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Dominique leaned against the wall and waved her hand. Golden rings a meter in diameter appeared hovering at various places and in various orientations around the room. She grinned. “You’re up.”
Iain lifted off and hovered for a few seconds before he began moving. Slowly he wound his way through the rings as he made his way across the room. Eventually he finished and landed. “I know,” he said in an annoyed tone, “that I’m slower than molasses on a cold morning. Will that get better?”
“It will as you practice more,” Dominique said. She waved her hand again and all the rings turned red. “Speed comes with experience. What’s impressive is that you didn’t touch any of the rings. At your level, you should have brushed several of them and they should be white where you touched.”
“I’m using the same philosophy I use in martial arts,” Iain was wiping sweat from his face with his shirt. “If you work on precision first, speed will come and it will still be precise. If you work on speed first, you’ll never be precise.”
“I want you helping train the kits to use their abilities,” Dominique swung him into a hug and stole a kiss while doing so. “If you can get them to understand that, half the job will be done.”
“I have to attain better than perfect flight so that everyone else will approve, from what you warned me about when we started flying lessons.” Iain nuzzled the Archmage for a second before pulling away. “So I’d better be precise from the beginning or it’s never going to work.”
“See, that’s the right attitude.” She waved her hand again and the rings vanished. “But they can’t stop you now. You already mastered flying. Yes, you’re slow, but everyone is when they start out unless they have an innate understanding of flight.”
Iain chuckled grimly. “As long as I don’t do like Misery did when she started flying. She flew great, but she had these issues with unexpected collisions with the things that didn’t fly.”
Dominique snickered. “I suspect she went the speed before precision path towards flying. You’ll be better than that.” She waved her hand again and the rings reappeared, this time in a different formation. “Now fly back, but this time do it in your dragon form. I want to see how well you maneuver.”
“All right.” Iain shifted to his small dragon form and launched himself into the air.
Dominique watched as he zipped through the rings and flared into a landing. “No wonder you think you’re slow when you’re using magical flight. I didn’t realize you were that fast and agile like this.”
Iain shifted back to his human form. “I love flying and I fly almost every time I do exercises on the Theodora. She makes me fly an aerial obstacle course with moving surprises in it so I get a good workout.” He lifted off and hovered for a second before he began to slowly spin on his vertical axis. “This is very different from that since I don’t have control surfaces to work with but it’s also a lot of fun and it is, in its own way, just as challenging as plummeting from the sky and pulling out before I crash while seeing exactly how close I can get to the ground without touching it.” He slowed to a stop and landed gently. “And I do a lot of flying in microgravity because it’s so much harder.”
Dominique raised an eyebrow. “How is it harder? I’d think having less gravity would be easier.”
Iain smiled at her. “With gravity there is only one down and you always know where it is. Without gravity, down is any direction you can’t stop and inertia is a real thing. In the beginning I broke a lot of bones when walls suddenly became floors.” He frowned. “Magical flight may be different in microgravity.”
“I think we’ll run some tests together,” Dominique said as she took his hand. “If it is different, I need to learn how it’s different so I can fly well in it. If it isn’t, I wonder if that’ll give a magical flyer an advantage against a winged flyer or if it’ll be the other way around.” She grinned. “Either way I need to know for when April starts microgravity combat training so I can stay on top of the leaderboards.”
“Is she likely to start that kind of training?”
Dominique gave him a serene smile. “She will when I point out the differences by making her fight me in microgravity and kicking her butt when her constructs flail around uselessly.”
Iain grinned. “Yeah, that is likely to piss her off a teeny tiny whole lot.”
Dominique grinned back. “I know. This is going to be so much fun!”
Catherine McCoy stepped outside and stretched as she took a deep breath. “You didn’t realize how much you’d been missing, did you?”
She turned at the voice. “Good morning, Iain. No, it’s wonderful how good I feel now.” She looked at the pair of identical redheaded little girls holding his hands. “I don’t think I’ve met these little ones.”
“Hailey and Miriam are new to the family.” Iain scooped one of them up in his arms and she glommed onto his neck. “This is Miriam. We brought them into the family after their mother was recently killed. She was a good friend of Lucifer’s and Lucifer wanted to make sure they were taken care of. They decided I was ok and so we’re keeping them.” He smiled at Miriam. “Ladies, this is Mrs. McCoy.”
“Hello, Mrs. McCoy,” Hailey said shyly. “Daddy, is she one of the family?”
“She’s a friend of ours and she’s James’ mother.”
“You said that James was a new friend,” Miriam murmured. “But she’s old.”
Iain chuckled. “Mrs. McCoy is a new friend too. Her newness has nothing to do with her age, instead it is how long we’ve known her. However, no matter how new a friend she is, it is not polite to call a woman old.”
“I’m sorry,” Miriam said instantly.
Catherine smiled reassuringly at her. “I didn’t take offense, young lady. After all, I am older than anyone here.”
“That’s not true,” Hailey said. “Mother Canaan and Mother Ninhursag are older than any human can be and still be alive and you’re a human.”
Catherine looked questioningly at Iain. “They came here with me,” he said quietly. “Each is over three centuries old.”
“Oh. I guess I’m not the oldest person here.” She smiled. “That actually feels good to know.” She looked at Iain. “When did they meet James?”
“He arrived from medical yesterday morning and they met him then.”
“And he’s not waiting for me?” Catherine chuckled. “I think my feelings are hurt.”
“Don’t blame him. He’s off being huffy about what happened and he may not be aware that you got out of medical last night. It was pretty late.”
“James? Huffy? I don’t think my son has ever been huffy. He’s been pis,” Catherine broke off as Miriam’s large eyes met hers. “I mean he gets angry but I don’t think I’d ever describe him as huffy. What happened?”
“We destroyed the Reynosa base three days ago. Lorena hired some mercenaries to move into and secure Reynosa and the city is Texan property now. Apparently that derailed some money making scheme of James’ and he’s huffy about it since he didn’t realize we were going to keep the town.”
“He said bad words,” Hailey announced solemnly. “They’re grown up words but I know they’re bad.”
Catherine nodded. “That would upset him. My son always has plans for one huge job that will let us stop having to work so hard. It never pans out, but he’s always got another plan after his current one falls apart.”
Iain smiled. “It just so happens that I have a job offer for him and for you that means you won’t have to work quite so hard.”
Catherine eyed him suspiciously. “What is it?”
“I have factors in various places in Texas and another few around the world who sell our stuff and get a commission on top of a regular salary while doing so. I need someone to run the business of getting their supplies to them, especially since that business is growing faster than I thought it would. I was thinking that you could be my coordinator and James could either help you or he could become my factor in southwest Texas. The mental sweat is going to be a lot more than you’ve done before but there’s a lot less people shooting at you.”
Catherine regarded him for several seconds. “Was your mother an office manager?”
Iain smiled. “Why I do believe she was. What a remarkable coincidence it would be if you were one too.”
“You know you can be smart and still be an ass,” Catherine noted. Hailey giggled. “Oh, crud. I shouldn’t be using those words around you, young lady. I’m sorry.”
“We know that grown up words are for grownups and we are not adults yet,” Miriam said solemnly.
“Knowing things about me that you shouldn’t know is kind of creepy, Iain.”
“I might have learned from James that you were an office manager. It’s only creepy if I know personal things that I shouldn’t possibly be able to know, since nobody knows them,” Iain replied. “And if I do know things like that I won’t discuss it.”
“What could you know about me that you couldn’t possibly know?”
“I saw my mother after she was hit and before the autopsy. She died instantly but it didn’t make too much of a mess of her,” Iain said quietly. “I had to confirm the ID and afterwards I was given permission to spend some time alone with her corpse to pay my respects and it was then that I found out why she never wore a bikini of any sort.”
Catherine blinked and glanced down at her chest. “She got drunk and got a tattoo someplace intimate when she was nineteen that she regretted the instant she sobered up?”
“Could be, but if I knew that it would be really, really creepy.”
She nodded. “It would. Let’s not bring that up again. Why me for the manager job and not James?”
“James wouldn’t like trying to do that job. I know I gave my family’s version of it away just as fast as I could.”
“You think I’d like it?”
“My mother was an outstanding office manager and she said that other than some bosses that were jerks, she liked her job. I don’t intend to be a jerk and, if you take the job and I do start to act like one, you are hereby ordered to inform me of that fact.”
“That sounds good,” Catherine said thoughtfully. “But I want to see what the job entails and what I’d be doing before I accept or decline.”
“Understood. Theodora is handling it now but people want to talk to someone with a corporeal form most of the time. She can tell you and show you what the job is and give you an idea of what it might pay.” He smiled. “Oh, and Catherine?” She looked curiously at him. “It might be interesting to know that our medical system can remove old scars and tattoos.”
Theodora appeared. “I can remove tattoos in a few hours and leave no sign that anything was ever there.”
“James doesn’t know you’re out,” Iain said. “This might be a good time to return and get anything incidental taken care of.”
Catherine grinned. “Excuse me.” She turned and went back inside.
“I didn’t know she wanted it removed,” Theodora said quietly. “I’ll remember to ask from now on.”
Iain shrugged. “She’ll be back before lunch. I do wonder why she was in medical for so long since a lung replacement normally doesn’t take three days. I checked your archives.”
“It was both lungs, it only took two days and there were other issues besides the new lungs that I had to clear up before she was released. What took the longest was scrubbing the cancer from her body.”
That got Iain’s attention. “She had cancer?”
The hologram nodded. “She had a slow growing uterine cancer that had metastasized and spread throughout her lymphatic system. I removed it all and since she and James both accepted twee, the nanite repair system should keep that from coming back and being an issue again. Even so, I’ve scheduled both of them for quarterly checkups for the next two years.” She grinned. “I told them it was wellness checks. They swallowed that one whole.”
“Their twee will advise them of the truth.”
“And when they do find out I’ll explain about the cancer and wanting to ensure nothing recurs. If they protest I’ll point out that they made a binding agreement with a fey inorganic intelligence and you’d get involved if they broke the agreement.”
Iain chuckled. “You’re fey now?”
“I was allowed to incorporate the DNA of a dragon into my matrix and everyone knows that dragons are some of the best fey people around.”
Hailey giggled. “Yes!”
Iain knelt and scooped Hailey up with her sister before standing. “Girls, what am I to do with you?”
“Kisses and cookies,” Hailey said laughingly.
“You just ate breakfast.”
“If we get them now we can eat them later,” Miriam said quietly. “But I want hugs and kisses.”
“You two drive a hard bargain, but sure.” Iain checked his mental clock. “We’ve got half an hour before you’re off for lessons. We’ll get a couple of cookies, do some kissing and hugging and after we’re joined by some of the other kids we’ll play a quick game of tag.”
Miriam nodded. “I’d like that, Father.”
Iain gave a mental sigh of relief. Of the two Angel kits, Hailey had bounced back the best while Miriam was going through some pretty severe abandonment issues over Karen’s death. Hailey did have some issues of her own, but Miriam needed an adult she trusted with her always or she’d start to panic. That meant games where people got separated, like hide and go seek, were right out when she was involved. Iain was waiting for her twee to wake up and then she’d be getting some therapy with Canaan, Ganieda and Theodora to help her along while her twee provided guidance and helped her between sessions. “Then let’s be off!”
Iain’s eyes opened and he carefully lifted Winifred’s wing out of the way before sitting up. The Rack muttered in her sleep and pulled her wings into her resting position before pulling the blankets back around her. Iain ignored her as he spun his body in place, put his feet on the floor and stood. He headed into the closet and when he emerged he was clothed and carrying his boots. Silently he moved out into the hallway, went downstairs and then into the basement. He stopped at the bottom step and pulled his boots on before going through the doorway into the vestibule on the Theodora.
He exited the room and walked to the armory that was just outside the vestibule. Theodora appeared as he opened the door and went inside. “Good morning, Iain. May I ask what you’re doing?”
Iain ignored her and picked up a weapon belt that held one of his pistols. He buckled it on as she frowned, taking in his blank face. “Iain?” Then she touched his twee. Iain?
Is something the matter? There was a feeling of sudden shock. Why is Iain dressed and in the armory?
You’re the twee?
Yes. Iain’s mind isn’t awake. Warning. His mind won’t wake up. There is no regular conscious or unconscious pattern. I suspect his mind is being suppressed, but there is nothing in its place. He is moving, but there is no volition.
“I have told the harem and they’re on the way,” Theodora said. “Can you hear me?”
I can. Iain moved to the weapon racks and pulled down one of his rifles. I cannot take control. The protocols will not let me take control of his body without express permission.
“Can you let me in to take control?”
Ninhursag and Dominique rushed in. Ninhursag grabbed Iain’s wrist and jerked the rifle from him to toss it behind her. “Iain?”
He twisted his wrist in a Krav move and broke free, Ninhursag dodging backwards to avoid the follow up elbow strike to her face. Dominique slipped past Ninhursag, around Iain and wrapped her arms around his waist to lift him off of the floor. “Get his pistol,” she hissed as his hand dropped towards it.
Ninhursag beat him to it and yanked it away. “What now?”
“He can’t break free of my enhanced strength,” Dominique said as Iain went still in her arms, “but I can’t cast spells since I’m holding him. Theodora, get Ganieda and Canaan up here.”
“They’re already on their way.”
Glittering gold sparkles crawled over Iain’s skin and clothing and spread until he was encased in a gold light. Then it expanded suddenly, knocking Dominique’s arms free and her away from him. “Shit,” the Archmage said as she grabbed a weapon rack to keep from falling. “That isn’t possible!”
The light vanished as Iain suddenly shot into the air. “I’ve got him,” Canaan said as she and Ganieda entered the armory. “He can’t absorb the power of my technique since my telekinesis isn’t magical in nature.” Her antennae twitched. “I’m in his mind too, but there’s nothing to grab. It’s like he’s still asleep but it’s not.”
“I’ve seen something like this,” Ganieda snarled. “His mind is being suppressed while something else is in control. It can use his body and possibly his knowledge.”
Iain abruptly rotated to face the wall. “That should keep him from trying anything,” Canaan said in satisfaction. “Now what do we do? I’m trying to sedate his mind, but there’s nothing there to put to sleep.”
“I have a remote on the way with an experimental drug mix that might paralyze Iain’s body,” Theodora said. “But I haven’t tested it outside of some theoretical simulations.” Her eyes narrowed. “I can lock his body out from his mind in a medic. Get him to the closest medical.” She sent directions to Canaan’s twee.
Iain raised his left arm, straightened it and pointed his palm outward. Light flared and spread to become a multicolored circle two meters in diameter and a few meters from where he floated. “Shit,” Dominique gasped. “Dimensional portal! How is he doing this? I thought you said it could only use what he knows and he can’t do this!”
“I don’t know either,” Ganieda snapped.
“I have him,” Canaan said grimly as Iain’s legs moved in a walking motion. “He can’t get to it.”
Iain’s left fist closed and clenched tightly. He jerked his fist to his chest and, as he did, the portal jumped towards and over him. He vanished as it crossed him and when he was gone the portal shimmered and faded away.
Ninhursag whirled to face Dominique “Did you read the portal? We have to follow him!”
“I don’t recognize the pattern,” the Archmage said grimly. “I have no idea where he went but everyone needs to get the fuck out while I cast some spells and see if the residual magic will tell me where that portal sent him.” She glared at them. “NOW! Get Kasumi and Ygerna up here too! I’ll take all the help I can fucking get.”
Ganieda looked at Ninhursag. “What about Kerrik?”
“See if he’ll come,” the Elfqueen said as she herded everyone except Dominique from the room. “Tell him what’s going on and don’t hold anything back. Iain is his student and his friend so hopefully that’ll be enough.”
The portal materialized a half a dozen meters in the air and Iain dropped out of it. He landed on all fours and stood as the portal vanished above him. He was surrounded by trees of what was obviously a heavily wooded area of old growth forest. Without hesitating he spun to the right and started walking, changing direction only to go around a tree in his path and then returning to the bearing he was following unerringly. He did the same to the surprised orc when his path crossed it.
“You there! Stop!” The orc glared as Iain kept walking. “You can’t get away, human!” He drew a sword and charged. Iain spun, his bow appearing in his right hand. In a smooth motion he pulled an arrow from the quiver and knocked it as he drew the bow. He released, and the arrow took the orc in the center of his chest, sinking in to the fletching. Light flashed in a corona across the orc’s body and he fell to the ground as smoke wisped from his ears and nose. The bow vanished as Iain turned back to his original course and began jogging.
The sun slowly trekked across the sky as he ran and it was well into its descent when he stopped abruptly. Then he crumpled into a heap.
A few minutes later he twitched and groaned. “My head is on fire,” he muttered as he raised his head. His eyes swept around. “Oh, shit.” The area was an unremarkable part of the forest he’d been running through. He was surrounded by old growth trees that cast a shadow that would only end when winter’s touch took the leaves from the branches. But he wasn’t really surrounded. They hadn’t moved to form a circle blocking him in or anything creepy. He just couldn’t see anything but old growth forest in all directions as far as his eyes or perception could reach.
Iain started to reply and decided that noise might be bad. He activated his healing magic as he slowly sat upright. What happened? Where are we? The last I remember I was in bed with Winifred.
I don’t know where we are. Something suppressed both of us. Theodora woke me up and at that point we were in the armory outside the vestibule. You were putting on your gun belt.
Iain glanced down, noting the empty holster. I suspect I could use that pistol right now.
Theodora summoned Ninhursag and Dominique and they disarmed you. You then opened a dimensional portal while Canaan held you in midair and when we couldn’t enter the portal, you pulled it to us so it swallowed us up and we came here. We came out in this area a little more than twenty seven thousand seconds ago and you ran to this location. You killed what I recognized as an orc while doing so.
Iain frowned. Shit. It was an orc?
Just like the ones Nightraven had you fight.
They usually don’t travel alone. Iain looked around slowly as he pulled himself to his feet. If they have a tracker then they’re hunting me for payback.
I know. I didn’t see more of them but you know that means nothing. It’ll be dark soon which will slow them down if they’re tracking you. Do you know where we are?
Other than we’re in an old forest, not a clue. Iain turned in a slow circle.
Where is it? The voice in Iain’s mind was faint and distinctly feminine.
Who is that? It was his twee.
Dunno. Who are you? Nothing. “Hello,” Iain said softly.
I can barely hear you, human. Speak up. I called you here to answer my question.
Iain turned in a slow circle. There were only trees. “Are you one of the trees?”
Iain could feel a thread of anger behind the voice this time. If you do not answer my question I have no use for you. I will dispose of you and then summon one of the other thieves to answer my question.
Iain’s blood went cold as he realized she meant one of the clan. “I don’t know the answer to your question since I don’t fucking understand it! Where the fuck is what? Tell me what you want and I’ll try to answer it. Just leave my family alone!” He reached into himself and unlocked his power, feeling like his skin was swelling as it filled him up. If only he had a target.
This time he felt a faint feeling of surprise covering the anger. You are a wizard. He felt energy slide through him. You are one of the People.
“I still have no fucking idea what you’re talking about,” Iain bellowed. “But if you threaten my family again I will find a way to stop you!”
This time he felt the pressure in his mind. The feeling of surprise returned, stronger. Your mental defense actually hurt me. The ground shook slightly. Do not do that again. Lower your defenses and let me in.
“I can’t! It’s automatic and I don’t know how to stop it but I hope it fucking kills you!”
Your threat is useless. It hurt me but did not come close to destroying me. There was a pause. And you are telling the truth about not knowing how to lower your defenses. Does that mean you don’t know how you put them in place?
“I don’t,” Iain spat.
“But I will try to answer your question if I can now that I know you can tell if I’m lying or not so you know I’m telling the truth when I say I don’t know what your question is. I don’t understand what you’re asking me.”
You are telling the truth. However, I know that you are the one who took it. What did you do with my forest?
Iain winced. “Oh, fuck me. Is this the forest where the unicorns lived?”
There were no unicorns here.
“That’s the only forest I’ve moved. I came to the forest of the unicorns and, at the request of the herd mare who spoke for the queen of the forest, we moved her forest to another universe and took the herd with us. The queen of the herd said she carried the energy of the forest with her and released it in its new home to grow.”
You cannot be telling the truth but you do not lie. This does not make sense. The ground rumbled softly. I do not like mysteries.
Try a different tack, his twee suggested. What are the People she mentioned?
“I’m more concerned about whoever I’m talking to is still planning to kill me.”
Why are you speaking as if to another? Do you have a magic item that is alive that I have not sensed? He felt the energy go through him again. You do not.
At least it hasn’t sensed your undead, his twee noted. And it can’t hear me.
“I’m sorry, I’m a bit rattled by all of this. First, I was pulled here against my fucking will and then you threatened me and my family. That kind of pisses me off and I start ranting sometimes when I’m pissed off,” Iain said calmly. “So let’s start over and I’ll pretend for the minute that I wasn’t kidnapped.” He forced a smile. “Hello, I’m Iain. Who are you?”
I have not used my name in so long that I have forgotten it. He felt a slight feeling of amusement. I wonder if they still speak of me. As you are aware, the leadership of the People passes from Queen to Princess. When the Princess becomes strong enough, she kills her mother, the Queen, and becomes the Queen. In turn, one day her daughter will do the same to her. So it has been since the beginning with every new Queen being more powerful than the last. Until me. I am the Queen who was not killed. I had only one daughter and the Princess would never be powerful enough to kill me so one day I left, never to return so that she could become Queen and rule in my place.
Iain went pale. Oh, fuck.
Indeed, his twee replied. Now we know who the People are and who she is. I wish we didn’t.
The feminine voice returned. I feel your sudden fear. You do know of me. What is my name?
“I never considered your name,” Iain said cautiously. “I just know what the historians called you.”
Perhaps that will help me to remember my name. What did the historians call me?
Iain swallowed hard. “Do I have to say it? You may not like it.”
Why would I care what others call me?
Iain swallowed hard. “Because you have no idea what you did.”
I know exactly what I did, but you tell me where you believe I am wrong.
Iain took a deep breath. At least if she loses her temper she’ll wipe me from existence and it’ll be quick, he said to his twee.
We can but hope, it replied seriously.
Iain slowly let out the breath he suddenly realized he’d been holding. “Your daughter didn’t take the throne. Your abdication ignited a civil war that killed two thirds of your people. Your daughter and all of your bloodline that could be tracked down were executed for being weak and for the one time in your history, a new bloodline took the throne and has ruled ever since.”
The dirt shook so hard that the trees around him swayed and Iain was thrown from his feet. He hit and rolled as he’d been taught. That is impossible. There was a pause. What do the historians call me?
“They call those events the Civil Rebellion and you are known as the Blood Slayer. Your name was stricken from history.” He braced himself for another earthquake and was more worried when it didn’t happen. “Hello?”
Anger pulsed behind the thoughts. Sharp anger that made Iain’s pulse begin to race as it swept over him. Who became Queen. There was an insistence to answer that almost paralyzed Iain’s heart.
“I don’t know her given name but her rule was called the reign of Blacktooth.”
Shock reverberated through him. Blacktooth? She is not a noble. How is this possible?
“All of the nobles were somehow related to the rulers,” Iain said quietly. “If only distantly, they were part of your bloodline.”
Horror swept through him and Iain felt warmth spread in his groin as his bladder let go in response. They were all killed?
Shock followed in quick succession with a crushing despair that made Iain weep for a while before the feeling faded. I am the last of my line. What have I done?
“I am sorry to have given you the bad news,” Iain said quietly.
He felt her attention focus on him and realized he should have stayed quiet. Are you from the ruling bloodline? Are you one of Blacktooth’s spawn?
“I am not.”
What bloodline are you from?
“You wouldn’t recognize it.”
I remember the bloodlines if not the names that go with them. Tell me!
Iain sighed. This is so going to suck. “I am the only member of a new bloodline.”
That is impossible and yet it is the truth. Explain.
“I was not born a dragon. I had someone change my spirit from that of a human to that of a dragon of the People without my permission and eventually that spirit transformed me. That means that my bloodline is unique.”
Why would someone do that? They couldn’t think that you are truly of the People. Did you do this to yourself?
“I did not. Without intending insult, I’d have rather remained human.”
Your answer does not insult me. No one would want to be forced to become something else, even if it makes one more perfect as happened to you. Iain remained silent, deciding for once not to poke the bear. Do you know who did this to you or why?
“I can’t say.”
Pity. I am curious as to who might do something such as this to a human and what benefit they might get from it. Now, back to my forest, which I know you took.
“I really wish I knew Dominique’s spell for reading a dimension’s coordinates. Look, I haven’t taken any forest. I did move one and not that long ago. But this can’t be where that forest was since I killed an orc on my way here and the unicorns wouldn’t have tolerated the presence of orcs.” He frowned. “I did kill that orc. That didn’t seem real.” He blanched as more things surfaced in his mind. “Oh, shit. I opened a portal in front of Dominique. I am so not ready for her to find that out.”
How did you move the portal, his twee asked. That is supposed to be impossible.
“I had some ideas on how that might be done, but I haven’t tried to do it yet. I haven’t even let Theodora remember that I learned how to open portals.” He grimaced. “I am in so much trouble when I get home.”
Who are you talking to?
“I’m talking to myself,” Iain said hastily. “I do that sometimes.”
“I trust my judgment more than I trust the judgement of a lot of other people.”
You do sound like one of the People. As for the orcs, they have started to infest these woods since the forest left. It or the Travesty would have kept them out. There was a feeling of surprise. The Travesty was shaped like unicorns. Was that what you speak of?
“What is the Travesty?”
When I came here there was nothing but the trees that grew here. I wished only to immerse myself in my studies, most of which involved only thinking, and settled down. A few of the natives passed through the wood and I ignored them, but they saw me. Over time, other natives of this world came to attack me without provocation, thinking that I held items that they valued among their kind. I do not collect treasure like the stupid reptiles that look similar to the People. I grew tired of their feeble assaults and struck out at their sources. Then I returned here and infused the local trees with my energy to keep the natives from finding me so that I could return to my thinking. That energy was the forest. One day after that one of the People entered the forest. The forest could not tell him from me and let him be. He created the Travesty, a blend of our purity with an inferior race.
“He used his own blood to do it, didn’t he?”
How do you know that?
“Those are the unicorns I was talking about. There were some inconsistencies in their DNA and a study revealed they shared a lot of DNA with me,” he paused, “with the blood of the People. Golden Cloud told me about the dragon wizards who came to trade and I realized they were monitoring their creations.”
There were no dragon wizards. There was only the one of the People. He made them think he was different People, but his deception was useless on me.
“Well of course it was. You probably have more magic in a single claw than he has in his entire self.”
He felt a wave of amusement. You seek to flatter me. Be pleased, for it has worked.
“I’m sure that all of the People are beautiful. As you were once their queen, I’m sure your beauty was unsurpassed.”
He felt more amusement. I was unremarkable in comparison to others of the People. I was bred for strength, not beauty. My mother was beautiful. However, my suitors did tell me of my beauty when I became Queen and they sought to mingle their blood with mine. It was all lies.
“So, anyways, I didn’t know it was your forest and I didn’t take it. It willingly went with me and even if I wanted to I have no idea how to move it again.”
I had given the magic I infused the forest with a semblance of life with which to more effectively protect the area where I rest. Perhaps that semblance of life became life in truth. It would not the be first time that magic twisted itself over the millenniums. I must explore this concept and that means I must examine the forest to see what time has wrought.
“I told you I can’t bring it here.”
Something of this nature is too unusual for me to overlook. I have no choice but to travel to the forest and examine it there. You will take me.
Something clicked in Iain’s mind. “You don’t know where it is.”
While true, it is of no importance since you do know where it is and how to return to there.
Iain started to say something and stopped. “I am sorry to have to tell you this, but I don’t know how to move a spirit across universes.”
Spirit? You believe I am a spirit?
“Apparently you’re not aware that I’m currently in a stand of trees by myself talking to a disembodied voice in my head that I really hope is real or I pissed myself for no reason. It could be that you died and never noticed it, like Professor Binns.”
He felt amusement sweep through him. I am not dead. The People only die by violence or by choosing to cease to live. I am still alive and I am in front of you.
“There is nothing around but forest and,” he paused and listened for a second as he swept the area with his perception for a hundred meters in all directions, including the sky and underground, “an assortment of insects, some birds, rats, rabbits and a pissed off squirrel somewhere off to my left. I can’t see you. Can you see me?”
I cannot see you right now but I will see you in a moment.
The ground shook hard enough to throw Iain from his feet. He twisted and managed to catch himself before his face slammed into the ground as the shaking grew worse and a large crack spread away into the forest. The ground bulged upwards and roots of plants and trees snapped loudly. Dirt cascaded to the sides as a huge head came out of the depths to hover in the air in front of him. Amber eyes he saw in the mirror in his dragon form regarded him. Now I see you.
The first thing Iain noticed was that the head looked shrunken and almost mummified. The neck, extending down into the earth, was also desiccated looking. And the body he could now see underground was the same way. But those eyes glowed with life so she wasn’t undead. “Hello. We need to stop at a restaurant for you.”
You looked underground with your perception and she wasn’t there, his twee said.
She wanted to not be seen, he replied. Mielikki could hide from it to so it’s probably a blanket magic that keeps one from being observed. I need to learn more about it before I can neutralize its effect or copy it for me. Or both.
The dragon’s head tilted and more dirt slid off. I have not consumed food since I went forth to stop the creatures from attacking me. That was some time ago and I have sustained myself with my magic ever since. I wish a bath before I feed.
Iain nodded as he clambered back upright and braced himself. He could still quite easily die, but this time at least it would be for a good cause. “Before we go anywhere, we need to have a talk.”
The head lifted and the dragoness began shoving the rest of her body out of the ground where it had lain. She was flexible enough that she was sliding out of the hole she’d already made without widening much it once her wings started to emerge. Do we? What do we need to discuss?
“The forest is on my land. I am not claiming the forest but the land is mine, my family lives there and you have to agree to some rules before I will take you anywhere near my home.”
An emaciated foreleg emerged from the ground and planted itself solidly to begin lifting the chest out of the chasm, which began widening as she shoved herself out. I am a Queen. I do not bargain.
“You admitted you don’t know where I live. I will not take you there until you agree.”
All movement ceased and then the head swung down to regard him. “I can compel you,” she said without moving her mouth. Iain noted absently that her voice came from under her chin, where his did when he was in his dragon form and that it sounded just like her voice had in his mind.
“I won’t be caught off guard again. You may,” he paused as she brought her will to bear and, as he’d hoped, it was like Golden Cloud’s compulsion. He successfully resisted it and she hissed. “You may try but I will die before I put you where you can hurt my family without assurances that you will not.”
“Even if I did kill you I could wring the knowledge from your corpse,” she said evenly.
“You can’t enter my mind now and if I get the chance I’ll wipe my mind as I die or trap it to wipe yours or hopefully both.”
A second foreleg emerged and planted itself on the other side of the torso. She began pulling herself from the dirt much more easily. “Tell me your requirements and I will consider them.”
“You will promise not to hurt anyone there except in self-defense. You will be polite to everyone, even those that you call Travesty.”
“Why should I, other than because you demand it?”
“Those unicorns didn’t ask to be created. It is not their fault that they exist. But they are alive and they are under my protection. They deserve the right to develop as they see fit under clan law. And I don’t care how much you don’t like them, I’d prefer you not go around calling them Travesty or insulting the lesser races you encounter. In return they will not attack you except in self-defense and if they try to insult you, I will stop them and make them apologize.”
“You won’t make me apologize?” He could hear the amusement in her voice.
“I can’t make you do anything and we both know it. All I can do is deny you what you want until you agree to my terms or you kill me. If you insult them I will ask you to apologize, but we both know I cannot force you to.”
“That is an accurate assessment of the situation.” She pulled her hind legs free and lifted her tail from the earth. Iain’s guess was that she was around fifty meters long. Her entire body was withered, but she moved easily enough. “You cannot escape me.”
“I’m not trying to,” Iain pointed out. He reviewed his mental map of the area. Theodora had surveyed the forest and it surroundings during their time here. “There’s a large lake some distance to the north. You can bathe there.” He looked down at himself. “And I can wash my pants and underwear.” He frowned and slid his hand inside his waistband. “Or just my pants. Apparently I didn’t bother with underwear.”
She looked down at him. “I cannot fly until my body rejuvenates and that will not happen until I feed.”
“My dragon form isn’t nearly as big as yours is, but if you change into your human form we can figure something out.”
She became human. She was nude, with black and silver hair that fell in curls to her waist, but she was so emaciated that she looked cadaverous. And she smelled strongly of earth and rot, but that only made sense. “I am ready.”
“I need to orientate so I can head to the lake. I’ll be right back.” Iain shifted to his small dragon form and shot straight up, climbing until he was high enough to see the glitter of water to the north. He caught a thermal and circled for a moment, calculating distances before he dropped into a steep dive. Not sure how long it would take to brake at this speed, he pulled up way early and circled down until he could land in front of the walking cadaver. “It’s about twenty kilometers to the north,” he said as he changed back to human. “Unfortunately I can’t teleport yet.”
“What is a kilometer?”
Iain stepped forward so his stride was roughly a meter long. “This is approximately a meter. A thousand meters make a kilometer. For twenty kilometers it’s twenty thousand of these from here.” He frowned. “Have you ever ridden a horse?”
“What is a horse?”
“That’s a no.” He sighed. “We’ll try it the hard way.”
I could teleport you, my lord, Liadan said to him from where she rode on his arm.
Could you teleport us without leaving my arm?
That I am unsure of. Therefore, until I try that on someone else, my answer is no.
The dragoness was looking at him curiously. “What is this way and why is it hard?”
“I’ll have to carry you and it’ll probably be a rough ride. I’m also a bit worried about puncturing you with my claws.” He shifted to his full sized dragon form and stood up on his hind legs. “But I don’t want to take the time for you to walk twenty kilometers. My family is going to be looking for me and we need to get things settled before they can arrive and really FUBAR the timeline.”
The dragoness stepped in front of him and lifted her arms perpendicular to her body. “You will not kill me. Anything else I can bear.” She yelped when Iain scooped her up and cradled her carefully against his chest. “Why carry me this way? Grasping me in your hands would be more secure.”
“I told you I don’t want to hurt you if I don’t have to and this is just as secure as holding you in my hands unless I grip hard enough that you can’t breathe.” He jumped several meters into the air and flew upwards until he cleared the trees before turning north. As he flew, the scales of his dorsal side slowly darkened into a greenish gray hue as the ones on his ventral side lightened and shifted towards blue and white.
Why are you changing color, the dragoness asked in his head.
“I can’t turn invisible and this is camouflage to help keep a low profile. The last thing I want to do is get into a fight while carrying you.” He sped up until the wind was a soft whistle past his head as he followed the contours of the trees.
After about fifteen minutes of silence, she spoke to him again. You are an unusually powerful flyer.
The People are strong, but usually young dragons like you fly higher to use the thermals to conserve energy. Treetop flying like this is very hard for most of the People, yet you do it easily.
Iain wasn’t going to try to explain that Theodora had him flying in higher gravities as part of his training regimen. To give him room to fly more, she’d turned off the transit tubes that ran the length of the Theodora and pressurized them so he could breathe while flying back and forth in his full sized form at her commands while she reset the gravity in them to get him used to flying in higher gravities. “I like to fly and so I fly as often as I can. It’s helped me to get stronger.” Fortunately, what he’d just said was all true. “I hope to keep getting stronger throughout my life, especially since I am aware that if I run across the People as a race, they’ll pretty much sneer collectively at me because I wasn’t born one of the People and I’ll be fighting a lot to prove my worth to any of them.”
That is true enough.
When he saw the lake ahead, Iain began climbing so that he could survey the shoreline and look for what he thought would be a nice place for a dragon to bathe, like a sandbar. Nothing looked all that great, so he picked an area that looked like it had a wide, gentle slope into the water in case she had problems climbing out of the lake after bathing and began a gentle glide downward to it.
Landing was a disaster. Iain had never tried to land on only his hind legs and he was carrying a load which, although light, didn’t help. He didn’t flare enough and when his feet touched down, momentum did what it normally did and dropped him down onto his front feet, which were cradled against his chest. To keep from crushing his passenger, Iain twisted instantly and landed on his back, neck and head, sliding across the muddy shore and painfully wrenching a wing. “Fuck, that hurt,” he grumbled. Once the slide had stopped, he released the dragoness so she could climb down his chest to the ground as he poured healing magic into his wing. A loud pop and more pain let him know it had been dislocated and not merely wrenched.
When the dragoness was safely away, Iain shifted to his small dragon form and flipped over before turning back to human. She watched him get up slowly. “You turned so that I would not be hurt. Why?”
“You were my responsibility and I don’t let those in my care get hurt if I can avoid it.”
“I know that you do not care for me. In fact, you resent that I brought you here.” When he just gave her a flat look and didn’t say anything, her eyes narrowed. “Is that not true?”
“I see no reason to state the obvious or to reply to such an obvious statement. Yes, I resent that you kidnapped me. I’m glad you didn’t kidnap any other member of my family but I’d rather you just left us all alone. It’s not like anyone was going to get a shovel and go randomly digging several meters underground all over the forest for a dragon that nobody remembers.”
“Why do you say that nobody remembers me?” She shifted to her dragon form and waded into the water until it was almost over her back. Then she dunked her head and shook it violently, turning the water dark as dirt worked its way out of her scales. Her head came up and turned to him. “I can hear you even when my head is underwater but you are not speaking.” Behind her, more waves sprang up as she shook her body to loosen the dirt.
“I figure when you went out and, in your words, struck out against the sources of the attacks on you, you were pretty firm with these lesser races. Is that correct?”
“Did you destroy their civilizations?”
“The civilizations were the source of the attackers. Of course I did.”
“Just to be sure, did you destroy all of the civilizations on this world?”
She went back to dipping her head in the water and shaking it, speaking again when her head surfaced. “All of the ones that I could locate and I could locate most of them. I smashed their cities and destroyed their towns.”
“That’s about what I figured.” Iain stripped and waded into the lake a distance from where the dragon was muddying the water and there he began rinsing his clothes in clear water. “You probably did too good a job and the civilizations of this world collapsed. It probably took at least centuries for them to recover and begin to rebuild.”
“It should have.” The waves began building around her as she continued to shake her whole body violently underwater to remove the mud and slime. The water around her instantly turned black and spread in a cloud away from her.
Iain shook his head and waded to shore with his clothes to begin wringing the water from them and hang them up to dry. “It means they forgot who destroyed them, even if you told them to stay out of the forest and they knew what the hell you were yelling about. If they remembered you the locals wouldn’t have been trying to come into the forest in search of the unicorns and their treasure. They’d have stayed as far away as possible so not to aggravate you again.” He shook his head and chuckled softly.
“What is amusing?”
“It’s the same problem I had to counsel a member of my clan about. If you wipe out the existing power structure too completely, whatever comes in to fill the power vacuum won’t know to be frightened of you. It’s counterproductive.”
“Are you saying you know more about tactics than I do?”
“I vaguely know the history of the People. The last major war they had to fight was the civil war you started when you abdicated. You didn’t fight in it and before that there were no wars for the reigns of several rulers. And since then there have been no real wars. You don’t have a standing military and you don’t train for war. Besides, I’m talking about strategy instead of tactics.”
“The People have no need for an army. Each of us, even the lowliest, is more powerful than any army.”
Iain laughed. “A lot of races and countries have thought that over the eons. Most of them are unknown and vanished into the dustbin of history.”
The dragoness’ head stopped dipping and turned to face him. “The People are eternal,” she announced confidently.
“I’m sure the others said something like that too,” Iain replied calmly. “But the future of the People doesn’t matter. Today they’re still a civilization.”
The dragoness moved forward until the water around her was clear again and leveled her head before dipping it into the water up to her nostrils so she looked like a gigantic alligator. Iain heard a sucking sound as the water dropped right along the sides and front of her muzzle. With his perception he could watch dozens of gallons of water disappear down her throat each time she swallowed as she drank. “The People are eternal,” she repeated as she continued drinking.
Iain wasn’t going to argue with her. Instead he sat down on a rock where he could soak up some of the sunshine. It felt like fall or spring, and the reds and golds of the leaves suggested the former season, making it a couple of months after they’d left this universe, presuming it was the same year. “So, are we back to where you demand I take you to my property so you can see the forest, I remind you politely that you haven’t agreed to not kill my family or clan members and then you probably threaten my life if I don’t comply immediately?”
Bubbles surged around the dragoness’ muzzle and Iain heard her laugh for the first time. She lifted her head out of the water to regard him with an amused cant to her skull. “I have slaked my thirst and now I must slake my hunger before I threaten you.” She waded out of the water, her black and silver scales gleaming in the sunlight as she headed inland a dozen meters or so before swinging her body around to face the lake. Then she proceeded to drop her hindquarters, lift her tail and pee. “Will any threats be effective on you?”
“They will not,” Iain said as he tried not to gag at the odor of the strongest urine he’d ever smelled. He really hoped that was from centuries of dehydration and not the way she normally smelled.
“Then I see no reason to waste time with threats and you are undoubtedly aware that if I kill you I will not see the forest again. What assurances do you need?”
“I want a binding oath from you not to insult, taunt, humiliate, threaten or harm anyone in my family or my clan. In return, I will accept you as our guest with all of the rights and responsibilities that being my guest engenders for both me and you.”
“What are the rights and responsibilities that I would have to follow?”
“You’d be polite and not hunt on clan land without permission. You will not, by accident or design, work to undermine your hosts and their work, both on clan land and abroad. If in a dire situation, you would follow my orders as long as I don’t seem to be trying to sacrifice you to save someone else. In return, I will give you the protection of my clan and ensure that all of your needs are met, both promptly and as completely as possible.”
“My needs? What about what I might want, such as to see my forest?”
“I am aware that you wish to see the forest, which is not yours. I will make the necessary arrangements for you to be taken to the central place where the forest’s magic was deposited in a timely manner. If you feel it isn’t timely enough, you may inform me and we will work something out. Your other wants will be addressed on an individual basis without preconception and without any assurance on my part that a want will be fulfilled.”
“Will I be released from any obligations when I seek to no longer be your guest?”
“I will release you immediately.”
“So, I could visit, see the forest, ask to no longer be your guest and then ravage your clan?”
“You could try, but it is considered exceedingly rude and you don’t seem like a rude person.”
She leaned forward until the tip of her tremendous nose was just in front of his face. “Do you think you could defeat me in a confrontation?”
“I hope that I never have the opportunity to try and do so,” Iain said truthfully, well aware that the end of her muzzle was wider than his head. “We are not enemies. In fact, I hope that we can be friends.”
She pulled her head back and up to tower over him. “A Queen of the People has no friends. She cannot afford to have them for they might serve the Princess and thus help to bring about her death.”
“I believe that you are like one of my wives,” Iain said. “She was a queen earlier in life before her throne was stolen from her. She tells me that once someone is a queen in truth, it means that a person will always be a queen in her heart. You are no longer Queen of the People because you abdicated your throne for your Princess. Still you will always be a Queen in your heart. However it means that you can have friends now. You just haven’t had any up to this point. I could be your first friend.”
She looked at him for what seemed like a long time. “I swear that I will act as and be your guest. I believe that encompasses not insulting or harming anyone in your clan or family since that wouldn’t be polite. Does being a guest also mean I would not hunt on your land without permission?”
“It does, as I’d already noted. However, I will ensure that you are stuffed so full of food that you won’t want to hunt if necessary.”
She chuckled. “That will take a rather large amount of food. The problem is that I like to hunt. It makes my food taste better.”
“I think I can arrange things so that you can have both.” He rubbed his chin. “The biggest problem I may have is finding you someplace comfortable to rest. We are mostly human in form and in race as well, and we like to use beds. There are no large caves nearby.”
“I would not refuse a bed if it were appropriately comfortable.”
Iain smiled. “Then I think I would like to have you visit us.” He sighed. “Now, I have to go home without you so that I can calm everyone down about how I left to come here and inform them of your visit. I will return within a few seconds of leaving and then I will take you on a hunt the likes of which I don’t think you’ve ever been on.” He looked her in the eyes. “I promise to return here only a few seconds after I leave.”
“Time travel is difficult. I look forward to seeing your mastery of it.”
Iain hesitated. “Um, my people are going to want to use a name for you.”
“I no longer have a name. I have forgotten it and it doesn’t matter even if I did remember it as you say that my name was purged from the history of the People. If they did then my name no longer exists and I would not use it if I knew what it was. Call me what you will.”
“I think I’d like to call you Caintigern.”
“It means gentle lady and I’m hopeful that’s what you’ll be.”
She laughed softly. “I accept the name.”
“Then I’ll be back in a few seconds.” Iain stepped into the closest shadow and vanished.
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
Geraldine - Human
Mother s & Children