Chapter 7: Yule
                “All right, I’m here. So why were you insisting that I come here today?” Svetlana gave him a curious look. “What is this about, Shikarou?”
                “I wanted to ask you if it would be possible to get Faelan, you and the rest of your harem here in five days. It’ll be Yule, we’re having a Yule party and this is your invitation. I asked you here today to give you plenty of time to get ready.”
                Shikarou sipped at his water. “We’re going to have entertainment, a tremendous feast and Branwyn has come up with something she called a ‘Bimbo Fire Drill’ for the whole thing. As it was explained to me, all of the gifts will be piled up and everyone will get to pull a number out of a bowl to determine the order in which they will get to choose a present.”
                He shrugged. “Apparently you can choose a gift that is still wrapped or one that someone else has already chosen, but then they get to pick another wrapped present from the original pile.” A frown appeared. “I don’t really understand it, but then that is why I’m letting Branwyn organize the whole thing. All I appear to be doing is buying all of the gifts. So, do you think you can get your Tamer and harem here on the day in question?”
                Svetlana had been staring at him the whole time. “You are going to be having a party? With gifts and stuff?” She cocked her head and her eyes narrowed. “Why aren’t you asking Faelan about this?”
                “Because my dear brother has an over-inflated sense of the importance of his work and would most likely beg off, probably without bothering to mention it to you.” He grinned. “So I’m trying to stage a rebellion in his harem by going to you instead. If I can convince you that there’s no harm in coming to this party, then I suspect that you can convince my brother.”
                “Besides, you provide the moral compass for the whole group and since you are a veteran at the work your Tamer is doing, you may have a better idea of whether or not he can attend.” He flicked an ear. “Perhaps even better than Faelan might.”
                “Who else are you inviting?”
                “Family, for the most part. Everyone on the island of course, Poppet and Tobias, Circe’s sisters and Lorelei wants to invite Sexmet and Bastit. I’ve sent them an invitation, but I really hope they have other commitments and can’t make it. I’m also inviting James Irizarry and his harem from the Stornoway Gym since he’s all alone up there. I invited Devon, but he can’t come.”
                “Oh, and I’ve also invited some of Yushiko’s family from Edo, but I don’t know if they’ll be able to make it except for Yoshihara Junko, who’s here in the Blue League. She’s already confirmed that she’s coming and said it sounded like it would be fun. She also said that she wouldn’t miss it for an invasion of Widows, but I suspect that she’s exaggerating.”
                Svetlana looked thoughtful for a couple of minutes while Shikarou sat silently. Finally she nodded. “I don’t see where the investigations we are doing will be hurt if we take Yule off. We’ll be there. I haven’t been to a Yule party since Vale and it’s about time we got to go to one.” She gave him a cheery smile. “Don’t worry about Faelan. I can assure you he’ll be there.”
                “Excellent. If you have any special requests for you, Faelan or the other members of your harem in regards to the feast, please send them to Branwyn, if you would.”
                “So how is the work coming on the new AI?”
                I’ll have one up and running before New Year’s Day. After that, it’s your problem. Now don’t bother me again. I’ll let you know when I’m done.
                “I’ll be ready.” The days of the last week had been good ones. Pythia was making an effort to fit in with the harem, even if she’d never heard of the concept before. She’d been trained to be a team player and was starting to mesh well with the others.
                She’d even passed her magic aptitude test and would be taking lessons with Circe and Branwyn once he brought her up to speed. Shikarou was leery of teaching any of the others until he was decently bonded with them, especially in light of just how easily Kiyoko had left the harem without looking back.
                He’d like to be able to say that he wished her and Marsha well, but he didn’t. At least he didn’t want either of them dead and he just felt sympathy for the Tigress. Oh well, not his problem.
                Pythia had made it clear that part of her job was to be his bodyguard and Branwyn had cheerfully made the appointment official, in spite of his objections. Even Lynn had argued that it was a good idea considering how often he’d been injured recently. Yushiko had volunteered to assist and Pythia was beginning to train her as a bodyguard in the style that she knew. He was also under the impression that Gwyneth was involved somehow, but he hadn’t taken the time to investigate fully. He just hoped he wasn’t asked to provide black suits and reflective sunglasses.
                Alice was fitting in well as a member of the Caomh Sith Guard and the CSG had even gotten a fourth member; it turned out that one of the Drow Zee had decided to join in order to help protect the island and its people.
                Misaki had spent enough time with Shikarou to evolve to Venuswhore and seemed very smug about the whole thing. She was busy purifying a field for planting come spring, which worked out rather well since once she’d begun reading you couldn’t pry the data reader out of her hands. Shikarou reflected that it was too bad she fancied romance novels more than anything else, but he wasn’t going to try to control what she read.
                Having the Blue League sponsoring the clinic was interesting, but at the same time it made him want to pull his ears off. They were trying to make him toe their line insomuch as paperwork was concerned, and since he had better things to do than attempt to justify to some chartered accountant that the money he wanted to spend was needed, he was still paying for everything out of his own pocket rather than mortgage his soul to the Blue League. Granted, the actual question of whether or not he possessed a soul of his own was a matter for some debate, but that had nothing to do with the current issues he was facing.              
                The drawback to that was his funds were being quickly depleted, and so it was time to start hunting for more money. While he had some ideas, he’d have to be careful about implementation, especially now that he had an OfficerJenny around to try to keep him on the straight and narrow. Most of his ideas were completely legal, but a couple of them might take some serious fast talking to legitimize.
                His com chirped quietly to indicate that he had a message. Shikarou reflected on the fact that since his twee was busy building him an AI, he’d had to do a lot of stuff that normally he could just think about. It really didn’t take that much more time, but the entire situation was mildly annoying. He unclipped his com and pulled up the message for perusal. His eyes narrowed and he levered himself to his feet to go find Branwyn. They had to take a trip.
                The scenery jumped as they teleported, Branwyn clutching his hand tightly. Shikarou had no idea what might happen if she let go at just the wrong instant and had no desire to find out.  Instead of the Lochboisdale Inn, now the Yoshihara family shop stood in front of them. Branwyn glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “Did the policeman say why he wanted to see you?”
                Shikarou shook his head. “No, Officer Tanaka’s message only said that he wanted to talk to me tonight at 2300 hours. He even gave the location and I’m glad that we have a little time to find it because I’m not sure where it is.”
                “So why are we coming to the Yoshihara’s first?”
                “They are the only people I know in Edo and I want to let them know I’m here in case I find myself under arrest.”
                “Do you think they’d help you?”
                “I have no idea. I do, however, think that they’d help Yushiko and I intend to leave her with her family so that someone will care if we get tossed into jail. Once she finds out what’s going on, she’ll be free to summon help. All she has to do is call Lynn. Amy has been brought here before, so she can bring help.”
                “Yushiko’s going to want to come with you.”
                Shikarou shrugged. “She’s my lifeline if anything goes wrong and she’s going to obey orders. It’s not like the orders are durance vile or anything like that. All she has to do is spend time with her family and come bail me out if there’s a problem.”
                Branwyn nodded. “That should work.” She pursed her lips for a moment and then asked quietly, “Can I ask you a question?”
                “Don’t you usually?”
                “Yes, but Circe said something up the other day that has been bothering me, and I’d like to get it straightened out if possible.”
                “What is it?”
                “You know quite a bit about us, the members of your harem, but we know hardly anything about you. When are you going to tell us about yourself?”
                Shikarou looked at her evenly. “I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to.”
                “Why not? I know you trust us, so it must be something else.”
                “I trust you and Circe. The rest of the harem I trust to a much lesser extent.”
                Branwyn’s eyes narrowed and she poked him in the chest with a finger as she said angrily, “We are not Kiyoko and you are not going to treat us like we are going to go running off the moment your back is turned.” She took a deep breath and obviously struggled to calm down. “As our Tamer you have to trust us, and if you don’t, you should get rid of the ones you don’t trust.” Her head cocked. “And, if you must know, after Kiyoko left, Circe and I undertook it upon ourselves to verify the loyalty of the rest of your harem.”
                A thread of anger crept back into her voice. “We spent a lot of time in their minds while they were asleep and it was extremely disgusting, sifting through all of the crap that floats around below the conscious level of the mind.”
                Shikarou looked at her with curiosity. “What did you find?”
                “You want a list? Fine. Pythia is scary. She really believes that you are going to save the world from some nebulous threat and will do everything within her power to help you. She’s even willing to consider murdering members of your harem if she thinks they would hold you back and she can’t convince you to get rid of them.”
                “Yeah. Gwyneth believes that if she trains hard enough and learns enough magic that she can take my place in the harem.” Branwyn’s eyes narrowed. “As if I’d step aside for that bitch.”
                “I thought she’d been pleasant to everyone?”
                “On the outside. In her mind she is the shining example of what all pokegirls should aspire to be and believes that once you recognize this, you’ll make the harem give her the respect and adulation that she so richly deserves.”
                Shikarou snorted. “Even if I were willing to consider promoting someone other than you, which I am not, that behavior would put her out of the running for alpha. A good alpha, such as you, would win the respect of the harem without thinking that I could order it to happen. As if I could.”
                “Stop trying to make me feel less upset at you. Ruiling is impressed that you defeated her, but expect to have to do it again on an infrequent basis as she seeks to make sure you are worthy of her. She’s also going to start challenging the harem members to single combat.” Branwyn shook her head slowly. “I’m going to allow it since it will actually help to determine the weak points in everyone’s training, but it’s nice to be forewarned.”
                “Were you going to inform me and let me make a decision?” Shikarou’s tone was wry.
                “Of course I was. You rule the harem, and I act as your executive officer.”
                “I have no complaints about your work.”
                A tiny smile appeared. “Thanks, but the warning that you gave me when we met was right on the mark. If I’d known how much work being your alpha was going to be, I might have just stayed home.” The smile was extinguished suddenly and replaced with a frown. “I said stop that.”
                “Sorry, I just don’t like it when you are unhappy, so I try not to let you stay that way very long.”
                She just gave him an even look. “To continue: Lorelei was placed in your harem to be Sexmet’s spy, but the Legendary didn’t know at the time that Lorelei is your pokegirl, heart and soul.”
                She sighed. “She does now. Apparently Sexmet gave her some orders about trying to get you involved against the Sanctuary Goths and your Sphinx told her to go to hell. Now I understand what you meant when you worried about binding her to you. She will do anything you tell her to and might do anything she thinks you want her to.”
                “What about Yushiko?”
                “Simply put, Yushiko worships you.” Branwyn smiled at his expression of shock. “I mean that literally. She has a portable shrine in her room and says prayers to you every day.”
                “Well that is just lovely. Do you have any idea where she might have gotten the shrine from?”
                “I think that she made it herself.”
                Shikarou rubbed his eyes and sighed. “Ah, this just gets better and better. What about you and Circe?”
                Branwyn gave him an unreadable look. “We did look in each other’s minds to check our loyalty as well. She’s got some weird metaphysical theory about why pokegirls need Tamers and she is loyal to you till death because of it. She says her loyalty actually transcends death, but I only know of one way to test the validity of her statement and I’m not ready to kill her just to prove a point. She also enjoys feeding off of your emotions.” The Unicorn gave a brief shiver. “You have no idea just how creepy I find that to be.”
                “Do I want to ask what this theory is?”
                “Why don’t you ask her? She’d enjoy being able to discuss it with you.” His Unicorn took a deep breath and gave him a nervous look. “My problem is simple: I love you.”
                Shikarou took her hand. “I love you as well, Branwyn.” She visibly relaxed and he made a decision. “When you and Lorelei surveyed the area, did you find someplace around here where all of us could make camp? You are right; I need to tell you and the harem something about myself.”
                “Yes, there’s a place not too far from here, and it’s secluded.”
                “Excellent. Take me there.”
                “What about the meeting with Tanaka?”
                “He will have to wait. My family comes first and I think we still have time enough.”
                Branwyn blinked in surprise and sudden understanding. “That’s why you are angry at Kiyoko. We are your family. You know, a lot of Scottish Tamers pay lip service to the idea that their pokegirls are their wives, but you actually believe it.”
                “Not completely. You and Circe, yes. Everyone else, we’ll just have to see if they work out.”
                “What about Kiyoko?”
                His voice was hard. “Kiyoko is gone. End of discussion.”
                She nodded. “Let’s go. The sooner we get this done, the less upset Tanaka will be.”
                “We need to stop somewhere and get Lorelei out of storage beforehand. I want a full harem when I go traipsing around in Edo.”
                “It’s been suggested to me that I tell you a little about myself, and while I’m unsure as to whether or not I can keep this short, I’ll do my best.” Shikarou glanced at the seven pairs of eyes looking back at him. “If you have any questions, feel free to ask them at any time. If you’re uncomfortable asking right now, I’ll answer them later, too.” The firelight danced on the faces of his pokegirls, casting dim flickering shadows over all of them.
                “Sir?” It was Ruiling. “Are we forbidden from discussing this with others outside the harem?”
                “No, but I want you to think about what I tell you before you do so. It isn’t exactly secret, but there could be unintended consequences,” his eyes lingered on Yushiko as he continued, “such as others besides Yushiko deciding to set up shrines to me, or someone deciding that I should be dead or in custody.”
                Yushiko looked him in the eyes. “You already have other worshippers. My family also has shrines to you, both the Yoshihara’s and the Nakamoto’s.”
                Shikarou took a deep breath and held it while he counted to five. “May I enquire as to why?” He intended to sound curious, but instead he sounded plaintive.
                “You have answered our prayers,” she replied. “I prayed to be reunited with my family and you did just that. My grandfather prayed to see me again before his death, and you did that as well. Later, after they set up the shrine to you, my mother, who has been unable to get pregnant since she had me, prayed to you specifically for a child.” Yushiko smiled proudly. “And now she’s pregnant.”
                Shikarou groaned very softly. “Anything else?”
                “My family sees you as their guardian spirit and are telling all of our relatives about you,” came the instant response, “so they will also set up shrines so you will protect them as well.”
                “I am so dead.”
                Branwyn gave him a curious look. “Why are you dead?”
                “I’m forbidden to have worshippers.” He looked into a sea of uncomprehending faces. “Let me start trying to explain with a brief overview of my mother’s people.”
                “First of all, please understand that this applies to my homeworld, or homeworlds if you will, and I have no idea if the kami here are similarly organized. I know that they exist here, but I’ve only felt the presence of a couple of my kind and I’m not really interested in seeking them out. If they want to find me, they will.”
                Shikarou laced his fingers behind his back and rocked slowly on the balls of his feet. “Kami are organized into three groups or classes, the amatsukami, the kunitsukami, and the oni, although since there is a pokegirl called an Oni, I’ll call the third class the monsters in an attempt to avoid confusion. Monster works just as well.”
                “The direct translation of amatsukami is ‘gods of the heavens’ and where I come from actually this class represents the nobility of the kami world. This is the class from which come the scholars and the higher ranked noblemen. The amatsukami have many temples of varying sizes amongst the humans and are widely worshipped.”
                “The kunitsukami are the ‘gods of the earth’ and this class would be considered the commoners as well as the lesser nobility. They have the occasional temple amongst the humans, but more often than not have shrines or sometimes nothing more than just a couple of forest statues. Before I joined the Empress’s guard, I was ranked amongst the kunitsukami due to the status of my mother.”
                “The oni, or monsters, can be born from any of the three classes, but all of the monsters are destructive and malevolent. They are mostly feared, but once in a while a shrine is set up in an attempt to appease them. As an aside, it seldom works.”
                “Then you have the humans. The kami are charged with protecting the humans, and do so to a greater or lesser extent, based on their individual personalities. The monsters, on the other hand, consider them just something else to destroy or play with.”
                Circe frowned. “Why do the kami care at all? Are they that altruistic?”
                “Altruistic? Rest assured that the reasons that they protect the humans are entirely selfish. Humans provide two main things to us, food and worship. They also sometimes provide lovers, but the amatsukami consider that kind of behavior to be at the same level that humans once considered bestiality, back when there were beasts on this world. The kunitsukami and the monsters are more receptive to the whole concept and some half-breeds wander that earth because of it.”
                He grinned. “Oh, and just to be specific, for the most part food means crops and livestock. Few kami make a regular diet of humans, it kind of runs against the whole protection concept, although a few of the nobility do seem to manage to find a human to condemn to death on a regular basis. Monsters are something else entirely and more than a few of them thrive on a diet of sentient beings.”
                “The kami eat their prisoners?” Gwyneth sounded shocked.
                “Once we are dead we are just meat and the philosophy is waste not, want not. Fortunately, most of the nobility fancy themselves epicureans of note and tend to not eat the dead.”
                “Now there is a fourth group of kami-like beings, but they are not formally recognized as members of any hierarchy and regardless of their power would lie between the monsters and the humans if they were ranked, which they aren’t. Those are the gaijin, which means foreigners. Gaijin are kami or kami-like beings who, for the most part, come from outside Japan, hence the name. My father is a gaijin and therefore I’m not really accepted anywhere amongst my mother’s people, even though she’s an amatsukami.”
                “I grew up on Tirsul, which is my father’s world, and moved to my mother’s Japan when I married because my wife wanted me to. I made a vow to Pallaius which prevented me from using a lot of my powers, due to the fact that they are considered death based in Japan, and death is unclean. Kami don’t do unclean. Later, when I joined the Empress’s Guard, I gave up even more of my gifts, but it didn’t bother me, as for the most part they were powers that I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable using.”
                “After Pallaius was killed, I was released from the Empress’s service and the vows I made to her and became a gaijin. Then I left Japan and went back to Tirsul.”
                “Shikarou, did you have any worshippers?”
                “Yes, Branwyn, I did, at least for a while. Guardsmen are not allowed to have worshippers or shrines and I had to renounce them when I joined the service of Her Imperial Majesty.” A shadow crossed his face. “Shrines are a source of power, and it is easy for you to become responsible to your worshippers. Unfortunately a Guardsman can’t have a divided attention, so I traveled to my shrine and asked my worshippers to find someone else.” He sighed. “They were extremely reluctant to find another kami to venerate and when the Empress discovered this she had them exterminated. I was appalled, but I’d already taken my oaths and I was forbidden to commit seppuku in protest.”
                “As a gaijin I’m not allowed to have worshippers or shrines. The Empress will send her Guard to hunt down any worshippers of mine and execute them.” He looked at a pale Yushiko. “That’s why I’m worried about your family.”
                “Can she reach here?”
                Yushiko was intent on the answer, but before Shikarou could formulate a reply, Pythia spoke up. “No, she cannot.”
                “How do you know this?” Lorelei looked curiously at the G-Spliced.
                “I know because of my knowledge of Shikarou and his family.” She looked at her Tamer. “Your mother would have sent some prospective brides or your sisters to visit you by now, if there was any way for the kami of your mother’s Japan to reach here. She is very upset that you escaped her after Pallaius’ death.” Pythia shifted in her seat. “You didn’t know this, but your mother arranged your meeting with Pallaius to bring you to Japan and eventually to get you into the Guard, where you could be controlled. She had always resented your father removing you from her influence and intended to use you as a weapon against her enemies, even though your vows to Pallaius practically crippled you against other kami.”
                “That certainly sounds like her.” Shikarou commented. “Any other wisdom you’d care to impart?”
                “I do not know for certain, but if the kami of this world were going to protest you being worshipped by the Yoshihara family, then wouldn’t they have acted by now?”
                Shikarou looked thoughtful. “If they are anything like the Guard from my mother’s world, then yes, the mortals would already be dead and I’d be hunted. I haven’t exactly hidden my presence and should be easy for any reasonable professional to find, even if I seem to be jumping all over the planet.”
                Pythia nodded. “There is one other thing. Your vows to the Empress ended when she released you and your vows to Pallaius ended upon her death.”
                Shikarou blinked in surprise. “I’ll have to think about that one.”
                Branwyn frowned at her Tamer. “Would being free of these vows increase your power here?”
                “Substantially,” Pythia answered for him. “I have seen some of his true power and it will be needed in the battle against our adversary.”
                Gwyneth looked skeptical. “You don’t know who we’re going to fight, but you know that Shikarou has to increase his power to fight them. What about us?”
                “We will all need to become much more powerful than we are, if we are to be successful,” she replied confidently. “And any others who join the harem will also have to be well trained.”
                Circe looked at him. “All right, you’ve told us about your mother and how her lineage has influenced your life. Are you going to tell us about your father now?”
                “No. We really don’t have time for my father’s story. When we’ve got a month or two free remind me and I’ll consider it. Anything else?”
                “I have a question.” It was Ruiling again. “How are changes in your power likely to affect the harem?”
                Shikarou shrugged. “I’m not sure. From what happened before, when I had worshippers, I was horny more of the time. I think it’s a side effect of the life energy I receive from my worshippers. I asked about it when I was in Japan, but the attitude there is if you are foolish enough to question a good thing, it might stop and they didn’t know anything useful.”
                “Oh, no, whatever shall we do?” Gwyneth put her hand theatrically on her head. “More tamings? Not that?” She smiled prettily. “Do you think you could give us a timetable as to when we should expect this blessed, I mean, horrible event?”
                Laughter sounded around the camp.
                “Why do you suppose Tanaka wanted to meet here?” Circe looked around cautiously.
                Shikarou shrugged. “I don’t know. Considering the hour he wanted to meet, perhaps he wanted to talk over dinner at that café.” He nodded to a three story shop a block farther down the street.
                Branwyn glanced at him as she scanned their surroundings. “If so, it’s unlikely that he wants to arrest us.”
                “One of the joys of being a policeman is the ability to change one’s mind at any time and stuff someone in jail.” Shikarou ran his fingers through his hair. “Still, I remain hopeful that he only wants to talk.” He sniffed the air. “I really hope that Tanaka doesn’t want to eat there, that place smells like an open cesspool.”
                Do not react, there are several people preparing to attack us. Circe’s mind pointed out the vectors she anticipated the attacks to come from. They were surrounded.
                Shikarou chuckled. “Of course, it could be that the smell comes from the residents and not the restaurant.” Circe, when the attack begins, get us onto the rooftop over the restaurant. We can decide if we want to flee or fight back at that point. Can you tell who they are?
                Branwyn entered the discussion. “I wonder who would live out here. It must be some of the scum of the earth.”
                They are Yakuza. Jiang Fang is here; I recognize the way his mind tastes.  He’s got two assistants and six pokegirls. There is another pokegirl stationed as an observer in case Fang and his group lose, but she has no intention of entering the combat and he is unaware of her presence.
                Shikarou sighed. “He’s late. I’ll check and see if he left us another message.” While checking his com, he verified that the recorder on his pokedex was running. “Nope, but everything seems in order.” We need to wait for them to attack so we are obviously defending ourselves if we end up having to talk to the police.
                Branwyn wrapped her arms around his right arm and leaned against him, nuzzling his shoulder. Are we going to get to see some of these impressive powers that Pythia mentioned?
                Shikarou looked thoughtful for a second and his ears slowly folded back. I’m getting tired of playing games with these people. I showed Fang mercy the first time and apparently that was a mistake. This time I’ll show him something else. I want information about this attack. If it’s only Fang operating on his own that is one thing, but if the Yakuza have declared war on me that is another. I also want to know if Tanaka was involved. Get me prisoners.
                Branwyn nodded and kissed his neck. As soon as we get on the rooftop, I’ll take care of the com spell while you release the others and Circe briefs them. Shikarou, you’ll need to coordinate with Gwyneth as she isn’t aware of the unfolding situation. Circe and I’ll keep everyone off balance. He felt a flurry of mental communication between his two harem members as they divided up pokegirls and tasks. He knew that they ‘spoke’ much faster when not having to push things through his shields, but he was unwilling to forgo his protection for the sake of a little extra speed.
                Suddenly Circe vanished. A half second later, once Circe had reported that the rooftop was clear, so did Branwyn, taking Shikarou with her. They came out on the rooftop of the café, looking down on where they’d been standing. Shikarou was already releasing his other pokegirls as Branwyn dropped a fireball on the enemy pokegirls who’d suddenly appeared from the shadows of an alley. Yells filled the air as the fireball detonated in the middle of the group and pokegirls scattered.
                “Gwyneth, Ruiling, with me.” Shikarou turned to them as he absently noted Branwyn finishing up the com spell. Then she and Pythia vanished as they teleported out and Lorelei took to the air with Circe following close behind.
                “We’re under attack by Yakuza, including your friend Fang.”
                Ruiling hissed in anger. “I’ll tear his arms off and shove one down his throat and the other up his ass until he can shake hands with himself.”
                “I want him alive. I’ve got plans for him.” Shikarou’s voice was grim. A shadow slithered over the edge of the rooftop. It was almost absolutely silent, but from this distance he could hear her movement. “Gwyneth, your left!”
                The ElfQueen’s power bolt took the surprised Ninjanezumi high in the chest and flipped her off the edge of the roof.
                Shikarou darted to the edge and looked over as the streetlight threw his shadow behind him. From his shadow rose a Kunoichi who hammered him in the middle of the back, catapulting him off the roof.
                Only a quick hover spell kept him from smashing into the street below as Ruiling shouted. “Yuko, you whore!”
                There was a screech from Yuko as Ruiling flew over the street, whirled in midair and hurled the Kunoichi at the ground below. Yuko hit hard and disappeared as she used vanish.
                Gwyneth appeared at the roof’s edge. “Ruiling, keep your temper and rescue – ” she broke off as she looked down and noticed the Ninjanezumi clinging to the side of the building. “Here!” she called as she released a power bolt to mark the pokegirl’s location. The Ninjanezumi shuddered as the bolt hit and let go of the wall to drop into the alley, only to grind to a halt as Ruiling raced in and hit, crushing the mouse pokegirl against the wall with her full strength. The stones of the building cracked audibly from the impact.
                Gwyneth wrapped her rose whip around Shikarou’s hovering form and pulled him back to the roof. “I despair of teaching her about distance attacks,” she complained quietly.
                “Then you need to take advantage of her toughness instead.”
                The ElfQueen snorted and used heal on her Tamer. “Don’t try to teach me how to plant seeds.”
                A form appeared on a nearby rooftop and vanished a heartbeat later as another pokegirl came out right behind her. Shikarou recognized Circe before she teleported away. “What was that?”
                Gwyneth finished checking him over as she answered. “She’s fighting a Psilady and they are both using foresight to predict each other’s movements.” A glance. “Your shields are interfering with the telepathic commentary that’s going on.”
                “Tough. I know my limits.” Shikarou glanced up as Ruiling flew up over the edge of the roof and dropped the limp Ninjanezumi nearby. The Neo Iczel had some cuts and scrapes but was otherwise ok.
                “So who do I get to pound now?” She asked cheerily as she brushed her canary yellow hair back.
                The building shuddered before Shikarou could send her after Fang. A second later it shuddered again. Ruiling raced to the edge of the building and looked down as the shuddering continued. “Mina! I’ve been wanting to see who the best was for a while now!” She dove over the side.
                Shikarou and Gwyneth looked down to see that an Amachamp had been using her superior strength to punch handholds in the wall and was quickly scaling it. Ruiling’s strike with her energy blade scraped the Amachamp off the wall and sent her crashing down to the street below. Amazingly she landed on her feet, apparently without damage as her knees flexed to take up the shock. All four of her arms came up in a ready position as Ruiling raced down towards her.
                Gwyneth pulled Shikarou away from the edge as the Amachamp’s mega punch sent Ruiling sailing up above the level of the roof. She reoriented and dove out of sight again, a glow building around her hands as she summoned power.
                Shikarou was moving towards the edge again when the access door to the roof blasted across the rooftop and over the side. An angry looking skinny pokegirl stomped onto the roof and glared at the kami. “Die!” she screamed and abruptly doubled in height as the Ogress transformed and charged.
                Pythia suddenly appeared on the rooftop, carrying an unconscious human. She tossed him aside and flew straight at the Ogress, hitting her with an energy blade. The Ogress grunted and hit back with mega punch, smashing Pythia through the roof access doorway and out the wall on the other side. Pythia picked herself up, shook her head and vanished.
                The Ogress laughed evilly. “Coward,” she grunted and turned back to Shikarou as Gwyneth hit her with rose whip. The Ogress rocked back from the force of the blow but recovered quickly and raised her fist as she closed on Shikarou.
                Gwyneth hit her again with rose whip, this time forcing the Ogress to crab sideways away from the ElfQueen’s attack as she continued to pursue Shikarou, who was trying to keep away from her grip as he summoned his sword.
                Pythia reappeared on the rooftop, this time with Lorelei, who instantly hit the Ogress with feather shuriken, the attack picking the ground type up and knocking her flat on the rooftop.
                The Ogress climbed to her feet with surprising agility as Lorelei unleashed another feather shuriken, which rocked the enemy pokegirl before she steadied herself and charged the Sphinx, attempting to come to grips with her enemy. Lorelei charged another feather shuriken attack as Pythia grabbed her tail and they vanished as the G-Spliced teleported, bringing them out behind the Ogress and facing her. The spray of ki energy swept across the Ogress like a hurricane and she was already unconscious as she was blasted over the coaming of the roof and slammed to the ground below.
                Pythia let go of Lorelei and nodded to Shikarou. “Sorry, I had to get some help.” She touched the Sphinx on the wing. “Let’s go after the rest of the humans now. That’ll throw the pokegirls into disarray.”
                Lorelei snorted in disgust. “They’re already in disarray. This’ll put them into an absolute panic.” She vanished as a snarl was rippling along her muzzle.
                Pythia looked at Shikarou. “Circe’s on her way back with the Psilady.” She disappeared as she teleported away.
                Shikarou grinned foolishly. “What is it?” Gwyneth sounded suspicious.
                “They had surprise, cover and more humans on their side to coordinate. This free-for-all leads me to think our training is paying off very well.”
                Gwyneth smiled. “You’re right, but this battle isn’t over yet.”
                “So what are we waiting for?” He hefted his sword. “Let’s go hunting.”
                “They are down three pokegirls and a human. My job has changed,” replied his ElfQueen. “I’m to keep you safe until the fight is over.”
                “Don’t I get a say in this?”
                “I was told to tell you no and that we can discuss it when things are quiet.”
                “Well one thing is right,” Shikarou snarled in sudden anger. “Branwyn and I are going to have a little talk.” Gwyneth’s eyes went wide and she backed away. He took a deep breath. “Sorry.” He forced a smile. “I am not helpless and I don’t need to be babied and maybe I haven’t been forceful enough in articulating that to my alpha.” His hands flexed unconsciously. Claw tips slid in and out of sight. “I’ll just have to correct that little oversight.”
                Gwyneth set her shoulders and moved to stand directly in front of her Tamer. “I understand. I won’t fight you.”
                “What are you talking about?”
                “My previous Tamer had to hurt someone occasionally. I won’t fight you, but I can’t let you wander out into the battle looking for Branwyn. So beat me. That’s what he used to do when he couldn’t hurt the real focus of his anger.”
                Shikarou turned white. “Is that what – oh, shit.” He carefully reached out and took Gwyneth’s hand, wincing when she flinched. “I, I, I’m sorry.” He knelt and touched his lips to her hand. “I would never hurt you.” He looked up at her. “Please forgive me, I’m unlocking powers that I haven’t used in a long time and I’ve forgotten that the price for having them is my emotions run much more strongly.”
                Gwyneth smiled suddenly. “You look good down there.” She pulled on his hand, gently guiding him to his feet. “You didn’t hurt me; all you did was scare me for a moment.” Her face sobered. “I am glad you didn’t hit me and that you are still you.” She raised an eyebrow. “Why does this make your emotions stronger?”
                “I,” He frowned for a second as he gathered his thoughts. “A kami’s emotional state goes haywire for a time, when they first come into their adult powers until they learn control. Apparently my powers have been locked away for so long I’m going to have to learn not only to control them again, but myself as well.”
                Circe appeared and unceremoniously tossed an unconscious Psilady on top of the Ninjanezumi. She glanced at the two of them. “Silly thing thought she was faster than me. Is everything all right?”
                Gwyneth’s “yes” came over the top of Shikarou’s “no.”
                Circe’s eyes narrowed. “Oh. Do I need to stay around and help you with your emotions?”
                Shikarou shrugged. “Can the battle spare you?”
                Circe’s antenna twitched. “Actually, yes it can. Ruiling is coming with the Amachamp and the Ogress, and Branwyn’s bringing a pokegirl and a human.”
                Gwyneth frowned suddenly. “I’m surprised the police haven’t shown up yet.”
                Circe smiled slightly. “In case you haven’t noticed, every person in the whole area is very busy hiding inside their homes. If they knew, then the police were probably bribed to stay away. At least the humans were bribed. The OfficerJennys must have been rerouted to other parts of town.”
                “This was an assassination, and you, Shikarou, were the target.” The Alaka-Wham blinked in surprise as she shivered. “Ooh, that was a nice spike in your emotions.” She started to say something else when Branwyn teleported in with a bound human woman and a heavily injured Amazonchan.
                The Unicorn grinned. “I return with the catch of the day.” She dropped both of her charges and sighed happily. “That was a good fight.” She sported some heavy bruises and showed the start of a nice black eye.
                Shikarou glanced at Gwyneth. “Gather up the human’s pokeballs and let’s see if we can find out who goes where.”
                The ElfQueen nodded and started searching the prisoners as Ruiling appeared and dropped the Amachamp and the Ogress, who’d resumed her smaller form. “I would like to complain formally that I didn’t appreciate the Ogress dropping out of the sky without warning. She almost hit me.”
                Shikarou ignored her and looked at Circe. “Who’s left?”
                She cocked her head. “Fang and a very sneaky pokegirl who’s trying to pretend she’s somewhere else.” A smile. “And the observer, of course. A Ka-D-Bra. She thinks I don’t know she’s out there.” The smile widened. “She’s starting to think about fleeing. Should I fetch her?”
                “Yes, please. Ruiling, would you be so kind as to retrieve Jiang Fang?”
                The Neo Iczel grinned. “I’d be flattered to. You want him whole, right. I can do that as long as whole and unbroken don’t mean the same thing.” She launched herself into the sky with an ugly laugh.
                Shikarou nodded to Circe. “I don’t see the Kunoichi amongst our guests, so she’s probably the sneaky pokegirl you mentioned. Please show her to Branwyn and Lorelei so we can finish this up before you leave. I want a clean sweep.”
                Circe nodded. “I’ve already pointed her out to Pythia and Lorelei and they are about to catch her. Oh, and I haven’t sensed Officer Tanaka at all.”
                “Understood. Ladies, you have work to do. I want to be out of here before the police suddenly realize that they might have to do their damned jobs.”
                The winter sun gleamed weakly down on the four bound figures as the ocean lapped at the shores of Caomh Sith.
                “Are you sure that bringing her here is safe?” Branwyn watched the prisoners as she spoke. “The Ka-D-Bra is a teleporter and could lead the Yakuza back here. The only reason she hasn’t left yet is Circe is keeping a firm grip on her mind.”
                Shikarou stroked her cheek. “After today she’ll either be loyal to me or I’ll kill her myself before she can ever leave. I’m only worried that what I’m going to do might bother you and the rest of the harem too much.”
                Branwyn glanced at him. “Do you want the whole harem to watch whatever it is you’re going to do to them?”
                “I’d rather that then they get some garbled version of what happened from someone else.” He sighed softly. “It’s probably going to happen again, and eventually they’d see it anyway.” A grimace appeared. “Well, it’s not going to do itself. This is one of the things I gave up for Pallaius and I’m not sure how I’m going to feel about it.”
                “Afraid you’re not going to want to do it?”
                “I’m afraid I’m not going to want to stop.” He reached for his pokeballs and started letting his harem out. They’d stopped long enough to pickup Yushiko, and seven faces watched his as he started to speak.
                “The one thing I want everyone to understand is that what you are about to see will never, and I mean never be done to the harem. Remember this, especially if what you see frightens you.”
                Ruiling spoke up. “What if someone leaves the harem?”
                “A good question. Someone outside the harem isn’t in it, so all bets are off. However, this isn’t something that I would do just to do. I always have a specific reason.”
                “Is pissed off a good enough reason?”
                He smiled. “It can be, but I wouldn’t even hunt down Kiyoko to do it to her.”
                There was silence for a short while. Finally Circe smiled. “Do it. Just be willing to answer more questions afterwards. You’ve never hurt anyone here before, and you don’t have to have a reason to defend yourself if you wanted to start now, so I really don’t think this is some kind of ruse to get us off of our guards.” There was a murmur of assent.
                “Very well. Let’s get started.”
                The group moved over to where the prisoners waited. Shikarou was pleased to see that they were all awake and made sure that they could see each other.
                “Hello Fang. It really hasn’t been long enough since our last little get together and I’m going to make sure we don’t have to do this again.”
                Fang glared. “Yakuza are born to die. Killing us will accomplish nothing.”
                Shikarou glanced around. Three other pairs of angry eyes glared at him. “Killing you isn’t on my agenda.” He shrugged out of his shirt. “I once got the sleeve of my kimono caught. That was ugly.” He handed it to Branwyn, who folded it and set it aside.
                He glanced at the Ka-D-Bra. “I should do you first, but I’ve decided for purely personal reasons to take care of Fang initially. I’m confident that Circe can keep you from running.”
                He turned back to Fang. “I’m a lot out of practice and I really hope this hurts.” Extending his claws, Shikarou ripped the shirt off of Fang’s chest. Fang remained silent.
                Shikarou placed his hand flat against Fang’s chest and took a deep breath, which he slowly released. He met Fang’s gaze and smiled. “Show time.”
                His hand sank into Fang’s chest like water. Fang screamed in agony. “Now where is it?” Shikarou felt around. “That’s not it.” His hand dug deeper, and Fang’s body arched as he screamed as fast as he could draw breath. “Ew, what’s that? Oh, there it is.” He twisted his hand and Fang’s screams grew even louder. “Stop wriggling, damn it.”
                Fang abruptly stopped screaming as Shikarou pulled a small glowing white ball from the man’s chest. His victim lay limp as Shikarou examined the orb critically. Fangs’ eyes were open and his chest rose and fell as he breathed, but nothing else. “It’s kind of puny. I hope I got the right thing.”
                Branwyn frowned. “What is that?”
                “Considering how small it is, I suppose it could be his sense of humor, but it isn’t. This is Fang’s soul.”
                There was a collective gasp and Gwyneth turned chalk white.
                Shikarou held it up and focused his will. A blue swirl appeared in the white and began to spread.
                Gwyneth swallowed convulsively. “What are you doing?”
                “I’m changing some things. Making him utterly loyal to me and making him less of an asshole.” An evil smile. “I’m making it better, although that isn’t what the humans call it. They call what I’m doing corruption.”
                Soon the soul was a uniform light blue and Shikarou grunted. “Finished.” He turned and pushed the orb into Fang’s chest.
                Fang’s eyes blinked but otherwise he made no movement. Shikarou rolled him over and cut his bonds. “Stand up.”
                “Yes, master.” Fang climbed to his feet.
                Shikarou turned to his harem. “He’s mine now. Utterly loyal, but I didn’t take all of his will. I didn’t want a zombie servant. Any questions?”
                Ruiling grinned suddenly. “This is better than anything I could have done. Thank you.”   
                Shikarou turned to the Ka-D-Bra. Her eyes widened in fear as he placed his hand on her chest. He smiled. “Now you understand. I’ll try not to hurt you as much.” She started to say something but only gasped as his hand sank into her.
                The whole process went much faster and she didn’t scream nearly as much. When he was done, Shikarou cut her bonds. “I want you to watch and report back what you see. Maybe that will convince the Yakuza to leave me alone. You will be my eyes among them. However you will not bring them back to here unless I specifically authorize it.”
                She bowed. “Yes sir.”
                The others went quickly. The woman tried to reason with him. “Please don’t do this,” she pleaded when Shikarou placed his hand against her chest. “I’ll serve you. I’ll be your woman, anything that you want.”
                He nodded. “Yes, you will.” His hand slid into her body.
                When he was done and the Ka-D-Bra had left Shikarou settled down in the sand. “Circe, are the Yakuza pokegirls going to pose any problems?”
                The Alaka-Wham shook her head. “Yakuza pokegirls are well conditioned. They will do whatever their Tamers tell them to.”
                “Good. I really don’t want to have to enslave too many of them if I can avoid it.” He looked around slowly. “All right, who thinks I’m a monster and doesn’t want anything to do with me?”
                Branwyn slid to her feet. “Promise me that you will kill me before you ever do that to me.”
                He nodded. “I promise.”
                “Good.” Branwyn crawled into his lap. “That was terrifying. Hold me.”
                Gwyneth protested. “What about me. I want to be comforted too.”
                The Unicorn snorted and used the pokeball she’d pulled from Shikarou’s belt. “Alpha’s prerogative.” Gwyneth vanished in the red beam. “Anyone else have a complaint?”
                Surprisingly no one did.
                “I understand that there is a minor problem.”
                The man in the green cloak nodded as a bead of sweat appeared on his upper lip. “You are well informed, milord. Sir Marcus has failed to retrieve the Grimoire of Danu from Sukebe’s manufacturing facility. However, it is, as you mentioned, a minor problem.”
                “And yet I’ve been informed that the book was recovered. But not by us.”
                The bead of sweat was quickly licked away. “I understand that to be the case as well, milord. An investigation indicates that the book was retrieved by a Tamer who accidentally stumbled across the transport device and was far away enough from it to survive its activation.”
                “The Tamer’s name is Shikarou Urufu and he’s based out of Wick, in the Blue League. We are trying to locate him, but it is proving difficult since he owns a Unicorn and he appears to make regular use of her teleporting abilities.”
                “A Unicorn? That is a powerful magic pokegirl. She could prove useful.”
                “Yes, milord. I’ll issue the orders to have her collected.” A pause. “Milord, there is a rumor that this Shikarou may have used magic during his confrontation with Marcus. Should I attempt recruitment?”
                “Really? So he might be a mage. No matter, with a wog’s name, I doubt he’d be of any use to us. Nevertheless, we must be thorough, especially since he comes from Wick. He might actually be English. Conduct an investigation. We may need to know a great deal more about this man if retrieving the Grimoire proves problematic.”
                “Yes, milord.”
                “Oh, and Sir Duncan?”
                “Yes milord?”
                “Marcus had some valuable pokegirls. Make sure they are collected, but since he failed he only gets one of them back once you have him released. And make sure that he can’t lead anyone back to us. However, Sir Marcus is a useful tool as well. Don’t have him killed.”
                “As you command, milord.”
                Shikarou looked around at the former Yakuza. “So, was this your idea, Fang or did you have your oyabun’s permission for this?” Shikarou and the three Yakuza agents were alone for this meeting, except for Branwyn, who’d been cautioned beforehand to stay quiet.
                Fang shrugged. “It was my operation, but my oyabun approved of it.”
                “Is he likely to pursue any sort of vendetta against me?”
                “That would be unlikely.” It was the other man.
                Shikarou nodded. “Who are you and why?”
                “I am Hachisuka Chikao, lord, and the oyabun is a superstitious man. What the Ka-D-Bra will report will frighten him and he will be unlikely to attempt to retaliate.”
                Shikarou nodded. “Good.” He turned to the woman. “What is your name?”
                “Uchida Mamiko, lord.” She looked uncomfortable.
                “What is the matter?”
                She turned slightly pink. “I do not care for men, lord, and I am unhappy that you will wish to sleep with me.” Fang and Chikao grinned.
                “I don’t.” Shikarou’s tone was even, but his eyes were hard. “I’m not interested in rape. And you two will keep your hands off of her as well, unless she explicitly asks.” Their faces fell, but Mamiko looked faintly hopeful. “There are enough pokegirls who will be asking you to tame them that you will not take any woman, be she human or pokegirl, against her will. And to avoid any confusion, if a woman says no, assume that she means no. Not yes, not maybe. If you have a pokegirl that likes to play hard to get, that is another matter, but there are new rules here, and unless she has explained to you that she wants to play this game, hands off. If you violate this I will have you commit seppuku.” He glanced at Mamiko. “This applies to you as well.”
                Tonelessly they replied in unison. “Hai.”
                “Now, you are going to get with Branwyn after this meeting and arrange to empty any bank accounts you have access to into one that she will provide. You’ll only need the money that I will provide for you. Any questions?”
                “Hai. Lord, I know where there is a large sum of credits hidden in the city,” Mamiko replied. “Do you wish me to retrieve them?”
                Shikarou exchanged a glance with Branwyn, who nodded almost imperceptibly. “If you can do so safely, get them today. Otherwise leave them.”
                “I can get them, if I have my pokegirls?” Mamiko’s eyes watched his intently.
                “Until you prove to me that you can’t keep them according to the rules here, or until they express an interest in leaving your harem, all of you will keep the pokegirls you came here with.” All three visibly relaxed.
                “Now, I wish to know if Officer Tanaka was involved in this.”
                Fang shook his head. “No, he was not. We own one of his men, but not him, which was how we were able to send a message with his name on it. Tanaka is young and still idealistic.”
                “I think that just about covers everything.” He watched them bow and rise to their feet. “Branwyn will show you the account numbers you need.”
                “A very interesting celebration, Shikarou. And it looks like it is a successful one as well.”
                “Thank you, Yoshihara-san. I’m pleased that you and the rest of your family could make it.”
                “You’ve fulfilled an old man’s dying wish. Call me Masato.”
                “That’s very kind of you, but I think you still have several years left.” Shikarou smiled slightly. “Your singing was very good. Who would have suspected that you listened to Mineko and the Pussycats?”
                Masato laughed. “What was that called again?”
                “Karaoke. Gwyneth did some research and assured me that was very popular in pre-Sukebe Edo.”
                “Well I’ve never heard of it, but it was fun and I intend to introduce it to my friends at home.”
                “We had to strip the lyrics out of the music and add the subtitles ourselves, so I’ll make sure you get copies of all of the music and a spare karaoke machine we’ve got before you leave in the morning.”
                “Thank you.” Masato leaned back in his chair and sighed contentedly. “An interesting collection of guests you have.” He glanced at Shikarou. “Especially Sandy and Beth.”
                Shikarou refused to be baited. “They’re members of Lorelei’s family. I didn’t think they’d be able to come, but it turns out I was wrong. I also didn’t think your entire family would be able to make it, but I’m pleased that they did.”
                Masato blinked and lowered his voice. “Yushiko voiced your concerns to me privately. Are you upset that we’ve set up shrines to you?”
                “Does it matter? Would you stop if I asked you to?”
                The old man’s eyes met Shikarou’s squarely. “If you insisted, I would, if only to ensure my family’s survival. The Yoshihara line can be traced back to before Sukebe and I’ll not have them destroyed.”
                “I’m not going to destroy your family.” Shikarou gave him a sour look. “I’m kami, not oni.”
                Masato shrugged. “I know the legends. Sometimes there is little difference.”
                “You have a point. Your family is safe from my retribution.”
                “Good.” Masato was silent for a time. “Fumiko will be fifteen soon. That is the age that a pokegirl gets a Tamer in Edo.”
                “Aren’t old people supposed to be crafty and subtle?”
                Masato grinned suddenly. “That’s middle aged people. We old people don’t have time for subtlety. After all, we might drop dead at any moment. Will you take her?”
                “How’s Yushiko going to feel if I take her aunt into my harem?” Shikarou hoped that would end the matter.
                “My great granddaughter thinks it’s a wonderful idea.” He grinned again. “You were right about old people being cunning.”
                Shikarou grunted in annoyance. “I’ll consider it.”
                “Good.” Masato pushed himself out of his chair. “I’ll leave you to the rest of your guests.”
                A little later Faelan plopped into the same chair. “Should I be upset at you for doing an end run around me and going to Svetlana?”
                “Well, if I get to decide, the answer is no. You should be thrilled.” Shikarou shifted slightly and the Growlie in his lap grumbled sleepily.
                “Cute pup. Is she Molly’s?”
                “Yes, this is Tamara. Molly’s putting Belinda to bed and then she’ll be back for this one.”
                “Showing her off like this is going to get me in trouble with Svetlana.”
                Shikarou flicked an ear. “That’s what happens when you love mortals. Sometime between birth and death most of them want children. Give them to her.”
                Faelan snorted. “You don’t give me orders.”
                “Actually I do.” His brother looked astonished. “I’m the eldest here and I’m establishing the clan holdings. That makes me the local clan leader and your superior.” Shikarou shook his head slowly. “But right now I’m speaking as your brother and your friend. You two love each other and she wants children. That’s a pretty powerful evolutionary force and if you don’t father her children someone else might.” He glanced at his suddenly mute sibling. “They do grow up and leave, you know. It’s part of the logical progression.”
                Faelan blinked. “Huh?”
                “Children. Your wife gets pregnant and they annoy her. They’re born and they annoy the both of you. To move on and annoy the rest of the world they have to grow up and move out. It’s a logical progression.”
                “That has got to be one of the strangest endorsements of parenthood that I’ve ever heard,” Faelan announced.
                Shikarou wasn’t through. “However, as your clan leader I am informing you that we need more kami and we have no idea when or even if father will find this universe again. That leaves you and me to produce them the old fashioned way.” Shikarou pulled out his wand and poked his brother on the knee with it. “Now you are on a timer. On Yule of 300 AS, your fertility will become normal. You now have two years to come to terms with it or find a good supplier of condoms.” Faelan looked shocked. “And don’t worry; I won’t make you tell Svetlana. I’ll take care of it when I see her.” Now his brother looked terrified. “Happy Yule.”
                Shikarou glanced around the dining room of the inn as he settled down at Branwyn’s table. Yushiko was eating breakfast with her parents and one of her grandmothers. He finally looked over at an obviously hovering Alice and nodded. As she bustled across the room, Branwyn chuckled. “Ah, so you are the one she wants to see so desperately.” The Unicorn had spent Yule night with him, so they’d already said their greetings.
                “Looks that way.” He turned his attention to the OfficerJenny. “Good morning, Alice.”
                “Good morning, sir. There was an incident last night that Molly wanted reported to you as soon as you got up.”
                “If it could wait until I got up, it couldn’t be all bad. What is it?”
                “Juniper almost killed Yoshihara Masato last night.” Branwyn choked on her tea.
                “Is everyone all right?” Shikarou felt a flicker of anger at Molly for waiting and then realized that he could see at least several of the Yoshihara extended family and no one looked all that upset.
                “Yessir. Masato is at the clinic and will be released in time for lunch. Juniper was scared more than anything else.”
                Another spurt of irritation, also suppressed. He said coolly, “Alice, I would really appreciate it if your reports were more complete than concise. Now, tell me what happened.”
                Alice nodded as Branwyn raised an eyebrow. “Yessir. We’re still learning to work together, like when you told me to stop calling you chief.” She took a breath. “Last night, or more precisely, this morning at 0445, NurseJoy Candace was contacted by Juniper, who requested urgent medical aid to Masato’s room. En route, she contacted Molly who sent me and Amy.”
                “We arrived only a few minutes behind Candace and found her using her healing abilities to restart Yoshihara Masato’s heart. He recovered consciousness and was taken to the clinic for observation. I informed his son Keiichi and his daughter-in-law Shinju of what had taken place. Amy escorted them to the clinic while I remained and questioned Juniper.”
                “Amy questioned Candace and her explanation matches what Juniper described, she had been approached by Masato as to taming and had agreed. Shortly after his first release he became short of breath and went into cardiac arrest.”
                “Candace ascribed what happened to general overwhelming fatigue due to his advanced age combined with the strenuous activity of taming Juniper. She says that he didn’t respond well to cure or curaga, so in desperation she tried pray. Masato insisted that she pray to you, sir,” an odd look crossed her face, “and when she did, only then did the healing start. She wants to talk to you about that later, sir. Anyway, according to her, he seems to have made a complete recovery and will be released later today.”
                “According to Juniper, it was a very good thing that they were using quick release restraints so she could call for help quickly. She now wants to make sure that we only carry that kind.”
                “We can’t do it,” from Branwyn. “You have to have some standard types for dealing with feral pokegirls. However, we can make sure that those are only used for ferals.”
                “How is Keiichi?” Shikarou asked with a sinking feeling.
                “Excuse me.”         It was Sachiko, Keiichi’s other wife and the Brass that Yushiko had been eating breakfast with. “I wanted to express my family’s thanks for saving Masato’s life.” Her eyes twinkled. “It seems we are even more indebted to you. According to my husband, Greatest-grandfather would have died if not for the quick response of your medical personnel.”
                “I’m just glad that Masato is going to be well. Does this happen often?”
                “No, this is the first time, although we know the pokegirl he visits in the city and she’s warned us that he does get short of breath afterwards.”
                Alice nodded. “Candace said it was likely that he overextended himself when he tried for a second taming.”
                Sachiko looked surprised. “Two, in one night? No wonder he nearly died. She must be some pokegirl.”
                “He was with Juniper. I’m not sure you met her last night, she’s an Omegan and a very gentle soul,” Shikarou explained.
                “I didn’t meet her, but I will need to now.” Again the twinkle of suppressed laughter appeared. “Besides I want to meet the pokegirl that almost gave Keiichi complete control of the family business.”
                Shikarou nodded. “Branwyn, will you see to it? I want to check on Masato. Is there anything else Alice? Your report was well done, by the bye.”
                “Thank you. I do have one other thing, but it is an observation. The CSG has two teleporting pokegirls right now, but I think you need to get one for the clinic. Once she knows the island it would help Candace reduce travel time and help in transferring patients to the clinic for treatment if she’s busy with someone else or they don’t need immediate care.”
                Shikarou smiled. “That is a very good idea, Alice. I’ll try to take care of it as soon as possible.”
                He started shoveling food into his mouth as Branwyn leaned over and whispered into his ear. “Can you look inside someone and tell what kind of soul they have?”
                He swallowed convulsively forcing the mouthful of food down. “In a general way,” he replied quietly.
                “Interesting.” She rose and led Sachiko away.
                A short time later Shikarou was at the clinic and talking to Candace. “How is he?”
                She snorted. “That randy old goat pinched my ass when I got too close. He’s fine.”
                “He’s got excellent taste, you have a prime bum.” Candace blinked and smiled in spite of herself. “That was good work you did last night. Thank you.”
                “Well, if you are going to come by to see me every time someone gets a cut, I’ll have to encourage people to be more careless.”
                “I happen to be hoping to have more time for my favorite pokegirls now that Fang and Chikao are here to help with the tamings.”
                “So I’m one of your favorites? Flatterer.” Candace smiled. “So, care to tell me why my patient was dying until we prayed together to you?”
                “I’d love to, but I’m not entirely sure how it worked either. I wish I knew. Candace, Alice has made an interesting suggestion; that we get a teleporting pokegirl to work here in the clinic to assist and to reduce travel time. I think it’s a very good idea and wanted to get your input.”
                Candace looked thoughtful. “I don’t have enough work to keep me busy right now, but if we could reduce travel time, that would someday save someone’s life.”
                “Would any of the standard pokegirls who work in clinics fit the bill?”
                “Not unless you can get a Megami who has teleport or a Supe-Bra Genius.” She shrugged. “Not that normal roles matter much here. You’ve got a Cheshire who’s in the Guard, which is incredibly difficult for me to fathom. I’m sure you’ll find someone equally bizarre to work here in the clinic.”
                Shikarou smiled. “I think Amy hopes it will let her get away with her pranks unscathed. Sad to say, I gave her the idea for one that should be a good one.”
                Candace looked suspicious. “Tell me.”
                He looked innocent. “All I did was comment that if someone could teleport about twenty feet up, if they were fast enough they could upend a bucket of water on someone else and be gone before the water hit them.”
                “You are encouraging her. I don’t believe it. What if she uses it on you?”
                “That would be stupid. I gave her the idea. I’d know exactly who did it.” He smiled softly. “And as long as I keep giving her ideas, I’m safe.”
                Branwyn took his hand. “Where are we going?”
                “Glasgow. I do want to hit the gym eventually, but I really want to tell the police that I’m not going to press charges against the mage who tried to kill us.”
                “Why the hell not?”
                “He’s our only lead to the nebulous threat and now that I’m using my powers more freely, I’m going to make him my slave so he’ll tell me everything he knows, like Fang and others did. He’ll also funnel any new information to us as he gets it.”
                Branwyn nodded. “Glasgow it is.” She frowned. “Reading that book might help as well.”
                “Not until I finish checking it for traps and that’s going to take a little while longer.”
                “You can’t be killed so what’s the problem. You open the book and heal afterwards.”
                “Wait a minute.” Shikarou pulled her around to face him. “First of all, I’m hard to kill, not impossible to kill. Second, magical traps can do far more than cause injuries. They can change your mental state or paralyze you. They can also turn people into other things, like chickens or fish or rocks. I even helped to remove a magical trap that turned whoever activated it into a pitcher of lemonade.”
                “Why lemonade?”
                “The owner of the trap wanted a reward for the bother of having to reset it and he liked lemonade.”
                “That’s sick.
                “No one is touching that book until I finish my examination.” Shikarou’s tone brooked no argument.
                “You convinced me.” The teleport exited in a field next to a road a couple of kilometers from the outskirts of Glasgow. “Thank you for using Unicorn Travel. Please remember to thank your Unicorn by taming her on a regular basis. Chocolate would also be appreciated and gifts are never refused.”
                “I didn’t like the movie and there wasn’t a comment card.” Branwyn stuck out her tongue at him as she transformed into her quad form. Her brown skirt flared over her equine shoulders prettily.
                She put her hands on her hips. “Welcome to the ground division of Unicorn Travel. Remember that in case of an emergency; please dismount the Unicorn from the sides or the back. And remember; look for a soft place to land and watch out not to get trampled. By the bye, the navigator thinks that passengers may experience turbulence if they don’t keep their traps shut or give bad evaluations.”
                Shikarou laughed as he slipped onto her back and nestled up against her. “How can I ensure a smooth trip?”
                Branwyn chuckled and fell into a trot. “We’ll discuss it on the way.”
                Once they reached the outskirts of town, Branwyn changed back to her bipedal form and they went to the Glasgow Green Park and started looking for an officer of the law to give them directions to the local station.
                A Cabbit was sitting at the receptionist’s station when they entered. She gave them a bright smile. “Good day. How may I direct you?”
                Shikarou smiled back. Alice had told him who he needed to talk to. “I would like to talk with Matilda, if she’s available.”
                “Let me see.” She picked up her com and made a quick call. “She’ll be right out.”
                “Thank you very much.”
                A short time later an OfficerJenny came out and spoke briefly with the Cabbit before coming over to him. “I’m Matilda. What do you need?”
                “My name is Shikarou and Alice said you were the person I needed to talk about in regards to the incident in Glasgow Green.”
                Her eyebrows contracted. “Shikarou? You were involved.” It wasn’t a question. “What did you want to discuss?”
                “I wanted to drop the charges against the man who attacked me.”
                Matilda frowned. “Why?” Her eyes narrowed slightly. “Was this some kind of domestic incident?”
                Branwyn snickered.
                “No, it wasn’t. I just want to drop the charges against him. It’s Yule.” While both statements were true, neither was connected with the other. However, most people never realized what was happening.
                Matilda was no exception. “Come with me and we’ll fill out the paperwork.” She led them through the security gate and then to a desk where she had them sit. She pulled up the file on the computer and read through it quickly, only to look up at him in confusion. “Is this some kind of joke?”
                “Not at all. Why?”
                “You dropped the charges on the 24th and Marcus Pendelton-Smythe has already been released.” Her eyes were intent as she spoke.
                Shikarou went still. “I see. I did not drop the charges against him, but since that is what I wanted, I suppose I shouldn’t protest.” He didn’t sound happy and his ears were half folded back.
                “Still this is very irregular.” Matilda manipulated the computer briefly. “And there is no record of the proper forms being filled out.” She looked up at him. “Something isn’t right here.” Something clicked in her eyes and a cop’s natural suspicion darkened them. “I’ll need to ask you some questions.”
                “Hey, I wasn’t even here when this mistake took place. And I have witnesses to back that up.” Shikarou wasn’t going to spend the next however long trying to reassure the police that he wasn’t involved.
                “I’ll need to talk to them in order to confirm your alibi.” Matilda didn’t look happy about this.
                “They don’t live around here, so I’ll give you their com numbers.”
                “You do that. They’ll need to be reliable witnesses, which means not in your harem.”
                “I think you won’t have any problems with that. At least one of them is well known to the Glasgow authorities and should be considered reliable.” He smothered a smile as Branwyn sent him a mental image of Sexmet or Bastit visiting the police station to verify his alibi. “Sandy” and “Beth” had arrived the day before the party to spend a little time with Lorelei.
                He was thinking of Poppet, who’d arrived a day early as well, mainly to temporarily escape the end of the year paperwork crush.
                After leaving the station Branwyn sighed. “Well, I guess he’s long gone.”
                “Probably, but we’ll still find him.” He smiled at her surprised expression. “As soon as I get my AI up and running, I’ll find him as soon as he uses his com or visits a pokegirl center.”
                “How will you do that? You don’t have his com code?”
                “I don’t need it. My AI will be able to access the cell tower records at the Glasgow Green for the time period he was waiting and cross reference them against the cell tower near the police station to identify his com’s handshake protocols. Once I have that I’ll be able to locate him whenever he uses his com or if he spends too much time near the same tower.” He shrugged slightly. “If the cell towers delete their records in the next two weeks that won’t work, but even then I have his name and as soon as he uses a pokegirl center I’ll be able to find him. Then he’s mine.”
                Branwyn nodded slowly. “So what do we do in the meantime?”
                “This place has a gym, so let’s get a badge.”
                “Where the hell is Caomh Sith?” The Glasgow Gym attendant pronounced it Kayohm Seth. He looked up from where he’d been reading Shikarou’s pokedex entry. “I’ve never heard of it.”
                Branwyn cocked her head. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
                “I’m from Indigo. Why, is it someplace famous?”
                Shikarou smiled. “No, she was merely commenting on the fact that you mispronounced it. It’s pronounced Kevh Shee and it’s an island in the southernmost portion of the Outer Hebrides, which are north and west of here. It’s not surprising that you’ve never heard of it, it was only recently renamed from its previous name of South Uist.”
                “I’ve never heard of that either.” The attendant made a dismissive motion. “Whatever. I have to let you know that Brandon McCullough, the gym leader, isn’t here. He’s over in Belfast at the Belfast Gym and won’t return for a couple of days.” He smirked. “Not that you have enough rank to get to face him anyway, you’ll have to be satisfied with one of the junior gym battle leaders.”
                “That will be fine.” Shikarou looked amused. “The badge is the same, no matter who I face.”
                The attendant nodded. “That’s correct. You’ll be facing Travis Conway. He gets most of the beginning Tamers.” A smile. “It’s a good thing you got here so early; otherwise you might have to wait for a gym arena to come open. We stay pretty busy here, but right after Yule there’s always a rush of Tamers and wannabes coming here to try out the new pokegirl someone gave them.”
                “Wannabes?” Shikarou sounded surprised.
                “New pet owners or underage Tamers.” The attendant made a disgusted sound. “They get some low level Chichi and decide she’d look good with a Glasgow battle badge on her collar.” He smirked again. “It’s actually for the best. The requirements for pet ownership are much more lenient than for Tamers, but what we do here is pass along the names of owners to the Blue League and they do spot checks to make sure the pokegirl in question isn’t being mistreated. Also our gym battle Tamers get a warm-up bout because of them.” He typed briefly. “I’ve sent a message to Travis letting him know he’s got a battle. He’s good about showing up promptly, so it should only be a couple of minutes.”
                Travis showed up about ten minutes later, still chewing on some toast. He grinned. “You’re lucky I had my pokedex with me, if I hadn’t been able to verify you were a real Tamer, I’d have finished my breakfast in a much more leisurely fashion.” The grin broadened as he stuck out his hand. “I’m grateful to you for being able to start the day with a real battle before I have to wipe the noses of all the crying snots who just can’t understand how I was so mean as to actually beat them.”
                Branwyn frowned. “Is it really that bad?”
                “Oh yes. Legally we have to accept all challenges and so yesterday I had twenty five bouts. That’s three an hour and only two of them lasted more than two minutes.” He shook his head. “I understand that allowing pokegirls to be pets helps to get more of them into the general population and as well as aiding in keeping the ferals down, at least among the domesticates, but still, kids shouldn’t be allowed inside a gym, unless it’s on a school tour. Please follow me.”
                He continued talking as they headed deeper into the bowels of the gym. “We’re going to be having a three on three battle without any reserves.” A glance at Shikarou. “Do you have a problem with that?”
                “You’re the gym representative, you are the challenged party and you set the conditions. My only option would be to decline the battle.”
                “Excellent! Here we are.” He led them into an arena that was a mixture of grassland and ponds. “Do you know what the specialty is here?”
                “According to my sources, plant and water types. It’s an interesting combination, and should work well to keep electric and fire types from getting a huge advantage.”
                “That’s right.” He indicated a woman who was waiting in the judge’s box and frowned when Shikarou scanned her with his pokedex. “Is there a problem with Tammy?”
                “No. When I faced James Irizarry in Stornoway, he had a pokegirl judging and I didn’t realize until the bout was almost over that she was spying on me as part of his strategy.”
                “Sneaky, I like that. No, Tammy is one of our trainee Tamers here. I’ll need to be getting down to the other side now. Good luck.”
                “Thank you.” Shikarou turned to Branwyn. “Plant and water. I don’t have any fire or electric, so I don’t have to worry about that, so we’ll go as planned. You, Circe and Yushiko will be my pokegirls.”
                She nodded. “Sounds like a good mix. I’ll take lead with Yushiko. You focus on Circe while keeping a general eye on everything, just like we trained.”
                Tammy nodded to Shikarou when Travis reached the end. “Are you ready to battle?”
                “I am.”
                “This will be a three on three pokegirl battle between Travis Conway of the Glasgow Gym and the challenger Shikarou Urufu. This battle has no time limit and will continue until one Tamer has no pokegirls able to battle. Begin.”
                Travis spun three pokeballs into the air and released his choices. A Baleena, A Rosebreasts and a She-Captain.
                Shikarou released Circe and Yushiko as Branwyn dropped into the arena and shifted to her quad form. He’d cast a com spell over all of them before coming to the arena and muttered, “Yushiko’s with Branwyn. Circe, it’s you and me. Branwyn take the Rosebreasts, she’ll be vulnerable to yours and Yushiko’s flying attacks.”
                “I’m on her.”
                “Circe, you’ve got the She-Captain.”
                Travis grinned. “Kelly, water floor.” A wave of water surged out from the Baleena to cover the entire arena floor as the Rosebreasts and the She-Captain trotted forward in close unison.
                Shikarou blinked and then smiled. Water pokegirls would heal in the area of the water floor but there was a serious downside if you were facing an electric type pokegirl. He spoke quickly without pausing between words. “Branwyn teleport you and Yushiko six meters into the air Circe get into the air Yushiko lightning the floor next to the Baleena. Now!”
                Travis looked surprised as Circe smoothly lifted into the air and Branwyn grabbed Yushiko’s arm and teleported, coming out in midair. His surprise turned to horror as Branwyn dropped Yushiko, who summoned her wings and electricity arced across the arena to strike all around the Baleena.
                The Rosebreasts was the luckiest of the three. Being a plant type, the electricity wasn’t especially powerful to her, but still she screamed and her armor smoldered slightly. The She-Captain was the farthest away, but the electrical assault still knocked her to the watery ground and her cries mingled with those of the Rosebreasts.
                Kelly was the least fortunate, being a pure water type and standing right next to the impact points. Her body bowed as the blast of current surged through it. She would have screamed if she could have, but the direct current froze every muscle in her body and her skin actually steamed as she toppled sideways. Blood ran from her mouth where she’d bitten through her tongue and she was mercifully unconscious before she hit the ground.
                A frozen tableau persisted for several heartbeats until Tammy recovered and raised her red flag. “Kelly is unable to battle. Point to Shikarou.”
                Travis collected the unconscious Baleena in her pokeball slowly. Shikarou waited to give him time to pull himself together.
                He gave Shikarou an odd look. “Maggie, Ann-Marie double swordwave on the Armsmistress.”
                Shikarou grinned. “Circe, psychic.” Branwyn cast magic missile on Ann-Marie while Yushiko hit her with feather shuriken and Circe drove her psychic attack deep into the She-Captain’s mind.
                Maggie’s attack staggered Yushiko but Ann-Marie never had the chance to complete her attack as the feather shuriken and magic missiles blasted her backwards, spinning shards of her vegetative armor away from her in a cloud. She staggered on her feet and tried again, her swordwave bringing Yushiko to a halt in midair. The Armsmistress recovered and dropped to the ground, her sword ready as the Rosebreasts closed.
                Circe’s psychic attack hit Maggie like a thunderbolt and the She-Captain’s eyes went unfocused as she fought to remain conscious.
                Ann-Marie summoned her thorn cutlass and move forward gracefully, her attention on Yushiko, so when Branwyn hit her from the side, her surprise was total as the heavier Unicorn blended quick attack and takedown. The startled pokegirl went down hard as Yushiko turned in place and lightning arced across to hammer Maggie from the back. The She-Captain dropped in her tracks as Circe used her telekinesis to grab Ann-Marie out from under Branwyn and hurl her across the arena to smash into the wall underneath Travis. Stone cracked and showered down around Ann-Marie as she slumped to the ground.
                Tammy stared across the arena and turned to look at Travis, who shook his head slowly. She raised her red flag. “Travis is unable to battle. Shikarou takes the match.”
                Shikarou was busy hugging his pokegirls and telling them what a good job they’d done when Travis made it back around. He stuck out his hand. “I don’t mean to sound upset about this, but how in the hell are you only a thirty rank Tamer?” He shook his head. “That was a gym leader level battle you were fighting and I never had a chance. By the way, that changing targets in mid-attack was masterful and I intend to learn how to do that. My girls never knew what was happening.” He smiled slightly. “If my pokegirls can learn to pull that off, I’ll give Brandon a run for his money in our next match.”
                “We’ve done a lot of training, but most of our fights were in the wilderness.” Shikarou shrugged. “Usually you only get ranked in official battles, and most of ours have been off the record.”
                “In addition, I had misfortune of having something quite similar to today happen to me at the Rum Island gym and I resolved to try to do something to prevent it from happening again.”
                “Well if you don’t mind, or even if you do, I’m going to have your level adjusted upwards significantly, and I’ll put a notation in your file to have that level reevaluated after every one of your gym battles.”
                Travis turned to Tammy. “You remember this fight. This is what a gym battle can be like when one side is completely surprised.” He gave Shikarou a look. “Usually it’s the gym Tamer doing the surprising, but always remember to pay attention to your opponent.” A grin appeared. “Now I’m ready to crush some snot nosed wannabes, at least as soon as my pokegirls get healed.”
                “Has our original plan changed?” Branwyn slipped her arm through his as they headed down street. Yushiko had bodyguard duty and followed closely behind her Tamer.
                “Until we can locate this Marcus, no. From here I intended to head over to Belfast and take a badge there and then sweep through Ireland.” Shikarou sighed. “While I have no intention of competing in the Blue League Competition, getting badges is a good cover since it provides an acceptable reason for traveling around and learning the land.”
                “You’ll need to pick up some more pokegirls if that’s what you intend.” She gave him a sweet smile. “A water type and a fire type would be good for us. I don’t want too many new pokegirls joining the harem though; I wouldn’t want my time with you to get cut.”
                “Do you have any suggestions?”
                “I think you could handle a Whorepool, but they are hard to find. A Hottie would work well, she’d combine both fire and water in one package, but again, hard to find.”
                “Masato asked me to take Fumiko into my harem when she turns fifteen. He made it sound like it would happen sometime in the near future.” He glanced back at Yushiko. “Well?”
                She smiled. “February ninth.”
                Branwyn frowned. “A Titto could be useful, but sometimes they are a little unstable.” Shikarou just raised an eyebrow and she shrugged. “Ok, maybe the rest of your harem isn’t exactly normal, but how do you think Yushiko would feel? It is her aunt we’re talking about.”
                “I already tried that. Masato talked to Yushiko first and she loves the idea.”
                Branwyn looked back at Yushiko. “Is that right?”
                The Armsmistress nodded. “Hai. I have no problem with Fumiko joining the harem.” She frowned suddenly. “Although I wouldn’t want to tame with her. That could be uncomfortable.”
                Branwyn grimaced. “I’ll bet.” She turned back to Shikarou. “She’ll have some serious dietary issues. They can’t eat solid food.”
                “So we get a blender.”
                Branwyn shook her head. “I actually think she’d be an asset. She’s a smart girl. I just worry that another very rare pokegirl would give you more trouble.”
                “I’ve already got a Unicorn, a Neo Iczel, a Sphinx and a G-Spliced. Oh, and I’m supposed to save the world. I don’t think the addition of a fifteen year old Titto is going to add too much to that, unless she comes with a blood feud with a ninja clan.” Yushiko coughed to hide her laughter at his words.
                Branwyn snorted. “The way your luck runs, she comes with an attachment to Typhonna, who’ll drop by on occasion just make sure she’s being treated well.”
                He glanced at her. “Did Sandy or Beth say something about Lorelei?”
                “No, but I’m beginning to wonder if you suffer from some kami version of the Interesting Times bloodcurse.” She smiled prettily at him. “I am aware that the original curse did come from China and was probably developed by a kami as a revenge on someone.”
                “That would be a good one,” Shikarou admitted. “I wish I could cast it. I did manage the curse of the teeth, though.”
                “What’s that?”
                “The original impetus was what an Arabic merchant said to me when he decided I got the better of him in some bargaining. He told me that he hoped that all of my teeth would fall out, except for one, and that he hoped that the one would hurt for the rest of my life.”
                “You learned how to do that to someone.”
                He looked smug. “Hai. I haven’t used it very often, but hey, it’s a good party trick.”
                “Have I told you just how bizarre you sometimes are?”
                “Occasionally you attempt to, but I don’t think you’ve found the words that really define your feelings completely.”
                She hit him gently.
                “I think next time I’ll take Neo Iczel Transport or Armsmistress Air instead of that damned ferry.” Shikarou gave the ferry an irritated glare. “That was about as fun as watching grass grow.”
                “It wasn’t that bad.” Branwyn pulled her hair back into a ponytail.
                “It almost sank!”
                “It took on some water. Nothing serious. The sea was rough.”
                “Excuses, excuses. Ruiling or Yushiko don’t sink.”
                Understanding bloomed on the Unicorn’s face. “You don’t like boats.”
                Shikarou snorted. “I don’t like that boat.” He glared at the ferry again. His hand twitched toward his wand.
                Branwyn grabbed his hand. “Are you really thinking about sinking the ferry?” she asked incredulously.
                His eyes were narrowed and glittered in the light. “And what if I was? Who’d miss such a trashy boat?”
                Branwyn tried another tack. “There are witnesses.”
                He looked around. “You’re right. We’ll come back after dark.”
                “I have got to talk to Circe.”
                Branwyn watched Shikarou getting a backrub from Gwyneth on the other side of the fire and spoke quietly to Circe. “I’m glad that last night he didn’t bring up going back to sink the ferry, but I’m worried about his mental state. I don’t have the same depth of telepathic powers that you have, so I wanted to talk to you about what is going on in his head.”
                Circe was peeling a banana. “When I bonded with him, his emotions were fairly even. He’d occasionally get upset, but it didn’t last long.” She handed the banana to Branwyn and bit happily into the peel. “That appears to be changing. His emotional state is becoming much more volatile and I think you are right to be worried. In many ways, he’s as powerful as a pokegirl, and if he’s losing control of his emotions, things could get ugly.” She picked up another banana and started peeling it. “I’m worried about the fact that he kills with about the same effort as I peel this banana. The only reason he hasn’t killed more is because he doesn’t see a reason to. If he starts rationalizing more reasons…”
                “What can we do?”
                Circe gave her an appalled look. “Not much. We’re pokegirls. We are designed on a genetic level to be subordinate to him and if he wants something badly enough, we are going to help him get it. Your best bet is to keep reminding him that he doesn’t really want some things as badly as he thinks he does and hope he keeps agreeing with you. Keep playing the love card; it seems to soften him up whenever you do it.”
                She offered the banana to Branwyn, who shook her head. She eyed it briefly and bit into it. “I really prefer the taste of the peel, but he’s right, waste not, want not.  You know, we have been lucky so far in that he does his own killing. Have you considered that the day may come when he will order one of us to kill?”
                “I hadn’t thought about that.”
                “I didn’t think so. I’ll do it, of course. I was raised among the Pleiades and they treat killing as just another tool, but you, you were raised as a human among humans so you may balk.”
                Branwyn looked pensive. “What about the others?”
                “Face it, Lorelei and Yushiko will kill someone before he finishes giving the order. Ruiling, I’m not sure which way she’ll jump, but considering that before us her compatriots were all part of Yakuza murder squads, I suspect she’ll do it. Gwyneth might argue with him, but then again she may not and Pythia is from the time of Sukebe’s war and was engineered to kill on command. She probably thinks of killing them before she thinks about other ways to deal with them, like, say, conversation.”
                Branwyn sighed. “So you think he’s going to kill more and he may kill more easily as time goes on. All I can do is try to talk him out of it. That doesn’t seem like much.”
                Circe shrugged. “Right now, it’s all you’ve got. Just don’t forget one very important thing.”
                The Alaka-Wham gave her a flat look. “While you are busy trying to keep the love of your life from killing everyone he encounters, don’t forget that some people do actually need to be killed.”
Name:                                                     Urufu Shikarou                                                    
Age:                                                       250                                                                                         
Residence:                                             Caomh Sith, Blue Continent                                                              
Region:                                  Scotland                                                                                               
Status:                                                    Active                                                                                   
Rank:                                                      50                                                                                           
Security Clearance:                              Delta                                                                                      
                Tamer                                     Y                                                            
                Master Tamer                       Y                                                            
                Researcher                            N                                                            
                Watcher                 N                                                            
                Breeder                  N                            
Badges: Scotland: Stornoway, Rum Island, Glasgow
Active Harem
Species                  Name                                      Level                     
Alaka-Wham                         Circe                                       57                                           
Unicorn                  Branwyn                                46                                           
ElfQueen                                Gwyneth                                40                                           
Neo Iczel                                Ruiling                   32                                           
Armsmistress                        Urufu Yushiko      29                                           
G-Spliced                               Pythia                                     26                                           
Active Harem – Storage
Sphinx                                    Lorelei                                    35                                           
Alpha                                     Branwyn
Beta                                        None