    17                           
Alpha                                     Branwyn
Beta                                        None