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Theodora appeared in front of Iain. “Mizuho is being released.”
“That’s awesome. It doesn’t mean squat to me though until Kasumi and the others have dressed her and done whatever else they need to before a man can see her. Now please move over so I don’t shoot through you.”
She vanished and reappeared next to where he was sighting the sniper rifle downrange under April’s supervision. “That’s sweet but you can’t actually hurt me with that weapon.”
April grinned. “True, but he can’t see the target through you either.”
Theodora looked startled. “Oh. I’m sorry, Iain.”
He didn’t look up from the rifle’s scope. “Tell it to someone who actually believes you didn’t know exactly what you were doing.”
April whacked him gently on the back of the head. “Iain, that’s rude.”
“No,” Theodora said, “he’s right. I did know and I did deliberately put myself in front him. It is a part of my being human algorithms that sometimes I’m difficult.”
April shook her head. “I’m sorry for hitting you Iain.”
“Tell that to someone who actually believes you are.”
The Duelist giggled. “And who would that be on this ship?”
“Just about everyone knows you pretty well so I’m not sure.” Iain squeezed off a shot and lifted his head. “Theodora, do you have any idea how long the tearful reunion, explanation and making Mizuho presentable might take?”
“As there’s a lot of information to pass along to her and to get her to believe it might take some time,” Theodora said. “I’ll quietly monitor and let you know when I think things are starting to reach a point where you can meet your future mother in law.”
“Thanks.” He picked up the binoculars and focused on the target to see how he’d done.
Several hours later Iain was sitting with Raquel comfortably ensconced in his lap, Ryan and Silver snuggled up against his sides and Zareen curled up in front of him with her head on his legs while they watched some Japanese romance movie. The equine pokegirls had a tendency to do recreational things as a group, and were more social amongst themselves than with others in the inner and outer harems. They weren’t clannish enough to cause trouble with the others, but Iain had noticed this tendency early on and worked with it since it did sometimes make his life a little easier. Up until his interaction with the unicorns recently, however, he would not have considered their activities as any sort of herd behavior. Now, he wasn’t so sure.
Mizuho is going to bed now, Theodora informed him. I have been informed that you will be able to meet her after she and Kasumi break their fast in the morning.
He didn’t outwardly react. This is starting to get irritating. I had plans for tomorrow and I’m betting this is coming out of my study time.
It is for a good cause and it is unlikely to become a regular occurrence.
That’s the fucking truth because I won’t allow it to. He shifted Raquel to a slightly more comfortable position. How is Mizuho doing?
Medically she is in almost outstanding health for her age and lifestyle. All of the information on her psychological state has been screened behind an invocation of privacy from Kasumi. Do you wish to use your rank to have that privacy removed?
Mentally he grimaced. While it does make me curious as to what’s going on, I will not strip her of her rights even if she is an outlander.
I can assure you that she is not a danger to herself or others, Theodora told him.
I guess that’s all I really need to know. I’ll see her tomorrow then. He refocused his attention on the ladies around him and their movie.
Iain was headed for the door to the farm when Theodora appeared in front of him and fell in beside him as he walked. “Kasumi would like to talk to you.”
“She is ready for you to meet Mizuho.”
“Of course she is. She can meet me at the door to the surface if she hurries.”
“Mizuho is her mother, Iain. A bit of anxiety on her part is to be expected.”
“That’s fine, but I waited until after lunchtime. I was told it would be late morning at the latest so I rearranged my schedule to be available and nobody requested my presence. So instead I used up my afternoon study time in the morning and now I have chores.”
“I have already talked with April. She understands the situation and has released you from your obligations for work this afternoon.”
“I am aware of the fact that April thinks I don’t need to be doing chores, just training. It was my decision that having me doing some chores with everyone else helps bond us together and you, me and April all know that it works.” Iain sighed and stopped walking. “Let me guess, I’m supposed to go to Mizuho’s quarters.” Without waiting for a reply he turned around. “Is that it?”
He chuckled humorlessly. “You are not the one who should be saying please.”
Theodora flickered and was standing in front of him. “I know you’re aggravated, Iain, but please remember that when Kasumi marries you her family will become your family.”
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Thanks for being my reality check, even if I’m not sure Soun will see it that way. You’re right and I need to cut them the slack I’d cut for family.”
“Hey, April’s not here to do it for you and I’m her designated substitute. I just can’t hug you yet.”
“Speaking of hugging me, how is your puppet design coming along?”
“I’ve hit a snag or two with the design process.” She favored him with a winsome smile. “I don’t suppose you could go back in time and get me a sample of the historical Theodora’s DNA, could you?”
Iain laughed. “Find someone with memories of that time period and I’ll consider it.”
“You mean like Ygerna? Or perhaps you meant Yuko although I am not sure just how old she is.”
Iain stumbled in surprise. “OK, you got me there, but I doubt either of them was anywhere near Constantinople when Theodora was alive.”
“I have planted the seed. I will wait patiently to see what fruit it bears, but I’ll keep going with my design work in the meantime.”
“That’s probably a good idea. Let Kasumi know when I’m close to Mizuho’s quarters.”
Kasumi opened the door when he was a few meters from it. She looked him up and down, noting his rather casual attire and beat up work boots. “Aren’t you a little scruffy to be meeting my mother?”
Iain got a firm grip on his temper and spoke calmly. “With all due respect, Kasumi, to both you and Mizuho, I was not aware that things would settle out at this particular moment and I was headed for the farm on the surface where there is a shovel waiting for me with high expectations of what we would be doing together. I was dressed for our date.”
Kasumi looked surprised. “There is?”
“We haven’t flooded the fields or irrigation channels yet and Ninhursag wants to take the opportunity to clean out and deepen the irrigation channels for them while they’re still dry. That’s going to require a lot of digging.”
“I see,” she said. “I hadn’t realized that you were helping with that.” She gave a small shake of her head. “I should have. You are not Shikarou and you do more than order other people to work.”
“To his credit, he does help sometimes if he finds whatever is being done interesting,” Iain pointed out.
“Do you find ditch digging interesting?”
“No, I don’t. I have spent more than enough time in a series of intimate relationships with hand operated digging implements to find their use in any way fascinating.”
“Then you are still doing more than he would be doing now.” She smiled. “Come inside and meet my mother.”
“Should I change clothes first?”
“No, she must learn to accept you as you are, as I have and I find to be far better than some act that you might put on for me or her.” She stepped out of the doorway. “Please come meet my mother.”
Iain stepped into the room and stopped when he realized that Mizuho was prostrate on the floor. “Hello.”
“You have saved my life,” she said without moving. “I cannot repay that debt.”
“I didn’t do it to put you in my debt. Now please sit up.”
She did so and her eyes widened when she saw him. “You,” she breathed.
Iain glanced at Kasumi but she looked as puzzled as he felt. “Me?”
Mizuho smiled at him. “I knew I was dying and I expected no kami to think I was worthy of saving, but if I had dared to think I might be I would not have been surprised to find it was you who would come for me. Is that why you were looking for Yuko? Did you also save her life?”
Kasumi stepped past him and knelt beside Mizuho. “Mother, have you met Iain before?”
Mizuho nodded. “I have, Kasumi. When I found Yuko dying, I could do nothing and she insisted that she be allowed to die alone. When I was leaving the property, I met him. He told me that he was a kami and that he was there to take Yuko away. I led him to her and then he told me to go back to my husband and not return for at least a day. I disobeyed him and came back an hour later and Yuko was gone.” She looked back at Iain. “Is she here?”
Iain didn’t hesitate. “She’s resting. The poisoning she received was a much more concentrated dose than you received. When she’s awake and can see you, Kasumi will bring her to you.”
Mizuho’s eyebrows drew together. “We were poisoned?”
Iain nodded. “It was Happosai. He tried to murder Yuko because he wanted you to get the land as he thought that you and Soun could be controlled. When he realized that you were too difficult for him to control he decided to murder you as well. When you return to your family, he’s already dead.”
“Did you kill him?”
“No, a kami by the name of Shikarou did.”
Mizuho nodded. “My daughter tells me that she was once married to that kami.”
“She was.” He stepped to within a meter of Mizuho. “Now, can I ask you to do something for me?”
“You may ask me for anything. My life is yours.”
“I want you to remember the first time we met, when I came for Yuko. What I’m going to do is touch you on the forehead and copy that memory. I have a question about that day and your perspective should help me to answer it if you will help me with this.”
“I would be honored to help you in any way that I can.” She closed her eyes and her forehead furrowed as she thought. “I am remembering the day.”
Iain touched her on the forehead and pulled the golden globe that represented the copy of her memory from it and quickly pressed it into his forehead before she opened her eyes. “I’m finished and thank you.”
“My life is yours until I die, kami.” She eyed him shrewdly. “Did you rescue me because you desire Kasumi? I know that she is a kami too.” Kasumi looked startled.
Iain smiled at Kasumi. “Are you definitely sure I can’t tell her she’s like you and smart and pretty, because she’s being very smart right now?”
Kasumi shot him a look. “Mother, how did you know that I am a kami now?”
“My mother taught me how to identify the spirit folk,” Mizuho said quietly. “She knew that we might one day draw the attention of the spirit folk because we share their blood and that they might disguise themselves before seeking us out. Soun is not a kami and you were not one as a child. How is it that you are one now?”
“Shikarou decided that I should be a kami as I was his wife and shared his blood with me,” Kasumi said. “He knew nothing about my heritage.”
Mizuho nodded and looked at Iain. “You are kami and your blood calls to mine. You are tatsu but you do not look Japanese.”
“No, I’m actually Western and I’m doragon,” Iain said. He smiled. “At least that way I know I’m not related to Kasumi.”
Mizuho frowned. “How is that my daughter is involved with a Western dragon?”
“We became friends several years ago after we met through a mutual friend,” Iain said. “Kasumi was living in the west at the time. It was only afterwards that she found out I was doragon and, to be honest, it was a bit of a shock.”
“And after she divorced Shikarou she sought refuge with you,” Mizuho said. “What are your intentions towards my daughter?”
Iain glanced at Kasumi. “I intend marriage and children if I can get you and Soun to give me your permission to marry her. I have already proposed and she has accepted, with the caveat that she gets the approval of her parents. Soun is kind of happy about Shikarou being the family kami and isn’t aware that Kasumi has divorced him yet or that she is kami so his approval still isn’t definite.”
“Why has he not been told?”
“We wanted to rescue you and Yuko first. While unavailable for Shikarou’s marriage to her, Kasumi hoped you’d be present for our wedding. If we’d waited until after talking to her father, once he finally accepted that she was divorced and that I still want her he might insist that the wedding take place immediately so Kasumi doesn’t move back home.”
“Does Soun know that I am alive,” Mizuho asked curiously.
“No. He thinks he’s a widower from your death. While I took Yuko away, removing you would have raised too many questions so I left a body that looked like you for them to mourn over. While it’ll cause its own problems when you return, it was much easier than the search that would have erupted if you’d simply vanished.”
“But his new wife will not like my presence,” Mizuho almost whispered.
“He never remarried, Mother,” Kasumi said. “He never tried to meet another woman.”
“I told him to remarry,” Mizuho said sharply. “You, Nabiki and Akane need a mother and Soun needs a wife.”
“That may have been my fault in part,” Kasumi said. “Although I didn’t know what you’d told him, I took over your duties in the house and I did them until I married Shikarou and left with him. Akane took them over after that and continues them to this day.”
“In the end it is fortunate that he didn’t remarry because it means that you can go back to your position of the Tendo’s mother,” Iain said.
“Kasumi told me how many years I missed because of my illness,” Mizuho said sharply. “It is only fortunate for me that my husband never remarried. It is not fortunate for my family and he should have thought of them before all others. If he had remarried to ensure my daughters had a true family I would have accepted this with all of the honor and dignity of the samurai and kami bloodlines I carry.”
“It may have also been due to the fact that Happosai didn’t die until after Kasumi married Shikarou,” Iain pointed out. “Considering the ill luck that Happosai had trying to control you, he wouldn’t have wanted Soun to find another wife unless she was as least as pliable as Soun is.”
Mizuho glared at Iain for a second. “Is that idea that my husband is pliable supposed to reassure me?”
“Soun and Genma did manage to seal Happosai in a cave for most of the time you were missing,” Iain said. “So he could stand against Happosai sometimes.”
“Does my husband know that Happosai poisoned me and Yuko,” Mizuho asked.
Iain recognized the edge in her tone and chuckled, mainly because for a change it wasn’t directly aimed at him. “He does not. If he had, I am sure he would have tried to do something permanent to Happosai.”
“Then how did you know about who poisoned us?”
“I have the unusual power of being able to know things that most people would say I shouldn’t be able to know. If I’m interested in something or someone I can learn about them without ever having to be around them. I have been interested in your family in the past and did some extensive research while my interest was at its peak. Because of this I knew about your bloodline, Soun’s bloodline and Happosai’s involvement in yours and Yuko’s deaths.” He paused. “Are you aware of the arrangement between your husband and Genma Saotome?”
“I am. It is the only way to continue the legacy of the school as we have no sons. In my absence, I am sure that Nodoka would have ensured that things turned out well.” She looked at Kasumi. “You are here. Who is the wife of Ranma?”
“He is engaged to Akane, Mother. After I took your place in the household I was unable to continue in my training and she became the logical choice for the heir to our school as Nabiki was not interested in martial arts.”
“Nabiki is a Tendo. She should follow the family’s legacy too.”
Iain edged towards the door. “I think I should take my leave so you two can discuss this without me distracting you. Besides, I’ve got an errand to run. I hope to see you at dinner tonight, Mizuho.”
Mizuho bowed. “I hope to learn more about you, great kami.”
Iain smiled at her. “Just call me Iain. I hope that I’ll be your son in law someday in the near future and titles aren’t necessary inside family.”
Mizuho’s smile lit up the room. “Indeed, Iain. I look forward to seeing you again.”
Iain nodded to Kasumi. “I’ll be off then.” And the mission will be to go rescue Yuko and keep her from dying.
Be careful. Kasumi reached for the tea as he left the room, the door shutting behind him as she began to explain the reasons why Nabiki hadn’t studied the Tendo style of martial arts.
Theodora appeared in front of him. “Are you leaving immediately?”
“I am as soon as I can get back to my quarters and change into the black keikogi Kasumi gave me. I was wearing it when I met Mizuho in her past.”
“Is it confusing when someone else’s past influences your future?”
“Not really. People do it to each other every time they interact, it just usually doesn’t involve shadow walking through time and it’s usually not so obvious.” He frowned. “Tell Canaan to meet me at my room.”
Theodora looked pleased. “You’re not going alone?”
“Canaan can hide from Mizuho and Yuko could kill me by accident if she goes into convulsions while I’m handling her or sees what I’m doing as some kind of attack and defends herself. One of the reasons I use to keep people from locking me in a padded safe room is that I do try to mitigate the dangers that I can see coming.”
“Ninhursag wants me to inform you that Canaan and Ganieda are going with you. Ganieda has already defeated one Yuko in battle and therefore can help to keep you safe.”
“Fine, just tell them to hurry. I want to get her into medical ASAP and the clock is ticking.” He grimaced. “Now I have to figure out how to explain what’s happening to my Yuko so she doesn’t get blindsided by the appearance of another one. Ask her to come to my quarters please so I can explain.”
“Is it safe for you to be alone with her?”
Iain cursed in Hebrew. “No, it isn’t, not with Kasumi being possessive and Yuko possibly being horny. Shit.”
“This Yuko is not clan and will not be returning with us to our home. As she is not a Grey, you can have Ninhursag explain about her arrival to Yuko Grey, keeping you out of the loop.”
“That works. Please brief Ninhursag and April about the change in plans and why. When Canaan and Ganieda arrive, let them into my quarters.”
“Consider it done.”
A few minutes later Iain came out of his bedroom after changing to see Canaan and Ganieda lounging in a couple of his oversized chairs from his office. “Ladies.”
“I want the full experience of this trip,” Canaan said. “I don’t want to take this trip in my pokeball.”
Iain snorted. “Having you in your balls kind of defeats the idea that you’d be available to protect me at an instant’s precognition, doesn’t it?”
Canaan grinned. “I like the way you put that. An instant’s precognition sounds really cool. What’s the plan?”
“The restraints, medical collar and other equipment you asked for are on the bed,” Theodora said as she motioned towards a travel pack lying on his pillows.
Iain took the pack, checked the contents and slipped it on his back. “When I met Mizuho today she let me know that we’ve met before in her timeline, when I rescued her Yuko from death.”
“So now you’ve got to go get her to make sure the timelines match up properly,” Ganieda said as she slid to her feet. “You don’t normally take guards.”
“One of you is an ambulance,” Iain explained.
Canaan nodded. “Yuko is far stronger than you are, making restraining her possibly problematic.”
“Fuck problematic,” Iain said. “Poor little Iain trying to restrain her could find the attempt to be lethally dangerous and that would be an abysmally stupid way to die when there’s an easy way to keep it from happening. One of you is going to do it.” He glanced at Ganieda and smiled slightly. “Does anyone have to use the bathroom or anything like that before we go?”
The Snugglebunny Splice gave him a lazy grin. “I already went so there.”
“I did too,” Canaan said.
“Very well, ladies, each of you please take one of my hands.” He looked at the two women in turn. “When we get there I want you to make yourselves scarce until I call for you. Mizuho remembered me being at Yuko’s deathbed but she didn’t remember anyone else being there so you two will have to remain hidden until she’s gone. I won’t even go near Yuko until you’re ready to contain her if there’s trouble.”
“I’ll use my camouflage ability to stay close to Iain,” Ganieda said.
“You will not,” Iain replied as he took her hand. “Mizuho can spot kami on sight. There’s no telling what other little preternatural gifts she has and you’ll get out of her sight but be close enough to come to my aid if I need it. That’s what I meant by make yourself scarce and I expect you do that. If you can’t, you can stay here.”
“In her memory,” Canaan asked as she took his other hand, “did you need our help?”
“No. However, her memories don’t cover what happened after she left except when she returned, Yuko was gone and there were no obvious large pools of blood or piles of body parts from some idiot named Iain.”
“Is it possible for you to change the past?”
Iain nodded grimly. “It’s easy enough to do. This is a cusp for Shikarou as well as one for me. If I shoot Mizuho when I see her then things are going to go very badly as Kasumi, Akane and Nabiki would never have been born. Shikarou wouldn’t have married Kasumi. The Tendo dojo wouldn’t exist where it does and Happosai might still be alive since Soun would never have gotten the money he murdered everyone for. The time stream would have deviated significantly for us since Kasumi was instrumental in the creation of the Wolf Academy in both worlds, which means that Eve’s life experiences would have been different and so she might not have been sent to investigate me by Lucifer because she wouldn’t have had the necessary skillset to be able to understand what I was doing, which then changes my time line from that point on. For all I know, Eve entering my life is what set in motion events that made sure I didn’t end up like Geraldine.”
“Eve has never understood what you are doing,” Canaan said cheerfully. “She just thinks she does.”
“She’s still a mostly good influence on me.” He frowned. “But Kasumi isn’t the Kasumi who moved to and subsequently left the world we came from to go to a different Earth than our current home, so then for us nothing might have changed until now when we suddenly possibly discover that Haven is Cuba and part of the Tropic League and Nippon is part of Shanghai, a place where we are not welcome. Of course it would probably mean that Kerrik wouldn’t be around to teach me or help out with our outer space truewizard issues.”
Ganieda was regarding Iain with something that looked like awe in her eyes. “You just thought that all out, didn’t you?” Her ears flicked. “Of course you did. I’m a genius and I would have had to think about all of the permutations for at least a little longer than you do.”
“Does that mean I impressed you for today?”
“It does. I love the feeling of your mind when you think about things like that.”
“You really should let me save these up for days where I don’t impress you.”
“No. You need to just stay impressive.”
“Gee, no stress,” Iain muttered. “And here we go.” He wrapped the two women in his power. “Now you need to step with me when I do. I know pretty much where we’re going and we’re staying in the same universe so there shouldn’t be too many intermediate steps in this walk.” He waited to see if there was any commentary before finding the shadow he intended to use. “Then step,” he paused, “now.”
It was night and the stars glittered down on them from a cloudy sky. They stood on a concrete field that stretched away into the night. In front of them was a huge machine of some kind that looked vaguely like some kind of self-propelled artillery system except that it didn’t have wheels or tracks. More of the same machines were parked a few meters from the next in neat lines that extended on all sides.
Iain stared. “Wow,” he muttered.
Ganieda looked at him. “You recognize them. What are they?”
“That is a VHT-1 Veritech hover tank used by the Army of the Southern Cross and the Robotech Expeditionary Force. It’s a manned vehicle that turns into a bipedal combat system and is used to fight aliens trying to invade the Earth.”
Canaan eyed him. “I know what you’re thinking. It’s too big to fit in your pocket.”
He sighed. “I know. But having one would be cool. This world is now officially marked for several return visits to steal their technology. The only scary bit is there’s a unique plant here that we couldn’t get anywhere else but it comes with some pretty serious danger to having it.”
“Ninhursag will still want it.”
“Yeah, I know but I have to explain about the cockroaches that come with it before we even go near where it grows.”
“The plant is called the Flower of Life and the cockroaches that may or may not exist in our universe are called Invid and then there are more insects called the Robotech Masters. I’ll explain later and we need to go before a roving security sweep finds us.” He focused his will again. “Now step.”
They were standing not far from where there would one day be a bench in the garden across the street from the property that would eventually become the Tendo dojo. It was different from any view they’d seen so far in that the castle like house was gone but the dojo hadn’t been built yet. The only thing that remained that Iain could identify was the low wall running along the front of the property, but even that was different as it was whole while the one he’d seen on his land was mounds of rubble when he’d first taken Kasumi to find the Yuko of Pokegirl One, even if it had been since replaced.
Iain let the women’s hands go. “Scarce, ladies, but keep your eyes and other senses on me.” They flew away as he walked quickly towards the gate in the wall. He reached it just as a younger Mizuho than the one he’d just spoken to reached it from the other side. He swung it open and stepped aside so she could pass before she realized he was there. She looked unhappy, but Iain knew what the conversation she’d just had with Yuko had been and having someone you loved as a relative order you away from their death was infuriating to the woman staring at him.
“You are trespassing,” she said sternly in Japanese.
“I have business here, Mizuho,” Iain replied. “Take a good look at me the way your mother taught you.”
She looked surprised and then her eyes went wide. She stepped back away from the gate and bowed. “Kami, I am sorry. I would welcome you to this place but it is not mine and therefore I cannot.”
“No harm has been done, Mizuho, and we were fated to meet this day. I am here for Yuko. It is time for her torment to end.”
She swallowed hard. “Must you, kami?” She flushed and looked away. “Forgive me for my temerity in questioning you.”
“Trying to protect a loved one is very much like you, Mizuho, and there is nothing in such a noble action that requires forgiveness. However, Yuko is in tremendous pain and it is far worse than she has let you see. She will die unless something significant changes. I am here to end that pain.”
“She said she was dying.” Mizuho was looking at him again, but wouldn’t meet his eyes. Instead her gaze flicked from place to place on his chest. “Her sickness was so sudden. I hoped that she would recover.”
Iain shook his head. “Not from this she will not, without help that she is unlikely to ask for.” He smiled. “You will see her again one day and when that day comes she will not be in pain anymore. Remember that and let it bring you strength in the years to come.”
“I thank you, kami, but in my heart I am not pleased for she is the last of my family that lives. Without her I will be alone.”
“You will have children, Mizuho, as have humans for countless millennia and thus shall your family continue.” He gave her a stern look as she started to speak and she subsided. “Go home, Mizuho, to your new husband and do not return here for at least a day.”
“I want to be here for her,” she protested. “She needs my help.”
“And you have given her all of the aid that you can. However, now she refuses your presence and you are too good a woman to deny her this wish. Now go and do not look back.”
She passed through the gate and looked into his eyes briefly. “What is your name, kami?”
“It is not for you to know at this time, Mizuho. You will learn it the next time we meet.”
“I will see you again?” She smiled eagerly. “And when will I see you again, kami?”
“Go home, Mizuho Tendo. When you return here, Yuko will be gone.”
She nodded and headed down the street. Iain smacked himself in the forehead. “Mizuho!” She turned and looked at him with a quizzical expression. “Come here, please.”
She approached him cautiously. “Kami, I am doing as you have ordered. Is something wrong?”
He sighed. “It’s a good thing you don’t think kami are perfect. I don’t know where Yuko is hiding and you do. Would you please lead me to her before you go home so I don’t have to waste time searching this place for her?”
She smiled an amused smile he’d seen on Kasumi’s face before. “I would be honored to, kami.”
“You can stop smirking at any time.”
Her smile widened. “Yes, kami.” She swept past him. “Come this way, kami.” She led him to a pile of rocks that looked natural but, to his eye, wasn’t. She pointed at a small opening in the pile. “Inside there it widens out into a cave where Yuko has made her home. She is inside.”
Iain’s perception verified what she’d said to him. Looking inside, he could see that Yuko was safely on the other side of the chamber from the entrance. She was lying on a straw pallet and her clothing was dark with sweat as her body fought fruitlessly to keep her alive. “I thank you for this, Mizuho.”
“Are you grateful enough to tell me your name?”
“Like Yuko, I am a dragon,” Iain said quietly. “Unlike her, my blood is pure, although the fact that hers is not is no stain on her or her honor.” Mizuho’s eyes went wide. “The knowledge of my name would cause complications that you, a woman who carries the blood of a dragon in her veins, do not need. You will learn my name when next we meet again. That I promise you.”
She inclined her head gracefully. “I will hold you to that promise.”
“I expect you will. Now I must ask that you leave.”
“I can return tomorrow?”
“Yes.” He watched her go and followed to watch from the gateway until she was out of sight. “Canaan.”
Both pokegirls had been hovering in the garden across the street and shot over to land in front of him. “Canaan, there’s a cavern inside this pile of stone. Yuko is on the other side of the chamber and looks unconscious, but I wouldn’t trust her.”
Canaan’s eyes unfocused for a moment. “I can see her with my perception,” she said, her voice heavy with satisfaction. “Do you think she’s resistant to pokegirl abilities?”
“Siobhan’s healing worked on our Yuko without any problems as did my dark blade,” Ganieda noted.
“Then I should be able to put her to sleep as soon as I can see her. If that doesn’t work, I don’t think she’s in any condition to put up too much of a fight.”
Iain shrugged. “In her weakened state I’m concerned that any struggle might kill her.” He slipped off the pack. “However, I came prepared for that too. I’ve got a medical unit in here that will do everything except surgery on her if needed.” He handed the restraints to Canaan. “Now go get her.”
Ganieda put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m in her mind, Iain. You need to go talk to her first. She will listen to a dragon kami and she will fight Canaan with everything she has because she won’t recognize her.”
Canaan frowned. “She’s right.”
“I am not going in there alone.”
“You go first. Canaan can go right behind you. She isn’t unconscious and she already knows we’re here.”
Iain nodded. “Canaan, stay close.” He dropped to all fours and crawled through the hole. “Yuko,” he said as soon as he was inside, “I am Iain and I am a dragon. I am here to help you.”
The chamber was lit with a candle that put out a meager amount of light but with his enhanced vision he could clearly see her eyes watching him cautiously. He sat back on his haunches and bobbed his head in a nod. “I have someone else with me and another person is outside standing guard.”
“The locals probably hate you and if they found out you were ill they’d send someone to make sure you didn’t recover.”
Her shark teeth gleamed in her grin. “True. However, all they have to do is merely wait for time to do what they have never been able to.”
“I am not here to let you die. I cannot save your life here but I can take you somewhere else and there we can save your life.”
“Why do you care if I live or die? I do not know you.”
“Do you know that some can walk through time?”
She nodded. “It is a rare curse indeed but I have seen one who had it. She is dead now, murdered by those who feared that power.”
“I have that power too. I am from several years in the future and there I court the daughter of Mizuho. You are not sick, you have been poisoned and as one of the things I must do for her and Mizuho, I must save your life.”
She coughed wetly. “No poison will harm me.”
“You have been poisoned with what you know as the Lotus of Death.”
Her eyes went wide. “That plant no longer exists.”
“It grows in the mountains of Sadogashima. The person who poisoned you is widely traveled and wants you dead for he covets something that you have and would take it for his own.”
“He wants my sword?”
“No, he knows nothing about your sword or he would. He wants this land and he knows it will pass to Mizuho upon your death.”
“Soun? He seems too weak to challenge me even with poison.”
“No, it is his master, Happosai.”
Yuko hissed. “That vile little man could only defeat me with poison. Save my life and I will kill him.”
“I cannot save your life here and you will not be returned to this time. You will be saved in the future for I will take you there. At that point, Happosai is already dead, slain for others that he tried to murder.”
Her head twisted away from him. “Then leave me to die.”
“And let Happosai win? Is that truly what you want? To go into the afterlife sent by that pint sized pervert? Your revenge is to live, Yuko. Live and then we will see about breaking the curse you bear.”
Her head came back around to stare at him. “Do you know everything about me?”
“I do not. I know much of what I know because I am from a different world and there I know another Yuko, who has told me of the curse of barrenness that she was given by Amaterasu. Although she is older than you are, I presumed that you carried the same curse. I intend to somehow break her curse. I see no reason not to break yours as well.”
“If you have someone identical to me, then you do not need me.”
“The two of you have lived different lives, Yuko. For her, Shizuko died before she could have children,” Iain said quietly. “So when she met Kasumi she was quick to adopt her as her granddaughter. But Kasumi is greedy and would like to have two grandmothers if she can, so I am here to bring you to her and save your life in the doing. In your future and in my past Mizuho was also poisoned by Happosai and I rescued her. She is recovering from the same poison and wished me to rescue you as well.”
“Is Kasumi this child of Mizuho’s that you court?”
“She is Mizuho’s eldest. There are three daughters whom you have never met and will not if you die here.”
Yuko looked into his eyes for what seemed like an eternity. “Who is that with you?”
“The woman behind me is Canaan. The woman outside is Ganieda.”
“Are they your women?”
“We are,” Canaan said from behind him. She smacked him on the ankle and he slid sideways a little.
“Am I to be one of your women?”
“No.” Canaan slipped past Iain. “Kasumi is not willing to share Iain with any other spirit folk. Iain has agreed to follow her desires in this.”
“And you would take me to her and Mizuho where they are now?”
Iain nodded. “I will or, rather, Canaan will carry you while I move us through time.”
Yuko looked at him and then Canaan. “Is what he says the truth?”
“It is.” Canaan gave her an entreating look. “Please let us help you to live.”
Yuko dropped her head back onto the pallet and rolled onto her back. “I do not wish to die. If you can prevent that, then do so. I want only to take my sword with me.”
“And done,” Iain said. “Canaan.”
The ceiling of the chamber was too low for Canaan to stand and so she crawled over to Yuko and gathered her up in her upper set of arms as Yuko clutched her sword tightly. The Huntress reached behind her with a lower hand so Iain could take it and as soon as he did they were outside.
“It’s about time,” Ganieda said quietly. “There’s a pair of spirit folk looking for Yuko on the far side of the property. They think there’s something wrong with her and are hoping to make sure it’s fatal.”
Ian held out his arms. “Give me Yuko and then you two kill them. I want them to vanish. I certainly don’t want them hurting Mizuho when she comes back early.”
Canaan grinned toothily as she carefully transferred Yuko to his care. “You give us the nicest presents. I haven’t killed an aware sentient in quite some time. It’s been nothing for me but ferals for so long.”
“No playing with your food,” Iain said firmly. “We don’t have the time for it. Mizuho will be back in forty-five minutes.”
Ganieda snickered softly “You may not call either of them sentient after you’ve been in their minds. They are not the brightest creatures I have ever had the displeasure of examining the thoughts of.” Her tail dropped into view and slipped back under her dress. “Still, a kill is a kill and I am grateful to add another to my score.”
“Less gloating and more killing,” Iain said. “If we get into trouble I’ll scream.”
Canaan gave him an amused look as she lifted off to hover. “You only scream in pain and pleasure, Iain. Instead of waiting that long for them to hurt you, just call mentally.” She and Ganieda shot into the air and were gone.
Iain put his back against the rock pile and suddenly he and Yuko were encased in a golden glow that quickly vanished. Yuko rolled her head to look at him. “What was that?”
“I’ve put us inside a magical force field in case there are more spirit folk out there looking to kill you. Ganieda is good, but she and Canaan might have missed someone.”
“Will this force field protect us from hostile magic?”
“If someone with the power of a god attacks us, it will not. If anyone weaker than that does, we’ll be safe.”
“All kami are gods.”
“Kami are often worshipped as gods,” Iain said. “That does not actually make them godlike. If one of Amaterasu’s bodyguards attacks us things might get dicey. If Amaterasu tries to kill you then that force field wouldn’t slow her down but then she’d have to catch us first and I can be surprisingly fast at running away from certain death.”
Yuko laughed quietly, which quickly turned into a racking cough. Her body tightened and she gasped in pain as she fought to breathe.
Iain looked down at her. “I can put you to sleep and stop your pain. May I?”
She looked into his eyes and nodded as she managed to catch her breath. “I have trusted you enough to let you touch me. I could not stop you if you wished me dead and you are protecting me from enemies that are not yours. If you can stop my pain, then do so.”
Iain put her into the same healing coma he’d used on the unicorn stallion and she went limp in his arms. He carefully lowered her to the ground and put the medical collar around her neck. It activated and her breathing began to immediately ease although it rasped enough to concern him. According to the collar unit, his twee told him as he picked Yuko back up, she is actually better off than Mizuho was. It is likely due to her inhuman durability. Unfortunately, even the first aid kit you have will not be able to help her breathing as it doesn’t include an oxygen pack. Iain’s perception showed there was fluid in her lungs, as he’d suspected, but it didn’t look like she was going to drown from it soon.
Ganieda appeared, followed a few seconds later by Canaan. The Snugglebunny Splice had blood on both of her hands to the elbows and was busy licking the blood off with her broad, smooth tongue. Canaan just looked very satisfied with herself.
Iain shook his head as he dropped the force field. “I didn’t hear any screaming from your opponents. Nicely done.”
“They were victims, not opponents,” Canaan said as she gently took Yuko from him. “We grabbed them and then went out to the island we were using as a base. They screamed a lot there.”
“At least they did for a short period of time,” Ganieda almost purred as she continued licking. “Then we dropped them in the ocean and returned for you.”
“You know, one of the places I’ve shadow walked through had dinosaurs living there and I almost got jumped by an Allosaurus while another had cave lions. If that blood draws a predator that gets me I am going to be pissed and in retaliation I won’t bother to impress you for a while. In fact, I’ll be mediocre for you.”
Ganieda stopped in mid lick to stare at him as her ears went flat. “You would too,” she said unhappily.
“Damn straight he would,” Canaan said gleefully. “And, of course, after April and Eve got through with you then you’d have to decide which of your three assholes you wanted to use to shit out of each time you had to.”
Ganieda knelt and quickly scraped out a hole in the dirt. She held a hand over it and water poured from her palm into the hole until it was full. Then she used the water to wash off her arms and hands until they were clean. “Satisfied,” she asked as she stood, shaking her arms to knock as much of the moisture from her fur as she could.
“There’s blood on your dress,” Canaan pointed out.
Ganieda looked down at her dress and the drying spots of blood that covered the lower half of the front of it. “Shit. I didn’t realize I’d been that enthusiastic. I’m sorry, Iain.” She looked back up him. “I don’t have any other clothes and I’d rather not be naked.”
“Stay alert and we’ll move quickly,” Iain said. “Take my hands.” They did so and he wrapped his power around them. “Now step.”
The world rotated around them and they stepped into a thunderstorm. Instantly they were drenched while wind whipped around them hard enough to stagger them all and lightning flared overhead almost constantly but the howling of the wind was so loud that the thunder couldn’t be heard. Iain used his bond with both women to communicate because yelling was less than useless in this storm. Step.
They were standing outside medical and the air was cool enough that Iain shivered as he let the women’s hands go. “Theodora, show us where to go.”
“Go this way.” A blue dot appeared as the door to medical opened and they followed it to a treatment room. “Put Yuko in here.”
Iain turned to Canaan as the medical unit cycled shut. “What happened today is between the three of us. There is no need to use Ninhursag or anyone else to punish Ganieda. She didn’t do anything wrong, other than get a little exuberant at getting to kill a spirit folk and I don’t think she did anything that needs corrected. I’d have enjoyed myself if given the opportunity you two had.” He didn’t look away from the Splice. “That goes for you too, Theodora.”
“I don’t know what actually happened and won’t until you upload your memories, but you are my clan leader and I would never violate privacy.” She smiled weakly. “As for enjoying kills, I rather enjoyed putting Rush down. The only problems I had with the kill was that it was over way too quickly and I didn’t get to actually see him die.”
Ganieda laughed, spraying moisture from her muzzle as she did. She began stripping water from her hair. “You are too much like us, sister.”
Another door opened. “There’s a bathroom in there,” Theodora said. “And I can either launder or replace your clothes while you shower.”
Canaan looked at Iain. “Well?”
“You two are hopped up on endorphins right now. I get naked with you and I won’t get away for hours.”
Ganieda smiled. “If not days.”
He nodded. “Which means?”
She sighed. “I know. We would get disturbed long before we were done and it wouldn’t be pretty. So, Canaan, want to wash my back?”
“Sounds like fun,” Canaan replied with a grin.
“Yeah, it does,” Iain said morosely. “You two go have fun. Iain will go back to work.” Resolutely, he turned and walked out of the room. “Theodora, it’s back to my room so I can change into something dry.”
Iain walked into Yuko’s medical room and stopped when he realized there was a Yuko lying in the bed and another sitting in a chair near the bed. They broke off talking to watch him and he stepped out of the way so Dianthus could enter too. “Ladies, I wasn’t aware that you’d met.”
“After Ninhursag explained to me what was happening, I asked Theodora if I could meet this other Yuko,” his Yuko said. Iain decided he’d keep calling her Yuko Grey to tell them apart in his head. “She asked Yuko, who said yes.”
“OK.” Iain gave a mental shrug and grabbed another chair for himself as Dianthus took up a post nearby. “How are you feeling,” he asked the Yuko in the bed.
“I no longer feel the pain of the poison and I am healthier than I have been in quite some time,” she said quietly. “Yuko here tells me that she felt the same way the first time she went through treatment in this medical bay. Why is it that I feel better?”
“You both had a lifetime of fighting and survival,” Iain said. “You’ve accumulated a collection of battle scars, broken bones, arrowheads, bullets and other things from that life and more than likely they left not only physical lessening in some form of disability, they also left long term residual pain, which you’d gotten used to ignoring. So while they left you functional, your body wasn’t working as well as it might because of them. When you were recovering from the poison, and when Yuko Grey was in for her initial baseline, Theodora corrected those issues and that is what makes you feel better.”
Yuko looked curiously at him. “Yuko Grey?”
“Yuko from my world joined my clan, which is the Grey clan. So she is Yuko Grey, which I call her right now to distinguish from you since you aren’t clan and you don’t have a last name as far as I know. Otherwise I’d have to say Yuko and hoped the right one of you responded.”
Yuko Grey laughed. “True. At least she wasn’t defeated by you before she came here.”
“I should point out,” Iain said, “that I didn’t fight you then. And the one time we did cross blades you defeated me quite easily.”
“That is true, but that was before you became the doragon I saw in your aura.” She shrugged. “The next time we fight I will still be victorious but I think it will take longer to defeat you.”
“At least I’m improving.”
Yuko eyed him quizzically. “You were not a doragon before?”
“I was born human. Someone changed my spirit to that of a doragon and eventually I became one in fact. Before I knew what was happening to me, that spirit caused some curious events that led me to ask Yuko Grey to read my aura and that was when we discovered what was happening to me.”
Yuko nodded. “When can I see Mizuho and her daughters?”
“She’s healthy enough to be ambulatory,” Theodora said as she appeared.
“What’s Kasumi doing?”
“She is with her mother. They’re at Zareen’s rock.”
“Please inform her about what’s going on and ask her if she and Mizuho would like to help Yuko get some clothes and a room. Also let her know that Yuko and Yuko Grey have met and are currently together.”
“Done. Kasumi says that her mother and she will come to help as soon as they can. What are you going to be doing?”
“Please put together a meeting of the command staff sometime today. I want to get their help in brainstorming how I’m going to let the Tendo family know about what’s happened with Yuko and Mizuho. I also want to figure out our response to the local spirit folk when they discover that Yuko is alive and well.” He nodded to the pair of kami. “Ladies, if you’ll excuse me I have a lot of work to do.”
“Iain,” Yuko said and he stopped. “Soun believes I am dead, does he not?”
“He does. Right now he also thinks Mizuho is dead as well.”
“He didn’t care for me, probably because I didn’t hide the fact that I thought Mizuho could have done better than him.”
“Although she’s probably not aware of it, she was drawn to the fact that he has kami blood in his veins just as he was drawn to hers.”
Yuko looked surprised. “Soun Tendo has the blood of my people? If this is true it is well hidden.”
“He doesn’t have the blood of a tatsu, but he does have enough spirit folk blood that without knowing it, it caught Mizuho’s attention.”
“I will have to reconsider him. What kind of spirit folk blood does he have?”
“Actually, it’s not a kind, it’s a who. Just like you and Mizuho are the descendants of Watatsumi, his family are direct descendants of Kojin, the god of the hearth and fire and of preventing misdeeds. You can actually see some of that in his behavior and how he does act to protect the community from time to time.”
Yuko looked disbelievingly at him. “You know this to be true?”
“I know it as just well as I am aware that you and your line are descended from Watatsumi.”
Yuko Grey smiled toothily at him and turned to Yuko. “Iain has knowledge that it should be impossible for him to possess. If I had met him a century ago I would have slain him out of hand for being a human wizard.”
“Why have you not?”
Yuko Grey grinned her shark’s grin. “First, I joined his clan and he is my lord now. Second, I have seen Dianthus use the bow she carries and I would not live long if I made the attempt. Third, Kasumi has chosen him as her mate and his blood would bring power to her children and honor to our family. Fourth, he is now a doragon and no longer human, even if he is still a wizard. Lastly, I have heard the stories of him that the others tell and swear are true. If they are, he might just kill me.”
“You beat me handily,” Iain pointed out.
“I have been told that fighting with you in training and fighting to the death with you are different things,” Yuko Grey said. “What do you say to that?”
Iain looked thoughtful. “All I can say is that if it wasn’t different then the clan would be a lot smaller than it is now and I would be dead.”
Both kami looked uncomprehendingly at him for a second then then Yuko began laughing loudly. Yuko Grey smiled slowly before joining her twin in laughing at him.
“And now I have to go, ladies.”
Yuko nodded. “I would have you return before we go to give Soun the blessed news that Mizuho lives and the unpleasant shock that I do too. I would know more about the man that Mizuho’s eldest daughter has chosen as her mate.”
“We’ll work something out,” Iain replied. “But since Kasumi will be here soon with her mother, you can quiz her first.” He glanced at Dianthus and left the room.
The Elfqueen chuckled as they headed down the passageway. “Do you think you escaped her?”
“If I did it is only for the moment,” he replied amusedly.
“If you had known what this would put you through, would you have still pursued Kasumi?”
“I have no regrets with her.” He glanced behind him. “I have no regrets with you, either.”
“I never doubted that,” she replied. “If you regretted claiming me, I would know it through our delta bond. How do you intend to torment Soun with the lives of his wife and her ancestor?”
He sighed. “I don’t. I’m not big into torturing people. It’s much safer to just go ahead and kill them. Besides, while I’m not sure how I feel about this fact, he’s going to be my father in law if everything works out like I hope it will.”
“Your father died when you were a child, didn’t he?”
“I am sorry for your loss.”
Iain turned around to face her. “Did you know your mother?”
She looked surprised before shaking her head. “I was decanted during the Revenge War, remember? It wouldn’t have mattered afterwards in any case when I entered my court. Our queen had all of the Elfqueen kits raised together and she was carefully involved in their formative years. It was a deliberate ploy to cement their loyalty to her instead of to a nebulous concept of a family.”
“Barb, I had several years with my father before he died. I remember him well and he was a good father. I missed him when he died and, in my own way, I mourned him. But who is worse off, me for losing my father or you for never having your mother?”
“I presume your father was inside your bubble as you mourned him.”
“Then your question is not about someone that you don’t care about versus someone I never knew. And I can’t give you an answer. I don’t know who is worse off in that situation.”
“Neither do I. I can tell you this, though. Our children will never have to ask that question for they will know both of their parents.”
Dianthus gave him an amused smile. “I still haven’t decided if I want to have children, Iain.”
“I know, but we have centuries together, Barb. I think that during that time I can convince you that you do.”
She looked into his eyes and the smile faded into the serious expression he remembered from when he first removed her tattoos. “If you asked, I would draw my knife and slice my throat to the bone, Iain. If you order me to bear kits for you, I will without protest. I am sure that if you want me to want to have children with you, you will be able to talk me into it, but,” her smile reappeared, “I do intend to enjoy your trying to convince me of this for some time to come.”
He smiled back. “And I will enjoy all of the time it takes to talk you into it, the time during your pregnancies when I am busy reassuring you that you still want to do this and helping to raise our daughters and, someday, our sons.”
She laughed softly. “If you talk like this to the other members of the harem we are going to always be surrounded by children.”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“If it does turn out to be, I am sure that we’ll take a break for a few dozen years. Why do you want so many children?”
“I didn’t, not in the beginning,” he admitted. “I didn’t want kids at all. But April wanted children so badly and I didn’t want to deny her that. Then I found out that I like being a father. It’s weird, but I do. The fact that I actually seem to be good at it just makes it easier to keep enjoying it. And most of the women in my life want to have children, although some of them seem to be doing it more to keep up with the others than for any reason of their own, so I expect they’ll have a litter and call a halt for a while. I won’t say anything for now but I really think that children shouldn’t be tools for ranking pokegirls or anyone else.” He shook his head. “I’m blathering. Let’s go.”
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 - Elfqueen
Dianthus Barbatus - Elfqueen
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
Dionne - Elfqueen
Adrianna - 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
Geradine - Human
Mother s & Children