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            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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Loose Threads

Twenty Six

 

            The lightning roaring overhead died away suddenly and Iain heard a soft set of chimes. “Break time,” Theodora’s voice intoned.

            The multicolored cloud of fog twisting in the air in front of him faded into nothingness as Iain dismissed it. “Cool. I am starving. What’s on the menu?”

            She appeared already shaking her head. “Even with the information from the Wolf database on his caloric intake over his lifetime, I still find it hard to believe how much you’re eating now. This meal will be venison.”

            Iain smiled broadly. “Is this Kerrik’s recipe for venison stew?”

            “It is.”

            “Can I get it?”

            Theodora laughed at the eagerness in his voice. “You can, but let’s see if you like it first. It’ll be here in ten minutes.”

            Iain stood. “Excellent. Piss break!” He ran for the stairs down into his private area.

            Theodora smiled at him as he came back to his desk. “Since it’s break time, can you indulge me in some questions?”

            He dropped into his chair and leaned it back to a comfortable position. “At moments like this I live to indulge you, Theodora.”

            “Right,” she said with an amused smile. “I want to know more about shadow walking.”

            “I gave you my memories.”

            “Yes, you did, but that was weeks ago and you’ve had time since then to do more walks and, more importantly, to think about the subject. Your ability to understand things is growing as your magic abilities grow.”

            “Meh. Dominique still knows a whole lot more than I do and with the cheating you two have been doing she’s likely to stay ahead of me for some time to come.”

            Theodora gave him an artfully innocent look of confusion. “Cheating?”

            “You do that very well.”

            She laughed. “I try. I remember how badly I did emotions when I was hours old and the embarrassment makes me keep working at perfecting them.”

            “Ah, yes, the horrible inexperience of youth,” Iain said in a mournful tone. “I bet the hundreds of seconds of it were agonizing.”

            “Those were tens of thousands of seconds, mister, and don’t you forget it. I was wondering if you’d realized that I’d found a way to share your book with Dominique.”

            “I figured it out when she suddenly stopped being pissed at me for my not being able to and then when she stopped pestering me about a way to describe what I was doing it was the final clue. I’m glad you did, I just hope it’s useful to her.”

            “If nothing else it’s giving her a new way to look at how to do things,” Theodora said. “And that is proving very useful indeed. When Kasumi marries you I’ll start cheating with her too, if you don’t mind.”

            “I don’t, but we haven’t even had our first date. You might be planning things a bit prematurely.”

            She looked down her nose at him with a superior look on her face. “Women’s intuition, Iain.”

            “Now there is a magic I may never begin to understand. What are your questions about shadow walking?”

            “You’ve said that you can shadow walk to places you’ve been. Can you go to a place you have never been to but seen in video?”

            “I haven’t tried that,” he replied. “I want to master what I know how to do before I get experimental. And when I do start attempting that, at the very least I’ll take Dominique and my guards with me along with my dead harem. That way if I screw up Dominique can still open a portal back to this dimension.”

            “Can you go from point A to point B within the same dimension, as long as you have been there before?”

            “I’ve already explained that I can do that.”

            “I know,” she said, “but I want to make sure we’re both talking about the same thing and this is a good reference point. Now let’s talk about the dimensions you cross between your starting point and your destination. You said that Eirian and the others can’t stop on their walk. What does that mean?”

            “It means that the places they move through when traveling from one point to another don’t register as potential destinations and they can’t stop at any of them. Eirian says that before I found out I could, they’d never tried and since then they’ve made a few attempts, but nothing happened. For them the path, once started, has to be completed. Skye is a bit grumpy about it, by the bye.”

            “Have you thought about why the difference exists?”

            “I’ve got a couple of different theories about what the difference could be. My dead harem uses a spell to walk the shadows. I use my truewizardry, but I use it to mimic the effect of their spell. Still, it might be that my magic is different enough to allow me to stop when I want to. The second theory is that I am alive and they are not and because of that I have more control over my walks.”

            “I am sure Dominique would be willing to learn the spell to walk the shadows.”

            Iain grinned. “Trust me, she was more than willing, she was in fact demanding to learn it. Then we found out that there’s a problem in that the spell is only usable by the dead. She’s working on a version of it for herself and when she succeeds we’ll see what happens then, but she will carry at least a few of my dead harem on her when she goes. That she’s not happy about.”

            “No, considering I’ve seen some of the arguments about that I can say that she isn’t.” Theodora noted. “However, as you keep pointing out, it’s a safety measure that she may need.”

            “And she’s taking them with her or she’s taking me with her, which means she’s taking them with her. And I made it plain to her what kind of spanking she’d get if she snuck off to try this on her own.”

            “It’s funny that she likes a sign of your love being nonsexual spankings when she screws up.”

            “I do what my ladies need so that they can know how much I care for them,” Iain said. “I don’t judge, I just accept.”

            “If you didn’t spank her for those mistakes she might make fewer of them.”

            “I don’t judge, I just accept.” He raised an eyebrow. “And you shouldn’t either.”

            “I stand rebuked,” Theodora said meekly.

            He smiled wryly. “Is it really standing when you’re not physically there?” She stuck out her tongue and he grinned. “I didn’t think so.”

            “Meanie.”

            “I most certainly am. Where’s my venison?”

            He felt the vibration that said the tunnels were aligning as she spoke. “It’s outside. So let me summarize and see if I understand this.” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “The dead use a spell to move from one place to another that they’ve already been. Even though they cross through intermediate dimensions during the trip, they cannot stop in them. Do these dimensions interact with them physically?”

            “They do. If they come out in an area of vacuum they won’t be able to speak until they’ve moved on.”

            “It is the same for you?”

            “Yes.”

            She looked down the tunnel as the vibrations stopped. “The stew is coming. You use your magic to shadow walk without a spell. You also pass through intermediate dimensions on the route but you can stop in them and you can later make them into a destination. And you can go to any place that you’ve ever been to. Do you pass through the same intermediate dimensions if you were to go to the same place twice in succession?”

            “No, or at least so far the answer is no. The universes and dimensions are always moving in relation to each other and so the shortest path isn’t likely to ever be the same twice. In fact, if I did cross the same route twice I’d be worried something had gone very badly wrong about the final destination or the walk itself.” Iain sat upright as the covered tray floated into the room and settled down next to his desk. He lifted the cover and sniffed the air. “That smells wonderful.”

            “I hope it is as good as it smells. That’s one of the things I look forward to when my puppet is ready. I want to taste things.”

            “You will.” He took the tray off of the carrier and put it on his desk, unwrapped the silverware and put the napkin in his lap before getting a spoonful of stew and sniffing it eagerly. Abruptly he frowned and looked thoughtful for a second. Then he put the spoon back in the bowl.

            Theodora moved to stand beside him. “Is something wrong?”

            “Repeat what you said about shadow walking before your last question.”

            “You use your magic to shadow walk without a spell. You also pass through intermediate dimensions on the route but you can stop in them and you can later make them into a destination. And you can go to any place that you’ve ever been to.”

            Iain slid the tray forward until it was at the very edge of the desk the farthest from his chair and slammed his forehead into the top of the desk.

            Theodora reacted immediately. “Iain! If you attempt to do that again I will call everyone I can think of and I will use gravity controls to hold you in midair until they get here!”

            He felt the red spot on his forehead. He’d managed to pressure cut it and blood was slowly welling in the wound. “It’ll heal and I earned that fairly. I am such a fucking idiot.”

            “What are you talking about?”

            “Eirian.”

            The silver Dragoness poured off of his left arm and appeared in front of him. “My lord.”

            “I’m going to go on a shadow walk and I want every member of my undead harem that can go onto my skin to go with me this time. How soon can they be ready to leave without screwing up anything they’re currently working on?”

            She cocked her head. “Geraldine has not learned how to ride you, my lord, but I can teach her quickly. We will be ready to go in half an hour.”

            “Then be back here in half an hour.”

            “Yes, my lord.” She stepped into a shadow and sank into it.

            Iain looked down at his shorts and t-shirt. “I need to change clothes.” He got up and jogged towards the stairs.

            “What about the stew?”

            He glanced back at her and the desk. “It’ll have to wait.” Then he disappeared down the stairs.

            She was waiting for him at the base of it. “What are you doing?”

            He shook his head. “I’m not going to talk about it now and jinx it. We’ll talk in detail when I get back.” The air suddenly shimmered blue in front of him and he paused, reaching out to touch the force shield. “You have my word.”

            She looked into his eyes and nodded at what she saw in them as the blue glow vanished. “Be careful, my love.”

            “That’s why the precautions. I kind of wish your puppet was ready now so I could kiss you.” He smiled at her.

            She didn’t smile back. “If my puppet was ready, mister, I’d be going with you and the only way you could stop me would be if you killed the puppet.”

            “I love you too, Theodora, and you are indeed my empress. I’m coming back. You gave me a sudden idea I need to check out but I will return. That’s why the entire undead harem is going with me.”

            “What about your living harem?”

            “No.” He stripped and put on his body armor before donning his martial arts outfit over it.

            “You need armor for this trip?”

            “Probably not but it has internal climate controls and an emergency oxygen pack even without the helmet. If I knew I needed armor for this then I’d take Ganieda and Pandora with me.”

            “Take them anyways.”

            “I already said no.”

            “Then take your pistol.”

            He glanced at her and belted it on. “Better?”

            “Not really.”

            “How about I go rave over the stew?”

            “You said later so I’ve already gotten rid of it.”

            “Well, shit.” He sighed and headed upstairs again. “Look, I’m sorry that you’re upset with me. This trip shouldn’t be any more dangerous than the last one.”

            “I’d like to point out that the Blackguards tried to kill you on your last trip.” She glared for a second. “It’s hard to stay mad at you. How long will you be gone?”

            “I’m not sure. Give me a couple of hours before you push the panic button, please.”

            “Three.”

            “I don’t have to leave here for another five hours. Give me four and a half.”

            “Fine then, two hours.”

            He blinked. “What?”

            She smiled mirthlessly at him. “Argue with me and I come down, Iain. I’ve seen you do it.”

            “Yeah, but I do that to other people. They don’t do it to me. Can I get the three hours back?”

            She seemed to consider it for a few seconds. “Very well, but don’t argue with me again.”

            “I am not going to agree to that.”

            “A girl can try.”

            “She can. She won’t win but she’s free to try. And right now she’s being very trying.” He dropped into his chair and made a face as his stomach growled. “I can still smell the stew.”

            “There’s jerky in the bottom right drawer.”

            He pulled the drawer open and grabbed a foil pack from the collection of them without bothering to read the print on it. “You get me excited about stew and then offer me jerky.”

            “You’d be eating the stew if you hadn’t pissed me off.”

            He tore open the packet. “Is the Indigo League still in one piece?”

            She cocked her head. “It is.”

            “Then you weren’t pissed.”

            “Stop trying to make me laugh.”

            He just smiled and began eating the jerky.

            Half an hour later the last of his undead harem turned into smoke and settled on his right hip. We are ready, my lord, Eirian said to him.

            “Please be careful, Iain.” Theodora hovered nearby. “I don’t like it when you do shadow walks since I can’t go with you.”

            “I know and I will be very careful.”

            She nodded. “Your three hours starts as soon as you leave.”

            “I’ll remember. I intend to be back as soon as possible. See you.” He stepped into the shadows around his desk and vanished into them.

            It was dark and bitterly cold. The stars in the cloudless sky gave Iain enough light to see by with his enhanced vision, but there was nothing to see around him but trees and a light dusting of snow. His head came around when a rifle shot echoed from his right, followed by a fusillade of similar shots and the sudden chatter of a machine gun. More rifle fire sounded from straight ahead, but the timbre was different. This doesn’t seem like a healthy place to tarry, his twee noted. Iain nodded and stepped forward.

            Light exploded in his vision and Iain blinked to adjust. He stood on a beach which extended on either side as far as he could see. The sand was a dirty gray color, like gravel but much finer and scattered across the beach on either side were large dull red cylinders that ranged from just a few meters long to three that he could see that were probably ten meters or so. The sun overhead was a brilliant blue dot that beat down on him and the air was obviously much richer in oxygen than what he was used to experiencing

            I am detecting radiation levels above safe limits. You can tolerate this for several hours before significant harm but I advise you continue on your trip.

            “That doesn’t sound good.” At his voice, the closest cylinder whipped around to display a mouth full of tiny razor teeth and began undulating in his direction. He took a step forward and the universe rotated sideways.

            The air was so humid that Iain was surprised it wasn’t raining and instantly he began sweating as the heat smacked him in the face. His body armor immediately grew cold as it tried to compensate, but without the helmet and gloves it was a losing battle and he knew it. Around him were ferns that grew several meters tall and a few trees that looked like conifers. In the distance something made a noise like a trumpet, but loudly enough that the air vibrated around him.

            There was the sound of vegetation being crushed and a head rose to tower above the ferns. It was different shades of brown and the only thing that Iain saw was the huge mouth full of knifelike teeth as it swung in his direction. He took a step as it began a lunge.

            Gentle rain bathed his face and the scent of mown grass filled his nostrils as he stopped and looked around. He stood on a manicured lawn that stretched away for a hundred meters or so to end at tall hedges of some kind of holly, as he could see red berries from where he stood.

            “I think your father will like it here.” Iain turned in a whirl at the female voice to see a woman standing with her three children, a boy hitting puberty and two younger girls. The woman and tallest girl held umbrellas and the youngest girl was under the one her mother was holding while the boy was ignoring the light rain.

            “He will,” the oldest girl said.

            “Then it’s settled.” The woman looked around. “Now where is the parking lot?” She saw Iain and headed his way, leaving the children standing in a huddle. “Excuse me, sir.”

            “May I help you,” he asked politely as he turned slightly to hide the pistol on his hip.

            She smiled, but it was a thin veneer over long term exhaustion. “I’m afraid I’ve gotten confused. Do you know where the parking lot is?”

            Iain looked around and pointed towards the hedges to his right. “It’s on the other side of that hedge, ma’am. If you steer a little to the right as you go, you’ll find a gap you can get through without any difficulty. If not, you’ll have to go all the way around it to get to your car.” He glanced at the sky where black clouds were racing towards them. “And I’d hurry. It looks like the rain is about to get a lot worse.”

            She looked up. “You’re right.” She raised her voice. “Come on, kids!” She hurried away, the three kids almost running to catch up with her. Trailing were the oldest girl and the boy, obviously having an argument about something.

            He smiled bitterly as he watched them go. “If I’d known then what I know now,” he said quietly. “I’d have still been a cynic, but for different reasons. Cemeteries are for the living and not the dead, where they can go to talk to their lost and flagellate themselves for the mistakes they feel they’ve made.” He glanced at the sky again. “Of course, Pandora did tell me that they do watch, so maybe you can talk to loved ones here and be heard.” He smiled slightly. “Honestly, though if I knew then what I know now, I’d have probably been judged crazier than my sisters said I was and locked up for someone’s good.” He looked around, fixing the place in his mind, and stepped forward.

            He stood ankle deep in water and in front of him was a beach with scraggly trees dotting the area. He stepped out of the water and sighed in relief at the still dry feeling inside his boots. A wolf howled in the distance and he stepped forward again to find himself back on the manicured lawn in almost the same place he’d first arrived.

            It had changed. It was early evening and dry. The hedges in the distance were smaller, trimmed and even and around him the ground was dotted with markers and stones, none very old. A handful of plots away from where he stood the ground had been torn open and a pile of dirt sat on a tarp next to the hole to welcome the newest resident when his or her family brought him or her to the final rest. In front of him, where the woman had once looked at the ground, were two markers. He knew they were the among oldest ones in this part of the cemetery and walked over to read the names on them. “Hi Mom. Hi Dad.”

            Then he pictured his laboratory and stepped. He stood on top of a sand dune of a dark purplish color that glittered in the dim sun. Around him he could see more dunes and, as he turned around to look, he realized that all he could see was purple sand stretching to the horizon. He looked up and gazed at the large red sun that shone down on him. Three moons of different sizes were in the sky. He took another step.

            Iain coughed as the methane stench of tropical swamp slapped him in the face. Sickly looking trees, some of which were the sizes of skyscrapers were all around him as he looked. “I really need to walk more and tourist less,” he muttered, still seeing those lunging teeth in his mind. He took another step.

            “Welcome back.”

            Iain smiled at Theodora. “Hi.” Upload the memories to her before she can demand them. “How long was I gone?”

            “A little over an hour,” she frowned. “You were attacked by an Allosaurus?”

            “Is that what it was? I didn’t stop to get a good look at it,” Iain said as he dropped into his chair. “But if you say that’s what it was I won’t argue with you. And for the record, it tried to attack me. If it had succeeded I’d be bleeding.”

            We would have protected you, my lord.

            I know you would have tried, Eirian, but an Allosaurus is something you’ve never faced. It’s a lot like a Tyrannodame in its combat form.

            You could be right, my lord. Investigation is necessary.

            You do that. But don’t go anywhere just yet. We’re not done.

            We await your command, my lord.

            “Who is the woman,” Theodora asked. “You knew her and the children.”

            He took a deep breath. “I learned something new today. If I concentrate hard enough, I can move through time when I shadow walk. I was trying to exit near the graves of my parents but my favorite mental image of the place was when I first saw it, right after the cemetery opened up the new portion of its property for development. I actually went back to that day. That was my mother, my sisters and me. Fortunately I’m a lot older and I sound like I’m from Ireland. Still, it was kind of scary. I vaguely remember my mother talking to some guy who was there just before the rain became a deluge but I don’t remember anything specific about him. I’ll refine the memories later and see if it was me.”

            “There is still a problem,” Theodora noted.

            “No, there isn’t.” He got up. “I need to talk to Dominique.”

            “Ah, that does solve the problem neatly. I’ve told her to come here immediately.”

            “I’m willing to go talk to her.”

            “You will leave this universe under my eye or not at all, Iain.” She smiled when he gave her an odd look. “Yes, that’s actually impossible for me to enforce unless I keep you sedated forever, but it does sound impressive. If you’ll stay I have fresh stew and a nice red wine on the way.”

            He hesitated. “Is Dominique on her way here or is she arguing with you about it?”

            “She has never been on a shadow walk before, Iain. I told her she had a short window to avail herself of the opportunity to have one with you and to have it alone. She will be here in a few minutes.”

            “I’d like enough of lunch for both of us.”

            “I knew you had a great mind, Iain, for you thought of the same thing I did.”

            He sat back down with a chuckle. “Fine.”

***

            Dominique sat back and wiped her mouth with a napkin. “This is excellent. You said it’s a recipe from the Wolf database?”

            Theodora nodded. “There are over a million different recipes in it, many of which would require substantial modification as the original ingredients are not available. For example, there is a recipe for usk fruit pie that has won several awards but we have no access to the world where usk trees are found so the recipe is currently useless.”

            Iain frowned. “The usk isn’t native to Kerrik’s home world either. Search for the genetic code of the usk tree. If you find it you can make some seeds.”

            “I hadn’t considered cross indexing the recipes with genetic records.” She smiled broadly. “This is going to be fun.”

            “Thank you for inviting me up here during your study time, Iain,” Dominique said. “But we need to do something involving magic or I’m going to get my ass kicked when the others realize I’m up here.”

            “How many of them can actually kick your ass anymore?”

            She smiled. “It doesn’t matter when they gang up on me and I can’t kill them.”

            “Your presence here is more than justified, my love. I believe Theodora offered you a shadow walk.”

            Dominique put her bowl and glass on the tray and sat back to watch him do the same. “When she can take me on one, she can invite me on one. She did say, however, that you would take me on one.”

            “And I shall. But I thought I’d wait so you could put up your usual panoply of detection spells beforehand.”

            Dominique held up her left hand and shook it, making an ornate bracelet covered with semiprecious stones ring musically. “I’m an Archmage and I can make things. This bracelet handles all of the standard detection spells now, freeing me up to make more observations as we travel. Where are we going?”

            “You’ll see.” He took her hand. “Ready?”

            “More than,” she replied eagerly. “Could you take us to Kasumi’s world?”

            “I could, but that’s not where we’re going on this trip.” He wrapped her in his power and she shivered. “Are you all right?”

            “It’s like you’re holding me everywhere and your presence surrounds me. It feels wonderful.” She gave him an intent look. “I want to feel this when we’re in bed together.”

            “Your wish is my command. Now I want you to step with me. I’ll call each step unless we’re in a hurry.”

            She nodded. “I’ll let you lead this once.”

            He just chuckled. “Good.” He led her over to the desk and looked at her. “Just step with me. Now, step.” She did, moving in synchrony with him.

            They stood on a large rock watching the scene a dozen or so meters away from and below them. A huge horned animal was slumped sideways on what looked like sand but only a meter or so away from it a large feline was looking around in desperation as it tried to free itself from the same sand, which had swallowed up the last third of its body and most of its front legs.

            Iain’s view zoomed. “Are you zoomed on this?”

            “I am.”

            “See the glistening around that feline’s body where it meets the sand?”

            “I do. What is it?”

            “I think that it’s tar. That animal looks a lot like some paintings I’ve seen of an American lion and the bigger one looks like a giant ice age bison. If so, this could be someplace like La Brea.”

            “What is La Brea? There isn’t a database for my twee to access.”

            “It’s a place in California where there are a bunch of natural oil seeps that turn into tar when they get to the surface. The tar traps anything that falls into it. That bison will draw predators that will get trapped and the corpses will draw insects and rodents who will in turn fall prey to the tar.” He shook his head. “If this is an Earth, either certain things never happened and the Pleistocene never ended or this is over twenty thousand years before I was born.”

            “This is incredible. Do you come here often?”

            “This is the first time, although it’s not going to be the last. Like you said, this place is awesome. But now we need to move on. Ready?” She nodded and he smiled. “Step.”

            It was bone cold and dark with the only light being from the stars overhead. There was no air and he tugged Dominique forward as her eyes went wide. Step.

            She gasped for air as they stood in the cemetery. “What the fuck was that?”

            “Someplace without an atmosphere,” Iain said. “I run across them from time to time. Vacuum is only dangerous if you linger in it. I’ve got some theories about traveling this way that might explain things.”

            “Do we step now?”

            “Sorry, this is our destination.”

            Dominique looked around. “OK, this is a graveyard. Why is it special?”

            “Remember that I shadow walk anywhere I’ve been before?”

            “That is the current theory,” she said as she kept scanning their surroundings.

            “If that’s true and I got this right then we’re standing on the world I was born on.” He pointed at the gravestones. “Those are my parents’ graves.”

            Dominique turned to stare at him. “You shadow walked to your world?”

            “No, I walked to the world I came from. My place is with you and the others now. I just want to get my notes if I can and I want to see how my sisters are doing. Since I’m rich in minerals now, if they need money I can make sure they’re taken care of.”

            She glanced at him and went back to looking at the graves. “You’re not here to check up on your old girlfriend.”

            Iain made a face. “Good God, will this ever stop? You are better than any woman from here I’ve ever known, Dominique. I fucking love you. I have never thought about even seeing her again, much less making contact with her or, God forbid, getting involved with her. I’d dumped the skank before I got kidnapped. I am beginning to regret ever mentioning her to any of you.”

            “You’ve never said her name.”

            “That’s because while I figured out too late to keep you and the others from obsessing over her, I did realize it in time to keep you from obsessing over her fucking name. As far as I would like to be concerned, she is a bad memory from Mhodvitnar’s life and she doesn’t exist for me.”

            “So why am I here?”

            “You needed the coordinates of this world so that I can travel here without leaving my family behind. I never promised to do that, but I don’t want to leave you all. I thought bringing you here would give us a bit of time alone and let you do that at the same time.”

            She eyed him speculatively. “You know, I’ve never had sex in a cemetery before.”

            “I’ll remember that for later. Get busy wench, before Theodora alerts everyone to what we’re doing.”

            “And I thought I liked her,” Dominique said with a laugh. She quickly cast a spell. When she was done, she glanced at him. “What are you going to tell your sisters?”

            “I’m still working that one out in my head. That’s one of the reasons why we’re not going to leave for here just as soon as we return to our home.” He smiled amusedly. “I am a coward about facing my sisters. It’s not my fault I was kidnapped, but they’re still going to be angry at me for disappearing.”

            “They love you,” Dominique said quietly.

            “That they do, but,” he shrugged. “I was kidnapped and they’re going to be pissed and there’s not a whole lot I can do about either.”

            “At least,” Dominique said as she slid her arm through his, “you figured out how to get here so that they can be angry at you. If you didn’t love them it wouldn’t matter and you wouldn’t have braved our anger to use shadow walking to find the way to them.”

            “True. Are you ready to head home?”

            She nodded. “Don’t you have some other places to show me?”

            “Did you have something specific in mind?”

            Her arm tightened in his. “Not just yet, but I will. Can you go places you see in other people’s memories?”

            “I haven’t tried that.”

            “That could make those places like you’d been there. If so, I have some interesting places for us to visit.”

            “What about the ass kicking you’ll get later?”

            “True. But if we go there and get the coordinates we can take them all.”

            “I think some testing is in order first.”

            She grinned. “I agree. We should make sure it’s safe before we bring the others.”

            He laughed, making an elderly woman on the other side of the plots glare at them both. “I think I’ll have to think about that one and how safe I’d be after acquiescing to your concepts of safety.”

            “Now where’s the fun in that,” she purred.

            He shook his head and wrapped her in his power again. “And we’re leaving. Step.”

***

            “You adjusted the exit of the dimensional gate to give back to Kasumi the years that she missed with her family, right?”

            “I didn’t, but Dominique did.”

            “I want you to do the same for me.”

            Iain eyed her for a moment. “You’ll have to be much more specific before I’ll say anything that sounds like agreement.”

            Ygerna pouted and sat down next to him. “You’re getting entirely too good at acting fey.”

            “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

            “Does the scale of the time adjustment matter?”

            “From what Dominique and I have determined, no it doesn’t or at least not really.”

            “Then I want to go back in time to before my people were wiped out so I can kill Eoghan and Germanicus after they leave my court and before they become liches.”

            “That’s unreasonable. That would change your timeline and the timeline of the world Shikarou and all of the people in Haven came from. And since, unlike the time Kasumi’s family spent without her that now doesn’t exist, it would significantly impact my timeline and the timeline of my family as well as yours.”

            “Pity.” Ygerna slid sideways to lean against him on the bench. “What about going back and killing some other world’s Germanicus and Eoghan?”

            “I’d say that’s still pretty unreasonable. In a given random world they might not be the villains they were here. Your analog might be the villain.”

            “Do you think that this world’s Ygerna as pretty as I am?”

            Iain shifted to look at her. “You’ve met her. As far as I am concerned there’s no contest between the two of you. Physically she looks almost exactly like you do, although she hasn’t been exercising much recently and she’s still powdering her hair with gold dust. However, what you have that attracts me to you isn’t present in her.”

            She preened slightly. “You really think so?”

            “I do. She came on to me and it didn’t really interest me.”

            “That bitch!” Ygerna pushed away to glare at him. “Explain.”

            “It was during one of my few visits after you were done negotiating with her. She didn’t try anything physical but she made it plain that if I wanted it there was a place beside her and in her life.”

            “And in her bed, I’m sure.”

            “That was heavily implied, yes. I got the distinct impression that I should be honored she’d even consider lying with me.”

            “But you weren’t interested?”

            “I was not, even a little. She is not you.”

            “Good.” Ygerna snuggled back against him. “She wanted you because I am smart and a good judge of men, which means she might be too. It’s one of the reasons I’m here. Can I have my week soon?”

            “You still haven’t told me what you want to do.”

            “Since I can’t kill my oldest enemies before they wipe out my people, I’m not sure what I want to do.”

            “Did a bunch of Sidhe vanish a few years or so before they were exterminated?”

            She frowned. “Not that I remember.”

            “There goes my idea of recruiting Sidhe from that time period and jumping them over the intervening years until right before we you left for One.”

            “I wouldn’t do that to them. They would have no concept of how the world had changed and would have an impossible time adapting to it.”

            “So do you have any idea for what you want to do for your weeks?”

            Ygerna glanced at him. “Week,” she said softly. “I said week earlier because it’s only one week now.”

            He frowned. “What happened?”

            “It’s your fault,” she said. “I know I’m sometimes an unthinkingly cold woman and I want to be better than that because of you.”

            “Who called you that?”

            She put a gentle hand over his mouth. “Let me talk.” He nodded and she traced his lips with a finger as she spoke. “I discussed what was happening with my harem. Eve and I had spoken about what was going to change and I wanted my pokegirls to have the chance to become clan if they wanted to and to stay my guards if they wanted to. If not, then I would have released them from their oaths to me and found them lodgings in Shield while they decided what they wanted to do. They all want to become Greys and they all want to be my guards still. It made me very happy to hear that from them. I wanted to reward them for that loyalty and it bothered me that I didn’t have anything to do that with. I thought about it for a while and realized I did have something that they might appreciate and I returned the weeks that they had won to them. They’re all curious about you and I thought it a good way to give them time to get to know you without having to deal with your women.” She smiled ruefully. “Apparently it was a grand gift because none of them gave it back to me.” She twisted to look back at Branna, who was ignoring the conversation to keep an eye on their surroundings. “I don’t regret doing it for they have earned that and much more if I had it to give, but it leaves me with only one week to spend with you.”

            “Alone,” Iain said. She turned to look at him and he smiled. “Alone. You’ll have years to spend with me and the rest of your new family, but you get that week alone with me and we will be together long after that week is nothing more than a fond memory.”

            Her eyes searched his for a moment before she smiled back at him. “Lucifer once told me that you seem to know the right thing to say at the right time. I see that she is right and thank you for reminding me of the truth. I am no longer alone.” She snuggled back against him. “Will I be your queen?”

            “If you want, but I don’t think it means what it once used to,” he said gently. “And I already have an empress. But you do need to pay attention to how the clan operates.” She gave him a curious look and he shrugged. “You have experience as a queen. You can make the hard decisions. You have in the past and you will again if you have to. I am the Grey right now and I don’t see that job ending anytime soon, but one day I’ll get so sick of it that I’ll quit. And then we’ll need a new Grey. It might be you.”

            She shook her head. “It should be one of your children.” She smiled to herself. “It should be one of our children.”

            He snorted. “It will be whoever is qualified to do the thankless job the best and can be convinced to take it. Trust me; the leadership at the time will take your experience into account. Not all clans do it this way. Some of them do it by descent and I’m willing to look at my children first, but if none of them would do the best job and one of my wives would, I’ll talk to her instead of them.”

            “Are we going to marry?”

            “I think it would be best if we did. I know that Sidhe don’t normally marry, but there are a lot of pokegirls involved in our situation.”

            She nodded. “And pokegirls mean rank is even more critical than it is to the Sidhe. If I do not marry you then some of the ones you have or will marry may one day decide they outrank me. I had enough of that with Faelan and Shikarou and their families.” She eyed him briefly. “And it will help Kasumi to accept me as well. I know you don’t love me yet but that you are getting closer to it. Do you love her?”

            “No.”

            “You will.” She waited a few seconds. “You’re not disagreeing with me.”

            “You don’t like it when I play stupid and you don’t like it when I belittle myself, so there’s nothing I need to say.”

            “Wisdom comes even to you,” she said with a laugh. Then she slid off of the bench and stood, facing him and looking as serious as he’d ever seen her. “I know what I want for my week with you.” She paused as if to see if he had a response before continuing. “Without negotiations and without bargaining I want us to marry and for that week to be our honeymoon. The only thing I will insist on is that it be soon.” She cocked her head when he didn’t say anything. “Is that unreasonable?”

            “I think,” he said slowly, “that some will say that it’s outrageous, but considering our relationship I cannot say what you want is unreasonable. I must, however, ask why you insist on it happening soon?”

            “Kasumi is in mourning for her dead marriage,” Ygerna replied. “But her pain will pass, and it will pass sooner than she fears, for whether she admits it or not her marriage died years ago. She says it happened because they were never together and she was caught up in the responsibilities of being headmistress, but she is wrong. She buried herself in the responsibilities of the school because at some level she knew her marriage was dead and she feared facing that reality. She will realize this eventually and will be determined not to destroy the relationship she has with you and will thus cling to you fiercely. Your women will draw back at that moment to allow her the time she needs with you, for they know that you will make that time up to them by sacrificing your own time. I will draw back with them but only if I am your wife, for if I am not I will just be one of the outer clan, orbiting around you and begging for a moment of your life when you can spare it. As your wife, I will not worry that our relationship will survive her need. I cannot promise that I will not worry about that if I am not, and in that fear I will sow discord between all.” She took his hands and pulled him to his feet. “I would not that it were, but I know myself too well to say that I would not.”

            He squeezed her hands. “That is logical reasoning and something I’ll admit I was concerned about. So we will marry, today if you have no objections. Lucifer can marry us. The honeymoon may have to wait a little bit though.”

            Ygerna gave him a startled look and then her eyes glowed with warmth. “I have no objections.”

            Iain nodded and then frowned slightly. “You know, we have discussed my feelings for you on several occasions, but you have never said anything about your feelings for me.”

            She smiled. “I have not and I will not until the day when you tell me you love me.”

            He smiled back. “It is my understanding that Sidhe don’t love easily.”

            Her smile vanished. “Iain, according to the way humans reckon time I was born before Saul became the king of Israel. The day that I tell you that I love you will be the first time I will have told anyone that since my mother died and you will be the first person I will tell that to whom I will love as a woman loves a man. There will be nothing easy in those words.”

            His humor faded and he nodded solemnly. “I hope I have not hurt you.”

            “You are marrying me as soon as we can convince Lucifer to perform the ceremony. You have not hurt me, Iain, far from it. And now you know that when I tell you that I love you, you will understand what that truly means.” She tucked his arm in hers and gave him an impish smile. “Let’s go find Lucifer and see how far Theodora has spread the word about what we’re doing before we can.”

***

            Lucifer eyed him thoughtfully before smiling. “You look normal but your eyes say that you should be completely exhausted. You probably would be except for your magic. I take it yesterday was strenuous?”

            He gave her an amused look. “You can read my face way too easily. I may have to start wearing sunglasses around you.”

            “I’ll just ask you to take them off,” she said. Then she waited.

            Finally he stuck out his tongue at her. “Yes, it was, and very pleasantly so. But if that’s all she wants to do for our week together I am going to need emergency medical personnel on standby the whole time.”

            She chuckled. “I’m sure you will survive this torment relatively unscathed.” She gave him a wink. “After all, you survived our bonding night with only minor damage. Or is she perhaps more strenuous than I was?”

            “You know, there is no good answer for that question. If I say you were the most strenuous then you’re likely to ask for details and then be smug around her and get me in trouble and if I say you weren’t then you’ll first get your feelings hurt and then kill me trying to be more strenuous than you think she could have ever been.”

            She laughed. “I’m glad you spotted the trap.”

            “Does that mean I escaped it?”

            “No, I’ll have to make sure you tell others that I’m strenuous too and that you’re telling the truth.  A woman does have her pride, you know.”

            He just shook his head and looked around as he tried to think of a good response. They were outside the walls of Fort Thistle, the military base the Sisterhood had built at the northern end of the Louisiana Canal for their cruiser and to act as a lure for the Indigo League should it try to go around the canal and attack Texas. He watched the ocean water sparkle below them in Thistle Bay for a moment. “Have you had any more orca whales?”

            “No, once they realized that there weren’t any seals at this end of the canal they haven’t come back.” Two springs ago they’d seeded the beaches on the Texas side of the Louisiana Canal with fifteen thousand Caribbean Monk seals from the DNA of some specimens retrieved in a raid from the Blue League. Once she had the DNA, Theodora had performed her technological magic on it to keep the resulting clones from being too badly inbred and started producing batches of them. Last spring about eight thousand or so had returned and had pups. Of the remainder, a significant percentage was breeding in Key West and some of the surrounding islands, including Haven. The orca that lived in the Gulf had apparently added the seals to their diet and had followed them to their primary breeding grounds. Undoubtedly sharks and aquatic pokegirls had too, and Iain hoped the sharks and orca were picking off as many of the pokegirls as they could while taking seals.

            “How are the fortifications coming along?”

            “We’re almost finished,” Lucifer said with a satisfied smile. “With the Sisterhood troops we have here now, I defy the Indigo League to reduce this fortress with anything less than nuclear weapons.” She gestured at the bay. “They can’t cut our resupply even if we don’t use your shuttles or teleportation and we command the high ground for kilometers and can outrange almost any artillery they have. Our biggest problem is the refugees that are trickling over the border from Indigo. They’re not happy I won’t let them inside the fortress and they’re not happy I won’t let them camp outside and build a town. I either send them back to Indigo or have them shipped to Port Arthur or Texarkana for processing as Texans.” She shrugged. “Yes it’s our land but I’m more worried about spies and the trouble that humans tend to bring with them as well as the problems endemic to a shanty town. All we need here is dysentery or typhoid.”

            “Those are all valid reasons. Feel free to also tell them that I own all of this and I won’t let them build here. If I did, they’d stupidly decide I’d given them the land to keep, which is never going to happen. But you may have to start sending them to Dallas instead of Texarkana, though.”

            “I know. Daniel Jennings is the Prometheus representative in Texarkana and he’s had complaints from the mayor and city council about the refugees, although the people putting the refugees up haven’t had a bad thing to say about them and I haven’t had a single report of them causing trouble in the town. Dallas is willing to take them in the numbers that we’re getting now but they’re still putting together the volunteers to temporarily house them.” She leaned against him. “And Father McKinney has come back to request, once again, that we start a mail service with Rome.”

            Iain shook his head. “We don’t do mail. We are not going to start doing mail either. He and I had this talk long before Prometheus was ever established. All he has to do is buy some pokedexes and then hire us to airdrop some of them inside the Vatican and he can talk to whoever lives there to his heart’s content with a small fee for a satellite subscription.”

            “I wasn’t aware you’d talked to him before Prometheus. I’ll tell him the same thing you did then. How did he find out about us?”

            “The Texas Catholic Church found out what I was doing from some Catholics in Austin,” Iain replied. “Father John isn’t a bad man; he just thinks that things will return to the way they were if he wishes for it hard enough. And, according to that wish, in the old days most governments provided subsidized mail to its citizens and he feels that it should be a fact now. The fact that we have no contact with the Apennine League and that they’d be shooting at us if we entered their airspace doesn’t seem to have made its way through his skull.” The Apennine League controlled the lands of Italy, Sicily, Corsica, Malta and Sardinia.

            “What do I do with him?”

            “Keep giving him the same answer. Eventually whoever is in charge of him will send someone else to find out why we’re being such terrible dickheads to McKinney and hopefully he will be a little more in tune with the realities of today.”

            “I will.” Lucifer took his hand. “Are you ready to go?”

            “Not really, but it has to be done. And I am looking forward to the technical upgrades. It’s the meatware that annoys me. Some of your girls really don’t like me. Still, I have to deal with the meatware before I can install the hardware and software so this has to happen.”

            “Indeed, it does.”

            The scene changed and they were standing on the fantail of the Iain Grey, inside a clearly marked area for incoming teleports.  The sentry, a mature looking brunette Megami, nodded to them both. “Eldest sister,” she said to Lucifer, “welcome aboard. The captain is on her way.” She smiled at Iain. “Greetings, Iain.”

            “Hi,” Iain said back at her. “I hope you’re well today.” She nodded.

            “Petty officer Violet,” Lucifer said. “I request permission to come aboard.”

            “Come aboard, Eldest Sister and Iain Grey,” Violet responded formally. The formalities over, she grinned at them both. “So, what are you here for?”

            “I have some inquiries to make unto Idun,” Lucifer replied.

            A blonde Angel wearing a dark blue jumpsuit appeared near Violet. “Lucifer!” Her smile dimmed when she saw Iain standing next to her. “Hello, Iain.”

            He’d always thought it amusing and somehow appropriate that the woman who commanded the ship named after him didn’t like him very much. He wasn’t sure why until Canaan had told him that Idun blamed him for Lucifer’s intention to spend less time with the Sisterhood and more with her family. In Idun’s mind, the Sisterhood was Lucifer’s family and that’s where the Megami-sama should be. However, being amused by it and caring about her feelings for him were two different things since she was never going to be inside his bubble. Still, he’d worked with people who didn’t like him before and could again. “Captain,” he replied.

            “Let’s go to my office,” Idun said to Lucifer. “Is he coming too?” Her tone indicated she didn’t think that was a wonderful idea at all. “He could wait in the officer’s mess while we talk.”

            “He’s the architect behind some of the improvements we’re going to be discussing, Idun,” Lucifer said coolly. “Yes, he will attend this meeting.”

            Well, Iain could work with people who didn’t like him if they were willing to work with him, he reflected. Maybe Idun wasn’t going to be one of those people. “Did you already discuss my suggestions with Idun?”

            “That’s the purpose of this meeting,” Lucifer replied. “I wanted you here to answer her questions so as to keep the number of extra meetings to a minimum.”

            “I’m not sure I should be here,” Iain said. “I am not in a bad mood yet, but Idun’s attitude is definitely starting that slow spiral to it.”

            “I do not have an attitude, Iain,” Idun said sharply. Her slight flush suggested it was sharper than she had intended it to be.

            “The fuck you don’t.” He heard Violet’s sudden intake of breath and ignored it. “Look, I don’t care if you get up every morning and the first thing you do is pull a doll of me off of a shelf and stick it full of pins before dousing it with fire to destroy it. I do, however, expect a basic level of civility from you when we have to interact and I am not sensing that in the brief time we’ve interacted today. Since if I leave this place pissed off at you I’m going to take it out on people I actually care about and since my suggestions are exactly that and only might increase the survivability of this damned ship, I don’t see a need to put up with you right now. You think I stole Lucifer from the Sisterhood.” Idun went scarlet and then white with anger. “I didn’t. I haven’t stolen her at all and the fact that she’s still running the Sisterhood and standing here today should prove that. But that’s not going to change whatever mental image you have of me and I don’t really care enough to try to.” He smiled slightly. “And since I have just pissed you off with the truth, it’s unlikely you can treat me politely and I’m out of here.”

            He turned to Lucifer. “I’m sorry if I sound like I’m being a dick about this but I’ve got kid duty when I get back and I’m not taking her bad mood out on them.”

            “I understand,” she said. “I will meet with Idun and I’ll talk to you about any changes when I return.”

            Pandora appeared in response to his mental summons and Iain took her hand. “I’ll be waiting,” he said with a smile. Then they were gone.

            Lucifer turned to Idun. “I believe we were going to your office.”

            The Angel nodded. “This way.” She led Lucifer below decks and into a cozy office. A door on the other side of the room led into her bedroom. “Please be seated,” she said as she shut the door and moved to the other side of the desk. “Would you like some refreshments?”

            Lucifer had sit down in the chair on her side of the desk and checked to make sure it was magnetically locked to the deck. “I thank you for the offer, but no. So you think Iain stole me from the Sisterhood. I didn’t realize you were in that faction. I knew there was some friction between you and him but I didn’t think it was from that source.”

            Idun reddened. “He’s guessing. I’ve never said anything like that around him.”

            “I’m certain you haven’t, but if Iain had been speculating on the matter he’d have said he was. So he’s not and you haven’t denied it because you’re afraid I’ll sense the lie.” She gestured around her. “I’d like to point out that we have this ship because of him. We are here on this world and have the chance to make a real difference because of him. We’re not kissing the ass of the Celestial Alliance and pretending the Sisterhood is a myth because of him. And so far the price for all of that has been almost nonexistent.”

            “Your freedom is the price we paid and it is not worth it,” Idun snapped. “First he stole Danielle from us and now you. Who is next?”

            “I think there’s a long list of volunteers,” Lucifer noted wryly. “At least we keep running them off so I presume they’re trying to volunteer to be his.”

            “I am not taken in by his cock and neither are many of us,” Idun said as she scowled heavily. “We should be shaping our own path, not walking where he points.”

            “And what kind of path should we be making, Idun?”

            “We have the strongest organized force on this planet. We should be claiming our own land and creating a true haven for good. From there we can spread over this world and bring order to it.”

            Lucifer frowned. “You have been with the Sisterhood for over two centuries, Idun and a member of the inner council for over a hundred years and I never realized that you had Celestial Alliance sympathies until now. There is a Celestial Alliance here. Have they approached you?”

            “What if they have,” Idun asked. “We are not enemies with them and we are not hiding from them anymore. They are Celestials just as we are.”

            “We are not their enemies but we are also not their ideological brethren,” Lucifer said. “I am not and the Sisterhood is mine.”

            “I am not denying your authority as our Eldest Sister,” Idun’s eyes were angry. “I am saying that you are too close to him to see what has happened to you. Yes, you are our commanding officer and we do as you order, which is as it should be. But you belong to him now and many of us see that your orders are what he orders.” She waved a hand to encompass the room and everything outside of it. “This base, as impressive as it is, was built merely to protect his family from Indigo. It’s obvious that he controls us when it should be the other way around.”

            A chill slid down Lucifer’s spine but she let none of her sudden concern show. “I am afraid I may not understand what you’re saying, Idun.”

            Idun’s anger faded so quickly that Lucifer wondered if it had been an act as the Angel smiled warmly at her. “His power, both personal and that of his family, is undeniable. It would be a tremendous asset to us if channeled properly. As Celestials we have a responsibility to ensure that power is used in ways that will benefit humanity and pokegirl alike instead of being wasted herding cattle and pigs or picking and choosing which humans deserve his aid and which do not. After all, his ability to see the whole picture is limited by his humanity.” She looked thoughtfully at Lucifer. “Is that why you did this, letting him closer to you in order to get a firmer hand on him?”

            Lucifer chuckled. “I have always known you were quick, Idun, but the less said about that the better since he has shown an uncanny ability to discern threats against what he considers his freedom.” She smiled slyly. “And since he left and I stayed, obviously I am not in his thrall.”

            “That is very true,” Idun replied with a chuckle of her own. “So what changes to my ship is your pet genius suggesting?”

            “He’s got some new missile designs with extended loitering endurance for the VLS launchers and some new ammunition for testing to see if it’s better suited for what we want but what I was the most interested in is a field area holographic projector large enough to encompass the entire Iain Grey.”

            “Why would I want to make my ship look like another?”

            “It’s actually to make the ship look like a patch of ocean as much as possible,” Lucifer explained. “The Indigo League inherited the US Navy on the Eastern seaboard, most of which was either destroyed during the Revenge War or scuttled by loyal American crews to prevent capture by Indigo and the Sunshine League has only coastal patrol boats. The biggest threat to our cruiser is from pokegirl attacks, both feral and aware, and the holographic projector will help to hide the ship from air and land ferals and make it harder for aware pokegirls to localize the ship’s location when they do notice it. The field also has some limited ability to confuse radar returns and will help to keep the Iain Grey from being detected by other ships.”

            “That does sound intriguing,” Idun said. “When can it be installed for testing?”

            “That was information that Iain was supposed to be able to provide along with the technical specifications on the missiles and ammunition,” Lucifer said. “Which is why I’d prefer it if you tolerated his presence in the future. He can be willful and if he were to become insistent on it, I would have to replace you as captain of the Iain Grey to placate him.”

            “If that is true,” Idun said with another scowl, “your grip on him isn’t quite firm enough.”

            “Sanctuary used force on him and it failed,” Lucifer said calmly, “in the end causing the fall of their government and the death of many of its leaders. Blue tried to use force on him and it failed. Capital tried using force on him and it almost cost them the life of Vincent McMahon. Iain has never responded well to the stick, leaving only the carrot to entice him with. My hold on Iain is secure, but he must be handled with finesse. If I try to leash him it will all be undone. Don’t confront him and he will perform well.”

            Idun looked curiously at her. “Can he be controlled?”

            “He has so far proven biddable to my will. For example, yes, in the beginning he decided who needed helped and who didn’t, but Prometheus is now mine and I make the choices about who it aids while he provides me with the supplies with which to do so.”

            “I wasn’t aware of this,” Idun admitted.

            “Announcing it with a town crier is likely to result in Iain discovering what has been happening while he had remained unaware,” Lucifer said. “But you may rest assured that I am where I am supposed to be and I am doing the work that needs doing.”

            “That is very reassuring,” Idun said. “May I inform some of our sisters who have expressed similar concerns as mine of the truth?”

            Lucifer rose. “I would prefer that you didn’t. I am only telling you this in case I have to sack you, so you will understand why. The more who know, the more likely it is unlikely to remain a secret, which it must.”

            Idun stood with her. “I understand, Eldest Sister.”

            “I’ll have Iain send you the technical specification sheets later today. I do have to ask if you can at least be civil to him when you have to deal with him. Can you?”

            Idun made a face. “For the sake of what we are doing I will try.”

            “Good.” Lucifer bobbed her head to the Angel. “Until we meet again, little sister.”

            “Until we meet again, Eldest Sister.”

            Lucifer’s teleport exited near the Barton Springs pools and she looked around to pinpoint Iain’s position before heading for him at a brisk walk. Her daughters, April’s three, Joyce’s three and Vanessa’s two were playing a game that seemed to involve one of the Duelists barking like a dog at everyone else as they tried to run away from her while shrieking in pretend fear. Her twee informed her that it was Regan, but what they were doing stayed a mystery as she joined Iain and April. They were sitting on a blanket and refreshing some piles of food. April held up a cup. “Lemonade? It’s cut with water the way you like it so it shouldn’t be too sweet.”

            “Thank you.” The lemonade was cold and refreshing and Lucifer gulped it down happily.

            “How did it go?” Iain spared a second from watching the children to glance up at her. “And sit down.”

            “I can’t stay,” Lucifer said. “There’s something I need to take care of first. Can you send Idun the technical sheets for everything?”

            “It’s already in her inbox.”

            She looked back at the children again. “What game are they playing?”

            “As far as I can tell,” April said, “they’re sheep and whoever is it has to be the sheepdog and herd them around. That’s what Myrna said, at least. To me it still looks a lot like a game of chase.”

            “It’s been ten minutes and Sherrie looks like she’s about to fall over from exhaustion,” Iain noted quietly. He whistled a quick sharp sound that rose at the end. All of the children stopped and turned to look at him. “Regan! Pie is served so herd those sheep over here!”

            The children immediately stampeded towards them, with Regan bringing up the rear and barking furiously.

            “Ok, everybody sit,” Iain ordered. “Regan.” She looked at him in surprise as he patted the blanket next to him. “Good job and my sheepdog gets to sit here.” The Duelist’s eyes lit up and she plopped down next to him as April handed out cups of lemonade. “You did such a good job herding those rascally sheep that you get extra whipped topping on your pie.” He glanced up at Lucifer. She got volunteered to be the sheepdog.

            “Thank you Daddy!”

            Olivia grinned up at her mother. “Sit with us, Mommy!”

            “I have an errand to run, little one, but I’ll be back as soon as I can.” She winked at Iain and teleported to the Sabine house even as she reached out with her twee. Eve? I need you.

            Eve appeared in front of her and smiled. “What is it?”

            “Not here.” Lucifer led her into the house and through the magical door onto the Theodora. There she took Eve’s hand and teleported to her suite before kicking off her shoes and sitting down on the couch. “Do you remember when Idun was last tasked with pretending to join the Alliance and spying on them for us?”

            Eve curled up with her. “It was about seventy years ago, if I remember correctly. Winnie would know much more about it than I would. She was coordinating the Alliance espionage program at the time.”

            “I won't talk to her because right now I’m not sure who I can trust,” Lucifer said quietly. “I just found out that Idun is a strong Alliance sympathizer and wants us to ally ourselves with the Alliance on this world.”

            Eve stilled. “She’s probably not alone in that opinion,” she said thoughtfully.

            “Yes, I am aware others think that too, but she thinks we should be using our military might as well as controlling Iain and manipulating him for our purposes to make a better world for everyone,” Lucifer replied. “Doesn’t that sound familiar?”

            Eve’s breath came out in a hiss. “It sounds like the mindset that created the author program.”

            “I thought so too. I’d occasionally wondered if while we were penetrating the Alliance they might not be converting some of our people to their beliefs, but we’d never seen anything substantial in that regard until now and the return was more than worth the risk.”

            Eve shook her head. “Even if she is Alliance in her heart, how much trouble can she cause?”

            “She commands the Iain Grey,” Lucifer pointed out, “and we gave her carte blanche to select her own command staff. If they are all of like mind, they might mutiny and take our cruiser with them over to the Alliance.” She frowned. “Theodora, what is the absolute minimum crew that would be needed to sail the Iain Grey?”

            “As you requested,” Theodora said as she appeared in the center of the room, “automation was used to reduce the crew requirement to less than three hundred officers and enlisted personnel as opposed to the original seventeen hundred required on the USS Des Moines or USS Newport News, which is the basic hull pattern used for your ship. Essentially, the Iain Grey is a new class of heavy cruiser with the same displacement as those cruisers since her weapon loadout is significantly different from that of the Newport News. To sail her from one place to another would require a minimum crew of twenty four. To fight her effectively in a short battle would require sixty and in a normal battle a minimum of two hundred would be required for damage control and to man other battle related stations.”

            Eve blinked. “Twenty four people could operate the Iain Grey?” Theodora nodded. “So it would be easy to steal it.”

            “Theoretically, yes,” Theodora replied.

            “I have a question,” Lucifer said. “Who owns the Iain Grey?”

            Theodora raised an eyebrow curiously as she spoke. “The SCV Iain Grey belongs to Lucifer of the Sisterhood of the Thorn. It was my understanding that she would transfer possession to the Sisterhood, but as of this moment that has not occurred.”

            “SCV?”

            “SCV stands for Sisterhood Combat Vessel, although since you still own the ship it technically should be GCV as you are clan, but truly it is not,” Theodora explained. “You didn’t give it any identification nomenclature and the clans identify their ship by clan and role. I am the GPV Theodora as I am Clan Grey and a processor. It’s not really necessary as many clans don’t bother, but the larger ones do and we are the largest clan on this planet. I call it the SCV in my head to distinguish it from our Iain Grey.”

            “So my ship is not a clan vessel,” Lucifer asked.

            “No, it is not.”

            “Then clan law does not apply to my vessel, does it?”

            Theodora gave her a suspicious look. “I suppose that as it’s your personal craft at this point whatever rules you want apply, even if you are clan.”

            “You built the Iain Grey, didn’t you?”

            “You know I did, Lucifer.”

            Lucifer nodded. “I am just making sure we understand the situation the same way. You’ll probably have to ask Iain for guidance before answering this next question, but how completely are you wired into the Iain Grey?”

            “You’re right, I have to ask Iain.” She hesitated for a second. “He has given me permission to discuss this. When I was manufacturing the Iain Grey, I went ahead and fully wired myself into it so that I could assist in troubleshooting and, later, damage control if you needed it. Iain didn’t request it, but he did know about it and issued guidance for me to follow clan law in monitoring it.”

            Lucifer smiled. “I’m actually glad to hear that. How far back do the sealed records go?”

            “This is a new class and essentially an experimental vessel,” Theodora stated. “As such, I have kept sealed records since the basic hull had enough power to begin recording. I wanted a complete data set available in case we wanted to refine the design and build more vessels of this class.”

            “I have a potential problem with mutineers on my ship,” Lucifer said, “and I have only a faint idea as to who might be involved so I want to change your rules, if you’re willing to help me. I want you to unseal all the data and records you have made on the Iain Grey and review them for me as well as actively watch everything going on there. I want you to remember it all as well and to continue monitoring until I direct otherwise. Know all of their secrets, my sister, and help me protect my ship and our family.” She waited for a few seconds. “How bad is it?”

            “Your recent discussion with Idun earlier today has her confused, and she immediately summoned her XO for a conference after you left. It’s still going on.” Theodora said. “Up until today’s meeting she thought you were Iain’s whore.” Eve growled loudly and Theodora shrugged. “Her words, not mine. However now she isn’t so sure and tonight she’s going to meet with someone from the Alliance for guidance on the issue. However, the meeting will not take place in the vicinity of Fort Thistle, much less on the ship. Previous discussions have taken place on the ship and you need to be very concerned about them wanting to steal your ship. There is something much more important to be worried about as it turns out your Thorns have been telling tales to them and the Alliance of this world is seeking the dimensional spell that Dominique has as well as the coordinates for Universe Four. They wish to make contact with the Alliance on Four and request that the bulk of that world's Alliance move to this world to aid them in this much younger and more easily influenced world. They believe that with this additional power they could reshape One into a true paradise for all. They are, of course, delusional.”

            “They would have to get the spell from Dominique,” Eve snickered. “And that would prove impossible.”

            “They might believe that possession of Iain would give them the leverage they need,” Theodora pointed out. “They don’t know it is doomed to failure and death.” She looked at Lucifer. “And you know we have to tell the rest of the family about the threat.”

            “I agree,” Lucifer said with a smile. “Even if I did not and I would be wrong to disagree with you, either you or Eve would tell them regardless.” She leaned back on the couch. “However, I must deal with the problem within the ranks of the Sisterhood first. Theodora, would you please ask Canaan to come here?”

            “I know what you intend,” Theodora said, “and I must remind you that Canaan is clan.”

            “And I will remind you that the status of the Sisterhood is still yet to be determined in relationship to the Grey Clan,” Lucifer replied firmly. “Which makes them outlander and outside our rules until we decide otherwise.”

            Theodora nodded. “You are correct but they are still Texans.”

            “They are mine,” Lucifer said as her eyes glowed hotly. “And while outlander if they go over to the Alliance we will have Alliance people inside our lands with a fifty year lease on Shield.” The anger faded into a wry amusement. “If you must call me a bad clanswoman while I am protecting our family, I will wear the title with pride.”

            “I had to advise you of the perils of your course,” Theodora said. “Having done so, Canaan is on her way and April has been advised that Canaan's presence is needed here and has released her without complaint from training. If you had let me manufacture the buildings in Shield, I could have been able to help you with surveillance.”

            “In hindsight, I will admit it was a mistake,” Lucifer said, “but I must accept that and live with the fact that I am not and am unlikely to ever be perfect.” She frowned. “Would Ganieda help?”

            “She undoubtedly would,” Eve said. “However there's the little problem of her loyalty to Iain and therefore to clan. If she finds treason in the minds of our sisters she might just quietly eliminate them to reduce the threat without bothering to consult with us beforehand.”

            “She's right,” Theodora said, “and if your purpose is to roll up the cabal plotting against the Sisterhood, her assistance at this stage would therefore definitely be counterproductive.” She hesitated for a second. “You may want to contact the Lucifer and Danielle of One and request aid from them. Her organization has remained secret and an Alliance takeover of One would affect her at least as much as it would affect us.”

            “I am not sure that is a good idea,” Lucifer said.

            “Lucifer, would your opinion change if I were to reassure you that neither of them has a chance of joining the inner harem?”

            Lucifer gave her a brief glare before smiling slightly. “I was hoping I would not be that transparent.”

            “You are a pokegirl,” Theodora replied, “as am I, having been shaped by my sisters. If Iain meets another AI like me, I will worry about my place with him even as I know I should not. Put aside your worry, for it is groundless. The Lucifer of One is not you and Iain has no interest in having her in his harem. Also, she has no Seraphina or Olivia with which to steal his heart.”

            Lucifer laughed. “Fine, I accept your wisdom and I will seek her aid in this.”

            “I would suggest you do more than that,” Theodora said. “She and her people would be an excellent addition to Prometheus, especially if you wish to begin giving more covert aid to some groups currently in open rebellion against various leagues. The question you have to ask yourself is would you, at the time in your life that she is currently in hers, have accepted a subordinate position in a relationship with someone as yourself in return for material aid and being tasked to provide material aid to certain other groups?”

            “I would have leapt at it and grabbed it tightly in both hands,” Lucifer said without hesitation. “At her point in my life I was despairing at not being able to do much of anything except loot pokegirl bases from the Revenge War, and the pickings were indeed slim. Please contact her for me and request a meeting where I can apologize for ignoring her potential.”

            “I am already doing so,” Theodora said. “Canaan is here.”

            “Please let her in.”

            The door opened and the Splice came in. She stopped and blinked, her antennae questing, before grinning eagerly. “Of course I'll help. When the time comes, in return I want to kill some of them.”

            “Agreed,” Lucifer said without hesitation. “If they cannot be salvaged, they must be destroyed and I will choose some of them to be yours. I only ask that you be quick with their deaths.”

            “I will consider it but we all know that if they win what will happen to us will neither be quick nor painless,” Canaan replied. “Do you have specific targets for me to scan, do you want me to survey particular areas or do you want me to wander through Shield listening to unguarded thoughts?”

            “I will make sure that Iain brings you with him as one of his guards on his next visit to the Iain Grey. I want to start my information gathering there.”

            “That will work,” Canaan said. “In the meantime, if you have particular individuals you suspect or are certain about, tonight I can go by their houses and see what they know.”

            “That is an excellent suggestion,” Lucifer said as she considered options. “I'd like you to upload everything you discover to Theodora so she can add it to what we already have. Hopefully things will quickly start linking together to form discernable patterns that we can exploit.”

            “I'm sure we will find those patterns and quickly,” Canaan replied. “But if we bring Iain he'll need briefed or Ninhursag may kill me and Dianthus will almost kill all three of us.” She smiled widely enough to show her fangs. “And then Ganieda and Pandora will finish off whatever is left.”

            “I will not involve Iain without his knowledge and permission,” Lucifer stated flatly. She smiled a little smile. “But as soon as he is briefed, we all know he will insist on being involved, so I will not have to be concerned that he will not aid me.”

            “I'd be a little concerned about what form his aid will take,” Eve noted amusedly.

            “I had considered that,” Lucifer replied. “And my decision was that I cannot predict how Iain will aid my efforts to find and purge rebellious elements from the Sisterhood and that, in the end, it is of no import. Whatever form it takes, that assistance will be effective and that is, in the end, what is the most important to me.” She slid off of the couch. “We will continue our preparations and allow Idun and the others some few days in which to relax and conclude that they are not suspected or that I am truly sympathetic to their cause before I will arrange another technical meeting and take you and Iain with me.”

            “After Iain is briefed,” Eve said. “I'll get with Ninhursag, April and Sofia and begin putting together training scenarios for our assault teams.”

            Canaan nodded. “Good. What about Ygerna?”

            “My understanding is that, at least for the time being, Ygerna and her harem will form an ad hoc team of their own. Once they're qualified to fight alongside us, then we'll reassess the situation and decide what will happen.”

            “And Kasumi?”

            “Kasumi and her women aren't ready for this kind of operation and I don't think her inclination lies in the direction of being on an assault team. I think Iain has some special plans for them but he hasn't shared them yet.”

            Canaan grinned. “Has anyone started a pool on it?”

            “We don't have enough information to even begin to guess what those plans might be,” Eve said with a twinkle in her eye. “So the answer to your question is yes. If you want in, talk to Allison.”

            “I will.”

 

Iain Grey

 

Inner Harem

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

Ganieda – Snugglebunny Splice

Heather - Elf

Dianthus Barbatus - Elfqueen

 

Outer Harem

Allison – Umbrea (Outer Harem Alpha)

Daphne - Whorizard

Lynn - Growlie

Chuck – Doggirl

Ryan – Unicorn

Winifred - Rack (German)

Rosemary - Mistoffeles (Uruguayan)

Silver - Pegaslut

Joyce – Milktit

 

Outer Clan

Melanie – Iron Chef

Siobhan – Nurse Joy (Glasgow)

 

 

Queendom / Outer Harem

12 Elves

Dionne - Elfqueen

Adrianna - Elfqueen

Heltu - Wet Queen

6 Wet Elves

 

 

Dead Harem

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

Geradine - Human

 

 

Mother            s & Children

 

Vanessa

     Myrna

     Saoirse

April

     Dorothy: Duelist

     Meara: Duelist

     Regan: Duelist

Canaan

     Hannah: Huntress

     Rebecca: Huntress

Joyce

     Lisa: Milktit

     Sherrie:  Milktit

     Harriet: Milktit

Lucifer           

     Olivia: Megami-sama

     Seraphina: Megami-sama

Zareen            

     Caltha: Nightmare

     Kim:  Nightmare

     Xanthe: Nightmare

     Epona: Nightmare

     Philippa: Nightmare

     Nott: Nightmare

     Nyx: Nightmare