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Loose Threads



            “Be careful, my love,” Theodora said.

            “I will do my utmost,” Iain replied. He stepped into the closest shadow and it rose to swallow him.

            He was standing on the empty plain populated by the shades of the people he’d killed. He smiled to himself as he stepped into the shadow of a snarling Dark Queen and used it to exit. While it was a plane and therefore effectively unlimited in size and so no number of shades would populate it to any significant degree, the local population had grown substantially since his last visit and his quick glance around didn’t show anyone there that he regretted killing.

            He exited in the forest and ran for the tower. When he arrived, the door opened and he smiled as he entered. “Thank you.”

            “If you are here to speak to me,” Nightraven’s voice echoed around him, “come to the battlements.”

            “I am coming up,” he said as he headed up the staircase.

            She was standing so as to look out towards the mountain where the orc armies usually came from. Her head shifted slightly as she glanced at him. “Was it my mistake to let you leave so early?”

            Iain frowned. “I neither understand the question nor the context in which it is asked, lady.”

            “If you had remained here, none of this would have come to pass as you would have been unable to travel to encounter the Blood Slayer. If you had never encountered her, she would not be on your land. Why have you not returned her to the place where she met you?”

            “The truth is that I desire to. She does not wish to leave, and I don’t have the power to make her,” Iain said simply. The first question Nightraven had just asked him had no easy answer and he hoped it was rhetorical. He certainly intended to treat it as such unless his teacher returned to it. “And that is not all she is doing, Lady.”

            “I let the orcs remain in their mountain fastness because it allows those who would oppose me on this world to believe that I am unable to exterminate them. If, one day, I blotted that mountain from existence, along with the multitudes of orcs who live in it, it would garner me too much attention from others who might prove troublesome. Instead, every decade or so the orcs send forth an army with which to lay waste to the region and I destroy it when it comes against me. As they come against me first, they accomplish nothing other their solving their food shortages temporarily. Their inability to grow some stable form of food and control their population are the reasons they send forth their armies. I once considered teaching them to grow crops but they would merely reproduce until they outstripped their food supplies once more for that is their nature. If they were willing to control their population below the limitations of their food stocks they would already be doing it. The armies they would send forth would be much larger and I would still destroy them when they came here. The only way to stop what they rae doing is to destroy them utterly or rule them and I wish to do neither. Those of the lesser races who think themselves powerful let me alone because I keep the orcs from sweeping down into their cities. If there were no more orcs, they would believe that they no longer needed to tolerate my presence.” She turned back to Iain. “They can no more defeat me than the orcs can. Why do I tolerate the presence of the orcs?”

            Iain had been asked questions like this before and had been reprimanded if his answer wasn’t carefully thought out. Sometimes he wondered if she really knew the answer and wanted him to give him an answer that she could later give others. But he also knew that if he lied to her about what he thought, she would know and that reprimand would become punishment. “I have wondered about that too, lady, and I think that you let the orcs continue to exist because they remind you that you will always have enemies who will seek to destroy or control you and that you cannot spare the time to exterminate them all. I also believe that you continue to let them exist because you appreciate the mountain as something you enjoy in your view and wiping out the orcs and leaving the mountain standing while destroying the orcs would merely leave it empty for the orcs or something else to infest again.” She could also fill the caverns in the mountain with lava to plug them and keep things from dwelling there, but Iain wasn’t going to bring that up.

            She eyed him for a moment before returning to contemplating the mountain. “Why have you returned?”

            “Caintigern has determined that the forest has truly come to life and is now pursuing its own agenda and no longer hers. She has decided to remain on my land as my guest so that she may study what her creation has mutated into. She has also decided that as the only other member of the People on my world, it falls to her to teach me of the culture of the People as well as their magical traditions. She will learn the seasons and study the world where she has chosen to live for a few years before starting my education in magic.”

            “She would have been able to tell if you lied to her as easily as I can so you have not lied to her and yet she must be unaware of my existence and my presence in your life. You have not betrayed my confidences and for that I am grateful.” She turned back to Iain while he was still wondering he’d heard her correctly. Grateful was a word he’d never heard her use before. “You will inform her of my existence and that I am your instructor. She will want to meet me. You are to bring her here and then wait.”

            “As you command.”

            “You will go now and do this.”

            Iain would rather eat ground glass. “Yes, ma’am.” He turned and headed back downstairs to the door. “Open.” It opened. “Thank you. I hope I live to return and thank you next time.” He trotted through the door and sprinted for his entry point.


            Caintigern eyed him curiously. “You wanted to speak to me?”

            Iain shook his head. “I must speak with you. I don’t particularly want to do this because I’m not sure if I’m going to survive this discussion.”

            They were inside the neat cottage that Theodora had delivered. It had two rooms, a living room/dining room/kitchen and a bedroom. Apparently Caintigern didn’t think a bathroom was necessary. Caintigern was reclining on a bench that lay next to the table and Iain was standing.

            Caintigern smiled without showing her teeth. “Why might you not survive this discussion?”

            “I didn’t lie to you but I didn’t tell you the whole truth and now I have to reveal that I didn’t,” Iain replied. “I don’t know how you are going to react to that or to what you are about to learn.”

            She sat upright, her smile vanishing. “Tell me.”

            “One of the daughters of one of your sister’s daughters was on a little exploring jaunt when you abdicated the throne. Her mother managed to get a message to her explaining what was happening just before this mother was murdered and so she lives. She has been teaching me how to use my magic, although I am uncertain if she is teaching me the magic traditions of the People.”

            “I am irritated that you were not honest with me and I am impressed that you managed to not lie to me while keeping secrets. That will keep you safe among the People. Why are you telling me this now?”

            “I have told her about you and she ordered me to inform you about her. She said that you will want to meet her and that I am to take you to her tower.”

            Caintigern’s smile had returned. “She is correct. What is she like?”

            “She is very lethal and very quick with anyone who talks about her.”

            “You are afraid of her.” It wasn’t a question.

            Iain managed to smile. “Anyone who knows who she is knows to fear her.”

            “You do not fear me.”

            “Yes, I do. I just try really hard not to smell, sound or taste like prey. Anyone who knows who you are knows to fear you too.”

            “You are my student. Killing you would ruin my ability to teach you.”

            Iain nodded. “It would. And if you decided that my family, my clan and my friends were interfering with my lessons and you wiped them out since they are, according to your words, lesser races and it would free up my schedule with you, you would then have to kill me in short order because I will certainly be working to kill you. As soon as I developed a plan that gives me a more than reasonable chance of success I would end you.”

            Caintigern started to say something and stopped. Finally she spoke. “They are that important to you?”

            “They are.”

            “Are they more important than I am?”

            “Infinitely. Currently you have no value to me.”

            “What of this relative of mine? What value does she have for you?”

            “Other than the fact that she’s teaching me more magic, about the same value as you have.”

            “When I was Queen, your candor would have doomed you.”

            “When you were Queen, I was atoms floating around the universe and my people might have been trying to figure out how to start fires by rubbing sticks together.”

            He saw curiosity again. “Why are you angry?”

            “I don’t take people telling me what to do very well. In fact, I just had a big fight with the people I care about because they’ve been telling me what to do and I finally got tired of asking them to stop. You and Nightraven are telling me what to do and I only have one solution that will make you stop and it’s not a viable one so I really don’t have any way to make this stop. It’s pissing me off.”

            “What is your solution that would work but is not viable?”

            “I go shadow walking and never return. I would have to abandon my family and I love a great many of them so that’s not happening.”

            Caintigern nodded. “It also means that if they die, you have no attachments here. What will you do then?”

            “They haven’t died yet and you two had better hope it never happens because doing what you want will go way down on my priority list. If anything happens to them and I figure out who did it, what I will do to them will make what Scott did to this and other worlds like it look like the amateur work it was.”

            “I do not know who this Scott is, but I understand you will be merciless. It is a common trait found among the People and will serve you well when you join us.”

            Iain rubbed his forehead. “That headache is back. Let me take you to Nightraven and we’ll see what happens.”

            Caintigern got up. “You are hoping that we will fight and one of us will die.”

            Iain chuckled. “Right now I think the best outcome for me would be if you both managed to die.”

            “Then you would never learn about the People.”

            “At the moment I can live with not knowing. Yes, it would put me at a disadvantage if I met another of the People, but only if I tried to contact them. Right now I think I’d just go the other way and they’d never know I was ever there.”

            “Your children will be of the People.”

            “And I’ll raise them to value what I value, not what some race of rude beings happens to value.”

            “We are not rude,” Caintigern protested.

            “I was not born of the People. I swore no vows to anyone of the People. I owe nothing to any of the People. Yet you and your grandniece treat me like you own me. It is rude under clan law and I find it insulting and infuriating.”

            Caintigern shrugged. “The weak do the bidding of the strong. It is the way that things have always been.”

            Iain started to say something and broke off. “I believe I’m supposed to take you to Nightraven’s tower.”

            “You are. You are still angry.”

            Iain took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Do you think the weak like doing the bidding of the strong?”

            “Undoubtedly some of them do not.”

            “Does that matter to you?”


            Iain smiled at her. “Then why does how I feel suddenly matter?”

            Caintigern looked surprised. “I understand, I think. I don’t want you to be angry with me.”

            “You want me to like being told what to do?” He frowned. “Are you trying to tell me that you’re lonely?”

            “I have not seen one of the People for a very long time and I have not interacted with any of our race for much longer. Is it surprising that I am lonely?”

            “Not really, but it means you have a problem. You can try to have me as a friend or you can try to have me as your servant, but I categorically refuse to be both.”

            “Why?” There was a plaintiveness to her question that almost made him smile with amusement.

            “I don’t like being ordered around and so I am not going to like the person who is doing the ordering.”

            “When I was Queen I was friends with a few of my servants.”

            “No, you weren’t. Friends can speak freely. Servants and subjects cannot ever do that. What servants can do is let their mistress be friendly to them while they always remember that if they assume rights above their station, someone will put them back into their place and possibly make an example of them for the other servants so it won’t happen again for a while.”

            “I,” Caintigern frowned and her mouth closed. She looked thoughtful as nearly four minutes slipped by. “I believe,” she said quietly, “that you are right. I do not forget things unless I wish to, such as my name, but looking back at my interactions with my servants I now realize that we were not friends and that they knew this the whole time.” She looked at him confusedly. “How is it that you know this but I, who was there, did not?”

            “When you were growing up you were taught and accepted that what was going on around you was the natural way of things. I was taught otherwise. My people,” he smiled. “Humans have fought wars for their freedom from rulers who took them for granted. Often, such as in my old country, they merely exchanged one set of overlords for another and convinced themselves that their lives were better. However, I and people in Texas want to be free more then we want to be ruled, whether our ruler sits on a throne, behind a desk in the Oval Office or the Senate and House of Representatives, or in our state building. I am one of those people and I will always work to live my life as I choose to, not as other people choose for me. But it means I can recognize when others cannot, and the research I have done allows me to understand that servants are almost always unfree. Few of my family were free until they met me and they will fight being turned back into servants or property again as hard as I will.” He held out his hand. “Now I have been ordered to bring you to Nightraven’s tower.”

            “Would it help if I tried to give you less commands?”

            “It would help if you gave me no commands, but less is a start.”

            Caintigern took his hand. “I will try to give you fewer commands.”

            “I’d appreciate that.” Iain wrapped her in his power. “Now step with me. Step.”

            They stood on a top of a huge flat sheet of ice that stretched in all directions as far as the eye could see. It glowed in the moonlight from the four moons overhead. It was so cold that Iain felt the water vapor exiting his nose freeze. “Step,” he said.

            They were standing on the wrecked topmost floor of the broken tusk of a building. All around them shattered buildings stood silent sentry to whatever cataclysm had befallen this place.

            Radiation levels are very high, his twee warned. You can only remain for a few minutes before sustaining crippling damage unless you put up some kind of protection.

            Iain’s force field sprang into existence around him and Caintigern. Radiation is now almost zero, his twee reported. “Step,” he said with a calmness that he didn’t feel. The forest clearing where he entered and exited Nightraven’s world was almost staggeringly normal. “And we’re here.”

            “There was a terrible curse on the last place we were,” Caintigern said. “It was poison that I only encountered once before and it took me a long time to recover from being under its influence.”

            “We were only exposed for a short time,” Iain said as his force field vanished. “We should be fine, but come over here,” he released her hand and walked out of the clearing away from Nightraven’s tower, “and rub the bottoms of your feet against the grass here for a little while.” He did the same with his boots to get any residual contamination off of their soles. “The poison would have been on what we were standing on and this wipes any we picked up off on the grass. It won’t go away, but it’ll be greatly diluted and should pose much less of a risk for the next few years.”

            “You are familiar with the source of that magical curse?”

            Iain smiled. “That’s a type of technological warfare and, yes, I am familiar with how to prevent it from hurting someone too much.” So if we dust their planets with large amounts of radioactive material, Iain said to his twee, they might not know how to fight the radiation poisoning and contamination. That’s good to know.

            I will upload the information to Theodora when we return, his twee replied.

            Iain pointed towards the tower. “We go this way. It’s only a few kilometers and I’ve always traveled it on foot.”

            Caintigern glanced at him. “It is always prudent for the People to avoid seeming to attack when first meeting and an overflight could easily be construed as the prelude to an attack. We will walk.”

            They walked in the direction of the tower. “Have you had the opportunity to fly since you rejuvenated,” Iain asked curiously.

            “I have not, but I would like to find someplace to fly soon.” She glanced at him. “I would like you to take me back to the place where you hunted for me. This is a request, not a command.”

            Iain nodded. “I won’t be able to take you for a few days, but I think we can arrange something. I need to get more samples anyways.”

            “What do you want with pieces of those creatures? They are too small to make a meal of.”

            “The dragon who made the unicorns that you once called the Travesty did so by using unicorn DNA, albeit in a crud fashion, to do so. We’ve got some projects ongoing that use DNA too.” He glanced at her and smiled slightly. “And those samples and the DNA they contain will let me learn more about the creatures there. Knowledge is almost always more than worth the risk to acquire it.”

            Caintigern made a noise suspiciously like a snort of derision. “The drake who created the Travesty wanted to breed unicorn mares. As far as I can tell, that was his only reason for making them in the first place. He mixed his blood with theirs to improve the breed so that they could successfully carry his offspring to term. He was probably unable to convince a dragoness to mate with him and he could not lower himself enough to breed the reptiles which call themselves dragons, so he made the unicorns to allow him to slake his lusts.”

            Iain sighed. “I was hoping to discover that his reasons were a little more noble than that. That means he probably stopped coming back to the herd when he lost interest in breeding the mares or when he finally found a mate.”

            “That is a logical possibility, but I cannot tell for certain. I never revealed my presence to him as he would have probably decided I was a powerless outcast of some sort and tried to force himself upon me to carry on his bloodline. And even with what you told me about events subsequent my abdication, he would have desired to breed me even more than he would have before once he learned I was of royal blood, even if I was the monster you claim that history painted me as.” Her head cocked and she stopped moving. “I sense her now. She is trying to hide how powerful she is, but I can see the truth.”

            Iain took Caintigern by the elbow and gently but firmly urged her forward. “You’re not going to get to meet your grandniece standing here.”

            She didn’t resist and let him move her towards the tower. “Do you truly hope that violence and death will be the result of our reunion?”

            “It would solve several problems of mine.”

            She turned to face him. “I am not a problem.”

            “You have made my life more onerous by insisting that I do what you want even if you have claimed that you will not insist that I do these things whenever you want me to do them. That means I have less time to do what I want and less time to do the things I must do. That makes your commands unwelcome and something that I will have to work to somehow overcome. That’s pretty much the definition of a problem.” He stopped in front of the tower door. “Hi, it’s me. Can I come in please?” The door swung open. “Thank you. This is Caintigern and she’s another member of the People.”

            “The door is not alive, nor is the magic that maintains this structure,” Caintigern pointed out.

            “Someday it might be and it might remember what happened before it woke up,” Iain replied as they went inside. “More importantly, while I too have the ability to kill huge numbers of people pretty quickly, it hasn’t made me an arrogant git.”

            “Are you saying that I am?”

            Iain smiled slightly. “I never said that, either about you or Nightraven.”

The door shut behind them and Caintigern chuckled softly. “Her warding is excellent. I see now that she allowed me to sense her, if not her true power.”

Iain raised his voice. “Lady, I have returned with Caintigern, your grandaunt.”

            Nightraven came down the stairs, stopping at the bottom to look Caintigern over. “I see that Iain was correct and that you are new and unique. I remember that you once came to visit my grandmother, before you betrayed your blood and destroyed all of us. You are the Blood Slayer.”

            “You are not destroyed, niece,” Caintigern replied evenly.

            “I have spent my entire adult life here, surrounded by lesser races because of your betrayal. I have no mate and no progeny.” She gestured towards Iain with her left hand. “I had to make a drake out of this one because the path you set me upon requires me to have one and it refuses to trust me because I didn’t seek its approval first. My entire bloodline except for me is dead and everything that has happened to me is your fault. The only difference between my mother and me is that I am not yet dead, but I was destroyed just as completely as she was when they removed her head and declared all of your bloodline to be outlaw on our world.” Her voice was even and unemotional, but Iain had never seen that much fire in her eyes before and he suddenly wanted to be anywhere else in the multiverse but watching these events unfolding in front of him.

            Caintigern moved forward, putting Iain behind her. “I found out only today what the consequences of my actions were and if I could undo what I did, I would. I left because I knew that my daughter would never be strong enough to kill me and take the throne and she was the only daughter I’d had. But I placed no onus on you and I gave you no orders to do what you plan to do. You cannot lay what your life has become upon me.”

            “Our honor and our blood left only one path available to me,” Nightraven said. “You know it just as much as I do.”

            “If my honor were the same as yours, I would have never left the throne,” Caintigern replied. “My life had been lived, and all I wanted what was best for my daughter. No honor would stand in the way of attaining that for her.”

            “You failed,” Nightraven replied evenly. “She died first, killed by those who followed Blacktooth before they installed her as Queen. And that death wasn’t enough for them because they knew that so long as one of us lived we would take the throne back. Blacktooth was not strong enough to defeat anyone from our line, so she had her lackeys do her killing for her and although many of them died in the doing, they succeeded and all of our line outside this room is dead.”

            Caintigern held out her hands entreatingly. “Let me add my strength to yours. Blacktooth’s daughters have no honor and their entire line will have to be destroyed to avenge our losses. When we are done, I will let you take my life for your mother’s.”

            “No, that’s not happening.” Both women turned to look at Iain and he paled. “I said that out loud. Fuck.”

            “Explain yourself,” Nightraven said.

            “Yes,” Caintigern said too. “Are you interceding for my life?”

            “We all know I am in no position to stop either one of you from doing anything,” Iain said. “Having said that, let’s look at this a little rationally. Your race has been more than a little bat shit crazy from the beginning. This having daughter kill mother to take over the throne is something out of prehistory and it should have stopped a long time ago. But it isn’t Caintigern’s fault that your mother was murdered by Blacktooth’s gang. She didn’t tell them to go around wiping out her genetic legacy. I’m pretty sure if she’d thought that was going to happen, she’d have ordered Blacktooth and everyone else she even thought might be the slightest bit involved killed to protect her daughter and bloodline.” Both women were still watching him. “And by the slightest bit involved, I mean she’d have killed the grocer who sold them food if she thought it would help to protect her family. Only then would she have abdicated in favor of her daughter. Her mistake was not sticking around and forcing the change in succession down the throats of everyone else and then leaving. But while the bloodbath that resulted from her abdication was a direct result of her disappearance, it wasn’t her fault that it happened.” He shook his head. “But offering yourself up as a sacrifice to make Nightraven happy is insane. She’s never happy and nothing you can do will change that unless you can pump her full of the dragon version of Prozac.” He stopped and his eyes went wide. “Oh, fuck, that actually left my mouth. I am so dead.”

            Nightraven was still watching him with the bright green eyes of an apex predator. “You did say that. What is Prozac?”

            “It’s a drug. It’s a serotonin reuptake inhibitor that is used, among other things, to treat clinical depression.”

            “You believe I am depressed? What evidence do you have of this?”

            Iain gritted his teeth but answered. “All of the reasons I told you earlier that you keep that mountain full of orcs around are valid, but what I didn’t mention then because I was still a little sane was that another reason you don’t destroy them is because they’re the only ones on this planet to attack you and deep down inside some part of you hopes that one day they’ll win and kill you, because that part of you doesn’t want to live while the rest of you refuses to die.”

            Caintigern looked from him to Nightraven. “Is this true?”

            “Come.” Nightraven turned and headed up the stairs, with Caintigern and Iain following behind. She stopped at the battlements and looked in the direction of the mountain. The minutes slowly ticked by as she stood unmoving. Then she growled and turned her head slightly. “You are right, Iain. I do not wish to remove the mountain from my view but I wish to remove the orcs and not have then return. What is the best way for one of us to do this?”

            Questions like this popped up during her lessons and Iain didn’t hesitate. “Pull lava up from under the mountain or create it and use it to completely flood the caverns so they’ll be filled when cooled. It’ll also trap or destroy any undead or extraplanar creatures who might be working with the orcs. But don’t do it until tonight.”

            Nightraven turned to look at him, as did Caintigern. “Why,” she asked curiously.

            “Then you get to see the lava spread over the mountain as it comes out of the cave entrances. It should be pretty, and it’ll tell you when you can stop the lava and let it start cooling.”

            Caintigern laughed. “He’s right. It will be both pretty and useful.”

            Nightraven was still watching him. “Why did you intercede to save Caintigern’s life from me? You do not want her on your land.”

            “He hoped that we would kill each other,” Caintigern said. “And yet he is working to keep us from fighting. I too am curious as to why.”

            It was unnerving when both women turned almost identical gazes on him even though they looked very different. “You were never going to kill each other,” Iain said. “Even if you’d fought to the death and I’d survived the event, one of you would come out on top. As much as I don’t like the way I’m treated by both of you, I admit that I need to learn what you are willing to teach me. As for interceding, Caintigern was going to waste her life for no good purpose. That’s what made me open my mouth.”

            “Iain does not like waste,” Nightraven told Caintigern.

            “He is a drake, is he not? Drakes do not involve themselves in the affairs of dragonesses.”

            Nightraven nodded. “I remember that, but Iain grew up as a human and some humans believe in equality much more than the People do. And he does not hesitate to involve himself if he believes the cause is worthy.”

            “I wonder what his daughters will be like,” Caintigern said musingly.

            Iain managed not to slap himself in the forehead. “Unless you have something for me to do,” he said to Nightraven in a calm voice, “I’d like to return home now. Caintigern knows where you live so she can come and go without me.”

            “I would like to experience your method of crossing universes more,” Caintigern said. “As I have not determined how it is done, I would like you to keep taking me places.”

            Nightraven glanced at her. “He calls this mode of travel shadow walking. He has shadow walked with you?”

            “It is how he brought me from the first forest to where I will live now and then to here. He also brought me to where I could hunt predators who are almost as large as we are when I needed to rejuvenate and he will take me there again to hunt more.”

            “You have not taken me on one of these walks,” Nightraven said.

            “You haven’t shown any interest in it,” Iain replied carefully.

            “I have not. I am interested in it now.”

            Is she jealous, his twee asked very quietly, as if it were worried Nightraven might overhear it inside Iain’s head.

            Please let the answer to that be no, Iain replied. “I would be honored to take you on a shadow walk.”

            “What is this hunting place like,” Nightraven asked Caintigern.

            “I saw several creatures larger than the food animals we hunted on our world. Some of the largest I saw were predators and I killed one when it disputed my claim to food. I had not fed in many years and only a few of these creatures allowed me to feed until I was full.” She nodded towards Iain. “The drake said that there are more dangerous predators there for me to test myself against.”

            “I would like to see this place. I have not had a decent hunt in a very long time.” Nightraven looked at Iain expectantly.

            “Of course I’d be willing to take you there so you could hunt dinosaurs,” Iain was proud that he sounded like he was cheerfully volunteering to do this. “Now?”

            Nightraven looked over her shoulder at the mountain. “Not now. But soon. I will deal with the orcs now.” Her voice had a note of anticipation in it that sent a chill up Iain’s spine. She turned to Caintigern. “We will discuss how to work together more. For now, return to your home.”

            Caintigern started to bristle and then laughed. “Already you are Queen in your heart. Well done, child.”

            “I am no child and you are never to call me that again,” Nightraven said. “Any childhood that I might have had left died the day you abandoned your throne. I accept that you live and that you are my aunt. I also accept that you may aid me in my vengeance. You should not try to make me reconsider those decisions. I have worked hard to become powerful enough to crush all of my prospective opponents. Do not make me consider you among them.”

            Caintigern smiled at her with a slight glint of teeth. “I have not been idle these years, niece. You will learn my strength when we test each other until one can fight no more as we prepare for the coming war. But to presume that I am weaker than you are is to make an error of the same magnitude that I did when I thought my Princess could become Queen without tumult. You have measured my strength as I have measured yours. But is it likely that either one of us is showing our full measure of power? No, it is not. Even the drake here, as young as he is, hides his power for he knows well the value of surprising an enemy.”

            The drake has a name, Iain thought to himself. “Caintigern, can I take you back to your house?”

            “I will take her,” Nightraven announced. “She and I still have things to discuss.”

            That really sounds like jealousy, his twee whispered.

            Shut up! “As you wish.” He nodded towards Nightraven. “Good day.” Another nod towards Caintigern. “And a good day to you as well.” Then he was gone, running for the downstairs and the door.


            Hypatia opened the door to the dairy and stepped out of the way of the entrance. “Ambassador De Leon from the Sunshine League to see the Madam President,” she announced as a short, swarthy man walked in. She shut the door behind her and moved to where she was near Lorena.

            Lorena was supervising the morning milking and right now she was making sure all of the Milktits washed their hands, sanitized their breasts and let them dry completely before they started milking each other. Dirty breasts or hands could contaminate the milk and if the sanitizer didn’t dry completely it could add an off flavor to it. She nodded to the man, who looked like he was already beginning to perspire in the morning humidity. “Morning, Hector. You can take off that suit jacket and hang it up over there if you want.”

            “I am required to wear a suit, Madame President. We could just meet inside your house where you have fans.”

            “I run a dairy, Hector, and the milking goes on a strict schedule so the deliveries can go out on a strict schedule. Girls, everything looks good so get started.” She watched as the Milktits began pairing up to milk each other into the waiting five gallon buckets. Once more than halfway full they’d be carefully poured into the collection tank. “Now you demanded an emergency meeting with me from Paul,” Paul Alberts was the Texas liaison with the Sunshine embassy, “and I granted your request as quickly as I could, so the fact that we’re here isn’t my fault. What is so pressing?” She turned a pleasant face on him and waited with an expectant air any mother would recognize, but she was fairly certain she knew what De Leon wanted so urgently.

            “My government wishes to protest the massacre at Reynosa,” De Leon said.

            Lorena gave him a puzzled look. “What massacre?”

            De Leon’s eyes narrowed. “You know what I’m talking about, woman. The unprovoked attack on our city and the destruction of our base there.”

            Hypatia’s growl made De Leon whip around to focus on her. “You speak to President Robinson with respect or you will be removed from her presence,” the Tigress said warningly, her ears flat.

            “It’s all right, Hypatia,” Lorena said soothingly. “Hector, what happened to Reynosa wasn’t unprovoked and it wasn’t a massacre. When I protested the fact that there were snipers shooting Texans from across the border and asked you to have it stopped, you did everything except laugh in my face and then you told me that this was war. I warned you then that the situation would not be allowed to continue. Did you really expect me to do nothing about the terrorist attacks?” De Leon’s face was turning red in anger. “I think you didn’t believe we could do anything, but you and the Sunshine government were both wrong. As you told me before, what happened was war, Hector, and you lost a base and a city because of it.”

            De Leon’s eyes narrowed. “You know that we have the resources to take Reynosa back from you.”

            Lorena smiled beatifically at him. “I know you believe that you have the troops to do so. I also know that you’d have to strip your southern regions to assemble those troops to take Reynosa back and if you do I will help them rise up in revolt against your illegitimate regime which has murdered and oppressed the people of Mexico, the western United States and Central America since it replaced the legitimate governments via coups.” Her smile widened when he purpled. “But you don’t have to.”

            De Leon frowned. “We don’t?”

            “No. All you have to do is wait three months. That’s when the plebiscite we’re organizing will take place and the people of Reynosa will vote to join Texas, stand alone or go back to Sunshine. If they decide to rejoin Sunshine, my troops will leave. I’m sure the people of Reynosa will remember just how well your government has treated them when they vote and choose appropriately.”

            De Leon almost spluttered in anger. “That is an illegal vote! Sunshine will not recognize the results of such a travesty!”

            “I think you’re concerned that Reynosa will vote to join Texas,” Lorena said. “But you treat your people so well, I find that hard to believe.” Her smile faded. “But if the people of Reynosa do decide to join Texas, that is their decision and Texas and Sunshine will abide by it. If you try to change that with military force, I will snip off another piece of Sunshine and then they’ll get to vote too.”

            De Leon scowled. “My government is not going to like to hear your decision, President Robinson.”

            “Hector, the only thing your government would like to hear from me is that we unconditionally surrender and that’s never going to happen. The loss of the Green Battalion a couple of years ago when they invaded Texas proved that. And the uprisings that took place afterwards have tied down enough of your military that you don’t have the forces to move against Texas again unless you let some other part of your country rise up while you do and if you let one region stand against Sunshine then other portions of your country will decide to revolt as well. I, on the other hand, have the forces to hold Reynosa because the cease fire I have with Indigo frees up almost all of my military. We don’t normally conduct offensive operations since that goes against our beliefs, but if I frame it as freeing our oppressed Mexican and American cousins from a bloody and murderous regime, I suspect I’ll get a lot of recruits from Reynosa as well as coming across the border from Matamoros thanks to what you did there.” She went back to watching the Milktits. “But if you want to posture and bluster at me, I guess that’s part of what they pay me to put up with. Just remember that they don’t pay me much.” She waited a minute as De Leon tried to find something to say. “Reynosa is a done deal, Hector. If the citizens of Reynosa vote to become Texans, they will. But you and Sunshine can prevent this from happening again, if you want to.”

            De Leon sounded like he was trying to speak through a mouthful of ground glass, he was so angry. “And how is that?”

            “Acknowledge that Texas is a legitimate government and then we can establish a cease fire like Texas has with Indigo. You know we’re not expansionist and so you can use the troops on the Texas border to put down the insurrections you have going on right now. If not, one of them might become another Anton Rush, before he was killed by the Indigo League.”

            De Leon knew what had actually happened to Rush. He knew that Lorena knew the truth about how Rush had died and he knew she knew that he knew the truth too. “I will talk to my government, but understand we are not happy about Reynosa.”

            “And I told you that I would not idly sit by and let my people be shot by snipers when I complained months ago. I did not and if it happens again you’ll lose another base and possibly another city.” Lorena turned her attention back to her Milktits and watched as one carefully poured milk from her bucket into the collection tank and then went back to join her partner. “Is there anything else, Ambassador De Leon?”

            “Understand my government has lodged an official protest over the incident, President Robinson.”

            Lorena turned to regard him quizzically. “Does this mean that your Planetary League Council is going to recognize Texas as legitimate? If not, then that protest is a waste of ink since the PLC has no power over so the called rogue nations like Texas, Nippon and Israel. If it does recognize us, then when will I receive notice to send a representative to the Council and protest the terrorism your government has been promoting against Texans? You can’t have it both ways. Either we are legitimate or we are not. In either case, our existence is real and our resistance has, so far, been undeniable.”

            “Lorena,” one of the Milktits asked, “are we making cheese today?”

            “Iain got us some rennet. It was delivered yesterday,” one of the others said.

            “We’re making cheese,” Lorena stated. She turned back to De Leon. “I don’t think you want to stay for cheese making, do you?”

            De Leon hesitated. “I was not aware you were making cheese. It is hard to find in Sunshine.”

            “That’d because you need calves for rennet,” Lorena said. “I have a supplier who makes a substitute in bulk although he can get me natural rennet if I want.” She turned slightly. “Rosa, bring Hector a small cheese and a taste cut from the oldest stocks.”

            “Right away.” A topless Milktit bustled through a door at the end of the room. She quickly returned with a bright blue wheel of waxed cheese and a tray with some cubed pieces of cheese, a glass of water and some crackers. “Here you go. This is from the five year old stocks as you asked.”

            “Thank you.” Lorena handed the tray to De Leon. “Try this, Hector.”

            The cheese was tangy and sharper than De Leon had tasted in years. He savored it. “This is excellent. I haven’t had better in a long time.”

            Lorena was putting the wheel in a paper sack. She turned and offered it. “Here’s a one pound wheel of the same cheddar.”

            “I shouldn’t accept this,” De Leon said as he took it. He smiled “But I will.”

            “It’s free advertising,” Lorena told him with an answering smile. “We started making cheese just about five years ago and if we get the cease fire I will be able to sell into Sunshine.  A friend of mine sells a wine which pairs well with this cheddar.”

            De Leon looked at the sack and chuckled. “This is an excellent way to get me on your side. My wife loves good cheeses.”

            “I am a woman,” Lorena told him airily. “I already knew that unless you straight through the sternum, the fastest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Her smile faded and her mien became serious. “Texas has a lot of products you’re having problems producing and more than a few of them are what you consider luxury items like this cheese. If we get conquered, the knowledge will die with the people who die fighting you. If we stay enemies, you don’t get this either. But if we can be at least nonbelligerent, we can have trade between our countries.” She smirked quickly. “I happen to miss mezcal and we don’t commercially grow agave here.” Her smirk widened. “Yet.”

            De Leon smiled back at her. “I’ll do what I can, but you must understand that my government is very angry about Reynosa.”

            “I understand.” Lorena put just the right amount of sympathy into her voice. “Unfortunately I have to get started on the cheesemaking. I’ve got to separate out the milk we’ll be using for cheese before we can start bottling for delivery.”

            “I am grateful you could see me so quickly.” De Leon said. “I just wish it wasn’t over this.”

            “Me too,” Lorena said as she watched Hypatia escort him outside to the security team that had brought him to the dairy. She took the rest of the samples and handed them back to Rosa. “When you get done with putting this away, go find Aaron. I’ve got an errand for him.”

            “Yes, Madame President,” Rosa said with a grin. She turned and yelped when Lorena smacked her on the ass.  She bolted for the door. “Sorry, Madame President,” she laughed as she ran.

            “Saucy wenches,” Lorena muttered. She glanced up and shook her head ruefully since the sensors were scattered around the room and the ranch. “Theodora, did you hear all of that?”

            “I did,” her voice replied from a point a few meters in front of Lorena.

            “Please make sure that Iain sees this meeting. His troops are still in Reynosa and he needs to know what Sunshine thinks about what happened there.”

            “I’ll show the recording during tomorrow’s staff meeting,” Theodora informed her. “I was actually worried that De Leon’s security element would try to take you into custody since you didn’t tell him what he wanted to hear. May I place combat drones on your property?”

            “You know damned well I didn’t want the sensors, but Aaron was right when he requested them so you can respond faster if we get attacked. I certainly don’t want hidden weapons here.”

            “That is your right to decide,” Theodora said calmly. “Is there anything else?”

            Lorena thought for a few seconds. “Not right now but thank you for asking.”

            “Then I will say that you are very welcome and I will wish you a good day.”


            “So she’s not going home?”

            Iain took another deep drink from his canteen. “She says she doesn’t have any reason to return to that forest since her forest is here and that her home is where her forest is. She has said that she understands she’s my guest and that she is still bound by the rules of being my guest.”

            “How much do you believe her,” Kerrik was idly watching Morwen as she finished erecting her canopy and unfolded her stool before settling down and digging her drawing pad and pencils from her bag. It was all part of the routine she’d developed since joining his harem and he knew from experience not to offer to help.

            They were on a rooftop in the city of Agra, in what used to be India. From here, the young Vampire had a great view of the Taj Mahal, which she was just beginning to sketch.

            Iain glanced at him before returning his attention to the Taj Mahal, which he’d never seen before. It was remarkable and worth the trouble that would happen if they were discovered up here. “When I last documented her existence she was honorable. That was a long time ago in her life. I believe she’s still honorable, but if she isn’t there isn’t a whole lot I can do about the situation.”

            “What contingency plans do you have in place for her?”

            Iain glanced at him again. “Unfortunately, most of them seem to have the words kamikaze run in them. I’ll try to talk her down or kill her while everyone else gets to the Theodora and Theodora warns you what’s happening. She’s never been there so she’ll at least have to go through the vestibule to get on board and since I can shadow walk to the ship, there are orders in place to destroy the doors to this world when necessary.”

            Kerrik’s ears flicked. “Do you think it’s safe for us to continue training at your house?”

            “I believe it is. But the final choice is yours and if you just want to completely cut ties with us I’ll understand.”

            Kerrik nodded as he turned his attention back to Morwen. “I’ve had a lot of careers over my life, including some civil engineering jobs. I liked a lot of it but I never had the urge to go around drawing buildings. But letting her do things like this motivates Morwen more than anything else I’ve tried. The only thing that motivates her anywhere close to letting her draw is letting her see her friends at your place. It’s also important to almost everyone else in my harem. Sometimes I forget just how painfully young they all are.” He shook his head slightly. “Morwen is actually the oldest out of the group.” He glanced at Iain for a second. “I tend to be driven by different passions, usually involving the acquisition of knowledge and other forms of power. I want to meet Caintigern.”

            “It just so happens that she’s expressed some curiosity about you. I told her you are my friend and she said that meant you were off limits. Still, I’m pretty sure she thinks she’d like to meet you.”

            Kerrik’s ears flattened for a heartbeat. “I’m not used to someone else protecting me,” he said evenly. “I protect other people.” He sighed. “Thank you.”

            “Should I try to set up a meeting for the two of you on neutral ground?”

            Kerrik nodded. “Please.”

            Iain looked around. “Is there anything here you’d miss, other than Morwen?”

            Kerrik chuckled. “You know, if she destroys the continent that would make part of your job easier. How many leagues would that remove?”

            Iain grinned for an instant. “One of the things India has given the world is some very pretty women. It would be a shame to destroy that source. If I thought the two of you were going to fight and tear up the landscape I’d arrange a meeting in Washington DC or Mexico City. Then someone else would get blamed for the ensuing destruction. I thought I’d go see if she was willing to meet you now and here.”

            Kerrik looked thoughtful for a second. “I think that would be reasonable.”

            Iain got up. “Let me see if she’s available.” He looked at Ganieda. “Will you be taking me there?”

She held out her hand. “I will.” Iain took her hand and the scene changed. They were standing on a cliff high above a seashore where the waves smashed against the rocks below with enough force to drive spray meters into the air. Her fingers tightened on his. “I have never disobeyed you, Iain. Never worry that I will.” She smiled bitterly. “I will always demand more than you are willing to give me and I will sometimes argue with you, but I will always obey you.”

            Iain looked into her eyes. “Whether or not you have done so in the past, if I accept what you’re telling me today I will expect this from you from now on.”

            “I am yours, Iain, until the day I die and even after that if it’s possible.”

            “Very well.” He looked down at the ocean below them. “Is this Dover?”

            “Yes. I wanted someplace where we could talk and most feral pokegirls don’t like the subsonic vibration here. I flew here once after dropping some stuff off with Ciaran during one of his visits to England last year. I’d heard it was pretty and got permission to visit. Our next stop will be your dragoness’s house, but I wanted to talk to you here for a moment since she’s an outlander.”

            “She’s also not my dragoness.”

            Ganieda gave him a sly smile. “Her mental shields aren’t nearly as good as she thinks they are.”

            Iain stared at her. “You’ve been in her mind? Are you insane?”

            “Canaan and I agreed that we won’t do it again. We didn’t know what the danger level is if we get discovered. We do now.”

            “You could have just asked me. I know exactly what would have happened. You’d have been dead when it was over. I’m just glad she didn’t find out.” He waited a second. “Well??

            Ganieda looked innocently back at him. “Well, what?”

            “Tell me.” His voice was flat.

            She laughed. “She’s lonely and she likes you. She also has a personal interest in,” she hesitated, “ah, helping you to learn how to become an adult drake.”

            Iain rubbed the bridge of his nose with his free hand. “I am so doomed.”

            Ganieda smirked at him. “Should that be fucked?”

            “You have no idea how much trouble that could cause.”

            “So tell me.”

            “I can’t.”

            “You can’t?” Her ears flicked. “Why not?”

            “I don’t want you dead.”

            Her ears canted sideways. “You believe that if you explain to me then I would die.”

            “I am reasonably certain that would be the result and it should be avoided since I am rather fond of you,” Iain said grimly. “Now take me to Caintigern’s house.”

            “I’m going to keep asking.”

            “Yeah, you wouldn’t be Ganieda if you didn’t.” The scene around them changed and they were standing some distance from Caintigern’s cottage. “I’ll be right back.” He headed for the house and knocked quietly on the door.

            Caintigern opened it. “Iain, come in.” She glanced past him. “Is that one of the women you don’t want me to use as a hostage?”

            “As my guest, you won’t be doing that to anyone,” he pointed out calmly. “I bid you a good morning. The wizard who lives to the west of us has offered to meet you. He is as curious about you as you are about him.”

            “Why do I have to wait for his invitation? I wanted to see him earlier.”

            “You didn’t ask to meet him. You only noted his existence. If you’d asked to meet him, I would have gone to him and asked him to meet you.”

            Caintigern looked thoughtful. “You are correct and I did not ask. I will meet this wizard. He is not where I detected him. Where is he?”

            “We’re going to take you to him.” Iain motioned towards Ganieda. “This is Ganieda. She’s my bodyguard right now and she’s going to teleport both of us to where Kerrik is. After you meet him we will return here and I should probably introduce you to Mielikki.”

            “Who is that?”

            “You referred to her as the dying goddess who lives here. She joined the clan and has a place somewhere around here.”

            “She dwells in a place that is out of phase with this reality,” Caintigern said. “Its physical connection is,” she paused, “halfway between two and three of your kilometers due north of where you stand and inside a grove of oak trees that she grew to conceal the opening. I can tell that she grew them because they are all the same age and have residual magic on them from the growth.”

            I heard her, Theodora said in his mind. And I have noted the region where Mielikki could be living. I will explore but since it involves magic I will probably require assistance.

            We’ll start by politely asking Mielikki to tell us where she lives, Iain replied quietly. “I hope that someday my mastery of our magic is as powerful as yours.”

            “It will be interesting to see how your mastery grows,” she said. “We do not begin studying magic until well past our first century. You are far younger than that and already you have taken many steps on the path. I hope to learn what you can do already so that I can see where your powers are as you are so young.”

            Iain took Ganieda’s hand and then Caintigern’s. “Caintigern, this is Ganieda, a member of my family. Ganieda, this is Caintigern.” Caintigern was looking at him with a puzzled expression. “It is customary when someone brings two people together to introduce them to each other so that they are no longer complete strangers.”

            She smiled. “I understand now. What should my response be in such a situation?”

            “Smile and nod greetings to the person you are meeting,” Ganieda said. “If they offer you their hand to shake, it is a gesture among humans to show that they carry no weapon in their hand. You take the hand, shake it once and release.”

            “The People do not touch often,” Caintigern said. “Still I will perform this custom. Iain will practice with me later so that I will know how to do this, if he is willing.”

            “I am willing,” he replied. “Ganieda, let’s go.”

            ‘Please wait,” Caintigern said. She let his hand go and moved so she was in front of and facing Ganieda. “We have met and I have now read your life energy so I recognize you. I am Iain’s guest and therefore I have no right to kill you for the fact that you were in the outermost reaches of my mind earlier.” Ganieda’s eyes went wide. “The path you walked with your mental powers goes both ways and I learned from your mind that you cannot resist trying my defenses. I have tuned them to your life energy and if you try again you will not die, but you will not enjoy living for quite some time afterwards. I have not yet met the other who was also in my mind, but when I do I will convey the same warning to it. If you know who this other is, give them my warning. My mind is my own and I will not tolerate trespassers in it. Do you acknowledge my warning?”

            “I do,” Ganieda said quietly.

            “Heed it.” Caintigern turned and moved to Iain’s other side before taking his hand again. “We may travel.”

            The scene jumped and they were back on the rooftop. “Thank you, Ganieda,” Iain said as he released her hand. “Come with me, Caintigern.” Kerrik had been sitting on the roof coaming and stood as they approached. “Caintigern, this is Kerrik, the wizard who lives to the west of my property. He is my teacher and my friend. Kerrik, this is Caintigern, who is the wizard I told you about who has decided to live in the forest on my property.”

Kerrik bowed. “Greetings, Caintigern.”

Caintigern looked at Iain curiously. “He is not holding out his hand.”

Iain wasn’t going to try to explain about kami, Japanese and their dislike of physical contact with strangers. “Kerrik respects the fact that we can kill with an empty hand or even with no hand at all. Bowing is his way of greeting you and not threatening you while doing so.”

            Caintigern reproduced Kerrik’s bow perfectly. “Greetings, Kerrik. As you are Iain’s friend, I have no intent to harm you.”

            Kerrik nodded. “As you are Iain’s guest, I have no intent to harm you. Do you have any questions of me?”

            “It is unusual for one of the lesser races to rise to your power level. How did you survive to do so?”

            Kerrik glanced at Iain and smiled as he returned his attention to Caintigern. “I did what we all do, I refused to die. If you refuse to die long enough, you will find that you have survived.”

            Caintigern smiled back at him. “That is a reasonable answer.” Her smile vanished. “What are the powers of this world that will feel that I should be concerned about them?”

            “It will be anyone who feels you are inferior to them,” Kerrik replied. “The ones who feel they are truly important will include the human governments, the legendary pokegirls, possibly the Sidhe queen Ygerna who resides in Ireland and some yokai or spirit folk deities who will see you as beneath them because you are dragon but not tatsu. There is another Sidhe queen Ygerna who resides with Iain and is one of his wives, but she is unlikely to trouble you. Few of the ones I have named are likely to trouble you because of where you are living and whose protection you are living under.”

            “They fear Iain?”

            Kerrik smiled. “Many hate him, some fear him, others respect him, a few both respect and fear him, a smaller number count themselves as his friends and a much smaller number are actually his friends. But the ones who might trouble you will not dare to trespass on his land and it is unlikely they can track you quickly enough to intercept you when you leave it for short periods of time. And we both know that the few who manage to be successful and intercept you will regret it very much, but probably not for long.”

            “What is your relationship with him?”

            “We are friends. Anything else is not your business.”

            “I do not like being denied an answer.”

            Kerrik chuckled. “And neither do I. We are both truewizards, we are both powerful and we are both used to being the most powerful being around. I offer that we acknowledge this in each other and do not seek to strive against one another in order to determine who is truly more powerful. As you know, at our power level, it is the most imaginative who is often successful in a contest between our kind, even if that individual does not have the raw power of her or his opponent.” He smiled. “And sometimes it is just the one who is luckier.”

            Caintigern laughed. “You are right and I agree. We will not challenge each other or work against each other personally or through proxies.”

            “I agree,” Kerrik said. “What is Iain to you?”

            “He is my host and he is going to be my student in the ways of the People and our tradition of magic.”

            “I would be interested in learning any of that I could.”

            Caintigern shook her head. “The secrets of the People are only revealed to the People. I will not teach you.”

            Kerrik shrugged. “Then I guess I can’t learn it. Either way I still wish you well.”

            Caintigern shot Iain with another questioning look and he smiled. “It is one of the polite ways to signal the end of a conversation and it is considered polite on your part to wish the other person well after they wished you well.”

            “Thank you.” She turned to Kerrik and bowed. “I wish you well, Kerrik.” She looked at Iain again. “What do we do now?”

            Iain chuckled. “We will take our leave of Kerrik and return to your home where I’ll introduce you to some other members of my clan. Tonight I’ll introduce you to the rest of them so they and you will know each other enough not to accidentally try to hurt each other.” He nodded to Kerrik. “Thank you and I’ll see you tomorrow for training.”

            “You train with me tomorrow,” Caintigern said.

            “I have lessons with you tomorrow morning from 0700 until 1200. I train with Kerrik tomorrow afternoon from 1400 until 1800.”

            Kerrik glanced at him. She gets an extra hour that I don’t?

            Iain’s mouth twitched but he managed not to smile. I’ve had one lesson with her so far and in that one she rambled a lot. I hope the extra hour will let her get to something substantial before the lesson ends.           


            Iain took Ganieda’s hand. “Please take my hand, Caintigern and we’ll return to the area near your house.” Caintigern grabbed his other hand tightly. “Ganieda.” They vanished.


            Iain reached the end of the obstacle course and went from a trot to a sprint when he saw the markers for the finish line. As he passed the last copse of trees before it the goblin inside came to his feet and grabbed Iain around the waist with the intent of slamming him to the ground.

            Iain reacted instinctively, spinning backwards to slam the point of his right elbow into the face of the surprised goblin. He repeated the reverse elbow strike to the face three more times until the goblin relaxed his grip enough for Iain to turn to face the goblin and slam his fist into the side of the goblin’s neck. The goblin fell backwards, twitching spasmodically as his brain tried to regain control of the nerve trunk that Iain had stunned. As soon as he was free, Iain sprinted again for the exit from the course.

            “I told him to go for the legs,” Sofia muttered where she watched the display while sitting next to Arianrhod. “Maybe he’ll remember next time.”

            “Was that this Krav Maga you told us we’d be learning,” Arianrhod asked.

            “Yes,” Sofia replied as Iain crossed the line and immediately turned around to go back and see if the goblin needed help, slowing to a jog when he realized that Siobhan was already there. “It’s designed to cripple or kill an opponent quickly before your opponent can hurt you. While Iain doesn’t yet know the best ways to take down a goblin, all corporeal creatures with a brain in their heads must have nerves connecting the brain to the rest of the body and all of those nerves have to pass through the neck. The spine protects those nerves from the worst damage, but if an attacker shocks the neck hard enough it can easily stun an opponent. And since Iain struck below the helmet but above the pauldrons of his armor, the armor was useless. He also needs to put the visor back on his helmet.”

            “So that strike was no accident?”

            “No, it was well aimed. Iain likes the violence in Krav and is quickly learning as much as he can about the style. I think Siobhan will test him for another rank soon.”

Arianrhod smiled with satisfaction. “He is a very worthy male.”

            Sofia’s ears flicked as she glanced at the goblin queen. “He is definitely that and becoming worthier as time goes on.”

            “I do not understand. How does he become worthier?”

            “Are you familiar with Iain’s history?”

            Arianrhod frowned. “I have heard something of his past from Theodora so that I can reference some of his humor and anecdotes, but no one knows much about him before he was kidnapped by this Sanctuary group.”

            “He doesn’t discuss it,” Sofia said. “But what I do know is that when he came here, he met April and Eve shortly after his arrival. When I began coordinating the clan’s training and he insisted on being involved, I went to each in turn and we discussed what he was like when he first arrived. He wasn’t athletic and had lived a moderately sedentary life and today he just finished the same obstacle course your goblins curse me over where they don’t think I’ll find out about it.” She was watching as Iain knelt to assist Siobhan. “I doubt you would have found him worthy back then.”

            “What he was does not matter,” Arianrhod stated. “What he is does. I know what you are trying to do and you will not dissuade me.”

            Sofia’s ears flicked. “When I was a little girl, I was human and my birth family sold me to a man to be his wife. When I became a pokegirl, like Iain became a dragon, that man repudiated our planned marriage and my father and my brothers raped me and then my father sold me to the government to pay their taxes. I swore then that I would never have children so that nothing like what happened to me could ever happen to them.” She touched her belly gently with her palm. “I am pregnant. I remain pregnant because my family will never allow my children to come to harm, if they are strong enough.” She turned to look Arianrhod in the eyes. “I want my family to grow so strong my daughters and someday my sons will never have to fear anyone or anything doing to them what happened to me and I train my family to make them grow stronger to make that someday arrive as soon as it possibly can.”

            The goblin woman frowned. “What are you telling me?”

            “If you want to be bred by Iain, I will not help you. If you want to join my family and lend your strength to protecting our children as well as yours with him, well that is something else entirely.”

            Arianrhod’s eyes widened. “I am goblin. Goblins do not marry.”

            “You are clan. If you cannot rise above being just a goblin, then you are not what I thought you could be.” Sofia went back to watching Iain and Siobhan helping the goblin to his feet. “Where we came from, pokegirls do not marry. This is not there and here many of us are his wives and, following our example, more marriages are taking place amongst the members of the Sisterhood.” She smiled, still watching Iain. “This is also not where you came from.” She glanced at Arianrhod. “Is it?”

            Arianrhod smiled slowly. “It is not.”

            “Then stop acting like it is. Keep what parts of being a goblin that will make your clan stronger and reject the rest to adopt the clan ways that will make goblins stronger.”

            “I was told that the women of the harem do not wish it to grow in numbers.”

            “The harem is not monolithic. You were told that by the women in the harem who do not want it grow in numbers. Not all of us agree with them. As our numbers grow so does our strength and some of us want to carefully grow the harem to nurture its power. Those who agree with me have decided that you would make us stronger, if you wish to join us.”

            “I will have to consider this and if I do.” Arianrhod watched the goblin Iain had just beaten up go from angry to amused as Iain talked quietly to him. “What do I do when I decide.”

            “Find me and tell me what your decision is. I would warn you that if you choose to not join the harem, we will hinder your attempts to hunt our male and in that the harem will show a united front.” Sofia looked at her, her eyes deadly serious. “One thing that you will have to learn if you do decide to join with us is how to take care of children, both your own and those of the rest of the family. As you have never had to deal with children, if you do decide to join us, you’ll start helping immediately.”

            Arianrhod nodded. “I will learn, whether I join the harem or not. One day goblin women will bear children again.”

            “Iain said you would and you will. Now,” Sofia checked her phone and put it away. “We’re done with the recordings and so we can go check on everyone and make sure they’re not seriously injured.” She smiled and waved Arianrhod out of the hide.


Iain Grey


Inner Harem

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


Outer Harem

Allison – Umbrea (Outer Harem Alpha)

Daphne - Whorizard

Lynn - Growlie

Chuck – Doggirl

Ryan – Unicorn

Winifred - Rack (German)

Rosemary - Mistoffeles (Uruguayan)

Silver - Pegaslut

Joyce – Milktit


Outer Clan

Melanie – Iron Chef

Siobhan – Nurse Joy (Glasgow)

Golden Cloud – equine unicorn

Outer Clan

Melanie – Iron Chef

Arianrhod -Fey Goblin Female


Satellite Clan

            74 male Goblins

            89 female Goblins


Queendom / Outer Harem

73 Elves

Dionne - Elfqueen

Adrianna - Elfqueen

Heltu - Wet Queen

14 Wet Elves



Dead Harem

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






     Dorothy: Duelist

     Meara: Duelist

     Regan: Duelist


     Hannah: Huntress

     Rebecca: Huntress


     Lisa: Milktit

     Sherrie:  Milktit

     Harriet: Milktit


     Olivia: Megami-Sama

     Seraphina: Megami-Sama

     Miriam: Angel

     Haley: Angel


     Caltha: Nightmare

     Kim:  Nightmare

     Xanthe: Nightmare

     Epona: Nightmare

     Philippa: Nightmare

     Nott: Nightmare

     Nyx: Nightmare