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Iain clung to Ryan’s waist with his arms and her equine back with his thighs as she raced through the forest to where he was supposed to meet with Ninhursag while Lynn kept easy pace behind her and Daphne winged overhead above the treetops. The Unicorn pokegirl, while not really jealous, had demonstrated a pronounced tendency to wander away from whatever job she’d been assigned to in order to check up on Iain during their time in the forest with the herd of equine unicorns. Since it proven unable to stop her from doing this, she’d been rotated into Iain’s guard for the time being. It helped since Heather, Dianthus and even Ganieda had been pulled to help with the gathering of parts of the forest for the move. Ganieda had protested until it had been pointed out she’d been seen using plant magic to help some of the Elves and she’d finally admitted that she’d been spliced with an Elfqueen and had kept her plant related abilities. That had resulted in her being temporarily reassigned to gathering duties, where she seemed to be perfectly happy.
Only Iain knew she’d been keeping constant tabs on him through their delta bond and that her apparent happiness was an act. Well, maybe Theodora knew. Not much slipped past her sensor arrays after all.
So right now his guard was Pandora, Ryan, Canaan and Zareen, with Daphne and Lynn as alternates. Iain had quickly realized that, except for Ryan, he’d been given some of the more bloodthirsty and pragmatic members of the harem to protect him in this unknown land. And as for Ryan, she seemed to be more than willing to follow Zareen’s example in striking first and not bothering to ever ask questions if she felt she’d seen a threat to Iain. As for Lynn and Daphne, the Growlie was very protective of her male and Daphne’s philosophy towards guarding him was to breathe fire first and let someone else put the target out if it turned out not to be a threat to Iain. The Whorizard wasn’t really suited for Iain’s guard, but the unicorns were terrified of her because they thought that she had a close resemblance to a dragon, that and the constant fire burning on the end of her tail. Except for Golden Cloud, they tended to just melt into the forest when she was around, which made Ryan more than willing to work with her since she didn’t like them being around Iain.
But it was Zareen that really scared them. For some reason, neither they nor the forest could sense her presence and that, along with the Nightmare’s already legendary hunting and evasion skills, had made her unwelcome anywhere in the forest that a unicorn could be found. She hadn’t expressed a sentiment about their behavior, but Iain knew through their bond she found them vastly amusing.
Abruptly, Ryan slowed to a walk and then stopped. She looked at Lynn as the Growlie pulled up short, but her words were also for Iain. “Daphne reports some kind of balloon levitating craft is coming in over the forest from the southwest. It has five red and gold balloons in a large net bag that looks like it’s made of metal and a waterborne ship shaped gondola hanging underneath the balloons.” She looked over her shoulder at Iain. “Well?”
“That sounds like some of those mountain wizards that Golden Cloud warned us about,” Iain said. “According to what she told me they build those ships in a volcanic crater lake at the top of one of their mountains and then fly it around with the balloons.” He reached out with his twee, including Ryan, Lynn and Zareen in his message to Daphne. If you want to warn them off, be careful. I’ve only got the one Whorizard and I’d rather not lose you.
I’ll be careful, lover, she replied. But monitor what’s going on just in case. Daphne tilted her tail and changed direction, her wings began digging into the air as she climbed to get above the incoming balloon. Another pokegirl might have tried to hug the trees and avoid being seen, but she was nearly three meters tall when standing and twice that in length with her tail when flying and her scales gleamed in the afternoon sun too much to be missed.
The balloons are sealed, her twee informed her. If not purely magic in nature, they might be filled with hydrogen or helium and hydrogen is very flammable.
Daphne grinned and leisurely climbed more until she was above the balloons in the net. Then she turned and began a large circle around the craft. Up closer she could see that the craft was far larger than she’d initially thought, with the gondola probably a dozen meters long and multileveled. Over a dozen people stood on the top deck while she could see movement in square windows cut at regular intervals in the deck just below them. Each had a hatch to seal it but all of the hatches had been opened. That looks like muzzle loading cannon that haven’t been run out yet, her twee noted.
If they’re magical they might not need to be, Daphne replied. She turned at an angle to cut across the bow of the ship. “The forest is off limits,” she bellowed, wishing she’d learned a spell to amplify her voice. Still, from here the expressions of shock on their faces suggested they could hear her words quite well. She was using one of a double handful of stock statements in the local trade language which someone on board should speak. “Turn your craft and retreat or you will be destroyed!” She caught a thermal and spread her wings to capture its lift, changing direction and altitude randomly as she circled to avoid any archers they might have. It saved her as the ballista arrow missed her by less than a meter. It passed just underneath and to the right of her to silently explode into a multicolored spray of light and fire a dozen meters beyond.
Daphne’s wings bit the air powerfully as she accelerated hard, turning towards the ship while she drew in a deep breath and held it for a second before picking her target as she swept between the gondola and the balloons at over a hundred kilometers per hour, her sudden increase in speed taking the people on the gondola completely by surprise. Her flamethrower attack drenched the back half of the ship shaped gondola in fire and she held the flames in one spot for as long as she could as she flew by to ensure the wooden hull was fully engulfed.
More ballista bolts snapped towards her and around her to miss as she twisted into an unexpected Split-S turn that ended with her headed towards the balloons in their netting even as she accelerated to her full speed of a hundred and seventy kph.
An energy blade sprang into existence from each fist but she ignored them for the moment to concentrate on the fire still burning on the stern of the gondola. She shaped it into a wall perpendicular to the line of the deck with her pyrokinesis and hurled it along the deck towards the front of the ship, blowing screaming bodies over the side as the flames shot forward in a rush. Then she merely extended her arms and let her speed drag the energy blades over the netting just like she’d once liked to do to helicopter blades and aircraft engines during the Revenge War.
Miraculously, her energy blades didn’t touch a single balloon, and behind her they slipped unharmed out of the netting which had held them and raced for the waiting clouds above.
Daphne turned and laughed as she watched the gondola get swallowed up by the massive old growth trees as it plunged into the waiting forest far below. Dust and wood fragments billowed up from the crash site. “I warned you.” She blinked at the sight of a single human hanging in the air where the gondola had been. “Rob me of a clean sweep, will you,” she growled as she turned towards hovering figure. “I think not.”
Her teeth clenched when lightning sprayed over her body from a wand the wizard carried, but she didn’t falter or scream, instead peppering her target with a series of flame shots which engulfed him in a sphere of fire as each small ball of fire hit unerringly due to her pyrokinesis adjusting their aim as they approached. His scream was short and his hovering spell survived his death, leaving a slowly rotating carcass burning behind her as she swept overhead.
She turned and headed back for Iain and the others, cursing to herself when she realized that her left leg had been crippled by the lightning strike and her tail badly hurt as well, which meant that landing was going to be little more than a controlled crash, and that only if she could avoid striking a thick tree branch or trunk on the way in. I’m hurt too badly to land without crashing, she sent to Iain. This is not going to be fun. She reached into a pocket on her skirt to get her pokeball so they could recover her after she crashed and cursed again when she realized the pocket was ripped open and empty.
Canaan’s mind touched hers. Iain has told me and I’m on the way. Don’t try to land and I can use my telekinesis to carry you down. A wry feeling came through. That is unless you want to be stubborn and try to do this yourself.
A year ago I’d have been that stubborn, Daphne told her. Now I will grudgingly accept your assistance so I’m not injured more than I am now. Apparently I’m out of shape for I’m more tired than I expected from such a short fight.
Up ahead where her twee told her Iain waited below the canopy, she could see Canaan hovering in midair. She felt surprise from the Huntress Splice. You’re not out of shape. What is wrong is that you’re bleeding so heavily I can see it falling from your body as you fly. Canaan accelerated hard towards her and Daphne locked her wings into a glide position and tilted them to provide as much lift as they could as she slowed. She felt herself suddenly come to a halt and hang in midair. I have you, Canaan told her. She folded her wings and curled as much as she could into a ball. Canaan stopped in front of her as they began to drop into the canopy. “You’ve got a long piece of something sticking out of your left leg,” she said. “Zareen is getting Siobhan.”
“I dropped my pokeball.”
“We know. Dominique is retrieving it with her tracking spell.”
Iain was waiting as they dropped through the trees into the understory and he slipped off of Ryan to meet them before they landed. “I’m sorry,” Daphne said groggily. “I lost my pokeball.”
With is perception Iain could see that the thing in her leg was part of a ballista bolt and that it had pierced her femoral artery. The only thing that had kept her from bleeding out in midair was that it was still in place and it was plugging part of the hole. Even so, blood was spurting out with each beat of her heart. He grinned at her. “I’ll punish you later,” he said jokingly as he put his hands on her leg, channeled his magic towards healing and let it begin to trickle into her and start closing the hole around the bolt to slow the blood loss as much as he could.
He was so focused on what he was doing that he jumped when Siobhan put her hand on his shoulder. “You’re doing well,” she said quietly. “Can you hold this while I pull the shrapnel out and then heal her as I do?”
“I don’t think so.”
“I want you to try. If you can’t, I’ll be here to help, but I want you to stretch your limits and do this if you can.” She moved around and gripped the bolt where it protruded from Daphne’s leg. “Daphne, this is going to hurt.”
Daphne grunted a laugh. “This isn’t the first time I’ve been hurt. My leg can’t be fixed until that fucking thing is out.”
Siobhan nodded. “Iain, are you ready?”
“Do I have a choice?”
The Nurse Joy merely smiled grimly and, in a single smooth motion, pulled the bolt from Daphne’s leg as Iain turned the trickle of magic into a river flooding into Daphne. The Whorizard jerked. “Fuck!” She began rubbing her leg hard with both hands. “That fucking itches like crazy!”
Siobhan was watching with a curious expression. “It doesn’t hurt?”
“Not a bit. All it does is itch so much that it’s almost painful.” She sighed and relaxed. “And it’s fading now.”
Dominique appeared and handed a pokeball to Siobhan. “That was a bloody terrible place to try and recover anything. The ship landed almost on top of the pokeball and the trees were trying to beat to pieces anything that wasn’t a tree. My force field held, but they knocked me around like a fucking golf ball when I flew in to grab it. I had to hover overhead and call Daphne’s ball to me and those fucking trees tried to swat it like a bug as it zipped by them.” She grinned suddenly. “Imagine what they would do to a unit of Indigo infantry or some feral pokegirls.”
Siobhan pocketed the pokeball and knelt to examine Daphne. “Iain healed you completely. You’ll be dehydrated from blood loss and you need to eat and drink to recover what you lost, but you should be able to stand perfectly well if you’re not too weak.” She looked over at Iain. “Why can’t you heal yourself this well?”
He shrugged. “I like Daphne more than I like myself?”
A thoughtful look crossed Siobhan’s face. “That might be truer than you think,” she said quietly. “And it would explain a lot.” She frowned. “Did you do something to stop Daphne’s pain when I pulled the shrapnel out?”
“I kept the pain nerves from activating,” Iain said. “I took physiology in university and I know how nerves work.”
“Thanks,” Daphne said, “but could I ask that next time you keep the nerves that transmit itching from activating too? That was maddening.” She slowly stood and swung her tail experimentally. “Hey, it all works and nothing hurts. You’re not a bad nurse, Iain.”
He smiled. “Thank you.” He looked at Siobhan. “What are you doing at the moment?”
“I’m on call for emergencies like this one. I’m all thumbs when it comes to plants unless I’m grinding some into medicine. Why?”
“I’d like Zareen to take you and Daphne back to the shuttle and you can use the door to get back on board the Theodora. Make sure she works on recovering or turn her over to Theodora for treatment in medical. I’ll keep Canaan to keep my guard at the same numbers.” He took Daphne’s hand. “You did well but you got hurt and I need you back at a hundred percent if you’re guarding me.”
Daphne looked down into his eyes. “This isn’t some trick to get me out of the way, is it?”
Iain didn’t look away. “No, it is not. If you were failing as my guard, I’d tell you and relieve you for cause. I’ve done it before.”
She looked surprised. “Who?”
“That’s not important and I don’t go out of my way to embarrass my ladies. Will you do as I ask without an order?”
“If I don’t, there’s going to be an order, right?” She smiled. “Yes, that was your subtle warning. I’ll go.”
“Good.” Iain squeezed her hand and let go. “This isn’t me saying you’re off the detail. You’re back on tonight if Theodora and Siobhan clear you.”
She smiled. “That’s what I needed to hear.” She bent down and kissed him on the lips. “Thank you.”
Zareen took Siobhan and Daphne by the hand and vanished. Iain shook his head and Canaan’s antenna twitched. “What is it?”
“Daphne did well today, but she still plays with her food and it got her hurt. I’d really like it if she stopped scaring me like that.”
The Huntress nodded. “The problem is that she doesn’t do it during training so it’s hard to get her to stop something she only does in a real fight.”
“So I need to accept that one day she won’t come back from a fight because she got cocky?” Iain scowled. “That’s not happening. Tell April to find a way to fix it even if you and Ganieda have to get involved.”
Canaan nodded. “I will and we’ll do what we can. Do you feel better?”
Iain grunted sourly as he looked at the blood beginning to dry on his clothes and the ground around where he’d healed Daphne. “Not really. Let’s get to Ninhursag and find out what else has gone sideways today.”
Ryan slowed to a walk when Ygerna and Kasumi stepped into her path and Kasumi held up a hand for her to stop. “What’s the matter?”
“I’d like a word with Iain, please.”
The Unicorn looked over her shoulder but Iain was already sliding to the ground. He smiled as he joined the two women. “Good morning, ladies.”
“Good morning, husband,” Kasumi said with a smile.
“So, I take it you two wanted to talk to me. May I inquire as to what the subject it?”
Ygerna took his hand. “Something disquieting has been brought to my attention and I spoke to Kasumi to see if she thought it might be as significant as I did.”
Kasumi nodded. “I thought it was actually more significant than Ygerna found it to be and so we came to you.”
Iain looked from one to the other and back at Ryan, who looked as mystified as he felt. “All right, I’ll nibble at the bait. What is it?”
Ygerna’s fingers tightened on his. “When did you last eat?”
“Um, four hours or so ago I had a pack of jerky. We’re kind of busy and so I’ve been living off of jerky and water while I try to keep ahead of the problems that keep cropping up and then I’ll have a regular meal with everyone else at the end of the day. The latest problem was that trio of wyverns that decided to go hunting equine meat in the forest.” He smiled. “Fortunately, they didn’t find Elf arrows all that digestible and so Theodora got new DNA to study while Dominique has a bunch of new body parts to find magical uses for.”
“I understand the unicorns were fighting off the wyverns when our forces showed up,” Kasumi said quietly.
“They were but a filly had been pretty badly injured and the wyverns were most likely going to make off with her.”
Ygerna nodded. “Golden Cloud admitted as much afterwards. When did you last sleep more than an hour?”
Iain raised an eyebrow. “Since you’re asking the question, I suspect you already know the answer to it.”
Ryan frowned. “I don’t understand what you’re asking him about. We go to bed with everyone else around midnight.”
“You do,” Ygerna said. “We do as well but Iain has been making his way to his lab and doing his daily magical studies instead of sleeping.”
Ryan scowled. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware of he was doing that. You need your sleep, Iain.”
“So I skip a little sleep,” Iain was trying very hard not to sound irritable but even he knew it wasn’t working, which just irritated him more as he pulled his hand free from Ygerna’s grip. “What’s the big deal with that since I’m obviously fine? I’ll sleep when we’re out of this freaking forest.”
“We’ve been here a week and you haven’t slept once during that time except for a few naps,” Kasumi said. “You still need to sleep if nothing else so you can process the day’s activities. And we miss our husband being in bed with us.”
“I suppose you were told about this by my wonderful omnipresent blabbermouth named Theodora.”
She appeared. “Yes, Iain, I warned them about what you weren’t doing.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t just drug my food so I’d get some sleep.”
She folded her arms. “I did. You didn’t notice.”
He blinked. “Oh. That was a mean thing to do.”
“One day you’re going to need a pain killer and I’ll try very hard not to take a great deal of pleasure in reminding you that you’ve made yourself immune to all of those sorts of drugs and so you just get to suffer.”
“Man, the love just keeps rolling my way,” Iain muttered. “Did you really drug my food?”
Theodora smiled. “No, I didn’t. You’ve made yourself immune to many depressants and even with that I’m worried about how your new metabolism will react to anything. I need to get some more blood samples and start testing how you react to my pharmacopeia.” Her smile widened slightly. “Not to mention you might taste the drugs in the food. I’m thinking about dart delivery systems instead. After all, darting you to knock you out isn't going to make you madder than you're already going to be when you do wake up. Or maybe I’ll just use the somnus drones on you.”
“Damn,” Iain said. “Look, I’m functional.”
“You believed Theodora would drug your food, Iain,” Kasumi said quietly. “That level of belief isn’t normal for you.”
Iain started to say something and stopped, looking thoughtful. Finally he shrugged. “Very well, I’ll sleep tonight.”
“And,” Ygerna asked as she took his hand again.
“And you will sleep every night after that unless there’s a real emergency that we all need to deal with.”
“I need to be doing my studying,” Iain stated.
“If you were to patrol less you could have the time you need for studying without interfering with your sleep,” Kasumi said quietly.
“That sounds awesome but you might notice that whenever something happens the air gets filled with calls for Iain. In my lab Theodora will be blocking those. Most of the events don’t really need me, but my presence reassures people and sometimes that’s important too. It’s like what happened with Daphne a few days ago. Even if she’d bled out Siobhan and Theodora could have brought her back from the brink of brain death but she headed straight for me because that’s her first instinct and the fact that she knew I was waiting for her helped.” He shrugged. “I guess my studies will get put into abeyance until we leave.” He smiled at Kasumi. “So, Mrs. Grey, you don’t get to nag me about missing my studies.”
Iain knew she liked being reminded they were married and her answering smile lit up her face. “I will try to remember that, Mr. Grey.”
Ygerna laughed and used her grip on him to pull herself into his arms. “I think my using a last name just sounds silly so I won’t be Mrs. Grey.” She reached behind her and grabbed Kasumi’s arm to drag her into a group hug. “But it does sound good on my friend here.”
Kasumi looked up at Ryan. “Change.” The unicorn looked surprised but shifted to her biped form and got pulled into the hug too.
Ryan shook her head. “I don’t have any business here, Kasumi.”
“Nonsense,” Kasumi said firmly. “Iain’s touch reassures us all and you are one of his women too. You’re just not a wife and this is family business not wife business. You are most certainly part of our family so you belong here too.”
Ryan joined the hug for a second before pulling away. “Thank you, Kasumi, but I’m also on sentry duty and I can’t let that lapse.”
“That I won’t argue,” Kasumi said gently. “I don’t want to get you into trouble.”
Ryan cocked her head. “Iain, if you haven’t slept in a week and you’ve been patrolling and busy during the day and studying in your lab at night, when was the last time you had sex with someone?” Iain gave her a weak smile and her eyes narrowed. “And what about the women you’re supposed to have been with during that time at bedtime?”
“I made everyone think I’d chosen someone else,” he said.
Allison came sprinting out of the woods and stopped in front of Ryan. “What did you call me for,” she asked with her tail flicking as she looked around.
“I had a hunch,” the Unicorn replied grimly. “But I just had it confirmed. Iain has been using his ability to choose his bedmates to choose nobody.”
“What?” Allison’s body seemed to flow as she spun in place to face him. She looked unhappy and her ears were flat. “Iain?”
“I got caught going to my laboratory at night to study instead of sleeping since we got here,” Iain said. “I have not been trying to be celibate or avoid sleeping with any of you ladies for personal reasons.”
“No, it’s much worse than that,” Allison said angrily. “You’ve been not sleeping with anyone for purely selfish reasons. When Ninhursag and I stopped assigning people to your nights, it was with the idea that you’d keep doing so in our place.” She poked him in the chest hard enough to rock him back a step. “You don’t get to do that by not choosing anyone.” She poked him again.
Suddenly Iain was in his full sized dragon form. His nose came up sharply, slapping Allison in the chest with his nostrils and throwing her away from him. He blurred forward and when she hit the ground he pinned her down with a hand over her hips. His muzzle was inches from her stomach as he tilted his head so his eyes could look into her suddenly wide ones without her being able to see nothing but his teeth. “I don’t like that,” he said in a frighteningly calm voice. “Poking people is rude and I really don’t like it when you poke me.”
“I’m sorry,” she said in a frightened tone. “I won’t do it again, I promise!”
“Iain!” His head rotated sideways enough to look at Kasumi out of the corner of one eye. She spoke soothingly to him. “You’re terrifying Allison and normally you wouldn’t want to do that. Please stop.”
In a split second he became human again. He looked down at Allison with concern. “Did I hurt you?”
She shook her head and held out her hand. “Give a lady a hand?” He took it and pulled her to her feet. She wrapped her arms around him and buried her face against his chest. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “You just made me so mad.”
“It’s all right,” he said gently. “I’m just glad I didn’t hurt you.”
“I peed myself,” she admitted wryly. “That’s pretty scary when you’re that close. If you’d growled I’d have probably fainted. That would have been even more embarrassing than the piss.”
“Well, go get cleaned up before anyone smells you so you don’t have to explain it.”
She nodded. “Thanks.” Then she raced into the woods in the direction of the shuttle.
Iain watched until she was gone. “Pokegirls are really weird.”
Ygerna took his hand. “Did she get pee on you?”
He blinked and looked down. “I don’t smell any on me.”
“So what’s weird about them now,” Kasumi said as she took his other hand.
“I just actually scared the piss out of her and as soon as it was over she came to me for comfort. I’m the one who did it.”
“You’re our male,” Ryan said abruptly. “It only makes sense that we seek comfort from you, even if you are the source of our pain.” When Iain gave her a curious look she shrugged. “I’m reading a lot about pokegirl psychology from the books we got from Shikarou. I started with the histories of his world and then became curious as to why a pokegirl would keep going back to an abusive tamer. It seems to be a part of our psychological makeup that was present from the beginning, if Allison is any indication. I feel it too. You frightened me and all I need is your arms around me to make things all right.”
Iain looked at Ygerna and Kasumi and they let his hands go so he could hold them out to Ryan. “Then come here, silly girl.” She threw herself at him and he caught her with a grunt as she tried to wrap herself around him.
Eventually she looked up at him. “I suck at guarding you.”
“We’re taking care of it,” Ygerna said. “Kasumi and I are standing guard right now.”
“Thank you,” she said as she let Iain go. “I’m better now. That was pretty scary though. I thought you were going to bite Allison in half.”
“I intended to slap her hands away and explain that she was starting to make me angry,” he said. “Then I did something different because I was afraid that if I started hitting her I wouldn’t stop.” He sighed. “Maybe I need sleep more than I thought. I hope this is from sleep deprivation. If this is the new normal, we’re going to have to rethink my training program.”
Ygerna put a hand on his shoulder. “I have some spells that might make it impossible for you to change form while they’re in effect so you don’t do anything like that by accident again.”
“That wasn’t an accident,” Iain said. She stared at him and he smiled. “I knew that in that form I was strong enough and heavy enough that she couldn’t manhandle me. If she did grab me I wanted to stick an energy blade in her belly. This was a less violent alternative than gutting her.” He sighed. “I’m glad I didn’t hurt her. But what do I do now? Is this going to be part of the new normal?”
“We find out,” Kasumi said. “And in the meantime we just are more careful than ever.” She looked at Iain. “Maybe you should have a nap and see if that improves your disposition.”
He sighed. “I can’t say I’m not irritable, so I won’t fight it.” He looked at Ryan. “Please take me back to the shuttle and then you’re released for other things.”
She smiled. “I was hoping you’d want me to join you for that nap.”
“I probably would enjoy that but I think if we hurry I can still catch Allison in the shower and show her how apologetic I am for what I just did.”
Ryan grinned as she shifted to her quadrupedal form. “As much as I’d like to be with you right now I think that sounds even better.”
Iain looked at Ygerna and Kasumi. “Thank you for confronting me.”
“You’re welcome,” Ygerna said.
Kasumi smiled. “Go to Allison, Iain, and then come back to us when you can.” Her eyes sparkled mischievously. “But while you’re with Allison try to get some sleep before tomorrow.”
Iain laughed and climbed up onto Ryan’s back. “I’ll try.”
“What are those?” Golden Cloud eyed the items Iain was holding up for inspection with deep suspicion.
“They’re booties for equines with split hooves,” Iain said. “We’ve found that Ryan, Silver and Zareen can get really sore hooves from walking on the decks and these stop that. I’m not saying that you need to wear them, but if your hooves start to hurt then I wanted you to know they exist.” Ryan and Silver had complained about the fact that they were getting sore hooves. When asked if she’d been hurting too, Zareen had shrugged and said a little, but then she had the pain tolerance of a block of marble. Raquel, having a horse’s hooves in her quadrupedal form, had been shod since joining Iain’s harem and hadn’t been bothered about the decks except for the noise when she trotted, which had been fixed with rubber covers for her shoes. Theodora was working on a design for shoes for split hoofed equines, but so far it was hard to make them both functional and relatively comfortable.
“How do they work?”
“There’s an adhesive on them and they stick to the bottoms of your hooves. After about a minute they won’t fall off and you can walk on them through even water or industrial solvent.” He pointed to a blue dot on the back of each rubber piece. “Press firmly here and it dispenses a mild, odorless solvent that deactivates the adhesive and they fall off.”
“Will we be walking the decks of your ship?”
“I thought you and the herd would ride in the park so the only walking you’d have to do on the decking would be to get from the doorway to there and back to the doorway. It’s not that far a distance.” It wasn’t far from the doorway only because Theodora had shifted the entire library complex to right next to the park to accommodate the unicorns for the trip. Iain and his command staff didn’t want to subject the equines to the transport cars if they didn’t have to and, thanks to Theodora, they didn’t. “They also give great traction on ice and other slippery surfaces.”
She didn’t look convinced. “Is there a lot of ice on your land?”
“No there isn’t unless a pokegirl puts it there. We usually run across it during training exercises, which you won’t be participating in.”
Her ears flicked. “Do your other breeding partners participate in these training exercises?”
Iain managed not to look surprised. “They do, but we’re all part of combat teams to defend our land and we train to work together. It’s not because they’re my lovers.”
“Is that how your people took down the wyverns so quickly?” The Elves with Iain had shaken out into their squads automatically and massed arrow volleys had hit all three wyverns simultaneously. When the first draconic enemy had gone down that team added their fire to that of the team attacking the least wounded looking wyvern. The entire battle had taken less than two minutes.
He nodded. “Teamwork makes fights like that end faster and with a much better chance of not only victory but of us coming out of the fight with minimal casualties.”
“Should the herd, being clan, train as well?”
“That would be up to you and whoever advises you to decide. We don’t have any plans for a training program for you. I don’t think anyone really considered it since we don’t know much about your people except you’re almost always aligned towards good. Does your culture even promote teamwork?”
Golden Cloud looked surprised and then thoughtful. “It does not. Mares band together to protect the foals, but even then it’s an instinctive behavior and we each fight as individuals.”
“Then it’s likely going to be very difficult to instill any sort of teamwork into your herd members even if they trained with us.” He thought for a second and decided not to sugarcoat it. “And if that’s the truth, training with us will only frustrate us and probably you, which isn’t a good thing for promoting teamwork.”
She nodded, her ears and tail flicking unhappily. “It is annoying that we must depend on you for help. We are the noble unicorns and other people come to us for aid and advice, which we usually refuse.”
Iain made a mental note to warn Ninhursag and his command staff ahead of time in case they requested the herd’s help and were refused to keep problems to a minimum. “Why do you refuse them?”
“We refuse to aid them because to battle their enemies makes them our enemies too and often their enemies would not be ours except because we joined their fight. We refuse to give our advice because often they do not want our advice, instead their question asks for our aid under the guise of asking for our advice. Often when the questioner does actually ask for advice, the answer is so obvious that giving it would hurt the feelings of the questioner when they realized how foolish they had been not to discover such a simple answer on their own and instead wasting their time as well as our generosity.”
“Unicorns are supposed to be geniuses,” Iain said amusedly. “It could be that the questioner cannot see just how obvious the answer is because they are not as intelligent and understanding as the unicorns are.”
Her eyes regarded him with puzzlement for a moment and then she gave a human looking nod. “That could be true, and in truth I hadn’t considered that it might be so but if they are that stupid then advising them would just encourage them to return for more advice when they again fail to see the obvious. Eventually they might never leave, enslaved by the simple wisdoms we present that they could never see without us.”
Iain chuckled and reflected that nothing he’d ever read about unicorns had said that they were humble. “That’s true enough.”
“The fact that you can understand this proves you are as smart as we are and if you ever need advice you are welcome to come to me.”
Her laugh sounded a lot like bells in the wind. “You will not come to me for advice. I knew that when I told you that you could. If you are as smart as I am then you will likely have no need of my advice.”
“That’s not always true,” he countered. “Your experiences are far different from mine and so there might be wisdom you possess that I will not unless I ask you to share.”
Her ears flicked back for a heartbeat. “I had not considered that either. I find I do not like the thought that perhaps you might be smarter than I am. Unicorns are supposed to be amongst the wisest of creatures.”
Iain chuckled. “Well, don’t worry about it. Wisdom and intelligence are not the same things and the fact that I thought of a couple of things you didn’t just shows that I have different experiences than yours upon which to draw my thoughts from. I’ve been told that wisdom comes from me only rarely.”
Her laughter again was bells in the wind and he fancied he could actually hear the breeze that stirred the bells in her voice. “Those who told you that were probably tired of hearing your wisdom and watching it turn out to be more correct than theirs when the two wisdoms were placed side by side and examined to determine which was the juiciest and sweetest.”
Iain eyed her curiously. “Juiciest and sweetest? Are you hungry again?”
Her ears pricked forward eagerly. “I wouldn’t turn down a treat or something new to taste.”
Iain pulled a foil pouch out of a pocket. He’d started carrying treats with him regularly, and the foil pouches kept him from being mobbed by hungry unicorns. Sometimes he wondered if he were like the Europeans addicting the Native Americans to sugar and alcohol but then he’d dismissed the thought since he wasn’t using the treats to enslave the herd or its queen.
Golden Cloud sniffed the pouch eagerly and then gave him a suspicious look. “Why does that not smell like a treat?”
“The foil seals the smells inside the pouch to keep people like you from knowing I have treats on me and chewing my pockets out of my pants to get to them.”
Her ears went back. “That had better be so I get the treats instead of random members of the herd.”
Iain was acutely aware of how sharp and close her horn looked at the moment and he smiled as he unsealed the pouch. “Do you see me offering this to the herd?”
Her ears came back up. “No, you are not.”
He pulled out a treat and held it out. “You haven’t had this before as far as I know.”
She took it from him almost delicately and chewed. “This is very good! What is it?”
“It’s a copy of a candy bar that I used to eat a lot. They’re called Payday bars and are peanuts, salt, caramel and nougat.” He glanced into the pouch, pulled out another bar and sealed it again. “And here’s one more for the pretty mare.”
She took it from him daintily. “You think I’m pretty?”
Apparently unicorn queens could fish for compliments with the best of them, Iain reflected. “I do. You are exquisite even among unicorns, all of whom are considered to be marvels of beauty.”
Pandora just gave him an amused look while Ryan pointedly ignored the whole exchange.
Golden Cloud chuckled. “I can remember only a few stallions in my life who could flatter me more outrageously than you do and they only did it when I was coming into heat. They would never flatter me so right now.”
Iain was watching her curiously. “Do you like outrageous flattery?”
“Outrageous flattery has a place in the world,” she said. “And, yes, sometimes I do like that place to be where it is directed to me.”
“I will remember that.” He slipped the pouch into his pocket. “Now I thought I’d take you to see the park in the morning, if you don’t mind.”
“I will be at the small ship after our morning graze.”
Theodora had been following the herd around with drones to learn their daily patterns and after their morning drink they grazed for the next two or three hours, starting about an hour before sunrise. Arriving after the morning graze would put her there between eight and nine unless they grazed unusually far from their normal grazing spots, which changed depending on the time of year and what was best to eat. But Golden Cloud was not going to break the herd’s regular schedule for anything short of an emergency. “I’ll ask Theodora to tell me when you arrive and I’ll be there shortly after.”
“I will await seeing this park with interest,” she said before bowing to him and trotting into the forest to meet the herd for the late morning graze, which, at least at this time of year, was actually a search for the tastiest berries before the last of the dew faded from them.
Ryan looked at Pandora. “Do you mind?”
The Archangel shook her head. “Go ahead, just remember where we are.”
Ryan turned to Iain and traced a line down his chest. “So,” she said in a teasing voice, “when do I get my treat?” She winked at him. “It’s salty too but it’s not crunchy and you don’t keep it in your pocket but in a special pouch between your pockets.”
Pandora groaned from where she was standing. “You had to go there?”
“I haven’t gone there yet, at least not today,” Ryan shot back at her. She looked back at Iain. “Well?”
Iain checked the schedule he kept carefully hidden in his head. “Want to spend the night with me?”
“I was hoping to get my treat sooner than that, but if I get the whole night alone with you, I’d love to. Will there be anything special to go with my treat?”
Iain reached out through his bond to Ninhursag. Ryan has agreed to be my bedmate tonight. I think this would be a good time to get her pregnant so she can be smug around Golden Cloud instead of the restrained anger she currently has. Is that all right with you?
Ninhursag’s response was immediate. It is and it will make her very happy to have us do it in the land of the unicorns. It’s funny, she’s so busy being irritated at them for us bartering a foal for information on your dragon species that she is completely oblivious to how much all of the unicorns, including Golden Cloud, are jealous of her power, speed, agility and the fact that she has hands and has so many techniques available to her. We’ll do the ceremony before you take her away for the night.
Thank you. He smiled at Ryan. “I do believe you will find something special tonight.”
Iain watched as the last of the unicorns exited the Sabine House and headed after the others, which put them directly in line with the apricot trees. Iain just hoped they found the stones crunchy.
Daphne cleared her throat. “So, what’s next on the agenda?”
“I believe we’re supposed to check on the beef for Lucifer’s shindig tonight. After that I have to go visit Lorena Robinson. I have been told I need to tell her that I killed Rush before the Indigo League lets it slip to the ambassador.”
He shrugged. “I didn’t kill Rush for bragging rights. I killed him because he was a monster inside a human’s skin and he had a good chance of threatening the family someday. I told the Indigos about it to warn them off from ending up in the same place Rush was headed for, which is that threat I just mentioned. I hope they believe me, but if they don’t I’ll deal with it.”
She nodded. “Who is doing the barbecuing today?”
“I got you released from training and chores so you could do it. If you don’t want to, there’s still time for me to let April know.”
Daphne grinned. “Like I’d turn down a chance to nibble on beef all day long while claiming I’m doing it so as to make sure it’s perfect over running through the woods chasing some stupid animal that doesn’t understand I’m just trying to help it stay healthy so someone can eat it later.”
“Maybe the problem is that it understands what’s going on entirely too well.”
“That could be. Who are your guards after I skive off to start cooking?”
“I’m getting Zareen and Barb. Zareen has been to Lorena’s place when April was going there to pick out Joyce and Lara.”
“I need to learn to teleport.”
“It would have gotten you back to me faster after you’d been injured.”
She snorted. “It would have let me land on their deck and shred people up close and personal, which I love doing.”
“That too.” He glanced to the right. “And here comes Zareen. I guess that means we’re off to the meat locker. What’s on the menu tonight?”
“I started marinating prime rib late last night and I’ll start it slow cooking in the cooker in about an hour.”
“So why are we visiting the meat locker if you’ve already got meat at the marinating station?”
“I want a snack.” She grinned again when he just looked at her flatly. “That and I’ll be doing up some geese and some largemouth bass with the prime rib for the crazy people who don’t want prime rib that falls apart in your mouth.”
“You should have said the last part first,” Iain pointed out.
“It is more fun getting that annoyed look from you before I employ valid reasoning,” she said.
“It isn’t from where I stand.”
“All right, I’ll try to be better next time.”
He looked at Zareen. “Are you on duty yet?” She nodded once. “Daphne, go on without me. We’ll go find Barb and head for Lorena’s place.”
“See you,” Daphne stepped in for a quick kiss and headed off at a brisk walk.
Iain glanced at the Nightmare with an amused look when Daphne was well out of earshot. “You can talk now.”
Zareen smirked at him. “Why do you put up with her behavior?”
“For the same reason I put up with yours.”
“You tolerate her behavior because I’m good in bed?”
Iain just shook his head. “Let’s go find Barb. Do you need to feed the kits before I go to Lorena’s?”
“No. I finished feeding all of them and Joyce will cover for me if we’re gone for some of the feedings.” She watched him with the amused air she sometimes had. “If I get too full, will you relieve the pressure by nursing off of me?”
“I wouldn’t want to see you suffer.”
“That’s my male, so understanding and helpful. Can I get perception?”
“I don’t see any reason why you cannot.”
“I want to wait until I’m off of your watch rotation so I can get used to it without having to watch out for you at the same time. Is there a way to block perception?”
“I’m sure there is but I haven’t found a practical one yet.”
“Please keep looking.”
“Is this about Ganieda?”
She smiled. “It is.”
“Have you considered you’re going about this the wrong way?”
“What do you mean?”
“Sometimes brute force trumps finesse and you really like using finesse against family. Even with perception, Ganieda will have a very hard time localizing you if she’s inside your darkness zone. Yes, she’ll know you’re there somewhere but she won’t know where unless she can map the boundaries of that zone accurately enough to find the center. You, on the other hand, will know exactly where she is unless she does something to try and confuse you.”
She nodded. “You are right and I will try it. Thank you.”
“I have to make sure you want to keep me around.”
She smiled. “You are mine and I would never let you leave me.” Her smile widened. “Not only is the sex very good, you have such wonderful things to taste.”
“You really don’t like the unicorns.”
“I don’t care about them either way except for Golden Cloud, who wants to use my male. Not get to know and appreciate, just use. I don’t like that.” She met his gaze. “I also don’t like that Ninhursag and the others bargained you away like a pokegirl would be sold where we came from.”
“I’m not really happy about it either but I am willing to do it for the information she has.” He smiled thinly. “That and the look on her face when she gets hit with my rules about my children.”
Zareen blinked. “She doesn’t know she can’t get pregnant by you and just walk away?”
“I haven’t told her. I don’t think anyone else thought to. She says the foal will grow up here but she changes her mind more often than the wind shifts during a front passing through.”
“I want to be there when she finds out.” Zareen’s smile was evil. “I insist on being there when she finds out. I want to watch her tantrum.”
“You think she’ll throw one?”
“She’ll throw several of them. She is rather spoiled.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“Can I tell her? That will ensure I’m there when she finds out.”
“That might work, but how are you going to tell her without letting her know you’re actually quite fluent in English?”
Zareen grinned. “You no leave. Baby horse his and stay.”
“You’d call a unicorn foal a baby horse? She’d definitely have a meltdown at that point.”
Zareen gave him an innocent look that was belied by the eager gleam in her eyes. “Would she really?”
“How about we skip the deliberate insults?”
“I will if you insist.”
“Thank you and I think I will. Now, let’s go find Barb.”
Zareen stopped Iain with a hand on his shoulder. “Tigress ahead.” She pointed with a finger on the hand on his shoulder.
Iain followed the finger and saw the Tigress standing in the shadow of Lorena’s house and watching them as they approached. He waved. “Hello!”
“You don’t think she’s a problem,” Dianthus asked quietly as she looked around for other threats.
“The Milktits are grazing undisturbed,” Iain said. “While there hasn’t been a Tigress here before they might have someone visiting.”
The Tigress watched them for a little while longer before loping in their direction. She slowed when Zareen moved in front of Iain and Dianthus partially lifted her bow. “Who are you and what is your business at the Robinson’s?”
“I’m Iain Grey and I sort of work for Lorena,” Iain replied. “May I inquire as to your name, miss?”
The Tigress looked surprised. “I’m Hypatia. How do you sort of work for someone?”
“I’m a Texas Ranger and my Ranger boss answers to her.”
“Why are you here?”
“I called Lorena and asked if I could drop by this morning and she said to come on over.”
“That doesn’t tell my why you’re here.”
Iain smiled. “No, it doesn’t. Are you a Robinson girl?”
Hypatia grinned. “That’s the nicest way I’ve heard that asked yet and so I’ll actually answer your question. We’re figuring that out.”
“Then would you please inform Lorena or Aaron that we’re here? They’ve met Zareen briefly but they’ve never met Dianthus.”
“You’ll wait here?”
“All three of us will for at least five minutes.”
“I guess that’ll do.” The Tigress turned and raced for the house, knocked and went inside without pausing.
“Where’s Joyce?” It was one of the Milktits that Iain didn’t know by name who had come over during the discussion with Hypatia.
“She’s staying home with the kids. I’m afraid I don’t remember your name.”
She smiled. “I’m Rosa and we’ve never spoken before. Could she bring them along on a visit? Several of us want to see what children look like and are like. We think Tamara may be pregnant and we’re curious.”
“I’ll convey your request to her. How are you doing?”
“We’re good. I saw you met Hypatia.”
“Can I ask what the story is on her?”
“We’ve had some feral activity in the area and Lorena hired her as an escort between here and Austin. It was just supposed to be money she gets but on her job out here she ended up involved in one of the orgies we do at the dairy.”
“Orgies,” Dianthus asked curiously.
“We like Aaron and we know he’s not a young man so the orgies let him be with all of us at once without taking all of his time all the time.” Rosa smiled. “Not that we wouldn’t take more of his time but it wouldn’t be fair to him and Lorena. Besides sometimes the poor man gets so tired. But Hypatia ended up in an orgy and Aaron didn’t turn her away so she’s one of us now.”
“Why did she say they’re working out whether or not she’s a Robinson,” Iain asked curiously.
“The original deal was for money, remember? Now she got a free loving and Lorena is kind of really pissed off a whole lot about it.”
Zareen snickered and Iain ignored her to ask another question. “What about Aaron?”
Rosa grinned. “I think he liked a little pussy from the pussy. I think he’d like more.”
“Ah. I wonder how this will work out.”
Rosa shrugged. “Lorena needs a guard on her trips into town and this means she doesn’t have to pay Hypatia cash we need elsewhere. And we need a guard around full time. She’s just mad because Hypatia didn’t ask if she could sleep with Aaron. If you could talk to her it would really help. I mean you’ve got what, a thousand girls you’re sleeping with and no problems at all?”
Dianthus laughed even as she kept alert to their surroundings. “It’s not quite that many or that tranquil.”
Iain sighed. “I won’t make any promises but if the topic comes up I won’t shy away from it.”
Rosa smiled warmly. “Tamara always says you’re a good guy. Thanks.” She looked up when the door shut loudly. “And there’s Hypatia.”
The Tigress frowned when she got close. “Rosa, are you bothering Iain?”
“No, I was asking him to talk to Lorena about you staying. They’re friends and she respects his opinion.”
“That’s bothering him.” Hypatia looked at Iain. “Lorena says to get your butt inside.”
“What about the rest of me?”
She grinned. “Unless you can remove your butt so I can carry it in, I guess it’ll all have to come too.”
“Good answer.” He looked at Zareen, who nodded and moved forward in front of him.
When they went into the house Lorena waved to him with a knitting needle and pointed it at a chair. “Sit down.”
“This is Dianthus,” Iain motioned towards her, “and you’ve briefly met Zareen. How are you today?”
“My arm is acting up,” Lorena said irritably. “Eve said it might happen from time to time because I’m old. Knitting makes me focus on being precise which helps with the arm.”
Iain nodded as he sat down. “I had my right arm cut off and reattached. I was told that the more I use it the faster that complete control comes back and it worked. Are you doing a lot with it?”
“I try.” She gestured with the needles. “I’m not a young woman, Iain.”
“You’re what, fifty or so?”
She smiled. “Or so.”
“Then you're not that old and so you shouldn’t have a problem with that arm unless you’re letting the girls do all of the work around here. I’ll ask Siobhan to come out and take a look at it. It’ll give her a chance to be critical of Eve’s work.” He leaned back in the chair. “Since there’s no way to avoid this, I’ll be blunt yet friendly. So, I see you’ve got another pokegirl.”
Lorena sighed and scowled at the same time. “I’m not happy about what happened.”
“Did you smack Aaron for it?”
“I did and he is very sorry about it, but,” she stopped.
She glared at him. “He also told me he won’t turn Hypatia down. He’s been reading the pokedex and told me that the last thing he wants is for her to go even partially feral around me.”
“So who are you mad at?”
“I’m still mad at her. Our agreement didn’t have anything in it about her fucking my husband!”
Iain shook his head. “Would smacking her make you feel better?”
She gave him a flat look. “I can’t do that.”
“You wallop Aaron and you’ve hit me.”
She smiled. “I have, haven’t I? And you put up with me. I didn’t even think about not hitting you because we’re friends, Iain. You’re the closest friend we’ve got outside the girls.”
“What about all of your government friends?”
She shrugged. “They don’t let me forget at some level that I’m the President of Texas so they’re not friends like we are. You’ve never cared.”
Iain nodded. “Do you need Hypatia’s services?”
She sighed. “Yes. The problems are getting worse around Austin. They’re not as bad as some of the other places, but people have been attacked in town and around it. And in the ruins around the town we are seeing more and more of them.”
“Then you need a guard. Will you accept Hypatia as that guard?”
“She’s done a good enough job so far.”
“Will you accept her as one of your guards, if you can forgive her for what happened with Aaron?”
She gave a grudging nod. “I can.”
“Barb, could you go get Hypatia please and ask her to come in here?”
Dianthus nodded and left the room as Lorena frowned. “I thought her name was something else.”
“It’s Dianthus. Barb is a nickname that only I can use.” He shrugged. “Pokegirls.”
Lorena laughed. “I am starting to understand just how complicated life with them can be.”
Dianthus came in with the Tigress behind her. “Sir,” she said quietly.
“Thank you. Hypatia, I’ve got a couple of questions for you. Will you answer them?”
Her eyes flicked to Lorena and back to him. “I will.”
“Do you like Lorena and Aaron?”
She nodded. “I like Lorena. I don’t know Aaron all that well. We were getting along but he’s been avoiding me ever since,” she glanced at Lorena again, “you know. And she’s been angry with me ever since so we haven’t talked either.”
“Do you want to be a Robinson?”
Hypatia stiffened and then sighed loudly. “Yeah, I do. In the beginning being a wanderer was cool but to be honest it got old really fast and this is a nice place. The people are pretty good and the food is good too.” She smiled. “And I have all the milk I want to drink, even if it makes me lactate too.”
He nodded. “You understand that Lorena and Aaron are a package deal. You can’t have one without the other.”
“I know that they and the Milktits are a family. It’s probably why I want to stay so badly. I’m tired of being alone and this is a tight knit group.”
“Lorena hits when she’s frustrated and if she likes you she hits more,” Iain said.
Hypatia blinked. “So she whacks Aaron because she likes him?”
“She whacks Aaron because she loves him,” Iain corrected. “She hits and then she forgives.”
Hypatia frowned. “She hasn’t hit me.”
“No, she hasn’t.” He looked at Lorena. “Want to take a crack at her?” He looked at the knitting needles. “No harpoons.”
“I hit, I don’t stab. If I stab you I’ll use a knife.” Lorena put her knitting down and stood. “If you hit me back you’ll kill me.”
Hypatia turned to face her. “I saw you hit Aaron. He didn’t hit you back. Apparently, you’re the only one who gets to hit here. I won’t strike you.”
Lorena nodded. “Good. I hired you to protect me and we agreed on a price, which did not include fucking my husband or my girls. You broke that agreement and you, an outsider, had sex with my husband without my permission!” Her punch took Hypatia in the solar plexus and actually forced the Tigress back a step. “Don’t do that again.”
Hypatia rubbed her stomach. “That really stung. Well done.” She put her hand back down at her side, her tail twisting slowly from side to side. “What do we do now?”
“I believe you wanted to join our family,” Lorena said as she sat back down. “That is what you just said.”
Hypatia’s ears flicked. “I did and that hasn’t changed.”
“I don’t have to pay you to protect me if you do.”
“I want paid until the day I, um, slept with Aaron.”
“That’s reasonable,” Lorena said. “I’ll let Aaron know that you’re joining us and that you’ll be attending the orgies from now on. The other girls need his attention too, so don’t claim all of his time.”
Hypatia looked surprised. “That’s it?”
Lorena nodded. “I could ask Iain to shoot you if you’d like, but I understand his pistol puts really big holes in people and makes a huge mess that you’d have to clean up afterwards. I will also ask that you limit the profanity as much as you can. We’re all adults here and once in a while is fine, but whenever there’s a person using a lot of profanity Aaron tends to slide back into his Marine days and that quickly gets tiresome. In the orgies it’s normal.”
Hypatia nodded. “I’ll ask the Milktits for guidance. Do you attend the orgies?”
“Sometimes.” She leaned back on the couch. “I know you need to get back to your patrols, but welcome to the Robinson family. We’ll arrange a welcoming party for you in a couple of days.”
Hypatia bowed formally. “Thank you and I look forward to when you next attend one of the orgies.”
“Hypatia, would you please ask Tamara to serve tea for our guest?”
“I will.” She turned and left the room.
“That was quite a punch,” Iain said.
“Thanks, I wanted to do that once before she joined us.” Lorena rubbed her hand. “It hurt.”
“Are you aware that you did that with your new arm and your control was perfect?”
She looked surprised. “I did, didn’t I?”
“I think you need to work on using it more without thinking. I’ll talk to Ninhursag about bringing in Hypatia for some testing and combat training since she’ll be out her alone when you visit. She’ll enjoy getting to fight. At the same time I think we’ll teach you to juggle.”
“You think that’ll help?”
“I do. It helped me.”
“Whatever.” She sighed. “So, I doubt the reason for the visit is to make peace between me and a Tigress you didn’t even know was here.”
‘No, but I was glad to help.” He sighed. “Unfortunately this is a semi-formal visit with the Madam President.”
“I hate it when you do that. Do I need to get Aaron in here?”
“Let me fill you in and if you decide you do, then I can read him in too. But he’s not part of the government.”
She sighed and got up. “Let me get that tea so Tamara doesn’t get to hear this then.”
“I help,” Zareen said. “I carry.”
When the tea and cookies had been served and Lorena was comfortable on the couch, Iain took a deep drink of his tea and put the cup down. “Do you remember the discussion we had about plausible deniability?”
“Some. I know it means you couldn’t tell me what was going on then. Are you going to fill me in now?”
He nodded. “I was meeting with the Secretary of State for Anton Rush.”
“I remember the annoying video that Hastings sent. What of it? Rush is dead now.”
“He is. And the truth is that I’m the one that killed him. Indigo knows and so you needed to hear it from me.”
Lorena stared at him for a moment. “How did,” she stopped. “Don’t tell me. I’ll find out eventually and it’ll probably involve more of that science fiction stuff you call technology. Why?”
“Like I’ve said before, he was a monster and he was teaching ferals that we’re food. My experts ran an analysis of his people and tactics and gave him one chance in three of winning and conquering Indigo in doing so. Then he’d be on Texas’s border and my back yard. I couldn’t allow that so I killed him to protect my family. Afterwards I decided to make use of it and I told Indigo what happened and hinted that I could do the same to Washington if they came after us.”
“Why is it whenever you make my military situation more bearable you spawn political nightmares while doing so, Iain?”
“I never said I was perfect or even human, Lorena. I’m just trying to raise a family in a world gone mad. Apparently sometimes I’m not immune to that madness.”
Lorena sighed and reached for a cookie. “None of us are,” she said quietly. “What’s the long-term cost analysis for Texas look like?”
“Indigo will take close to a decade to reabsorb the Illinois Free Republic and hunt down the runners they want to make examples of. I hope they have a few atrocities too in order to remind the Texan on the street that we can’t be friends with Indigo. In the meantime, I think I’ve destroyed any value Golding might have to them too. He will either be captured and then executed or he’ll have to run and in either case he’s not a threat to us anymore. By that time, I expect they’ll be a lot busier with feral attacks than they ever thought they’d be.”
“You gave them the report on activity in their land. What if they pay attention to it?”
“I doubt they will but to be honest it doesn’t matter. That report wasn’t complete.”
Lorena’s eyebrows shot up. “You lied to them?”
“Technically no, I didn't. Everything in that report is accurate. It just doesn't tell them the complete story. I don’t want them to survive what’s coming any more than I wanted Rush to. This is about us or them and I don’t think we can ever be friends. They have to destroy Texas or our freedom will infect them and they will be destroyed and someone on that side has to realize that. Simple statistics says that they can’t all be morons. If we’re lucky the smart one will be eaten, disregarded or purged but I’m not going to count on luck.”
“A lot of innocent people are going to die during all of this, Iain,” Lorena said.
“If they take Texas over more innocent people will die because they’ll strip every pokegirl they can find out of the area and send them all north when the troubles really hit. We can save a lot of Texans from dying during this but it’s still going to be rough here too. Nobody has the resources to save all of the people who are going to get eaten or killed in this, Lorena. You don’t, Kerrik doesn’t and I don’t.”
“I thought Prometheus is helping people,” she said quietly.
“It can’t help everyone and so it’s helping the people who will be most amenable to our ideas after all of this is over. But not everyone we help is going to survive this. That’s why I was actually happy to see Hypatia here. She’ll help you and the Milktits during the attacks and if things get too ugly she’ll help protect you while you call to me for help so we can evacuate you to our ranch.”
“I knew you weren’t an altruist but what you’re planning is a lot colder blooded than I’d ever thought you’d do.”
“Lorena, some gentle people can become hard during adversity. Others are going to get swallowed up by events. And then there are some hard people who can pretend to be gentle when things are quiet. You need them when things go south. If you want to cut me loose from the government so that if historians ever find out the truth Texas won’t be associated with what I’m going to let happen, then go ahead and do so. I don’t care about history that won’t be written if we all die and honestly I don’t care about what the histories will say when they are written. There will be Greys who survive to point out just how full of shit they are and that’s what matters to me.”
Lorena looked into his eyes and nodded. “Gentle people don’t make it in politics, even in what passes for politics in Texas. If saving more Texans makes me a villain to the historians, then so be it. But that brings us back to the fact that I should promote you, not dismiss you.”
“I may have no choice but to quit eventually,” he said. “I may have to do things to save my family that cannot be defended legally and I will not hesitate to choose my family over anyone else, and that includes doing some nebulous duty that comes with my badge.”
“Well, if that time comes we’ll face it then. Until then I need you. Texas needs you.”
Iain shook his head. “I have got to find a way to make you fire me.”
She smiled. “You’ll have to stop proving how invaluable you are first, Iain.”
“Well, fuck. Trust me that was not my intent.”
Dianthus chuckled. “You’re just too competent, sir.”
Iain just sighed. “Well, I came to tell you about Rush and what’s going on about him and Indigo.”
“When will I get the written version?”
“I’ll email it to you tomorrow.”
She nodded. “I'll read that report and the pass it on to Aaron. That way he hears what's going on from me and that'll sanitize him a little against any shit from this falling on him.”
Iain pushed upright. “All right. Are you really feeling that old, Lorena? I have some medicine that'll take years off of both you and Aaron.”
She sighed. “Send it with Siobhan when she comes to look at my arm. I earned getting old, damnit, but there's no place to get a senior discount anymore and the girls are going to need our love for the rest of their lives.” She made a face. “I wish my children had survived. They should be ones running the dairy.”
“You could have more or adopt.”
“I'm post menopause, Iain.”
“And I said that medicine will take years off of your life. It’ll take enough that you’ll be in your physical prime and more than able to have children.”
She blinked. “Wow. I take it this isn't publicly available.”
“It is not. Friends and family only and it won't keep you alive forever.”
“Can you send me the information on it along with that report?”
“Thanks.” She stood and led him to the door. “When will Siobhan arrive here?”
“I'll send the report tomorrow. She'll be along the day after that.”
“All right. Thanks.” She hugged him. “Take care of yourself.”
“You too.” Iain hugged her back and headed outside for the trip home.
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