This work is fiction. The work has no relationship with any person existing at any time anywhere whether real or imaginary or copywritten. Everything in this work is mea culpa.
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Kasumi felt some kind of slight shiver in her surroundings and then the door silently slid open. Theodora motioned to her. “Please follow me. Iain’s at the end of the tunnel.” She led Kasumi down a dimly lit passage that seemed to go on forever before holding up her hand. “Just a second, please.”
Kasumi looked past her to see a large darkened room. Lightning flared overhead and thunder crashed loudly enough to make her wince and blink away the afterimages. Before being blinded by the flash, she’d seen in the light two people fighting on small rise ahead of them in a clearing surrounded by trees. Wind whipped around her as she used a minor spell to see in the darkness. She recognized Iain as one of the combatants. She looked at his opponent and blinked in surprise. Whoever he was fighting was garbed as a ninja complete to the short katana hung over one shoulder.
Iain’s opponent, however, ignored his weapons as they fought hand to hand, throwing strikes, blocks and kicks in dizzying rapidity, interspersed with segments in which they circled, looking for an opening. Finally the ninja got inside Iain’s guard and knocked him flying. He hit and rolled and the ninja was suddenly on top of him. There was a flurry of movement and then stillness.
The storm died down and the lights began to come up as Iain rose to his feet, wiping his mouth with his shirt. Theodora motioned towards Kasumi. “We can enter now.”
Kasumi stumbled as she entered the room and Theodora blinked. “I’m sorry; I should have warned you about the increased gravity.”
Kasumi straightened slowly, testing to see how strong the gravity was. She’d guess it was three times Earth normal, which was not anything near her limit as a kami. “I have trained under it before, but it has been a while.”
As they approached the ninja got up and bowed to Iain before heading for an opening in the floor. Iain turned to face them, frowning slightly. He was dirty from his scuffle and his face sported several bruises and a deep cut on one cheek gleamed wetly as it bled down onto what Kasumi recognized as some kind of martial arts uniform. “Theodora, please see to my guest while I get cleaned up.” He glanced up. “And please turn the gravity to 1g.” Then he turned and followed the ninja.
“Yes, Iain. I have a tea service on the way.” She turned to Kasumi as the scene wavered and vanished to reveal a circular chamber with a domed roof and raised platform in the middle. A heavy looking desk rose up out of the floor along with a comfortable looking chair and a couch as the gravity lessened. Theodora turned to Kasumi. “You can sit on the couch while he changes or, since I know you like flowers, you can look at the garden bordering the study. I think you’ll find it interesting.”
Kasumi turned and realized that the circular room had plants growing against the walls except where they’d entered. She frowned and headed for the closest one, querying her twee as she did when she didn’t recognize it. I don’t have any information on this plant, it told her. I don’t have any information on any of the plants you can see. She began following the garden and finally looked up at Theodora. “I don’t recognize any of these plants.”
Theodora gave her an impish smile back. “You’ll have to ask Iain.” Her smile grew. “And here he comes.”
Iain had cleaned up and changed into what looked like the same uniform, only clean. “Good morning, Kasumi.” His bruises were more evident against his clean skin and the cut looked like it had been sealed without stitches, leaving an angry red line down the side of his face. “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but what are you doing here?”
“That’s my fault,” Theodora told him. “She contacted me and asked to speak with you. I decided it was important enough that she should come here where you wouldn’t have to worry about Eve getting her feelings a little hurt since Kasumi has always asked for her before.”
He looked at Theodora evenly. “Are these kinds of interruptions going to become something regular?” There was something in his tone that made the hairs on the back of Kasumi’s neck stand up.
She shook her head. “No sir, they are not.” Kasumi was surprised at the formal tone. “It was my decision that this conversation needs to be private, sir, and this is the only place I can assure you get that.”
Iain smiled and Kasumi watched as Theodora visibly relaxed. “I looked that pissed off?”
The hologram grinned back at him. “Iain, you were that pissed off.”
Iain shook his head and looked at Kasumi. “Sorry about that. I hope you like Sencha.”
Her eyebrows rose slightly. “You have Sencha? Where are you getting that from?”
He looked surprised. “I’m selling information to the Nipponese on Shanghai troop movements along with their communication intercepts. I don’t really need money, so they’re banking my fees and I send them a list of things I’d like to buy and they get everything together for pickup. One of the things we’re buying is tea and seeds of pretty much everything they grow. I like green tea so I make sure there’s some here for me. Theodora changes it up every now and then to let me try new types and she replaced the Gyokuro with Sencha about two weeks ago, so that’s what you’ll get today.”
“Sencha would be lovely,” Kasumi said. “I haven’t had any since we came to this world.” She gestured at the plants in the garden. “Are these from sales to other places?”
Iain smiled mischievously. “No, you won’t find any of these plants growing anywhere on Earth. I got them from Kerrik. As you can see, they’re planted in little groups and each group is from a different world that I have never visited. They’re here to remind me that there are always new experiences out there and that I should try to seek them out. My plan is to someday visit all of these worlds.”
“What will you do then,” Kasumi asked curiously.
“As I visit each world I’ll replace that world’s plants with those from yet another world I’ve never seen and hopefully the cycle will continue anew.”
“So you intend to travel forever? What about your family?”
“They’ll go with me if they want to,” he said. “I don’t intend to leave tomorrow, Kasumi. These plants are here to warn me not to stagnate. If I do, my training does and my magic does as well. And stagnation for a mage like me is the best way to leave myself open for someone to kill.” He gestured at the plants. “But I can’t even open dimensional portals yet. I won’t see the first of the worlds these plants come from for many many years.” He smiled. “And the tea is here, if you’d like to have some.”
Kasumi looked and saw a floating tray next to the couch. As she watched, legs unfolded from it and it settled to the floor. Even from here she could smell the fragrance of steeping green tea that brought a sudden wave of homesickness for a place she hadn’t seen in decades. “That would be nice.”
Theodora appeared next to the platform as Iain and Kasumi settled down on the couch. “Iain is a barbarian and wouldn’t understand the reference, but in case you’re curious, Kasumi, this tea is from the Uji region in Kyoto.”
“Stop trying to impress Kasumi and leave us alone, Theodora,” Iain said with a smile. “She has already realized that she can get Shikarou to do something similar and get her Nipponese green tea or they could just buy it from us.”
“Yes, Iain.” She curtseyed and vanished.
Kasumi sat back with her tea and watched as Iain filled a large mug. She smiled. “She was right, you know.” Iain raised an eyebrow and she nodded towards his mug. “You are a barbarian about tea.”
Iain chuckled. “I’m a barbarian about a lot more than that. I apologize for making you wait but I didn’t know you were coming to visit and if I’d turned my back on that remote it would have clobbered me even more than it did.”
“I broke its neck when it took me to the ground, so I guess I did.”
“Was that kenpo? I didn’t recognize the style.”
Iain eyed her for a second. “No, that was the Tsukkiken style but it hurts a little bit that I’m so bad at it that you didn’t recognize it.”
“I’m not familiar with that style.”
“Shikarou and Faelan both use it,” Iain said quietly. “It’s the Clan Wolf signature style and it comes from the martial arts school Kerrik created for the clan. Don’t tell me they’re not teaching it to their families, aren’t they?”
Kasumi blinked and her eyes narrowed slightly. “Where are you learning it?”
“Kerrik is making me learn it as part of the requirements for being his pupil,” Iain said very quietly. “I understand the honor involved in this and I intend to pass it on to my clan.” He took a deliberate drink of his tea. “No hitting.”
Kasumi gave him a surprised look. “What?”
“I know that tone. If you’re angry with Shikarou for not teaching this, that’s cool. If you’re angry with me because I know it and you don’t, that’s not cool and no hitting. You hit and I’m going to hit back and then I’ll be in another serious battle only I won’t be fighting that ninja remote this time.”
“And how do you know that tone,” Kasumi asked.
“For what I wrote about you and when I wrote about you I learned a lot about you, the Tendo family and the Saotome family.”
“You know, Iain, I have never been curious about what you know about me before now.” She refreshed her tea and looked at him over the cup as she took another sip. “Now I am.”
Iain grimaced and then sighed. “I know you haven’t read the stories I wrote about Shikarou that included you since your family doesn’t have them yet. Do you want something generic, something specific, something only you know or something about your family that nobody could possibly know, not even you?”
“That last would be very hard to prove if not even I know it,” Kasumi murmured.
“It would, but it would also explain a few things that you may have wondered about.”
“Tell me something that only I could know,” she said.
At least she didn’t sound like she was still thinking about hurting someone, but Iain didn’t relax completely. “Helen was on the wrong track when she asked you if you were angry at Shikarou after you caught him having sex with Elizabeth in the changing room at the Tendo dojo before you two married,” he began quietly. “You weren’t angry with him or Elizabeth. You were jealous of Elizabeth and you were angry because you wanted it to be you with him instead of her. And in some small way that jealousy has continued to this day. You were raised in a traditionally monogamous society and that has shaped your life no matter how hard you have tried to escape it. I understand because I was raised in one too and I am not monogamous by any stretch of the word.”
Kasumi was staring at him. “But you are married to several of your women. How do you reconcile that with monogamy?”
“I don’t try to. They’re not monogamous, hell; even the ones who pay lip service to monogamy usually use it to mean possessiveness more than anything else. And in the end I will always give them what they want because I love them. So because they are not monogamous I am not either.” He cocked his head. “You’ll notice that I am not married to a human woman. In part, that’s because any American girl would be raised monogamous. I’ll never be married to a woman who expects me to be monogamous because of that.” He snorted softly.
“What is it?”
“My family has been trying to get me to become involved with a young woman we know. She’s got a great personality and she’s very pretty and even rather understanding about the life I live, but even if I were willing to seriously pursue a relationship she’s devoutly Catholic and I’m vaguely Christian. It would never work out.” He put down his mug. “So are you satisfied that I know things like I say I do and are you done thinking about doing violence to someone while sitting way too close to me?”
Kasumi’s eyes sparkled with humor. “I will reply with an unequivocal yes to both questions.”
“That’s good to hear. That brings us to the purpose of your visit.”
“May I have some more tea? It’s very good.” She poured herself another cup and settled back with it. “As you know, Poppet, Bellona and Elizabeth came to visit you not too long ago.” He nodded and she took a swallow of her tea. “Did they offend you somehow?”
Iain frowned. “Poppet aggravated Theodora a little, but it wasn't anything big. Why?”
“It has been over a month and you haven't contacted us so we could make an appointment. I hoped it wasn't because they'd said or done something wrong.” She frowned at the puzzled expression on his face. “You're confused about something. What is it?”
He smiled amusedly. “I am confused, but it's because Poppet told Theodora that she'd be getting in touch with us to set up an appointment with me. Nobody said anything about me contacting anyone on Haven so I could be available when they wanted to see me. If Poppet had suggested that Theodora would have told her what I would have told her, which is I'm not going to do that.”
Kasumi frowned. “That is what Poppet related to me.”
“I can have Theodora show the video of their very brief visit, Kasumi, and there’s nothing said in it that’s confusing.” Iain replied. “And since I haven't done any time traveling this isn't even the situation you have with Kerrik and not coming to Haven.”
She blinked and a blend of curiosity and eagerness slipped over her face to vanish. “You know about that?”
“Could you explain to me what that situation is? Kerrik won't discuss it.”
Iain sipped at his tea. Theodora, put me in nonverbal contact with Kerrik please.
A few seconds later he heard Kerrik's voice in his mind. What is it, Iain?
I have Kasumi visiting me and she's asked about what happened between you and Poppet when you went back to rescue Naruhito. May I explain it to her?
I'm not sure it's any of her business, Kerrik said.
If your time travel hadn't changed events it would have been. The fact that according to her and her family it never happened doesn't remove that and she's worried about it. And if she decides to proffer some kind of apology it might make all of you less upset with them, which you still are.
Kerrik paused for a second. The closure would probably help Raven and the others and, to be honest, it wouldn't hurt me. Tell her. You might get fewer questions about it.
Thank you. I wouldn't have bothered you about it but it is your life and I didn't want to volunteer anything without your knowledge and, hopefully, permission.
I appreciate that, Iain.
If you would like, I don't see why Theodora couldn't hook you into the com net so you can hear what I tell her.
I would like that very much, Kerrik said.
Consider it done, Theodora said to both of them. I'll terminate the link at the appropriate point, Iain.
Kerrik spoke one last time. Do not tell her that I approved this. If she thinks you'll volunteer this, it could prove interesting for you.
The entire conversation took less than a second. Iain finished his sip of tea. “I'm going to ask that you not comment until I'm finished and tell you that I am.”
Kasumi nodded. “I will.”
Iain drank more tea before starting. “Not too long before he locked away his powers, Kerrik had an encounter with Poppet on Haven while he was visiting Jamie. She hadn't met Raven, Misery or Whisper before and insulted them by calling them a name that they, other than Misery, have never liked and then by questioning their self-control by essentially suggesting that they might randomly murder people as the whim struck them. She insulted them enough that they changed their plans from intending to live on Haven to instead moving to Texas, which is pretty much how they ended up where they are now. However, I know you haven't heard about that exchange taking place because of a complication. Right after that, Kerrik went back in time to rescue Naruhito from death and save this world’s Jamie Harris if he could because neither was alive when he checked. He accomplished both goals and then returned to what was then the present time only to discover that there had been some minor changes in the time stream due to events he'd precipitated. One of them was that Poppet had never given that insult to Raven and the others.” Kasumi's eyes widened. “Understand that Kerrik and his group still remember it and are still unhappy about it, but since Poppet hadn't actually given that insult in the new timeline they couldn't legitimately demand her apology for it. It didn't happen as far as Poppet is concerned. So they try to ignore the fact that such an insult was given, but it is rather difficult and it's easiest for them if they just don't deal with Poppet, and by extension Haven, very much for the next decade or two.” He shrugged. “And trying to explain why they were ticked off at you would have sounded insane, so they didn't bother to try when people inquired about it. There is no way to say 'Poppet insulted us before we changed time so it never happened to you but we still remember it' that sounds reasonable.” He regarded her for a few seconds. “Questions?”
She didn't hesitate. “How much did their trip change the timeline?”
“That's impossible to know,” Iain replied. “The only way to determine that would be to completely know the timeline they left and then completely learn the timeline they returned to. Most of the changes here would have been minor because in the broad the timeline would have fought its way back to what it considered the strongest potentiality. But the changes in Nippon and Scotland could have been very profound and all over the world some people who were alive when they left were dead when they arrived and vice versa, which in tiny details changed the flow of portions of the stream. Why didn't Poppet say that again? It could be as simple as one of those people who lived ended up coming here from Florida with Jamie and Kerrik and made sure Poppet's tea that morning was perfect, putting her in a slightly better mood so she didn't say something stupid. Without the power of omniscience there is no way to know. I didn't bother to come up with a reason when I wrote it and I'm not going to guess now.” He reached for the teapot and refilled his mug. “Theodora, another pot, please.”
“It's on the way,” her voice said from the air to his right. Kerrik is gone.
Iain took a long drink. “I haven't time traveled so Poppet either misspoke or misunderstood the situation. Either way I'm not going to contact her so I can adjust my schedule around hers since she's the one who wants to see me.”
“You don't want to see us,” Kasumi asked in a teasing voice.
Iain chuckled. “I didn't say that. Saying that would not only be untrue, it would probably anger a whole slew of women who are very proud of how hot they are, and that includes present company. However, none of you are just eye candy. More importantly, Poppet wants to see me because she wants something from me.” He felt the subsonic tremble that meant the room was rotating. The shell around his offices was formed of concentric layers, like an onion, and they normally were oriented so none of them had the opening in that particular layer lined up with any of the others so any intruders would have to burn through the entire thickness no matter which direction they came from. They floated on gravity fields to move and rotated to line up when passage was desired. The tremble he was feeling was a deliberate design feature to warn Iain that it was moving.
There was an odd expression on Kasumi's face. “You think I'm hot?”
Iain had an urge to smack himself in the forehead and in his irritation didn't think before he spoke. “Focus, Kasumi. This is about the meeting. However, just this once I'll admit that you were hot when you married Shikarou and now you are one gorgeously hot MILF.”
The new tea cart floated in and settled down next to the first one. Iain felt the rotation again as Kasumi gave him a puzzled look. “I am not familiar with that word. What is a MILF? Neither I nor my twee are familiar with that word nor can I make contact outside of this room to seek an answer.”
Shit. Iain stared at her like a deer in headlights. I can’t believe I fucking said that to Kasumi. “Could we pretend that those words never left my mouth and stayed safely in my brain where they belong?”
“If you'd like, but I will eventually find out what it means,” she said gently but with iron in her voice. “And since you used it to describe me, in what I presume are positive terms, I am going to investigate. However, your sudden reticence suggests that it might be better if you told me than if I found out some other way.” Suddenly she was in the mode that she'd used as Headmistress at the magical school she ran when questioning students about improprieties.
Iain really wanted to smack himself now, preferably as hard as he could in the balls, which is where he figured that sentence had had originated and from there traveled directly to his mouth and completely bypassed what few brain cells were apparently working today. For an instant he hoped the ninja remote had hit him a lot harder than he’d thought so he had an excuse for this to not be his fault. “It is complementary after a fashion and yet you might not find it so,” he said carefully.
Kasumi just raised her eyebrows as she stared directly into his eyes. Iain was sure that gesture had made many students she was interrogating instantly blurt out everything she wanted to know. Hell, he could feel its power, but fortunately he wasn’t an easily influenced teenager. “Then you certainly should be the person to tell me what it means, lest I ask my husband if he knows what a MILF is and find out he does and doesn't like you calling me one.” She smiled sweetly. “And perhaps my father in law would know what it means.”
“I doubt Shikarou has ever come across the term since if he did you'd probably have already heard it,” Iain said. “And as for Kerrik, I don't doubt that he's heard of it.” He sighed and plunged ahead. “MILF is an acronym that in my world came about in the 1990s and so it might never have come into existence here. The letters form an acronym that is made by putting together the first letters of the words in the phrase 'mother I'd like to fuck'.”
Kasumi frowned. “A mother you'd like to,” she blinked and slowly flushed. “Oh my.”
“Yeah. I should never have said that to you.”
She looked thoughtful for a second. “That was not an apology, was it?”
Iain shook his head slightly. “No it wasn't. I'm sorry if it offended you.” She eyed him evenly until he couldn’t resist asking the question. “What?”
“I have learned that one must carefully consider every word in a sentence that Kerrik says in content, position and context. I am wondering if I should do the same with you.”
“I can lie, so no, you don't have to do that.”
“No I don't need to do so or no you would prefer it if I didn't?”
“Interesting,” she said. Her blush had faded as her attention focused on something else. “I do not think I have ever heard one word be both a lie and the truth before.”
Iain's face set. “You have a truth spell up.”
She smiled. “I had to learn truth magic a long time ago considering that my husband's other women routinely lied to me whenever it suited them.”
“I'm not one of your sister wives,” Iain pointed out tonelessly.
“No, but it seemed prudent. The tales about you that we do hear are impressive enough and our experiences we have had with you suggest utmost caution.”
“As long as nobody does anything stupid I'm not a threat to you or your family, Kasumi.”
“Will you warn us when something stupid has happened or will you let it fester as Kerrik seems to have done?”
“I have already pointed out that it was kind of awkward for him to have tried to explain. As for me, yes I plan to let someone know if your family does something boneheaded to me or mine. And considering we're talking about me, I'll probably let them know immediately. I wasn't even aware that Poppet and the others had visited until after I left the post-game party, so it’s impossible that anything that happened during the visit offended me. I do understand that they appeared a little put out at my unavailability and hopefully what happened will help to underscore the fact that, unlike the people on Haven, we're not at the disposal of the royal family and your people will start making appointments if they want to see us for professional reasons.”
“So your team won?”
“No, they got soundly defeated. But the post-game party is for everyone. The victors and the losers are forbidden from fighting during the post-game party. The penalties for doing so affect the entire team and can result in the team being removed from competition for more than one year, so they're pretty well adhered to.” Something occurred to him. “You don't want to go home, do you?”
Kasumi suddenly looked guilty before nodding. “I am enjoying this time, Iain. I don't have many casual conversations right now. Most of what we discuss involves work on the island or the school, even in our off time. It is one of the reasons I so look forward to yours and Eve’s visits.”
“You need to learn to have relaxation time and force it to stick,” Iain said. “Even Type A personalities need some time off and not all of your family is composed of A personalities, no matter what they think about it. Working all of the time every day is unhealthy and very stressful.”
“It's also nice to talk to someone new,” Kasumi pointed out, “and that I'm not related to. I care for my family, but I see them every day.”
“You can always cultivate us as friends and visit more.” Iain drained his mug and refilled it. “But this will probably be your only visit during my study time, at least to see me. My study time is supposed to be inviolate. You just got lucky that Theodora thought, correctly I might add, that we needed to speak alone. However, you can always ask her if I'm somewhat available at any time and she'll let you know before you try to come visit, at least if you're coming to chat with me.”
“What does somewhat available mean?”
“Kasumi, I am almost never alone, except when I'm here, and here it's expected that any enemy will have to expend thousands of megatons of energy to get to me in my study. As far as you are concerned it's not really a bad thing either, because it'll let you start getting to know other members of my family so you can discover other people who don't care that you're royalty and treat you like a regular person.”
“Why is this study time so important?”
“My magic is like Kerrik's except for the huge fact that I'm just getting started. Control is critical, and if I don't practice and study to advance I will never get that control. Without it, my powers will activate without my control and I could murder the people I love as well as people I don't care about. And the people I love are kind of important to me so I want to develop that control. Kerrik says I need another decade of dedicated study before I can even think about slacking off on it.” And he wasn't going to mention the promise he'd made to Nightraven. Haven had no truewizards and therefore had no business even knowing she existed.
Kasumi's eyes had widened. “Someday you could be as powerful as Kerrik?”
“Theoretically, yes, and I hope that it happens,” Iain admitted. “However I have a very long time before I can even begin to approach what he's managed to become in his lifetime.”
“Do you know how old Kerrik really is?”
Iain shrugged. “I am not going to discuss Kerrik's personal life. Ask him. If he chooses to tell you, good on you. Something to remember, however, is that he's essentially immortal. If you don't change, age just becomes a number. You'll understand that in a century or so.”
She smiled amusedly. “Now you sound like he does.”
“I am becoming more like him and I’ve had to think like someone as old as he is to write about him, so I guess that only makes sense.” Iain emptied his mug and stood. “I am afraid that I'm going to have to ask you to leave now, Kasumi. I have enjoyed this visit but I do need to study, and the truth is that if my ladies get the idea that anyone can spend time in here with me I'll have another fight on my hands about it. And the fact that it's an outlander breaking the rules is just going to make them more vocal about expressing their displeasure.” He held out his hand. “But thank you for dropping by.”
She took his hand and let him pull her to her feet. “Why are you thanking me?”
He smiled. “I am spending time with a hot MILF that I'm not involved with.” Kasumi turned bright red and he grinned. “Now that you know and you didn’t slap me when you found out I don't see a reason not to tease you with it.”
“Wouldn't that apply to all of Shikarou's women,” Kasumi asked very quietly as she looked down and away. “So it isn't anything really special to call me that.”
“Kasumi,” Iain said firmly. Her eyes came around to meet his. “It doesn’t apply to all of Shikarou’s women. Hell, it doesn’t apply to most of Shikarou’s women. Not all of Shikarou's women are mothers and not all of them, mothers or not, are hot. And the number of them that are in the intersection of the circle of women who are mothers and the circle of women who are hot is much smaller than you think. Granted it's an extremely personal evaluation on my part, but I think you're confusing physical attractiveness with hotness. For me, personality is critical in determining hotness and a high percentage of the women around Shikarou have personalities I wouldn't want to spend much time with so they’re not hot. So when I say you are a hot MILF there are only few of your contemporaries who share that with you. You are in very exclusive company, which only makes sense.”
“Who wouldn't make the list?”
Iain smiled at the eager curiosity in her question. “A quick but not comprehensive list of the names of women with personalities I’m not all that fond of in Shikarou’s family would include, in no particular order, Candace, Stardust, Yushiko, Roisin, Nanu, Lorelei, Lynn, Molly and Gwyneth.”
“But some of those are on the list Kerrik supplied to us,” Kasumi protested.
“I’ve never seen that list but Kerrik was using what he could find in my stories when he put the list together. If he’d gotten this list anywhere close to completely correct I'd be terrified,” Iain said. “Nobody else is supposed to know my mind that well. Now I bid you a good day.”
She chuckled as she headed for the now open doorway. “I wonder how my life would have been different if I'd met you instead of Shikarou.”
“You are married to Shikarou,” Iain said gently, “and so it doesn't matter unless you’re willing to leave him.” She gave him a curious look and he sighed. “You really want me to speculate?” She nodded. “Unless you'd been dead set against it we'd have had a lot more children than just one. And with both of our extended life spans we’d be planning to have even more.” He smiled when she looked shocked. “Of course, it's kind of mean to tell you that because I know you wanted a large family before you married Shikarou.”
She gave him a thoughtful look. “Do you think Kozakura might be interested in you, Iain?”
“There’s very little chance of that. She has her heart set on catching a kami of her very own and I am not a kami.” Iain's smile faded. “More importantly for this discussion, I'm not really interested in Kozakura so it doesn’t matter what she might want. She's as much an imperialist as Shikarou is and that really puts me off. On top of that, no insult intended, she’s grown up as a pampered princess and is about as arrogant as she can get and not need someone to follow her around and carry her ego for her. That’s probably more the result of father and some of her other mothers behavior than yours because you are a lot prouder about who you are than most people are aware but you’ve never been an ass about it and you didn’t teach her to be what she is. In the end she is definitely not hot.”
He waved once as Theodora appeared in front of Kasumi. “I'll take you to the exit now,” she said quietly. She led Kasumi down the tunnel and to the door that led back to the Barton Springs house. “You know you could always leave Shikarou and join us,” she said.
“I could never do that,” Kasumi said. “I love my husband.”
“You chose him because he was the only way out of the life you were trapped in,” Theodora pointed out. “You didn't love him at that time. You might have thought you did, but you were too young to understand what love really is. What you really loved was the idea of escaping the Tendo family and Genma’s growing interest in you. Now that you have enough life experience, you can really evaluate if you love him and if he loves you. The question is whether you have or not. Have you?”
“I don't like Iain having you do this,” Kasumi snapped. “It's not what I thought he'd be like.”
“He has no idea we're having this conversation,” Theodora said. “If he had thought I'd have brought this up, he probably would have forbidden it. He wouldn't have liked me making you uncomfortable like this.”
“I am not uncomfortable, I'm angry,” Kasumi actually growled.
“I don't think you are,” Theodora replied calmly. “Can I ask you a question?”
“No! I'm leaving!” Kasumi move quickly through the door into the Barton house and headed for the front door.
“I'll ask anyways,” Theodora appeared beside the front door. “Was your name on the list of Iain's favorite women that Kerrik gave to your family?”
Kasumi drew herself up and glared at Theodora. “No, it was not. Now will you let me leave?”
“Your name should have been,” Theodora said as the door swung open, “the first on the list.” She smiled to herself as Kasumi's mouth dropped for a second. “If you find my behavior offensive, I will report it to Iain and request summary judgment from him for my behavior. Do you wish me to do that?”
“If Iain wouldn't want you have this conversation with me, then why are you doing it?”
Theodora smiled. “That is an excellent question, Kasumi. The answer is that I am clan and Iain is my clan leader. The clan needs to grow, both in power and in numbers. Iain has made it plain that what individual clan members might want is sometimes unimportant compared to what the clan needs. Unlike in your kingdom, that occasionally includes the wants of the clan leader, as it does in this case. You and the children you would give Iain would be a great asset to the clan, Kasumi, and the fact that Iain would cherish you more than you can imagine is of only consequential importance to me. So I can ignore the fact that he would be furious if he knew I was telling you this since I haven’t been forbidden to do so.”
“And how do you think Shikarou would react if I told him about this line of discussion?”
“Poorly, I expect.” Theodora shrugged. “But he can't really project power off of Haven and he's already unhappy with Iain and the rest of us. By this time, however, he should realize that he can no more kill Iain and tempt his father's wrath any more than Iain can kill him so nothing should really change if you tell him about this little talk.”
“That's fortunate for Iain,” Kasumi said.
“Actually, it's fortunate for your family,” Theodora replied. “Unlike your family, Clan Grey can easily project power anywhere in the solar system. With my estimation that an aggressive Haven would be the most dangerous threat my clan could face, no Kerrik to intercede and Iain's permission, I could quickly move the appropriate forces into position and utterly destroy Haven in less than a day without threatening my clan's property.” She shrugged. “However Kerrik is present and even if he wasn’t Iain wouldn't let me arbitrarily destroy Haven without a clear and present danger to the Grey clan so the issue is moot.” She came to attention. “Do you wish me to report this conversation to my clan leader and request his justice for you? I will freely admit my guilt.”
Kasumi waved a hand, her mind obviously elsewhere. “No, you were doing for your clan what I would do for my family. While I'm not happy with you, I understand your justification and I see no reason to get Iain involved with it.” She gave Theodora a hard look. “If it happens again I will revisit this decision.”
“I understand,” Theodora said. “I wish you a good day.”
She watched the outside until Kasumi had released her Drow Zee, Ayame. They spoke briefly and then Ayame took her mistress' hand and they vanished, presumably to Haven. Then she checked the locks on the door to the Barton House, activated the security system, turned off that holographic projector and refocused her primary attention on Iain, who was in his medical bay checking the surgical glue closure he'd performed on his cheek wound. He was ignoring her but the set of his shoulders suggested he was still irritated at her. So she would arrange things so he could chew her out. “Is the cut closing properly?”
He glanced at her hologram. “Next time warn me before you pull something like that.”
“And give you the chance to tell me no for a meeting that needed to happen? If this hadn't been important she would have been warned off just like the others were.”
“How is Kasumi looking to find out why I haven't done something I wasn't aware I was supposed to do important?”
“That was a pretext on her part and you know it,” Theodora shot back. “I could have answered that question for her by showing her the video of Poppet's abbreviated visit. She was lonely and this was a perfect opportunity to chip away at some of the cohesiveness of the Haven Wolf family. And, as it turned out, during a relatively harmless discussion we learned that Kasumi is willing to use truth spells for personal satisfaction. That will be useful in the future.”
“We should probably just presume they all use them all of the time,” Iain said sourly.
“You should put Dominique on finding a way to passively detect them that can't be counter detected,” Theodora said determinedly. “It should have been done a while ago.”
“I asked her and she said she had other priorities.”
“Ask her again. The knowledge that even Kasumi uses truth detection magic may cause her to reassess her priorities,” Theodora commented. “But even if she doesn't, this was very productive.”
Iain glanced at her and headed back upstairs to his study. “Kasumi showed up, I explained Kerrik's issue and then promptly shoved both feet firmly in my mouth with the MILF thing, managed to pull them back out and may have turned it into a harmless flirt with her. Other than the information about the casual use of truth spells I'm not sure I see where it was that productive for us, even if it did help Kerrik.” He stopped and turned around to face Theodora directly with a suspicious look on his face. “What did you do?”
“I'm uploading video to your twee.”
Iain turned around and headed for his desk. “I'll watch it after I'm sitting. And I want a snack. What's on the menu for today?”
“Blue shark steaks,” Theodora said. “I've got ten thousand blue shark pups gestating for release next month and a few weren't good enough to finish growing to maturity. If not that, I've got a million Atlantic herring ready to drop tomorrow, a billion bay anchovy eggs for release in a month and a billion broad striped anchovy eggs for release a week later.”
“I thought we were focusing on land based animals.”
“Heltu pointed out that hungry ocean going ferals often hunt along the beaches. Blues are usually found in deeper water than that, but they hunt the same ocean depth levels that pokegirls haunt and if they can begin feeding some of the ferals or better yet feed on some of them and their kits, we have succeeded a little. And you wanted to try and balance things as much as possible so the ocean needed seeded as well.”
“I'll pass on herring and the cheap caviar, thank you. Can't I have a turkey sandwich or something?”
“Your healing magic and your twee's healing powers both use resources from your body, Iain and you do much better on a high protein diet because of it.”
“Fine. Fix me some shark steak and match it with some nice wine, please. Since I'm not sure about how to prepare shark meat except by barbecuing, make sure the steak is cooked properly.”
“I promise to take good care of you, Iain.”
“I never doubted that, Theodora.” He frowned. “Can the program be automated?”
“I presume you’re asking about the reseeding project?” He nodded. “It could be to a point but I’d need a year to write the software for a feedback system to keep from overpopulating the planet with one species and depending on the time of year the location for the drop would differ greatly unless you don’t care if ten thousand deer starve in the winter.”
“Well start writing it although I don’t know if we’ll ever need it.”
“Why am I doing this?”
“Do you remember my talk with Siobhan when we first met? We’re going to Two and eventually to other universes and I want to make sure that we don’t cover the world in cane toads because we got lost and didn’t come back. Or worse, we return after some time to find the world covered in cane toads that we now have to clean up.”
“That makes sense. I’m already working on it, but it would be really useful if I had a year’s worth of tweaking to refine it.”
“Use the historical data we purchased from Kerrik and get all of it if we haven’t already bought it. He’s got a thousand years of records and if we can get them it’ll help you plot animal movement so we can maximize our reseeding results. That and I can watch the colonization of America from space.” He dropped into his chair and leaned back, closing his eyes. “Let's find out what you did.” He came upright less than a minute later, his eyes popping open. “Fuck me!” He looked at Theodora standing in front of the desk. “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?”
She smiled. “I planted seeds, Iain.”
“You threatened her home and family,” Iain pointed out.
“No, I told her what would happen if we were threatened,” she disagreed. “She knows it's not a threat of any kind.”
“Ok fine, you pointed out we can turn them into a huge puddle of lava any time we want and they can’t do anything to stop us. That’s not a lot better. Anyways, Shikarou is going to have a meltdown when he finds out you suggested Kasumi leave him and then there's Kozakura. She's going try to stalk me like a feral pig and put an arrow in my skull.” He looked thoughtful. “And I’d probably enjoy the game. Blood, but I’m fucked up.”
“Kasumi will not reveal our discussion to anyone,” Theodora said confidently. “If she did, she would never be allowed to return here again and she doesn't want that.” She smiled predatorily. “And if Kozakura does show up, we will kill her unless you want to keep her for some reason. Under her own kami rules you could demand a child from her that she gives to us to raise as the price of her ransom if she is captured with obviously overwhelming force.”
“I'm not interested in sticking my dick in Kozakura,” Iain said. “She is the living embodiment of everything that's wrong with regular Nipponese spirit folk. And I can't trust her to bring a child back from Haven since she can lie and she doesn’t think mortals are worth keeping agreements with and I don't want her living here during a pregnancy. She doesn't respect anyone who isn't a spirit folk or the equivalent and I wouldn't expect anyone to put up with her shit.”
“Very well. We can capture her and ship her back home without a ransom. You do realize that will infuriate her.”
Iain grinned. “Yeah. I can live with that. If it happens, play up in front of her that she's not worth a good ransom so we're not going to bother demanding one.”
“You have a cruel streak that I really like, Iain.
He rubbed his cheek and the slowly healing injury on it, probing gently. “What do you think she’ll do?”
“I hope she’ll think about whether she loves Shikarou or not and I really hope she asks him for another child.”
Iain’s head came up. “Why?”
“I think he’ll tell her that they should wait.” The ground trembled as the room began to realign for the arrival of his meal. “He doesn’t really like kids very much, does he?”
Iain shrugged. “It’s a Nipponese spirit folk nobility thing. They usually have small families because the infant mortality rate for them is almost zero and Nippon is kind of restricted in land for them to expand into. Shikarou is the first child his mother has produced in probably a thousand years and he was kind of a surprise because she didn’t realize how fertile Kerrik can be. The normal classes of spirit folk breed a lot more because the nobles will thin their numbers out but even their reproductive rate is abysmal against that of humans in the same area. And to be true, not all people like children. He doesn’t dislike them but they’re a lot of work he’s not really willing to invest in them.”
“I thought it might be something like that. In more than twenty years of being settled, his and Faelan’s families have grown only slightly.”
“Don’t forget that the pokegirl kits were shipped off to Tirsul for the most part. There they’ll have a better upbringing, be free and add new genetics to the Confederation so there were more children than you might have been aware of but still your evaluation seems pretty much spot on.”
“Thank you. What about my punishment?”
“Yeah, right.” Iain stretched in his chair and blinked when his stomach growled. “What am I going to do besides tell you 'bad Theodora'? I can't tell you to clean the whole ship without using remotes, can I?”
“You could if you would let me get my puppet beforehand. Then I could do exactly that.”
Iain looked directly at her. “What does a puppet give you that you don't have now and want?”
She smiled at him. “Did you know that Shewa puppets don't have to be sterile and the children can be fully sentient?”
Iain jerked in his chair so hard that it toppled over, taking him with it. He hit with a thump and a yelp. He reappeared, slowly standing and holding his left side. “I think I cracked some ribs,” he hissed. His eyes unfocused for a second. “Yeah, five ribs on the left side.” He stretched slowly, wincing. “Yup. Kerrik is not likely going to want to introduce the Kalan Empire to this universe. I’m not going to want to introduce it either.”
“They won’t be coming here. The puppet can be acquired and delivered without anyone except Magdalene's father being able to discover where it went and he won't care. And if Kerrik is unwilling to aid us, Magdalene owes you a favor. Advantageously, your magic will only enhance the powers of the Shewa offspring.”
Iain eyed her as he pulled the chair upright, wincing again when it pulled on his cracked ribs. “You really think like a pokegirl sometimes.”
“I am one, remember? The other members of my family are my role models and I emulate them with pride.”
“Is this the real reason you want to have a puppet?”
She shook her head. “Of course it isn't, Iain. It is a very good one, though, and most people won’t question it. Adding to the clan's power is critical. And once I have access to Shewa genetics I can make variations of them so our children have potential mates of comparable strength. The most important reason, though, is because I want to be corporeal. I want to touch you and to be touched in return.”
Iain looked into her eyes and read the sincerity in them. “Talk to Kerrik and see what he says. If he says no we'll explore other options.”
“Thank you, Iain.”
Kerrik watched Misery as she teleported in next to the unsuspecting whitetail buck and immobilized him by the simple expedient of grabbing him by the head and lifting his body off the ground. He squealed and thrashed for a moment before hanging limply while the rest of the deer fled. Raven appeared next to her and checked the tag in the buck’s ear, poked him with a DNA sampler next to the tag, said something to the Mini-top and vanished. Misery dropped the buck and teleported away. The buck rolled to his feet and streaked for the protective bushes, his tail up in a vivid white flag of warning for any other deer in the area.
“How stressful is that for the deer,” Morwen asked from beside him.
“Moderately,” Kerrik replied. “However we’re only doing this once every six months and it is easier on their bodies than using tranquilizer darts on them. Sometimes no matter how carefully you prepare a tranquilizer dose an animal will die. These are all animals that we brought back with us from our trip to the past when we rescued Naruhito and Harris and I wanted to track their health and development. The DNA sample that Raven took from that deer’s ear will do that nicely.”
“Couldn’t you wave a hand and get all of the samples yourself,” the Vampire asked.
“I could,” he said. He turned to smile at her. “But down that road lies the fact that I don’t really need a harem, especially if all they want to do is sit on their asses all day. Do you want me to start down it?”
Morwen blew him a raspberry. “I already knew that, Kerrik. I also know you’re fond enough of us that we’re safe but that if you did decide to abandon us you’d make sure we were taken care of properly.” She gave him a wide smile. “And since you are the only person who can take care of us properly you won’t get rid of us. You’ll just mourn us when we die. If you decide to keep us with you forever, or as much of forever as you can get, you’ll let us have the option of becoming kami or Sidhe. I’ll be content either way since my life would have been over years ago when I’d become a Bunnygirl instead of being here.”
Kerrik gave her an affectionate smile. “You have grown into quite the woman, Morwen.”
“Only because you gave me the chance, but thank you for finally noticing,” she said with a smile of her own. Her smile faded. “Is genetic engineering anything like architecture?”
“That’s an odd question.”
“I wanted to be an architect before I underwent threshold. I still love architecture, especially the drawing part of it, but you don’t need an architect. My sisters will need help with their genetics and while I know you’re going to help them, a lot of other people will need help like that too and maybe I can help you help them. So I am hoping that the genetic engineering you do is a lot like architecture because I love architecture.”
Kerrik slipped an arm around her and she snuggled against him. “Just like good architecture, genetic engineering is as much art as it is science. I think you’d be outstanding at it, but people will always need buildings and whatnot, both practical and pretty.”
“I am not going to give up architecture, Kerrik. I’m going to do something that complements it in that I’ll still be helping people.”
“You have to learn a lot of medicine and biology for it,” he cautioned her.
“And I had to learn a lot of math, physics, geometry and engineering to study architecture,” she said back. “And I had to learn art to draw and how to change designs to make something look its best in its surroundings. For genetic engineering, some of that will carry over and for genetic creation, which is what you actually do, my art will be useful.” She jerked a thumb in the direction of their house, unseen on the other side of some steep hills. “You’ve got fighters who I will never be able to exceed, even if I want to every time I compete against them. I’ll still fight for you and for them but I want to be a builder, not a destroyer. That’s why I never wanted to be a tamer in the first place. With everything that’s happened to humanity but with the earth’s land masse not reduced like they were on my world because of Typhonna, a lot of people are so spread out around the world that inbreeding has the potential to cause some really serious problems. Since nobody really needs skyscrapers built, I’ll build better lives until they do.”
He chuckled. “You’ve convinced me, Morwen. I’ll have the appropriate lesson chips sent down with a laboratory on the next delivery to Texas and you can start learning a new art.”
“Thank you, Kerrik.”
“Don’t thank me just yet. There’s a lot of tedium involved, you know.”
She smirked at him. “And there isn’t in calculating the changes in load distribution due to the changes in density in concrete structural columns versus iron of varying qualities as temperature changes so you select the right material to keep a building from leaning sideways or falling over when it gets hot? I may have been a high school kid when we met, but I was already taking some university courses to get my basics out of the way. For this, just like I did for architecture before I talked my dad into letting me go to university, I did some research before I tried to talk to you.”
“Like I said, you’ve become quite a woman.” He cocked his head. “Are you involved in this whole status fight that’s going on involving children?”
“Hell no,” Morwen laughed. “I didn’t want to be a pokegirl. Why would I want to punish children by making them Vampires too? Melanie is cute and all but there are times I really miss a good salad. I have these terrible cravings for avocado and I sometimes wish I was still a human being so I could gorge on them. And don’t get me started on how wonderful those Omega fruit smell to me. I want my kids to have the chance to experience food. If they want to be Vampires after they understand what it means, I’ll turn them myself. Maybe someday after I become a pokewoman and can have human babies I’ll have some kids, but I’d like to wait. And maybe by then I can make sure that all of my children are human.” Her laugh faded and she looked at him seriously. “If you’ll let me. We both know that if you insist, I’ll pop out kits for you just as fast as I can and I’ll enjoy doing it for you, too.”
“I will never take that choice away from you, Morwen Davies Wolf.”
“Good. So in a century or so I can present you with a son, Kerrik. It’s not like we’re in a hurry since we may live close to forever.”
“True.” His phone chirped and he pulled it from his belt. “I wonder what Theodora wants.”
“She usually wants privacy, so I’ll give you some.” Morwen went up on her toes and kissed him gently. “You know, I am probably the only person who hasn’t complained about you getting older. I like it. It doesn’t feel like I’m having sex with another kid now and,” she wriggled her eyebrows at him, “I’ve always had a thing for older men. Give me a chance and I’ll prove it to you.”
He laughed. “Go.” She winked and vanished as he activated his handheld. “Hello, Theodora. What does Iain want now?”
Her hologram appeared in front of him. “I wanted to talk to you, Kerrik, if you have a few minutes I can have.”
He nodded. “I happen to have some that you can have right now. What did you want to talk to me about?”
“I wanted to approach you about having you purchase a Shewa puppet for me. I want to make sure that the Kalan Empire cannot trace its purchase back to this universe as neither of our clans would want their interference here. This is a rich world and many of the houses of the Empire would covet its resources, both inorganic and organic. I have the specifications for the puppet I want ready to send to you.”
Kerrik’s ears were canted sideways in surprise. “This is unexpected.” His ears flicked back into their normal orientation. “I hadn’t even considered that Iain would be aware of the Empire’s existence.”
“He has researched Magdalene’s family and that would necessitate knowledge of her original home world as well as her adoptive family’s involvement in the Empire,” Theodora said simply, “just as his research of you led him back to your original home world and family.” She smiled. “He may also have knowledge of some universes and governments that you have yet to encounter or have even heard of and might be able to help you narrow down how to reach them.”
For an instant, hunger gleamed in Kerrik’s eyes. “I would love to know about these places, even if I have already been there.” The gleam vanished. “But I won’t help you. It isn’t right.”
“A puppet would allow me to better protect Iain,” Theodora protested. “You don’t want your newest pupil to die before he has reached his true potential, do you?”
“No, I don’t. But I don’t want to cheat you, Theodora, and whatever I charged you for acquiring a puppet would be cheating you. On top of that, I still can’t leave until the threat of the Covenant is resolved, so it might be many years before I could make such a journey.” His ears flicked. “I take it you haven’t finished reading through all of the information I accidentally abandoned on the battlefield with Iain.”
“No, I haven’t. It is quite extensive even for me to process.”
“You need to complete that task before you attempt to discuss this with me again,” he said firmly. “But when you know why I’m telling you this, I want you to let me know that you do. It’ll be the price I charge for not cheating you outrageously. And don’t bother Magdalene or Tanika about this either or you’re going to feel pretty dumb when everything plays out. Since I can’t lie,” he smiled, “you can trust me when I say that.”
“I have no reason to believe otherwise, Kerrik,” Theodora said. “We have not lied to you and you have not lied to us. While I understand such behavior isn’t always normal between clans, you should know that we cherish it from you and hope you do from us. And I realize that except for the actual formal declaration, we are behaving as if we each are satellite clan to each other and because of that I trust your behavior will make sense eventually.”
Kerrik smiled. “We actually are acting as if we have a Pact of Blood between our clans, Theodora.”
She looked thoughtful for a moment and Kerrik admired how alive she looked since he knew the pause was for his benefit and she didn’t need it. “You could be right, but a pact implies certain obligations between our clans that we are not currently discharging. I would prefer a Pact of Blood between us, but I cannot commit my clan to this. Only Iain could and he would seek the counsel of his command staff first. Is this a formal offer for Iain to consider a pact between our clans?”
“No it’s not, but after thinking about it I’d like you to broach the subject with him. I have to do some research into whether I would be obligating just my family here in Texas or if I might accidentally engage a pact between Clan Grey and the entirety of Clan Wolf. If that’s true, I cannot obligate my clan any more than you can yours until I’ve consulted with my leader.” He frowned. “I may have to contact the Wolf and see what she thinks of this, which could result in more clan activity here.”
“I understand. We could table the idea for a few more years and see what transpires.”
“I’ll get back to you on that.”
Theodora nodded. “Yes. Question, will our leaving this universe cause problems with the Covenant?”
“You’re going on a trip?”
“We acquired a pokegirl for Iain from the Glasgow captures and she was Recognized to her previous owner and wishes proof that he is dead before she fully commits to us.”
Kerrik grinned. “And Iain being Iain he’s going to take her home to get that proof. That trip shouldn’t cross any lines where the Covenant might find or track it, so he should be fine. If I perceive that the a fight with Covenant forces would occur when he’s gone, I’ll send myself a warning letter to prevent his leaving on that particular trip because I know he will want to help as much as he can.”
“I thank you for myself and Iain,” Theodora said, “and I will spare you the yelling that I should give you from the rest of the clan as a sign of their feelings for you being so helpful in such a destructive way.”
Kerrik laughed. “Thanks. I don’t need more yelling right now. How long do you think it’ll take to have the data you got from me fully integrated and ready for review?”
“A few more weeks at the most, but I cannot give a definite time at the moment. When I know what you are talking about, I will tell you. Good day.”
“Good day, Theodora.” She vanished and, a second later, so did he.
Ninhursag Grey - Elfqueen & maharani
Eve Grey - Megami Sama
April Grey - Duelist & beta
Dominique Grey - Blessed Archmage
Pandora - Fiendish Archangel
Canaan - G Splice (Hunter Amachamp & Alaka-Wham)
Zareen - Nightmare
Raquel - Fiendish Rapitaur
Sofia - Ria
Vanessa – Evangelion
Lucifer – Megami Sama
Allison – Umbrea (Outer Harem Alpha)
Daphne - Whorizard
Lynn - Growlie
Chuck – Doggirl
Ryan – Unicorn
Winifred - Rack (German)
Rosemary - Mistoffeles (Uruguayan)
Silver - Pegaslut
Joyce – Milktit
Melanie – Iron Chef
Siobhan - Nurse Joy (Glasgow)
Queendom / Outer Harem
Heather - Elf
Dionne - Elfqueen
Adrianna - Elfqueen
Dianthus Barbatus - Elfqueen
Heltu - Wet Queen
6 Wet Elves
Eirian - Silver Dragoness
Aurum - Gold Dragoness
Skye - Blue Dragoness
Emerald - Green Dragoness
Beryl - Red Dragoness
Julia - human
Ling - Cheetit
Matilda - White Tigress
Liadan - Twau
Sorrel - Armsmistress
Natalie - Blazicunt
Maria – Slutton
Rhea Silvia - Chimera
Mother s & Children