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“Sit.” Kerrik pointed at a chair on the other side of the table and Iain obediently settled down in it. “I hear you’ve been causing trouble again.”
“I deny everything,” Iain said instantly. He grinned, ruining the effect and making Raven chuckle.
“Whatever you’ve heard, I doubt it’s the half of it,” Pandora’s voice was amused. “What did he do now?”
“Shikarou contacted me a few days ago about having Cassiopeia verify some things that you and Theodora told him about Selene’s functionality.”
“For once I’m actually innocent. I didn’t do that one,” Iain said. “That was all Theodora, but it needed said.”
“Shikarou sent me a copy of the meeting. You said some rather nice things about Magdalene.”
“I told him the truth. We’re friends.”
“And that’s all he should ever know whether that ever changes or not,” Kerrik said. “I also understand from that meeting that you think Kozakura is chasing you?”
“That is the impression we get, yes. I’m not interested, however.”
“That’s probably for the best. She wouldn’t fit into your family at all and Kasumi might just kill her if she gets close to you. I’ll warn her off and hopefully she’ll listen to me for a change. I also won’t forget that she didn’t pass on the information that you’re no longer human after I asked her to tell Shikarou. After reviewing the conversation, I realize that she didn’t actually agree to tell him and I’ll keep that in mind for the future.” He met Iain’s gaze. “Have you been practicing as I instructed while you were away on your various trips into other places and times?”
Kerrik nodded, his ears still. “Have you had any successes?”
“Does kind of count as any sort of success?”
Kerrik’s eyes narrowed. “What does that mean?” He held up a hand when Iain started to speak. “Never mind. Outside and let’s find out.”
Iain could feel Pandora’s eyes on him as she followed him out and was expecting the question across their bond. What have you been practicing and when?
My magic and during my study times.
I thought you gave your study time up for more time with us while training for fighting the goblins.
I did, but I was still doing my studies up to that point.
He could feel her surprise across the bond. I didn’t realize that.
Iain smiled even though he knew she couldn’t see it. My study time has become routine enough that only a few people realize when I’m away doing my practicing. I don’t need guards on the Theodora, so you weren’t aware of when I was there.
They stopped. Kerrik waved a hand and the image of the wolf he wanted Iain to become appeared in front of them while Raven and Pandora watched their surroundings alertly. “Now, can you assume this form with magic of your own and without outside assistance?”
Iain shook his head. “No, but I know why.”
Kerrik’s ears flicked. “Understanding why you can’t do something will sometimes help in figuring out how to do something. Please explain why you can’t do what I’m asking.”
“I can’t do what you’re asking because I was trying too hard to do exactly that.” Kerrik’s ears canted as Iain smiled. “That wolf isn’t real and I was trying to become exactly that wolf. That I can’t do. Once I realized my mistake I switched focus and started working on becoming a generic wolf, which was surprisingly easy.”
Kerrik had cocked his head while listening. “I can see where you might have thought I wanted you to become that specific animal and I’m glad you realized that wasn’t my intent. Now show me how easy it is.” Without transition, Iain was suddenly replaced by a gray wolf. Kerrik’s ears flicked. “You would have to be different.”
It’s how my dragon species changes shape, Iain said through his twee. I intend to learn how to use my truewizardy to do the same thing, but this was about learning to make my innate abilities more flexible.
Kerrik shook his head. “I don’t suppose you know where I can find more of your new race, do you?”
I have described their solar system and the worlds they inhabit in it but I never fixed its place in its universe and I didn’t try to determine where their universe was in the multiverse. Until recently, it was just as imaginary as pokegirls.
“That is a pity.”
I feel that way too. I’m not that interested in meeting more of my kind, but I figure it’ll happen eventually and I’d like to be able to decide when I do it instead of it happening by accident and when I’m not prepared for the fallout.
“There will be fallout?”
They’re more than a little insular. Like a lot of dragon races tend to many of them believe they are the pinnacle of life. I wasn’t born one of them so I expect they won’t be rolling out any red carpets for me when I do happen to end up there. I expect they’ll find a new word to describe me that will feel like an insult a lot like mudblood is when I figure out what they mean.
Kerrik chuckled. “Considering I’ve seen how the so called true dragons treat the dragon races they don’t consider to be true dragons, I suspect you’ll be right in that concern.” His smile faded. “Since you mastered wolf, did you move on to trying to become a unicorn stallion?”
Iain shifted back to his human form. “I did. So far it’s a work in progress.”
Pandora glanced at him. “You make it sound like you’re painting a unicorn.”
“Actually, what I’m trying to do is a lot like painting in some ways,” Iain grinned at her expression of surprise. “A painter has to visualize what they’re doing and so do I. For me, however, the transition doesn’t take place until the visualization is complete, whereas a painter could start painting without a complete visualization of what he was trying to create.”
Kerrik eyed him speculatively. “What is wrong with your visualization of the unicorn stallion you need to become?”
Iain smiled slightly. “I have seen a lot of wolves in my life, on TV, online and in real life but the only unicorn stallions I’ve seen were an idiot I’d burned mostly to death and a colt who is just old enough to chase butterflies. I wasn’t paying all that much attention when I was healing the idiot and the colt is useless for what I want the form for. I’m working on the visualization, but I don’t want to wing it beyond a certain point lest I hurt myself.”
“That makes sense.” Kerrik nodded thoughtfully. “It’s also fairly wise so we’ll end the shape shifting portion of your training today and we’ll move to katas.”
“Not training,” Raven asked. “I’d rather play catch Iain.”
Kerrik glanced at her. “This is for Iain, not you. Besides, one of these days Iain is going to get the bright idea of sharing how you and the others catch him with his harem and they’ll incorporate the same levels of violence into a game called catching Raven, Misery and Whisper.”
Raven made a face. “That doesn’t sound nearly as much fun.”
“That’s because some of his harem can do to you what you do to Iain and you don’t like that,” Kerrik said amusedly.
“Their next lessons are going to be in table manners and deportment,” Iain said.
Raven turned to stare at him. “What?”
“I think you’ll learn to walk with a book on your head.”
“What the fuck?” Raven turned to Kerrik. “Is he serious?”
“He probably is. It’s a common method of making young women and sometimes men walk gracefully. I’ve helped teach my daughters it and you can’t use magic to levitate the book or glue it to your hair.” Kerrik looked at Iain. “Will they learn how to place table settings?”
Iain smiled. “That’s what I hear, them and my girls too. Eve is taking the idea of civilizing your harem and making it part of the standard training program for women and all of the children in the clan too and she sold it to April by explaining how it would keep them from shaming the clan.” He chuckled. “I’m getting dragged into it too since I’m just a poor barbarian boy. I do know how to waltz but apparently I’ll also learn how to foxtrot and a lot more.” He shrugged. “Since you’ve been a Victorian nobleman, would you like to help?”
“I think I would. That’ll show Raven and the others how important this actually is.” He focused on Iain. “Now go change into your gi.”
The Seraph stood inside the guardhouse of the Fort Thistle dockyard control room and watched the small group of pokegirls walk towards her for a second. She met the eyes of the leader, a saffron haired Angel, before she turned around and busied herself at her watch logbook, which incidentally put her back to the door of the guardhouse. She couldn’t help but tense when she heard the whisper of the door opening but she kept her head down pretending to read the logbook until the heavy blow to the back of her head spun her into darkness.
The Megami squatted and checked the unconscious Seraph before pushing the button to open the door to the building and hurrying outside to rejoin her group. The Angel leading it glanced at her as they headed for a flight of stairs. “I saw how hard you hit Cerise. Did you give her a concussion?”
The Megami shook her head with an amused smile. “All Seraphs have heads so hard they don’t need helmets. She’s fine. If she weren’t so damned squeamish she’d be with us instead of pretending we surprised her.”
The Angel nodded in agreement. “Fortunately, we’re made of sterner stuff. Now get moving to the control room.”
When they exited on the top floor of the control building, the Megami in the lead of the group knocked on the door to the control room. A voice from inside yelled. “It’s open”. The Megami knocked again. Grumbling could be heard and then the door opened. Before it was fully open, the Megami shot the person inside with her high powered taser, sending her crashing to the floor. The group quickly rushed in, verifying that the room only had the one occupant on the night watch as they secured it.
“Commander, problem,” the Megami called to the Angel. When the Angel looked curiously at her the Megami pointed at the person they’d tasered. “Her.”
The Angel looked down at identical copy of herself except that this one had far shorter hair and was wearing different rank tabs. She sighed. “Karen. What are you doing on duty tonight?”
Karen had been bound hand and foot with magical bindings that prevented her from using her abilities and was wheezing as she tried to fight off the effects of the taser. “I switched with someone else so she could spend time with her tamer tonight. Teresa, what’s going on? What are you doing?”
Teresa knelt. “I’m following orders.” She slid the knife she’d pulled from her boot into Karen’s heart. “Sorry.” She wiped the knife off on Karen’s shirt and slipped it back into her boot before rising. “Get back to work.”
“That was cold,” the only Megami-Sama commented quietly. “I don’t know if I could do that to my littermate.”
“That’s why I’m in charge of this mission,” Teresa replied. She pulled a radio from her pocket. “Team two is alpha.”
“Alpha received, team two,” came the reply. “Stand tight until ordered to evacuate in one-zero minutes.”
One of the Megami was standing at the window with a pair of binoculars to her eyes as she peered down into Thistle Bay. “I’ve got smoke. They must have been waiting to light off the boilers.”
Teresa nodded and sat down at the control board. “Now we wait.”
Iain stepped into the command staff room in the Sabine House and glanced at the holographic displays that covered the walls as he stifled a yawn. He looked at Lucifer as she handed him a cup of tea. “Thanks. What do we know?”
Her eyes were full of restrained fury. “Twenty minutes ago, the traitors murdered the duty watch officer in the Thistle Bay control building and stole the Iain Grey. They’re headed down the Louisiana Canal now at flank speed, hoping to get as far as they can before dawn. Cells of thunderstorms are about half an hour ahead of them and should help hide them from satellite surveillance the rest of the way out to sea. I expect once they get far enough under cover they’ll use the flight spell the Sisterhood learned from the crew of the Des Moines and move the ship as far as they can into the Gulf of Mexico before the spell ends. That will put them about ten kilometers into the Gulf.”
Lucifer tried to hide her wince but Iain saw it. “She’s in command. I sent in a team as soon as we knew but it was too late to resuscitate the watch officer.”
Mindful of the cup he was holding Iain hugged her one handedly. “I’m sorry.”
“I am too. There was no reason to murder her.”
“I am tracking the ship with an O&I satellite,” Theodora said as she appeared. “The Iain Grey has her scuttling charges armed and has readied one of the supposedly neutron tipped missiles in her primary VLS cells in case we attempt to intercept her. I can destroy the ship from orbit even with their holographic projector operating as it is without a problem since it’s a nice big target on gravity sensors when it’s on and I have drones shadowing her in case I need to target visually.”
Iain looked at Lucifer. “It’s your call but our plan was to let them get out to sea before we considered retaking the ship.”
She nodded. “The plan is still in effect, Iain. I wanted to consult with you first as you’re the Grey and I’ll be using some of our people in the assault.”
“We already agreed and I’m sure they’re already awake.” Iain looked at Theodora. “They volunteered for this so do as we had planned to.”
Theodora nodded. “I have already infiltrated the computer network and can override control of the main guns if need be. The scuttling charges are disarmed but the control boards still show them as armed. The missile is aimed at the Sabine House and I’ll destroy it in flight if necessary. I’m keeping second by second recordings of all events on the ship for the trials if they become necessary, but anyone on board who might have been a threat to Idun’s forces is either dead or a prisoner. I’ll have the prisoner list and locations ready when you need them, General Lucifer.” She looked at Iain. “They have to suspect I’m monitoring parts of the ship. They spray painted or destroyed the obvious cameras and sensors in the ship and didn’t begin to act until they received word from the party that took the Thistle Bay control building reporting they were in position before firing the boilers. Before that I had no warning of what was unfolding.”
“Well, they obviously don’t know you’ve got sensors everywhere or else they’re morons and so far they’re not showing signs of being morons. Have we warned Belldandy and her people that they may be moved against?”
“They will be here in half an hour,” Lucifer told him. “We need to keep them alive and this is the safest place to do so.” Here was the command post under the Sabine House where they stood.
Iain looked at her over his teacup as he drained it. “They are the heart of the Celestial Alliance that you like. They can shower, shit and whatever here. Get them here now. Their friends can trickle in later but if they die we don’t have any reason to keep the Alliance around.” As he spoke he transmitted his words to Belldandy, Skuld and Urd.
I am not going to leave my friends, Belldandy said to him through his twee.
What happened to the mission is paramount, Iain reminded her. If they die you can get justice or revenge for them. If you die, they do too unless they can get to us before they get massacred. You and your sisters living keeps them alive if only as hostages.
I don’t like how callous you are with my people.
Iain laughed out loud. You must survive to be able to yell at me. Be pissed at Raphaela and Prastara first. When they’re neutralized then you can be angry at me. I’ll even tell Pandora not to choke you when you start yelling. Lucy has been informed of the situation and her teams will be here in plenty of time for your triumphant return to dispatch the traitors within the Alliance’s midst.
You’ll really protect me from Pandora’s fury? She sounded amused. Thanks, Iain. Ten minutes, Lucifer. I must make sure our most secret codes are with us or destroyed and my sisters have left for your redoubt.
“I notice you didn’t tell her that you wouldn’t let Pandora throttle her while she was yelling at you, just not when she started yelling,” Lucifer said with a smile. “And thank you for goading her into hurrying.”
“If yelling at me makes her feel better after she’s safe, I’ll let her,” Iain replied.
“Are those three inside your bubble,” Lucifer asked teasingly.
Iain gave her a look. “No, but you are and you like them so I will make an effort with them.” He smiled briefly. “They are becoming our friends and will eventually be inside my bubble if nothing changes, but I don’t think any man alive is evil enough to deserve seven Megami-Sama in his life. Nobody is that bad and I already have four of them including the girls.”
“With more on the way, remember,” Lucifer patted her stomach. “And Eve has decided to become pregnant too.”
Iain shrugged. “We’re going to be hip deep in children for the foreseeable future. I’ll love them all even if some of them are creepy good.” He looked at the displays. “Now we wait?”
Lucifer nodded. “Now we wait. I don’t want to retake the ship until they’re well out to sea, which will take several hours.”
“I’m getting way too much practice at waiting.” Iain shook his head. “I’m going to go upstairs to help with breakfast. We’ll make enough extra for your watch standers and the people in Belldandy’s group and I’ll have it sent down when its ready. That’ll keep me out of the way for the next few hours while you and the others plot.”
“That would be lovely,” Lucifer said with a smile. “My people will appreciate it and the image of normalcy that it will present. Do you wish to be here for the assault?”
“I’ll get back down here when I can but you’re already got all the permissions and people you need. Having me hover in the background will just get on everyone’s nerves, including mine.” He gave her a quick kiss and headed for the stairs.
All larger ships have voids, which are compartments that are usually completely sealed, although some are capable of being flooded in order to provide ballast control in emergencies. Many provide empty buffer spaces between filled tanks to keep the contents from mixing in case of a leak and often have telltale drains to show if a leak has started. The void near the engine room on the Iain Grey was one such and it separated a fuel oil tank on one side and a potable water tank on the other. The doorframe and wooden interior door in the middle of the compartment was completely out of place and not on any of the ship’s official plans.
The door opened and Zareen stepped through. The Nightmare was holding her breath and wore a sensor on a slim chain around her neck. In her hand she carried a Styrofoam cup full of a clear liquid that would have glistened as it slowly boiled if it weren’t pitch black around her.
The oxygen level is too low to breathe for long, her twee told her. The sensor detects no harmful gasses, however.
Zareen exhaled slowly and lifted the cup to her nose so she could inhale the vaporized oxygen rising from the liquid oxygen it held. The cup was so she could breathe if necessary without wearing any gear, something she typically despised doing. Keeping the cup under her nose she reached out with her perception to examine the compartment that ran next to one of the void’s walls that didn’t intersect a tank of some kind or keep the ocean out.
She stood still for a couple of minutes before abruptly slinging the contents of the cup to the right to evaporate on the wall. She reached behind her through the doorway and dropped the cup, raised one finger and then crooked it in a summoning gesture. A moment later Ganieda stepped through the doorway behind her.
Zareen took the Splice’s wrist and led her to the wall that bordered the compartment as Ganieda created a dim light to follow them. Zareen released her and stepped through the wall, turning to face it as Ganieda braced her hands against the wall from the other side. Zareen put her left hand in the same place as Ganieda’s right and used an energy blade to cut a hole several centimeters across around where their hands rested. Once the cut was done, she pushed harder and Ganieda let the plug of metal move into the void where she grabbed it and laid it silently down on the deck. Then the Splice gripped the bottom of the hole that had just been cut and used her energy blade to create a much larger hole, this one big enough to pass two people side by side. In the meantime, Zareen kept watch in the compartment. Once that sheet of metal was safely on the floor, Ganieda went back through the doorway, returning seconds later followed by Canaan, Pandora and the Sisterhood assault teams.
Predominantly composed of Fallen Angels, no matter the breed the one thing they all had in common was that each had the Dark typing, making them essentially invisible to telepaths and the average Celestial’s foresight. They carried tasers and truncheons but each also carried the more lethal weapons of her trade for later when they were discovered and stealth was no longer required. Three wore protective gear and had parapsray dispensers ready for use. Under normal circumstances on board the Iain Grey, however, due to regular shipboard activity the assault teams would have been quickly seen and the alarm raised.
Things were decidedly not normal. Mindful of the enlisted crewmember’s allegiance to Lucifer, Idun had sailed with only a hundred crew, the handpicked loyalists she’d managed to get placed into the crew of the cruiser. The rest were on shore leave and had been left behind when the Iain Grey had sailed without warning. A teleport blocking spell which required a key to penetrate had been used to keep any of the loyalists in the crew or anyone else without the key from being able to teleport aboard and would be maintained for the foreseeable future. Anticipating that tactic was why Dominique and Zareen had installed this door on one of Iain’s engineering upgrade visits as soon as Idun’s affiliation with the traitors had been discovered. And since Theodora had taken over control of the ship’s systems without Idun or anyone else being aware of the act, she now controlled the security system and cameras. Prerecorded video made during the run down the canal to the sea would be rebroadcast to show empty passageways and normal activities while alarms that were activated would never be seen.
As the last of the teams passed by, Ganieda cast a spell that overlaid a second teleport block over the first one to keep the ship’s crew from fleeing through magic, extinguished her light and fell in behind them. Meanwhile Zareen took up a hunting post in the darkness of the void where she would remain as an unpleasant surprise for any of the ship’s crew who wandered in.
Eirian rose from the shadows into the dimly lit room and stepped to the side as Aurum and Emerald joined her. Aurum laid a nude statuesque redhead down on one of the beds while Emerald deposited an equally nude buxom brunette into the other. Both women were unconscious, but the Dragonesses held them in place as Matilda and Ling attached their bindings to keep them in the beds. As soon as they were done, Julia began inserting IVs into their femoral veins and starting saline drips and sedatives for both women.
When she was finished, everyone except Matilda and Eirian stepped into the shadows and were gone.
A few minutes later the door to the room opened and a vaguely humanoid remote rolled into the room on balloon tires, pulling a cart behind it. It attached sensor webs over the two women and then moved the cart against one wall before stationing itself near the cart and becoming as motionless as the two undead in the room with it.
“It’s good to see you’re not dead. Are you going to yell at me,” Iain asked Belldandy as soon as he came down the stairs.
She gave him a quick hug. “Thank you for making us hurry. A few minutes after we left the traitors stormed our home. If we had still been there,” she shook her head. “We got everyone out before they arrived so nobody died or got captured.”
“We would have fought,” Urd growled.
“I have the surveillance video of the teams sent to kill or capture you,” Theodora said as she appeared. “You’d have fought valiantly but you’d have lost.”
“What about your people.” Skuld asked. Her question was aimed at Iain, but she was watching the anger in the set of Lucifer’s body as the leader of the Sisterhood watched the camouflaged Iain Grey sailing across the Gulf of Mexico on the display in front of her.
Theodora had kept him appraised of the situation while he’d been helping with breakfast. “We’ve confirmed over a dozen dead,” Iain’s voice was quiet. “Most of them were taken by surprise and murdered during the initial stages of the theft.” Urd sighed and he nodded. “It could have been better but it could have been a lot worse too. Our teams are aware of what’s going on now. The traitors in the Sisterhood are a lot fewer than we were worried about so there’s no overt fighting yet, but our capture teams are moving into position for Lucifer to give the word.”
“Not your order,” Belldandy asked.
“I already gave my order to Lucifer. Now I stand back and let her do her job, which I don’t think I could ever do. I’m not the strategist she is.”
“You learn quickly,” Lucifer said without looking away from the display. “One day your skill will equal mine.”
“When that day comes maybe you can be the Grey and I’ll be your general,”
Iain’s words brought Lucifer’s head around and she smiled warmly at him. “I command the Sisterhood and the Society, Iain. They have taught me well and because of those lessons I would never want to be the clan’s leader.”
Iain snapped his fingers. “Darn. And here I was hoping to give this up.”
One of the women sitting at one of the stations in the room was an Angel and she glanced behind her in their direction. “Team Two has been discovered and is under small arms fire and techniques.” Instantly Lucifer was there but she remained silent as the Angel continued. “Two wounded and they’ve taken out the defenders.”
“The bridge did not receive any alarms,” Theodora announced.
“The wounded have been healed and the team is fortifying their position to hold the radio room,” the Angel said.
Belldandy glanced at Iain questioningly as he closed his eyes for a second and took a slow, deep exhalation. He saw the motion as his eyes opened again. “Pandora is in Team Two.”
Skuld patted his arm. “You fear for her?”
“I worry about all of them,” he said. “I can’t be there and I hate that but this is what they do and I accept it. We all do what we can.”
Skuld squeezed his arm and released him. “It is good that you recognize that your place is not in the line of battle.”
“I’m going to challenge you to a race in the obstacle course and make you eat those words,” Iain said amusedly. “I’m not on the ship because every enemy on who is there would recognize me on sight and scream the alarm so loudly we’d hear it in this room.”
Lucifer chuckled from where she was watching the various monitors. “Considering that you’ve never ran our courses, Iain just might beat you, Skuld.”
“He may be many things,” Skuld said, “including in fantastic shape for a human, but human he remains.”
Iain grinned. “You think I’m in fantastic shape? You’re watching me?” Skuld flushed bright red and he laughed. “Thank you,” he said teasingly and she turned even redder.
Urd giggled. “Stop teasing my sister. You are the standard we will compare other males against so of course we’re all watching you. Even Bell is.” Belldandy turned even redder than Skuld. “See?”
Iain chuckled and let Belldandy off the hook. “Lucy just arrived and is waiting for you in the conference room.”
Belldandy gave him a grateful smile. “Then let us be going, my sisters.” She almost shoved them into the conference room and shut the door behind her.
Lucifer laughed softly, and it was quietly echoed by several of the women on duty at their stations. “That was cruel and funny at the same time, Iain. Thank you for the levity at a time like this.”
Iain smiled at her. “While we were caught off guard when they moved before we were ready, your plans minimized our dead and there’s no way they can stop your counters to their moves. While you and I both would have preferred no casualties on our side, we knew it wasn’t going to be. Our dead will be placed in our gardens with full honors as befits our clanswomen and their names inscribed on our memory wall so they won’t be forgotten.”
“The watch commander at the docks who was murdered was an Angel named Karen. She was my friend and she left behind two kits,” Lucifer said quietly. “Karen has no family except a sister who is one of the traitors. What of the kits?”
“They won’t grow up with her, but they won’t be orphans,” Iain assured her. “If you’d like, we can take them.”
“You offer to let more Celestials into your life,” Lucifer asked teasingly.
“For a woman I love, yes, I do.”
Her smile vanished and he saw the pain in her eyes. “Thank you, Iain. If you are serious I may take you up on that offer.”
“I wouldn’t joke about something like that right now,” he said. “This is a special case, mind, and I’m not surrounding myself with the children of all of our fallen. We will find them families if we need to.”
Lucifer sighed and he saw her relax slightly. “Thank you.” Then she straightened and returned to the operation, her mask sliding back into place as he watched. “Where is your guard?”
“They’re busy right now and I’m safe here. If I go to up to the surface I’ll get a guard but right now I’m going to the Theodora so there’s no need for one. Unless you need me to stay here.”
“Having you on our ship will make many of us feel better, Iain, and it’ll show you know things won’t become catastrophic. It’s a good sign for the troops.”
He nodded. “It will be as long as Rome doesn’t catch fire while I’m off fiddling.”
“You are not Nero. If Rome catches fire you will be in the forefront of the firefighting efforts and we all know it. Now go.”
“I’m going,” he said as he left.
He headed for the door to the Theodora and stopped when he saw the five figures waiting for him. He looked them over. “I take it you want to go with me?”
Vanessa nodded. She held the hands of Myrna and Saoirse. “This is something important for my girls to see and,” she glanced at Olivia and Seraphina, “they knew about it and insisted on joining us.”
“We want to learn things from you too, Father,” Seraphina said. “You have much to teach us and this is important.”
“Your mother is going to be upset.”
“Mother will be jealous of us, Father. We are learning things now that it took her years to understand and many of those things we are learning from you.” Seraphina bowed her head submissively. “But in the end, it is your decision as to whether or not you will grant our request to learn from you.”
Iain eyed her for a second. “All of you will do what I tell you to without argument. You will remain silent. If you have a question, you will silently get my attention and wait to be recognized before asking it.” He looked at Vanessa. “That goes for you three as well.”
“We understand, Father,” Saoirse said. “And we will follow your order.”
“Then come.” He headed for the doorway to the Theodora.
He stepped into the room and ignored Eirian and Matilda as well as the two restrained women as he walked to the remote. It handed him a tablet from the cart and he keyed it live and watched a minute of the video that played on it. He stopped the video and looked up. “Onyx. Alabaster.”
A pair of feralborne looking Dragonesses stepped out of the shadows. They were identical in appearance except that one was jet black and the other was pure white, but before they’d been taken and murdered by the Eoghan of Geraldine’s world, stolen by Geraldine and later claimed by Iain they had been littermates in the service of the Order of Pendragon. The black Dragoness bowed. “My lord.”
“Collar these two and put them in Cell One in the brig. Remain afterwards outside their cell to monitor them but they don’t have to know you’re there so keep out of their sight.”
“Are we to allow them to awaken?”
Iain nodded. “Yes.”
Matilda was already removing the IVs and sensor webs and when she was finished the Dragonesses secured their prisoners and stepped into shadows to vanish.
Iain looked at Eirian. “Thank you, and you as well Matilda.”
“We exist to serve you, my lord,” Eirian replied. “What will you do with them?”
“That depends on the decisions of someone else.” He left the room. In the next room Vanessa and the others waited, watching what had happened through their twees and the holograms Theodora had put up for them. He keyed up the video on the tablet and handed it to Vanessa, who knelt as the children gathered around her to watch.
They watched a couple of minutes of the video before Vanessa stopped it. She looked up at Iain. “What will you do with them?”
“I will offer them to Belldandy. If she doesn’t want them then I’ll execute them.”
Olivia frowned. “They will not be in your dead harem, Father.”
“I like it better when you smile, Daddy,” Myrna said.
“I do too, but I hold the lives of two people in my hands who technically have done nothing to me. This isn’t a time for smiling. Soon, though.”
“They would have done horrible things to you and their people did try to kill you and Dianthus,” Vanessa said quietly. “I am not sure I could stay my vengeance on them in that situation since they want to be a world threatening force.”
“If I indulge myself once, what stops me next time except the same weak will that let me indulge myself the first time?”
“That is an excellent question and a good lesson, Father,” Oliva said. “Will your execution of them be swift and merciful?”
“I really don’t think your mother would want you to watch that and yes, their executions will be simple and over quickly. Torture is another thing that I don’t like.”
Olivia nodded. “We are not ready to see that yet. When we are, you will let us.”
“Why did you not let Belldandy and Lucy capture them,” Saoirse asked. “The exercise would have provided them with valuable combat and tactical experience.”
“It prevents needless deaths,” Iain replied. “And the death of allies does disturb Lucifer and Eve, among others, so if I can prevent their grief I will. Remember this, little ladies: you will always have enemies but if too many of your allies die while helping you, one day you will find yourself standing alone and that isn’t healthy for anyone.”
“That is an excellent lesson, Father,” Myrna said.
“As for Belldandy’s people and experience, we can get them the same experience without them feeding their troops and possibly themselves into the meat grinder and chaos that is a battle. They’ll have to go into that grinder too much in the years to come as it is and sometimes we will be there with them. Capturing them also allows us to gather crucial intelligence that we didn’t already have, and that information is going to be necessary during the cleanup to make sure we don’t miss anyone. When we are done, I want the Sisterhood to be completely loyal to Lucifer, the Alliance to Belldandy and us to be safe from Celestial interference for a very long time.” He smiled slightly. “Present company excluded, of course. You may try to influence me if you wish and I won’t likely do more than tell you no if I refuse.”
“Could I please have more cookies,” Myrna asked.
Vanessa frowned down at her as Iain chuckled silently. “That is not amusing, young lady.”
“I knew it would make Daddy smile and he did. He likes poor jokes at inappropriate times so long as it isn’t an emergency.”
“I am surrounded by way too many telepaths and empaths,” Iain muttered. He knelt, kissed Myrna on the forehead and smacked her lightly on the butt at the same time he kissed her. “Cute but annoying.” She giggled and he stood, smiling as he did. “But thank you.” He took the tablet back from Vanessa. “And we’re done here, ladies.”
“Father,” Saoirse asked curiously, “if you have them and you captured them, why will you let Belldandy believe she can decide their fate?”
“I’m not letting her believe anything. She gets to decide what will happen to them,” Iain said quietly. “And if she wants them to be freed, I will free them.”
“But you’ll kill them right after that,” Olivia responded.
“True. But once I have freed them I will have completed Belldandy’s wishes. Then what I want comes into play.”
“What if she wants them released into her custody,” Oliva asked.
“I’ll let her have them.”
“What did you do,” Vanessa eyed him suspiciously.
“They’ve been implanted with trackers. I can find them anywhere on this world and pretty much anywhere in this star system.”
“Can the implants be removed,” Seraphina asked.
“Theodora could remove the trackers without harming them. Anybody else would have to cut their brains open to get them out.” He tucked the tablet under his arm. “Any other pertinent questions, ladies?”
Olivia looked at her three sisters and shook her head. “No, Father. Thank you for letting us be here tonight.”
“You are welcome, young lady. Did you learn what you wanted to know?”
“Yes, Father, and I thank you for it. Your tactics are excellent as you have neutralized Raphaela and Prastara without letting them kill more of our allies and yet you will let the ones they actually betrayed have the primary input into their fates.”
He nodded. “Just remember that I’m doing this because they’re our friends. You may choose one day to do something similar for strangers but that’s because you’re who you are.”
“And you are not us, Father, which we appreciate more every time we learn something from you,” Seraphina said. The others nodded. “We must temper our mercy with justice and you show us how that can be done without appearing either too weak or too overbearing.”
“That makes me sound a lot better than I am,” Iain said with a smile. “Now I need to go.” He knelt. “But first kisses for my girls.” They rushed forward and waited each in turn to be held and kissed. “Now I’ll see you all later.” He stood, gave Vanessa a quick kiss and then he was gone, headed for the door and back to Lucifer and the others.
Myrna looked up. “Mother, would you have killed them out of hand?”
Vanessa nodded. “Up until recently I did not have Iain’s resources for capturing them the way he did. I would have tried to limit the loss of life but they have to die for what they were trying to do to this world and, one day, others.”
“If you could have captured them would you do as Father is doing?”
Vanessa thought for a moment. “I would not have taken the chance on Belldandy deciding to be merciful when she should not. Once I pronounce someone’s doom, I carry it out unswervingly. That is why I try to be so careful about doing my due diligence beforehand. I wouldn’t want to doom the innocent.”
“That explains much, Mother. Thank you.” She smiled brightly. “May I have a cookie now?”
Vanessa chuckled and took her hand. “Come along, girls.”
Iain motioned for Lucifer to join him and stepped into the conference room. Belldandy looked up at him and he smiled. “Does anyone want refreshments,” he asked quietly.
“We have them,” Lucy said from where she sat. Her expression changed slightly when Lucifer entered behind him and shut the door. “Why are you really here?”
Iain tossed the tablet on the table in front of Belldandy. “Watch the video that’s cued up.”
Belldandy eyed it suspiciously. “What is it?”
“It’s a tablet and a kind of computer.” He continued as she glared at him. “The video will answer many questions so I don’t have to. I assure you it isn’t a cat playing a ukulele.” His smile was cold as Belldandy looked at the tablet. “I know you’re busy and it’s pertinent.”
Skuld looked at her sister. “Bell, play the video.”
Belldandy slid her fingers along the edge of the tablet and sighed before pulling it to her and touching the video icon. The redhead appeared in the video, standing loosely with her hands clasped behind her back. “I am the Megami-Sama Raphaela and I offer this confession freely. I plotted with the Megami-Sama Prastara and our underlings to kill Belldandy, Urd and Skuld as well as all of their associates who would not have sworn allegiance to us. The Celestial Alliance deserves to have far better leadership than those three weaklings and without them we could lead the Alliance to become the dominant power in the world,” she smiled, “and in possibly others, to guide a reluctant humanity to the peace we feel they deserve in spite of their childish and unruly behavior. Belldandy and her ilk have never understood that humanity will not accept a peaceful existence unless it is forced to become peaceful. It’s innate destructive behavior will refuse to give up the cultural and social violence against other humans it innately possesses unless a strong hand guides humanity to do so. I know how that should be done and I feel I have no choice but to take the leadership of the Alliance and make it happen as soon as we can. Belldandy and the others will not accept my vision for humanity and so they must be permanently removed.”
Belldandy stabbed a finger at the tablet and the video paused as she stared at Iain. “Where did you get this?”
Lucy put a hand on her shoulder. “The important question is where are Raphaela and Prastara now. We have been rolling up the personnel we already know about, but they disappeared from their underground command bunker shortly after your ship was stolen from Lucifer. No one, not even their allies can find them. Do you know where they are?”
Iain nodded. “I do. I have them in custody.” He looked at Belldandy. “There is a second video on there and it’s Prastara’s confession. You will want to watch both of those videos before deciding what happens to them. Also, there are some files of the traitors they knew about, which will help you to make a cleaner sweep before you have to start questioning everyone in the Alliance.” He looked at Lucifer. “I sent the same stuff to you just a second ago.”
Lucy shook her head. “How did you get to them? I wasn’t looking forward to the casualty count my teams were going to have to soak up to capture the two of them.”
“Magic,” Iain said. “They did attack us and they did steal Lucifer’s ship and kill some of our people, but Belldandy and her sisters get justice first. After that, if there’s anything left,” Skuld smiled grimly, “they come to me for clan justice and the crimes they committed against us.”
Urd leaned forward to look at him. “How did you get these confessions? I don’t doubt their veracity but what I saw was rather convenient.”
“When they were captured I had all of their memories downloaded and copied into Theodora,” Iain said. “She put these two videos together based upon what she found in each of their memories. I told her to tell only the truth. If they’d been innocent, that video would have exonerated Raphaela and the other one would have exonerated Prastara. Just for the record, neither video does that.”
“That’s not legal,” Urd protested.
“Clan law says it is legal but show me where a governing body that I recognize made it illegal,” Iain responded acidly. “And if it had shown their innocence beyond a doubt I’d have released them already with compensation for what I had done.” He smiled. “I get the fact that you claimed it was illegal as a knee jerk reaction to the fact that you don’t like what I did and want me to change my ways. I can appreciate your concern, but you don’t make law, especially not for me.”
“That isn’t the same as your saying that you’ll change your ways,” Urd pointed out.
“No, it isn’t and, no, I won’t.”
“This is what I meant when I said Iain will do the things we cannot,” Lucifer stated. “I am not comfortable with his actions either and we will discuss the situation in private but I will not ignore the windfall I have just received. Will you?”
“Why wait until you’re in private,” Skuld asked curiously.
“With all due respect and while you are friends, we try to avoid fighting in front of outsiders,” Lucifer was obviously unapologetic. “Is it not true that Megami-Sama try to avoid having heated arguments in front of what are euphemistically called ‘normal’ pokegirls?”
“We find that distasteful,” Belldandy said. “It’s insulting to the other pokegirls that many of us presume our superiority over the so called lesser breeds and therefore we try not to do that. So that argument will not work on us.”
Iain chuckled. “Well, what Lucifer doesn’t want you to see is that she’ll tell me I was bad and I’ll agree. She’ll ask me not to do it again and I’ll tell her I will do what is necessary. We’ll argue about it and then make up, which usually involves the removal of all of our clothing and passionate sex.” Lucifer was blushing furiously. “She and I don’t want observers of our disagreements for that reason. Belldandy, do you understand that?”
Belldandy, Skuld, Urd and Lucy were all pink in the face. “I do,” Belldandy said.
“Good,” Iain replied. “We will not have this discussion again and I’d better not have anyone teasing Lucifer about our disagreements.”
Lucy gave him a prim look. “I can assure you that you will not hear me teasing my twin about that.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I know it isn’t but that’s what you’ll get.” She smirked at him. “You don’t get to take all of my fun away.”
Urd giggled as Iain sighed and looked at Lucifer. “You told me to let her inside my bubble and apparently someone was silly enough to tell her that she’s safe because of it. And you want me to let them inside too?”
“I do,” Lucifer said. She took Iain’s hand. “I will deal with their teasing in my own way and they are smart enough not to tease either of us where outsiders will hear it.” She looked at the four other Megami-Sama. “That I will not tolerate, friends or not, and neither will my Eve, who can be rather protective and precipitous.”
Lucy chuckled. “If she is anything like my Danielle, that means if you insult Lucifer or anything else that Eve holds dear then you’d better sleep with one eye open and always keep your back to the wall.”
Lucifer flashed a grin. “As you might expect, she is exactly like your Danielle, only older and more cunning.”
Iain took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Belldandy, I have Raphaela and Prastara. You have the evidence of their guilt in front of you. Do you wish to watch it and, if so, do you wish to use it to decide what will happen to them?”
Belldandy looked at the tablet for a long moment before meeting his eyes. “Lucifer is right. I’m not comfortable with how you acquired this information but I will still use it. If I give them into your care for judgment, what will the likely verdict be?”
“If you finish watching both videos you’ll learn that both Raphala and Prastara were separately contacted by transplanted Alliance personnel and Alliance sympathizers from inside the Sisterhood of the Thorn that I brought to this world,” Iain said slowly. “These agents had enlisted in the Sisterhood and, in several cases, given oaths to the Grey clan. They violated their oath to Lucifer when they plotted to remove her and betray the Sisterhood and those who had sworn themselves to my clan violated those oaths when they did that as well. Neither Prastara nor Raphaela swore themselves to either organization, but they took command of the traitors and issued them orders which resulted in the deaths of both Sisterhood and Grey clan personnel. That ties them to the crimes with unbreakable bonds. Any trial will be only to ensure that all of the facts involved come to light but they are guilty and the penalty for that is simple execution. This, of course doesn’t change the facts that even before they were contacted by the traitors they already had plans in place to purge you, your sisters and the rest of what they saw as the elements of weakness from your Celestial Alliance.”
Skuld frowned. “What is simple execution?”
“That’s a polite way to say they’ll be quickly and mercifully put to death, with nothing complicated or drawn out,” Iain replied. “It’s a clan requirement that the form of execution be stipulated in the death penalty.”
“There are other forms of execution?”
Iain nodded. “You know there are. People get tortured to death regularly in the leagues, cut to pieces by league secret police or burned at the stake. Whatever method is chosen is whichever that particular league thinks will send a message to the citizenry to not commit crimes. The early clans did things like that too and the practice still pops up once in a while within the clans. Clans tend to be ruled by close knit families and sometimes, rightly or wrongly, they can be overzealous in protecting the clan leadership from outsiders.”
“Can you keep that from happening to you,” Belldandy asked.
“I believe I can. I have a great many Celestial pokegirls in my inner family and they and Theodora are outstanding advisors to help keep me on the straight and narrow without being cruel. But there is something that any leader of any clan or other government needs to remember and that is that it is just as much a mistake to sign too many pardons and not enough death warrants as it is to sign too many death warrants and not enough pardons. Either is an extreme that is to be diligently avoided if that leadership intends to continue being leaders.”
“It’s not the most elegant way I’ve ever heard that said but he is essentially correct,” Lucifer added.
Skuld cocked her head. “How many pardons does Iain sign?”
Iain shrugged. “I haven’t had to sit in judgement of many people, Skuld. Usually by the time they get to that level their guilt is already more than proven. Unfortunately, that means I don’t get to give out pardons. I also don’t give out death warrants. I just kill the guilty while Theodora records their guilt for the future when people will decide to second guess me.” He looked at Belldandy “You didn’t answer the question. Do you accept the responsibility for sitting in judgement over Raphaela and Prastara’s actions against the Celestial Alliance?”
Belldandy looked at the tablet again and then at Iain. “I do.” Her eyes were grave as they looked into his. “They were my friends and what I must do hurts already so much that I fear I may not be able to do what is necessary at the end. If I decide that they must die for what they have done and planned, would you carry out their sentence?”
“You ask too much of him.” Lucifer said quietly. “You must have executioners within the Alliance who will do this.”
“I do,” Belldandy’s voice was firm. “And they will not argue with me if they feel I am making a mistake. Iain is my friend and he will and you will if he does not.”
“I am not going to become your executioner,” Iain said. “However, in this and possibly in selected other cases I will do this for you. You will have to specifically ask me to act as your killer in each case and I will decide after due consideration whether or not I will do this for you. And if I disagree with your decision and you won’t change your mind, I can refuse to carry out an execution.”
Belldandy nodded. “Iain, you opened our eyes to what the future held if Raphaela and Prastara were allowed to rule unchecked. It broke our hearts and then you stayed with us and Eve and Lucifer and you helped us to heal. While I and my sisters have not known you for long, we have spent years with you in dreamtime while healing. It is because of that that I can accept how much you love them and how much they love you without understanding in the slightest why they decided that you were worthy of their love. I could not love you as they do for you are not a good person. Still, I trust your opinion and I am proud to call you my friend. I accept your terms and we both know that you will be called upon to kill Raphaela and Prastara and soon.” She looked at the tablet. “I will review this after we finish the operations tonight. May I speak with your prisoners later?”
“You may, with the understanding that they are my prisoners. You don’t get to get a say in their treatment.”
Belldandy smirked at him. “I know you are not mistreating them, Iain. That would be rude. You would kill them before you would mistreat them.”
“What you and I consider to be mistreatment is not the same thing and you already know that.”
“True. Would I feel that they are being mistreated at this instant in time?”
“Probably not. They are prisoners and you may feel parts of their detainment would be a little cruel depending on how angry you are at them when you see them again.”
Without looking away from him. Belldandy spoke. “Lucifer, how much have Prastara and Raphaela cost you so far?”
“I have lost nearly twenty people in various actions across the Sisterhood and I may lose the Iain Grey tonight sometime.”
Urd turned to face her. “What does that mean?”
“Someone hid a bomb in the engine room and armed it before we retook that portion of the ship. It blew a hole in the hull and let cold seawater get to the boilers, which exploded. The ship is still afloat for the moment but he’s taking on water fast.” She looked at Iain. “It was just a few minutes ago.”
“Theodora, grab the ship with a transport, please.”
Theodora appeared. “One is launching from the lunar refueling facility and it will arrive on scene in ten minutes. However, the Iain Grey has not been fully retaken and if they launch missiles inside the transport it could destroy both vessels.”
Iain shook his head slightly. “I think it’s time to let Idun know she isn’t in control anymore. Seal her access to everything and lock her out of the computers, if Lucifer agrees.”
“Yes,” Lucifer said. “I should have done this when the assault was discovered.”
Theodora nodded. “I will. I could also use gravity lift drones to keep the ship afloat or even lift it out of the water if the hull hasn’t been compromised too much to anchor to it.”
“That sounds excellent,” Iain replied. “Do what you need to but I really don’t want to have to have the argument against the Iain Grey II.”
“Wasn’t that going to be the name of my ship,” Lucy asked teasingly. She grinned when Iain gave her a flat look. “I should get something since I didn’t get to spend years in dreamtime with you like the others did. I’m feeling a little unloved over here.”
Iain rubbed the bridge of his nose as the room filled with laughter. “You know,” he said quietly, “when I first encountered Eve my immediate response was to get as far away from her as I could. I am glad that I ignored that impulse but it is a very good reaction to being near to a Celestial since she led me to this point where it seems like I’m surrounded by nothing but Celestials who think I’m safe.”
“It is the fact that you are anything but safe that draws us to you,” Lucifer leaned against him. “Quite literally we are here because you are a bad man, so your comments about being punished by being surrounded by Celestials isn’t far off the mark if you remove the word punished and instead substitute monitored.”
“Monitored means you’re ready to punish me if I screw up, doesn’t it?”
“It does but we’re not punishing you all of the time.”
“You need to stand where I am before you say that.”
She smiled. “I can understand why you might say that but do you really feel punished?”
“No, I don’t and you know it but the inner harem is large enough.”
“I agree,” Lucifer said. “And none of these are centuries wise enough to prove a challenge for you to corrupt.” Thank you for capturing Raphaela and Prastara. Please do not add them to the undead harem.
I have no plans to do that since I think it’s more than large enough too. “I didn’t do it for you alone but you are welcome, my love.” He kissed her on the back of the neck and raised his voice. “I don’t think you need me here anymore and Lucifer needs to get back to her missions.”
“Iain, thank you for capturing those two for me,” Belldandy said, unknowingly echoing Lucifer’s earlier words. “Lucy is right and I wasn’t looking forward to the casualty count if she had to send her people in.”
“It’s not an issue anymore and you are all very welcome.” He let Lucifer go and looked around the room. “Is there anything else right now?”
“Go,” Belldandy said with a smile.
He was no sooner outside the conference room when Lucifer grabbed his hand and dragged him into the next doorway, which led into a smaller mission room that was currently empty as the main one was in full use. She shut the door and turned to face him. “You know I have to ask this but how did you capture them?”
“I sent Eirian and my dead harem to do it,” Iain said. “I didn’t go anywhere and they were taken while you and I were talking before I went to the Theodora.”
Lucifer nodded. “I’m glad to hear you were cautious in this.”
“Does that mean you’ll now tell the others that I did this without putting myself in danger?”
“I will.” She touched his cheek gently. “I have never thought that you needed guarded the way that others do.”
“But it still makes you feel better to know that I am, doesn’t it?”
“It does.” She smiled at him. “I also know that the dangers we go into frighten you as much as your being in danger frightens us. Is it not always that way for those that we love?”
“It is, but I still need freedom that I don’t have.”
“And so I have argued on your behalf and will continue to do so, Iain. You were never made of porcelain and I agree that you are, in many ways, a male version of us. Even so,” she stopped speaking and shook her head.
“Even so I’m not a pokegirl and therefore, according to everyone else I cannot protect myself adequately. I disagree, but not yet to the point that I have run away from any of you.”
“I will continue to argue that you need less overweening protection.”
“I appreciate that but it will only really mean something if it has an effect.” He hugged her quickly. “And you need to get back to your post, general. We have enemies that need subdued or destroyed.”
Lucifer stole a quick kiss from him. “I hear and I obey, clan leader.” Then she was gone.
Iain looked up from his book when the woman stopped beside him. “Good morning, Gormlaith.”
She bowed to him. “Good morning, Iain. I am sorry to disturb you this way, but no one can tell me how to petition for an audience with you and I truly need to speak with you.”
Iain pointed at the bench on the other side of the table. “Please, sit down.” He waited until she’d gracefully settled down on the bench. “I don’t have audiences as you would recognize them and I don’t hold formal court. As for needing to speak with me, I’ve got some time now you can have. Is there a problem?”
“There is not,” she fixed her gaze on the tabletop but remembered where she was a second later and looked back up a him. “I apologize.”
Iain noted the page number, closed his book and set it down next to him. “Gormlaith, how long did you spend in Mullo’s court?”
She frowned. “Please understand that time flows differently for us and that is even more so in our places of power as the court of High King Mullo was, so I am uncertain how to answer that question. In truth, I did not count the years but I am certain that it was for most of my life.”
“Mullo punished people for breaking his rules in court, didn’t he?”
She nodded briskly. “He did and High Queen Etain was even more punctilious about the rules of court than he was.”
“The punishment for breaking those rules was pretty severe, wasn’t it?”
She nodded again. “It, of course, depended on the whim of the High King or High Queen, but usually a first offense was punished with fifty lashes of the whip. Second and succeeding offenses were usually punished by whipping the violator until the High King or High Queen grew bored with watching the punishment. I mean no disrespect to their spirits but that sometimes took days.”
“Did you enjoy watching those punishments?”
She shook her head. “If I am to speak truly, I did not. I found them extremely harrowing and sickening but I could not show that around my rulers.”
“Considering all of that, don’t you find it perfectly reasonable that following the rules of their court are completely habitual to you, especially since you’ve only been here for a very short time?”
Gormlaith gave him a grateful smile. “I am thankful that you are so understanding, Iain.”
“So, while I want you to work hard on adopting our ways, I do understand that it’ll take a while and no apology is required for now.” Iain leaned back in his chair. “What did you need to speak to me about?”
“My twee has woken up and a marvelous guide it has been. But some of the things I have learned from it are disquieting. I am alone and I find I do not like being alone.”
“Ygerna is alive.”
Gormlaith looked at the table again for a second before meeting his eyes. “She is, but she is clan and I now understand more about what that means for our relationship and future together. I am outlander and I would like to join your clan. I am ready to take your oath.”
“Do you seek to join us just so you can be with your daughter, do you need to belong to a group or is it because you approve of the way we do things?”
She hesitated. “May I speak with complete candor?”
“I’d prefer it if you did, even if I don’t like what you’re going to say,” Iain replied evenly.
“For me, I have not had many days without my daughter in my life. While she has suddenly aged a great deal, for the Sidhe the years mean little and she shows no physical signs of the millennia that have passed between us. While I can see the marks that being alone and naming herself High Queen of the Fey have worn upon her, to me she is still my daughter and I love her just as much today as I did a month ago when I was in High King Mullo’s court. It is my daughter who seeks me out for the wonder of the newness of my reappearance in her life.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Iain said quietly. “The last decades of her life have been a complete mess as far as she is concerned and she can desperately use your love right now.”
Gormlaith smiled slightly. “In other courts your style of rulership would be seen as weak and foolish but I have seen how tightly you have welded together the disparate elements of inner and outer clan and how you will do the same to satellite when your wars are over. You care for your people and don’t care for outsiders. I want to be cared for, I want to be with my daughter and I don’t want to ever have you be able to send me away for a transgression, which you might do if an outlander even accidentally hurt a member of your clan. I would rather belong and I would rather be punished as clan. While I do not approve of the way you run the clan, I can see how well it works and I find myself wondering how well High Queen Etain and High King Mullo might have fared if they had used some of your methodology. So the answer to your question is, at least in part, yes to each portion of it.”
Iain chuckled. “Especially since if you’d asked if you could speak in complete candor and one of them had said yes, it would have not protected you if they’d decided to take offense at your words.”
“That would be true, Iain, but I know that you are not that way. Some of the other leaders of your clan might punish me for speaking out of turn, but you will not if I get your permission beforehand.”
“I will take your oath this evening before the assembled clan,” Iain decided. “That way all will know that you’ve joined us.”
“I thought you didn’t hold court,” Gormalith said.
“I don’t. We have an assembly before dinner twice a week and you haven’t known about it because it is clan only. There, we give out the training results and rewards, note any common deficiency issues that crop up for addressing and discuss our plans for the next week or so. It only takes a few minutes and is more like a Viking thing than a court. It just so happens there’s one tonight.”
“Should I have held my questions until then?”
Iain shook his head. “If you feel you need to talk to me, then ask Theodora to set you up with an appointment if I’m busy, which I often am. I make no claims to perfection but I am smart enough to know that it’s usually better to settle a lot of things in private to avoid confusion during the discussion. At the assemblies, things can get sidetracked pretty easily so if you have a question that might require a detailed answer it’s best to talk to me beforehand. If it turns out that it’s something that the clan needs to hear we can then get you to announce it at the next assembly.” Iain looked at her thoughtfully. “Did you like being castellan for Mullo’s court?”
Gormlaith looked surprised at the question. “I did. I liked helping people safely navigate the rules of the High King’s and Queen’s courts so that they could get their issues addressed and I was good at it.”
“I don’t suppose you’d like to do something like that for me, would you?”
“You have Theodora for that. You don’t need me.”
Iain smiled at her. “First, Theodora is outstanding at a lot of things and she’s getter better at them all of the time, but the truth is that a lot of people, including some in the outer and satellite clans, are uncomfortable dealing with her because she’s not organic and therefore they don’t see her as real. Outlanders are even worse about it since they aren’t tech savvy like we are and don’t understand that she’s as alive as I am. And it doesn’t help that most of them don’t have any experience with electronics, much less inorganic intelligences. If you can work with Theodora, then you could be our point of contact for things like the assemblies and outlanders who think they have to meet with me about something. It’ll only benefit me that you’ve already got a lot of experience in filtering out who really needs to meet with me and who just wants to for some stupid reason that I shouldn’t be bothered with. There’ll be some initial adjustment while you learn what I think is important and what isn’t but if you’re anything like my wife you’re a quick learner and smart.”
Iain watched Gormlaith’s eyes light up. “What would I be doing?”
“You’d be reading a lot of boring paper mail, firstly, and deciding what I need to actually have to deal with. You’d also meet with a lot of people who think they should be using my time and decide if I really need to see them. And you’d be helping to tell a lot of pokegirls that the fact that they travelled to the clan’s holdings does not mean they get to join the inner harem. I’m adding to the clan but I’m not adding to my family. You will probably also get roped into being the coordinator for the assemblies. Right now, April and Sofia are doing it and they both have a long list of things they’d rather be spending their time on.”
“You’re not creating a position for me just so I feel useful, are you?”’
Iain shook his head. “I am making a job for you but I’m not just doing that, no. We can actually use your help with things like this, but you have to want to help because I won’t try to force you to assist us.”
“Will I have to train with the combat teams?”
“I think I’ll let you discuss that out with Ninhursag and I’ll play referee if I need to. I would like to see you train with us if only so you know what to do if we get ambushed, but I know you haven’t been interested in being a warrior or a mage.”
Gormlaith looked at the tabletop and back up at him. “If I were a Sidhe warrior, would I have been aware of the goblin ambush before I was attacked?”
Iain shrugged. “Nobody sees everything but you would have had a much better chance to notice the trap before it was sprung on you.”
“As a Sidhe warrior could I have avoided the ambush if I’d noticed it before I was attacked?”
Iain thought about it for a few seconds. “I believe you could have.”
“I trained with weapons when I was a girl,” Gormlaith said quietly. “I was told that I had excellent reflexes and would make a superior warrior, but I chose to walk the path of the scholar. I think it is time to discover if my tutor was correct.”
“I like to think of myself as a warrior and a scholar,” Iain noted amusedly. “I don’t see why you can’t too.”
“My daughter is not a scholar.”
“That’s actually debatable. She’s a trained mage and all mages have to have some scholarly skills if they want to become good mages, which I am constantly told she is. She was and still is a queen and she had to learn to be a lot more scholarly to do her job properly, which I understand that she did.”
“I hadn’t thought about it that way. Can I still do the job you’re asking me to do if I am training to be a Sidhe warrior?”
Iain nodded. “I think you can. If you decide that you can’t, let me know and we’ll figure something out.” He looked thoughtful. “Humans love titles for things. I think we’ll call your office the Clan Office of Public Affairs and you’ll be the Public Affairs Officer. We’ll define what you’ll do as the PAO as we go and you can always refuse to do something.”
Gormlaith gave him a shy smile. “You are definitely not like the High King or Queen. I would not have the option to refuse something you wanted me to do.”
“I think I’ll take that as a compliment,” Iain smiled back at her. “But we have learned here that if someone wants to do a job, they’ll do a much better and more thorough job of it than someone would if they were just told they would be doing something they didn’t necessarily like, no matter how bloodthirsty the punishment for failure might be.” He blinked. “And I have to report to training in ten minutes. If you want to train with us or just with Ygerna, you’re more than welcome to.”
“Thank you. You said I should talk to Ninhursag, did you not?” Iain nodded. “Then I shall later today.”
“Good. Tell her you’ll be joining the clan tonight too.” Iain rose and tucked the book under his arm as Gormlaith shot to her feet. “And I bid you a good day.”
“I bid you a good day, Iain.”
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
Melanie – Iron Chef
Arianrhod -Fey Goblin Female
74 male Goblins
89 female Goblins
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