Chapter 21: Pushing the Envelope
(04/18/99 1000 Harris Conservatory, Blue Continent)
                “You are not coming with me.” Circe gave Shikarou an angry look. “It’s too dangerous.”
                He shrugged. “Fine. Then the test is off. You stand down and I’ll find someone else to do it.”
                “I’ll take you.” It was Stardust. “This sounds like it could be fun and it shouldn’t be nearly as hazardous as Circe thinks.”
                Circe glared at her sister. “Get some power and suddenly you are an expert? Bullshit.” She turned to her Tamer. “I’ll take you.”
                Faelan’s holographic form turned. “So are we doing this or can I go back to something interesting?”
                Circe glanced at Faelan. “Keep your pants on.” She sighed and took Shikarou’s hand. “You are insane to want to go along.”
                “She’s right.” Branwyn looked worried.
                “I am not going to ask her to do this by herself.” Shikarou gave them both a stern look. “Are you ready?”
                The Alaka-Wham nodded. “I am.” She turned to Faelan. “Are you ready on your end?”
                “The display is set up and the sensor heads are in place.” He glanced to the side. “We are recording and Svetlana is busy biting her nails.” He grinned as a far off cry of protest was heard. “Everything is ready here.”
                Circe nodded. “Here goes and I am commencing the test.” She glanced at Shikarou, who gave her a bright smile and a nod. Circe sighed and turned to look at a screen showing the area where she was going to teleport. A long minute passed and they vanished.
                Branwyn grabbed up the display and scanned it carefully, sighing as Circe and Shikarou appeared in it. He exchanged a word with his brother and they teleported back to the Conservatory.
                He glanced at the electronic image of his brother. “That’s all for now, we need to evaluate what happened. I’ll get back to you when we are ready for the next test.”
                Faelan nodded. “We’ll collect the gear and find another good spot for the next test.” The hologram vanished as he cut the com link.
                 Shikarou turned to Circe. “Ok, we made the jump successfully. Did you notice anything unusual?”
                She gave him a glare. “You just had me teleport to someplace neither of us had ever been to by looking at a live display of the destination and you want to know if anything felt different.” She sighed. “Ok, I felt something odd, like a kind of lurch, in the middle of the transport. I’ve felt it before, back when I first started teleporting. My teachers said it was normal and as I got used to jumping it would go away. It did and I suspect that this is probably the same thing.”
                “So if we can do this routinely, we can have you teleport anywhere in the world if we can get a live image.” He grinned. “Neat. No more worrying about some pokeball transport problem sending you to the Forest Continent or you having to kill a greedy tech.”
                Branwyn smiled. “I can see the utility in it and it’ll increase our mobility greatly, but you still shouldn’t have gone.” She held up her hands. “I can’t stop you, but I can voice my protest.”
                Circe grinned at her. “If you are upset now, stand by to be furious.”
                The Unicorn gave her a flat look. “What do you mean by that?”
                “He has much riskier plans than this already percolating in his twisted little mind. What do you think about that?”
(04/18/99 1200 Harris Conservatory, Blue Continent)
                Poppet leaned against him and chuckled. “I thought Devon’s harem was a swirling madhouse until I met yours. Now I know yours is actually quite well organized even though it looks like utter chaos. How do you do it?”
                He smiled. “Hard work, personal sacrifice and the best alpha I’ve seen in any harem. Thank you for trusting me with her.”
                “You’ve repaid that trust in full and then some. She’s never been happier.”
                “What about her sisters?”
                She cocked an eyebrow. “What, trying for a clean sweep, mother and daughters?”
                “Oh no, even my greed has limits. Besides, I got the best of the lot right now.”
                The Unicorn resettled herself against him. “Perhaps you can grow some wisdom after all. Branwyn had three sisters. One is dead, one has trust issues and the third is doing quite well. She lives on the Blood Continent in the Hardcore League with her Tamer. He’s retired and has a spice plantation.”
                “I may have to contact him. I could use a good spice supply.”
                “What about using your magic?”
                “I don’t want to cheapen it by commonly using it for commerce. I’ve always been a samurai mage, not a merchant.”
                “Proud, aren’t you?”
                “Yes, and I have a right to be. I’ve done well here. Good women, landed lord and I’ve even got two unicorns. You’re supposed to be pure of heart before you can get one, much less two.”
                Poppet giggled. “While I appreciate your heart, I think I was first drawn to your skill with the weapons nature gave you and your ability to use them all night long.” She sobered. “Only later did I realize that you are actually quite a good person as well as possibly prime good breeding stock.”
                Shikarou glanced at her and smiled. “I’ll be your stallion.”
                She smacked him on the shoulder. “Stop that. Talk like that makes me horny.” She giggled again when he groaned.
(04/18/99 1400 Harris Conservatory, Blue Continent)
                “So how is she?” Helen jumped and almost dropped her book when he quietly spoke.
                “Shikarou, don’t do that.” The Milktit gave him a cross look and wriggled her ears. “You know these happen to work just fine, but I didn’t hear you at all.”
                He smiled. “That’s why wolves eat cows.”
                She snorted in dismissal. “You don’t have to sneak up on me to eat me and you know it.” She glanced at the cradle. “She’s fine. She’s eaten twice and pooped twice. How are her parents?”
                “Dead to the world. I suspect they’ll sleep most of the day away and they probably need it.” His ears rotated to orient on something behind him. “I think I spoke too soon.”
                Devon came in a minute later, yawning. “How is she?”
                Helen chuckled. “I swear there’s an echo in here. Christine’s been fed twice and changed and she’s asleep again.”
                Devon nodded. “When she needs fed again we need to let Letitia do it or she’ll be so full she’ll be sore when she wakes up.”
                Helen smirked. “You could always help her with that.”
                “Not a chance. She says it’s for the baby and I’m to stay away if I happen to know what’s good for me.”
                Shikarou nodded. “That behavior is actually quite typical. She’s not interested in you right now and even her feral state is suppressed while she’s focused on your daughter.” He got a cautious expression. “Can I ask a question?”
                Devon gave him a hard look. “Please, don’t ask anything that’s going to piss me off; I just got over being furious with you.”
                He nodded. “I’ll try. I only wanted to ask if Florence has removed her nipple piercings yet. Sometimes a baby won’t nurse with them in and sometimes they can interfere with milk release, although that usually depends on how well the original piercings were done.”
                “How did you know about those?” Devon sounded annoyed.
                “She wears thin shirts.”
                Devon blinked and suddenly chuckled. “That she does. Ok, I do know that nursing our child is very important to her and I’ll ask her about it. Any other gems of wisdom you’d care to impart?”
                “Has she found someone to help with the orphanage?”
                “Yeah, she’s hired two full time assistants.” Devon shook his head. “The mayor of Belfast has offered her some money from the city budget this year. I guess now that he knows she’s got enough financial backing to make it, he wants to help.”
                “Doubtful. Let me ask you another question. Does it happen to be an election year in Belfast?”
                Devon frowned thoughtfully. “I do believe it is.” He began to look amused. “Good to know my faith in politicians is still sound.”
                Shikarou nodded. “Tell her to refuse the money. I would. If the city starts funding even a part of the orphanage, it won’t be long until they start telling her what to do. If she refuses to bow down before them, often they change the local laws to either make her have to do what they want or they just legislate her out of business. I realize you are funding it out of your pocket but if you need more money, just let me know.”
                “Isn’t your island one big charitable work right now?”
                “Yes and no. I gave Lynn over C700 million and she promptly plowed over half of that into some very nice investment portfolios. She said that someday she hopes to return my money to me.” He smiled. “And we kept close to C80 million for ourselves.”
                Devon frowned. “What kind of return is she getting?”
                “You’d have to ask Aggie about that, she’s managing everything.”
                “Your computer is managing your investments? Isn’t that a bit risky?”
                Not nearly as risky as having an organic that can’t focus on your personal investments in a realtime 24 hour basis try to do this. Bloody organo-centric git. By the way if things proceed as I anticipate, I’ll have your money back to you in less than five years. That is a worst case scenario, by the bye.
                “She’s done a good job so far and I don’t expect that to change.”
                Devon’s stomach rumbled and he looked slightly embarrassed. “Sorry. It’s been several hours since my last meal.”
                Helen drew her wand and created a trolley full of food. “There you go. It may not be as good as what I can make with a kitchen, but it’ll be fine.” She glanced at Shikarou. “Hand me the pitcher and I’ll fill it.”
                He smiled as he picked it up. “Why don’t you just summon it to you?”
                She gave him a mildly annoyed look. “Because I still don’t have fine control and I ended up not only shattering the last pitcher I tried that on, but I almost brained myself when it shot towards my head.” She unbuttoned her blouse and began filling the empty pitcher as Devon started eating and tried not to stare.
                He was finishing his first plate of food when a sleepy voice floated down the hall. “Devon?”
                “I should go.” He put the plate down and got up.
                “Take the trolley with you.” Helen smiled. “It’s a trolley because I thought that Letitia would be hungry too. Make sure she gets some of my milk, it will help with her production and will help in case there are any odd flavors that your daughter has issue with. When Christine wakes up, I’ll bring her down to the two of you.”
                Devon blinked. “Thanks.” He grabbed the trolley’s handle and was gone in an instant.
                Helen cocked her head and listened until he was gone. “Can you make a mouth guard that will fit Christine and that she won’t reject while it still allows her to nurse?”
                “I suppose so, why?”
                “Her milk teeth are already starting to erupt and she’s got his dentition. It doesn’t bother me, but it may put Letitia off the first time her daughter draws blood while nursing. My nipples are much tougher than most.” She gave him an arch look. “It’s a good thing they are, because sometimes you bite.” She winked.
                He grinned at her. “I’ll take care of the mouth guard. While I’m at it I’ll make several so that way Florence will get some too.”
(04/20/99 0700 Harris Conservatory, Blue Continent)
                “Since it looks like Christine’s flare-up of colic is over, we need to be getting back to Caomh Sith.” Shikarou smiled at Devon. “You and your ladies should be able to handle things here. If her colic comes back, then bring her down to the island and I’ll treat her again.”
                Kathryn was watching them with a slightly confused look and then shrugged. “I’m glad to see that ye aren’t mad at each other any more.”
                Shikarou didn’t bother to try to explain that he had never been mad as Devon nodded. “I’ve starting to realize that the bigger world doesn’t revolve around the Harris name and after consideration, I also realized that Shikarou has been a good friend.” He shrugged. “Sometimes I’m an idiot.”
                That statement Shikarou was quick to correct. “You are not an idiot, Devon. Sometimes we all get caught up in what’s happening around us and forget that the other person has feelings, too. I’m guilty of it as well.” He smiled. “In any case, you and your harem are always welcome, even if Paulette doesn’t like me.”
                Devon sighed. “I thought it was because I was mad at you, but she still doesn’t want to have anything to do with you.”
                “Her loss.”
                “I’ll keep in touch if it’s ok with you.” Devon shook his head. “I wouldn’t have believed my daughter needed a mouth guard until she took a chunk out of my finger. I asked Poppet about it and she said I mangled one of my mother’s nipples off when I was Christine’s age. Thanks.”
                Shikarou shrugged. “My daughters were born with milk teeth, so I don’t see the big deal. My wife seemed to be quite impressed, but then she was the one nursing them. However, you are very welcome.” He slipped his arm through Lorelei’s. “Bye.”
                An hour later everything in Caomh Sith was as normal as it seemed to get and Circe and Shikarou were setting up for the next series of teleportation tests.
                The next two days went by rapidly and quickly it was established that some teleport capable pokegirls were more capable than others at teleporting to live views. For psychic types it seemed to be a lot easier than for magic type pokegirls, although the fact that Branwyn was quickly leaning the techniques involved indicated that it wasn’t impossible for them, just harder.
                Finally, Shikarou sat down with his teleporting pokegirls and explained the next set of tests. Branwyn sat quietly until he was done. “You are taking your entire harem with you,” she announced quietly.
                “Don’t you think that’s a bit much?”
                “No, she’s right.” Pythia joined the conversation. “This is risky enough and the fact that we have no real idea of what is going to happen during this test tells me that you should have your harem with you just in case of catastrophe.” She smiled. “Hope for the best and plan for the worst.”
                Shikarou looked around the circle and realized that all of them were in agreement. “Fine. We live or die together.”
                If he’d hoped his choice of words would change any minds, he was doomed to disappointment. Pythia nodded. “That is right. Live or die, we stand with you.”
                An hour later, Shikarou stood with Circe and sighed. Branwyn gave him a quick smile. “We can always abort this test.”
                “Yes we can, but this could save our lives someday.” Shikarou scratched an ear. “Do you think we shouldn’t do it?”
                Her answer surprised him. “No, I think we should. If you are right, then the Leagues are going to need to purchase a lot more teleport blocking equipment and since we own stock in the manufacturers here in the Blue League, it could help us. Besides, like you said, it might save our lives someday. If nothing else, it’ll make an interesting report for Stroak and McCormic.”
                Professor Elana McCormic was the leading pokegirl researcher in the Blue League. While not as well known as Professor Stroak, she had a well deserved reputation for cutting edge research and the occasional oddball research topic. Blind teleporting was just the kind of thing she’d love.
                “All right.” Shikarou reached for her pokeball. “I’ll let you out as soon as it’s safe.”
                “You will let me out as soon as possible or I will be very upset with you.”
                “ASAP it is.” He captured her and slipped the pokeball into its holder as he turned to Circe. “Are you ready?”
                She shrugged. “As ready as I’ll be.” The Alaka-Wham cocked her head. “Since we may be about to die, can I ask you a question?”
                “Go ahead.”
                “I’ve noticed that some members of the harem have given you a nickname and that you’ve given one to Bellona. Why haven’t you let me do that?”
                He smiled. “You haven’t asked to.” He frowned. “Of course, except for Bellona, none of the others asked either. Would you like to use one for me?”
                “Have I reached that point with you? I know for you pet names and nicknames are used to signify very significant relationships.”
                He nodded. “Yes, you have. Do you have one in mind?”
                She glanced away. “You’ll think it’s silly.”
                “Probably.” Circe shot him a glare. “They usually are, but if it’s important to you, then I’ll wear it with pride.” Her gaze softened as he continued. “You are one of my favorites after all.”
                She snorted. “Who aren’t your favorites?”
                “There are some that are much more special to me than others and you are one of them. So, what silly name do you want to give me?”
                He frowned. “You mean like Ozymandias? From the poems of Percy Shelly and Horace Smith?”
                She flushed. “I mean like the wizard Oz from the Oz books.”
                Shikarou stepped up to her as he draped his hands loosely around her waist and rested his forehead against her antennae. She shivered. “You know how I feel when you do that,” she whispered, “I feel your emotions more strongly and it makes me all warm and tingly.”
                “That’s how I want you to feel right now. You need never fear saying anything to me. I won’t laugh and I won’t tell others, if that’s what you want.” He smiled. “I love you, Circe, and if you want to call me Oz, then by all means do so.”
                She kissed him softly. “Oz gave the lion his courage and he gave the scarecrow some brains, but he reserved his greatest gift for the tin-man. You have given me my heart and I love you for it.” Her voice was low and soft, not quite a whisper. “I am yours, body, mind and soul.”
                He looked directly into her eyes. “I accept your gift and I cherish it with all my being.”
                They stood that way for a few minutes, their minds intermeshed and gradually she smiled and pulled away. “Well, oh great and powerful Oz, are you ready to die?”
                Shikarou pulled a picture from his backpack and handed it to Circe. “I have my harem with me and if this is my day to die, then I could not go in better company.” He smiled. “That being said, it’s a good day to live.”
                She nodded. “I agree.” She studied the photo for several minutes. “I’m as ready as I’m going to be.” She reached out and took his hand, squeezing it hard. “Next stop, the Dark Continent.”
                They vanished.
(04/22/99 0730 Brauton, Blood Continent)
                Shikarou was suddenly glad that he’d listened to his harem as he snap-rolled and faced the direction of the wind. Aggie gave him the news and he got to decide if it was good or bad. Altitude approximately 5000 meters. Time to ground/body interaction 90 seconds. Gravity indicates that you are still on Earth.
                Bad. Definitely bad but not impossible.
                Drop the approximately. I know you can’t be exact when you use my eyes for range finding.
                He hadn’t been skydiving since before he’d met Pallaius and most of those jumps had been individual deployment insertions from high orbit. When you intended to land on a planet from space you tended to wear slightly more gear than a shirt, pants, boots and a very non-aerodynamic backpack.
                At this altitude the air would be thin, but Shikarou was breathing into the air rushing past him and would hit the ground long before he had to worry about lack of air. Besides, the air got thicker the closer you got to the ground.
                Altitude 4000 meters. Time to impact 75 seconds.
                He was more concerned about the fact that Circe wasn’t in sight, but a check of the delta bond indicated she was ok, pissed and coming to find him.
                3000 meters. Impact in 55 seconds.
                He watched as Circe teleported in at about a thousand meters and hovered, waiting for him to make it down to her level.
                Time to Circe 30 seconds. Time to ground 50 seconds.
                Give me a five second warning to Circe.
                Very well.
                Time passed.
                Five seconds. Mark.
                Shikarou cast his hover spell and as his fall came to sudden halt several meters above the Alaka-Wham he grinned at Circe. I think we will need more practice.
                She laughed and pulled him down to her with telekinesis. “I am so glad you are safe.” She hugged him as hard as she could. “Let’s get to the ground and figure out where we are.”
                Shikarou looked down. “I was aiming to land near that collection of tents. Let’s go there.”
                She dropped them quickly as he released Pythia to take up a close formation with them. The G-Spliced frowned. “It’s a little chilly for the Dark Continent. I take it that we did not arrive on target.”
                Ambient temperature is 18 degrees Celsius.
                Circe looked back at her. “Thank you for the news bulletin.”
                Pythia moved up next to Circe. “Slow down, there are pokegirls down there and it looks like they are trying to intercept us. One of them is waving and pointing at us.”
                She was right and Circe slowed their descent to a crawl.
                There is an Electri-Cuter variant Battle Angel and a Hun moving to our projected landing site.
                “Electric Battle Angel and Hun.” Shikarou announced. “We’ll presume they are friendly. Pythia overwatch.” She nodded and dropped back and once they reached thirty meters above the ground she stopped descending and began an irregular racetrack pattern, varying her flight path with each pass but staying close enough to provide support.
                Are you going to release any more of the harem? Circe gave him a curious glance without stopping her alert scan of their surroundings. Having someone else around would make me feel more comfortable right now.
                Releasing anyone else might be just a bit premature. Shikarou was waving back slowly. Getting them out right now might be construed as a threat display and we still don’t have enough information to know if this is a combat situation.
                The Hun watched him intently as they landed and the Battle Angel came forward. Her armor was locked in place and her voice didn’t sound happy. “Identify yourself.”
                Shikarou’s ears flicked. I can hear other people moving through the undergrowth, one or two of them. They are very very quiet.
                They must be dark types. I can’t pick up any mind presences. I’m informing Pythia. How do we play this?
                Very carefully. “I’m Shikarou.” He smiled. “I come in peace and I know that your friends are moving into an attack position and I don’t find that very peaceful.” He kept his tone light and friendly.
                The Hun looked impressed. He couldn’t see the Battle Angel’s face through her faceplate but her voice held a hint of surprise. “Do you know where Leon is?”
                “I don’t know anyone by that name.” He smiled. “I’m afraid I’m a bit lost and don’t know where I am.” His ears rotated. “May I inquire as to your name?”
                “I’m Janne and my Tamer is Thai.” Suddenly her voice became hesitant. “Can you help us?”
                Shikarou blinked at the sudden change. “I’ll try. What is the problem?”
                “We were attacked by Mantes and these are the only survivors. We need food and other basic supplies.” The voice came from behind him as the pokegirl broke cover. She was a near human and looked like she’d had a bad couple of days.
                He nodded. “I’ve got a bunch of stuff you can have, but a lot of it is being carried by my other pokegirls and I’ll have to release them.” He gave them a friendly smile. “I just wanted you to know so your friends that are still under cover don’t decide to attack me when they start appearing.”
                The Kunoichi looked surprised. “How?” The Hun cocked her head curiously while awaiting his reply.
                “I can smell them.” The ninja’s eyes widened as he smiled. “Anyway, can I release my harem without getting attacked?”
                Janne’s “No” came at the same time as the Kunoichi’s “Yes.” The two pokegirls glared at each other.
                “I want to release one of my pokegirls. She can hopefully convince you that I’m not intending to cause any trouble.” He carefully pulled a pokeball from his belt but didn’t open it. “May I? Her name is Dorothea and she is a Seraph.”
                The Kunoichi’s eyes narrowed. “A Celestial pokegirl would be very convincing. Janne?”
                The Battle Angel folded her arms defiantly. “We only saved you and Thai almost died while doing it. You do what you want.” Her voice dropped and only Shikarou heard her mutter, “You’re going to anyway, but I haven’t forgotten your lordly master is to blame for everything that happened to us.” Her head snapped up suddenly. “Where do you come from?”
                “I’m from the Blue League. I was attempting to teleport to somewhere in the Dark Continent and apparently got a little lost.” He gestured with his chin at the snow still pooled in the nearby shadows. “The only place in the Dark Continent you’d find snow would be on a mountain and since this doesn’t look like one of those it’s likely that I’m a lot more lost than I had thought.”
                He released Dorothea, who looked around alertly before glancing at Shikarou while still trying to look around in all directions at once. “My lord, where are we?”
                “I’m not sure. This is Janne.” He nodded towards the Battle Angel. “I don’t have a name for our other host, but they would like to ask you some questions before deciding if we’re going to get attacked.” He smiled slightly. “They are a little twitchy for some reason.”
                Dorothea nodded. “I am Dorothea and this is my Tamer and Lord, Shikarou Urufu of Caomh Sith in the Blue League. What do thou wish to know about my lord?”
                “How did you come to be here?” The Kunoichi asked the first question.
                “My lord was trying to travel to the Dark Continent.” She smiled. “Apparently, we did not travel there.”
                The Kunoichi nodded. “They didn’t have time to compare stories. I am satisfied.”
                Janne’s helm retracted into her neck and vanished, revealing a pretty face. “I suppose I must go along with you.”       
                Shikarou sighed. Some people were just angry. “I’m going to release the rest of my harem now.” He released Elizabeth, Branwyn and Bellona.
                The Battle Knight took a quick step backwards, suddenly even more alert than before as Shikarou turned to his harem. “We’ve got a bunch of refugees here in need of medical care and supplies. Give them all of our blankets and start creating basic foodstuffs.” He glanced at Bellona. “Take Pythia and scout the region. There may be other refugees that need help. More important to me: they were hit by Mantes. I want to make sure there aren’t any hidden somewhere around here waiting until they can get reinforcements.
                Bellona nodded. “I’m on it.” She summoned her wings and took off, climbing hard to intercept Pythia.
                Shikarou turned to Janne. “What league is this?”
                “I’m not familiar with their rules. I’ll check up on them in a few minutes.” He sighed and turned to the still watching Hun with a slightly annoyed look. “Can I help you with anything?”
                She grinned. “I have the itch.” He gave her a puzzled look.
                Circe touched his shoulder. She needs a taming.
                Oh. “Are you looking for a one time thing or are you looking for a harem to join?”
                Branwyn turned at his words and looked the Hun up and down. Her mouth firmed but she didn’t say anything out loud.
                The Hun looked her over and smiled broadly. “My partner is dead, taken by the Mantes. I cannot keep up with my tribe and they have left me here. I have no one, but to catch me, you must defeat me.”
                Shikarou sighed. “Branwyn?”
                She gave the two meter pokegirl a hard look. “She could be useful. Ice types aren’t that common in the Blue League and we have the hot tub for taming her.”
                “And who are you, little horse?”
                “I am Branwyn and I am Shikarou’s alpha.”
                “Hoho. Are you one of the one’s who will be fighting me? I will not be taken easily.”
                Branwyn gave her a disgusted look. “Perhaps, but right now we have people to help. Your itch can wait.”
                “My lord, may I have a word with thee and thy alpha? I assure thou that this is most vital.”
                He nodded. “Circe, take charge of getting the supplies collected from everyone. Food, meds, blankets, whatever we have that they might need.”
                “As you command, oh great wizard.” They shared a grin.
                Branwyn gave her a look. “Is there something I need to know?”
                Circe looked thoughtful for a moment and then smiled. “No.” She tapped Shikarou on the shoulder. “Your pack.” He shrugged out of it and handed it to her. “Thank you.”
                Dorothea led the two of them out of earshot of the others. “My lord, I know that thou wish to help here, but thou cannot stay.”
                “Why not?”
                “My lord, there is the hand of a Celestial at work here and thy current destiny lies with Pythia’s quest for thee. If thou remain here, then thou could be caught up in this quest as well, and as noble as my heart knows this quest to be, it is not for thee.” Her eyes softened. “There is a difficulty here that I sense and the power that seeks to guide this destiny might not care if it chooses thee instead of its current choice.” Her shoulders lifted and dropped. “I am not completely sure, but this I suspect to be true.”
                “Leaving our supplies here will be more aid then these people would have gotten if thou hadn’t come along, so it is likely that providence brought thee here. However we cannot remain lest we tempt fate.” She smiled and nodded at him. “My lord, fate seems to like thee and best that perhaps we do not allow it a choice this time.”
                Branwyn frowned. “If she’s got even a small chance of being right, let’s leave now.” She cocked her head. “What about the Hun?”
                “She has no purpose here. The providence that is at work here is very uncaring and taking her may save her life.” Dorothea sounded confident.
                Branwyn nodded. “You heard her, we take the Hun.” She frowned. “The best choice would probably be Dorothea.” The Unicorn gave him an odd look. “However, if you were to take her yourself, it would gain you much more respect than if you captured her with your harem.”
                “That would be very out of character.” He sighed. “I’m supposed to let you girls do the fighting. I’ll use Dorothea.” The Seraph beamed.
                Branwyn nodded. “You’ll still have to earn her respect and she’ll likely demand some kind of bravery test. Fighting her may be easier because I suspect she’s barely adult and probably low level. Even if you lose, you can then honorably use Dorothea.”
                Shikarou grimaced. “I want to do this as fast as possible, tempting fate is not on my schedule today.”            
                Dorothea gave Branwyn a tiny smile. “Again.”
                “He should not tempt fate again, lady.”
                Branwyn blinked. “She’s right. You almost became substrate not that long ago, this very morning if I recall correctly.”
                He winced. “Ok. I’ll beat up the Hun if you won’t lecture me about today right now.”
                She smiled beatifically. “Very well, I’ll save it for later.” He sighed and she smiled. “Remember, the faster you take her down, the more she will respect you.”
                Circe was offering a purple potion bottle to Janne when they returned to the group. The Battle Angel eyed it warily. “What is this?”
                “It’s a healing potion that works on humans. I know your Tamer is recovering from battle damage and this will accelerate his healing and also replace any scarring with healthy tissue.” The Alaka-Wham smiled. “That way he won’t lose any range of motion due to his injury.”
                Janne hesitantly took it, acting almost as if she expected the Alaka-Wham to jerk it back. “Thank you, I will see that he gets this.”
                “I am afraid that we won’t be able to stay, as soon as we offload all of our healing supplies and make you some food then we will have to leave. I’m sorry, but that is the way it has to be.” Shikarou joined the small group.
                The Kunoichi nodded. “I thank you for all of the help you can provide.”
                “You are very welcome.” He turned to the Hun. “However, I do have time to capture you.”
                She grinned and drew her scimitar. “To claim me you will have to prove your worth, little man. Can your pokegirls face the winter that I bring?”
                He smiled slightly. “First, we’ll see how well I fare against you. After that, if I need to, I’ll use Dorothea.”
                Her eyes widened. “You are very brave. Stupid, but brave. I will try not to hurt you too much.”
                Bellona landed near Branwyn as Pythia circled in as well. “I got your message and came as quickly as I could. Did I miss anything?”
                “No, they’re just getting started.”
                Elizabeth sighed. “I wish I had some popcorn.”
                The Hun smiled and held her arms open. “I will allow you first strike, little man.”
                Shikarou’s eyes narrowed. “You will learn not to call me that.” He held out his hand. “Sword.” The black katana appeared and Janne gasped with surprise. He pointed it at the Hun. “Ready?”
                She nodded and shifted to a ready position, bringing her sword into guard position. Ice formed along its length as she activated Ice Blade II.
                Shikarou advanced and struck. As he expected, the Hun blocked the blow with her sword and when his blade touched hers, he used it as a conduit to channel a lightning attack. The ice exploded from her blade and the metal glowed a dull red as she was blasted backwards.
                She climbed heavily to her feet and Shikarou hit her with lightning again and followed it up with a low powered fireball while she was still skidding along the ground.
                The Hun slowly shook her head and rose to all fours just as the pokeball took her in the back. She dissolved into it and a few seconds later the pokeball sounded its capture tone.
                Janne stared at him in shock and new respect shone in the Kunoichi’s eyes. “We could have used you against the Mantes.”
                “I’m actually sorry I wasn’t here. I’ve faced them myself and I know that our presence might have helped to keep friendly casualties down.” He gathered up his newest pokegirl. “Now I need to find a name for you.”
                Branwyn chuckled. “How about Overconfident?”
                Shikarou ignored her as he touched Bellona’s arm and she glanced over. He offered her a small object. “Do me a favor,” he began in a quiet voice, “and put this sensor head in a treetop nearby when you and Pythia resume your search. There are children down there and while I can’t stay, if something happens you can be damned sure we will be back.” He frowned. “I’ll have Aggie park her spare satellite overhead and it’ll have line of sight to the one over the Blue Continent, giving us realtime imagery. No Mantis is going to eat these children if I have any say in it.”
                The DragonQueen nodded and slipped the sensor into her pouch. “I’ll take care of it.”
(04/23/99 0700 Caomh Sith, Blue Continent)
                Bellona had guard duty today and so was the only pokegirl out while Circe was studying the photo again. “So you named her Hanmei?” She was talking about the Hun. Shikarou had tamed her into the harem that night.
                “Yes. It seemed fitting. It means cold plum and it turns out that the Huns where she comes from like cold names.”
                “Are you going to keep her?”
                He shrugged. “She has the potential to be very useful, but we’ll have to see how she fits in and if she’s happy here. Another potential problem is that, compared to the rest of the harem, she’s not very powerful.”
                Bellona smiled grimly. “That is something that can be fixed with a little hard work and dedication.”
                “Bell, that is a good attitude to have and you are quite right.” She almost preened at his words.
                “I’m as ready as I’m going to be.” Circe handed him back the photo and he tucked it away. “Ready for another all expenses paid trip to who knows where?”
                Shikarou laughed. “I suppose so.” He pulled Bellona’s pokeball out. “See you in a bit.” She was still nodding when she vanished into the containment beam.
                Circe laced her arm through his. “Um, Oz?”
                “Yes?” He chuckled and turned to rest his forehead against her antennae. “What is it?”
                She smiled without alleviating the worry in her eyes. “I’m pretty sure I know how we got separated last time. I think what happened is that I was concerned about teleporting into the ground and so I was thinking about coming in a little high in order to be safe. I also think that maybe I was more concerned about your safety than mine and so, well, um, you exited high without me.” That last bit came out in a rush.
                Shikarou’s eyes widened. “Are you saying that you may have deliberately sent me somewhere without you going along?” He shook his head slowly. “If we could do that under controlled conditions, we would have developed matter transmission.” He smiled at the alarm that flashed in her eyes. “However, that is a job for some other time. Say in fifty or sixty years.”
                Circe relaxed. “Thanks. I’m sorry about what happened, I’m just worried because we don’t know what the possible dangers could be in doing this.”
                “So am I, but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t interesting.”
                She nodded. “I was wondering if I could enlist your aid in this. I mean that you are very good at focusing. I learned when my magic education began that you are one of the best I know of, including Stardust.” She gave him a brief smile. “So if you could help me to concentrate, we might do this right.”
                Shikarou nodded. “Let me stare at that picture for a few minutes and we’ll do this together.” Ten minutes later he once more tucked the picture into his pack and grinned. “Captain, your copilot is ready for takeoff.”
                The Alaka-Wham tucked her arm back through his. “Then let’s get this right in one.” He felt as she twined his mind tightly with hers and used his mental powers to bring the picture into focus. We are going to where that picture shows. Neither was ever sure who sent the thought, later conversations indicated that perhaps they both did.
                They vanished.
(09/08/98 1100 South Uist, BC 1100 Outside Wellham, Dark Continent)
                The air was hot and sticky as Circe appeared with Shikarou. She smiled. “Ok, we’re together. That’s a good start.”
                He nodded and released Bellona. “Aye, you’re right. Now where are we?”
                I am picking up radio transmissions on an encrypted frequency.
                Shikarou unclipped his handheld computer. “Link it through my handheld.”
                A strangely familiar voice came out of the radio. “First prisoner is secured. No pokeballs.”
                Bellona started. “That sounded like Zelda.”
                Another voice. “Stage two, begin.”
                Shikarou recognized that one. “Devon.”
                Suddenly he felt Circe build mental shields around all three of them. “Ming Die is here.”
                He frowned. “I suppose that could make sense, the picture we were using is from the Team Viper base. But I thought Devon was going to stay at the Conservatory and take care of Christine.”
                Bellona frowned. “Maybe he doesn’t want us to know he’s here.”
                Circe gave him a look. “Then maybe they shouldn’t know that we are. If they find out that we are here, it might be unhealthy.”
                The radio spoke again. “Rhiannon absorb!”
                Bellona suddenly looked uneasy. “This reminds me of the battle when we captured Crimson.”
                “Rhiannon, enough.”
                Aggie’s voice came over the handheld. “This is no recording. Each transmission is slugged with an accurate timestamp.”
                “Rhi, dodge left and power bolt again. Aim for the wings.”
                Shikarou frowned. “Timestamp.”
                “Timestamp is 090898 1112.06.”
                Devon’s voice came again. “Get your aura barrier back up.”
                “Timestamp 090898 1113.12.”
                “I think we may have gone back in time.” Shikarou gave Bellona a hard look. “Or else this is a complete reenactment. Were there any other transmission sources, Bell?”
                “We put some extra sensor heads in place,” she replied tonelessly, “for good quality recordings. Devon was worried that what he was going to do was more than semi-legal and that he might get in trouble back in the Blue League.” Her eyes were large and she was staring at Shikarou with an expression approaching fear.
                Aggie spoke. “I am detecting seven high bandwith transmission sources working in synch.”
                “Collate and display.” Shikarou had hardly finished speaking when a holograph appeared floating over his handheld.
                In it Rhiannon engaged in hand to hand with a Golbutt, her energy blade against its teeth. Both scored. Rhiannon staggered and a voice cried out: “Master, I’ve been poisoned.”
                Circe paled. “Shit.”
                “My sentiments exactly.” He frowned as they watched Paulette replace the injured Dark Lady. “This one may be my fault.”
                Circe and Bellona both gave him curious looks and he returned a faint grin. “The picture we used is a still from before Devon’s battle with Lord Crimson. Since the whole exercise was to go someplace we’d never been by using a picture to see it, I couldn’t come here and snap a pic of it, now could I?”
                “Devon has this video under maximum security. How did you get access…” she broke off. “Aggie is that good?”
                Aggie’s image superimposed herself over the battle scene where Paulette was thrashing the Golbutt and bowed to Bellona. “I am indeed that good.” She smirked. “Better even.”
                Bellona suddenly grinned as Paulette finished the Golbutt off. “I didn’t get a good view of this next bit. Hatsumi clowns around with Cameron’s Whorizard before kicking her butt.”
                Shikarou blinked and gave the DragonQueen a sideways look as Lord Crimson faced Wrath off against Hatsumi. Aggie, go through your records of Devon from that research I had you do before we met for the first time and compare Cameron Harris with Lord Crimson.
                The probability that Cameron Harris is Lord Crimson approaches unity. They are the same person.
                That was interesting. And so was the fact that apparently Bellona already knew that.
                Circe’s mind touched his. She isn’t aware of the slip she made. There is no reason to make her feel she’s betrayed her former Tamer, is there?
                Shikarou agreed. No. She’s mine now, but it’s nice to know she keeps secrets.
                In the display, Hatsumi defeated Wrath and Crimson threw a handful of flash-bang grenades at Devon. Shikarou winced in sympathetic memory as Devon was flung away by the blast and nodded when Paulette covered his body with hers.
                Devon gave some orders. “Hatsumi, Paulette, Kathryn, Bellona. Lord Crimson has fled. Start a basic search pattern and find him. The other male, Ignacio, has also disappeared and I want him too, but Crimson is the real prize. Ming Die, you’re with me. Siobhan, I need you here immediately.” The display erupted into a frenzy of activity.
                “He’s not bad.” Shikarou muttered. “Remind me that if we ever do square off for fun to ask him to watch a couple of our battle recordings so as to keep it fair.”
                Bellona frowned. “Here’s where the odd thing happens. Devon tells me to change my search pattern ten degrees to the left. It’s the reason I found Crimson, only later I found out he never told me to do that.” She looked up at him. “We never found out who did.”
                Several minutes passed. Bellona’s scowl grew deeper. “It hasn’t happened yet.” She clutched Shikarou’s arm. “I would never have found him otherwise.”
                He exchanged a look with Circe, who shrugged. Ok, my decision. “Aggie, patch me into their com frequency and give me Devon’s voice.”
                He took a deep breath. “Bell, darling, vector left about ten degrees and resume your search pattern from there.”
                Bellona’s eyes widened in shock as he gave her a wink. At almost the same time her voice came from his handheld. “Very well, Master. Darling, huh? I like that. Feel free to call me that any time.”
                Shikarou frowned. “They’ll be looking for us. We need to leave right away.” He pulled Bellona’s pokeball from his belt. She nodded and vanished.
                Circe took his hand. “Back home?”
                “Yes.” Their minds wrapped around each other’s as she stepped into his arms. They vanished as Ming Die reached out with her mind, looking for the imposter.
(04/23/99 0700 Caomh Sith, Blue Continent)
                Shikarou sighed and looked around without releasing Circe. “Aggie?”
                I am picking up the satellite overhead. The timestamp indicates we have been gone less than one second and are when we should be.
                Circe nuzzled his chest. “That was something we are going to have to be very careful of. Apparently your focus was on the entire photograph and that included when it was taken.” She met his gaze. “I don’t know if we can replicate that, but we need to find out. We also need to be very careful of who we tell about this.”
                He nodded. “Right now only you, me, Bellona, Branwyn and Stardust.” He snorted. “We also need to be very careful about how we do this.” He sighed. “Now would be a very good time for my father to appear. He’s the leading authority on time travel back home.”
                Circe gave him an odd look. “Just how often does he travel through time?”
                “Outside of the family he won’t admit to any, which I suspect is the line we need to take in regards to this.” Shikarou flicked his ears nervously. “I was hoping to see if you could teleport across dimensions. I never considered temporal teleportation seriously, but you’ve done it.”
                “No, Oz, we’ve done it. I don’t think I could do it without you.” She rubbed his face gently with her antennae. “I’m not going to try, either.”
                “Good. Now to talk to Bellona and impress on her the gravity of the situation.”
                Circe cocked her head. “Stardust and I could erase her memories of the event.”
                “I’d prefer not to do that. Sometimes things don’t go quite right and I happen to like Bell just like she is.”
                Circe smiled slightly. “Don’t like the drooling, no control over bodily functions type do you?” She chuckled when he shuddered. “Then you might want to delta bond her as quickly as possible.” She sobered. “Stardust is going to see the threat as quickly as we did and she might want to take steps. Sometimes she’s impulsive like that and a brainburned DragonQueen is a threat to no one. Delta bonding her would make my sister hesitate, if only out of concern for psychic feedback.”
                “Ok, how do you accelerate delta bonding?”
                She gave him an amused look. “You have the spell you used on Gwyneth.”
                “I’ll talk to Bellona about it,” he repeated.
                “And I’ll keep Stardust busy while you do.”
                Shikarou sighed and released his DragonQueen as Circe went to find her sister. Bellona looked around and nodded. “Is this the right time?”
                “Yes. It appears we returned in the same instant we left.”
                Bellona looked at him levelly. “You have a problem. Me.”
                He looked surprised. “I agree, but why don’t you tell me what you think the problem is and if I think it’s a different problem, we can talk about it.”
                She shrugged. “You and Circe are bonded and you and I are not. In this case, that could make me a weakness and a liability. I don’t like it, but your best bet would be to kill me to protect the rest of your harem.” She frowned. “If you enslaved me, could you keep me from revealing what I know?”
                “Yes, but I’m hoping to find another way to solve the problem.” He smiled. “I’m rather fond of you and don’t want to do that.”
                She looked thoughtful. “Hatsumi knows a spell that causes something like a delta bond to form. We could ask Devon for the knowledge of it.”
                Shikarou was just watching her. “Bellona, you really are a darling, you know that?”
                “I am the beta of this harem and part of the responsibilities of the position is to make recommendations about how to deal with problems,” she swallowed, “even when they involve my life. Trust me, Shikarou, I’m hoping that you pull another trick out of your bag. I don’t want to die, but I won’t be used against you and when push comes to shove, I’m just a pokegirl and can be replaced.” A brief shadow passed across her face and she looked away. “Devon proved that when he refused to fight for me.”
                Shikarou reached out and lifted her chin to look at him. “First of all, Devon was pretty upset at losing you and second,” he paused and looked faintly pleased, “I wanted you in my harem and I’m very happy to have you here.”
                “I have a spell that could promote a delta bond with you. At least when I used it on Gwyneth, she formed one with me. That isn’t its primary use though; it’s designed to throw the target into an instant heat and I’m hesitant about doing that to you even if you gave me your permission.”
                “You see, you are not just another pretty face to me.” He sighed and pulled her against him. She was stiff for a moment and then slowly relaxed. Her arms crept around his body as he spoke again. “While you haven’t been in my harem for that long, I value your input.” A grimace. “I’m really not saying this well, am I?”
                She snorted quietly. “Since I’m still not sure what you are trying to say, I’d guess you are right about that.”
                “Let me try another way. I like everyone in my harem or else they wouldn’t be here. You never met Kiyoko, but she was quickly becoming one of my favorites when she decided that she wanted to leave the harem and because what she wanted was important to me, I let her go. Sometimes I think that was a mistake, but most of the time I agree with my decision.”
                “If you told me that you wanted to leave, I’m not sure what I’d do. Frankly, I’m not sure I’d let you go.”
                She frowned at him. “I thought what we want is important?”
                “It is, but so is what I want and I don’t want you to leave. Not ever.” His eyes closed for a couple of heartbeats. “That’s why I’m trying so hard to come up with a reason not to erase your memories of what happened.” He looked into her eyes. “I don’t want you to forget that it was I who first called you darling because you are a darling to me. I know that sounds silly, but it’s true. I figure since you liked it and thought Devon called you that, he’d make an effort to call you it more and I want you to know that I gave you that name and not him.”
                She smiled and kissed him gently. “He did, but his heart wasn’t in it and it didn’t last for long. You mean it and I can tell the difference. You really want to delta bond me to you?”
                “Yes, I do.”
                “Then let’s try your spell. What’s the worst that could happen?”
                “You could become pregnant. Some people would consider that a bad event.”
                Bellona blinked. “How would you feel about that?”
                “Honestly, I’d be pleased as punch, although I have no experience with Nymphs. If you want to have one, however, then you can’t go into a pokeball, which would of course make travel problematic.”
                “Of course,” she repeated dully. “You’d really want me to have a child?”
                “If you stay in this harem you will eventually, if I have any say in it. Right now could be inconvenient, but later I’ll try to convince you it’s my right.” He shrugged. “I’ve had two children before and I liked it. Oh, not the whole puking in the middle of the night and being sent out for something that only grows on the other side of the planet; but I’ve got some fixes for that little series of games that pregnant women like to play.” He gave her a sly look. “Only one? I want a whole house full of them.”
                “So, if I don’t get pregnant now, I will get pregnant in the future.”
                “You seem to be having a problem with that concept.” He sounded amused.
                “Don’t be an ass. If you used the word pregnancy as your battle cry, most Tamers would forfeit rather than face your pokegirls.”
                “I’ll have to give that a try. Seriously, most Tamers are still kids, which would help to explain their allergy to more children.” He gave her a lofty look. “I, however, am not.”
                “Yes, and we are not sure what you are becoming.” She gave him an odd look. “Branwyn told me about your bloodwork. We need to run some more tests.”
                “Don’t change the subject.”
                “Oh, that. We’ll try your spell. I don’t want my memory erased either.” She frowned. “I don’t want kids right now, but I suspect I will later. Genetic imperative and all that. Anyway, that means that after we do this spell I go into my pokeball, just to make sure I’m not pregnant now.” She touched his cheek. “Later is another story.”
(04/24/99 1200 Caomh Sith, Blue Continent)
                Branwyn gave him an irritated look. “Would you like to start making up the schedule?”
                “Leave him be. Just take one of my times out of the lottery bowl.” Bellona leaned against him tiredly. The three of them were eating lunch alone in Shikarou’s room. “It had to be done and soon, before Stardust decided it would be more convenient for me to have an aneurism.” She shook her head slowly. “And you can stop glaring at me. I don’t remember much after he cast that spell and I went into restraints before he did it, so I doubt I would have enjoyed it even if I did remember what happened. All I know is that I’m bloody exhausted.” She smirked slightly. “Well, that and the restraints need repaired.”
                “Replaced,” was Shikarou’s comment.
                Branwyn stopped glaring. “So did it work?”
                Shikarou shrugged. “Circe says the delta bonding process has advanced considerably although she’s not completely sure that it is actually forming. A few days will tell for sure and Stardust has assured me that she doesn’t want to hurt Bellona either, seeing as I am actually fond of her.”
                “Do you think she’d actually kill a member of your harem if she thought they were a threat?” The Unicorn sounded skeptical.
                Bellona snorted. “Why should she not? I will.” She smiled sweetly at Branwyn’s dumbfounded expression. “Unlike you, I’ve been in several harems and while Devon’s was better than any up to that point, this is where I want to be.” Her eyes narrowed. “Anyone who tries to take that from me had better be a light sleeper because I will cut their throat without the slightest qualm.”
                “I’m happy being beta, at least for the moment.” Branwyn gave her a suspicious look and she sighed. “Trust me, being alpha does not appeal to me in the slightest, but I suspect that I’ll get a chance to be it later, at least during the first couple of years of each of your children.” She nodded as Branwyn’s eyes widened in shock. “I figure that it would be best if you and I had children in rotation, that way the harem will always have one of us free.”
                Branwyn smiled but there was a brittleness to it. “I think we should have this particular talk later. Not that you shouldn’t be involved, Shikarou, but we have a couple of years yet, right?”
                “No, Bellona isn’t pregnant.” The Unicorn relaxed at his words.
                Shikarou blinked when his handheld chimed softly. He unclipped it. “I’ve got a message and it’s from someone I don’t know.” He punched a few buttons. “Here we go.”
                The holographic display activated with a message header. “It’s from a Thai Silvati.” His ears flicked. “Does that ring a bell?”
                Branwyn frowned. “No. Wait. Circe mentioned that the Battle Angel we met had a Tamer named Thai. Could that be it?”
                “I don’t know. Aggie, has there been anything of interest from the sensor we left?”
                Her image appeared in the holograph. “There was a discussion between Janne and a human male that she called Thai. It didn’t appear to be relevant so I didn’t mention it. Would you like to see it?”
                “Sure. Maybe it’ll help to put this message into context.”
                The Battle Angel was carrying a load of the supplies they’d left as she walked next to a serious looking young man who favored one arm as he carried a bundle of blankets. The man was speaking. “And what was the name of that Tamer you met, Janne?”
                She shrugged carefully, mindful of her load. “His Seraph told us that his name was something like Shikarou Urufu, from the Blue League. They said that they were heading for… that place.”
                Thai nodded and blinked. “That place, huh? They were off by just a bit, weren’t they?”
                Janne nodded. A moment passed in silence before Thai spoke again. “I’ll have to send Mr. Urufu and his pokegirls a thank you message for the thoughtful gift and the aid that he and his harem gave us today.” When Janne merely nodded his brow furrowed and he turned to her. “Ok, what’s wrong, Janne?”
                The Battle Angel flushed and her armor appeared as she shook her head. It looked like an unconscious defensive reaction to something she was feeling. “Well, he was simply amazing. When he fought the Hun, I couldn’t see any way for her to have won. He was much faster than you were when you saved me, too.” 
                Her Tamer smiled and gave a slight nod. “I saw the battle, Janne. I was keeping an eye out on both of you, to tell the truth.” He moved to lean against a nearby tree. It was obvious by his pallor that he wasn’t fully recovered from his injuries. “I know that you told me that I’d actually saved you a week ago, but I don’t remember anything about it. Besides, if I was as fast as Mr. Urufu is, I probably wouldn’t have been hit by that Mantis in the first place.” He set the bundle down and continued in a much lower voice. “And if I was that powerful overall, maybe Sandy and Ariah would still be here.”
                Shikarou growled. “Enough, Aggie.” The display blanked. “I need to nip that in the bud right now. Let’s see his message.”
                The display flickered. It was the young man again. He looked more rested and his Battle Angel didn’t look so grim this time. He smiled. “My name is Thai Silvati. I believe you have met the Battle Angel beside me, but I am Janne’s Tamer, as I’m sure you’ve pieced together by now. Anyway, I’m just calling to thank you, Mr. Urufu, and your harem that assisted us all the other day. I regret that we didn’t have the chance to meet in person, but I am certain that there’s always a chance in the future. So, here goes. I thank you all. Also, I have some friends here who wanted to say something as well before they went to bed tonight…”
                Thai waved to someone out of the camera’s viewfield. A group of children filed into view, a mixed bag of pokegirls and human. They smiled and said almost in unison, “Thank you, Mr. Urufu.” Thai and Janne smiled at the display. A voice called the laughing children out of camera range, leaving Thai and Janne behind. His smile faded.
“That leaves me with only one thing left to say. If there is something I can do to repay you and your harem for your kindness, please don’t hesitate to ask. As long as it’s not outrageous, I’ll do what I can. I realize that I’m probably the last person you’d ask for assistance at anything, but if I can do it, I will.” Janne grasped his hand. “Again, thank you so much. And I thank your Alaka-Wham for the potion. I haven’t used it yet, but I’m sure that by the time you get this message, I will have. Now I think I’ve taken up enough of your time, so I’ll let you get back to whatever it is you’re doing. Good night.”
                The Battle Angel walked forward and the screen went blank.
                “That was nice.” Branwyn nodded.
                Aggie appeared in the screen again. “Thai has deposited a million credits into your account, presumably as a thank you.” She smiled. “I’m sure he meant well by the gesture.”
                “I didn’t help because I wanted to get a reward,” Shikarou groused, “but returning it would be an insult. Branwyn, please get with Svetlana and find some child related charities that could use the money. Good ones. Oh, and explain to her that this is a one time thing. Be sure and add Thai’s name to any of them.”
                She nodded. “I’ll take care of it. What kind of reply are you going to send?”
                “I need to try to squelch what was going on between him and his pokegirl, that’s for sure.” Shikarou rested his chin in his hands as he thought. “Ladies, gather around, please.” Once they got settled he smiled. “Smile. Aggie, begin recording.
                “And go.” Aggie vanished.
                Mr. Silvati, I am Shikarou and I greet you,” he began formally. Then he visibly relaxed. “Now that’s out of the way, hi.”
                His smile broadened. “The ladies you see around me are part of my harem. The Unicorn is Branwyn, my alpha and the DragonQueen is Bellona, my beta. Branwyn nodded while Bellona gave a small wave.
                “I’ve received your message and while I’m grateful for it, I was only doing what any decent person would have done. I wish I could have stayed and done more to help, but as we Tamers know, duty sometimes calls and sometimes we even have to listen to her.”
                His smile vanished like fog when the wind rises. “I have read the action reports filed by the Ruby League and I offer my condolences for your losses. Reading between the lines, you were betrayed by another Tamer and what happened wasn’t your fault. I know it doesn’t feel that way and honestly it may never, but the truth is you did the best you could with the intelligence you had and while you will fault yourself for it, you shouldn’t. Manti are never to be taken lightly and considering the circumstances, you acquitted yourself well against them.”
                “Whenever we lose someone we care for it tears our hearts out and if we can blame ourselves for it we will. The fact that you care so much is a sign that you will someday be one of the Tamers that pokegirls talk of in whispers, one that can love. Other Tamers may ridicule you for this, but ignore them, just as they try to ignore you. Inside they know that you have a measure of humanity that they can never attain, and it eats at them and causes them to strike out at you in blind fury.”
                “Some pokegirls may not understand either, but they live in the same world as those unfeeling Tamers and have felt the bite of their lack of care on many occasions and it has made them bitter. You should only feel pity for them, but don’t let their anger hurt you further either.”
                “As you may have guessed, I planted a sensor to keep an eye on the tent village in case of further trouble, and it recorded the conversation you had with Janne after we left. No one has seen it outside of us three and no one ever will. The only reason I mention it at all is because I want to correct a few misconceptions.”
                “Janne, you are right that Thai could never match me in battle, but that is because I am not a human at all. I would prefer that this go no farther, but I am kami, which is a supernatural race that some,” he frowned slightly, “compare to the Megami or to the lesser gods.” He grinned and flicked his ears in all directions. “Do I look godlike to you?” He paused. “I didn’t think so.”
                “Thai. You know deep down you did everything that you could and yet it wasn’t enough. It eats at you like acid. I know because I have been there and someday I will be there again. My news for you isn’t good. The pain never goes away. Time will mute it, but never quench it completely.”
                “I could go on like this for some time, but the truth is that no one will ever completely understand the pain you feel because no one else is you. I do have this to say, however. While you mourn your dead, do not forget that the living need love too. Let them help the pain to be less, in this they can aid you, and in letting them give that aid, you can help them. Some of them may feel loss of their own.”
                “The Hun, who is now named Hanmei, is settling into my harem as well as can be expected after the nomadic life she’s led. If I have to remove her, rest assured that I will find her a good home, with another caring Tamer.”
                “Circe, my Alaka-Wham, will get your message of thanks and I hope you find her gift useful.”
                “I appreciate your offer of help, but the truth is I didn’t help you. I helped a village of refugees and that is part of the creed I follow. However, where I come from it would be an insult for me to dismiss your noble gesture and rest assured someday I will collect the debt you have assumed.”
                “If you look for it, the sensor is located in the top of the tree you leaned against when you were talking to Janne. Please don’t disturb it; I’ll have it recovered when the tent village is evacuated to someplace safe.”
                “You will find a special mailbox code attached to this message that will give your communications access to my private message base, hopefully ensuring I get them quickly. Feel free to use it.”
                His smile returned. “By the way, considering that we are brothers in arms, my name is Shikarou. I hope to hear from you again and if you need any assistance that duty will allow me to provide, I would be honored to aid you.”
                “On a personal note, should you ever make it to the Blue League, I’m buying the first round for both of you. Janne, Thai, and whoever else is in your lives, I wish you well.”
                “Shikarou clear.”
                Recording ended.
                Send it.
Personal Note: I want to thank Macross_Green for allowing me to borrow a couple of his pokegirls and Thai for a bit. That was very kind of him to let someone as unscrupulous as me anywhere near them. I treated them well and even made sure that Janne was presentable before returning her to the Ruby League. She’s gruff, but I suspect that deep down she’s a sweetie. The events referred to may be found in his Ruby Journeys chapters 4 and 5. However the whole thing is well worth a perusal.
Name:                                                     Urufu Shikarou
Age:                                                       250
Residence:                                             Caomh Sith, Blue Continent
Region:                                  Scotland
Status:                                                    Active
Rank:                                                      60
Security Clearance:                              Epsilon
                Tamer                                     Y
                Master Tamer                       Y
                Researcher                            N
                Watcher                 N
                Breeder                  Y
Active Harem
Species                  Name                                      Level
Alaka-Wham                         Circe                                       67
Unicorn                  Branwyn                                58
Milktit                                    Helen                                      56
Bellona                   DragonQueen                       50
Seraph                                    Dorothea                               48
Ria                                          Kebi                                        46
Armsmistress                        Urufu Yushiko      45
G-Spliced                               Pythia                                     44
Sphinx                                    Lorelei                                   41
Vampire                  Elizabeth                                40
Mini-Top                               Nanu                                      36
Hun                                        Hanmei                   27
Alpha                                     Branwyn
Beta                                        Bellona
Badges: Scotland: Stornoway, Rum Island, Glasgow
                                Ireland: Belfast
                                England: Plymouth,
                                Wales: Magicunt Village