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Yuko Grey adjusted his kimono for what he hoped was the last time and stepped back to look him up and down. “For a gaijin you make respectable enough groom for my granddaughter, although you should shave the front of your scalp and put the rest of your hair up in a proper chonmage.”
The other Yuko grinned toothily. “She’s right.”
“Kasumi specifically requested that his hair be left down and loose,” April said amusedly. “As she’s the bride, what she wants gets precedence over what you two think he should do.” She chuckled when Iain raised an eyebrow curiously. “And, of course, what Iain wants to do is what is actually going to happen.”
“Thank you for remembering that,” he said. “But Kasumi did ask me to keep it loose and I don’t have a problem with that so I won’t be shaving my head. Besides, that’s a samurai topknot to keep their helmets on and not only am I not a samurai, I also don’t wear their armor, including the helmet.” He slapped himself on the stomach. “And I am definitely not sumo, which means I don’t have to worry about wearing the chonmage.”
“What does wrestling have to do with your hair,” Yuko asked curiously.
“Sumo wrestlers are pretty much the only people who wear the chonmage anymore as part of their everyday life,” Iain replied. “And they keep hairdressers on staff because of it”
April looked at the other person in the room. “Well, Ganieda, do you have an opinion?”
“I’m on duty,” the Snugglebunny Splice replied. “And there’s nothing to discuss. Yuko said Iain should do something in her opinion and he said no. That ends that.”
“Does he really need a guard here in the Tendo house,” this world’s Yuko asked. It was relatively easy to tell the two kami apart since Yuko Grey wore her hair back in a ponytail that hung down to her knees and was held in place with ivory combs while Yuko of the Tendo family’s hair was loose and shoulder length so she could more easily blend in with the humans who thronged Tokyo around her.
“Whenever it seems like Iain least needs a guard,” April replied, “is when it turns out that he needs one the most.”
Yuko Grey looked at Iain curiously “Is this true?”
“History does seem to indicate that April is right,” Iain said. “We have been attacked by some pretty dangerous opponents during what is supposed to be our down time. I hope it’s just a coincidence or else someone has a frightening amount of intelligence on us. Considering that it is different individuals with different agendas each time, I really hope coincidence explains it otherwise we have someone like another author working as our enemy.” He looked in the mirror and grimaced. “If it were Akane or Ranma getting married today I’d suggest rings of security layered around the place, but it’s just me and Kasumi. Relatively speaking, we’re not anyone important.”
“And we will be layering rings of security around the school,” Ganieda said. April looked smug as she continued. “We’ve spread sensors around a five block radius and clanswomen will be scattered around to stop intruders. The funny thing is we’ve already intercepted one person, a woman named Ukyo who was planning to disrupt the wedding. Once she’d been told it isn’t Ranma who is getting married she politely apologized and left.” She glanced at the two Yukos. “And those heads are really starting to smell.”
Yuko of the Tendo family grinned. “Jirou stank while he was alive so it’s hardly surprising that he stinks in death. While they must remain here for a time to remind the spirit folk who survived our visit not to trouble this family we have moved the heads to the garden across the street at my granddaughter’s request.”
“Which one,” April asked curiously.
“Mizuho was the one who requested their removal.”
There was a knock on the door. April cracked it and looked back at Iain. “It’s Ranma.”
“Let him in.”
Ranma grinned as he looked around while entering the room. “Are they all here to help you or to keep you from running away?”
“Both,” Yuko of the Tendo family said. “I’ll do the same when you marry Akane. By the way, you will be marrying her and becoming my grandson soon, will you not? I expect this marriage to happen soon. I want my grandchildren.”
Ranma stared at her and gulped hard before turning to Iain. “I’m supposed to bring you to the dojo now.” His eyes were a little wild and his voice slightly shrill. “Can we go now?”
“We can,” Iain said. He paused when Yuko Grey put a hand on his sleeve. “Give me a second, I’ll catch up.” April nodded and led everyone except Ganieda from the room. “What is it?”
Yuko glanced at Ganieda. “Is Ranma’s bloodline worthy of mine?”
“He has no tatsu blood,” Iain said, “but you know he’s not weak so that will have to do for you. And since he and Akane do care for each other, I’d prefer it if you left their relationship alone for them to work out.”
“You know what his bloodline is.”
“I do. Their children will have the potential to be very strong.”
She nodded. “But they will be human, will they not?”
“Yes they will be. And since neither of them would know how to deal with spirit folk children, it’s for the best that their children will be human.” He smiled. “And no, even if I were still human Kasumi is a full blooded spirit folk and our children will be spirit folk.”
“But her bloodline is unnatural. She has the blood of her former husband as well as hers. What will the children be like?”
“I am not sure so we’ll all get to find out together. But I can assure you that they will be loved no matter what bloodline they show. Blood purity has never been something that was important to me. If it were, I wouldn’t be who I am.”
Yuko looked into his eyes. “And who exactly are you?”
He shrugged. “I’m not really sure anymore, but then I’m not really sure I was ever certain about who I am. I am certain, however that Kasumi is waiting for me and I don’t intend to make her wait for long for us to get married.” He gestured towards the door. “After you, grandmother.”
Yuko looked startled for a second. “I think I would rather that you call me Yuko. I will be your children’s and Kasumi’s grandmother.”
“If that’s what you want.” He motioned again and she headed for the door. Iain fell in behind her and Ganieda followed him, turning off the light as they left the room.
Kasumi opened her eyes and sat up, looking around in the darkness. Warmth in the bed next to her meant she wasn’t alone and the male smell meant it wasn’t one of her harem. For an instant she worried that it was Shikarou and then recognized Iain’s scent. She leaned down and sniffed him, gently laid her head down on his chest and curled up next to him as she tried to force her suddenly thudding heart to relax. His deep, even breathing and slow heartbeat calmed her and it was only when wetness trickled down her cheeks to drip onto his skin that she realized she was silently crying.
She jumped when a hand touched her neck and slowly stroked down her back. She lifted her head to look at him. “I am sorry if I woke you.”
He continued stroking her back just firmly enough not to tickle. “You didn’t. I only sleep a few hours a night anymore.”
“But your breathing and pulse,” she broke off when she realized his pulse was still unchanged. “You’re controlling it.”
“Some of the women in my life wake up if my pulse or breathing changes when they’re asleep and around me,” he said in a soft voice. “I still wake up from nightmares sometimes and they didn’t get much sleep with me until I figured out how to control both so it didn’t change when I wake.”
Kasumi heard his pulse began to speed up to his regular awake resting heart rate. “I didn’t know you could do that.”
“It’s not common knowledge. Only a few people know I can do this and they’ve been asked not to share that information. You wouldn’t know now but I was hoping I could comfort you while you worked through whatever it is and I would ask that you not share this with anyone else.”
“You’re not going to ask why I was crying, are you?” She cocked her head. “Shikarou would want to know.” She gasped softly. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re supposed to say what for,” he said gently.
“It’s our wedding night and I said my ex-husband’s name.”
Iain chuckled. “Now if you’d said it earlier I might have been curious, but the timing is all wrong for me to get upset about you saying his name. And you are right in that he would have questioned you about why you were crying. I won’t.”
“If you want to share, you will,” he said simply. “And that’s if you even know why you were crying and you might not. Sometimes people don’t know why they do something emotional. I’ve been there.”
“We lost several people in one attack. Afterwards I’d find myself upset somehow, sometimes it was sadness, sometimes I would cry and others I’d get angry and for several of the incidents I didn’t have a reason as to why. I presume something in my subconscious triggered the event, but it never registered on a conscious level.”
She touched his chest. “I got your chest all wet.”
Kasumi pulled the sheet up and dried his chest before resting her face against his skin again. “This is nice.”
“It’s supposed to be, and if that ever changes I need to know so we can figure out how to make our time together good again. That is something that needs to be different this time. I am not going to let you pull away from me and you need to not let me pull away from you.”
“What if you make me angry with you?”
“I will. It is inevitable that I will do something that will piss you off but anger is transitory. People get angry, they get over it and they make up if they need to. I’m sure you’ll make me upset with you, but this too shall pass. If you don’t get upset at someone that you say you like a lot or even love then you don’t really care all that much about them. People save their emotional rollercoaster issues for those that they are close to. Just remember that when you hit me I will break, at least a little. I’ll heal too, but I will break.”
She rubbed her fingers against the skin of his chest. “If you break when I hit you then perhaps you should try to keep from making me want to hit you.”
“I intend to, but as you already know sometimes I piss people off without trying to.”
She felt his heartbeat slow and yawned as she felt a wave of tiredness wash over her. “What will you think about after I am asleep?”
“Tonight I’ll be thinking about you and me and us.”
“Is it about the complications I bring to your life?”
“That too, but I just want to make sure you’re happy with me.”
She yawned again. “Is that when I am with you or all of the time? Shikarou seemed concerned with my happiness when I was with him more than when I was not.”
“Yeah, well, he was juggling a lot more women than I am. As for us, I’d prefer you to be happy all of the time but I’ll take you not being unhappy with me when we’re not together if I can make you happy when you are.”
“I have been watching you and I have seen how you deal with your women, Iain. I do not think juggling describes your relationship with any of the inner or outer harem.”
He smiled teasingly at her. “You’ve been watching me?” Kasumi flushed and bit him firmly on the chest. “Hey!”
“You deserve that,” she said amusedly. “And I have been watching you since joining your clan, Iain. You sacrifice much of your time to spend with your women to ensure they are pleased with the relationship they have with you.” She sighed. “May I compare you to Shikarou again?”
“If it’s unflattering to him, feel free,” Iain said magnanimously.
“It could be unflattering to him and you as well,” Kasumi pointed out.
“True, but then I probably need to hear whatever it is you think you need to say to me about whatever subject you’re bringing up. I will never claim I am perfect in regards to relationships. The fact that I was barely human even when I was human is something I am well aware of.”
Kasumi lifted her head and regarded him in the darkness. “Does it somehow bring you pleasure to insult yourself? The man I wanted to marry and am currently married to is much better than that and deserves only the criticism that he has truly earned.”
Iain chuckled. “I think it is worse to strut around telling people that I am well aware that I’m smarter than the vast majority of people that live today.”
“It is,” Kasumi agreed. “Even if it might be the truth, which there is no way to know, it is incredibly arrogant and not what I see you ever doing. Still, there are several levels of behavior between the two extremes we have already mentioned. Many of them do not involve my husband insulting my judgment in the man I have chosen to marry.”
“Is this the comparison you wanted to make between me and Shikarou?”
“It is not. The fact that you are different from many people inside does not make you less human. I have questioned Theodora about it and she has explained that you would be considered an evolutionary sport. At periods in history sociopaths were useful in society or they wouldn’t still crop up in humanity from time to time. The fact that being as unemotional as you can be towards outsiders is currently considered a handicap by the vast majority of humanity, which does not share in that mindset, doesn’t mean that it truly is.” She laid her head back down on his chest. “And are you aware that Shikarou would be considered to be a sociopath if he were judged under human standards?”
“Yeah, I know. Kerrik’s even more of one. He likes to kill and has embraced that portion of his darkness more than I hope I ever do. Because of it sometimes he needs to kill. Fortunately, there are a lot of stupid people he can manipulate into making him kill them when he feels he needs to take a life.”
Kasumi’s head had come back up and she was watching him again. “Kerrik manipulates people into making him kill them?”
“It’s not really that difficult. Right now he can just put himself in a place to be attacked by a feral pokegirl. If that won’t do it for him or someone like him then all he would to do is wander down dark alleys in crime infested areas and someone will attack him, which will justify what he does to them even if he knows there is no way they could actually hurt him. If nothing else he can always satisfy any moral questions by stating that he has just removed a threat to other people, thereby making the world a slightly safer place. It’s true, it just glosses over the fact that he was in that alley looking for someone to kill and that it didn’t really matter who he killed as long as the urge was satisfied and his primary goal had nothing to do with making the world safer.”
“I almost wish you hadn’t told me about this. Do you do that?”
“I do not. Sometimes I’d like to do something like that, but so far I have resisted the urge.”
“I hope you continue to do so,” she said as she put her head back on his chest. “My mother manipulates my father too much. I will attempt not to do that to you.” She smiled in the darkness. “I suspect it would be far harder for me to order you around as she does to Father.”
“That would probably be correct. Asking me to do something is fine. Telling me outside of specific circumstances will probably elicit a fight, although I will admit your verbal judo is excellent.”
She laughed quietly. “When I read you calling it that in Where None Has Gone Before I must admit I was quite entertained. I don’t think Branwyn and the others realize just how much I used it on them over the years and she never did learn how to do it.”
“I suspect it’s an aspect of your kami powers that you’ve always had and so she may never be able to duplicate it.”
“So was that the comparison you wanted to make between me and Shikarou?”
“Out of curiosity I had Theodora plot the time you spend with everyone.” She rolled over and folded her hands on his chest to lay her chin on them and look up his body at his face. “I know it is impossible not to have favorites among your women but you are very good at evenly spending time with the women in the inner harem and, to a lesser extent, the outer harem. I will admit that the time you spend with most of the outer harem still comes out to almost the same amongst them. Is that deliberate?”
“I do deliberately spend more time with the inner harem women than the outer and with Allison and Silver more than the rest of the outer harem since they’re its leaders, but otherwise I’m not consciously doing it. I wonder if my women are manipulating me into spending the same amount of time with each of them and I missed it.”
“I don’t think they are since they don’t schedule the free time you give up for them. Only you do that. Theodora isn’t trying to manipulate you either. She was as surprised at the results as I was and I don’t think her surprise was manufactured for my benefit, although I will admit she lies as well as anyone I’ve ever met.”
“She’s alive and very good at showing she is,” Iain said. “Is this the comparison?”
“It is, in part. Shikarou has obvious favorites among his women and it would show in the time he spends with them if I tried to track it. You do have favorites, right?”
“Of course I do, but I’ve been very lucky in the women that have chosen to share their lives with me. They’re all pretty nice to be with.”
“You are not going to tell me who your favorites are in our family, are you?”
“I don’t think you need to know that.”
“Theodora didn’t think you would. Shikarou would have told me.” She smiled at him and slid up to curl happily against his side with her head on his shoulder. His arm came down around her and she made a happy noise. “I am glad you will not.”
“I was not one of the women who would have been listed among Shikarou’s favorites if I had asked him to tell me who they were. He would cite my responsibilities to the school or something else as an excuse as to why he did not seek me out for more attention, but seek me out he would not and it did hurt my feelings. I am not a pokegirl to go feral if ignored but even a human woman likes to have her husband pay her attention.” She kissed his cheek. “And a spirit folk woman is, at least in that, the same as a human one. You will not neglect me like he did.”
“If you ever think I am, I want you to tell me immediately,” he said softly.
“Then I would monopolize all of your time.”
“I didn’t say I’d give up all of my time for you,” he pointed out. “But I would see what I could to do make you happier with me and with us.” He stroked her hair gently. “Now go to sleep.” Kasumi yawned widely and her eyes closed.
Kasumi frowned as she looked at herself in the mirror. “Theodora, did Iain put me to sleep last night with a spell?”
Theodora’s face appeared in a corner of the mirror. “I don’t know.”
Kasumi blinked. “You don’t know?”
“I cannot access the events in Iain’s bedroom from last night and know what happened unless all parties involved give permission so as to avoid a privacy issue. I do know that there were no emergencies in that room or I would know what happened in there.”
“I see. That will take some getting used to. Selene apparently operates under different rules than you do.”
“She isn’t clan and so that should be obvious. You could ask Iain.”
“I will. Can you tell me if Iain can cast sleeping spells on people?”
Theodora shrugged in the mirror. “I am not aware that he has shown this ability before. I have a request from April that you do not bathe this morning before coming to breakfast.”
Kasumi looked surprised. “Do you know why she would want something like that?”
“You will smell of sex and Iain,” Theodora said. “That will ensure that all with enhanced senses will know you were with him last night and cement your place in the clan and the inner harem. Those with enhanced senses will report to those who do not.”
Kasumi turned and looked at the shower, her face set. “I do not think my activities with Iain are anyone else’s business. Am I forbidden to clean up before I eat?”
“You cannot be forbidden,” Theodora said as she appeared beside Kasumi and her image in the mirror vanished. “I would not allow it and nobody would be stupid enough to try and order such a thing. I suspect that April wishes to reassure the clan and herself that you have finally joined us.”
“There was doubt?”
“You have been playing a closely held game for some time,” Theodora said cautiously. “You have been very careful to be no more than Iain’s friend even after you were divorced from Shikarou. Pokegirls and many other human women would have at least become Iain’s lover at that point. I presume the fact that Iain has refused to answer any questions about last night has not helped the situation.”
“He feels as you do and that it is your business and your business only. He showered before he left here but he tends to work to keep himself from smelling like sex in general so more work can get done with fewer distractions.”
She looked at the shower again. “What trouble would my refusal cause?”
“In the long run any trouble would be minimal. In the short term people will wonder if you have truly consummated your relationship with us through Iain.”
“I despise politics, especially when it tries to control my life.”
Theodora nodded. “Many do. May I offer a suggestion?”
“You are one of my sisters and if your suggestion would be helpful, I welcome it.”
“If you do not bathe than you run the risk of having April come to see you as subordinate to her. That is unwise as I presume you wish to avoid becoming enmeshed any more in harem politics than is absolutely necessary. However, bathing would wash Iain’s scent from your body and make them wonder. I would suggest that you bathe and when you go to breakfast, tell April to have this room cleaned manually.”
Kasumi cocked her head. “What would that do?”
“I clean the rooms. Telling April to have this room cleaned will tell her that you understand what she wanted with her request and that you refuse to obey her and yet you still wish to provide the evidence she desires.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Iain’s bed is covered with the evidence that you and he had multiple sexual encounters last night.”
Kasumi turned bright red. “Oh my,” she said softly.
“April will understand what you are telling her and she will pass the word around the rest of the clan once she has come here and seen the proof. I will keep the room secure until she arrives.”
Kasumi shook her head. “This didn’t happen when I married Shikarou.”
“I doubt that. More than likely either Shikarou announced to his harem that he had bedded you or Branwyn examined your bed the next morning. Psychological analysis of Shikarou suggests he would have told at least Branwyn and Helen what had taken place. Afterwards, Branwyn and Bellona would have most likely gone to his room and seen for themselves. Your reaction would not have been important to him.” Theodora smiled. “It is to us. If you truly desire, I will sterilize this room as soon as you leave it and April will have to seek her proof another way and at another time.”
“May I ask why April is so determined to discover if I have had sex with Iain?”
“To her it is a sign of your final commitment to your new family, which she has yet to see as none of you have permanent ties with the clan. She’s worried because she doesn’t want you to hurt Iain. Right now she’s terrified about how much you could hurt him if you wanted to.”
“Why would she be terrified of me?”
“She sees what Iain has done for you and she feels it is so much more than he has done for any other member of the clan, even those he is married to. She is wrong in this for he has done more for her and select others that he will never have to do for you but she cannot see that.”
Kasumi gave her a puzzled look. “What did he do for her that he won’t do for me?”
Theodora smiled amusedly. “I said he won’t have to do for you, not that he will not do for you, Kasumi. When Iain met April, he was a dedicated bachelor. He had decided he was never going to marry and that he was never going to have children. It was April that changed all of that and it is something that he has never told her and she is unlikely to ever realize without him saying something. Now he has a family and a multitude of children and Iain will never have to make those decisions again, but the truth is that they were some of the hardest choices he’d ever made.” Her smile vanished. “And without those decisions, it is unlikely that any of us would be here.”
“Iain took on Sanctuary, challenged the leadership of Blue, dared the wrath of Kerrik Wolf and performed all of the other things that culminated in us being able to have this discussion to protect the women and children he loves. April was the catalyst for all of that with her dream of a family that she showed to Iain and asked him to build for her. It is because of that decision that we are here.”
Kasumi blinked back sudden tears. “I wonder what would have happened to Iain if he’d decided otherwise.”
“He would have cheerfully sunk into the obscurity that he desired at the time and still misses and he would have been successful at avoiding Sanctuary’s hunt for him, lived a quiet life with a tiny harem and then died of old age if he hadn’t found the truewizard tome, which would have been unlikely as it was Dominique that held the access to both the Dragonesses who became his undead harem and the library where the book was housed and guarded by the Blue League.”
Kasumi shook her head. “And you know this how?”
“Iain asked me once to extrapolate his life if he’d refused April’s dream and that was the most probable result.”
Kasumi shook her head and considered the situation for a handful of seconds. “I will bathe. Would you please package up the bedding in something airtight and I will present it to April when I go to breakfast while you tidy up in here? Will that satisfy April’s and the clan’s curiosity about me and my husband?”
“It will and it will still keep your privacy intact in Iain’s bedroom.” Theodora nodded. “You will do well among us, my sister.”
“Thank you for that, my sister,” Kasumi replied. “I want to be worthy of my new family.”
There is a phone call for Kasumi from Mizuho, his twee told him. As Kasumi is concentrating on her task with her team, the call has been routed to you at her request.
Iain tossed his shovel out of the irrigation ditch and climbed out after it. He glanced back down into the ditch and shook his head in amusement. Take a simple problem, for example, irrigation ditches that had silted up over what were probably centuries of use. After noticing something odd with his perception he and Ninhursag had done a test excavation and found that the original bottom of the irrigation ditches on the farm had been lined with stone and the stones in the ones he’d tested were found to be a good twenty centimeters below the current level of soil in the bottom. So Ninhursag had decided that she wanted all of the ditches excavated that deep and any without stone linings would have them put in. Iain didn’t really care but the additional depth would make the irrigation ditches, which they intended to keep wet all year round in the traditional style, a better habitat for local animals and insects which, in the long run, would be more interesting for the clan’s children as well as adults. Granted, once they got into them they might never find Olivia and Seraphina again until they emerged for food, but those were the risks you had to accept.
So, once again take a simple project, for example a program to deepen some irrigation ditches, pave their floors if necessary and then smooth the walls vertically down to the new depth. Put down flags along the irrigation ditches to mark them in order to make their general layout and pattern easier to see as you worked from inside the ditch. In an attempt to be crafty about it, put the flags on either side of the ditch a decent distance from the walls of the ditches so they don’t get covered up by errant shovels full of dirt and mud being hurled out of the ditch by someone with enhanced strength.
Now add pokegirls. Break them into several teams and give each team roughly the same amount of digging to do. To keep the complaints to as much of a minimum as possible and to get the work completed before the end of the decade rolled around, randomly compile the teams but roughly scatter the people with enhanced strength evenly throughout the teams and let the teams select their own leaders while forbidding them to exchange team members. In the meantime, turn the project into a competition between the teams with prizes awarded every day for the most work done per day and more prizes promised for finishing their full allotted team project as well as a group prize for finishing on or ahead of schedule. Just to keep things simple and because the local stonemasons couldn’t supply the stone for the ditch bottoms in the required amount and in the required time, use Theodora made basalt blocks so the work doesn’t have to stop or slow down for any reason. Finally, let the teams operate with a minimum of supervision so as to avoid accusations of favoritism being leveled at the regular clan leadership.
The results had been easily predictable and if Iain hadn’t been so busy with wedding preparations, he’d have warned Ninhursag and Allison about what was most likely going to happen but he’d been kept out of the contest portion of their planning. One team, filled with extra zeal and without bothering to ask for clarification because they knew what they needed to do in order to win, spent the first day excavating the width of their starting ditch to the flags on either side as well as to the specified depth and doing the required paving over the entire new width. Naturally, that evening their team leader pointed out to the other team leaders how her team had easily won that day’s digging prizes and how they’d done it since widening the ditch allowed more of the team to be digging at any given time and removed a lot of the need to be careful not to dig too much until reaching the flags themselves. Not to be outdone, on day two the other teams went back and did the same so as to increase their work output per day and also so as not to be outdone by the geniuses on the first team. By the time Ninhursag found what was going on, it was too late to countermand and the new widths had been standardized and, in a rush, the remaining flags had been collected and then much more carefully laid out.
So now the original irrigation ditches which had been narrow enough to hop over or even step over in places would now require bridges to get over and those had to be so designed as to allow canoe traffic under them because the new ditches had been widened out to over a one and a half meter span and deepened to a meter and three quarters on average and would now be used for recreational canoeing, fishing and wading. Fortunately none of the flags had been laid in land that would be fields, but Iain was concerned they’d need to lay temporary bridges across what he was calling canals in his mind if they intended to use any sort of vehicles, such as wagons, as part of the harvesting process. And if anyone wanted to use a real rice combine or tractor drawn planter he wasn’t sure how they were going to do that, but one of Heltu’s court had suggested freezing the irrigation ditches that would need crossed to support the combine’s weight.
Not that Iain was working with any of the teams. They all liked him but they didn’t need anyone slowing down their progress and everyone thought his maleness and lack of enhanced strength would be more hindrance than help. So he was walking with Heather through the already finished portions of the irrigation ditches and repairing the original paving as needed while also scoring the completed work for the final awards since he was one of the judges.
He pulled out his handheld and activated it. “Good morning, Mizuho.”
The image of her upper torso and head appeared floating in front of him. She was frowning. “Iain, I am calling Kasumi. Why do you have her phone?”
“I don’t. She’s busy and our answering service forwarded the call to me because apparently I’m not as busy as she is.” He shrugged. “I suppose I’m not. What can I do for you?”
“I was wondering when my daughter was going to come home.”
Iain smiled. “She is home.”
Mizuho blinked and smiled back at him. “I suppose that is true. I don’t know if it’s the years that I missed but it is hard for me to believe she’s actually married. I told her before the wedding that I wanted her to come to my home today,” she stressed the word my slightly, “so that we could go shopping for the things she’ll need as a married woman.”
The humor faded from Iain’s eyes although his smile didn’t. “She didn’t mention that to me this morning and I really doubt her team would be thrilled with the idea of her leaving them without a teammate in the middle of the competition.”
Iain chuckled. “How would you like to visit our home in Japan, Mizuho?”
She nodded. “I would like that. When could I visit?”
“Now would work.”
She looked surprised. “Now?”
“If you’re ready to leave, I can have Heather come get you outside your home.”
“Is this the teleportation concept that Kasumi described to me?”
“It probably is.” Iain looked at Heather. “Go get Mizuho.”
She cocked her head to give him a partial glare. “I’m on duty.”
“There are no pokegirls on this world other than clan, Theodora has drones that can arrive within a few seconds in case of,” he broke off as two drones appeared from the bushes and took up station nearby. Iain gritted his teeth and growled softly. “And apparently I’m still fucking under guard,”
Heather’s eyes widened at the heat in his voice. “Iain,” she began quietly.
He cut her off. “Either you go get Mizuho right the fuck now or I will take the shuttle and get her and your ass can stay the fuck here when I do if I have to put a teleport block on the shuttle to keep you out of it.” He smiled grimly. “Or I could shadow walk and get her, which would be more fun and faster. It’s your choice.”
Ninhursag appeared. She glanced at Heather before turning her attention on him. “Iain,” she said in a deliberately even tone, “I want you to think carefully about what I am about to ask. Is this behavior normal for you?”
Iain got a firm grip on his temper and considered her question. He shrugged. “I honestly don’t know anymore. What is normal for Iain the dragon? I know I have been tired of having a guard when I don’t need one for quite some time, so that’s not new and I really don’t like being defied, especially in front of an outlander.” His eyes narrowed and he looked at his phone but the display was dead. I used your image and told her to expect someone to come and get her in half an hour and disconnected the call, his twee said. She did not see your disagreement with Heather. He opened his mouth to say something else and then shut it.
Ninhursag waited for a few seconds. “What were you going to say?”
“Mizuho started my bad mood and while I’d love to spread it around, it really wouldn’t make my life any better if I did, so I’m not going to say it. However I did tell her to expect someone to arrive to bring her here. Should I call her and tell her that’s not happening?”
Ninhursag frowned unhappily. “I think I’d rather you try to spread your bad mood around so I at least know what you’re thinking.”
Iain would have laughed at the situation if he hadn’t already been so irritated. “If my refusal to try to put you in a bad mood puts you in a bad mood then I think I’ll refuse to take any blame for that.”
Heather looked at Ninhursag. “Should I go get Mizuho? Now that you’re here you can watch Iain.”
Ninhursag shot a worried look at Iain and her unhappiness seemed to increase when he just looked blandly back at her. “I think that having you ask me for permission to do what Iain told you to do is just going to piss him off more.”
“Oh.” Heather looked at Iain and flushed darkly. “I’m sorry for that, Iain. I didn’t think about how it might make you feel.”
“I think I can agree completely with that,” Iain said in even tones which fooled no one. “I doubt my feelings about the situation enter into anyone’s plans for my safety.” He shook his head when Heather’s flush deepened. “Sorry, I’m really not trying to spread hate and discontent.” He looked at Ninhursag. “Someone is picking Mizuho up. Either someone who can teleport or I can shadow walk and get her but she apparently expected Kasumi to arrive at her place and that isn’t happening unless you stop work for the day because I am not listening to the bitching if her team is shorthanded.”
“I’m not stopping work for your mother in law.” She sighed. “Do you mind if I handle this?”
“Answering that would probably violate the spirit of my not wanting to spread hate and discontent. I gave an order and nothing happened. If you give an order and something happens then at least Mizuho won’t know that something is wrong.”
Ninhursag nodded. “But something is wrong in your opinion?”
“It isn’t opinion. Something is wrong.”
“You don’t have a guard on the ship all of the time,” Heather said.
Ninhursag shook her head. “That’s not true and we all know it. Theodora is probably his fiercest guard of all and there is nowhere on the ship that she isn’t. She is certainly the most diligent of all of his guards. Go get Mizuho.” Heather took a deep breath and vanished. Ninhursag let the worry she felt show on her face. “When should I start being concerned about you disappearing on us?”
“You should probably be the most concerned if I start spending time without any of my dead harem on me. That would be a warning that I was getting used to not having them around so I could actually be alone for a while.”
“How many of them are on you now?”
Iain smiled grimly. “One. They’ve become too much of a security blanket and I’m slowly weaning myself of my dependence on their presence to make me feel safe.”
“They aren’t usually visible. How will I know when you don’t have any of them?” She grimaced when he raised an eyebrow curiously. “Then the truth is that I won’t until it’s too late, will I?”
“Not unless Ganieda, Dominique or Canaan notices and tell you, then no, it isn’t likely that you will.”
“So how close are you to going shadow walking alone?”
“I’m not sure but I am feeling smothered again.” He waved a hand around him. “There are no real threats that require me to have constant security here but I still have it. There aren’t any pokegirls, the spirit folk on this island live in the mountains where they won’t be bothered by the humans and we have enough firepower here to stop the Japanese military dead in its tracks. That’s frustrating and disheartening because it means I will always have security no matter the situation. And that means there’s another lie I was told. That the someday I was promised to have some real fucking alone time will never come.” He shrugged. “And you can relax a little. It won’t be today. I’ve got my new mother in law coming to critique our quaint little farm and she won’t get to enjoy her criticism nearly as much if I’m not around to suffer during it.”
Ninhursag didn’t look convinced. “That’s true, unless you decide to do something impulsive.”
“I will not do anything impulsive about that,” Iain said. “I will carefully plan out my escape so I will maximize my chances of success of getting away as well as coming back unhurt.”
“That does not help my concern.”
“I never said it would.”
“You aren’t going to give us any warning, are you?”
Iain snorted. “You just got all of the warning you’re going to get.” He glanced up. “Theodora, put the drones back into hiding so Mizuho doesn’t see them.” The drones slipped into some bushes and disappeared as he turned back to Ninhursag. “Let everyone know that Mizuho is coming and schedule a break for all the teams so Kasumi can come greet her mother.”
“What about this discussion about you and your guards?”
“I intend to keep our disagreements in house so I won’t say anything to her or around her about it. One does not fight in front of guests. Warn Heather not to do it either.”
“I have,” Ninhursag said. “Why didn’t you tell her instead of telling me to do it?” Her eyes narrowed before he could answer. “You’re rubbing in my face the fact that she’s listening to me right now and not you, aren’t you?”
“Rubbing? No. Unhappily accepting what seems to be a fait accompli and letting you know I don’t like it?” He shrugged. “Yes, but then I tend to use whatever tool gets the job done.”
Heather appeared with Mizuho and smiled at the woman as she gently pulled her hand free. “See, there was no feeling of transition at all. And here’s Iain.”
Mizuho looked around as she approached Iain. “Where are we?”
“This is our farm and it’s on Sadogashima.”
“Ah. You mentioned a farm and Kasumi said something about you owning land here. Is it big enough to support your entire family?”
Iain shook his head. “No it won’t support the clan but we never intended it to. It’s really just a cover for purchasing seeds and livestock and to give people something to do while we’re on this world.”
“Are you using magic to grow crops,” Mizuho asked curiously.
“We are,” Ninhursag said from where she was standing. “We’re doing wheat for the cows and chickens as well as soybeans today. Would you like to see it?”
“Where is Kasumi?”
“She’s on her way,” Iain said. “She was digging until a few minutes ago and will probably want to clean up a little before letting you see her so she will likely be a few more minutes.”
“Then while I am waiting for her I would like to see this magic if I could.”
Kasumi touched his mind through her twee. Why is my mother here? We were just married.
Ninhursag waved everyone forward and Iain fell in behind her and Mizuho. She says you were supposed to go to her house this morning to go shopping with her for marriage essentials.
Mother told me to come see her today and I told her that I already had the things I needed, thanked her for her offer and explained that I wasn’t going to do what she was not so subtly ordering me to do.
Apparently she didn’t hear that last part.
It’s interesting that according to her timeline, while I did suddenly age, as far as she is concerned she saw me the morning we rescued her while I am the one who spent decades without her. I should be the one clinging to her and not the other way around.
Iain gave a shrug without considering the fact that Kasumi couldn’t see him. You saw how she was manipulating her husband. Maybe she tries to exert control over everyone around her that way.
Then I feel sorry for her for she will not succeed in manipulating me and she’s going to experience an epic failure when she tries to do that with you.
Iain grinned to himself. True. Now hurry up and join us.
I’m showering and Sofia is bringing me clothes to wear. I should be there in five minutes or so.
They’d stopped in front of an empty field of dirt. “This is roughly a hectare,” Ninhursag said. “It’s obviously for crops other than rice since it’s not set up for long term flooding and I’ll be growing wheat here today. There’s another field we’ll be producing soybeans in and I’ll grow them today too. We’ll harvest both fields tomorrow morning instead of working on the irrigation channels.” She gestured at the field for Mizuho’s benefit. “This was overgrown with grass, saplings and weeds until yesterday when I killed all of them and used them for fertilizer. A lot of my magic is oriented around plants and other growing things and I can command them to develop as fast as I want. I can also will them to die and can accelerate their decomposition. My Elves and I seeded this field before dawn.”
As they watched, green began to appear across the ground and quickly became seedlings which grew taller and taller. In a span of five minutes, the ground in front of them went from bare to being filled with a profusion of golden stalks of wheat heavily laden with ripe kernels.
“What kind of yield are you expecting,” Iain asked quietly.
“I should get about five metric tons of wheat from this harvest,” Ninhursag replied. “I’ve overstressed the wheat so I won’t use any of this for planting, but we have a ton of local seeds that you purchased for me. This will help to feed us, provide some grain for the cows and help feed the chickens as well as straw for the animals. The next time I grow wheat I’ll take a week and do it right so we can replant with it. I should get about the same amount with the soybeans, if not a little more. I’m still experimenting with maximizing their production.”
“What do you think, mother?” Kasumi had joined them while Mizuho was mesmerized by the crop growth. Her braided hair was damp and she was wearing comfortable looking hiking shoes, shorts and a t-shirt for Sazan, a popular Jpop band. “Magic can be incredible, can it not?”
“I would consider what happened to Ranma and Genma to be horrific instead of incredible,” Mizuho countered.
“I would say that changing from one form into another at a simple trigger and back at another is incredible,” Kasumi said. “The energies and transitional states involved only look simple and instead are rather complex to unravel and understand. However, I will agree that how someone has to live with the effects of such a condition can be terrible. I’d also say that both of them seem to have adapted well to their new life. Both have used their alternate forms to good advantage in situations where their primary forms would have proven not nearly as useful.”
Iain managed not to smile at the sight of Mizuho staring in shock at her daughter. “I take from your reaction that Kasumi hasn’t mentioned that she used to teach magical theory to aspiring young magic users.”
Mizuho transferred her gaze to Iain. “My Kasumi was a teacher?”
“She still is,” Iain replied. “Once you teach you never really stop. She even still has at least one student since she knows a lot more about formal magic than I do so she’s teaching me.”
“I was headmistress at two schools that taught magic,” Kasumi said with more than a hint of pride in her voice. “I am qualified to teach both theory and practical application of what Iain calls formal magic.”
Iain glanced at Ninhursag. “Cancel the rest of the digging for today. Instead harvest and process the wheat and soybeans. It’s not the time of year for harvesting and so we don’t want to leave ripe crops standing around for people to see.” He glanced at the sky. “If nothing else there are the occasional planes and helicopters around here and there’s always satellite observation to contend with.”
“That’s good reasoning,” his maharani said thoughtfully. “And it will free up Kasumi to spend today with you and her mother. We don’t need flour so I won’t set up the mill and we’ll be roasting and pulping some of the soybeans so Melanie can try her hand at making miso once we get some of the right Aspergillus fungus.”
Mizuho was still looking at Iain. “Could Kasumi cure Ranma and Genma?”
Iain raised an eyebrow. “I am not Kasumi and I cannot answer that question. You need to ask her.”
Mizuho glared at him for an instant before turning to her daughter. “Kasumi?”
Kasumi smiled guilelessly. “Yes, Mother?”
Iain fancied he could see the muscles of Mizuho’s jaw bunch as she clenched her teeth for a second. Without looking, he reached out and took Kasumi’s hand. She gave him a startled glance and then gripped his fingers tightly. It isn’t as reassuring as one of your hugs but thank you.
You are my wife and I love you.
Kasumi gave him a surprised look and her eyes warmed.
Mizuho took a deep, steadying breath. “Kasumi, could you cure Ranma and Genma of their curse?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never studied the magic of the springs of Jusenkyo or how it affects its victims.” She glanced in his direction. “Have you considered it?”
“Honestly, I’m just getting started. That’s why I want samples from both of them and from Ryoga too, preferably from both of their forms.”
“Who is this Ryoga,” Mizuho asked curiously.
Kasumi giggled. “I hadn’t thought about him in years, Iain. I haven’t seen him on either of our visits. He probably went to get something from the porch and ended up in the USA.” She turned to Mizuho. “Mother, Ryoga Hibiki is a young man of Ranma’s age who has a strong affection for Akane. Like Ranma’s fiancés, he sometimes causes trouble between them. He has also been to Jusenkyo and he fell into a spring that turns him into a small black pig. One day that pig showed up at your house and Akane, not knowing who he was, adopted him as her pet and named him P-chan. As far as I know, Ranma, Genma, Father and I, and now you, are the ones who know that P-chan is Ryoga. I allowed him to stay because as a pig he is harmless to Akane even when he sleeps with her.”
Mizuho’s eyes widened. “He sleeps with her? That is unseemly!”
“I allowed it to continue because it is torture for him that he willingly endures for Akane’s sake and I felt sorry for him. In his human form Akane thinks of him more as a brother figure than anything else and it eats at him whenever he is near her. Eventually his frustration makes him leave for a time, whereupon he gets lost and is gone for a few months. Akane misses him when he’s gone, so I didn’t stop his return. For that reason, Ranma tolerates his presence as well, that and Akane thrashes him if he attempts to hurt P-chan. I discussed it with Ranma once a few months before Shikarou arrived, when the wrong Ranma was still staying with us before he decided to strike out on his own.” She looked at Iain. “What does Kerrik know about the curse?”
Iain stared at her for a second and smacked himself in the forehead lightly with his free hand. “I never asked and I never thought to check the Wolf database. Shit.”
“Neither Ranma nor Genma are inside your bubble, are they?”
“Out of that family it’s just you, Kasumi, although I do like Nodoka and Akane and sometimes your mother and Ranma.”
“Then it makes sense you wouldn’t investigate their curse.” She smiled. “I should ask you to write down your suspicions about it before we discover what Kerrik has found out how the waters of the springs work.”
“What makes you think I have suspicions about the curse?”
“I think the fact that you’re Iain Grey and you make extensive notes about your writing makes that obvious.”
He chuckled. “I see you’re smart and pretty as always.”
“Don’t stop telling me when I am.” Kasumi looked at her mother. “We won’t be staying much longer but while we’re gone I’ll consult with Kerrik and Iain’s notes and when we return I’ll see what I can discover about their curse.”
“You are leaving?”
“We have to return to our real home, Mother.”
“But you own this land. Why leave it?”
“We’ll return,” Iain said. “And for you we won’t be gone for long between visits. For Kasumi’s sake the intention is for only a few days to pass for this world. But we have responsibilities there and I own over six hundred square miles of land in what used to be the United States with lots of farming and animals as well as dangerous monsters.” He smirked. “And I suspect we’ll soon be growing rice and other crops from here that will do well in Texas.”
“How much is that in square kilometers?”
Iain counted on his fingers. “That’s roughly sixteen hundred square kilometers.”
Mizuho’s eyes widened. “That is a lot of land to work.”
“It is, but we are still growing into our property and a lot of it will be left as timber along with a pretty large reservoir and river.”
“How much time will pass for you and Kasumi while you are gone?”
Iain shrugged. “That depends. I doubt it’ll be more than a year at a time, especially when Kasumi gets pregnant. For you it’ll proceed in jumps but I figure you’ll want to see some of her development during the pregnancies and then the kids not long after they’re born.”
Kasumi gave him an amused smile. “Are you going to hold me to fourteen children in the first ten years?”
“I can’t. You’re my wife and a Grey now and so I can’t legally order you to get pregnant. That was designed to scare the hell out of Nabiki. However, I do know you want a large family.”
“Then we’ll just have to see what happens.”
“May I and my family come and visit this land of yours,” Mizuho asked curiously.
Kasumi and Iain exchanged a look. “It’s far more dangerous than here,” Iain said slowly, “but we should be able to arrange something in time. It won’t be soon, however. I’ve got some issues that are ongoing that need to be settled before we host you and your family.”
Kasumi frowned. “I didn’t know about any issues.”
“You know about one of them, at least a little. Now that we’re married you’ll learn more about them.”
“Ygerna warned me you were good at keeping secrets. Still, I’d have expected to hear something from Giselle, rumors if nothing else.” Kasumi eyed him curiously. “You and yours are very good at keeping things compartmentalized.”
“We are.” He smiled when her eyes narrowed. “You know there’s something going on with the Sisterhood, right?”
“Is that what Lucifer and Eve have been working on?”
“It is and that is all I am going to say in front of Mizuho.” He smiled at his mother in law. “Nothing against you, but this is my family’s business.”
Mizuho nodded. “We have things that we must deal with internally as well. The fact that you seem to know more about them than I do is disquieting, but Kasumi has warned me about how much you know that you shouldn’t. She has also reassured me that you will not use such information to your benefit.”
Iain smiled. “Like I say, she’s smart and pretty.”
“Are any of these internal issues going to make my daughter regret marrying you?”
Kasumi’s fingers tightened on Iain’s. “No, mother, my mind is made up in that regard. If there had been something that dire, Iain would have warned me about it without telling me exactly what it is.”
Mizuho smiled at them both. “Good. Now show me the rest of your property.”
Iain gestured with his free hand. “Let’s go this way then.”
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
14 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