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Iain was headed for the Sabine house for his morning training session with Dominique, Ganieda and Kasumi when Theodora appeared in front of him. “Iain, we have an unexpected guest and I’m almost certain she’s insisting to speak with you.”
Iain stopped. “You’re almost certain?”
Theodora shrugged. “She says she wants to talk the impertinent male who so rudely left in the middle of a discussion with her and without so much as saying goodbye.”
Heather snickered. “That does sound like you.”
Iain glanced over his shoulder at her. “You do know that you are not helping, right?” She just grinned at him. “Yeah, you obviously know it. Who is it, Theodora?”
“Wait just a moment.” Theodora paused for a second. “Her name is Golden Cloud.”
“I have no idea who that is and I have never heard that name before.”
“I’m not surprised,” Theodora held up a hand and a hologram appeared floating above it. “Here she is.”
Iain blinked at the equine unicorn in the image. “Is that who I think that is?”
“I believe so. It is a mare and her voice is the same as the one from your memory as far as I can tell but I don’t have a recording of the unicorn queen’s voice to compare the complete voiceprint from this one’s voice to.”
“Where is she?”
“She’s in the test vineyard near the brewery.”
Iain’s first concern was his people. “Where’s Joyce?”
“She and the girls are with the other children and are all at the Reservoir party spot.”
Iain sighed. “Tell our guest I’m on the way.”
“Let me get us there faster,” Heather said as she took his hand. “I want to meet this creature.”
“She’s a magical equine called a unicorn and she’s as much a person as we are,” Iain said. “Don’t call her a creature unless you’re trying to piss her off.” He smiled suddenly. “And I need you to make a stop on the way.”
When they arrived at the area where test vines of various grapes had been planted for Joyce to experiment with, Iain headed down the rows until he could see their latest guest or intruder, depending on how one looked at it. As he watched, the unicorn mare delicately plucked a single red grape from the bunch with her lips, chewed and swallowed before moving to the next row of grapevines and sniffing the closest bunch of green grapes.
“I have something you might like better,” Iain said as he came into view.
The unicorn spun in place, her horn lining up with his chest for a second before she lifted her head. “There you are. It took a great deal of effort to deduce where you went to and it was rude of you to leave before I was done asking you questions.”
“What do you expect from such an impertinent person,” Iain asked amusedly.
“I suppose that is true and I remember that you are a barbarian too,” she said. “Who is that person behind you?”
“That’s Heather and she’s my guard right now.”
Her ears flicked curiously. “What do you need a guard for?”
“There are dangerous creatures around and many of them have abilities that mean we might get attacked unexpectedly. Why are you on my land?”
“This is your land? It is very interesting. I have never seen so many types of grapes in one place. Some of them I have never seen before.”
Iain shook his head. “You’ve gone from row to row, eating as you went. Don’t you mean nibbled instead of seen?”
The unicorn walked towards him. “You said you have something I would like better. What is it? Show me.”
“You are one pushy mare,” Iain muttered as he pulled a piece of crumpled parchment paper from his pocket and unwrapped it. He pulled something from it and, wise to horses and their ways, held it out in his palm, fingers bent carefully downward. “Try this.”
She walked the rest of the way to him and leaned forward to sniff it. She carefully plucked from his palm and chewed. “This is delicious! You have so many wonderful things to taste!”
“What is that,” Heather asked in a low voice.
“It’s a carrot and apple treat that Ryan and Silver really like. For me, the oats make it a bit chewy, but it’s not bad and Raquel agrees with me about it but she still eats them regularly.” He frowned. “I haven’t had one since I changed so I may have to try them again.”
“Does Zareen like it too?”
“She eats everything,” Iain muttered. “I think it's because she grew up feral. I could probably feed her liver and onion jerky and she’d say it was good, so I don’t count food she likes except for her.”
“Do you have more of those,” the unicorn asked as she took another step closer and sniffed Iain’s hand.
“I do.” He pulled another treat from the parchment paper and offered it to her. “I didn’t know your name was Golden Cloud.”
“I don’t use it often since everyone in the forest knows who I am.” She took the treat and chewed. “Where do these come from?”
It amused Iain to hear her speak while she was chewing. It just made obvious that her voice didn’t come from her mouth since her words were clear and distinct. “We make them, although we do grow the ingredients at the farm.”
Her ears pricked. “You have more things to taste? Show me!”
“Wow, you are a pushy mare.” Iain shook his head. “How about another treat instead?”
“Yes! Give it to me!” She nosed his hand eagerly. Iain fed her another treat. She raised her head to meet his gaze as she chewed it. “You have other tattoos.”
Iain blinked. “What?”
“That is what I said just before you so rudely abandoned me the first time we met. Tell me about your other tattoos.”
Iain's eyes narrowed. “No.”
Her ears flicked back and then back up. “I am the queen of the unicorns and you are not. Tell me!'
“Did it occur to you that someone like me might figure out how to keep your magical compulsion from working on him?”
She lifted her head. “Give me another treat.”
Iain shrugged and held out another treat. “You might want to start asking for things instead of ordering them. This is not your forest. It's my land and so it's not yours.”
She chewed with obvious relish. “These are very good. It would be rather mean of you to learn to resist my power. Have you?”
“You should not have done that. It is mean and I don't like mean people.”
“I don't really care.”
She glared at him. “Tell me!”
“No. My secrets are my own.”
Golden Cloud stomped a dainty hoof. “I insist you tell me!”
Iain’s temper snapped. “Why don't you learn to use the fucking word please, lady?”
She blinked and stopped chewing as she looked past him at Heather before returning her gaze to him as her ears came up and pointed fully at him. “If I use that word will it work?”
Iain was just getting tired of the whole business and wanted to get to his training. If telling her something innocuous about his tattoos got her to leave him alone, he would. “Yes. It will.”
She nodded. “Then I will. It took many years to determine where you fled to and during the entire time and several heats I had no stallion. I accept your offer to breed me. When next I come into heat I will say please and you will fuck me until I am with foal.”
Iain's mouth dropped. “What? That is not what I said.”
She lifted her head haughtily. “That is exactly what you said. You said that please was the word for fucking and when I asked if that was what you said, you confirmed it.”
Iain looked at Heather and she shrugged. “I think this just got kicked above my pay grade but I can see where she might have heard that. You've said things like that when flirting with some of us.”
“Gee thanks for your support.” He turned back to Golden Cloud. “I can't breed you. I'm a human.”
“Now you're trying to trick me,” the unicorn stated. “And it will not work. You were not a human when you protected yourself from that stupid stallion and you are not a human now. I can see your heart. You are a dragon and you can become a unicorn stallion when the time comes, which is why I accepted your offer to fuck me.” She cocked her head. “I will remain here until the foal is grown that it might know you and in case it has special powers that you will need to teach it to use properly. I should bring my herd here too because they need to be with their queen.”
“I think you need to summon Ninhursag,” Heather said quietly. “Or we could just kill this female.”
Iain rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands. “I'm dead, aren't I?”
The Elfqueen was watching the unicorn with narrow eyes. “Can you turn into a unicorn stallion?”
He sighed. “I don't know. I certainly don't know how to.”
“He can,” Golden Cloud said. “He belongs to a species of dragon which can become almost anything it wishes to.”
“You know about that race,” Heather asked curiously.
“I do. As a point of fact I know much about them. They do not come to the forest anymore and have not for many winters, but for a time some of their wizards traveled to it to trade with us for our hair and dung that could be used for powerful magics. They really wanted our horns and bones but we did not tell them where our dead lay so that they would not be disturbed until they could be reborn as the legends foretold. One of them even became a unicorn stallion when he knew I had no breeding stallion and tried to entice me into telling him where he could find the bones of our people. He did not realize that I could still see that his heart was that of a dragon. Still, he was a magnificent stallion and I expect no less from this dragon.” Her ears flicked and she sniffed the air. “Give me another treat.”
Iain fed her the last treat in the parchment paper and crumpled it up. “That’s it, I have no more treats right now.” Out of the corner of his eye he saw Ninhursag, Eve and April appear in quick succession and he sighed. “Hello, ladies.”
“Theodora played the conversation for us,” Ninhursag said quietly. “And Ygerna says that unicorns are fey creatures and you negotiated poorly when you made a binding agreement with her. Will she join the clan?”
“You want her to stay?”
“She is correct about the foal possibly needing to learn to do things she cannot teach it and, more importantly, she has information about your dragon species.” Ninhursag moved to stand with him. “I am Ninhursag Grey and I am Iain's maharani. If we honor the agreement with you that Iain may have made with you, will you share the knowledge you have about his dragon species with us?”
“I am Golden Cloud and I do not like the fact that you name yourself a great queen as if you outrank me. You do not.” The mare tossed her head. “My agreement with Iain is complete. If you wish information about that species of dragon, you will bargain with me for it. I sense that unlike the others of his species he has honor and will not break his bargain with me.”
“That knowledge,” Ygerna said as she appeared out of the woods, “might help him to learn to become a unicorn stallion that he may fulfill his agreement with you. He does not know how to become one now and might not learn how to in time to breed you during your next heat. As your agreement with him was for only your next heat, if he cannot breed you for the reason that he does not know how to become a stallion and you have knowledge that could help him to do so and you will not share it with him and us, he will be free of the agreement.”
The mare looked at Iain. “You would let this mare bargain for you?”
Iain looked at Ninhursag, Eve and April and each woman nodded in turn. “I will and I do.”
“Well said,” Ygerna murmured. “And thank you for trusting me.”
“If you can change our agreement then so can I.” Golden Cloud's ears flattened. “I will share that knowledge with him and you and then he will use it to become a stallion and breed me no matter how many of my heats it takes for him to learn how to become a stallion and no matter how many heats after that it takes for him to succeed and give me a foal.”
“There are many dangers here that you are unfamiliar with,” Ygerna said. “If you are to remain here and we are to protect you from them, you and yours must agree to follow our orders. As you know, there can be only one maharani.”
“I will bring my herd here and they will help to protect you as much if not more than you protect us,” Golden Cloud said. “Therefore I should be the maharani.”
“That is a lie,” Eve said clearly. “And you know it and don't believe what you just said. You know we are more powerful than you are.”
“More importantly this is not your land,” Iain said. “And if you try to take it from us we will fight you. Others have tried and failed and you will as well.”
Golden Cloud looked at him for a long moment before turning to Ninhursag. “What requirements would you have of us?”
“You will obey my orders,” the Elfqueen said. “You may question them or suggest better ways to do something, but only if it is not an emergency. In return we will accept your herd as satellite clan and you as outer clan.”
“I do not know what clan is.”
“While here, you will learn what it means to be clan. If you cannot accept what your place in our clan is,” Ygerna said, “you will be allowed to leave but in return you will release Iain from his agreement with you.”
Golden Cloud looked thoughtful. “You will not change the rules for us such that you make it impossible for me and for my herd to accept being clan here and thus force us to leave. You will help us to make a place here if we desire to. In return we will fight alongside you if needed and lend you our magic and wisdom should it be necessary.”
Ygerna looked at Ninhursag, who nodded. The Sidhe woman bowed formally. “We agree to this.”
“I agree as well,” Golden Cloud said. “Shall I start by learning about clan or should I bring my herd here first?”
“Can I ask a couple of questions,” Ninhursag asked.
“What do you mean that your hair and dung are magical?”
Golden Cloud sniffed Iain's pockets. “You have no more treats, do you?”
“I haven't lied to you yet.”
“Will you get me more for later?”
“The hair of our tails and manes, if freely given, can be used as components in magical items and spells. Our dung can make plants grow where they should not.”
“What does that mean?”
“One could use our dung as fertilizer to make a warm weather plant grow in the permafrost ground of a tundra and if used as soil our dung could make normal plants grow in desert without additional watering being required.”
“That is impressive,” Ninhursag murmured. “We will have to see how our magic and yours can mesh.”
“We shall,” Golden Cloud agreed.
“Are we done bargaining my stud fee,” Iain asked.
Ygerna grinned. “We are.”
“Then I have study to attend.” He looked at Ninhursag. “You need to introduce everyone to Golden Cloud here and let them know what's going on, even Monica and her family since we can't hide them forever.” He made a face. “And we've got that barbecue coming up. This is going to awesomely fun.”
April shrugged. “I really don't like this, but I think it's the best way to deal with what happened.”
“That's a polite way to say I started this shit and so it's my fault,” Iain said.
April grinned at him. “I rather thought it was too.” She shook her head. “We have survived worse than this and we’ll survive this.”
Golden Cloud nudged him gently. “I will require your assistance.”
“Are you asking me to help or telling me I will?”
“Your herd mare outranks me, which means I cannot command the aid of her stallion. I am requesting your assistance.”
“What do you want?”
“I wish to return to my forest so that I may lead my herd here and your way of traveling is faster than mine. I also wish to return here with a part of my forest that it may live here. I cannot move them but you have hands and pockets and the other things that humans use to move things even if you are not truly human. Many of the plants in my forest are rare and magical and will not be found anywhere else unless transplanted and nurtured by my herd so they will be of value to both the herd and your people.”
“How big is your herd?”
“It is much smaller than it once was but one day it will grow again.”
Maybe that was precision for an illiterate herd animal, Iain thought to himself. “Can this wait a few days?”
“I would prefer that it not. My herd is much weaker without me and I do not know how time passes between this place and the forest. I fear that we will return to find my herd is dead and the forest destroyed.”
Iain nodded. “Theodora, tell Dominique to come here please and she and I will go to the forest so she can get the gate coordinates. Then we'll take the clan and do this right.”
“She is on her way,” Theodora said through his phone.
“Ninhursag,” Iain turned to her. “If we take the clan we can get everything Golden Cloud wants in one trip and you can scour the area for new plants and stuff. I also would like to collect her dead so they can come here too. If she didn't want to give them up to wizards, then if we don't collect them then as soon as someone figures out the herd has moved the forest will be full of idiots scouring the place for loot.”
She looked thoughtful. “We can be ready to go before lunch if you can assure me we'll be back before evening chores.”
Theodora appeared. “If you use the doorway to the library instead of the shuttles then transit time will be minimal and we should meet Ninhursag's desires easily as ship transit time from the portal area to the ship has always been the bottleneck. Will Golden Cloud have a problem being on the ship?”
“I have ridden on ships before,” Golden Cloud said. “I do not like the noises that the sails make or the stink but I can tolerate it as long as necessary.”
Dominique appeared. “Hi.” She blinked at the equine in front of her. “What the fuck?”
Golden Cloud had jumped away when the Archmage had teleported in and her ears were back with her horn centered on Dominique's chest. “Who are you, wizard?”
“This is Dominique and she's part of the clan,” Iain said. “That's why you need to meet everyone. Dominique, this is Golden Cloud and she just joined the clan.”
Dominique grinned suddenly. “Theodora just filled me in. You do realize that if you can become a unicorn stallion then Rosemary will want to have sex with it.”
Iain just shook his head. “Good morning to you too. Golden Cloud, Dominique knows a spell to go directly to the universe of your forest and will be able to use it once I take her there so she can get the coordinates she'll need to cast the spell.”
“If you take me as well I can begin the preparations for the move while waiting for you to return with your ship,” Golden Cloud said.
“Please take guards,” Ninhursag said.
“Are Pandora, Ganieda, Heather and Dianthus enough?”
She gave him a grateful smile. “Thank you.”
“This is about making the clan stronger, not me having a fit about my security, Ninhursag.”
“I'll remember that for next time.”
“I have called the others,” Heather said quietly.
“Thank you,” he replied just as quietly. Then he raised his voice. “As soon as my guards arrive we can leave.” He looked at Golden Cloud. “I will have to touch you to bring you with me.”
She looked thoughtful. “I must learn your touch anyways as you must touch me to breed me.”
Dominique shook her head. “This is even weirder than normal.” She poked Iain in the side with an elbow. “Stop raising the bar on what is fucked up.”
“I'd like to,” he said wryly. “I did not get up today and try to figure out how to make my life more complicated.”
“Good. I wonder how Kasumi will take this.”
“I am probably going to get an earful in private and, considering that I kind of did this to myself, I'm going to deserve it.”
April smiled. “Do you really think she is the only person who is going to have words for you about this?”
“Honestly, I'm working on the list of people who won't be pissed at me because I figure it'll be smaller than the list of people who will.”
“It will,” Eve said. “It will have one line that says 'nobody'.”
“No, but so far it has only the names of our children on it,” Iain replied with a smile. “And maybe Zareen.”
“You can add Dianthus as well,” Heather said. “Although it could be that she won't lecture you because she can't stop laughing.”
“I'm not sure that's better,” Iain said.
Pandora came flying in and landed as her wings vanished. Golden Cloud gasped. “You have such fantastic people here.” She winked at Iain. “But there are more of the interesting things to taste than there are fantastic people.”
Pandora shook her head as Ganieda and Dianthus appeared. “I'm not sure our security could have protected you from this since you were just being yourself. She is very smart, isn't she?”
“She is,” Iain agreed. A small drone slowed to hover in front of him and Iain plucked it from the air and tucked it into his pocket.
“Do you think she is pretty?”
Iain blinked. “I'm still stuck at wondering if this is bestiality.”
“She is a person and so it is not bestiality any more than having sex with Ganieda is bestiality, but it would help if you didn't think she is pretty.”
“I am pretty!”
Pandora looked at the unicorn mare. “It doesn't matter what you think about your appearance. If he doesn't think you are pretty then I don't have to be concerned quite so much about whether or not you will be staying a part of his life after that foal you tricked him into giving you is grown up.”
“Fear not, human. I do not usually mate with the same stallion twice. It is a waste of my noble bloodline.”
Pandora looked evenly at her. “Good. Do not make an exception with Iain.”
Golden Cloud's ears went flat. “You do not give me orders.”
Iain put a hand on Pandora's arm and spoke through his bond with her. Do you remember when you didn't deliberately goad Kasumi into going with us to Glasgow? You're doing it again.
Pandora flushed. Sorry. What can I do to make the situation better?
Just drop it. Iain smiled at Golden Cloud. “You are right and she is out of line. She cannot give you orders.”
“No, she cannot.” Golden Cloud looked around. “How do you travel?”
Iain looked around. “Ladies, let’s go with Dominique and Ganieda for now. I'll be figuring out how to make sure I stay in contact with Golden Cloud. The rest of you give me your balls.”
“Give them to me instead,” Ganieda said. “I will open them as soon as we are at our destination or at the first sign of trouble we cannot immediately escape.”
Pandora looked at Iain. “She will do as I would. You might not.” She handed her pokeball to the Snugglebunny Splice.
Quickly Heather and Dianthus did as well and Ganieda recalled all three of them before turning to Iain. “Where are we going?”
“Golden Cloud here wants us to take her home so she can gather the rest of her herd and some valuable plants and stuff and bring them back here. Dominique will get the gate coordinates and the entire clan will go. And since we're taking the Theodora, we only have to take one trip to get everything.”
“That makes sense.” She looked at Dominique. “If we get attacked you can protect the pony.”
Golden Cloud looked at Ganieda evenly and turned to Iain. “Your rabbit woman hopes to anger me so I will attack her. She thinks she can kill me and so keep you from having to leave this place right now. I will not be baited but I do not appreciate her insults.”
“I would say that's a failure, wouldn’t you,” Iain said as he turned to Ganieda. “You might want to know that she and her herd are joining the clan.”
“Shit.” Ganieda sighed as her ears flicked back for a second. “Golden Cloud, I am Ganieda and would like to ask that you please accept my apology for insulting you. I did not know at the time that you were petitioning to become clan and if I had I would not have spoken as I did.”
“Being clan makes that much of a difference?”
“It makes you one of us. There are two classes of people for us, clan and outlander. Clan members are to be cherished and protected. We are sworn to protect Iain with our lives but other than that we will always protect you too, sister.”
Golden Cloud's ears flicked uncertainly. “It means that much?”
“It does to us,” Iain said.
“I will attempt to remember that.” She bowed to Eve, April and Ninhursag. “Are we sisters?”
“We are,” Ninhursag said. “Your herd will be satellite clan and not family like you will be but they may petition for promotion if you and they see fit.”
“I will learn quickly and advise them of our new home and family.” Golden Cloud said formally.
“Good,” Iain said. “Now I need to touch you and it needs to be so we can walk together and, at the same time, the other women need to be touching us as well.”
“I've got your free hand in case I need to act,” Ganieda said.
“I'll take Iain's hand and you can take mine,” Dominique disagreed. “Then I'll let you go if I need to.”
“You may place your free hand on my mane. As I said before, I must learn to accept your touch.” The unicorn canted her head. “More of those treats would help to speed the process along.”
“I'll get them when we return.”
There was a flicker and Ryan was standing in front of him. “Iain,” she said quietly, “be careful.”
“I want to get pregnant as soon as you come back.” The Unicorn glanced over her shoulder. “I will have children before she bears you a foal.” She looked into his eyes. “Please.”
“I agree,” he said gently. “We are together and she isn't one of us like that. He looked down when she pressed something into his hands. “Your grooming brush?” He gave her an inquiring look.
“Pay attention to her hooves when your brush her,” Ryan whispered. “When you brush my feet and feathers it makes me really relaxed and sometimes horny. I know you and if you make her horny you can keep her off balance.” She winked. “And if you do become a stallion, I want to try it out. First.”
“We'll see,” he said. He pushed the brush back into her hands. “I’ll get her one for her use so I’m not using yours.”
“Thank you.” Ryan kissed him fiercely for a second and teleported away.
Dominique took his hand as she shook her head. “Is she worried she's going to be replaced?”
“I don't think so. After all, I'm not dating a human woman this time.” He twined his fingers in Golden Cloud's mane as Ganieda took Dominique's other hand. “She was giving me what she hoped were pointers.”
Ganieda’s ears flicked. “If you can use Golden Cloud’s memories then we can arrive right after she leaves and avoid the whole question about the time differential.”
Iain blinked as Dominique laughed softly. “That’s an excellent idea,” he said. He pulled his hand free from Dominique’s. “Golden Cloud, there may be a way to arrive right after you left the forest to come here, but I’ll need your cooperation to try.”
Her head turned to regard him, and he stiffened when he realized it put her horn almost into his right eye. It wasn’t a spiral, like the horn of a narwhal, but instead a solid piece of smooth straight horn almost a meter long that was as pure a white as her fur. What looked like pieces of mica glimmered with a hint of rainbow in its depths and the tip looked needle sharp at such a close range. “What must I do?”
“I want you to remember right before you left the forest to come here. Relive that moment again and again and fix the details in your mind. Then, with your permission, I will copy that memory and use it to go to the forest just after that instant.”
Her eyes widened and he could hear wonder in her voice. “The other dragons could not do this or the one who changed into a stallion would have used it to steal the location of the bones of our dead from my mind.”
“I won’t do that and, as far as I know, only a few wizards can copy memories this way. Even fewer can do it to someone without their permission and cooperation.”
“Can you do this to someone against their will?”
“I can. I have done it to some enemies of ours before they were destroyed so that their knowledge was not lost forever. It will one day be of use to Ygerna, who is one of my wives and part of our clan.”
“But you would not do that to me against my will? I knew you had honor. I will help you since by doing so I will protect my herd.” Her ears flicked. “Ninhursag says she is your maharani. Does that mean you lead the clan?”
“Stallions do not have a head for leadership. This is a thing that all mares know. They are too busy battling and trying to entice more mares into their harem to make serious decisions. That is why my herd has a queen and all herds of unicorns and other equines have queens leading their herds. A king would be useless. Do you really lead the clan?”
“I do, but if it makes you feel better I listen to what my ladies suggest. They have a lot of knowledge I do not and so it’s advisable to take their advice under consideration before making big decisions. And many of them have their own responsibilities and make their own decisions without consulting with me before doing so,” he muttered something under his breath.
“If my herd is satellite clan, are you their stallion too?”
“I’m the head of the clan. I am not the breeding partner for every mare in your herd or in the clan.”
“Of course you are not. My stallion does not breed lesser mares while breeding me. I would not tolerate such behavior. Even if I did, that much of one stallion’s blood is unhealthy for the herd.”
“Then where are you going with these questions?”
“If you are our leader then you will want to protect and nurture the herd so that it stays strong, healthy and grows.”
Iain turned that statement over in his mind a few times looking for a trap and finally nodded. “I will do what I can to ensure that, within reason.”
“Then I will freely give you any memory you need with which to help me protect the herd.”
“Then do as I ask and focus on that day. Review it several times and let me know when you’re ready for me to copy the memory.”
She stared into the distance for nearly a minute. “I am ready.”
“I’m going to touch you on the forehead, below your horn, and copy the memory. It will appear as a gold globe attached to my finger as I pull it from your head.” He did so and pushed the globe into his temple. For a second he stopped moving and then blinked hard several times.
“Are you all right,” Dominique asked as she put her hand on his shoulder.
“I’m fine,” Iain muttered. “That’s just the first time I’ve gotten a memory from someone who is completely inhuman and it’s,” he paused, “different. She doesn’t think the same way humans do. It’s actually kind of fascinating.” He gave himself a shake and took her hand. “But there won’t be any problem with using it to shadow walk.” He wrapped them in his power. “Are you ready?” He glanced at Ganieda. “Nobody needs to go to the bathroom?”
She chuckled and stuck out her tongue at him. “No, I don’t,”
“I like the way this feels,” Golden Cloud said. “It feels like a good food tastes.”
“I’m not sure what that means, but all right.” He made sure that Ganieda was holding Dominique’s hand. “And now step with me.”
The universe collapsed inwards on them and they found themselves standing in a thin stand of trees on a small rise looking out over a primitive corduroy log road. On the road a flood of humans were visible, crossing from right to left. Some pushed small carts while others carried bundles. Their faces showed weariness overlain by a terrible fear. Iain didn’t understand the language that he could faintly hear, but he was familiar enough with the worry and pain in the voices to recognize it almost immediately.
“Their minds are full of terror,” Ganieda said quietly. “According to them the Demons have escaped from the Forbidding and are coming to kill them all after they’ve destroyed the Elves.” She looked at Iain. “Does this mean anything to you?”
“It does. It means we are leaving right now. All I need is to run across Allanon the Druid to make my life just that little bit more complicated.” He looked to see that all three were still in contact with him. “And step.”
Wind screamed around them as heat beat down on them from the flames roaring on all sides. “Step,” Iain yelled. Then the flames were gone and they stood in a dense forest under a full moon. In front of them a pool of water was rippling as if a large rock had just dropped into it.
“This is,” Golden Cloud began
“This isn’t it,” Iain interrupted her. “Step.” Golden Cloud resisted and Iain scowled. “Don’t focus on the pool. All of the plants around us except for the grass are toxic. Is that how your forest is?”
Golden Cloud’s head swung around quickly. “No,” she said in a small voice. “This isn’t my forest.” Her voice strengthened. “I listen to you and will step on your command.”
“Then step.” They stood in another forest with another full moon and an identical pool in front of them and more ripples in the water. “This is your forest,” Iain said as he let his hands drop.
“What was that place,” Ganieda asked.
“It was place or a world that is a mirror of this one,” Iain said. “As good as this place is, that place is awful and something knew we were there just as soon as we exited.”
“I felt it reaching for us,” Ganieda said. “Dominique and Golden Cloud frightened it and it hesitated.” She released Heather, Pandora and Dianthus, who spread out around Iain and his group.
“Me,” Dominique asked curiously. “What about me frightened it?”
“You’re Blessed and it felt the Celestial power within you. Golden Cloud has something similar and her presence frightened and angered whatever it was.”
“What’s with the pool,” Dominique asked.
“I used it to travel to Iain’s place,” Golden Cloud said. “Water magic is powerful and well suited for traveling long distances since water does the same. The moon guides one’s path and so the light of the full moon helped me to choose the correct path to walk.”
“Of course,” Iain said as a unicorn ghosted out of the undergrowth. “Another similarity is that something knew we were here as soon as we arrived in this place too.”
Golden Cloud stepped forward. “I have returned. Assemble the herd at the meeting place.”
The strange unicorn replied in a female voice. “Yes, my queen.” Then she was gone, disappearing into the trees like she’d never been there.
“Our power tells us when intruders arrive. It was how the stupid stallion knew of your presence and intercepted you before you could leave.” Golden Cloud’s tail flicked. “Come with me.”
“Hold on,” Iain said. “Dominique?”
She was already casting a spell. She nodded when she finished. “I have the coordinates for this universe.”
“We’ll want to come out within a light minute of the planet,” Iain said. “It’s important. The solar system isn’t constructed like the ones we’ve visited before. In fact, we’ll send drones through first to make sure that Theodora’s technology works like expected before we come through.”
“And if it doesn’t?”
Iain shrugged. “I’ll hire Kerrik to open some portals so the herd can join us. He’s never been here before so he’ll do it for the coordinates. However, I suspect that technology will work like we expect it to.”
“Why is that?”
“I’m using my twee to run test sequences on my computer and so far nothing is out of spec. I also brought a small drone to use to test gravity generation and control and its test sequences are within normal parameters.” He smiled. “It's in my pocket.”
Golden Cloud stomped a hoof. “Can we go now?”
“Sure. Just understand that we need to get back to the ranch so we can come here to bring the herd to the ranch.”
“I understand that,” She waited until they joined her and moved off at an easy walk. “I want my herd to meet their new stallion and the others so they know you are friendly to us. I want there to be no misunderstandings between our people.”
Dianthus was looking around with an expression Iain hadn’t seen before. “This forest is very old and it is alive in a way that isn’t sentient but also isn’t just that of trees.”
Golden Cloud looked back at her. “You are very perceptive for a human. What you feel is the mind and soul of our forest. It slumbers but we will awaken it to move it to our new home, thus keeping our forest with us even as we go elsewhere.”
“How much of the forest will we have to move,” Iain asked curiously.
“The heart of the forest will travel within me,” Golden Cloud said. “With a few of the plants we must have, I will release it into new woods and remake the forest there.”
“We log our forest somewhat. Is that going to be a problem?”
Her ears flicked. “Do you clear cut large portions at a time?”
“We do not,” Dianthus said. “We take individual trees and usually plant three for every tree that we remove. In the areas that we clear, we do so for purpose.”
“You respect the forest. As long as that respect continues, the forest will bless and protect you as it blesses and protects us.”
Iain carefully didn’t shake his head and glanced at Pandora. What are we getting ourselves into, he thought across their bond.
I am sure that whatever it is, it will be a benefit to the clan in the long run, Iain. It has always been so, except for Barbie and she, I am told, was a trap that you could not have avoided.
I hope you’re right.
I can sense that this place is a place for good. It will not harm us as we are not evil. She glanced at him and winked. And we will intercede on your behalf so that it does not harm you.
Celestials, Iain thought with amusement.
Amusement and love came back over her bond with him. Who is truly at fault, Iain? Is it us for being who we are or you for letting us permanently into your life?
It’s always my fault, isn’t that what people are always telling me?
She smiled without ceasing her constant surveying of their surroundings. Then perhaps it is. Now stop distracting me from my job.
Iain just chuckled and followed Golden Cloud. She led them to a clearing that was full of unicorns. At second glance it was still full of unicorns but the clearing was smaller than he’d originally thought. Including Golden Cloud there are thirty eight unicorns present, his twee told him. Four are subadult and one of the subadult ones appears to be a colt. No stallions are present. There was a pause. I must correct that, there no other stallions beside you.
You are not all that funny and besides you’ll be there with me on top of her, Iain thought at his twee.
I find this entire thing hilarious and I am hopeful that I may be asleep through all of that.
Golden Cloud moved to a small grass covered knoll and looked over the others. “As foretold in the legends, the time has come for us to leave this land and take our forest and our dead to another place which is farther from here than you can imagine. It is so far away that our growing circle of enemies will search for a thousand of their short lifetimes and never be able to find us. This stallion is Iain and he and his will take us there and there we will work with him to strengthen and grow the herd. Know his scent and the scent of his women and accept them as helpers of the herd.”
A mare stepped forward. “My queen, beware for this is another of the wizard dragons.”
“I know what and who he is and he is our friend. Taste the truth in my words and if I am lying may the forest take me immediately.” Nothing happened and the assembled unicorns bowed in unison. “Now we must collect the seeds of the plants and trees that we will take with us. We will assemble them here and the humans,” she glanced in their direction, “and Iain will take them to our new home for us with their hands, freeing up our magic to do what must be done. Then we will collect our dead and they will also be carried with us on our journey for their home is always with us until the day that they are reborn and can rejoin the herd and make it great.” She stomped a hoof and the ground trembled. “Now go and begin the tasks you are assigned.” The herd dispersed and she returned to Iain and his group. “We will also assemble the treasures that our foes have left in the forest along with their lives after seeking to harm us,” she said. “They will be for you and yours to use to increase your strength for there are always those who will seek to harm the herd. No matter where we will go there will always be some and once they learn of our presence in the clan, you will become their foes merely because they desire us.”
Pandora smiled amusedly. “They will learn that one does not attack our clan with impunity.”
Golden Cloud looked at Iain curiously and he shrugged. “She’s right. Those who decide we are their enemies tend to either rethink that decision pretty quickly or they end up dead.”
Pandora scowled at a thought. “Some find out there are things much worse than merely being dead.”
Iain decided to ignore the comment. “If you’re going to be all right, we’ll head back to the ranch and start the ship headed here.”
“When will you arrive? Our enemies include wizards still and they will learn quickly that the herd is planning to move away. They will undoubtedly attack if they feel we are vulnerable during that time.”
“We will most likely return today before sunrise or soon after,” Dominique said confidently. “I don’t think it’ll be more than a few hours. A flying thing,” she pulled out her computer and put up a hologram of a shuttle, “that looks like this will come from the sky and land in this clearing or drop off someone who can lead you to the landing site if this clearing is too small to land without damaging the trees.”
“Break the trees if you must,” Golden Cloud said. “The forest will understand our haste. But one of you must be among the first out of the ship or you may be attacked by the herd.”
“I will be first off,” Ganieda said. “And I am unique and easy to recognize.”
“You are that, sister,” Golden Cloud said. “Then go and may the wind carry you quickly.”
Iain looked at Pandora. “I need one guard for the return trip.”
“It will be me,” she replied. “Ganieda, give me the pokeballs.” Once in her hands, she returned Ganieda, Dianthus and Heather. “I’m ready.”
Iain took Pandora’s and Dominique’s hands. “We will return soon, Golden Cloud.”
“We will not wait. The herd will continue collecting the things to go with us and the forest.”
“Good.” Iain looked at Dominique and Pandora. “Step with me, ladies.”
They stood on a path on the side of a mountain that towered above them. They were high enough on the mountain that below they could see for miles but the only sign of life was a tiny village with tendrils of smoke climbing from chimneys. The terrain around the village was arid and dry and reminded Iain of his visits to Israel.
Iain’s twee spoke inside the depths of his mind. I am picking up only one sign of technology. There is a satellite in orbit that is sending an ID code in an obscure Tirsuli language. I do not know this language, but the connection protocols are still used in archaic equipment that can still be found sometimes, so I have them in my memory. Should I try to connect?
No. I think I know where we are and if I’m right then that satellite is waiting for technology to develop on this planet to a particular point. Contacting it early would just cause problems that we don’t need right now. “Ready ladies?” They nodded. “Then step.”
They exited into the living area inside Iain’s quarters on the Theodora. “Welcome back,” Theodora said as she appeared. “I presume you’ve returned from taking Golden Cloud home.”
“That’s right. Is there a problem?”
“Only in that you are still getting things organized to leave, Iain. Apparently you cut the return a little too fine.” She smiled. “And you just left.”
“I’ll try not to do that again.”
“I would appreciate that. I was worried for a few seconds that you were an Iain from another universe that had come here either by misstep or with fell intent in your heart.”
Pandora shook her head. “You’ve been spending too much time around Lucifer if you’re starting to talk like she does.”
Theodora smirked at her. “I think it’s an interesting style of speech.”
“At least she’s not imitating Dorothea,” Iain said. He rubbed his eyes. “So we did leave and therefore it should be safe to go to the ranch, right?”
“Yes, Iain.” She eyed him curiously. “What happens if you meet yourself?”
“You mean other than Rosemary asking about the possibilities of a threesome with two Iain Greys?”
Heather, Dianthus and Ganieda laughed while Pandora looked like she was trying very hard not to as Theodora grinned. “Yes, besides the obvious.”
“If we touch we aren’t going to destroy the fabric of the universe or reverse time or anything like that. We won’t be identical, see. One of us will be older than the other with different experiences and so paradox doesn’t really come into play.”
“Is that true even if those experiences are only a few seconds different from those of the other?”
“Even then. If two completely identical persons met they’d be able to merge and at that point I’d conjecture that what was happening was the collapse of two identical universes into each other to leave only one in their places and since there are no two universes which are completely identical, much less two identical individuals, that can’t happen except in the most extreme of instances.” He looked thoughtful. “I’d say the chances were almost exactly zero, but there is always an infinitesimal chance of anything happening.”
Theodora nodded. “Thank you and I have informed Ninhursag of your return. She says the schedule for departure has not changed.”
“I’ll get to my station and start readying my spell,” Dominique said. “Iain, if you want us to come out within a light minute of the planet do we need to leave this universe within a light minute of Earth?”
“That would probably help but one of these days we need to figure out how to do distance changes across universes. We’ll do the jump from the far side of the moon to keep the visual effects as hidden from the people on Earth as possible. I just hope that the entire Pleiades group is asleep in their base.”
“They are unlikely to come looking for us,” Ganieda said. “Considering Ming Die’s presence with Poppet Harris, aren’t they likely to be more interested in Stardust and Circe as daughters they haven’t had yet, which would keep their focus on Shikarou?”
“That’s true, at least to a point. Let’s not get their attention, though. I don’t need more women in my life if I can avoid it.” He took Pandora’s hand. “Dominique will stay here and prep the spell and the rest of us will go help pack. The sooner we leave the sooner we can come back and get to some serious work.”
Ganieda landed in the clearing and looked around as her tail tucked itself under her skirt. A unicorn appeared out of the woods and she smiled. “I’d like to speak with Golden Cloud.”
“She is coming,” the unicorn said in a feminine voice. Her head lifted and she looked at the shuttle hovering over the clearing. “I have seen airships before but none like that.”
“You have returned even earlier than I thought you would,” Golden Cloud said as she walked into the clearing. “Why has your ship not landed?”
“We’ll have to clear a landing site and you’ve got the clearing full of stuff so I wanted to get your permission to remove some of the trees so we can make room for the shuttle.”
“I told you to fell the trees you needed to before you left.”
“You did, but we’re just being cautious. We didn’t want to start shooting to knock down trees and hurt someone by accident.” She looked at Dianthus and Heather as they appeared in front of her. “We’ve got permission so get started.”
“We’re on it,” Heather said as Dianthus headed for the tree line. “It should only take a few minutes.” Then she followed the other Elfqueen.
“Two people will take a long time to fell so many trees,” Golden Cloud said dubiously.
“Watch,” Ganieda said. “I’d help but someone needs to provide security.”
Dianthus stopped and shouldered her bow before focusing on the trees in front of her. The ground trembled and began to boil around the individual trunks as the trees pulled their roots from the ground and began to topple sideways. As they dropped, the trees rolled their roots into balls and their leaves fell and their branches moved closer to their trunk as Dianthus ordered them into the slumber of winter. More trees began to fall as Heather joined in.
“I have never seen such magic,” Golden Cloud said. Surprise echoed in her voice.
“Heather and Dianthus are Elfqueens and they have the power to command plants. For Elfqueens of greater strength that power is almost absolute. Those trees look like a species of oak and we’re putting them to sleep so we can load them into the shuttle for transport to our home so that we can add their genetics to the trees we have if they’re of a species that’s already found around the ranch. If they’re new to us, we’ll take more of them to increase the genetic diversity so the foundation woods will be stronger.” Ganieda smiled at Golden Cloud. “We thought that a lot better than killing them to land the shuttle.”
“It is,” the mare replied. “And the forest will appreciate what you are doing. Can your Elfqueens command other plants besides trees?”
“They can command almost any plant and if you’ll point out plants, trees and whatnot you want to take, we’ll pack them for shipment along with the seeds and such that you’ve already collected.”
“That is excellent. We were worried that we would not be able to take many of the plants we would like to because it is not their time for seeds.”
“Elfqueens can make plants to go seed out of season if you want,” Ganieda said. As they watched the trees on the ground lifted off and flew towards the shuttle. “Now they’re gathering the trees for storage in the hold for transshipment to the Theodora, our primary ship.”
Golden Cloud’s ears flicked. “I had no idea we would be able to take so much of the forest. I must rethink what we will want to move with us.”
“Think quickly for we don’t plan to be here for months. Ideally we’d like to be long gone before your enemies realize that you’re leaving.”
“Yes,” Golden Cloud said thoughtfully, “that would be for the best.” She looked at the second unicorn. “Find my assistants and tell them they are summoned to the glade.”
“Yes, my queen.” The unicorn turned and raced into the forest to disappear.
“Your magic at camouflage is excellent,” Ganieda said. “How close must someone be to penetrate it?”
“With our magic operating you could walk next to one of the herd and never know she is there.”
“That reminds me, why is there only one male in the herd and him just a colt?”
“Over the years fewer and fewer stallions have been born. Of the ones that are, many are stupid like the one Iain met and die from their stupidity or are refused by the mares and driven away when they become aggressive about breeding rights.”
“So there are still some stallions that are alive?”
Golden Cloud nodded. “I believe there are a few still. Once they were like we are and but lightly touched by the passage of time, that changed and now they live and die as mortal beasts do. That will only change back to the way it was when the dead are reborn and rejoin the herd. I have sent word to them, but I do not know who will respond, if any. They could all be dead. That is one of the reasons that our dead will go with us.”
“Do we need to collect their remains?”
“You do not. We shall bring them to you for transport.”
Ganieda looked up when her twee warned her. “The shuttle is ready to land.”
Golden Cloud moved to stand beside her. “Where are Heather and Dianthus?”
“They’re scouting the area for threats and will rejoin us before Iain disembarks.”
“The forest is safe. The herd would know of intruders long before they reached the glade.”
“Iain has only one life and we take no chances with it.”
Golden Cloud’s ears flicked. “How did he come here with only two women then and then return alone to heal the stupid stallion?”
“We take no chances with his life. We cannot stop him from being brave without us.”
“I see.” Golden Cloud watched the shuttle come down and hover as landing gear extended. “Do you think him stupid for taking chances with his life?”
“I don’t. Others think differently, but their worry is fueled by their love for him as well as fear of what life would be without him.”
“So you do not love him or is it you do not fear for his loss?”
“I love and I fear,” Ganieda said. “And I know that I would not have him live a completely sheltered life for he would grow weak and my male should always be growing stronger that our children will be as strong as possible.” She glanced at the unicorn. “And his being strong is more important than a little fear for his safety since I know he does not want to die more than I don’t want him to die.”
“Good. He should be as strong a stallion as possible when my heat comes.”
“First he has to learn to become a stallion,” Ganieda pointed out.
“He is not stupid and he will learn,” Golden Cloud said confidently. “The goddess would not have brought him to the herd and to me otherwise.”
“Your goddess isn’t Danu, is it?”
“No, it is not. The goddess is Mielikki.”
Ganieda shook her head. “Great, another goddess may be interested in my male.” She chuckled. “Well, if I wanted a quiet life and a boring male I should have just left when given the chance.”
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)
Golden Cloud – equine unicorn
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