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“Is there anything else,” Ninhursag asked as she looked around the room.
“Today I am taking the time I missed when I had to go get Marguerite,” Iain was trying without success to balance his water bottle with one finger on the bottom. “Starting right after lunch and running until eighteen hundred.”
April frowned. “I have you for training this afternoon.”
“Not anymore.” He smiled at her look of irritation and caught the bottle when it fell off his finger again. “When my time gets taken away from me and I reschedule it is supposed to be inconvenient for someone who isn’t Iain. Today it’s you and Sofia. I thought about waiting until tomorrow and adding it to the time I have for tomorrow. Then it would have been inconvenient for Ninhursag. I decided against that time slot because it would cut into my time with the kids and I’m not giving that up. Since you made the announcement that I can’t break up my free time without prior approval and I’m not spending time with the kids during my free time, that didn’t work either. That makes this afternoon the best time for what I want, which is what my free time is all about.”
“He’s right.” Ninhursag didn’t look pleased but her tone wasn’t unhappy. “And we decided he had to get Marguerite that particular day and he did so following the rules we requested. If he chooses this afternoon for his interrupted free time, you’re out of luck with whatever evil plans you had for him and you’ll have to get him with them later.”
The Duelist glared at Ninhursag and Iain for a moment before shrugging. “That’ll just give me time to add to them.”
Silver chuckled. “That sounds like she’s planning to punish the shit out of you, Iain.”
“While you’re probably right, we all know that she won’t kill me. Anything else I will endure and eventually figure out how to thrive while doing so, making her get angry and so she’ll work to make my next session even challenging.” Even April laughed. “April’s tortures help to keep me alive and I happen to like being alive.”
Allison snickered. “I’m glad she doesn’t love me as much as she does you. I’d spend a lot more time having limbs reattached.”
April glanced at her. “That would be because you’re not as good as Iain is. He manages to keep his limbs out of my traps when I spring them. You’ve just reached the stage where I don’t get the whole limb anymore.”
Lucifer smiled amusedly as she shook her head and then turned to look at Ninhursag. “I presume we are done with the meeting? If we are, I am supposed to take my girls into Port Arthur in an hour. I and some of my Sisterhood personnel will be starting construction on a storage building for Cassidy’s Orphanage and Miriam and Haley need to spend time around people they are not comfortable with as part of their treatment. Seraphina and Olivia will be there to keep them and the other children safe.”
“We’re done,” Ninhursag reassured her. “Allison, you and Silver stay for a minute. I want to have a word with you about the shipment of crops to McAllen.”
April snagged Iain’s arm as he headed for the door and smiled up at him as they walked. “Kerrik is being cryptic again. He said I should make sure and schedule myself to be one of your guards when you go to train with him. What’s he up to?”
Iain chuckled. “He’s carefully not ratting me out while making sure you discover I’ve mastered a new form.” He frowned. “Or a whole series of them, possibly.”
“Care to share, my husband whom I love more than anything else in the universe except possibly our daughters?”
“He has me working on anthropomorphic forms of the animals I’ve mastered. It has turned out to be surprisingly easy to take the form, but then I have to learn to use it as every form’s skeleton and balance are a little different.”
“Are you going to keep them private?”
“No. However they are all sexually mature.” He frowned. “I haven’t tried with the dragon form yet. It’ll be interesting to see if it is sexually immature too.”
She blinked. “Really,” she said speculatively. Then she shrugged. “I love you, Iain. I’m happy with you as you are and I’m not nearly as experimental as Rosemary or some of the others.” She winked at him. “And if you shed like some of the furry girls do, I’ll pass. I don’t like hairballs, especially not in my mouth.” She tugged him to a bench as they headed outside and pushed him down to sit before she slipped into his lap. “Now that I’ve got you pinned, how many forms and what types?”
“I haven’t tried to make all of them anthropomorphic,” Iain said quietly. “In fact, the only two I have worked with so far is my wolf form and one I tried as a lark to annoy Kerrik.” He smirked slightly. “He turned into his winter wolf form and told me to copy him so I did.”
April’s eyes went wide. “You became a kami?”
He shrugged. “I took on the form of an anthropomorphic winter wolf, which is a spirit folk. Whether or not it’s kami is open for debate. I also did the quadruped form too when Kerrik told me to become that form at the end of our training session yesterday.”
“What other forms do you have besides dragon and that scaled horse thing?”
“I call it the dragon horse for convenience. As for the others, I’ve mastered the form of a tiger and I’m working on a killer whale.”
“I wanted something that can swim and dive deep.”
April frowned. “Why a killer whale? Why not a shark?”
“The cetaceans have lungs and I figured it was better than gills since I already know how to use lungs. That and killer whales are tougher and a lot cooler than most sharks. Also, killer whales are large enough that they have few natural predators other than pokegirls. I’ll work on a shark later.”
April looked thoughtful. “I’ve been doing some preliminary planning for training the water element pokegirls but Heltu has been pushing back against my exerting any authority over her court. I don’t have anything ready to make you strive when training as a whale.”
Iain cocked an eyebrow. “Do I need to get involved with Heltu?”
“What?” She blinked and then smiled warmly at him. “No, she’s always that way. I’m used to it and I’ll smash her flat again when I need to, even if I have to get help to do so. Once she’s been put in her place she’ll do what’s needed. It’s just regular everyday interpersonal relations within the harem and you need to stay out of that.” She peered into his eyes. “You agreed to do exactly that.”
“I did and I keep my agreements.”
She frowned. “You’re insinuating that some of us don’t?”
Iain stood, holding her in his arms until he was standing. “I am insinuating nothing. If you read into that statement that others here don’t, then you’re listening properly, and you know I’m right.” He waited until she let her legs drop before releasing her. “You’re not going to make me late to Caintigern’s lessons. I sort of agreed to do those too.”
April wrapped her arms around him and rested her head on his shoulder. “So many people pulling you in so many different directions. I worry about you sometimes.”
“I worry about me too sometimes. But I don’t think any of them want me dead, which helps.” He kissed her thoroughly enough that she whimpered softly when he broke the kiss. “Now I need to go.”
“You are an evil man.”
He chuckled and gently peeled her arms away from his neck. “No, I have the unrealized capacity for evil.”
“After kissing me like that and leaving? No, you’re evil.” She leaned up and kissed him quickly. “Terribly evil.” She winked and headed off.
Iain watched her go and chuckled before turning to Pandora where she waited for him. “Let’s go.”
Iain pulled up the hood on his cloak as Theodora watched. “Be careful,” she said.
“I will.” He grinned. “I still have a lot of daughters to give away.”
Theodora chuckled. “And plans being laid for you to have more of them even as we speak.”
“I’m good with that.” He did a quick check of his pockets and pouches before picking up the satchel that sat on the floor. “Do you want a souvenir?”
“I want my Iain back and unharmed.”
“I’ll try to get you one of those,” he said as he did a quick count of the tattoos on his arms. “See you in a bit. I love you.”
“And I love you, Iain.”
He stepped into the nearest shadow and the world folded up around him. He emerged on the side of a mountain. Light flared in front of him as rivers of lava cascaded down the face of the mountain next to the one he stood on. The ground shook hard and the volcano blasted dust and rock high into the air. Iain didn’t pause longer than necessary to turn slightly so his next step was along the side of the mountain and not into the empty air in front of his arrival point and disappeared into a shadow.
He emerged standing on the metal roof of what had been going to be his hunting lodge before he’d brought Marguerite here. Immediately he drew his pistol and crouched as he swept the area around him to make sure there were no immediate threats. The transponder check has been verified, his twee said. This is the right dimension.
Iain finished his sweep before standing and heading for the roof hatch and ladder as he holstered his pistol. He dropped down to the next floor and quickly gathered up the items he knew he’d need before climbing back onto the roof.
His first attempts to look through gates he’d opened had been crude and halting, but he’d learned from previous efforts and now the much more ruggedly designed video camera case had a threaded base and quickly screwed onto the threaded end of the collapsible metal pole he was going to use.
Iain also set up a second camera on the edge of the roof near the railing to record what he was doing since he intended to return. It would provide another viewpoint and additional footage for him to analyze and try to minimize any mistakes he might make. Later he’d make it available to Theodora so she had a better idea of what he was doing. Even later he’d show it to Dominique so she could examine and critique his attempts at dimensional travel.
The new recording device also had a three hundred and sixty degree camera on it so he could see in all directions around the gate to help decide it was safe for entry. That lesson had been painfully learned when he’d traveled from the ARK where he hunted with Caintigern and Nightraven to this one. During his pre-entry survey he’d missed a raptor who had been to the right of the gate and it had jumped him in the first seconds after he’d emerged through the gate. He’d gotten his forcefield up in time to prevent being gutted by the raptor’s feet, but he’d been clawed severely on one arm when it grabbed at him. After that it had kept trying to get through his forcefield to him until he’d gotten tired of its determined attempts to kill him.
He grinned to himself when he remembered just how good that raptor had tasted after he’d roasted it up.
Once everything was ready he did the preliminary setup of the gate. All of the coordinates matched the ones for the dimension he was currently in until he carefully advanced the D coordinate one one hundredth of one digit. He double checked each of the coordinate numbers before ever adding enough energy to the gate to open it. He didn’t want to end up in a distant universe this time, instead he only wanted to find another universe where there were ARKs so he could find a different one for his hunting lodge. The last time he’d done this to get to this place, it had worked perfectly and opened up into another ARK just like the one where the two dragonesses liked to go and hunt.
As the gate opened, Iain stepped out of the way in case something tried to come through from the other end. It was rare that something like that happened, and it had never happened to him, but caution was ever the watchword when crossing universes. After all, he did intend to give away every single one of those daughters.
Once the gate was stable, Iain picked up his pole and camera. After making sure the camera was on, which was another lesson learned the hard way, he slowly extended it into the portal, stopping after the pole reached the one meter mark.
Beginning countdown, his twee said. Three hundred seconds and counting. Numbers appeared in the upper part of Iain’s vision and began rolling backwards. When they reached zero he pulled the rod back through the gate and put a forcefield up over the gate’s opening.
Telemetry checks show the camera exterior is at twenty nine degrees Celsius. Downloading the video and beginning playback.
The viewpoint was from a couple of hundred meters in the air. To the right was a blackened slope of rock curving upwards to the right and out of the view of the camera. On it there was movement that resolved into a pair of scorpions and what looked like a giant mantis. Iain watched them amble around on the rock for several minutes.
In the center was a long crevasse that stretched away in front of him. Deep down inside, molten rock glowed dully.
To the left of the crevasse was a gently sloping grassland. As the footage advanced, a striped horse galloped into view, heading towards the crevasse. Behind it raced a trio of Allosaurus so intent on their meal that when the fleeing horse ran headlong into the crevasse, they followed it to their doom. Deep inside, something large moved, casting a shadow against the lava at the bottom as it turned to follow the falling horse and dinosaurs. Then the recording ended.
That isn’t The Island. Do we keep looking until we find another ARK like this one?
Iain shook his head. “I know that place from my game. That’s a Ragnarok ARK and it’ll be even more fun than this one will.” He sighed. “But we will have to find a second one too. Maybe a third as well.”
“My teachers from the People,” Iain was always hesitant about saying their names when they weren’t around, “are going to want to hunt the new creatures on that ARK. That lava filled place we saw is called the Dragonmalte and three species of wyvern live and lay eggs in it. The grandaunt, especially, is going to want to try herself against them and the death worms.”
You want to find two of these ARKS because you want to do the same thing on yours, don’t you?
Iain chuckled. “Well, yes, obviously. The portal, where it is, will be a good enough exit point since I can fly. The most exciting part might be if a wyvern is in the area when I come out, but if that happens I’ll dive for the grassy area and run away like a scared antelope being chased by an entire pride of starving lions.” He was dismantling the camera and pole as he spoke. Everything got put into the satchel. “I’ll go through and find a place for a temporary camp. Then I’ll get started on a more suitable location and a better place for a more permanent base.”
Why do you want a third one?
“It’ll be a better place for the lodge the pokegirls and I will be using together.” He pulled a small leather bag out of the satchel and opened it to pull out a Dikon ball. He activated it and the container it held materialized. Then he opened the container door and stuck the satchel in among the rest of the supplies he wanted for a new base before closing the container and recalling it into the ball. The ball went back in the bag, which got tied to his belt.
He patted the bag as he stood. “These things are awesome. I’m glad I either invented them or documented when they were created so I can use these them. Next trip I’ll bring everything I need in several of them in a pack so I don’t have to make a bunch of trips. I’d do it now, but this is just a scouting mission.”
He shifted to his small dragon form and launched himself into the air, did a loop and aimed straight at the portal. There was a loud crunch when he hit the forcefield nose first. His body slammed into it and then he slid to the rooftop.
Iain sighed loudly and spat blood. He looked up at the portal as the forcefield dissipated. “There are days where I am such a moron it’s a wonder I don’t forget to breathe.” He spat more blood. “It’s a good thing I have a hard head.” Then he looked back at the second camera where it sat watching the portal. “Lovely. On top of everything else it’s been immortalized on chip. There’s no way Dominique won’t spread this one around.” He chuckled as he spread his wings again. “That’s what I get for being stupid.” Then he took to the air again and flew through the portal. Seconds later it closed behind him.
“We have to travel by shadow walking,” Iain said.
Nightraven cocked her head. “I can open a portal to our rock. Are we not going to our hunting place?”
“I found a better place that I think would make a superior hunting place. It has every one of the creatures that live on The Island on it and more. Some of them might even prove a small challenge to overcome.”
“Has my aunt been to this place yet?”
“She has not. I thought to take you there first.”
“Why do you favor me over her in this?”
He shrugged. “Because I can.”
Nightraven regarded him curiously. “I do not understand. Explain.”
“My lessons in magic with you are necessary so that I may survive and grow strong enough to defeat the things that your presence in my life will force me to face. While your lessons are sometimes whimsical regarding what you decide to teach me and when you decide to teach it, they are still all important. I can eventually figure out where I’m supposed to be with your lessons. Caintigern’s lessons in the history of the People are just as arbitrary in what subjects we cover and are, in my opinion, not nearly as important. The fact there isn’t a logical progression is easy to see and frustrating since I like history.”
“Then why do you attend her lessons?”
“It might prove useful and she insists.”
“Everything in her lessons is in the memories that she gave to us since her history tutor was male and we have her memories of all of his lessons,” Nightraven observed. “Those memories held the complete history of the People that she knows. Tell her to teach you something you do not already know.”
“She keeps talking about how I’m impertinent and how that will get me a thrashing one of these days from one of the People who thinks I’m beneath them and who also thinks I’ll stand there and let them beat me. Is the course of action you are suggesting likely to get me that thrashing from her?”
“I am unsure.” Nightraven nodded decisively. “I will speak to her and tell her that she is wasting my student’s time.”
“Um, how would you react if someone came to you and told you that the lessons you thought I should learn are unimportant? More importantly, how would you react to me about that incident if you thought I got that person to talk to you for me even if I said I didn’t when I was confronted about it?”
“That is a very cunning pair of questions. It leaves you where you are, taking lessons that you do not need and do not want and unhappy that you are doing so.”
“What is he unhappy about,” Caintigern’s voice asked from behind him.
Iain turned to face her. “Why are you giving me lessons in the history of the People?”
“You are one of the People and you need to know your history.”
“Part of your statement is not true. I am not one of the People. While I may have the form of one of the People, I was not raised as one, I don’t think like one, I don’t behave like one and I will probably never be accepted as one by any of the People outside of the two of you. Nightraven did what she did to me out of necessity.” Iain was mildly surprised and very happy that he wasn’t screaming at her. “If there had been a male of the People around she’d have chosen him and I’d still be human.”
“That is unlikely,” Nightraven said as she moved next to him. “I have only ever taken as my students the brightest and the ones with the most potential because of what I required for success in my plans. I can remember none of the drakes of the People that I would accept in your place. You were and still are the best choice for my needs.” Her gaze turned to Caintigern. “Can you gainsay my words? I can remember no drake in your memories that would be his equal, especially not at this time in his life.”
“I can only think of a few drakes that would be better than him,” Caintigern admitted.
“I disagree,” Nightraven said coldly. “The few drakes that you think would be better have been idolized in your memories as superior to what they were. I am unfettered by your feelings for them and can see the truth. Iain has all of the memories that you gave to him and to me that he combined. More importantly, he remembers them all better then you do.” She turned to him. “What happened in the year of Redwing Six Six Two Five?”
Iain blinked and glanced at Caintigern, who looked at him curiously. “Answer her if you can.”
He looked back at Nightraven. “While there were four Queens of the People called Redwing, only two had reigns that lasted into their sixty seventh century. Are you asking about Redwing IV or Redwing I?”
“The reign of Redwing I is so far back in the histories that it depends on which of the four authorities you use to determine which year was actually Redwing 6625 and what happened in it. There are no known original artifacts or documents from that time period that still existed when Caintigern took her lessons. According to the authority Coret, nothing remarkable happened and the Revolt of the Farmers of the Western Seas took place two years before. If you believe Torgath, that was the year of the Revolt of the Farmers of the Western Seas. The other two authorities placed that revolt several years after Redwing 6625, but Tryanth was known to be lazy in her work and it is thought that Scoren plagiarized a lot of her work from Tryanth when her own original research was inconclusive.”
Nightraven turned to Caintigern. “Your memories held all of what he just told us. However, I did not remember that there were four authorities until I refreshed the memories you gave me. You had forgotten about Tyranth.”
Caintigern turned to Iain. “Why did you not tell me that you knew the history of the People?”
“You wouldn’t have believed me. Even if you had, you keep threatening to punish me for being impertinent and I’m not sure I can stop you when you finally decide to try and do so.”
Caintigern looked amusedly at him. “I have not threatened to punish you. I have stated that one day someone will. You are my student and the chosen mate of my niece. I will endure much more impertinence than almost anyone else will, including your mate.” Iain started to say something and stopped himself with an obvious effort. “What is it?”
Iain kept his face carefully expressionless. “It’s not important.”
Nightraven glanced at him. “He was going to deny that he is my mate.” Her gaze swung back to Caintigern. “In truth he is correct for we have not mated and, until we do, he is not my mate. I have chosen him to be my mate, which is not the same as being my mate.”
“Why have you not mated with him?”
“What have you decided about him?”
Caintigern frowned. “What do you mean, my niece?”
“He is the only drake. You have let him initiate courtship. He was unaware of what he was doing. When you were told this you still allowed it to proceed. You have let him continue courting you. You accuse him of being a greedy drake even as he is unaware of what he is doing. You know I have chosen him to be my mate. What have you decided about the one who is to be my mate?”
Oh, fuck, his twee whispered to him.
Caintigern smiled at Nightraven. “I encourage his courtship of me because I have not yet decided that he will not be my mate. As you have said, you have not mated with him and until then he is not your mate. If he becomes my mate I will let him mate with you.”
This is probably going to get me that beating I’ve been trying to avoid. Iain took a deep breath as Nightraven’s eyes narrowed and her lips drew back slightly from her teeth. “I get a say in the matter of who I do or do not breed with,” he said with a calmness he did not feel. “Whether or not it is the way of how the drakes and dragonesses of the People get along is immaterial. I do not have the mental architecture of a drake of the People since I was not raised as one. I get a say in how my life runs and I will demand that I be allowed to exercise that option.” He continued as both women turned to look at him. “You can beat me, you can torture me and you can even possibly take control of me. But no control is absolute and somewhere deep inside me I will be ceaselessly working to figure out how to get free of my owner. If I am forced to have sex with someone that I do not want to have sex with, that is rape. According to clan law and also according to my own beliefs, rape is something that should be punished by death. Neither one of you thinks I am a threat to your wellbeing, but if there is one thing that I seem to be really good at it is figuring out how to kill people who don’t think I can kill them, be it because of a disparity in power levels or because they have a situational advantage. This is your only warning. Heed it.”
The two women looked at each other. “You have continued to court both of us,” Nightraven observed.
“From what I have learned from Caintigern’s memories, how drakes and dragonesses of the People carry out the mating courtship is rather vague and so it is pretty much up to the decision of the dragoness as to whether or not something a drake does is courtship. You or Caintigern could decide that the way that I breathe when standing nearby is somehow courting you if you’re horny or desperate enough.” Nightraven smiled slightly as he continued. “You have both made it plain that I cannot avoid you entirely, so I have continued to do as I have been doing while knowing that only you and she will decide whether or not something I am doing is to be considered courtship or not.”
“You hunted for me and let me feed from your kills,” Caintigern pointed out. “That is how a drake often initiates courtship.”
“I didn’t know that at the time and, even though you are now aware that I didn’t know this when I killed those dinosaurs for you, you continue to see what I did as courting. That just proves my earlier point.” He rubbed the back of his neck to loosen it up. “I have not hunted for you since. I realize that part of the reason you both so easily see me as courting either or both of you is because it is normal for a lower status drake to seek out and court higher status dragonesses in the hope of raising his own status and so his offspring will also be of higher status. Caintigern is a Queen. Nightraven is going to be a Queen and, as far as she’s concerned, is one in all but name. I, on the other hand, am of slightly higher status than an orc. So it’s easy for you two to decide that I’m frantically trying to get at least one of you to bear my children because that’s the way it works among the People.”
Nightraven’s tiny smile hadn’t disappeared. “Orcs are insignificant. You are substantially higher in status than that, if only by virtue of being one of the People.”
“Being substantially higher in status than an insignificant thing doesn’t necessarily make me of any more than an absurdly low status, does it?”
“While true,” Caintigern said, “it is not important. I have been watching the people in your family and around it that I might better understand my situation and not threaten the people you do not wish me to. I heard the one that you, but,” her eyes were filled with puzzlement, “no one else, call Cherry say something. When I finally understood what her words meant, it defined our situation even if she was not speaking about you. You are indeed of low status, but you are also the only game in town. If we wish to be courted, we must seek you out for courtship.”
“What happens if the drake is not interested in the dragoness seeking him out for courtship?”
“Some dragonesses do not accept rejection easily.”
“I’ve noticed that,” Iain said wryly.
“You say you do not wish to court us,” Nightraven said. “You do, however, continue to take us hunting and you have now gone to the effort to seek out and find us a new place where we may hunt new things.”
“There is a new place to hunt?” Caintigern eyed each of them in turn curiously. “I do not know of this.”
Nightraven continued speaking as if Caintigern hadn’t interrupted. “Why do you continue to do this? You could refuse to hunt with us and only have the contact with each of us that we insist on.”
“I spend more time with each of you than I strictly need to so that I may learn more about each of you and more about the People in general. How you hunt, and how you interact with each other and with me on a hunt tells me a lot.”
“Oh?” Caintigern eyed him curiously. “What have you learned about me from the way I hunt?”
“You exult in the kill. You like a little bit of danger in your hunting but you also like a sure thing. It suggests you prefer not to fight until victory is assured. You don’t like getting hurt during a hunt. And you play with your prey before killing it, perhaps to show off your superiority over it or perhaps to show your skills off to your companions since, on several occasions, you have waited to dispatch a prey until you knew both Nightraven and I were watching.”
Caintigern looked surprised. “What have you learned about my niece?”
“I have learned not to give away information about Nightraven without her express permission. The result of failing to heed that lesson could be fatal, both to me and to the person I share knowledge of her with.”
Nightraven’s tiny smile returned. “And that is a most critical lesson. However, in this case I will allow you to tell my aunt what you have learned about me from observing me as I hunt.”
“For you, the stalk is your favorite part of the hunt. You enjoy getting as close to your victim as possible without it ever knowing you are there until you strike. The kill is just how you prove the success of your stalk. And you are willing to take risks that Caintigern will not in order to have a successful stalk, but you are never reckless. Every risk you take is calculated to the nth degree and if the reward isn’t worth it you will back off until you find a way to finish the stalk. But if the reward is worth the risk you will accept injuries if it lets you accomplish your goal. And you don’t like your target getting away or falling prey to someone else after you decide that it will be your victim.”
Nightraven’s smile had vanished. “You do not see me as being depressed and somehow hoping that my prey will finish me off instead?”
“No. I think that the unrestricted hunting that we have been engaging in has given you the opportunity to release some of the stress that was contributing to your depression. It doesn’t mean you are over it, but it means that what remains is more capable of being dealt with in a constructive instead of destructive fashion.” He rubbed his eyes. “So, would you ladies like to see this new hunting area?”
“Is it like the one we have been using,” Caintigern asked.
“It’s another ARK and so the animals do respawn faster than you can kill them. But there is more overall land, are more biome areas, including a large, hot desert and new creatures that you haven’t fought or eaten yet. There are even wyverns and griffons for your hunting pleasure.”
Nightraven nodded. “Take us there, Iain, that we may hunt. Take Caintigern first and return for me.”
“I could take you both at the same time.”
“You could, but I have requested that you take her first and return for me. Will you do as I ask?”
Iain had a sudden question but didn’t think that here and now was an appropriate time to ask it. “I will.” He held out his hand to Caintigern. “Shall we?”
Caintigern gripped his fingers tightly. “You may go first next time, niece. I will not leave the area until Iain returns with you.”
Iain waited a second to see if Nightraven had anything to say about that. When she was silent, he glanced at Caintigern. “Step.”
They were standing in what looked like a room surrounded by mirrors. Their reflections stretched away in all directions until they became too small to see. The images farther away seemed distorted, probably because of the angle. “I do not like this place,” Caintigern said softly.
Iain wasn’t fond of it either, especially since some of the more monstrous reflections were moving slightly when neither he nor Caintigern were. “Step.”
They emerged on a flat rock that was held high in the air and balanced between two spires. Water stretched away on all side but didn’t go far until hitting land in three directions. Birds soared nearby and, in the distance, some Pteranodons slowly moved over the water looking for fish. “This looks pretty quiet. You’ll stay here?”
“I will,” Caintigern said as she sniffed the air. “But do not make me wait long.
“I won’t.” Iain let her hand go and stepped. He was standing on a rock as a bunch of people on horseback streamed by down below. He focused his vision and could see they were all wearing heavy looking scale armor and carrying light lances. Even the horses of many of them were armored. “Cataphractii. Damn, I’d like to examine that armor.” He stepped and was back in Nightraven’s tower. “Are you ready to go?”
“No. There is a question that has not been asked. Do you know what it is?”
“I presume it isn’t the question I have where I ask about you asking me to do something for the first time ever instead of telling me to do it?”
“It is not, but the answer to your question will be given after you answer my question that I did not want Caintigern to hear. Are you courting me?”
“I am, or I would like to. Understand that I don’t know anything about the courtship of the People and I don’t know what you are used to or expect, which may actually be more important because you haven’t been around any of the People for a very long time and you were very young when Blacktooth murdered your family. You tied my destiny to yours and the fate of my family rests in what we do, so we’d better do a good job of destroying your enemies and it would proceed more smoothly if we were not enemies. It would go even better if we were friends. Do you wish me to court you?”
“I do. Your reasons for us to work together are valid and I have never been courted by anyone, much less a drake of the People. I also wish you to court Caintigern.”
Iain wasn’t surprised by this admission. “Is it because you like her and want her to remain with you or is so you can harness her power to ours?”
“Indeed, you are a cunning drake, Iain Grey. It is because we can use her power and she already likes you. As an ally she improves our chances of success. Any daughter from a union of you and her would still be of our mingled bloodlines and so she too could one day be Queen if I fall before accomplishing my goal.”
“I thought the People were monogamous.”
“The dragonesses do not like to share drakes. That is not monogamy. That is a dragoness being a dragoness. If you are willing to court Caintigern it would help us and I will not protest to her.”
“I will court Caintigern. I will also court you and I, since I’m supposed to be a smart and clever drake, will not always court the two of you at the same time nor will I give you the same gifts I give her.”
He saw his first hesitant real smile from her. “You are indeed smart and clever and perhaps even wise beyond your years.”
“I’m going to need your help with some of this,” Iain said. “I have no idea what you might like as gifts, other than knowing you have a preference for certain types of dinosaurs over others as food.”
“I will consider this, but it has been a long time since there was room in my life for anything except my goal.”
“That’s all I can ask for. Are you ready to go to Ragnarok?”
“What is Ragnarok?”
“That’s the name of the place we’re going to.” He smiled when she raised an eyebrow. “It’s one of those things that I know.”
“One day I will wish to know more about these things that you know and how you know them.”
Iain held out his hand. “No, you want to know about that now but you’re willing to wait until your patience at my reticence runs out.”
“And on that day, I will wish to know more about your knowing things.” She took his hand. “Let us go before my aunt becomes more impatient than she already is. Tell me when to step.”
Iain nodded. “Step.”
Dark gray ocean rollers slid past the ship they stood on as the deck slowly rocked from side to side. The mainmast was snapped off roughly a meter above the deck and tangled parts of the sail and rigging were draped over the starboard side of the vessel. Broken and shattered bodies were strewn randomly over the deck and, even to Iain’s untrained eye, the ship rode dangerously low in the water.
There is something magical here, Eirian said to him from where she rode on his left arm. When you are alone I will return here and seek it out so that I can claim it for you.
When they emerged, Caintigern was avidly watching a pair of large birds sculling by on the water. “I’ve never enjoyed eating anything with feathers,” Iain noted almost idly. “I just don’t care for the texture in my mouth.” He gave Nightraven’s hand a squeeze and let her go. “But to each her own.”
“I wish to hunt these wyverns,” Caintigern said.
“There are two places they can be hunted. The first is the closest and easiest and is to the north of here. The other is to the southeast.” Iain pointed north. “That’s north, by the way. On the other side of that hill is a volcanic mountain and on the other side of it is the place where the wyverns are living. There are also some nice grassy plains where you can find giant spiders, mantis, Arthropluera, Allosaurus, Gallimimus, horses and some other things to eat. So you are aware of them, there are some abandoned structures around that look like they were built by humans or something bipedal a long time ago. Be careful approaching them since some of them are full of rabid giant bats and more of the giant spiders.”
“I want to explore this place and see what it has to offer,” Nightraven was slowly turning as she looked all around them. “Then I will decide where I want to begin hunting.”
“I think you should come with me and Caintigern,” Iain countered. Nightraven gave him a curious look that turned confused when he winked at her. “You will really want to watch your grandaunt get her fill of the wyverns. After that, we can go exploring while she finds a sunny spot and digests her meal.”
“Yes, come with us,” Caintigern was still watching the pair of swimming Pelagornis. She turned to look back at the two of them. “I want a challenge. Is there a glowing red wyvern?”
Iain smiled. “Indeed, there is an alpha wyvern and it can sometimes be found where we are going. Hopefully we’ll find one there for you to play with. If not, I’m sure that one will eventually pop up and, in the meantime I’m sure we can arrange for something challenging for you to fight.” He looked at Nightraven. “So will you come with us?”
“I will,” she said slowly.
“Good. Then let’s be off.” Iain ran to the edge of the stone platform, threw himself off of the stone and quickly shifted to his large dragon form before hitting the water below. The two women followed close behind.
As he headed north, Iain gave the tower on top of the hill a wide berth and swung around on a westerly course near the coastline. With is perception he could see the two dragonesses following him and almost laughed at the mental image that conjured up of a sparrow fleeing a pair of falcons. Of course, the imagery would be more appropriate to replace the sparrow with a kestrel, since he was somewhat lethal in his own right.
As they passed over the black rock of the volcanic area, Iain noted but ignored a pair of Tyrannosaurs chasing some saber-toothed tigers. Wyverns did come out of their caverns sometimes and he didn’t want to get taken unawares by one of them if he could avoid it.
He continued on past the crevasse where the wyverns lived and, after making sure there were no threats in the immediate area, landed on a rocky outcrop on the other side of the first grassy plain from the cavern and changed back to human. He watched as the two dragonesses circled overhead and stuck his arm behind a rock so Eirian could leave him to return to the sinking ship before the dragonesses landed.
A few minutes later Nightraven and Caintigern were standing with him. “Since Caintigern wants a challenge but not to fly into a deathtrap I thought she could take station over the caverns and I’ll go in and bring her out a wyvern or two to play with where she has room to maneuver.”
“That will do nicely,” Caintigern said and ran forward a few paces before changing to her dragoness form and climbing into the air.
“Do you know what a prank is,” Iain asked Nightraven.
“I know what the word means.”
“I am about to prank Caintigern if I can and I thought you might want to watch.”
She raised an eyebrow. “There are no wyverns?”
“Oh, no, there are wyverns in there and I intend to bring them out for Caintigern. I just intend to bring them all out if I can.”
“Why do you want to prank my grandaunt?”
“Because she has lived for so long that there is very little that is new or unique for her to experience.”
Nightraven turned to look at him. “I was the one who said that to you, not her.”
“That is true, but she has the same attitude. This won’t kill her, but it’ll surprise her and maybe knock a little of that arrogance out of her for a bit.”
Nightraven smiled slightly. “I would like to see that.”
“I thought you might, which is why I invited you here to watch.” He grinned. “I just didn’t want to spoil the surprise for her, so I couldn’t come out and tell you that.” He looked upward to where Caintigern was beginning to do lazy circles. Her shadow swept over one of the groups of horses and they immediately bolted. “If you like it enough, you might consider watching your grandaunt bleed a little as a courting gift.”
“You believe she will be injured?”
“I certainly hope that happens.”
“Do you hate her?”
“No, I’m just tired of being told what to do by her. This won’t stop her from giving me more orders, but when she does I’ll remember what happens today and it’ll make me feel a little better.”
Her smile turned anticipatory. “Few drakes would dare what you offer to do today to a Queen. I would very much like to watch her bleed. That memory will indeed make a fine gift that will bring me pleasure when I must watch her with you.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” Iain stepped away from her to change to his large dragon form and took off. He headed up to Caintigern and slowed almost to a hover above her before moving to match her slow circle. “Are you ready for me to try to get you that challenge you asked for?”
“I am,” she called.
“Then stay here and I’ll see what I can fetch you. I hope it proves the challenge you’re looking for.”
“That would be nice, but it is unlikely,” she said. “Sadly they are but prey for one of the People.”
“One can but hope,” Iain said as his wingbeat changed and bit into the air. “You be ready.” His scales were already shimmering around the edges as he began to take on the color of his surroundings. “I’ll be right back.” He began an easy spiral downward that led him to disappear into the crevasse.
The sunlight cut almost to nothing inside the cavern as Iain flew to where he could hug the wall as he descended. As he’d hoped, the crevasse was full of wyverns slowly flying around on whatever business occupied their minds. He estimated that they were roughly each fifteen meters long and were of various colors and shades which spanned most of the spectrum. One, a larger dark brown female, glowed with the red smoky aura that warned she was that most dangerous of wyverns, an alpha creature.
Also, as he’d hoped, they didn’t acknowledge his presence as he landed, dug his claws into the wall and carefully folded his wings while checking to verify that his tail was flat against the wall behind him. He slowly climbed headfirst down the wall, making sure that his claws were firmly planted and would hold before moving. Whenever a wyvern came too near, he immediately paused to become motionless until it had moved away again. They were vision hunters, but they did have noses that worked, and he didn’t want to chance one of them picking up a whiff of his scent if he could at all avoid it. Fortunately for him, the heat from the lava below ensured a stiff upward breeze was constantly blowing to keep his scent from spreading outwards. As he descended, he kept looking around for his goal. It didn’t take long before he saw what he was after and slowly changed direction and made his way to it.
The nest was larger than he’d expected, but then he’d only seen it before in a video game. The bright green egg carefully placed in the center of it was nearly a meter tall and glowed softly in the red light from the lava running through the bottom of the crevasse. Fortunately, whoever had laid it wasn’t present for the moment, but how long that moment would last wasn’t likely to be long at all. But right now, the immediate area around the nest was clear of any wyverns, which was what he needed.
Iain didn’t hesitate, dropping into the nest next to the egg. He was casting a formal magic spell even as he landed. His hands glowed for an instant before he gripped the egg tightly in his hands and clasped it to his chest. Until he released the spell he’d learned from Kasumi, his hands would come free of his arms before he would drop the egg. It also gave the egg the durability of his scales to help protect it while he was carrying it. The chameleon effect on his body faded away as he launched himself out of the nest with a loud laugh and a bellow. “Come and get me, you fuckers!” He climbed straight upward as fast as he could, for he knew that at the instant he’d touched the egg, every wyvern for a couple of kilometers knew where he was and what he’d done. And so long as he had the egg in his possession, every one of them would want to tear him to pieces. They were so single minded on the destruction of any thief that they didn’t care about the safety of the egg he carried or even of their own safety, so it afforded him no protection from their fury. And they would chase him halfway across Ragnarok in their pursuit.
Fortunately, with the gravity training he’d been doing under the watchful eye of Theodora, he was strong enough to keep accelerating even while climbing out of the chasm. It also meant he was moving faster than the angry wyverns behind him.
Caintigern was still circling overhead and Iain aimed in a straight intercept course for where she’d be when he reached her. When he was just under her, he released the capture spell on his hands and barrel rolled over onto his back in midair so he could hurl the egg at her. “Catch!”
Unprepared, Caintigern flailed wildly to catch the egg, but she missed it and it instead smashed against her chest and shattered, just as Iain has planned.
Below, the wyverns bellowed loudly in rage and turned directly towards the larger dragoness. Undeterred, Caintigern obligingly changed direction to meet them head on, throwing her own roar of challenge back in their teeth as they closed.
Iain fled. While he wanted to be on the ground with Nightraven for the impending battle, he was not going to miss the initial contact and the big surprise and he couldn’t make it back to Nightraven before that happened, so he climbed and turned to face Caintigern and the wyverns while braking almost to a stop as his wingbeats shifted to a figure eight pattern that let him hover in place.
The alpha was faster than the other wyverns but she had been at the far end of the crevasse when he’d grabbed the egg, so she wasn’t in the van of the attack. Instead, it was a light blue wyvern that Caintigern picked for her first victim. Her jaws opened wide for the crippling or fatal strike on the wyvern as she approached at her attack speed.
Then the wyvern breathed lightning directly into her face. The bolts ripped into her and she convulsed with a scream of agony and almost fell out of the air as the lightning caused her muscles to spasm uncontrollably. She regained control before smashing into the ground and turned her fall into a dive that brought her around and up into the back of the flock of wyverns who were far less maneuverable than she was. They responded by scattering and then swarming her when she tried to isolate a target, spraying her with a combination of fire, lightning and balls of poison that opened up great gaping wounds on her body that closed seconds later as she used her magic to heal herself. Blood poured in a rain that made the rocks below glisten redly in the bright sunlight.
Iain landed near Nightraven and changed back to his human form. She spoke without looking away from the airborne melee. “You did not warn her that they had breath weapons.”
Iain smirked. “Surprise!”
Nightraven’s eyes sparkled with amusement as she glanced at him. “Caintigern is not going to be happy with you.”
“And when she expresses her displeasure I’ll look surprised and ask why she didn’t like her courting gift of a challenging fight when she specifically said she wanted one.” He waved a hand at the furball over the crevasse. Caintigern was holding her own and with every bite or claw strike she killed or crippled a wyvern, who fell out of the sky. Below her a small group of wounded wyverns who had survived being knocked out of the air roared angrily up at her. Many were covered with her blood from injuries she was still receiving. “She obviously doesn’t feel she’s in danger since we both know she could just kill them all with magic if she wanted to or teleport away or use a forcefield to keep them from touching her.” He glanced at her. “Did you enjoy the surprise?”
“You have given me a very good gift that I will continue to enjoy for some time to come. The only question I have is how are the future gifts you will seek to give me going to surpass this one?”
Iain looked surprised. “Each gift is supposed to be better than the last one?”
“That is the traditional courting method.”
“Crap. I just set the bar pretty high, didn’t I?”
“If I understand the slang phrase correctly, yes, you did.”
“Could I point out that I’m not very traditionally minded?”
“Yes, you may indeed inform us of that fact but I am somewhat traditionally minded and Caintigern is must certainly so.”
“Well, shit.” He shrugged. “I’ll do what I can but no promises.”
Nightraven was still watching her grandaunt fighting. “I didn’t expect a promise from you. When you promise something, you are obligated to carry it out by your personal honor.” She glanced at him. “As you will do when you breed the unnatural unicorn until she bears a foal.”
Well, Iain had known she was keeping an eye on him. “Are you aware of just how unnatural the herd is?”
“My grandaunt explained the situation to me. I also understand that you believe that because they managed to keep existing, they have earned the right to be left to develop as they choose. Before I killed them all, the orcs in the mountain would have wished to have claimed that right as well.”
Iain shrugged. “I believe that because they are under my protection they deserve the right to develop as they choose, up to a point. If they weren’t mine, I wouldn’t care about them at all.”
She glanced at him again. “That is a proper outlook for one of the People.”
“I suspect that once in a while I will agree with something the People believe, if only by accident. Do you ever laugh? Your grandaunt does.”
“You would not like the circumstances that make me laugh.”
“If those circumstances are happening to something or someone that I don’t care about, I might enjoy it too.” He gestured to where Caintigern had whittled down her opposition to the alpha fire wyvern and a pair of quicker than normal lightning wyverns who could turn faster than she could. “We both enjoy her situation.”
“This is true. One day you will see what makes me laugh, when the last of the traitors who destroyed my existence falls before my teeth.” She glanced at him. “But this is a very nice gift.”
“Well, since Caintigern just finished off the alpha, would you like to go exploring now? She’s still got that lot on the ground to finish butchering out and she’ll probably gorge like she usually does and then find a sunny spot to take a nap.”
“Yes, I would like that.” She turned to face him. “I am not used to a drake being interested in me. I am not sure how to behave.”
“It’s even more complicated since I am still your student. I will keep in mind that you don’t know how to respond to gifts and courtship and you should keep in mind that I don’t think like one of the People. What I think might be a proper courting gift for you may turn out to be nothing of the sort in your opinion. If I give you a gift you do not like, just let me know and, maybe, if you’re in a good mood, you might give me a hint about what would be well received, as long as it is something that I could reasonably be expected to be able to successfully acquire without dying.”
“I will keep that in mind.” She glanced at her grandaunt one last time and then moved off in preparation of changing to her dragoness form. “Let us go.”
“Did Kasumi tell me that it was inherently dangerous and not to try it before you said I was good enough to successfully cast this spell,” Iain asked curiously. “The answer, of course, is that no, she did not.”
“She should have,” Dominique growled. “You could have stuck your hands together and not had anyone there to unstick them.”
“Now you’re just being a worrywart,” Iain replied. “Kasumi warned me to be careful and I had my first painful adventures with superglue several years before we ever met.”
“While Iain’s tendency toward hyperbole is undiminished, he is essentially correct,” Kasumi said calmly. “And Iain has mastered that spell to my satisfaction. As I am the person who taught it to him, it is my decision as to whether he is ready to use it without supervision or not. Or has that changed and only you can make that determination?”
Dominique shook her head. She’d learned not to challenge Kasumi over her abilities as an instructor. Not only was the young kami an excellent teacher and a powerful mage in her own right, she was justifiably proud of her abilities as a mage and sometimes easily insulted. “I wasn’t saying that. It’s just that if there’s someone who would manage to stick his body to itself, it would be our Iain.”
“Iain has to leave the nest eventually,” Rosemary protested. ‘It is going to happen eventually whether you like it or not. And while I am well aware of how much I like him as a person and as our male, everyone here knows I am right when I say that when he learns a spell, he learns it properly.” Her ears flicked as she glanced at him. “I can’t say that about myself.”
Iain patted her on the hand. “You sometimes get in a hurry and you’re lucky that you haven’t had the lessons which would make you as deliberate in spellcasting as I am.”
“I am not familiar with these lessons,” Kasumi said.
“Dominique is,” Iain’s smile was amused. “I didn’t blow a hand off like Devon did when Hatsumi tested him, but the first time I manifested fire I did it by using the meat of my hand as fuel. And then I couldn’t put it out. Fortunately, Dominique was there, and she took care of me. That and some other stupidity on my part has made me more cautious and Dominique more concerned about my wellbeing.” He glanced at the Archmage. “I won’t get into how, after watching some of the clods in the Order over the last couple of centuries, she feels about any human doing magic since that’s what pokegirls are for.” Dominique gave him a broad grin. “Exactly.”
Ygerna laughed softly. “In a different universe I ruled over those clods and some of them were barely capable of finding their wand in their pocket. I tolerated their presence because I needed swordsmen, spies and administrators as much as I needed mages in the order.” She nodded towards Dominique. “The fact that I had people like her, who were both loyal and competent, helped me to tolerate their presence.” She turned to Dominique. “And, now that we have an audience, I want to apologize to you.”
The Archmage looked surprised. “What for?”
“I am not the Ygerna that you served, but I did have a pokegirl named Dominique in my service who was your analog. I will never see her again and, while I was not your queen and you were not my subject, because I will never see her again I wanted to apologize to you for the way that I treated her, which was not dissimilar to the way you were treated by your queen. I cannot even protect myself by claiming that I did not know just how talented and loyal she was just as your queen must have known how talented and loyal you were. If I were back where I could have saved her life, I would have kept her with me.”
Dominique cocked her head. “She’s dead?”
“I do not know when or how, but she is. Before I came to this world I surreptitiously returned to the Order’s demesne to try and recruit some loyal knights and pokegirls to come here with me. I discovered then that my subject Dominique was among the fallen.”
Dominique eyed Ygerna for several seconds. “I cannot let you apologize for the way my queen treated me. You are not her. However, I’ve seen that you’re not a bad person and, on the behalf of your Dominique who is dead, I accept your apology to her. If I were her and I knew what I do know about you, I would know just how hard those words were to speak and how much you must mean them before you would say them in a public forum.”
“Thank you, Dominique.”
Ganieda nudged Iain. “Well, before they kiss and make up and you get all horny and distracted, what did you need that sticky spell for?”
Iain eyed her speculatively. “You couldn’t stay out of Marguerite’s head, could you?”
Ganieda gave him a slightly annoyed look. “I can’t stay out of anyone’s head. It’s like trying not to look into an open box that has bright flashing lights and a siren in it.” She smirked at him. “So?”
As she’d desired, everyone was looking at Iain expectantly. “During my personal time I’ve been doing a bit of exploring. I found a construct in orbit around an Earth. It was obviously artificial and operated by some computer system that I haven’t yet had time to ferret out.” He reached for his water and took a deep drink while considering his words. “It’s an artificial ecosystem populated by, among other things, dinosaurs. There is no real attempt at a balance and creatures that die are replaced by some rapid cloning process or something similar mere minutes after their death. I was building a place there and I called it the hunting lodge. Now that Marguerite and Zareen know about it, I was going to offer to start bringing people there to explore and hunt since with the restocking system the place will never run out of things to eat or who will try to eat us. I was also going to suggest it as a place to get alone time with individuals of my family without any chance of being disturbed.”
“Are the creatures dangerous,” Ganieda asked.
“There are Tyrannosaurs and other large predators along smaller ones such as Utahraptors with some mammals like saber-toothed tigers and dire wolves. Not all of the creatures are predatory, but there are more than enough to keep you on your toes. Some of the herbivores can be pretty aggressive too.” Iain looked around. “I know what the place is because I’d seen before it in a video game, but I’m taking my explorations slowly because I doubt it’ll be exactly the same as it was in the game.”
He looked around the room slowly. “As for the sticky fingers spell, I needed to safely grab an egg in a hurry before I got attacked by the parents. When you grab an egg and the dinosaur who laid that egg is around, she and her mate get a little pissed off and they and their buddies will chase you for a very long time with fell intent in their hearts.”
“What about the herbivores,” Rosemary asked.
“A Triceratops, Stegosaur or a Brontosaur will cheerfully smash an egg thief just as thoroughly as an Allosaur will,” Iain replied with a jaunty smile. “The only difference is they won’t eat the thief afterwards.”
“This place sounds very interesting,” Ganieda said.
“I’m sure it does and Ninhursag and April already know about it. We’ve been planning how I can take women there and still have the normal rotation, whatever that is since it’s a secret from a simpleton like me, not get royally screwed when some woman starts bragging about the time she gets to spend with me alone.” He folded his hands over his stomach as he leaned back in his chair. “Just understand this is not really a place for children. There are too many airborne predators and still others that can climb. And I’ll be looking for a quieter place for the kids and for people who aren’t interested in hunting dinosaurs.” He looked thoughtful. “I may already have a place for that but I will have to do some more checking first.” Then he gave a quick shrug. “But that’s outside this discussion. What’s next for my spellcasting?”
Kasumi opened a large tome. “I am your teacher for this week and we are going to be working again on seeing if you can learn a basic offensive spell.
Iain steeled himself for what, considering his lack of success so far with offensive formal magic, was most likely going to be a very long day.
One instant Iain was alone as he sat at the picnic table reading and the next she was standing on the edge of the clearing he was in. For several minutes she stood there, watching him while he read. After several more minutes she scowled crossly. “Are you going to ever acknowledge my presence?”
He looked up at her. “Is there a way that I can do that without irritating you that doesn’t require me to abase myself or obligate myself to you somehow?”
Her face smoothed. “We had wondered if you could tell us apart.”
“Now you know I can. You’re the Danu that moved here.”
“Is that how you refer to me?”
He smiled. “We don’t really talk about you that much, but I tend to refer to you as Thing Two in my head. I normally won’t say that out loud since, if you knew the reference, you probably wouldn’t find it complimentary.”
“I have read Geisel’s works and I know who the two Things are.” An amused smile appeared when he looked surprised. “I had a lot of free time because I only have had one fey to watch over the millennia and Geisel did study at Oxford. His books were quite popular in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Why would you consider me one of the Things?”
“They’re mischievous and cause minor trouble. Mischievous is the nicest word I can think of to describe what you did. Why are you here?”
“Danu has insisted that I come and make amends with you. She refuses to work with me and threatens to work against me unless I do so.”
Iain sighed and leaned back in his chair. “If you’re doing this against your will it won’t mean anything and you shouldn’t even bother to fake it. It’s like an oath being given under duress isn’t considered binding to us.”
“That is not what the fey believe about oaths.”
“While I am now a supernatural being, and technically I’m fey because of it, I wasn’t raised fey and I don’t accept their beliefs or their goddess as my own.”
“You know that we exist just as Mielikki does and you have accepted Mielikki as your goddess. Why can you not accept us as well?”
“Mielikki asked me to consider accepting her as my goddess. You told me I was your property and that you were going to steal away my wife, whom I love. I also don’t like the way you treat your worshippers and have no urge to become one of them.”
“The Danu of this world treats her worshippers the same way I do.”
“Do you see me worshipping her?” He gestured across the table. “If you’re not leaving, then please sit down. Understand that I am not yet offering you hospitality, however.”
Danu hesitated and then pulled out the chair on the other side of the table before setting daintily into it. “Thank you for being polite.”
“I love Ygerna and you are hers and the goblin’s goddess. I am well aware of just how unhappy she’d be if I spited you just to do so, even if it were in my nature.”
“Does that mean that I am only important to you because she is important to you?”
“Don’t take this as an insult but you’re not important to me. You are relevant to me at best because of your association with my wife.”
“And if she ever stopped worshipping me?”
Iain’s gaze turned speculative for a moment before he shrugged. “That is rather unlikely and I try to avoid dealing with what ifs. And we already have an agreement where we will be working together for some time that has nothing to do with Ygerna or her worship of you except in that it protects her and our children from being stolen away.”
She nodded. “That is wise. You are truly not one of mine, are you?”
“Nope.” When she raised an eyebrow curiously he shrugged. “I am not one of your creatures in any way.”
She raised a hand and Iain felt magic swirl around them into a bubble that surrounded the picnic table and isolated them from outside surveillance. “How is it that Ygerna is pregnant?”
Iain leaned his elbows on the table and gave her a grim smile that never reached his eyes. “There never was a curse of infertility, was there? You were merely taking advantage of something that was already happening with the fertility of the fey to try and bind them closer to you.”
Her eyes narrowed dangerously. “The fact that you can ask that question tells both of us that you already know the answer to it.”
“I’m not sure why Ygerna is pregnant, other than the obvious sperm hits egg, burrows in and starts cell division. I’m just happy that she is.”
“Do you have any theories as to why she is pregnant?”
“If I did, they’d be just that and I’m not prone to speculating with you. But you can experiment to your heart’s content once you get the first shipment of babies, with the caveat that you cannot experiment on any of my people, even the ones that worship you.”
She smiled. “A statement that is worthy of the trickiest of fey kings.”
“I’m neither fey nor a king.”
Danu nodded. “You are not and I accept that you are neither. I will not apologize for what I have done.” She paused.
“I figured you wouldn’t.”
“I will, however, seek to not treat you that way again in the hope that we will not be enemies. If you desire my help, do not hesitate to ask for it.”
Iain gave her a wry smile. “Right. I just need to anticipate needing your help a few years before I do so that the negotiations don’t proceed with you holding all of the advantages and the price won’t be completely ruinous.”
She smiled warmly. “If you could foretell that need it would most definitely prove advantageous for you and yours when negotiating with me.”
“Yes, and if I could foretell the future that well I could probably figure out a way to deal with any problems without involving you.”
“That would definitely aid you in any negotiations as I would then have to come to you first. Why do you help us bring our children back to life?”
“You are familiar with what pokegirls did to the world you came here from,” Iain said quietly. “I hope the fey will fight the ferals or tame them or both to keep them under control.” His grim smile returned. “Things will never be as the once were. If the fey try to reassert their dominion over humanity, the humans will fight them. Fey ruled humans several thousands of years ago and we are no longer the ignorant barbarians they could cow with their supernatural nature and iron.”
“And if it comes to war between human and fey, will you lead them against my children?”
Iain shook his head. “I will help some of them if I think it necessary, but I have no more urge to lead them than I wish to be a fey king.”
“Yet you are the leader of your clan and lead not only fey and human but also pokegirls, which are an unnatural creation of a mad human wizard.”
“I say that aware pokegirls are people and to consider them inhuman is a crime as great as the one Eoghan did when he murdered the fey. As for leading the clan, I lead it only until I can find someone else to take this job and do it better than I can. Until then, someone has to be in the box and I volunteered.”
“The Danu that lives on this world before I came here will come to see if I have made amends with you. What will you tell her?”
“The truth. You only came here at her insistence and it had the usual result of exercising force against someone. You won’t apologize for your treatment of me and my family and I don’t expect you to. I’ll also tell her that even if you did apologize I know you won’t be truly apologetic and so you shouldn’t bother to try. That hasn’t stopped me from working with both of you and it will not so long as things do not change appreciably between us. And if you think that my goblins and my unicorns are not covered under our agreement and if either of you seek to take them from me or my clan, you will rue that attempt.”
“And what of the dragoness that lives in your forest?”
Iain barked a laugh. “Her name is Caintigern and she is a guest of the clan. I would ask that you leave her alone too, but I will let her know that you are not clan so if you do bother her she can respond appropriately.” He sighed. “No, I’m rather fond of some of the people in Ireland and it’s a pretty place so I’ll ask her to tell me if you try anything instead of dealing with it herself. It might end up with the Emerald Isles being the Emerald Atoll otherwise or just the Emerald Sea.”
Danu looked surprised. “She is that powerful?”
“Since you’re still keeping us from being observed, yes, she is that powerful and she is of the race of the People just as I am, so she is not fey. Please don’t bother her.”
“What is she to you?”
“She’s my teacher in the history of the People along with their customs and practices.”
“What is this People that you speak of?”
“That’s what the race of dragons she belongs to calls themselves. I suspect their word for everyone else translates directly to Not-People.” It wasn’t a suspicion since Caintigern was also teaching him the language of the People.
Danu looked thoughtful. “Is that so different from your outlander designation for those who are not clan?”
Iain smiled without showing any teeth. “We still think that sentient outlanders are sentient and can be people, even if they’re outlanders and barbarians.”
“So it is very different than outlander.”
You have training in fifteen minutes, his twee said.
Iain closed his book. “I have training soon and if I am late someone will come looking for me. That means we’re going to have to cut this short. Is there anything else?”
She shook her head as she stood. “I will not treat you as I did before.”
“Can I get that as an oath?”
She smiled. “No.”
“I could but try.”
“I will return at the full moon with Danu as we agreed and you can give us the,” she hesitated.
“Status report,” Iain prompted.
“Yes, the status report. Why do you call it that?”
“It’s a precise term that tells me exactly what I’m going to be reporting to you and the other Danu.”
“Will you ever call me Lady Danu again?”
“Are you telling me to call you that or asking?”
She nodded. “Will you call me Lady Danu as you do Danu?”
Iain looked thoughtful. “I will for the present, Lady Danu.” He watched her vanish before getting up as the magic around him dissipated. “I really love Ygerna to put up with that.”
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
Marguerite - Unicorn
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
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