Chapter 5: Kachi wa saya no naka ni ari
                The moon was just starting to rise when Ming Die arrived. She wasn’t alone; she’d brought another Alaka-Wham with her. While keeping a polite expression on his face, Shikarou began to mentally run through lists of combat spells in anticipation of what was likely to come.
                Ming Die stared at him for a moment before sighing and glancing at the other Alaka-Wham. The newcomer spoke. “Ming Die would like you to lower your shields enough for conversation. She also says that she thinks that she has found a solution that shouldn’t involve anyone dying on either side.”
                Shikarou regarded the two of them for a time before speaking. “Very well. As you are aware, Branwyn, in direct disobedience to my instructions, is hiding out in the forest in the hopes that she can rescue me if there is any fighting. What should we do about her?”
                The new pokegirl shrugged. “Invite her in. If she insists on being involved, then let her be completely involved.”
                “I agree, with one proviso. Attacking me is the price of doing business, since I know things you’d rather I didn’t, but she doesn’t know anything vital from me.” Shikarou regarded the two psychic pokegirls with a firm gaze. “So if you attack her or try to use her against me you will be met with all of the power I can muster.”
                Ming Die focused her attention on him. While I did threaten to kill you earlier, circumstances have changed and cooperation may be much more beneficial to all of us.
                “We’ll see about that.” Shikarou murmured a quick spell. “Branwyn, why don’t you join us?”
                Her response sounded angry. “I’ll be right there.” Soon she came stalking out of the surrounding forest.
                Shikarou pulled out his wand and created four comfortable chairs and a small table. “If we are going to be talking, then let’s sit.” He created a teapot and some cups. “Branwyn, would you please serve?”
                She glanced sideways at him as she poured the tea. “Are you mad at me?”
                “I should be, but you were only trying to help and I’ve been trying to encourage more independent behavior. I just wish it wouldn’t start when I was concerned about a possible fight to the death.”
                She smiled briefly and handed out the cups. “I would think that’s the best time, when you need help and are too stubborn to accept it.”
                He shook his head. “Perhaps, but right now maybe we won’t have to do or die.” He turned to Ming Die. “You had an idea?”
                Yes. I’ve consulted with my sisters and we agree that if we make you part of our project then your threat level will diminish to an acceptable state. So I’m here to explore if this is something that you would be willing to examine.
                The strange Alaka-Wham smiled. “You should feel flattered. For the first time since they went to sleep, everyone woke up at the same time in order to deliberate this decision.”
                “So who are you?” Branwyn looked curiously at the new Alaka-Wham.
                She has no name as you would recognize it, not being a member of our family. Perhaps you could call her Ann. She is the daughter of some of my sisters.
                Shikarou cocked his head. “I thought your people hadn’t yet become pokewomen. How is it that she is the daughter of more than one of your sisters?”
                Ann nodded to Ming Die. “You were right, he is perceptive. This is a good sign. I am the product of an attempt to short circuit the parthenogenesis cycle. Eggs were harvested from two of the first generation sisters and the nuclei were combined and then the egg was quickened using the standard cloning process. The result was, ah, unexpected.”
                Ann has some abilities that are stronger than normal, but others are weaker, especially her telepathy.
                Ann smiled. “Ming Die can talk to any of her sisters anywhere, at least as far as we can tell at this point, while I have a range of only ten kilometers or so. On the other hand, I appear to show signs of magical ability, which is why I am here.”
                “I want to join your harem and learn magic from you. I’m seventy four, in good health, and I’ve never had a Tamer.” She looked directly into his eyes. “You won’t be my first male, so I’m not inexperienced. I do, however have the problem that afflicts all of my sisters; I don’t have emotions on my own. I’ll need to bond with you in order to be able to mimic emotions enough not to draw comment.”
                Shikarou looked confused. “Ming Die has shown emotions before.”
                Only through Devon. My bond with him allows me to use his emotions as my own and coincidently lessons the swings his emotional state goes through.
                “No wonder you always seem annoyed,” Shikarou muttered.
                Ming Die blinked and suddenly started laughing. He does seem to be angry a lot of the time, but I assure you that his feelings are much more complex than that. His anger is a defense mechanism against the world.
                Branwyn leaned forward attentively. “So, Ann, what do you bring to the harem?” She smiled at Shikarou’s surprised look. “I’ve been talking with Devon’s harem and both Katherine and Bellona told me that they’ve become very selective about who they allow to stay in their harem. Personally I think it’s a very good idea, especially since you’ve expressed dissatisfaction with most of your current harem.”
                She smirked. “While I don’t think Devon is completely aware of the situation, I know you would be much harder to deceive for any length of time.” The smirk was replaced by a somber look. “I also remember your advice against lying to you, and eventually we would end up working at cross purposes and I’d have to consider lying to you to get my way. If I did lie to you, eventually you would find out and then there would be trouble. Besides, I respect you enough not to want to deceive you at all.”
                Shikarou smiled and took Branwyn’s hand before turning back to Ann. “My alpha asked you a question. What do you bring to the table?”
                Ann took a deep breath. “First of all, I’m aware that your harem doesn’t have a psychic pokegirl other than your Dark Kitsune. I’m sure that she’s more than acceptable, but frankly, I’m better and it is very likely that I’m stronger than she is. I’m widely traveled, so my teleportation abilities will be extremely useful. I’m older than any of your other pokegirls and hopefully you’ll find my maturity refreshing.” She looked at Branwyn. “And while I don’t want to be alpha, I’ll support you against anyone else, as long as you don’t try to cripple my relationship with Shikarou.”
                Branwyn blinked. “I won’t interfere in your relationship with Shikarou unless you somehow become a threat to us. However, if Shikarou does let you join the harem, I will be watching you closely, since your first loyalty will not be to Shikarou or the harem.” She glanced at Shikarou. “In fact, so far I am not convinced that this is a good idea.”
                Shikarou nodded. “I’m not sure it’s a good idea myself.”
                Ann looked levelly at him for a moment and then sighed. “If Ming Die hadn’t issued those threats this would be much easier, but she did, so there’s only one thing I can do to prove to you that I’m serious.” She closed her eyes for a moment. “My shields are down. Come in and see for yourself that I’m no threat.”
                “My spell doesn’t work that way,” Shikarou replied with a smile. “It doesn’t have an offensive component. I happen to suck at mental combat, so I arranged things so I would be on the defensive mentally while I clobbered my attackers with other things. Giving my telepathy spell an offensive element would have been an invitation to get my mind turned inside out, so I avoided the temptation entirely.”
                Ann nodded slowly. “So, may I come into your mind in order for you to explore mine?”
                “Since you actually asked, yes, you may.” Shikarou sipped at his tea for a couple of moments before turning to Branwyn. “She will be loyal to me and in fact will make the harem her family before the Pleiades group. She’s also as eager to learn magic as you are.” He smiled softly. “I’ve always enjoyed teaching. This is going to be fun.”
                Are you aware that there are laws against teaching pokegirls magic? That is one of the reasons that students at Vale are removed immediately if they threshold. They are only allowed to learn that magic that is traditionally known by pokegirls.
                Shikarou looked evenly at Ming Die. “I don’t really care. I will teach my pokegirls whatever I see fit to teach them. In fact, once things settle down, I’ve been thinking about opening a magic school of my own, one that will work with Vale to make magic more accessible to anyone who wants to learn.”
                Ann looked curious. “Why?”
                “Well, among the many other reasons, I think that pokegirls should be more equal to everyone else, and one way to make that happen is to help more humans become more powerful, so that they don’t fear the pokegirls quite so much. Another reason is that pokegirls who learn magic will stick closer to civilization, because if they go feral they could loose everything they just worked so hard to master. So they will interact more with the normal humans, and familiarity often breeds a level of comfort before it becomes contempt. They will also help more to protect civilization against the ferals and the Teams.”
                Shikarou sipped at his tea. “Right now there aren’t enough Tamers and their harems out at any given time to control the feral population. Having pokegirls who are independent enough to fight on their own is the only solution outside of large scale cloning of human males.”
                “But cloning has a horrible rate of failure.” Branwyn looked shocked.
                “We are talking about the survival of your race. The failure rate shouldn’t be a controlling factor.” Shikarou frowned as he marshaled his thoughts. “You start with a large group of pokewomen. You harvest their ovaries and remove all of the eggs, which you then fertilize with sperm that has had all of the X-chromosome sperm removed. That’s easily done with a centrifuge. Say you have ten thousand eggs and you fertilize ninety percent of them. So you have nine thousand fertile eggs, which you develop until you can determine which aren’t viable. Those you dispose of.”
                “The remainder you go ahead and finish maturing. Now let’s assume for the sake of argument that the failure rate is sixty five percent. You will end up disposing of 5850 nonviable eggs, leaving 3150 viable male embryos.” Shikarou shrugged. “That’s more males than some counties in the Blue League have.”
                “With the current male birth rates, this may be the only way to save the human race.”
                Would you use the same technique to create more pure blood humans and wipe out the pokegirls?
                “That would be absurd. Pokegirls are an improvement on pure strain humans, and I’ve never been an advocate of going backwards. But without males, all of your races are doomed to extinction or a world filled with nothing but bestial feral pokegirls reproducing through parthenogenesis. Since they can never advance, it’s still a dead end.”
                “But many humans see the reduction in the number of pure human females as the death knell of the human race,” Branwyn protested. “They’ll want to use this technology to make more.”
                Shikarou shrugged. “That is their right, but in the meantime the pokegirl based humans are going to outperform them evolutionarily. Cloning a large number of pure blood human females is only a solution if they are removed from the breeding population. I suspect the only way to do that would be if they were moved offworld and are given a population of pure blood human males to breed with. PSH males don’t exist on this world, by the way, not after three hundred years. If there are any, their numbers must be in the tens of, oh, tens. Of course, there aren’t that many PSH females as well.”
                The only problem would be that there isn’t anyone who can do large scale cloning like this. It’s never been done before.
                Shikarou gave her an odd look. “Sukebe did it. There are either plans or a technician who helped him who happens to have longevity. Besides, you and Poppet should have a working knowledge of the process, since a lot of it was probably used on the Harris men. There will be others who know the methods, too. You’d just need a facility, if there isn’t one of Sukebe’s that could be put back into working order.”   
                “Anyway, to get back to the important topic, if you want to join my harem, then you are welcome to.”
                Ann nodded. “Thank you. Will you give me a name? Ann is just a temporary name that we use when we need one.”
                Shikarou looked thoughtful. “I see. How about Circe? The original was a possibly historical figure who was a sorceress. She was even involved with an adventurer, although I really don’t fancy being turned into a pig.”
                Ann laughed. “Circe is fine and kind of amusing.” Her eyes narrowed. “That is what you try for isn’t it? You try to laugh your way through life.”
                Shikarou looked surprised. “Apparently you got deeper than I thought. Laughing my way through life beats the alternatives, especially since my wife died.”
                Branwyn shook her head and looked at Ming Die. “Does that mean we aren’t going to be involved in a fight to the death?”
                She smiled. Not with me.
                Branwyn pointed across the ruined causeway that separated Benbecula from the far shore, some 600 meters distant. “That’s the start of South Uist and the land you’ve claimed. I put in a claim only on the one island but some bureaucrat added the islands of Eriskay and Barra to the land grant. They’re a lot smaller than South Uist, but they add to the tax burden you’ll get hit with in January.”
                Shikarou grimaced. “Greedy politicos. Are any of them inhabited?”
                “Not according to the records. Your satellite overflights didn’t pick any significant thermal signs of civilized life, but we both know that there are ferals out there.” She cocked her head. “So how does it feel to be a landowner?”
                “A lot like it felt to not be one,” Shikarou replied dryly. “I think I’ve sited a location for the base from the satellite photos, but I won’t know for sure until we get there.” He reached out and took Branwyn’s hand. “Shall we?” The landscape jumped as they teleported across the water.
                Branwyn changed to her quad form. “I want to find some clothes that will survive the transition,” she commented as he climbed onto her back. “I’m not an animal and I don’t like running around naked.”
                Shikarou nodded. “When we make camp I’ll create you some types of clothing to try out. The only thing that changes is your lower half, so maybe a full skirted dress would work. It would spread out over your withers and cover your equine chest and back.” He chuckled. “Maybe you’ll end up dressing like a gypsy.”
                Branwyn twisted around to look at him with an unusually serious look on her face. “I think we should avoid that if possible. The Travellers are heavily discriminated against, even today. They’re the only group that even the pokegirl lovers are unsure about, because of the rumors and their clannish ways.”
                “I see.” Shikarou frowned. “I meant that we’d dress you in broomstick skirts and other comfortable clothing.” He sighed. “I guess the human tendency to look down on those that are different is still alive and strong. How much discrimination am I likely to get in the larger towns?”
                Branwyn shook herself and fell into a trot. “You might want to get used to the epithet ‘pokeboy’. It’s often used on males who have overt,” she paused, “inhuman characteristics and your ears will be a dead giveaway. It’s not quite bad enough for a fight, so you can’t go trying to beat up everyone who calls you that.”
                Shikarou nodded, not thinking about the fact that Branwyn was facing forward and couldn’t see it. “That’s not my way anyways. I tend to pick the loudest idiot and make an example of him.”
                “You really shouldn’t do that, either,” Branwyn replied. “The police take a dim view of that behavior.”
                “So what can I do?”
                “Not much since you are a stranger, except put up with it.”
                A day later found Shikarou standing on a small rise where he could watch the rolling waves of the sea as they slowly headed towards a small spit of land. Branwyn touched his shoulder. “This is where you want to put the base?”
                “It’ll do well. The ocean isn’t that far away, and Loch Bornish is fairly close, giving a source of fresh water for processing. Well, mildly brackish water, but that works just as well.”
                Circe was moving the largest rocks in a ten meter area into a pile using her telekinesis while Shikarou was finishing up his survey. Finally he was satisfied and motioned both of the pokegirls to stand back.
                Shikarou removed a 20 cm black sphere from his backpack and rotated it to reveal a depression in the smooth surface before he carefully nestled it against the base of the pile of rocks, the depression topmost. He sank his teeth into his wrist and let the blood fill the depression. The sphere quivered and slowly sank into the ground.
                He cast a minor healing spell as he stood and looked at Branwyn. “And that is that. I want to return regularly to monitor the progress, but in six months the base should be ready for habitation. Its final growth will take much longer than that.”
                Circe stared at him. “What kind of magic is that?”
                “I’m not really sure what it is, only that it is way past anything I can put together. In a dozen years or so, the base will give me a large batch of the seeds and we can set up other bases.” Shikarou grinned. “Hell, I’m not even sure it involves magic. I didn’t feel anything, but then I don’t always. Perhaps it’s all technological or a blending of magic and science.”
                He eyed the sky. “Night is coming and this time of year it gets dark quickly. Let’s travel another couple of kilometers southwards and then we’ll make camp for the night.”
                Branwyn finished the spell and watched in satisfaction as the magic missile streaked to her target, a post the Shikarou had set up. Her Tamer watched with a smile. “Excellent. That went off without a hitch, but then I’d expect that from someone with complete recall.” He glanced at Circe and smiled again. “I expect that from you as well.”
                The Alaka-Wham gave him an unhappy look. “I’m trying. Branwyn has been working at this longer and in addition she can use her delta bond with you to feel what it’s supposed to be like, but we haven’t gotten that close yet.”
                Branwyn disagreed. “I think you are bonding to Shikarou more than you think, even though it’s only been a few days. You actually look ticked off, and anger is an emotion.” Circe suddenly looked thoughtful.
                Shikarou got up. “Well, how about we give that hypothesis a test? Circe, I’m going to drop my shields completely and I want you to feel and see how this spell works. If that helps, then so be it.”
                Circe nodded. “I’d like that. If nothing else, it shows you want to trust me and I really appreciate that.”
                He closed his eyes for a moment. “All right, see if that helped.”
                Circe touched his hand. “It did. I’m further into your mind then I’ve ever been.” She cocked her head. “I will keep your secrets from those that I can. I’m not sure that I can keep anything from my sisters, though.”
                Shikarou’s flicked his ears in annoyance. “I knew that before I let you in.” He smiled. “I really don’t have secrets; it’s just that I don’t wander around shouting them to passersby.”
                The Alaka-Wham nodded. “Shall I try the spell again?” Without waiting for an answer she flawlessly sent a magic bolt into the target. “It seems that I was right.” She grinned. “Let me try another.” She cast a fire spell and looked astonished when it fizzled out a couple of meters in front of her. “What happened?”
                Shikarou fought down a smile. “There are two things needed to cast a spell successfully, knowledge and adequate power reserves. You don’t have the latter.”
                Branwyn gave him a curious look. “What can we do to increase it?”
                “There are a couple of things that can be done. First, practice and some mental exercises I’ll teach you will allow you to increase your reserves. However, I’ve found that becoming more efficient with the power you have can actually have a greater effect.”
                Shikarou thought for a moment. “I suppose an analogy might help. You can kill a person if you drop a tree on them, but you can kill a lot more if you turn that tree into a bow and a bunch of arrows.” He smiled. “While not exact, since you need other materials for the bowstring and laminations as well as the arrowheads and fletching, my analogy still works.”
                “As you get more experience, you learn to accomplish the same magical effect with a smaller outlay of power. It’s combining this with increasing your total power level that allows the greatest mages to do all of the things that the legends ascribe to them. Learning spellcasting efficiency with one spell can be applied to anything that you cast. It also means that in magic rich environments, like this world, the ability to cast efficient low power spells means spellcasting can be done without taking anything from your personal reserves. This can be vital in a combat situation, especially in duels, when you need those reserves for a sudden attack on your foe.”
                “What about your wand?” Branwyn frowned. “What does it do?”
                “A wand acts as an aid for a mage who knows how to use one. It helps with efficiency and it can also be used for a better harnessing of the ambient magic to lower your personal expenditure of power.” Shikarou frowned. “I’ll need to get in touch with Faelan and see if there is someplace in Vale where we can get you wands, but I suspect from what he’s told me about the place that only pure blood females are allowed to learn magic. If that’s the case then getting you wands may prove to be problematic.” His brow furrowed in thought. “I can’t remember any of his stories involving pokegirls learning at the academy, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t learn independently.” He glanced up. “I really hope that’s the case, because I don’t know much about wand construction.”
                Shikarou leaned forward and tapped Branwyn on the shoulder. “Do you hear that?”
                Branwyn kept up her trot as she glanced back at him. “No, what is it?”
                “Screaming. Vector left about fifteen degrees and run.”
                “And just how far is fifteen degrees, oh great and powerful master?” She asked sarcastically.
                He reached over her shoulder and pointed. “That way. Now, dammit.” Circe tightened her grip around his waist as Branwyn changed direction and accelerated to a full gallop.
                The ground began to blur by as she picked up speed. “If we hit a cliff at this speed I’ll never be able to stop in time,” she commented almost absently.
                Circe chuckled. “I’ll be able to stop us safely.”
                They crested a rise and ahead of them appeared a pokegirl in a dead run, head down and her arms and legs pumping. Out of a cut came the reason why, two dark furred pokegirls in pursuit. They loped easily along behind the fleeing pokegirl, obviously not in any hurry as they shepherded their prey.
                “Mongoosed,” murmured Circe. “They’re fast in the short term, but they don’t have a lot of endurance. They’re pack pokegirls and are probably chasing that Catgirl into a trap.”
                Branwyn headed for the Catgirl. “You realize she’s headed straight for us, so we’re probably going to hit their trap before she does. What then?”
                “Circe and I’ll take them. Do you think you can capture the two Mongoosed?”
                Branwyn laughed, low and evil. “If I can’t they’ll never catch me.”
                “If you need help, ask for it. You’re much more important to me then any of these ferals.” Shikarou leaned forward and kissed the back of Branwyn’s neck. “Be careful.”
                The Unicorn reached behind her and patted his leg. “The same goes for you. I’m not ready to break in a new Tamer.” Suddenly she pointed. “There!”
                Motion. About where he’d ambush the oncoming Catgirl if he were in charge. “Circe, teleport us behind them.”
                Suddenly Shikarou and Circe were standing behind two of the ambushers, another pair of Mongoosed. Circe seized both of them with her telekinesis and slammed them violently together. Bone crunched at the impact. “Sorry, they’re just so fragile,” she muttered. She dropped them to land limply as Shikarou pokeballed them both.
                “Use your telepathy to locate any others.”
                Circe nodded. “There are four more; not counting the ones that Branwyn is currently beating up. They’re divided into two teams and are moving to intercept us.” She pointed to indicate attack vectors. “Two more Mongoosed are there and the others are Ermines.”
                Shikarou released Kiyoko. “Looks like we’re going to have some fun. We’ve got two pairs of pokegirls coming to attack. All of them should be Mongoosed or along that evolutionary path, which makes them normal types.”
                Kiyoko’s ears pricked up. “Doesn’t sound like much of a fight, does it?” She grinned. “Let’s do this.”
                Circe glanced at him. “The two Mongoosed are closer and coming on strong. I suggest we take care of them first.” She continued when Shikarou nodded. “Kiyoko, I’ll grab them with my telekinesis and then you hit them with psychic. We’ll see what we have to do after that.”
                When the first Mongoosed popped her head up to sniff the air, Circe snatched her off of the ground and held her there for a few seconds as Kiyoko hit her with a psychic attack. The Mongoosed’s eyes rolled up into her head and she went limp.
                Shikarou threw his pokeball as Circe dropped the unconscious pokegirl and grabbed the second, who had charged them from about twenty meters away when she saw her packmate taken. Kiyoko knocked this one out the same way and Shikarou caught her as well.
                The Ermines were captured just as easily.
                Branwyn trotted up as Shikarou was packing away his new acquisitions, the Catgirl at her side. The Unicorn gave Shikarou a sour look as she handed him two filled pokeballs. “Meet Amy. She’s not feral.”
                Amy blinked. “You’ve got a Tamer!” She started towards him only to pull up as Kiyoko stepped between her and Shikarou. The Dark Kitsune growled as her ears went back. “Come on,” whined the Catgirl “let me touch him! I haven’t seen a Tamer in so long.”
                Branwyn chuckled as she shifted to her human form. “If you haven’t seen a Tamer in while, I seriously doubt you want to stop at just touching.”
                Amy grinned. “Maybe, maybe not. But I’d wait until Lynn said it was ok.” She blinked. “Lynn is in charge around here.”
                Shikarou frowned. “Is Lynn your Tamer?”
                “No, he’s been dead for over a year. We’ve been stuck here alone and Lynn ended up the boss. She’s the strongest of us and her orders make sense.” She smiled suddenly. “Now that you’ve taken out the Ermines and their pack, we shouldn’t have any major problems.”
                “Let me take you to our home. It isn’t very far.”
                Shikarou glanced at Branwyn, who shrugged. “You own the whole island, so you probably need to meet anyone who’s living here.” And see if you want to remove them or tax them, she commented mentally.
                Amy looked surprised and then pleased. “You own the island? That’s wonderful. If we live here, that makes you our Tamer too!”
                Shikarou looked at Branwyn curiously. “What do you think of her logic?”
                “Traditionally, she’s correct. Landowners have taming rights over all unattached pokegirls on their land, if they can catch them. Legally,” she shrugged, “legally the courts have upheld the traditional laws enough that although not codified, I wouldn’t be worried about losing a case in court over landowner’s rights.”
                Branwyn took his arm and leaned her head against his shoulder. “As the landlord, you have the responsibilities of enforcing the laws of the Blue League on your land, but outside of that you have very wide latitude. You could impose a tax of one pokegirl or anything else on any Tamer crossing your lands, if you wanted, and all the Tamer could do is protest once he got someplace else.” She glanced up at him. “And the courts would be very cautious about restricting your powers, since most of them are landowners or other powerful people themselves.”
                “Do I have a title?”
                She smiled. “The Blue League doesn’t recognize the titles of the old British Empire, so no. You could assume a title if you wanted to, but it would be worthless.”
                Her smile widened. “Devon became a baron when Cameron died, although I doubt he’s aware of it. When things were falling apart and the Red Plague was devastating the population, the Queen of England turned any surviving landowners into nobility and charged them with maintaining the Empire. Because the Conservatory had an organized military unit, Jamie became a baron. It actually worked until the Tamer’s Revolt and the formation of the Leagues.”
                “The new administration wanted to sweep away all of the remnants of the old, so the noble titles were dropped.”
                An odd expression crossed Shikarou’s face. “What happened to the royal family?”
                Branwyn frowned. “No one knows. Some survived the Bloody Plague but the records become fragmented after that. Who they were or where they went isn’t known.”
                Shikarou stroked her hair. “Well, it doesn’t matter. So what, I have the power of high, middle and low justice on my land?”
                “Essentially that is the case. You control the land, its occupants and it usage. No one can hunt here without your permission, and if you decide you don’t like them, you can evict them from your lands and they have no recourse except to sue for the value of their possessions.” Branwyn glanced at the fidgeting Amy. “Not their home, just their possessions. Anything attached to the land belongs to you unless you deed it to someone else.”
                “I see. Well if I’m the landlord, let’s meet my tenants.” Shikarou turned to Amy. “I’d like to meet Lynn. Please, take me to her.” He turned to Kiyoko. “I need the new catches taken to the Conservatory. Fancy a good run?”
                The Dark Kitsune grinned. “I’ve had enough of a rest, so yes.” She took the offered pokeballs and sketched a salute. “Be right back.” She vanished.
                Circe glanced at him. “I take it you think she can find you through her bond?”
                Shikarou shrugged as Branwyn shifted back to her quad form. “I don’t really know, but if she can’t then she can always return to the Conservatory and have Poppet call us.”
                “So this is a test of Kiyoko’s ability to find you.” It wasn’t a question.
                Shikarou grinned and boosted Amy onto Branwyn’s back. “Actually it’s a test of how well Kiyoko can feel the bond. She thinks it’s strong enough that she can use it to find me. I want to know if she’s right.”
                “I want you to understand that I’m not trying to keep away from you, but just that right now you need to stay over there.” Lynn gave him an apologetic smile. Her long bright blue hair shivered and her eyes glittered as she spoke.
                Shikarou frowned as he considered her words from where he sat on the other side of the cottage’s only room from her. He’d already had to cool his heels over an hour while Lynn met with Branwyn first. She’d insisted on this, and since Shikarou had wanted to start this off on a good footing, he hadn’t tried to argue it. Besides, this gave him more time to try and wrap his mind around the idea that he owned everything on this island, including the rundown cottage they were in right now.
                A faded sign out front had stated that is was the oldest continually in use building on the island and noted that the original cottage had been built in 1622. That made this place over thirteen hundred years old, so he could understand if it carried its age a little badly.
                The thatch was missing in places and what remained had been badly patched. Shikarou figured it leaked in good weather, much less bad. Several panes of the windows had been broken and the remaining ones were black with grime.
                The door was missing and a patchy blanket covered the doorway. Still, it was better than sleeping outside in the elements. A thin line of smoke issued from the stump of a chimney to announce that the cottage was inhabited. Of course, considering that any sparks would go into the thatch, Shikarou decided they’d been lucky not to have already burned the place down.
                The place was a definite fixer-upper.
                He pulled his mind back to the present. “I don’t know why you’re doing this, but I’ll go along with it for the moment.” He smiled. “I hope it isn’t an ElfQueen thing. It isn’t, is it?”
                Lynn smiled. “No, my wanting to keep away from you while we talk has nothing to do with the fact that I am an ElfQueen. It has everything to do with the fact that we’ve been without a Tamer for a very long time.”
                “Ah, yes, Amy mentioned that your Tamer died a year ago.”
                The ElfQueen grimaced slightly. “Amy is more than half feral herself and because of it has no concept of time. Carl died over three years ago and we haven’t seen a male since.” She placed her hands together in her lap. “And that’s the problem. I can smell you from here, your maleness fills the air, and if you come any closer, I’m afraid I won’t be able to control myself.” Lynn’s emerald eyes smoldered as she met his gaze. “I want you so badly, but I need to know what you are like and what your plans are before I allow myself to bond to you. I have responsibilities to the others here and I’m concerned that if I’m taken away, they will suffer due to my absence.” Her hands clenched so hard that they trembled.
                “So you are the ruler?” Shikarou watched her closely.
                Her grimace grew more pronounced. “I am, but it doesn’t really mean anything yet. My kingdom, as it were, comprises Amy and Juniper, whom you haven’t met yet, along with one Drow Zee, one Grandelf, and three Elves. And the Elves washed up on the island already feral. They were comatose when they arrived and they’ve stayed that way for over a year, in spite of the fact that we’ve tried practically everything that we could think of. There are a handful of other feral pokegirls on the island, but the Ermines and their pack of Mongoosed have been systematically depopulating the island for their food. It was only a matter of time before they wiped everyone else out.”
                She gave him a pleading look. “Please help me. This island could be a wonderful place, if I only had the help. I know you are on your pokegirl journey, but you can still help. Is it true that you’ve claimed the island?”
                Shikarou gave a slightly uncomfortable nod. “It is.”
                “Then if you will let me rule in your absence, we can make this a wonderful place to live.” Lynn started to reach out to him but stopped. “Will you help me?” She blinked. “Will you let me help you?”
                Shikarou thought briefly. “Yes, damn it. What do I need to do?”
                Lynn let out a long breath. “You’ll need to start by taming all of us. We’re all on the ragged edge of becoming feral and by bonding us you can reverse the damage. You can start with me.” She smiled. “RHIP and all that.”
                Shikarou nodded and got to his feet. “I suppose you are right. Rank does have its privileges.” Lynn watched with an anxious look as he walked over and took her hand. He pulled her to her feet and touched her cheek gently. “No time like the present, is there?”
                Her smile seemed to light up the room. “I suppose not.”
                She lifted up her face and kissed him hungrily and then stepped back. Lynn dropped the straps of her dress and shimmied her body. It fell to pool at her feet. “Care to join me?”
                Shikarou shrugged out off his shirt and kicked off his shoes. He reached for his pants only to find Lynn’s eager hands ahead of his. Together they finished undressing him in record time.  
                The ElfQueen dropped to her knees and rubbed her lips against his groin. Shikarou groaned as she opened her mouth and sucked him deep.
                He wrapped his fingers in her hair and pulled her off his cock. She made an unhappy noise as he pulled her to her feet and pushed her towards the bed.
                They fell together onto it, which promptly responded by collapsing in a cloud of dust. Ignoring what just taken place; Lynn wrapped her legs around his waist and pulled imperiously. Shikarou resisted her efforts and took a nipple in his mouth. She groaned and pulled harder with her legs as she took his head in her hands. “Please,” she moaned and ground his face against her breast.
                He relented and slid himself inside her wetness. Lynn screamed and he stopped. “NO! DON’T STOP!” Shikarou bit her nipple gently and started stroking into her. Lynn’s hips rose to meet his thrusts as she began gasping in time to his hips. Her body convulsed and almost threw him off of her as she screamed at the top of her lungs. Shikarou slowed to give her time to recover but apparently that wasn’t the right move. “Faster. FASTER!” He sped up again and suddenly she convulsed once more and raked her nails down his back as she screamed again.
                He raised himself up on his arms and started driving into her as his orgasm burned a line up his groin and he exploded inside her. She came again and sank her teeth into his wrist.
                Shikarou pulled out of her and pulled her off the wreckage of the bed and onto the floor. He rolled her onto her stomach as she made a protesting noise. He twisted her hair into a rope and pulled Lynn onto her knees.
                She looked back at him and a surprised look crossed her face. “You’re still hard.” Lynn laid her head down on her arms and arched her back. “Do it!” She gasped as Shikarou pulled her head back up by her hair and drove himself into her. Once more she screamed. “Oh, god!” Her words quickly became incoherent as Shikarou slammed into her over and over. Suddenly she went into a series of orgasms, screaming and raking the floor with her hands.
                He drove harder, knocking her forward with each thrust. Only his grip on her hair kept her from being sent sprawling. He roared as his orgasm started in his toes and spilled into her.
                Slowly he lowered his weight to rest on top of Lynn as she relaxed. She sighed and smiled as she turned to look back at him over her shoulder. She smiled. “The only reason my knees don’t hurt is because I can’t feel my legs. We probably need to find a more comfortable position before the feeling returns.”
                Shikarou slid off her and crawled to his clothes. He pulled out his wand and replaced the ruins of the bed with a nice four-poster. Holstering the wand, he picked up his ElfQueen and laid her gently on the sheets. She arched her body and smiled. “This is much nicer, my lord.”
                Shikarou slid onto the bed next to her. “I’m glad you like it, my lady.”
                They kissed and Lynn pushed him flat on his back. “Now where was I? Oh, that’s right.” She slid down his body and this time Shikarou didn’t fight her.
                                Yushiko circled overhead, considering the cottage through the gently falling snow. A handful of days and Shikarou’s magic had wrought many changes. First of all it kept her warm and her wings dry as she flew.
                The holes in the thatched roof of the cottage had been filled in, and evenly spaced spots of green covered it. Shikarou had said that the plants he’d created would grow into a much more durable roof that was self repairing and would actually consume the thatch as it covered it. It was also fireproof, even though he’d started everything off by repairing the chimney and fireplace.
                The rotting door frame had been repaired and the missing door replaced and all of the window panes had been emptied and then refilled with an unbreakable glass.
                Yushiko could see Shikarou as he moved around the exterior of the cottage. He was growing the rock walls together with another spell and in a day or so would actually start on the interior.
                The pokegirls had started showing signs of recovery as well. The tamings had settled them down and the regular meals had resulted in a dramatic upswing in morale and activity.
                She banked and turned away to continue her endless patrols of the area, waving to Lorelei as she did so. Yushiko grinned at no one in particular, although Lorelei returned the toothy smile. Shikarou had promised her a surprise when he was done and she couldn’t wait to find out what it was.
                Branwyn let go of his hand as Shikarou looked at the sword-smith’s building. “This is where Paulette brought me. Rumor has it that the smith is rather, um, proud of his work and won’t take any attitude from prospective customers.”
                Shikarou nodded as he straightened the kamishimo he’d changed into for the trip. “The good ones are usually that way and you just have to put up with their foibles. My research indicates that this is the shop of Yoshihara Masato, one of the old masters. His son, Keiichi is now the sword-maker and he’s supposed to be one of the best in Edo.”
                He pulled Yushiko’s pokeball from his belt and eyed it. “I just hope that since his swords were good enough for Devon’s Armsmistress, Tess, they’ll be good enough to satisfy mine.” Shikarou activated it and watched Yushiko form. She appeared, watching him as she did so. “We’re in Edo, at the shop of one of the premier sword-makers in the whole league. I want to get you a better weapon than that silly western sword you’ve been using.” He grinned briefly. “It clashes with the new you.”
                Yushiko gave him a delighted smile. “Thank you, my lord.” She turned to face the building and froze for a moment before spinning around to face him again. “Lord, this is a wonderful gift!” Her face was slightly pale. “How did you know?” She turned and raced into the building.
                Branwyn gave him a puzzled look. “How did you know what?”
                Shikarou gazed at the doorway his Armsmistress had disappeared into and shrugged. “I’m as much in the dark as you are, but I intend to find out before she insults Yoshihara-san.” He quickly followed his Armsmistress into the building, Branwyn close behind.
                Once inside, Shikarou was stunned to find Yushiko in a deep embrace with an older gentleman. When they broke apart she pointed at Shikarou, tears glittering in the corners of her eyes. “This is my Tamer, Shikarou.”
                The old man bowed deeply to a still startled Shikarou. “I wish to thank you for returning my great-granddaughter to me. The Yoshihara family is in your debt.” He straightened himself up regally. “I am Yoshihara Masato and you are welcome in my home.” A ghost of a smile appeared. “As much as my family owes you, I must still ask a great favor of you, Tamer Shikarou.”
                Branwyn watched with amazement as Shikarou composed himself and an aura of nobility settled around him like a cloak. “A favor is indeed a great thing to ask of me, Yoshihara-san, but I will consider it before refusing. Ask.”
                Masato’s smile had vanished as if it had never existed and he asked in a humble tone, “I would ask that you remain here with my family until Yushiko’s family can make the necessary arrangements to come see their only child.”
                Shikarou considered the request briefly as he watched Yushiko almost vibrate with excitement. “As long as the arrangements do not take more than a few days, I see no harm in it. Otherwise we will have to return when her family can travel here.”
                Masato nodded. “I believe that they can be here tomorrow evening. I will contact them immediately.” He glanced at Branwyn. “Are there only the three of you in your party?”
                Shikarou smiled as the air became less formal. “No, I’ve got my whole harem. However, I know your home is full and therefore we will set up our camp nearby. I will not impose upon you unnecessarily.” He made a small motion with his hand as Masato started to protest and the older man paused. “Before you explain to me that your home is much nicer than my tent, let me assure you that it is no hardship to stay in it. However, I would be delighted if my harem and I could take our meals with your family.”
                Masato glanced at his great-granddaughter. “Yushiko, is this true?”
                “Yes, great-grandfather, we live in a very nice tent. Shikarou can do magic and our tent is wonderful. It’s like living in a house.”
                Masato eyed Shikarou with barely disguised interest, but before he could speak, Branwyn smiled. “Of course, we would be honored if you would like to see it.”
                “This is Branwyn, my alpha.” Shikarou smiled. “And she’s right. I would be pleased if you would see my handiwork, as I am here to see yours and your son’s.” He nodded in the direction of the single visible sword stand. “I actually came here to find a proper weapon for Yushiko. She’s become an Armsmistress and I wanted her to have a good sword and one of your former clients recommended we come here.”
                Masato’s eyes twinkled. “Really, and who is this benefactor?”
                “His name is Devon Harris.”
                The old man laughed. “That one? I almost refused to sell him anything. If his pokegirl hadn’t been able to pick out the quality weapon I’d placed amongst the others, I’d have sent him away empty handed. Still, the gods have smiled on my family this day, no matter your reason for coming here.”
                “Now, let me show you my home. My son and his family are on a picnic and won’t return until after dark, so it is unlikely that you will get to meet them until tomorrow.” He ushered Shikarou and Branwyn forward, keeping a tight grip on Yushiko’s hand all the while.
                Branwyn snuggled closer against him as Circe looked over from where she sat nearby. “Are you going to leave Yushiko here?” She kept her voice low and her antenna twitched slowly as she sampled the thoughts in the room.
                Shikarou glanced at the activity in the living area where they were sitting. For him, after such a long time alone or with a small group, it seemed like the place was awash with humanity, and he wasn’t quite sure how he felt about it.
                Yushiko was sitting with her parents, Nakamoto Ryota and his wife, Nobuko. Ryota taught kenjutsu down in the city and his wife, being a Samurai, was his “assistant”, even if she was vastly more skilled than he was with a sword.
                There were more than a few additional Yoshiharas present in the room. Masato was the clan elder, and while eighty years old he looked more like fifty and was still quite active and vigorous. His son, Keiichi, was the result of an unexpected pregnancy with a family retainer while Masato was still very young. He was sixty five although he looked thirty and still ran the smithy in spite of the skill of his own son, Kazuhiro. Considering the two eldest males, Shikarou suspected that more than a touch of longevity graced the Yoshihara bloodline.  Kazuhiro worked as an assistant smith and currently specialized in the folding of the blade although he was trained in all of the steps necessary to produce a quality weapon.
                Edo still had many prejudices against both women and pokegirls, so it was mildly surprising that both of Keiichi’s living wives helped in the sword production. Shinju was an elderly Blazicunt, and while her arthritis precluded heavy activity, she was an expert at sword polishing. Her sister wife, Sachiko, was a Brass and still helped to operate the forge. Nobuko’s direct mother and Yushiko’s grandmother, a Ronin named Noriko, had died after Yushiko had been captured.
                Keiichi had several children. The range of their ages had surprised Shikarou until he learned that pokewomen often remained fertile until sixty. Nobuko was the eldest child at forty eight years of age. After her was Kazuhiro, the heir to the smithy. He was twenty seven. Diasuke was the next oldest child. He lived somewhere in Crescent Moon with his son, Haruo, the cousin Yushiko had gone to stay with. Next came Tsutomu, who was nineteen and off on his pokegirl journey.
                After him there was Junko, their only human daughter. She’d just turned sixteen and was deliberating the pros and cons of starting her own pokegirl journey. She’d spent most of the morning talking with Shikarou about it and he suspected that she was inclined towards the idea.
                Fumiko was fourteen years old and had thresholded into a Statue when she was twelve. Her family had been able to easily keep the change secret until at thirteen she’d spontaneously evolved into a Marble. Knowing that it was now easy to identify her as a pokegirl, Masato had used a water stone to evolve her into a Titto so she could continue to hide what she’d become. Shikarou knew only because Junko had let slip her sister’s secret. He’d promised the extremely embarrassed young woman not to tell anyone else.
                Last was Yumi. Born a Torch Chick, she’d worked in the smithy her whole life. Now twelve, the Yoshihara family was working to decide what to do with her when she turned fifteen and became eligible for capture. Masato was inclined to find a nice Tamer for her, since he didn’t want to deal with the trouble that was sure to follow her if she evolved into a Combusticunt while living at home.
                All of them were here to see Yushiko and to meet the Tamer who’d brought her home. Even Tsutomu had flown home on his Pidgeota to see his niece.
                For Shikarou it was a bit overwhelming. He’d spent the last two months practically alone, and all of these happy people made him feel a bit odd.
                “I haven’t made up my mind yet. I really don’t want to give her up, but she’s very happy here.” He stroked Branwyn’s golden tresses idly as he kept his voice deliberately low. “We’ll be here for at least another day, so I’ve got time to consider all of the possible repercussions.”
                The Unicorn opened her eyes slowly and murmured, “What repercussions?”
                “There are several people here proficient with swords and some powerful pokegirls. If they don’t want me to take Yushiko when I leave, things could turn very ugly.” He snorted quietly. “I’m sure Edo law would agree that Yushiko belongs to me, but there still could be a high body count on both sides before the dust settles.” He shifted slightly, easing his back more firmly against the wall. “I’m not sure they realize that I didn’t deliberately come here to reunite Yushiko with her family. Hell, even Yushiko seems to believe I did in spite of what I told her last night. Considering all of this, there is the definite possibility of trouble later on.”
                Circe looked around the room appraisingly. “They had given Yushiko up as lost forever and aren’t sure how they feel yet about her return. They’d even added her likeness to the family shrine.”
                Branwyn frowned. “Somehow that doesn’t make me feel more positive about the situation.”
                Shikarou shrugged. “Only time will tell, but in the meantime be ready for anything. If there is trouble, we’ll run until we can regroup and decide our next action. Branwyn, tonight I want you and Lorelei to explore the area surrounding the smithy. That will give us more exit points if we need to do a teleport assault. Circe, you’ll stay close to me in order to get me the fuck out of here just in case a quick retreat becomes necessary.”
                Circe slid along the wall until she was cuddled against his free side. “It sounds like you are planning to fight them if you have to.”
                “If I chose to leave Yushiko here, that’s one thing. If they decide I’m going to leave her here, that is something entirely different, and something they are likely to live to regret.” His eyes hardened slightly. “No one steals from me.”
                Shinju settled down at the table across from him. It was early morning and almost everyone else was still asleep. Branwyn and Lorelei had taken Kiyoko with them on their exploratory mission and wouldn’t return for an hour or two. Circe was leaning sleepily against him, clutching a cup of hot tea in her hands. She hadn’t been asleep for long when Shinju had knocked on the tent door.
                The Blazicunt looked around the tent with a tiny smile. “I am still amazed at this place. Your magic is everything my granddaughter has claimed it to be.” She took the tea Shikarou had poured for her and sipped at it. “I apologize for the hour, but as soon as my husband gets up we’ll all be hard at work. We’ve got several important orders that need to be filled as soon as we can get the swords done.”
                “Keiichi is uncomfortable dealing with people, so as his eldest wife that duty falls to me. I am afraid I have to tell you that we do not have a sword good enough for Yushiko and it may be some time before we can make her one.” She cocked her head, her feathers rustling quietly. “Would you be willing to take a lesser quality sword until we can make her one suitable for her skills?”
                “I suspect that any Yoshihara sword will be superior to many of the best swords anyone else can produce. I would be honored to have the least of your swords for my Armsmistress.”
                Shinju blinked slowly. “You are very polite. I am glad to see that.” She smiled. “It gives me hope for the youngsters of today.”
                She glanced at him over her cup as sipped at her tea. “Junko has decided to go on her pokegirl journey.”
                Shikarou’s ears flicked at the sudden change of topic. “I hope that she has the approval of her parents in this endeavor.”
                Shinju nodded. “She does. Today she will be going into Tomakomai to get her starter pokegirl. I was hoping that you would be willing to go with her in order to give her the benefit of your experience.”
                “I’ve only been on my pokegirl journey for about two months, so I’m unsure as to how much benefit I would actually be. Tsutomu’s advice would probably be vastly superior to my own.”
                “Junko and Tsutomu have had a rivalry almost since she was born, so it is doubtful that she would be willing to consider his advice and you are the only other active Tamer here.” Shinju met his gaze. “I was also hoping that you and she might take the opportunity to get to know each other better.”
                Shikarou watched her silently for a moment. Shinju’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Is my daughter unacceptable to you?”
                “I’m not looking to get married right now.” Shikarou’s voice was flat.
                Shinju frowned and looked thoughtful before smiling. “I see where you might have thought that was what I was trying to do, but I was hoping to ask another favor of you on behalf of Junko and if you two were friends it would be easier to say yes.”
                “Another favor?”
                “Junko does not want to travel here in Edo and I was hoping to convince you to take her back to the Blue League with you.” She gave a tiny shrug, more imagined than seen. “Junko does not wish to let our family name interfere with her journey. She is concerned that she will be given an unfair advantage if she tries to travel here in Edo. It has already happened to Tsutomu. On a personal note, Junko is our only human daughter and there are those who might try to mistreat her due to old rivalries and feuds. By traveling where our name isn’t known she would be safer than if she did so here.” Shinju sighed. “It is also much less likely that she would be imprisoned until she agreed to become someone’s wife. Are human women treated better in the Blue League?”
                “Yes they are. As rare as they happen to be, anyone who mistreats them is punished very severely. Often they are put to death,” Shikarou smiled “by the civilian populace and not the police. I’ll consider taking her to the Blue League with me when I leave.”
                “Thank you very much.”
                Shikarou leaned back in his chair and watched Branwyn as she sucked down another sherbet. They’d left the pokegirl center and wandered a short way down the street while Junko was taming her Catgirl. He checked his watch. It had been about an hour, but he knew that first tamings often took a while. Besides, he didn’t have anywhere to be right this moment. Of course, Lynn was expecting him back tomorrow and they’d have to make a decision about Gwyneth at that point.
                Branwyn smirked at him while eating as he rubbed one of his ears. “Does it hurt?”
                “I’m just checking to make sure it’s still there.” It had been a four hour hike down the mountain and into town. The whole way down Junko had talked incessantly. She talked about the weather, about her family, about her friends and just about anything else that came to mind. By the time they’d made it into town, Shikarou knew more about her than he knew about a couple of his own sisters.
                Her smile vanished suddenly. “He’s back.”
                “Is he staring at you again?”
                “Of course he is.” She ate faster. “Think he’s going to challenge you?”
                They’d attracted the usual crowd as soon as they stepped outside the pokegirl center, but one individual had stood out almost immediately. He’d spent almost fifteen minutes staring at Branwyn before Shikarou had enough. When he approached the man, who turned out to be named Jiang Fang, the man had offered to buy Branwyn. He’d become very upset when told no, and had threatened to return and take her by force.
                Shikarou had responded by ignoring him from that point on. Fang had turned several interesting shades of red and hurriedly left. Apparently he’d returned.
                “You! Coward!” The crowd exploded away from Fang as soon as they realized what he’d shouted.
                The wooden table creaked beneath Shikarou’s hands. Branwyn looked at him curiously. “I take it you didn’t like that.”
                He gave her a tiny smile. “Not particularly. I tend to do bad things to people who call me that.” He rose easily to his feet and turned to face Fang. “I presume you are talking to me.” It wasn’t a question.
                “Give me your Unicorn or suffer my wrath!” Spittle sprayed from Fang’s mouth as he shouted.
                Shikarou smiled. “Wrath.”
                “Very well, fool.” He pulled a pokeball from his belt. “Ruiling, I screw you!”
                His pokegirl began to coalesce as Shikarou glanced at Branwyn. “Did he say ‘screw’?”
                “Some Tamers do. It’s considered passé in the Blue League.”
                The pokegirl who appeared looked almost human, trim and athletic. The only false note was her vibrant lemon yellow hair.
                Warning. That is a Neo Iczel, a very powerful pokegirl. Quickly his twee downloaded the pokedex entry.
                Branwyn stood and moved to put herself into the battle position but stopped when Shikarou raised his hand. “Not this time. That is a Neo Iczel and I’m not taking a chance on you getting defeated. They are weak against psychic and I intend to teach this baka a lesson.” He pulled a pokeball from his belt. “Circe, you’re up.”
                The Alaka-Wham appeared with a smile. “I have one question. What about property damage?”
                “Don’t care. Do you want my guidance or do you want to do this yourself?”
                She smiled. “Your help would be useful. This is my first real pokegirl battle.” Branwyn groaned.
                “Kill him!” Fang was spitting again. Ruiling lifted off the ground and zipped forward, accelerating hard as a shimmering blade of energy materialized in her hand.
                Duck. Shikarou obeyed his pokegirl’s mental command and crouched. Circe reached out with her telekinesis and pulled. The Neo Iczel blasted past her just barely out of sword range and smashed through the building behind Shikarou.
                Ruiling shook off the rubble and rose into the air, searching for her opponent. She spotted Shikarou and summoned her energy blade again as she flew towards him. Circe nailed her with a manhole cover as she dove, driving the Neo Iczel into the pavement.
                “Ignore his pokegirl! Once he’s dead they’re all mine!”
                Can you hold a psychic attack ready and teleport at the same time? Shikarou felt her surprise at his question.
                I’ve never tried before, but I think so.
                Shikarou nodded mentally. Then use precog to know where she’s going to be and come out behind her and do it.
                Ruiling dove at Shikarou, her fists starting to glow. Shikarou summoned his sword and went into a low guard position. However, before the Neo Iczel could release her power bolt, Circe teleported.
                She reappeared in the air right next to Ruiling and released her psychic attack at point blank range. Blood spurted from the Neo Iczel’s ears and she curved to the right before smashing into another wall.
                Ruiling rose shakily to her feet as Circe lofted the largest piece of wreckage from the building into the air at the Neo Iczel. Before Ruiling could react, Circe hit her with psychic once more. She’d already started to drop when the rubble crunched into her. Circe picked it up and hammered her with it again to make sure she stayed down.
                Circe glanced at Shikarou. “I probably shouldn’t hurt her too much, should I?” She smashed the unconscious pokegirl with the rubble again. “Should I?”
                “Stop that.”
                Circe laughed and flung the now smaller piece of rubble in the general direction of Fang, who danced out of the way, screaming in rage. Branwyn snickered.
                “I win.” Shikarou smiled. “I think you will apologize for calling me a coward and I’ll keep the Neo Iczel. Do that and I’ll let you live.”
                Fang sneered. Shikarou noted that finally they’d found something Fang did well. Maybe he practiced. “You’ll get nothing from me!”
                Shikarou pointed at Ruiling’s pokeball. “Here.” The ball shot across the space and into his hand. He returned the Neo Iczel to her pokeball. “Thank you for your cooperation. Now about that apology.”
                Fang’s eyes narrowed. “You have no idea who you just insulted,” he snarled as he reached behind his back and pulled out an automatic pistol. Aiming it at Shikarou’s heart, he snarled, “Here’s your apology.”
                There was a meaty ripping sound and Fang screamed in pain, dropping the pistol to clutch his gun hand. “Oops,” from Circe. “I keep forgetting how fragile they are.” Fang’s index finger shot to Shikarou and hovered in front of him. “Do you want this?”
                Shikarou plucked it out of the air. “Thanks. This will do for his apology.” He popped the finger into his mouth, chewed and swallowed.
                Fang screamed again, this time a cry of mingled pain, rage and fear.
                “WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?” The policeman lowered his bullhorn and two OfficerJenny’s moved forward, stun guns ready. The crowd started to scatter but stopped when they realized that more police pokegirls and their Tamers had already moved to cut them off.
                “Well?” One of the OfficerJenny’s faced Shikarou, her stun gun steady.
                “This man attacked me and I defended myself. He was defeated and I claimed one of his pokegirls as payment for the attack. He pulled a pistol on me and lost his trigger finger.” He slowly unhooked his pokedex. “I’m from the Blue League and recorded the entire incident.” He smiled slowly. “I must warn you when you watch the recording that some of the communication between my Alaka-Wham and me was via telepathy and therefore won’t be in the vid.”
                The OfficerJenny blinked as she took the pokedex. “I see. Where is the finger now?”
                “You’ll have to return it. You aren’t allowed to keep trophies.”
                Shikarou frowned and then shrugged, turned, stuck his finger down his throat and vomited. He produced a silk handkerchief and wiped his mouth. “It’s in there.” A slight smirk appeared. “I’m not going to get it.”
                The OfficerJenny turned green and quickly looked away. “I, uh, ok.”
                The other OfficerJenny and the policeman were having a quick conference before he waved, summoning a NurseJoy who was also in police uniform to heal Fang. The first Jenny went to talk to him and the three of them watched the recording on Shikarou’s pokedex.
                Another NurseJoy stirred through the vomit with gloved hands and bagged the bits of finger. She looked up at Shikarou, a look of annoyance and curiosity on her face. “Why did you eat it?”
                “I knew he’d want it back, and the little prick called me a coward. I want him to remember the price he paid for that thoughtless remark.”
                “Let me guess, samurai?” She stood when Shikarou nodded.  He glanced at her chest and noted her nametag read “Mitzi”. “You are going to have problems with Fang. We know him; he’s an enforcer for the local Yakuza.”
                Shikarou glanced at his vanquished foe, who was busily having his hand wrapped by the other NurseJoy. “They must not have a lot of competition if he’s one of their enforcers.”
                Mitzi bit off a laugh. “He’s supposed to be one of their best. The police have been unable to get any evidence against him up to this point.”
                “Well if he wants to get revenge on me he’s going to have to go to the Blue Continent. I’m leaving in the morning.”
                The NurseJoy shook her head. “No, the police will want you to stay around while they conduct their investigation.”
                “I can always come back. Besides, if I stay, the Yakuza will keep attacking me and more of their people will get hurt.”
                Mitzi smiled. “Confident, aren’t you?”
                “Are you familiar with Japanese proverbs? I noticed by your nametag that you aren’t from Edo.”
                “I’m from Indigo, and no, I’m not.”
                “Here is one: Asu no koto o ieba, tenjo de nezumi ga warau.”
                Mitzi repeated it carefully. “What does it mean?”
                “A literal translation would be that when you talk about tomorrow the mice in the ceiling laugh at you. It means you shouldn’t worry overly about tomorrow since you don’t know what it will bring.” He smiled. “It might bring the Yakuza victory against me, but then again it might not. I’m going to work towards the not.”
                She smiled. “Are there any more that would be applicable?”
                “Neko ni koban would probably be another one.” Shikarou continued when she gave him a curious look. “The literal translation is gold coins to a cat.  It means don’t give gifts to people who can’t understand them, like the fact that I tried to show Fang mercy. He doesn’t seem to be the type to understand the concept.”
                She nodded. “He’s supposed to have done horrible things to a couple of businessmen who didn’t want to pay their insurance.”
                “You there! Shikarou.” It was the policeman. He waved imperiously for Shikarou to join him. Apparently he wasn’t going to get too close to the vomit.
                Shikarou bowed to Mitzi. “If you will excuse me?” He went over and bowed to the policeman, as he read the man’s name badge. “Officer Tanaka, how may I help you?”
                “You have been accused of an unprovoked attack on Jiang Fang and I’m going to have to order you to remain in the area until the investigation is complete.” He gave Shikarou a slightly apologetic look. “You should be warned that this man is a member of the Yakuza and they may try to silence you before he can be tried.”
                “I understand. I’ll give you my com code so you can contact me if you have any more questions. Considering the Yakuza, I’m going to have to decline to tell you where I’m staying; we both know the police force has probably been penetrated. However I promise as soon as I get your call I will find you.”
                “Under the circumstances, that would seem to be a prudent way to go.” Officer Tanaka glanced at his prisoner. “You are free to keep the pokegirl, but your Unicorn has some evidence she’s going to have to give up.”
                Shikarou turned. “Branwyn?”
                She sighed and produced the pistol. “I figured that since he tried to use it on you we could claim it as salvage. It’s pre-Sukebe and might be worth a pretty credit to a collector.”
                “She has a point. I’d like to be sure and put a claim on the pistol, Officer Tanaka, if I can.”
                Tanaka took the pistol carefully. “I’ll put your claim into the paperwork, although if it is an antique, it is unlikely that you will ever see it again. I must follow protocols, however, as you know.” He smiled slightly. “The OfficerJenny’s make sure we follow protocols to the letter, as they should.”
                “All I can ask is that you do your job. After that it is up to the gods.” Shikarou nodded to him and handed him a card. “This has everything on it you need. May we go now?”
                “Yes. I will be in touch as soon as I can.” He bowed to Shikarou and nodded to the OfficerJennys, who quickly bustled a protesting Fang into a Black Maria. “It is doubtful that he will remain in jail for long, the Yakuza have powerful allies. I would be on my guard if I were you.”
                “Thank you.” Shikarou nodded to Branwyn and Circe. “Let’s be off then to the pokegirl center. We get the newest addition to the harem healed up.” As well as pick up Junko, he finished mentally.
                Are we going to stay with the Yoshihara family while waiting for the policeman to call? Branwyn cocked her head curiously. Or are we going to go to a hotel to keep them out of the line of fire? Circe nodded to let him know she was listening as well.
                Shikarou grinned as they walked down the street. I never agreed to his order. We’re going back to the Blue Continent. After all you can teleport and he can reach me by com there, it just might take an hour or so for the routers to find me. I’ll still come to see him like I promised. We will need to find out where his police station is before we leave in order to facilitate locating him again.
                “I want you to take Gwyneth with you when you leave. She’s becoming troublesome and isn’t willing to accept that I’m your representative here.” Lynn lifted her head from Shikarou’s chest to check his eyes when he didn’t answer. A frown appeared as she realized they were closed. “Will you?” She poked him gently in the chest. “Shikarou?”
                “I heard you.” His eyes stayed closed. “She’s stronger than you, isn’t she? That’s why you haven’t slapped her down yet, you’re not sure you can.”
                She sighed and laid her head down on his chest again. She was quiet for a few moments. “Yes.”
                “Why should I leave you in charge if she’s stronger than you?”
                There was another long silence. “I want to stay here. I want to be your queen.” More silence. “I’ve already got a rapport with the feral pokegirls on the island and they’ll do what I want. Gwyneth doesn’t.”
                “I’ve also lived here for the last three years and I know the island well. I know where the forests will flourish and where we’ll be putting in gardens. I’ve gotten the feel of the land. It would take Gwyneth another year or two to come up to speed.”
                “Anything else?”
                “Since she’s stronger than me, she’d do better as part of your harem. Let’s face it, you are building a combat harem and she can help. Besides, you are going to need strong pokegirls to safely incorporate Ruiling into your harem, aren’t you?”
                Shikarou opened his eyes. “My lady, you make very good points.”
                Lynn sat up and faced him, her eyes intent. “I get to be your queen?”
                “You get to be my seneschal. You get to be their queen.”
                “I can live with that.” She leaned over and kissed him gently. “As your loyal servant, can I make a suggestion?”
                “Suggest away.”
                “Instead of putting Niamh and Misaki into long term storage, why don’t you leave them here? They should fit right in and can be a lot of use getting the island into shape.”
                Shikarou nodded thoughtfully. “That would also give me only one pokegirl in storage at a time, unless I left her here as well.” He shook his head. “No, I need to keep at least one pokegirl in storage, if only to have her available even if I can’t teleport here for some reason or another.”
                Lynn nodded. “Branwyn mentioned to me that the Blue League also takes a look periodically at the harems of active Tamers, and if your pokegirls keep disappearing without showing up in other harems they might start asking some unwelcome questions, so that’s another good reason to rotate one in and out of storage.”
                “My lady that is an excellent suggestion. Do you have any others?”
                Lynn settled against his side with an excited look. “Oh, yes. I’ve been sending out the call for over a year, not realizing that this was an island. When you get to the mainland, if you see any elf types, please ferry them across. We’ll also need some supplies, soon, if not right away. We need a boat and some tools and eventually we’ll need something along the lines of a pokegirl center. And security. We could also really use…”
                Shikarou settled back and mentally took notes as she spoke. While he appreciated her zeal for her new job, he did suspect that she would be going on in this vein for quite a while.
                Branwyn looked over her shoulder at Shikarou. “Would you tell me just how Gwyneth came to be?”
                They were still on South Uist, headed south towards the ruins of Lochboisdale. Shikarou wanted to examine the ruins before they left his island and flew to Rum Island, the location of the next gym.
                “All right, you remember that there were several pokegirls that had to be tamed in order to stabilize their feral state?”
                “Yes, there was Lynn, Amy, Juniper the Omegan, three Elves, a Drow Zee and a Grandelf. I also know that Gwyneth was one of the Elves.”
                “I tamed everyone but the three Elves first, mainly because I wasn’t looking forward to dealing with them.”
                “Why, what was wrong?”
                “A feral Elf is in a comatose condition and the idea of taming someone in that state made my skin crawl.” He shrugged. “I thought of it more like rape and it didn’t interest me at all. However, it had to be done, so I did the first two Elves and it was as bad as I though it would be.” He sighed. “So I tried to take a short cut with the last one.”
                “What happened?”
                “One of the things that a mage should always remember is that magic doesn’t always do what you want. In part this occurs because of insufficient will on the part of the mage and in part these things happen because no one completely understands how magic works. Even the gods of magic don’t seem to understand it entirely.”
                “Anyway, I tried to use a spell to awaken the last Elf and when that failed I tried a spell that incites unbridled lust in the target. It didn’t work either, so I put my wand away and went to the tried and true.”
                “The other two Elves woke up gradually and joined in the activity, but this one was different. She stayed comatose longer and when she woke up, she did so completely and almost instantly as a result of the awakening spell. She was also for lack of a better term, in heat.”
                “For a brief time I wasn’t really sure who was taming whom and suddenly she evolved into an ElfQueen. That seemed to only intensify her hungers and I spent the next sixteen hours taming her.” Shikarou shrugged. “I suspect that was the result of the lust spell. I think both spells worked, but their effects couldn’t overcome her feral state and wake her up. Once she woke up, however, the results were fairly obvious.”
                Branwyn slowed to a stop and turned her torso to look squarely at him. “You have a spell that can make a pokegirl go into heat? Why haven’t you taught that one to us? It would be invaluable in a pokegirl battle or even in taming a low libido or ice type.”
                “First, I didn’t think about it, and second that isn’t what that spell is designed to do. The heat is only a side effect of the primary spell, only I knew that the primary effect could be blocked.”
                “What is the primary effect?”
                “It causes a female to ovulate and a male to increase sperm production by a factor of twenty. It’s used for cases of infertility. If you use it on a pokegirl that doesn’t go into her pokeball soon enough it could cause parthenogenesis.”
                “Are you aware that the equipment used in inciting reproduction in pokegirls costs millions of credits and takes up a lot of space? This could revolutionize pokegirl breeding.”
                “It’s a spell, remember, and only a mage can cast it.”
                “Oh. By the way, how did Gwyneth feel about you leaving Lynn and taking her on your journey?”
                Shikarou smiled. “She actually thanked me for valuing her more than Lynn. It turns out the Gwyneth felt that the better pokegirl would be taken into the harem and the loser would be left to languish on the island.”
                “So you got lucky.”
                “If Gwyneth wants to believe that the more powerful pokegirl is the better one, then who am I to disabuse her. It does mean that she may be gunning for your job, however.”
                “She’s not more powerful than me.”
                “No, but she’s ambitious. You may want to take training more seriously or she may outstrip your abilities in a short while.”
                “You wouldn’t replace me as alpha,” Branwyn replied confidently.
                “No, but I would replace you as a combat leader if she becomes better than you. That only makes sense for the good of the Tamer. I know that you find training boring and repetitive, so we’ll just have to see what we can do to make it more interesting.”
                Branwyn went back to a fast walk as she gave him a suspicious glance. “And just what did you have in mind?”
                “Everyone is much closer in level since Misaki and Niamh left, so I’m thinking about making the training sessions much more strenuous. It’ll increase the number of injuries, but we can handle that. I’ve also been thinking about slowing our pace to increase the number of training sessions as well as shifting the emphasis more towards actual battles between harem members. In addition I’m also considering introducing some twists to the training sessions themselves as well as the combats.”
                “Like what?”
                “Changes to the environment, like the blizzards that we faced in Stornoway or sandstorms. Battles in enclosed spaces and the dark also should help.” He frowned. “I guess I’m thinking of changing the way we train to reflect the military training I’ve been through. It should result in a marked increase in efficiency.”
                “What about Ruiling? She’s not very enthusiastic about being here.”
                “I’ll try talking to her and then I’ll adjust her attitude if I have to.”
                “What happens if you can’t?”
                “Then I’ll get rid of her.”
                “I’m not upset that you took me away from Jiang. He was a loser and didn’t deserve me. What I’m not happy about is the fact that I don’t know if you are worthy to own me either.” Ruiling spoke perfect English although with a definite accent. Her lemon hair glowed brilliantly in the wan winter sun as she frowned at Shikarou.
                They’d stopped for the evening and some fat unwary rabbits were roasting over the fire, accompanied by a simmering pot of vegetable stew as a nod to those who disdained meat. Dinner was being closely watched by Kiyoko while Gwyneth was preparing a salad as an appetizer. Yushiko was on watch and was randomly moving around the perimeter of the camp.
                Now that they were on Rum Island, Shikarou, Branwyn and Circe had decided it was time for the talk with Ruiling before going into the village.
                “So what will it take to get you to believe that Shikarou is worthy of you?” Branwyn asked belligerently.
                “I’d respect him more if he’d fight me,” came her simple reply. “I know he can’t defeat me, but I’d finally like to have a master who’d at least fight me.” She smiled. “I even promise not to try to kill him. He showed a little bit of style when he ate Jiang’s finger and I’m hoping it wasn’t just a fluke.”
                Shikarou shed his backpack. “I’ll fight you.”
                She beamed. “Excellent. After you wake up, I’ll fight your harem and we’ll see how worthy you are.”
                “What rules do you want?”
                “I won’t try to deliberately kill you. You can do whatever you think will defeat me. I think that should be enough of a handicap to let me chase you around for a little while.”
                Shikarou smiled craftily. “If you’ll let me cast a couple of spells on myself before we get started, I think I can make this match much more interesting.”
                Ruiling eyed him briefly before answering. “I did say you could do anything you thought might help you to win, so go ahead.”
                Two spells later Shikarou turned to Branwyn. “Would you officiate and provide healing?”
                Branwyn nodded. “Of course.” She pulled out a couple of the various potions and got them ready before hanging them from her belt.
                Circe cleared her throat. “I think we need to warn Kiyoko and Gwyneth, in case the fight spills over into the camp. It’ll also ensure that they don’t let dinner burn if they’re drawn to the battle.”
                “Sounds good. Take care of it please.”
                Ruiling watched as Circe obeyed her Tamer’s request. “You are very polite to your pokegirls. I like that.”
                “Thank you.”
                Circe returned with Kiyoko and Gwyneth close behind. “They wanted to watch the fight. Dinner’s been taken off the fire to wait.”
                “What about Yushiko?”
                “She asked that we get a good recording so she can watch it later.” Circe nodded. “I’ve already turned on our spare pokedex, so we’ll have two recordings to review.”
                “Branwyn, if you would?” Shikarou readied himself.
                The Unicorn moved to the middle of the clearing. “Combatants, move to either end.” She continued once they’d obeyed. “This battle will take place between the Tamer Shikarou and his pokegirl Ruiling. It will proceed until one of the combatants is unable to continue.”
                Ruiling launched herself into the air and shot a power bolt at Shikarou as he summoned his sword. The bolt struck and disappeared without any apparent effect as his magic absorption spell sucked it up. Shikarou returned the energy in the form of a swarm of blue bolts that smashed into the Neo Iczel. She yelled in surprise as the attack staggered her in midair.
                “How did you do that?” she yelled at him.
                “One of the spells I cast lets me absorb magic.”
                “You’ll have to teach me that one,” was her immediate response, “but right now we have a battle to finish.” She hit him with a dazzle attack and was rewarded with more mystic bolts as he absorbed the energy again. Her eyes narrowed. The attacks had done little damage to her, but she was beginning to get angry at her inability to touch him.
                Ruiling vanished as she teleported. Instantly Shikarou jumped a dozen meters to the right, twisting in the air to release a fireball spell at where he’d been standing. She appeared just as the spell detonated, engulfing her in flame. She screeched in pain and launched herself upwards, her clothing smoldering and her hair a scorched mess.
                She raced to the ground and used tectonic slam to blast a shockwave of energy into Shikarou, knocking him flying.
                He rolled to his feet as she accelerated hard towards him, raising a cloud of dust as she flew on an intercept. Shikarou cast his next spell frantically, completing it just before she hit him. The forcewall formed just in time and Ruiling smashed straight into it with a horrifying crunching sound and a spray of blood.
                Shikarou released the spell and grabbed Ruiling. She looked bad. Apparently she’d had her arms out to grab him and not even her enhanced bones could take the impact and it looked like every bone in her hands and arms had shattered when she hit. “BRANWYN!”
                Ruiling spat out teeth and raised her head feebly. “Not done,” she muttered. “Got to beat you.” He could feel her trying to focus her will.
                “Fine, I yield. You win.”
                “Knew I would.” Ruiling smiled and went limp.
                Branwyn sprayed her with X-potion and Shikarou was pleased to watch the Neo Iczel’s wounds heal. He pulled out her pokeball and recalled her. “Here.”
                The Unicorn took the pokeball as Circe set the PPHU down and connected the battery. Branwyn looked into Shikarou’s eyes as Circe loaded the healing unit. “Are you all right?”
                Shikarou gave her a bitter smile. “Of course. I just nearly killed one of my own pokegirls.” He sighed. “I thought she’d pull up or stop. I guess she didn’t have time.”
                “What about your injuries?”
                “She cracked a couple of ribs. I’m healing. I’ll be well in no time.”
                “Shikarou.” It was Circe. “You did what you had to. She’s going to be all right and perhaps she will respect you now. You did almost beat her.” She checked the healing unit. “Not long now.” She raised her head to look into his eyes. “You will teach us those spells, right?”
                “I will.”
                Circe opened the PPHU and took out Ruiling’s pokeball. “Ready?” When Shikarou nodded she pushed the release.
                Ruiling appeared, looking fine except for the fact that her clothing was in tatters. She immediately bowed deeply to Shikarou. “If you hadn’t yielded to me you would have won that fight.” A smile appeared. “I will, however, happily claim the win and I won’t be so foolish the next time.” She went down on her knees in front of him and took his hands. “You are worthy to be my Tamer. I will obey your orders and serve you willingly.”
                Ruiling gave him a slightly hesitant look. “Will you accept my oath?”
                Once again Branwyn watched as the aura of nobility seemed to materialize around her Tamer as he nodded. “I will.”
                Branwyn touched his shoulder gently. “Who are you?”
                The aura vanished as he grinned back at her. “I’m Shikarou.”
                “Who were you?” She cocked her head curiously.
                “Now if I tell you all of my stories, you’ll just get bored with me.” He wagged a finger at her. “Perhaps later you can coax a story about my past out of me.”
Kachi wa saya no naka ni ari – Victory comes while the sword is in the scabbard.
Name:                                                     Urufu Shikarou                                                    
Age:                                                       250                                                                                         
Residence:                                             Wick, Blue Continent                                                         
Region:                                  Scotland                                                                                               
Status:                                                    Active                                                                                   
Rank:                                                      23                                                                                           
Security Clearance:                              Delta                                                                                      
                Tamer                                     Y                                                            
                Master Tamer                       Y                                                            
                Researcher                            N                                                            
                Watcher                 N                                                            
                Breeder                  N                            
Active Harem
Species                  Name                                      Level                     
Alaka-Wham                         Circe                                       56                                           
Unicorn                  Branwyn                                42                                           
ElfQueen                                Gwyneth                                40                                           
Dark Kitsune                         Kiyoko                   37                                           
Neo Iczel                                Ruiling                   31                                           
Armsmistress                        Urufu Yushiko      26                                           
Inactive Harem – Storage
Sphinx                                    Lorelei                                    33                                           
Alpha                                     Branwyn
Beta                                        None