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Iain emerged in a tunnel that stretched into the darkness overhead and side to side to disappear into the gloom, even as he adjusted his vision to maximum light gathering. With his perception he could see that the floor was covered with large pieces of stone and metal rubble. Air sampling reads a hydrocarbon content that is extremely high suggesting extreme pollution. Lingering is not advised.
Iain stepped again. He was standing in what was obviously a toilet stall with the toilet to his right. The door to the stall was open and he could see into the rest of the bathroom where a large circular sink stood. The place smelled of harsh cleansers overlaid by a thick, cloying perfume that made him want to sneeze. He stepped.
He stood in the corner of the armory. In front of him, Dominique was focused on a spell she was casting while Ninhursag was literally shoving Ganieda and Canaan out of the room. “You can call off the dogs because I’m back and in full control,” he announced loudly.
Iain? It was Theodora.
It’s me and I’m fine. And no, you don’t get my memories yet. Privacy.
Dominique jumped about a foot and whirled. “Iain!”
His forcefield sparkled into existence as she started to lunge for him. “Nobody touches me until I finish speaking,” Iain said with a calm he wasn’t sure he really felt. “Ninhursag, command staff meeting in an hour. No later. All command staff personnel are to be present unless I give express permission otherwise and I am not going to. Command staff only. Wake them up.”
She looked into his eyes and nodded. “You heard the Grey. One hour in the conference room.” Then she vanished.
Ganieda moved so fast she was hard to track until she stopped moving in front of him. “Where did you go?”
“I’ll explain at the meeting and then I’ll brief my guards. I’m back, I’m in control, I’m unhurt and I won’t be leaving like that again.” He felt her trying to poke deeper in his mind and his eyes narrowed. “No,” he growled.
Ganieda recoiled as if he’d struck her. “Iain,” she said pleadingly.
Iain met her eyes. “The individual who controlled me so that I left here couldn’t do the same thing when I was alone with that person. To me that suggests that one of you was used as the original conduit into my mind to control me.” Ganieda’s eyes went wide. “I’m not saying it was you and I’m not saying that’s what actually happened until I get more information, but I am sick to death of everyone walking all over me whenever they want and that includes my family rooting around in my brain. I’ve asked for things to change and everyone blew me off. I think it’s time I started insisting.”
“Oh, fuck,” Canaan said quietly. “He’s finally lost his temper.”
Dominique nodded. “I expected him to months ago.” She lifted her hand and held it in Iain’s direction. “Can I hold your hand?”
Iain dropped his shield and took her hand in his. “Always, my love.”
She used it to pull herself slowly to his side. “May I ask what the meeting is about? I doubt it’s to explain where you went. We hadn’t had time to finish hitting the panic button when you came back.”
“I need to explain what’s happening and start everyone preparing for the guest I have to go get afterwards.”
“Will you explain who this guest is at the meeting,” Canaan asked calmly.
Iain chuckled. “I will, if only because it’s necessary so everyone will be warned.”
“I wish everyone else was awake,” Ganieda grinned. “I wonder who would bet against me when I suggested that he’s bringing back a female something or other.”
‘Nobody would,” Canaan said. “That’s an easy one. Iain doesn’t bring back males.”
“That’s not true,” Iain pointed out. “James is staying at the Sabine House right now and he happens to be male.”
“So is Catherine and she’s a girl.” Canaan gave Iain an expectant look. “Will this new female be joining the clan?”
“I am not revealing anything.”
“Ha,” Dominique said. “By trying to reveal nothing, you have given away everything!”
Iain groaned. “You’re badly quoting The Princess Bride?”
“I am, but I’m also being truthful. We love you, Iain and we know you well. You want to formally brief the command staff because the guest is female, we’re going to feel she’s a threat to us through you and she’s lethally dangerous somehow. You finally losing your temper over us is possibly associated with the situation, but it isn’t really. This is just the final straw.” She smiled when his face went professionally blank. “And you just verified everything I’ve said.”
“Fuck.” He sighed. “Let’s go to my lab. Theodora, I need breakfast and clean clothes.” He looked down and let Dominique go as he reached for his gun belt. “But first I want to rearm myself.”
Iain looked at the faces looking intently back at him and took a deep breath. “As I’m sure you’ve been briefed, a little more than an hour ago I got out of bed under a magical compulsion and traveled to another universe. Specifically, I travelled to Eight, the world that Golden Cloud, the herd and Mielikki come from.” He picked up a mug of tea that April had given him and took a long sip. “I think I was caught by the spell while we were there the first time and it lay dormant until this morning.” He put the mug back down. “Once there I continued traveling on foot under the same compulsion until I reached a specific part of the forest. There the compulsion ended.”
“How long were you gone,” Kasumi asked as he picked up the mug again.
Iain drank and put it back down. For some reason he was parched. “Only a few hours. It turns out that when we took Golden Cloud and the herd and she brought the forest and, I suspect, Mielikki, with her, the creator of the forest remained behind and it is she who summoned me to find out where her forest had gone.”
“It only makes sense it was a woman,” Allison said with a grin. “Did you fuck her?”
“I did not.” Iain rubbed his eyes. “As we all know, a very long time ago, a dragon of my species created the unicorns that are the herd today. Well, a very, very long time before that, another dragon of that species decided to make those woods her home. She is like me and him in that she is a truewizard. Because of her power and history, she felt no fear from the humans and other races who were sometimes traveling through her woods. She ignored their existence since they are from lesser races, as she put it. They, however, felt she was a typical dragon and adventurers started attacking her in hopes of getting her treasure. For the record, according to her, she doesn’t collect treasure.” He looked around the room again, meeting the gaze of each person in turn. “I can’t emphasize this next part enough. When she got tired of being attacked, she went after the societies that had spawned the adventurers.”
‘Oh, shit,” Eve said quietly. “She did a lot of damage to them, didn’t she?”
“I think she destroyed every civilization she found on that planet and I also think she was pretty thorough about looking for them. I suspect that she did such a good job that the entire planet sank into Neolithic barbarism and had to fight its way back to medieval technology and magic. I think she did such a good job, so long ago, that they forgot that she existed, along with whatever warning she gave them, if she bothered to warn them at all. I mean, they were hunting the unicorns when they could. If I’d even thought she might be living in that woods I’d have decided to find something less hazardous to bet my life on. But when she came back to the woods from her vengeance tour, she also used her energy to create what Golden Cloud calls the forest to help hide her presence.” He looked around the room. “Then, from what I can tell, she laid down and stayed in that one place without moving until the loam rose up to cover her. That takes thousands of years, and the whole time she has been thinking about her magic, which means she could have been getting stronger. She’s been there so long that she claims to have forgotten what her name was and she let me name her Caintigern.”
“What happened to you so that you went back to that world,” Silver asked.
“I think she warded the forest to warn her if anyone messed with the magic. When Golden Cloud gathered it up, the wards activated and caught on some of us to allow her to track the thieves. Apparently she had considered that they might be able to cross universes, since she can, and so she set the wards up to bring the thieves back to her. I was just the lucky one who went.”
“And now she wishes to travel here,” Lucifer said quietly. “Are the children safe?”
“She has agreed and sworn to follow our rules of hospitality.” Iain shrugged. “I believe she’s telling the truth and that I’ve caught her curiosity so she’ll want to behave while trying to figure me out. After that, I don’t know but I can’t stop her and I promised to go get her. I’ll go right after this meeting.” He looked around the room again. “And it will be just me going. I didn’t say I’d bring anyone else and I’m not giving her a potential hostage.”
“How do we treat her,” Ninhursag asked.
“Treat her as a guest. After she’s seen the magical essence of the forest and hopefully determined that we didn’t steal it, I’ll offer to take her back to her world. In the meantime, she’s a guest which means she doesn’t get to be anywhere close to alone with the kids. I have already started convincing her that it’ll be easier to visit in her human form. This is a great idea since her dragon form is around fifty meters long.”
“Damn,” April said. “Will you be that big someday?”
“If I live that long, yes. There is only a little sexual dimorphism in that dragon race and the males and the females are almost the same size.” He rubbed his eyes slowly. “And that brings us to the second topic I need to address at this meeting.”
Ninhursag suddenly looked unhappy. “Dominique warned me this was coming.”
“I have tried working with you, I have tried negotiating with you and I am officially done doing so. I really must have personal time without guards and I am no longer going to let anyone dictate to me that I can’t. So, here’s how it’s going to work. I am going to get time alone. I am going to get time alone here or wherever else I want it. In an attempt to continue to be somewhat reasonable, I will schedule that time. If, however, after having scheduled it and having gotten the schedule approved, I get disturbed for anything less than a real emergency, I get all of that particular scheduled time back. Every single second, no matter how much of it had been spent alone before I was disturbed, and I get to spend it when and where I want without scheduling and without anything else overriding it.”
He looked around the room. “I repeat. I have tried compromising. I am done. If I get disturbed by children, that’s different, but rest assured I will figure out if they’re being sent to me so one of you can tag along to keep an eye on us or if they’re there to monitor me. Also, if I am supposed to be alone and I catch a glimpse of someone shadowing me, that is a disturbance.” His gaze swept the room again. “Yes, you brought this on yourselves. No, I am not going to feel sympathy for you. This is my selfish act and I’m going to stick with it. And nobody gets to decide if I’m in too much danger or not. I do not want to die. I do not want to have to heal shredded lungs again or have a limb reattached or regrown. I will not deliberately throw myself in front of attacking ferals and if I am in my personal time and I call for help, that is not a disturbance. If I invite someone to spend some of my personal time with me, that is also not a disturbance unless and until they refuse to leave when I ask them to. Someone checking to see if I want someone to spend some personal time with is a disruption. In return, when I am not on my personal time, I will try very hard to accept my guards gracefully. And, in an attempt to make some of you feel a little better about things you cannot control, I and Theodora have worked out a method where she can keep an eye on me during my personal time except when I’m shadow walking. It will have to be passive monitoring but I will accept her standing guard over me full time except when she cannot be where I am going.”
“What about your undead harem,” Lucifer asked.
“I have not weaned myself from them yet. In point of fact, two of them went with me when I was summoned to meet Caintigern. But most of the time they do not make me aware of their presence.” He looked around again. “Any questions?”
“If it is an emergency we can come and protect you,” April said. “Who decides if it is really an emergency?”
“I’m not going to be an asshole about this unless it becomes a regular thing,” Iain said. “I am going to try and remain my normally reasonable self and we will decide after the fact. And if it’s an emergency I’m not aware of and I get rescued, afterwards when I understand the situation I will apologize for all of the loud profanity.” He saw smiles and there were some chuckles.
“Who is going to explain this to your guards, especially Pandora, Ganieda, Dianthus and Heather,” Ninhursag asked him.
“If you wish to speak to them as the maharani, I will back you up. If you wish me to explain this to them, I’ll do it.” Iain shrugged. “I will have to talk to them no matter what. They’ve had free reign over me and none of them are going to like being told no. Eventually they’ll accept that I’m not made of a soap bubble.” He looked at Ninhursag. “And this still does not address the other issue that cropped up at the farm over Mizuho. Part of that is my fault.”
Ninhursag nodded. “And part of it is mine. We will deal with it together.”
Iain looked around the room. “Are there any other questions?”
“When will you be bringing her here,” Lucifer asked.
“I was going to get her right now but I just realized I’m still hungry so I’ll get her after breakfast with the family and bring her back to the same time. I hope the sooner she sees the forest the sooner she’ll be gone, but this will also give Ninhursag the chance to brief the rest of the harem. If she takes the forest with her, we’ll figure something out. That’ll also give me the chance to warn Mielikki and Kerrik about what’s coming. Anything else?”
Ninhursag looked around. “Then this meeting is over. Allison, April, Silver, I want to speak to the entire harem before breakfast, but don’t let that interfere with breakfast being made.”
April smiled. “We’ll handle it.”
Ninhursag went to Iain as people filed out. “Can I touch you now?” Iain smiled and held his hands out so she could step into his arms. “Be careful.”
“I intend to live to give my daughters away when they marry. Dying this year would ruin that plan.”
“It certainly would,” she murmured. Then she pulled away from him. “Do what you need to. Will you have guards while this Caintigern is here?”
“I’ll have people close by, but I don’t want to give her obvious targets.”
“You’re the obvious target,” she pointed out.
“I’d like to not be, but this time it’s my turn in the box.”
She nodded. “Go. Talk to Kerrik so nobody gets killed.”
Iain left the room, reaching out with his twee as he did. Mielikki, do you have a moment. It’s kind of urgent. He jumped when she appeared in front of him. “Thank you for coming.”
She was wearing the clothes he always saw her in. “You would not say it was urgent if it wasn’t.”
“This evening a contingency spell activated and made me go back to the universe you came from.” Her eyebrows rose. “It turns out that there was another person living in the forest and she claims to have created it and wanted to know where we took it.”
“How is it that neither I nor the herd was aware of this being’s presence in the forest?”
“She says she created the forest to hide her presence and she was buried under several meters of dirt. I got to watch her dig herself out.”
“She was not living in a place under the earth,” Mielikki said without it being a question. “She was entombed in the dirt. Is she alive?”
“She is. I have to bring her here so she can see we did not steal the forest from her.”
“It came willingly after I asked it to,” Mielikki said. “I will tell her so if you need me to.”
“Thank you. She’s very powerful so I want to be careful around her and I want you to be careful too. You haven’t been clan long enough for me to inscribe your name on our memorial wall.”
“I agree,” Mielikki said with a smile. “Tell me when you wish me to speak with her and I will come.”
“I will and thank you.” He watched her vanish and reached out with his twee again. Cassiopeia, I need this immediately sent to Kerrik verbatim please. Begin message. Kerrik, I need to speak with you. I need to speak with you alone. It is urgent and I seek to keep this from becoming an emergency. End message.
The response was instantaneous. I have delivered your message Iain. You have a reply. Begin message. The mental tone shifted to Kerrik’s voice. Let me disentangle myself from Morwen and I will come get you. Can we speak on the Theodora or do we need to leave this universe? End message.
Cassiopeia, please tell Kerrik that the Theodora is fine. I will be outside the entrance to the Sabine House.
Cassiopeia spoke in her voice through his twee. Kerrik will arrive in three minutes.
Iain hurried for the door to outside. Thank you, Cassiopeia.
Thank you for following protocol, Iain. You have no idea how much I appreciate this. Too many outlanders don’t know what to do and it’s refreshing to deal with clan once more.
Kerrik appeared on time and Iain pushed away from the wall where he’d been waiting. “Sorry about this but it’s really urgent.”
Kerrik grabbed his hand and they were standing in the landing bay of the Theodora. “I believed you the first time,” he said as he let Iain go.
Iain looked up. “Theodora, I am invoking privacy.”
“Privacy understood,” Theodora replied. “I don’t like it, but unless there is an emergency I won’t remember this until you let me.”
Iain turned to Kerrik. “I have to go get a visitor and bring them back to the ranch for an undetermined amount of time. I just met her today and while she swore to follow clan law and be polite during her visit, I just don’t know how long she’s going to be staying. She’s of the same race as me, she’s a truewizard and she’s more powerful than you are, even when you add everything you have together. I suspect she’s more powerful than Nightraven.”
Kerrik’s eyebrows rose at that. “You’re sure?”
“I haven’t seen her destroy a planet but I know who she is from my notes. I just never expected to run across her. I didn’t even bother to document her life after she abdicated from her throne. I had no idea she was even still alive.”
“Will she honor her oath?”
“She will. But when she no longer is my guest her oath will end.”
Kerrik nodded. “If she acts against this world I’ll be too busy trying to save Shikarou and the others of my family to do anything for you.”
“I know. I also won’t ask Magdalene to try and save us as the favor she owes me. It’s not worth her life. I’ll go down fighting while Dominique tries to get some people out, but it won’t slow her much.”
Kerrik clapped Iain on the shoulder. “Hopefully it won’t come to that.”
“Hopefully if it was going to, you’d have survived long enough to send you a note warning you about what was coming. Still, I had to tell you. I also need to tell you that she’s bent her magic to making herself undetectable, with good results so you may not sense her presence.”
“I’d like to be able to do that,” Kerrik said thoughtfully.
“Me too,” Iain grinned. “Maybe I’ll ask for lessons later.”
“Just be yourself and you’ll charm her in no time,” Kerrik grinned back.
“I will certainly try. I really want my family to survive this visit intact. Yours too.”
“I appreciate the warning,” Kerrik said, his humor fading.
Iain shrugged. “While you’re my teacher, I happen to think we’re friends.”
Kerrik frowned and then nodded. “We are. It won’t save you if she goes on a rampage, but we are.”
“I get that family comes first.” Iain rubbed his eyes. “But that’s all I have to warn you about right now.”
Kerrik’s ears flicked. “If I get that letter I will try to warn you if I have time.”
“I appreciate that. Now to finish outfitting and go get her. Oh, and her name is Caintigern.”
Kerrik’s eyebrows rose again. “She’s a dead Irish saint?”
Iain smirked. “Do you know of any living Irish saints?” Kerrik chuckled and so did he. “She told me that she hasn’t used her name in so long that she forgot it and I suggested Caintigern.”
Kerrik shook his head. “Better you than me.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“She let you name her. Technically that’s a gift. Dragons seldom accept gifts like new names but when they do, they respect the giver. Hopefully it means she’ll behave.”
“I hope that too. By the bye, in her dragon form she’s around fifty meters long. Warn your harem not to pick on her.”
“I think while she’s visiting my harem will stay at home. At fifty meters she might not even notice Raven slipping down her gullet. We’ll do their training at my place for a while.” Kerrik cocked his head. “Anything else?”
“I think that’s enough for now,” Iain replied with a smile.
“I agree. Do I need to take you home?”
“No, I need to have a talk with Theodora. Thank you, Kerrik.”
“Hey, thanks for the warning. I’ll stay alert in case I get that letter and I’ll try to warn you if I can.” He vanished.
Iain looked up. “Theodora?”
She appeared. “Yes?”
“Remember the conversation I just had with Kerrik.”
“Kerrik hasn’t given his permission. I can’t.”
“On my authority, I order you to remember the conversation.”
Theodora smiled. “Thank you. Do I need to build her a bedroom big enough for her dragon form?”
“No. She said a comfortable human sized bed will suffice.”
“I will queue it up immediately. Can I have the memories of her conversation with you?”
Iain nodded and uploaded them. “Privacy. No sharing.”
“Understood. Right now, I don’t have any new questions except when she sleeps in the bed and I clean it, can I swipe her DNA?”
She smiled again. “Thank you.”
“You are most welcome. Now I have to get back the house and then go get our new guest.”
“I would recommend keeping Monica and her family away from Caintigern.”
Iain paused. “That sounds like an excellent idea. Hopefully the execution won’t be too difficult.”
“Can we find another word besides execution?”
He just chuckled as he headed for the transit system and the Sabine House.
Iain jogged up to the tower and stopped at the door. After a second, it swung open for him. “Thank you,” he said as he entered and it shut behind him.
“Why do you always thank the magic here,” Nightraven asked as she appeared. “It is not aware.”
“As it was recently pointed out to me and I already knew, over the long years magic given a semblance of life may come to be truly alive. I may not be advanced enough to recognize when that happens, and it never hurts to be polite to the being I might be living inside.”
“That is an adequate answer. Why have you returned?”
“A matter of utmost urgency has happened, ma’am, and as it is unique, new and will affect you, I hastened to tell you of it.”
“I have found that in my life little is truly new or unique, Iain. However, there is a vanishingly small chance that you have found something that will be one or the other. But you cannot have found something that is both. Inform me.”
“Your grandaunt is still alive and she is coming to the ranch to see if I have stolen something of hers. I haven’t, but she hasn’t learned that yet.”
Nightraven didn’t outwardly react. “That is impossible. I have no living relatives.”
“She has been using her magic to mask her existence since she abdicated the throne so long ago, Lady. She is, however, the Blood Slayer and therefore she is the sister to your grandmother. I came to tell you of her visit because I’m fairly certain that she is more powerful than you are and I do not know how she will react when she learns of your existence.”
“Why haven’t you told her of me?”
“I think one dragoness of the People in my life is enough, and you are teaching me things I both need and want to know. She has only threatened my life so far.”
“I have also done that.”
Iain nodded. “That is true.”
She waited for a moment. “You have no opinion of the fact that I have threatened your life?”
“I express no opinion of it. You obviously have not killed me and you continue to teach me. I value the lessons. And since you have tied my destiny to yours, I must aid you if I wish my family to survive. And I must survive if I am to be of any use to you when that time comes.”
“True.” Her eyes met his. “When my destiny is achieved, will you then seek to kill me?”
“When your destiny is achieved I believe that under the law of the People I am supposed to let our daughter do that. At this time in my life, I do not know who I will support when that time comes.”
“I will not let you love her or her you. It would weaken her.”
Iain smiled humorlessly. “That is the one thing you cannot prevent and it will make her stronger than you can imagine.”
“Then you will support her.”
“I don’t know that yet. I might come to love you too and then I may act to keep both of you alive.”
He saw surprise for an instant in her eyes and then it was gone. “Why would you love me?”
“Right now I’m not sure, but you’re pretty and smart and that is the beginning of the road that can lead to a place for you in my heart. Of course, I’m not sure why you might love me, but you chose me over Kerrik and your other students. I am certain you had your reasons.”
“I did. You believe that this being is the Blood Slayer. What is her name?”
“She claims to have forgotten her name and let me name her Caintigern.”
“If she let you name her then she is not of the People.”
Iain shrugged. “She says she is and I saw her dragon form. It’s the form the People take and rather large so if she is one of the People she been alive for a while.”
Nightraven held out her hand. “Show me.” Iain pulled a golden globe out of his forehead and dropped it onto her palm. She pushed it into her forehead. “She is one of the People and she has seen many centuries. Do not return to her.”
“I promised her that I would do so. I will go.”
“Why do you disobey me?”
“You knew what I was like when you chose me. I refuse to change and that means I keep my promises. I have no intention of telling her of your existence, but you needed to know of hers in case you see her while observing me.”
Nightraven nodded. “I must trust you that someday you will trust me. Be careful.”
“That I will most certainly do.” Iain turned to the door and it opened for him. “Thank you,” he said as he stepped outside. Then he was running to the point where he had always transitioned into and out of this universe.
Iain watched Saturn rising through the window while Eirian assembled the dead harem. Having opened the area that this world’s Eoghan had lived in to the Order of Pendragon after capturing him and Germanicus and then looting the place of anything of value, the dead harem had needed a place to base out of. Since distance wasn’t a factor in shadow walking, they’d chosen to inhabit several levels in the orbital facility Theodora had placed in a polar orbit around Titan, the largest moon of Saturn.
Theodora was using it as a manufacturing depot for the gas harvesting operation on Saturn. She’d placed a fuel harvester around Saturn to refuel her equipment that was working in the region so she didn’t have to ferry fuel from the primary refueling complex orbiting Jupiter when Jupiter was in an inconvenient location for quick transits. Similar secondary complexes were collecting hydrogen from Neptune, Uranus and four were equally spaced around the inner edge of the Oort cloud and harvesting ice from asteroids to break down into hydrogen and oxygen. Considering the size of the Grey clan’s current space fleet, it was definitely massive overkill on the refueling and manufacturing situation, but Theodora had placed these sites with an eye towards the future expansion of her clan and its allies. It had turned out to be fortuitous since she was therefore able to safely use the bunkerage of the Luna station to refuel the handful of craft that Bellona had purchased from the Grey clan as the Kingdom of Haven took its first halting steps out of the orbit of the Earth and into the rest of the solar system.
The Oort cloud harvesters were in full operation ever since they’d been dropped into place by Theodora during her initial Oort cloud survey flight. Theodora was encapsulating ice asteroids in these clouds with opaque shrouds to protect them from the damaging solar wind. Once safe for travel, they were to be moved into orbits around Pluto, Mercury, Venus and Mars for use as fuel depots. The work was very energy intensive out in the eternal darkness that was on the edge of deep space since solar power was essentially unavailable and fissionable materials had to be carried out of the asteroid bel. Water for breaking into hydrogen and oxygen for fusion plants was already on location but had to be melted from the supercooled ice and cracked into its constituent atoms to power the ships building the real refineries. Fission power would have worked well, but Theodora was trying to avoid using fissionable materials whenever possible to keep from upsetting her sister, Kasumi, again. So fusion was being used, which meant resources had to be diverted to processing ice for fuel.
“Thank you for letting us live here, my lord.” It was Sorrel’s sweet voice that spoke as she moved to stand beside him and look out the floor to ceiling window. “There’s so many beautiful things here, like Saturn and the garden level. Our last base was dreary and I never really liked it.”
“You are more than welcome to live here,” Iain replied. “And I agree. Watching Saturn and its rings is spectacular. No matter how many times I come out here I never tire of the view.”
“Titan can be spectacular too,” Sorrel said.
Iain looked down at the orange field that was Titan. “It’s pretty enough,” he agreed. “But I like watching the rings appear to rotate as the station moves.”
“You should see the clouds over Titan’s poles when we go overhead,” Sorrel said. “My lord, they are so interesting to watch and then even more interesting when Theodora and I discuss the science behind what I observed.”
“I’ll keep that in mind the next time I’m here for a few days,” Iain replied.
Sorrel’s head turned as she looked at something behind them that Iain couldn’t see with his perception. “Eirian is calling me to the assembly, my lord. It’s time.”
Iain nodded. “Lead the way.” Without a word she turned and headed toward where the others waited, Iain falling in behind her.
“We are ready, my lord,” Eirian said as soon as she saw him.
“What about the ones who don’t know how to ride me yet? Will they have to remain behind?”
“We have developed a variant of the spell that allows riding so that we can place them on you. We’re also focusing their magic lessons on learning how to ride you as soon as they can master the technique. With the spell we are using they can release themselves but if you have to flee they will have to be abandoned.”
“You know we’d go back for them.”
“Yes, my lord, but it is still reassuring to hear you say the words.”
Iain smiled. “Load them up and keep them out of sight.”
“Yes, my lord.” She met his gaze evenly as the dead harem began dissolving into smoke and heading for Iain. “Understand that, considering what you know about her potential power, we are unsure of how much use we will be against Caintigern if she becomes violent. We may only be able to distract her with our existence while you escape. If so, abandon us to our fates knowing that if we can return to you, we will, and if we cease to be in your service, it is our choice and only your continued existence will make the price we pay worth it. Do not deny us this and remain in peril to try and save us.”
“I think I’d really like it if you never share that line of reasoning with Ninhursag so my living harem will never try to use that on me.” Eirian chuckled and Iain gave her a grim smile in return. “Nobody ceases to be on my watch except my enemies. If we have to run, we run together and if members of any of my harems cannot escape on their own, I’ll take them with me when I shadow walk.”
“Can you truly take the Theodora with you on a shadow walk,” Eirian asked curiously.
“The day that he can I will go on all of his trips,” Theodora said through Iain’s phone. “OK, I’ll try to at least.”
Iain shook his head. “Theodora, I intend to return somewhere close to the magical focal point of the forest that we laid down so Caintigern can see it quickly and hopefully be on her way so I can take her back to where she came from.”
“I have already seeded the area with surveillance systems and combat drones are being dispatched right now. I’ll have them in position in a few minutes.”
A dragoness who was a brighter green than Emerald and whose color was shot through with swirls of lighter green and white made a noise suspiciously like a snicker. Iain glanced at her. “Yes, Malachite?”
“My lord,” the Dragoness said with a bow, “if she leaves, how can she bear your child? I bet that she will find a reason to tarry here for some years.”
Eirian’s teeth gaped in a grin that would have been terrifying to anyone except Iain. “As you wish to bet, Malachite, you will maintain the pool for this bet.”
Malachite bowed again. “Yes, Eirian.”
Eirian took Malachite’s hand. “The pool is established, my sisters. Malachite will explain the bet and take your wagers.” She and the green Dragoness dissolved into smoke that poured itself inside Iain’s shirt to take up residence on his chest.
“Pokegirls and betting,” Iain muttered. “Why should I be surprised that it transcends death?” Theodora had laid out clothing that was more in keeping with the world he was going to, including a handspun appearing shirt and pants and a lightweight wool cloak that would serve as a raincoat and blanket if needed. His gun belt was leather and fitted the outfit so long as he kept the pistol out of sight. The spare magazines, canteen of endless water and heavy knife on the other side of his belt wouldn’t be remarkable unless someone noticed the snaps on the flaps and they were inside the leather and invisible.
“Be careful,” Theodora said quietly as he fastened the cloak around his neck and pulled up the hood.
“You’re preaching to the choir,” Iain replied with a smile. “I’ve never been interested in dying.”
“Speaking of preaching,” Theodora chuckled softly. “Have you made a decision about Mielikki asking you to become her priest?”
“I’m still reading the books she brought me.” Iain shook his head. “And they’re disquieting enough by themselves.”
“Why? I have scanned them and the rites and such aren’t onerous at all.”
“Did you notice that all of the books are handwritten, all in the same hand and that it’s feminine? I think she wrote those for me. The books even have her scent in them. It’s quite a gift, I mean religious books written by a goddess are probably priceless. Still, there’s this creepy factor I can’t quite overlook.”
Theodora looked surprised. “I had noticed that the books were new, but I thought that perhaps being around her things might not age. Otherwise gods would outlive their libraries, furniture and clothes as they crumbled into dust.” She gave him a curious look. “And when were you sniffing her so that you could know her scent?”
Iain snorted in amusement. “My nose is a lot better than it used to be and she was within arm’s reach of me during several of our talks. I know her scent because of that.”
“What do you think her goal is?”
“It’s to get me to agree to be her priest. Is there a hidden reason?” He shrugged. “She’s a woman. Of course there is.”
Theodora folded her arms over her chest and glared at him. “Hey, I’m a woman!”
“Yeah, you are. Considering the things you’ve pulled, doesn’t that just prove my point?”
She laughed. “I refuse to answer.”
“I wouldn’t either. Now I should point out that I can say the same thing about James or any other man and they’re not women. Everybody has hidden plans they don’t share.” Iain checked his gun belt and practiced a few times tossing his cloak to the side to free his gun hand. He gave a quick touch of his finger to his forehead in a salute. “See you in a few minutes.” Then he picked up the leather satchel that lay nearby by its straps, stepped into the nearest shadow and sank into it.
He emerged inside an alley. The buildings on either side were made of wood with stone chimneys. Oddly, the floor of the alley was also wooden. He moved to the mouth of the alley and looked around. It was a scene out of a medieval woodblock of a marketplace. Except for the smell and the fact that the walkways and foundations of everything was made of wood. Even the road was made of wood. And as for the smell, it didn’t really stink but the smell was overpowering. Behind the market he could see a lake stretching out towards a tremendous mountain that stood by itself.
A shadow fell across him and Iain turned slightly to see a tall old man with long gray hair and whiskers looking at him. He wore a tall gray hat that made him a lot taller than Iain and a gray cloak with gray robes underneath it and held a thick wooden staff in his hand. “Good morn,” he said pleasantly. “What brings a stranger such as yourself to Esragoth?”
Iain wasn’t sure which surprised him more, but finally decided that oddest thing was that although it was definitely not a language he’d learned, he understood the speaker when he knew no translation magic. “You are Mithrander, are you not?”
The old man’s eyes twinkled and he smiled. “I am. Who might you be?”
“I am Iain.” He smiled back at the old man. “Iain Grey, and I am but a traveler passing through Esragoth. I have no intention of stopping nor of involving myself in whatever errand you are on.”
The old man nodded. “These are dire times and your help could be of use to me. Perhaps you could stay and offer your assistance and then continue on your journey.”
Iain smiled as he shook his head. “I cannot, for while I would enjoy doing just that, I have responsibilities that I must discharge just as you must discharge yours. Where I come from we face a looming catastrophe that is just as fell as the one growing here and I must be present to help fight it. If and when I am done there, I will come hither and seek you out, but do not wait for my return for I may not survive the coming storm.”
“You will return,” the old man said confidently. “And you will bring aid that will help the realm to endure the war that is building. But you are also right in that I cannot wait. There are things that must be done before you return. But you are Istari and you will return when needed.”
Iain managed not to shake his head. “Goodbye, Mithrander.” He stepped backwards into the shadows of the alley and vanished.
He was standing on the shore of the lake and Caintigern was sniffing the area where he’d disappeared, apparently only seconds ago, which was what he’d wanted. “I’m back.”
When a fifty meter long multi ton animal jumps in surprise, the ground shakes when it lands. Her muzzle swung to point at him and her mouth partially opened as she hissed threateningly for a second. “How did you do that?”
Iain noted idly that while her body was withered and mummified, her teeth looked huge, razor sharp and very bright when one had a close vantage of them like he did. “I used my magic to travel. I returned as soon as I could and adjusted the temporal aspect so that I wasn’t gone long enough for you to grow concerned that I wouldn’t come back.”
She regarded him for a long moment and then was human in form. “I have never seen that form of dimensional travel before. How is it accomplished?”
“Are you my mentor, my teacher, my lover or my friend?”
“I am not.”
“Then you don’t get my secrets. If you want to share all of your knowledge of magic with me, I’d be more than willing to share all of mine with you.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You are little more than a hatchling.”
“Sticks and stones.”
Confusion appeared on her face. “What is that?”
“Sorry, it’s a saying I know. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me. Calling me names doesn’t bother me unless you physically or magically assault me. Before I became a dragon, I was an adult of my race and an adult I remain no matter how old my body is now, so trying to intimidate me with insults is pretty much a waste of both our times.”
She nodded. “That explains why your bipedal form is that of an adult. Are you sexually active?”
“Not as a hexapod, but as a biped, yes and I don’t think I’ll have a problem as a quadruped.”
“Why would you become a quadruped?”
“I have been obligated to breed a unicorn mare. To do so I have to become a stallion.”
She frowned. “Is this part of the T,” she broke off. “The ones that used to reside in my forest?”
“Thank you for not insulting them and yes, it is. She’s teaching us everything she knows about the People, which she learned from the one who was visiting.”
“She will know very little about us.”
Iain shrugged. “Yes, but nobody else is being forthcoming with information about them so we use what we can get. Since I wasn’t born one of the People I know almost nothing about them and that’s going to get me in a lot of fights if I ever encounter one of them who isn’t willing to be as polite as you are. I win a lot of fights by outsmarting my opponent and it’s hard to do that if I don’t know shit about how they might behave or how they think.”
Her frown returned. “Shit?”
“I should have used the word anything. I use profanity sometimes. It’s a good tactic to get an opponent off balance if you know what phrases or words will aggravate them.”
She nodded as her confusion faded. “That is true, but little will antagonize one of the People.”
Iain smiled without showing any teeth. “What if I told you that your sire was one of the lizards that call themselves dragons from this world, specifically a white dragon.”
Her eyes narrowed and she hissed. “I would destroy you with my claws. They are little more intelligent than the ice they dwell amidst.”
“See, you’re already irritated and I haven’t actually insulted you yet.”
He saw surprise appear in her eyes and then she smiled without any teeth showing. “You are right. I believe you offered to feed me. You are too small to make a meal of, however, so I suspect you were offering something more substantial.”
“Not to mention there’s the whole bit where I don’t want to see what a dragon looks like from the inside since it just might kill me before I escaped.”
“There is no escape from the inside of one of the People.”
Iain smiled again. “There are two exits to every dragon. One has teeth. The other is messier but does not. Not to mention, the inside is much softer than the outside and other ways of exiting might be possible. If I make it to the stomach alive, it could be very bad for whoever didn’t bother to chew their food properly.”
She laughed. “You amuse me.”
“Hey, that’s good. People usually don’t kill the ones who amuse them.” He held out his right hand. “Take my hand and step with me when I tell you to.”
She gripped his hand tightly. “What magic is this?”
“You have already seen me use it. It’s how we’re going to travel to where you can feed.” He focused his will. “Step.” Her bare leg moved with his.
They stood upon a hilltop overlooking an open field of dirt littered with large holes. As they watched, a roughly cone shaped ship with landing gear hanging from the bottom descended from the sky on a rainbow jet of plasma, settling towards the field. The air was thick with the stench of ozone. Across the field more ships sat, smoke coming from the bottoms of several of them. In the distance a large group of people moved towards some buildings. Ragged sounds of gunfire echoed in the distance as they moved and, once, a brilliant line of crimson light connected one of the figures with one of the buildings for an instant. The man on the end of the light exploded in a cloud of steam. “This isn’t where we’re stopping,” Iain said quietly. “Step.”
She stepped with him again and the humidity was like a slap in the face. In front of them a fang toothed dinosaur nearly nine meters long lunged across their view at something they couldn’t see. Iain released Caintigern’s hand and swept his cloak clear as he drew his pistol with his left and shot the dinosaur just underneath the base of the skull. The creature’s lunge turned into a boneless slide as the hypervelocity round severed the animal’s spine.
Iain turned to her. “That is an Allosaurus and that should start putting a dent in your hunger.”
Caintigern looked at him with suddenly wide eyes, which was unsettling since they’d filled with fluid from her earlier drinking and looked normal in an otherwise mummified face. “You kill this for me?”
If he was honest with himself, Iain had wanted to kill that specific dinosaur ever since it had tried to turn him into a snack on one of his earlier shadow walks and he had exited in front of it, but Caintigern’s hunger was a good reason to come here and fulfil his urge without worrying that Pandora would decide he was losing control of his darkness. “I did.”
Abruptly she leaned forward until they were nose to nose and inhaled deeply. “I accept your offering of your kill.” Then she turned and ran towards the Allosaur. When she was a few meters from it she changed to her dragon form and sank her teeth into the carcass. She twisted her head, ripping a huge chunk free and lifted her head to bolt the meat down before going back to feeding.
That sounded oddly formal, his twee noted as Iain turned to watch their surroundings.
It did. Iain expanded his perception to its outer limits. But the People are an odd race and I didn’t document them all that well. I never intended to introduce another besides Nightraven and she was never going to be forthcoming about her past or the culture of her race. She was intended to be merely a tool for allowing Kerrik and Drake to master their powers by having her play the role of the off-screen teacher way in the past who wasn’t so nice that they maintained a friendship with their old master or, in this case, mistress.
Iain felt the vast wave of amusement from his twee. And now you’ve found out they’re all real. Well, you haven’t met Drake yet, but you’ve met two of his daughters and they claim he’s real. And Kerrik is now your teacher, mentor and something of a friend. How would you have made him differently if you’d known these events would have come to pass?
Iain shrugged. There’s no way to tell.
Why do you think that this place is somehow familiar?
Iain frowned as he looked around. “I’m not sure,” he muttered, “but it is familiar.” His frown deepened when he realized that a bird flying off in the distance that he’d been ignoring wasn’t a bird. He focused on it. “Ok, that’s nuts. Even if it were really a bird that would be nuts, but it isn’t. That’s a Pteranodon.” He glanced at where Caintigern was gulping down what looked like an entire hind leg, hip end first. “But that is historically impossible.”
What do you mean?
“Allosaurs are Triassic dinosaurs and Pteranodons are late Cretaceous flying reptiles. They never coexisted.” A nasty thought occurred to him and he began carefully scanning the sky around them. He stepped slowly towards Caintigern and stopped when his movement revealed something that had been hidden behind a large rock. It was far away, obviously very massive, dark gray and floated above the ground. Green light glowed from within and shot in a laser like beam into the air above it to fade out high above it. “Well, fuck. That’s the Green Obelisk. We’re on an Ark.”
Isn’t that a video game?
“It is in my world. Here it looks disturbingly real.” Iain rotated in a slow circle until he located the Red Obelisk almost 180 degrees away from the green one. Then he dredged up memories of maps he’d spent time reviewing. “If we’re on the Island, I think we’re in the Southern Islets region. It’s not a great location, but at least we’re not in the northwest where we’d be inundated by predators. On the other hand, our guest will have all the hunting she could want here on the Island and thanks to the crap going on behind the scenes animals here will respawn faster than she can likely kill them.”
“I have a question,” Caintigern said while swallowing another chunk of the rapidly diminishing Allosaur.
“That ability to project our voices below our jaws is great,” Iain said to himself. He raised his voice. “And what is your question?”
“You claim that you are an adult mentally and you take the form of an adult in your bipedal form. Is that not true?”
“It is. I am an adult and being a child again would prove quite problematic for some of the activities I have to do as a biped.” Iain was busy trying to expand his perception farther than he’d ever done before in case a Tyrannosaur, more Allosaurs, a pack of raptors or one of the other myriad of predators might appear headed in their direction. The Southern Islets were not the most dangerous region on The Island, but there was no place on this artificial world that could honestly be considered safe if you were alone and on foot. All he saw nearby worth noting was a feeding Diplodocus, which he intended to suggest as Caintigern’s next meal.
“Your hexapod form is that of a preadolescent. I closely observed the two sizes of your hexapod form you have revealed to me so far and they are both preadolescent.”
“They reflect my physical age now that I’m a dragon,” Iain said. He was curious as to where Caintigern was going with this line of discussion. That and it was fascinating to watch her shearing through bone and flesh with equal ease but he couldn’t watch much of her feeding since he had to stay alert. “In years I am a baby dragon.”
“That leads to my question. Why do you allow both? If you force your body to be adult as a biped, because you see yourself as an adult, you should be able to force your body to be adult as a hexapod. After all, the forms we take are just a reflection of how we see ourselves. That is why we are not limited in what forms we can take. We merely have to decide to become them and then we do.”
Iain turned to stare at her and was dimly aware that his mouth was hanging open as he did. Finally, his brain stuttered back into enough motion that he could pull it shut before one of the giant dragonflies orbiting nearby could fly into it and choke him to death. “That’s a great fucking question and the only answer I have is that I’ve been an idiot and didn’t realize what I was doing and what I could do.”
That would also explain why your equine form is an adult since you knew it would have to be so you could breed Golden Cloud, his twee whispered.
Iain shook his head. “Thank you for asking that question. Now I will have to learn to become an adult hexapod.”
“This meal is done,” Caintigern said in a mournful tone. She looked at him, her tongue busy licking blood from her muzzle. “Do you wish to hunt for me again?”
The Diplodocus was still feeding undisturbed. “You said you like to hunt so I thought I’d let you hunt for yourself if you wanted, but I do have a new prey target for you. Now I must warn you that there are a lot of predators around and if you see any that have a red glow around them, they are very hard to kill and rather dangerous.”
She arched her neck and stretched her wings before carefully refolding them. “I need more food before I can rejuvenate and fly. Is this prey far?”
“It’s about three times your body length away and inside those trees there.”
“Is it one of these rather dangerous predators?”
“No, it’s an herbivore, but it’s big and carries a lot of meat.”
“I want to fight one of these predators before we leave but that sounds like a good meal for me to use to rejuvenate.” She cocked her head to regard him with one eye. “I will let you feed from my kill if you wish.”
Thanks to the stench of the blood all over the ground from her feeding, he was getting a bit hungry. “I accept that offer gratefully.” He headed for the shreds of Allosaurus. “But I have an errand first.” He grabbed a piece of meat and popped it into a small vial that he produced from the satchel he’d been carrying. The vial got sealed, labelled with the word Allosaurus using a pen Iain produced from the satchel and put back where it belonged. “Now we can go.”
His twee sounded like it was laughing. Theodora will be pleased with samples of dinosaurs.
I hope she will. Iain gestured towards the forest. “Your next meal awaits.” Then he had to run after her as Caintigern almost soundlessly loped into the woods. When she stopped abruptly and went into a crouch, Iain almost ran up her tail. With his perception he could see ahead that she was watching a Tyrannosaurus attacking the Diplodocus he’d pointed out.
She looked back at him. “Come up here,” she said softly.
Iain moved to join her. There was a small stand of trees between them and where the Diplodocus was being killed by the Rex. “That’s a Tyrannosaurus Rex. It’s one of the premier predators in this area.”
“It is not glowing red.”
“No, which means it isn’t one of the super powered predators, but Tyrannosaurus is the second or third most dangerous single predator around here.”
“What are the others?”
“The top land predator is a rare one called Gigantosaurus. The other predator is aquatic and so it’s hard to decide if it’s more or less lethal than a Tyrannosaurus. Still, this Rex should be a decent first predator battle if you’re interested in that sort of thing.”
Her head twitched to glance at him. “Would you fight it?”
“Nope. I have nothing to prove about my lethality. I’d cheerfully shoot that Rex and eat it, but fight it in hand to hand? I have too many battles I have to fight where I may die to seek out ones where I don’t have to fight.”
“I will fight it.” Caintigern raced forward, her head low as the Diplodocus collapsed. She roared and the Rex turned to face her, roaring back before it charged. When the Rex opened its mouth to bite, Caintigern stretched her neck forward, slipped her nose under the dinosaur’s lower jaw and then snapped her head sharply upward, knocking the Rex’s head harmlessly up so she could lock her teeth in the Tyrannosaur’s throat. Iain heard bones snapping and the Tyrannosaur went limp. Her jaws opened and slammed shut in a blur and the Tyrannosaur’s head lurched sideways, now held in place by only strips of muscle. Another bite and it came off. She swallowed convulsively and turned to look at him. “You may approach now. It is dead and you are in no danger.”
Iain chuckled and lowered his pistol. “Yes, we’re safer now.”
Caintigern looked around. She cocked her head at the two dead predatory dinosaurs that looked to have been flanking her while she was fighting the Rex. “What is this?”
“A pair of Carnotaurus decided to go after you while you were fighting the Tyrannosaur. I didn’t think that was sporting.”
“You defended me? Why?”
“You’re my guest. As I pointed out, a guest has responsibilities to her host and the host has responsibilities to his guest. One of those is I will protect you.”
“You did not help me with this one.” She nudged the Rex’s corpse with a forepaw.
“You chose to fight that one and you had the situation well in hand. If you’d started losing, I would have killed it.” He smiled. “Besides, you were enjoying yourself.” He looked around. “Now please eat quickly. All of this meat is going to draw more predators and eventually some of them are going to go after me since I’m a lot smaller than you are. And I really don’t need Troodons deciding I’m their next meal. They pack a paralytic poison I don’t want to test my resistance against outside of controlled conditions.”
“I will eat as quickly as I can.” Caintigern started with the Rex and quickly reduced it to only a few gobbets before moving on to the Diplodocus while Iain, keeping a wary eye, took samples of all four dinosaurs. Suddenly she stopped eating, shuddered and Iain watched as her body expanded from mummified to fully fleshed out in seconds. She stretched out her full length and whipped her tail from side to side as spread her wings and furled them back against her back. “That is much better,” she said as she went back to gulping down the rest of the Diplodocus.
Iain watched as she finished off the Diplodocus, one of the Carnos and then about a third of the second one before her eating slowed. “Wow. That would be a couple of boxcars full of beef.”
“I only eat this heavily once every few years,” Caintigern said as she probed the second Carno’s stomach with her muzzle in a search for the organs. “You have not fed.”
“I’d have to change form and right now having the pistol available is a great thing.”
“Yes, I noticed you keeping watch over me while I fed.” She licked her muzzle clean. “Now you will feed and I will watch over you.”
Iain started to say something and stopped when, at the edge of his perception, a group of five Utahraptors appeared, moving steadily towards them. The largest one was glowing red. “Please change back to your human form so we can leave.”
“Is there another predator?”
“Yes, and you’re full aren’t you?”
“I am.” She became human and took Iain’s right hand. Abruptly her body was clean of blood and gore.
“Crap. I forgot.” Iain dug into the satchel and produced a simple skirt and blouse. “Please put these on.”
She eyed them and then him curiously. “You think my body should be hidden?”
“No, it’s not that and you’re quite pretty, but when I travel like this sometimes we go through places where there are other humans and most of them will have nudity taboos. It’ll keep us from having to kill them when they try to interfere in our journey.”
“Why bother? Humans all die soon enough. If they decide to die sooner by the hand of the People, who are we to deny them?”
“I was human before I became a dragon, remember? I try not to go around slaughtering anyone if I don’t have to. If nothing else I might have to go back to that world for some reason and then it would be problematic if I needed to deal with the inhabitants who survived my onslaught.”
“I understand and I will do this.” She quickly pulled on the blouse and the skirt, pausing to play with the elastic waistband on the skirt. “This is quite ingenious.”
“Great,” Iain muttered as he took her hand. “I’m glad you like it and we’ll get you more of them.” The raptors weren’t far away and he watched as the Alpha had abruptly lifted its head when Caintigern had spoken. Now it was casting around eagerly and beginning to move in their direction. “Step when I do.”
“Step.” They stood on a mountainside, looking over an expansive valley that was filled with smoke and flames at the far end. “Step.” Caintigern stepped with him and the universe rotated around them.
They emerged in the clearing where Iain had planted a line of great grape bushes and first met Mielikki. “And this is my land, Caintigern. The center of the forest isn’t far.”
Caintigern kept a firm grip on his hand as she looked around. “Where are the people you didn’t want me to hurt so much that you made me give my oath?”
Iain smiled slightly. “Far away.”
She looked at him. “You do not trust me.”
“Hopefully without insulting you, I don’t trust anyone with the lives of the people I care about until I know them a lot better than I know you. I’d rather be cautious and keep them safe than have them come to grief through my carelessness.”
“Your reasoning is sound and because it is I take no offense at your caution.” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I had forgotten how much the presence of the forest comforts me. It is here and we must go this way so that I can speak with it.” She pulled at his hand and led him towards where the center of the forest had been placed by Golden Cloud. When they arrived at the center’s location, Caintigern released Iain’s hand and stepped forward slowly. “I am here,” she said softly. “Awaken and speak to me.”
Iain felt the energy come to life around them. Right at the edge of his hearing there was a whispering that filled his mind with images that he couldn’t understand. He merely recorded it in his memory while keeping his attention on Caintigern, who was slowly turning in a circle as he watched.
She raised her arms. “How did you come to this place? Was it truly of your own free will or were you coerced into leaving me and the purpose I had given you?” Her eyes went wide as the whispers grew louder. “Why did you choose to leave me,” she asked in a voice tinged with surprise.
The images changed and Iain began to recognize them, even if they still made no sense to him. He saw flashes of the unicorns and Mielikki over and over. Then, interspersed among these images he began to recognize members of his harem and the clan. Finally the images faded and the whispers went back to a quiet murmur at the very edge of his hearing.
Caintigern looked at Iain. “Did you understand what you learned?”
“I did not and I do not.”
She nodded. “The forest has become truly alive and its purpose has changed and grown. It felt that I did not need protected as much as the unicorns and this dying goddess did. It now feels they need protected and your people as well. It will remain here to protect them and I do not want to order it to obey me and return to the forest where it was brought into existence, for in many ways it is the last child I made. Still it is willing to do what I originally created it to do and will continue to hide me here, so here I will remain.”
Iain blinked. “I was kind of hoping to take you back to your woods.”
“There is nothing for me there.”
Well, shit. It was his twee. What now?
We improvise, adapt and overcome, Iain quoted the Marine Corps motto. “This forest is a lot younger than the woods you live in and things are a bit livelier than there too. I’m not sure how much rest you’d get here and with your power, do you really need anything else hide your existence? I mean we chase cattle, kattle and hogs through this area at least once every couple of weeks. It would undoubtedly disturb your rest.”
She surprised him with a chuckle. “My time for rest is over for now. I am of the People and you are of the People and yet you know nothing about the race you have joined. I was a Queen and I taught my children and my subjects how to be of the People. As you have no sire or dam to either teach you or to arrange for your tutors, it falls upon me to teach you about the People so that when you journey to meet them, you will not shame me or yourself. You will come here daily for lessons.”
“Um, Caintigern, I have a lot of responsibilities and while I’m eager to learn more about the People, I have obligations that won’t allow me to come here every day for lessons from you.”
“I had thought that might be the case.” An ornate stool appeared and she sat down on it. “It does not have to be daily, but you will come here regularly for lessons. If you do not, I will come to you and insist.”
“What if I look at my schedule and then get with you and we plan out my lessons so you know when to expect me?” Something occurred to him. “Do you understand that as long as you live on my land you are my guest? The only people I will allow to live here are guests or clan.”
“I remember my oath, Iain. The forest wants to protect you and the others here, Iain. I wish to understand why and harming them would not sake my curiosity.”
“Our ways are not yours.”
“I will have you teach me about your ways as you learn the ways of the People. Our ways are superior, but I am certain your customs will be of some interest to me. In my youth I did impress my tutors with my keen interest in the culture of the People.”
I can be present continually for when she has questions, Theodora said in his mind. And I am glad to see you have safely returned.
You can see her?
She is visible on all wavelengths. I believe she isn’t trying to hide her presence from you.
Iain took a deep breath. “I agree, but I’d like to offer something additional. I have an assistant who is always awake and could make herself available to answer your questions whenever you might have one.”
“You would give me one of your people?”
Iain chuckled. “No, it’s just she can be in many places at once. Her name is Theodora and I would like to ask her to come here to meet you. I am not giving her to you.”
“Theodora, would you please come here?”
Theodora appeared. “You called me, Iain?”
“Theodora, this is Caintigern and she is a dragon like me, except of course she’s a girl. She’s curious about,” he glanced at Caintigern where she sat, “probably everything so I’d like you to make yourself available when she has questions and I’m not around to answer them.”
“Will she be getting a computer or should I station a remote here for my hologram?”
Caintigern was eying Theodora curiously. “You are ephemeral.”
Theodora smiled. “No, I am immaterial. Ephemeral would suggest I don’t live long and I am effectively immortal. How do you speak English?”
“I understand and speak all languages due to my nature as one of the People. It is one of our gifts that must be learned but is not a difficult one to master and in time Iain will be able to do this as well.”
“That explains the unicorns being able to do the same thing,” Iain said quietly.
“Yes, it does,” Theodora replied.
“I think you should station a remote out here,” Iain said. “The People, from my notes, know somewhat about technology but they don’t use it much.”
“I’ll have the remote here in a few hours,” Theodora said.
Caintigern nodded. “Magic can do anything that technology can. We use simple technology to avoid having to waste magic where we want to but otherwise it is of little use to us.”
Iain uploaded his memories of his time with Caintigern as Theodora frowned slightly. “If you do not want to waste magic, there are many ways that technology can be used to make someone more efficient in her magical usage. The clans use both.”
“Their magic is undoubtedly of the lesser sort,” Caintigern said dismissively. “It is incomplete and undeveloped compared to the power of the People.”
Cocky, isn’t she, Theodora asked through his twee. I wonder how her wonderful race would fare against a simultaneous kinetic strike at .99 c all over the surface of their planet.
I’m the sociopath, Iain replied. You be nice.
She glanced at him. I protect my clan and niceness be damned.
Then we’d use a planet killer instead of picking away at the surface, Iain replied.
` Can I make some, Theodora asked eagerly.
Sure. No deployments without my express permission as per the rules and no leaving the solar system to get resources. If you go extrasolar I want to go too.
Yes, clan leader. Can I make some star breakers?
Iain glanced at her. If you can find the raw material for them, yes. You won’t be allowed to deploy one of those without express permission from me either.
Understood, sir. Theodora looked at Caintigern. “Say my name and I will appear. I do not sleep and I am on call to answer your questions as long as I am allowed to.”
“Why would you not be allowed to answer a question,” Caintigern asked curiously.
“If you wish me to violate the privacy of one of my family or reveal secrets of my clan that you shouldn’t have, I will politely refuse to comply. I will also inform Iain of any such events.”
“He can do nothing to me.”
“That remains to be seen,” Theodora said. “My male is very resourceful and so far he has found no difficulty that he cannot eventually surmount.”
“Well,” Iain interrupted both of them in a firm tone, “it’s for the best that Caintigern isn’t going to do anything to harm us and so it’ll never be an issue.” Stop being Pandora, he said to Theodora through her twee.
All I told her was the truth. I refuse to be sorry for that. She looked at Iain. “Since she wants to remain out here I can put a small house here so she can get that comfortable bed you offered her.”
“That would be appreciated,” Caintigern said.
“Then that’s what we’ll do,” Iain said cheerfully.
Caintigern frowned. “Who is the wizard to the west? Its magic is like ours and its strength is impressive.”
“That would be my teacher in our magic,” Iain replied. “His name is Kerrik Wolf and he’s a friend of mine.”
“Then under our agreement I should not harm him.”
“I would appreciate that. It’s hard to get lessons from a dead guy.”
Caintigern laughed. “That is true.”
“Iain is friends with or knows most of the important people on this world,” Theodora said. “Except many of the legendary pokegirls and they’re not really important.”
“Whether or not they’re important,” Iain pointed out quietly, “and they might be but we just don’t know it, they’re still dangerous.”
“Who else instructs you in our magic,” Caintigern asked suddenly, “in the traditions of the People?”
Iain considered how to answer that one. “There isn’t another mage like us who lives around here. It’s me, you and Kerrik. I learn other kinds of magic from other teachers while studying our magic. I believe that the more styles of magic I know, the more versatile I will become with truewizardry.”
“What is truewizardry?”
“It’s the conventional name for the magic you and I use.”
Caintigern shook her head. “The pretentiousness of the lesser races is amusing. It is the magic of the People.”
The pretentiousness of the lesser races? His twee sounded amused more than offended, but there was a definite layer of irritation in its thought to him. I would suggest that the arrogance of the People we have met so far outstrips any possible pretentiousness us lesser races may generate by a margin that could be measured in parsecs.
Iain tried not to laugh out loud. “If one doesn’t know of the existence of the People, as many do not, it’s likely that our magic will have a name that doesn’t involve us.”
“We are the only of the People here”, Caintigern said with a frown. “You must learn to use our magic according to the traditions of the People. I will be your instructor. I understand that you have responsibilities as I did as Queen and we will arrange the times for your lessons.” She looked up at the morning sun. “I will have to acquaint myself with this world before beginning those lessons as some rituals are best done at the appropriate times.” She turned back to him. “It will likely be a few winters before I will be ready to start your instructions. I will inform you when I am prepared to teach you.”
There was, no matter how hard Iain cudgeled his mind, only one answer. “Thank you.”
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