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Ashall stood with her brother and son as they waited for Iain to arrive for the duel. “I doubt the coward will dare to face me,” Zarn managed to sound both amused and irritated. He loved killing people in duels. “He knows he can’t stand against me.”
Ashall glanced at her son. “The fact that they left right after you challenged their man and haven’t been seen yet isn’t proof that they’ve fled. We will wait the mandated time before we denounce them as cowards and claim their property as the prescriptions allow. It’s just a shame they’re so poor.” She looked around to ensure the security team she’d brought was in position to keep them from being attacked from cover.
“If they’ve fled we will have to find them,” Lyssand grumbled. “Elentarra wants a child from them so we can claim kinship with her former clan. They’re poised to regain the throne when the king dies and those ties would make us powerful and rich.”
Ashall didn’t look at her brother. She’d been briefed by Elentarra before coming to this duel and knew that Lyssand had only revealed his plan to get a child from one of the women and their lineage to keep out of trouble when he’d returned home after his beating by Iain. She also knew that Elentarra, the clan leader, was not happy with him for the deception. Briefly she wondered what his original plan had been and why it had required keeping the rest of her clan in the dark about it but knew that it didn’t matter now since it had obviously failed.
“Someone is coming,” one of the sentries to the north called. “Two women on a moon horse.”
Ashall watched enviously as the women rode up. They were on a magnificent stallion, obviously of royal quality. It was probably a friend or retainer from Kasserine’s past. She gave a mental snort. Considering some of the more debauched stories she’d heard about Kasserine, the stallion might be her lover.
The stallion halted, and the women slid easily off his back. Both were wearing armor and weapons, although the oldest of the two was wearing a simple gold circlet instead of a helmet. If it was a relic of her past, it was magical and would protect her head far better than any helm could. She said a quiet word to the stallion, who bent his head down so she could hug it around the neck before turning and striding towards Ashall and her group. Behind her, the other woman did the same thing and even kissed the stallion on the cheek before following her mother. The daughter’s armor was well made, but it wasn’t anywhere near the quality of the armor her mother wore. As she focused on Kasserine, she absently noted the stallion was moving towards the arena.
Kasserine stopped two sword’s lengths away from them. “We are here and we are not late,” she said grimly. “Is there any way that this disagreement can be resolved without bloodshed?”
“We may have no choice,” Ashall said coolly, “considering that the challenged isn’t among you and I am unwilling to let you take his place. If you forfeit, your property is ours as compensation.”
Kasserine smiled slightly. “Iain is in the arena and waiting for Zarn.”
Ashall looked past her and saw that the stallion was gone, and Iain stood inside the ring of the arena. He waved. “Are we going to fight or is Zarn going to just stand there with his thumb up his asshole all day so he can suck on it later and keep his bad breath strong?”
“I am going to skin you alive,” Zarn bellowed and stalked towards the arena.
“I’ll bet he won’t,” a new male voice said from near Kasserine.
Ashall jumped in surprise and then whirled, her hand on her sword. A male Moon elf with long silver hair stood with Kasserine and Ava. “Who are you,” she snarled, “and how did you get past my sentries?”
The new elf was wearing light leather armor that was favored by rangers and scouts. His amber eyes flicked past her to Lyssand. “You’re the former tutor, right?”
“I am,” Lyssand said proudly. “And I’m Ava’s future husband.”
“The hell you are,” Ava muttered. “Iain removed what you’d done to me and if you get close again I’ll geld you.”
The male elf smiled coldly as Lyssand shifted slightly so Ashall was between him and Ava. “Well, tutor, you claim to be aware of Kasserine’s past and lineage. Is this true?”
“I am a historian,” Lyssand said. “And her past is well known in certain circles.” The stress he put on the word certain suggested those circles were vile indeed.
“Then you know why she was banished from her clan,” the man continued.
“Yes, she was banished because of her ill-gotten whelp.”
“Do you know what that whelp’s name was?”
Lyssand sneered. “His name was Kerrik and he was as evil as any spawned from the pits of the Hells.”
“I don’t know if I’d call myself quite that evil,” the male elf said. “But no matter what happens here today, if you ever bother my mother or sister again, what I will do to you will just vilify my name even more.”
“You are a liar,” Lyssand scoffed. “Kerrik has been dead for centuries.” Suddenly he grunted and turned white as he slowly sank to his knees. He coughed and clutched at the sudden tightness in his chest.
He relaxed suddenly as Kerrik chuckled icily. “I let your heart restart that time. You call me a liar again and I’ll rip it from your chest with my bare hand and make your sister eat it in front of you before I will let you die.” He looked at Ashall. “Start this duel.”
“You don’t think Iain might die,” Ava asked somewhat anxiously.
“To Zarn?” Kerrik laughed loudly. “No. I can tell by the way he carries himself that Zarn is most likely a professional duelist. I’m sure he’s killed a lot of people and he’s probably feared in the dueling circles or among Swift Arrow’s enemies. But compared to Iain he’s just a barracuda while Iain is a tiger shark. Zarn was dead from the moment Iain accepted his challenge, he just doesn’t know it yet.”
“My son has never been defeated,” Ashall snapped.
“There is always someone better and everyone is undefeated until they aren’t,” Kerrik replied. “Defeat is how you learn, if you survive it. Now you either start Zarn’s execution or I will. I’m not a Swift Arrow nor am I a Grey, so I am impartial enough to do so without repercussion.”
“It is my right,” Ashall said.
“Then exercise your right or lose it in ten seconds.”
Ashall gave him a furious glare before striding towards the arena. “Are the combatants prepared to do battle this day,” she called.
“Yes,” Iain said, his attention focused on Zarn. He was wearing a suit of leather armor of a design that Ashall had never seen before, with a smooth metal helmet that had a crystalline faceplate which protected his entire face. It even had matching gloves.
“I am going to butcher you like a deer,” Zarn threatened. He looked at Ashall. “Start the duel!”
Ashall produced a handkerchief from inside her blouse. “When I release this, you will fight.” She waited a few heartbeats and dropped the piece of fabric to flutter to the ground.
Zarn lifted his shield to protect himself as his right hand darted for the hand crossbow that dangled from his belt.
Iain reacted the instant Ashall’s hand opened and summoned his bow in his right hand as his right arm extended. He drew and fired six arrows in the span of a heartbeat. He couldn’t keep this pace for very long, but for this what he could do was more than enough.
As he’d gotten stronger from training, both with Theodora in higher gravity and with his harem under April and Sofia’s eagle-eyed gaze, his bow had changed to increase its draw strength in order to allow him to use that strength in his shots. Additionally, Iain had chosen to make the first two and last two arrows have what were called bodkin points, which meant it was a spike that was square in cross section, while the middle two arrows were modern hunting broadheads with four razor sharp edges. They were made of wood, but they were harder than modern steel.
The first two arrows punched through the mithril of Zarn’s shield, through his mithril chainmail and gambeson and ruptured his heart. The second pair took him in the throat. One sliced all the way through his neck and hissed off into the distance while the second stopped in his neck because it had hit his spinal vertebra, shattering three of them and bruising his spine. The last two arrows, aimed at the center of his forehead, slammed into his head just below the rim of his helmet and deep into his brain.
Zarn was knocked backwards by the arrows to hit the ground and lie unmoving, his fingers still wrapped around the butt of the hand crossbow he’d planned to use first.
Iain lowered his bow and looked at Ashall. “Is the stain cleaned from Swift Arrow’s honor?”
Ashall had been staring in horror at her son. Her head came up when he spoke, and she glared at him with eyes that burned with hate. “Yes,” she said angrily.
Iain’s bow vanished back onto his arm and, without a word, he turned and headed for where Kerrik, Kasserine and Ava waited. He stopped when he was close to them. “Did that do what you wanted, Kasserine?”
She nodded. “Almost no one will want to face you openly. Only Ashall will seek your death now. No other would dare and she will strike from the shadows.”
“Well, either I kill her now or we finish packing and leave Evermeet as quickly as we can,” Iain said. “It’s your decision.”
Kerrik cocked his head. “You’ve been holding out on me and Raven. Where did you become so fast?”
“Fighting Pandora, Lucifer, Eve and Kasumi, among others,” Iain replied. “People like me and Ygerna don’t have much choice except to improve as much as we can, considering how they push. Ninhursag taught me how to shoot that quickly for a short time. It’s an Elf trick for the opening segment of a battle.” He smirked. “Of course, they’re still faster and can keep that up for far longer than I can.”
Kasserine had been looking thoughtful. “If we stop your training, we can finish packing everything in less than two weeks. I’d like to get the boxes I commissioned, but they won’t be ready for delivery for at least two more weeks.” She looked at Iain. “I hate the idea of spending your money and just abandoning what I purchased.”
“The first thing,” Iain said as he offered Ava his arm and she took it, “is that we’re betrothed now. That means it’s our money, not mine, and you’re welcome to as much of it as you need.” He flashed a grin. “Ava’s on an allowance, though. I’ve seen her room and she’s a magpie. The second thing is that, although this might be difficult for you to accept, I am willing to abandon everything you own to keep you and Ava safe, and even to make sure I don’t disappoint you by killing more elves. Things can be replaced. You and Ava cannot.” He smiled. “And I would give up everything I own to keep you safe, so it’s not that I’m willing to throw away your things and not mine. So I think we should abandon the boxes. If Kerrik wants them for whatever the big C has him doing, he’s welcome to them, otherwise they’re a small price to pay to keep you safe and mine.”
Kasserine took his other arm. “We leave the boxes then. I was worried you would think less of me for wasting money.”
“I will, but this isn’t wasting money. This is making a tactical decision to lower the risk to us. After all, when Ashall starts trying to murder me she’s unlikely to care if her poisoned arrow misses me and hits Ava or you.”
“You said our twee would make us immune to poison,” Ava said.
“They haven’t woken up yet,” Iain replied. “And even if you’re immune to the poison on it, an arrow in the stomach hurts.”
Kerrik’s eyebrows had risen. “You gave them twee already?”
“And our books,” Ava said and proudly showed him the book on her wrist.
Kerrik looked at Iain. “I thought you said that learning to store things was moderately difficult.”
“It is. But these two ladies work together and keep challenging each other to give more than they could if they were studying individually.”
“We give a hundred and fifty percent,” Ava said proudly. “I’m not sure that’s really possible,” she continued in a more subdued tone, “but this is magic and so we do.”
“I see that as their teacher I’m going to have my work cut out for me,” Kerrik said amusedly. He smiled at Ava. “Hello, little sister. I’m Kerrik and it’s interesting to meet you.”
He was surprised when she let Iain’s arm go, stepped up to him and kissed him on the right cheek. “I am Ava Grey, Kerrik, and it’s nice to meet my brother. I hope we become friends.”
His eyes lingered on her as she reclaimed Iain’s arm. “I think I hope we do too, Ava Grey.” He looked at Iain. “I have to get back to hunting that vampire.”
“We’ve got some empty boxes. If you fill them with explosives, well bad things tend to happen to any vampires or other corporeal undead around when they go off.” Iain grinned suddenly. “And if she lives someplace that nobody would care about, you can see if a nuclear blast does accurately reproduce the energy of the sun.”
“I’m not supposed to kill her, remember? Besides, I think the big C would be upset if I used a nuke anywhere on this planet.”
“Who or what is this big C,” Kasserine asked.
“Gods listen for their names,” Iain said. “So Kerrik and I tend to give them nicknames they are unlikely to listen for. The big C is the god that came by earlier and took Kerrik away.”
“You are very strange,” Kasserine said.
“You haven’t heard about my life yet. Strange is only the beginning.” Iain smiled at the women. “Do you want me to become a moon horse and we can go home?”
“Yes,” Ava said instantly. “It is a very long walk.”
Iain shook his head. “Then let’s get away from here. I don’t want to become an equine near here and have Ashall put an arrow in my ass.”
“I’m out,” Kerrik said and vanished.
Kasserine tugged on Iain’s arm. “And we should leave too.” He let her lead him away.
April stretched luxuriously against Iain and sighed as she laid her head on his chest. “I must thank Ninhursag for allowing me to help you with your frustrations.” They were back on the empty Earth and lying on a blanket inside the fenced area around the house. Clothes were strewn in a pile nearby.
“Am I really that different after a few days without being with one of you?”
April giggled. “Yes.” She stretched again and looked up at him. “I could feel your frustration over our link as soon as I was released. Do they tease you unmercifully?”
“So far it’s been mostly unintentional, but I suppose that after a couple of days of no sex I could interpret the wave of an arm as erotic,” Iain said with a chuckle. “I know it isn’t, but they are attractive women and Ava, although still legally a minor, is very interested in sex. She intends to keep to her agreement with her mother not to have sex until she’s an adult. I can usually appreciate that mentality.”
“Usually? That means there are times you don’t appreciate it.”
“Like I said, I’m pretty sure its unintentional, but she’s a hell of a tease sometimes. I can usually appreciate it even when it’s frustrating the fuck out of me. Still, sometimes I want to throw her over my shoulder and take her to my room so I can show her that she has no real idea of what she’s asking for. As for Kasserine, she’s an adult but she’s not interested in sex right now.”
April nodded. “Ninhursag briefed the command staff and then the general staff on the history you gave her on both women. We all agree that both of them need to spend time with Theodora or Canaan. Being around the harem will help them too, since they get to see women who aren’t being abused and who seek you out for sex. It may take her some time, but Kasserine will succumb to your wiles too.”
“I told her that I wouldn’t touch her until and unless she explicitly told me to.”
April sighed. “While I know your reasoning was noble, it means you can’t seduce her.”
“She needs to be able to trust me,” Iain kissed April on the top of her head. “Considering her past, if I betray that trust I’ll probably never be able to get it back.”
“Ninhursag said you believed she is a lot like Sofia is.”
“In some ways that’s true but it is a very general statement. The specifics of Kasserine’s life are very different from Sofia’s, but she has been betrayed at every turn. Sofia’s abuse was physical that resulted in mental trauma.”
“While there is a physical component, it’s just a tiny thing in relation to everything else that’s happened to her. Because of one event that was entirely out of her control, she’s become a pariah and has been for most of her life.” He shrugged. “I don’t know all of the details. I suppose I could have put together a comprehensive list of all of the abuses she underwent during her life, but I didn’t derive any pleasure from making her life hell when I thought she was imaginary. It was a necessary plot device to isolate Kerrik and so I noted it and moved on to the stuff I liked writing about. It’ll help a lot that she hasn’t undergone it for another ten thousand years, like she did in my notes, but she has already lived at least four elven lifespans and the abuses have already been going on for more than long enough to make an indelible mark on her.”
“What do you think her biggest issues will be for us?”
“Acceptance and trust,” Iain said without hesitation. “She’s been refused acceptance, not only for being who she is but rebuffed whenever she tried to do anything, such as running a business or even having a job that pays regularly. Most of her income comes from dealing with the criminal organizations in the areas where she lives. She’s got a great mind for politics and ferrets out the political situation quickly whenever she moves into a new area. That lets her essentially consult with the syndicates without joining them. But while they were willing to irregularly employ her, they never accepted or completely trusted her. Only Ava has given her that, and she’s given that to Ava.”
April sighed. “So they’d probably rather be killed than separated.”
“I don’t think you could separate them without killing them,” Iain said. “Even without conscious control, they would will themselves to death.”
April sat up and looked down at him, smiling at but otherwise ignoring how his eyes followed her breasts as she moved. “You obviously don’t believe they’re irreparably damaged.”
“No, I don’t. They’re going to take a lot of work but they’re worth it and the potential they represent is definitely worth it.”
She looked thoughtful. “Ninhursag is wrong since the situation has changed drastically,” she said finally. “They’re betrothed to you and are already clan so they go in the house with the harem where they belong, not in a house of their own where they can feel isolated while watching us be together.” She smiled. “And they need to start with chores and the children immediately.”
“Everyone gets to train,” April replied. “That isn’t optional. If nothing else, they need to know how to keep out of our way while we respond to an emergency.” She smiled again. “You say they’re already trained as fighters so they’ll probably retreat straight towards the sound of combat just like everyone else who is supposed to stay out of the fighting does.”
“You need to realize that nobody is a noncombatant against the feral pokegirls,” Iain said quietly. “They will eat anybody they can find. Eventually, no matter how much we try to keep them out of it, even the children will be involved in the fighting somehow. That means everyone needs to train.”
She sighed. “Have I mentioned that there are days where your positivity sucks?”
“If you haven’t, it’s because a lot of other people are already doing so,” Iain said with a grin.
“When I get back I’ll start planning out emergency response training for the children.” She shook her head abruptly. “No, I think I’ll give the job to Sofia, instead, with Canaan as her assistant. Between the two of them I can be sure that it’ll be done and to my complete satisfaction, no matter how much or how loudly any individual mother protests. When they’re finished, the children will be as prepared as we can make them. Just be ready for regular drills for them.”
“I will,” Iain sat up. “Put them in adjoining rooms.”
“They’ll go on the second floor in rooms twenty two and twenty four,” April said. “Those have a door between them so they can visit without going into the hall if they want.” She chuckled. “Well, it’ll be thirty two and thirty four next month.”
“Theodora is growing a floor between the first and second which will become the second floor. Later we’ll grow another first floor too.”
“Why not grow a floor on top? Wouldn’t that be easier?”
“It would be,” April admitted, “but politics won’t allow it.”
Iain frowned. “Politics is why me, Kasumi and Ygerna are all on the second floor and nobody else is, isn’t it?”
April nodded. “Non-pokegirl members of the inner harem go on top. Otherwise there would be status fights for the penthouse rooms. Kasserine and Ava, as future wives and as non-pokegirls, go there. If we grew a new top floor, everyone on the second floor would have to move up a floor and Theodora figured it would be easier for everyone to avoid that.” She grinned. “Especially if you want any clothes left after the move.”
“Is there anything simple about pokegirls?”
April laughed. “Iain, my love, if you wanted simple you wouldn’t have the harem you do. Every person in your harem would be a maharani in any regular harem and you know it. Even Sofia isn’t submissive anymore and would be hell on wheels in another harem.” She shrugged. “For about fifteen minutes until she killed her tamer and ran back to you. She just would bring anyone she found worthy out of the other harem with her as a present for you.”
“It’s not about bringing me presents,” Iain said. “It’s about making her family unstoppable.”
“I know,” April’s tone was somber. “Which is why you shouldn’t be surprised when you return if she doesn’t immediately start whispering in your ear about access to a neutron star.”
Iain blinked. “She wants us to build planet killers?”
“Dead Magog can’t eat her children,” April said simply. “And a planet killer might just remove the threat you and Kerrik have been worrying about for what seems like forever.” Iain looked blankly at her and she smiled grimly. “Even a truewizard who can put together a small artificial solar system might not survive a planet killer that it has never imagined, much less experienced.” She cocked her head when he didn’t respond to her statement. “Nothing to say?”
“I’m running scenarios in my mind, just like you want me to,” Iain said. She yelped when he grabbed her and pulled her back down on the blanket as he rolled on top of her. “But that’s for later. Right now is for you.”
The Dikon storage unit materialized and Iain verified it didn’t have any locks on it before walking behind it. He grabbed the top and pulled, turning the storage on its back. Then he opened the interlocking leaf doors on the front, which was now the top. Next, he swarmed up the side and dropped into the interior before turning to Ava. “Start handing me boxes of books. I’ll stack them underneath me. When we hit a metric ton, a red light will turn on here,” he touched the recessed led bulb. “Then I’ll get my butt out of here and we’ll continue until the light comes on again. Then we’ll pull out just enough to make the light go out, store it and get out another one to keep going.”
In the end, some of the packing really needed to be done into boxes before they got packed in the Dikon units, so Iain had sent Julia back to Theodora to bring back another case of Dikon units. Four of those had been filled with flat carboard boxes in three sizes, packing tape and permanent markers. A fifth Dikon had been filled with bags of cornstarch packing peanuts.
It had amused Iain that the women had accepted the Dikon concept fairly easily since it resembled magic they were familiar with. But the idea of thin wooden boxes that you unfolded, taped, filled, taped closed and then wrote the contents on left them completely amazed.
Fascinated with the concept, instead of putting together a few boxes as needed, they’d put together all of the boxes in one of the Dikon at once. They’d only stopped because they’d run out of places to put the empty boxes. And one of the bags of packing peanuts was a complete loss, sacrificed in the name of science to watch them dissolve. Or fun, Iain mused, considering how many had been gleefully thrown at him and each other after he’d lobbed a few at the women.
Today, he and Ava were working in the library. They’d started on the top shelf and worked across and then down. The going was slow, but Iain estimated that they’d be done in about a day and a half since the library was rather small. The hardest part was sorting the books to maximize the number that could go in a box. It reminded him of when they’d been unpacking Ygerna’s library after recovering it from Shikarou and Caspa. That had taken days and then Ygerna had insisted on sorting the books back to the order she felt they belonged in. And she hadn’t done it alone, either. Iain, the guy who was trying to be her friend at the time, had insisted on helping. And in helping her, he’d come to a grand realization.
Next time Theodora could do it.
Kasserine came in with a tray of tea. She frowned. “Show me your hands.” Iain and Ava did, revealing hands black from handling the books. Kasserine sighed. “Go clean up and we’ll have tea and snacks in the dining room.”
Ava’s eyes brightened. “Iain’s cookies?”
Kasserine nodded indulgently. “Yes, Iain’s cookies.”
“They’re called gingersnaps, not Iain’s cookies,” Iain said. He’d raided the Dikon with trade goods in it for spices and made cookies because, honestly, he’d been bored. He was used to a full day of studies, children, training and women. Here they were doing a bit of training in the morning, packing boxes until dark, eating and going to bed. And he was starting to wonder if Theodora, Canaan, Ganieda or all of them together had been working on his problems without his knowledge or if his therapy sessions had been working more than he’d realized because the nightmares were coming back with a vengeance so, at least right now, sleep wasn’t anything he wanted to do in amounts any more than what was absolutely necessary to keep him sane. This left him a lot of time to spend studying or whatnot.
The hardest part was figuring out how to substitute for the molasses with available materials. He’d finally cheated and sent Julia for a gallon jug of it from Theodora. For a few minutes he’d felt a little guilt over sending her across universes for something as trite as molasses but had finally decided that the cause was just and had her also bring back eggs, fresh butter, brown sugar, sugar and more spices for future use. Everything except the butter was either hard to find or impossible to find here on Evermeet. When he was packing the collection into a spare Dikon, he found that someone had thoughtfully added two dozen bottles of Joyce’s beer to his order. He’d put those aside to share with Kasserine and Ava later, if it turned out that they liked it.
A little while later Ava was nibbling on one of her last cookies and eying Iain’s untouched pile of them speculatively while he drank tea and ignored her.
Kasserine leaned back comfortably in her chair. “The library seems to be going well. How long do you think you need to finish in there?”
“With Ava’s help it I think we’ll be done tomorrow afternoon,” Iain said. “If you need her for something else it’ll take me a few days. I noticed that several of your books need to be repaired.”
“Books don’t age as well as we do,” Kasserine said sadly. “And I didn’t have the money to take care of them properly.”
“I’ll have them repaired when we get them in my library. If you want, I can keep them segregated so you know which yours are, in case you don’t want them to be generally available.”
“I think that, in the beginning at least, might be for the best,” she said thoughtfully. “Several volumes are about subjects that children probably shouldn’t be exploring without supervision. And many of them are, as I said, old.”
“I can have them copied and the new copies will be ones that people use for research,” Iain said.
“I would appreciate that. I didn’t have any books when I was banned and carefully accumulated them over the years of my exile. These were my only friends before Ava. I would like to keep them safe.” She gave him an amused look. “You love books too.”
“I do,” Iain refilled his tea and refreshed Ava’s and Kasserine’s cups without asking. “Later, if you want, we could return here and start collecting books for your library.”
“I think that would be wonderful,” Kasserine admitted. “There are many books from my years in court that I think are essential, but I couldn’t afford them. Sadly, some of them are unique to the court.”
“I may have to learn a particular bit of magic from Kerrik for you,” Iain replied. “He has a technique that can record the contents of a book in seconds and create a copy of what it has recorded later so we might sneak into the Royal library and copy the entire thing. I can already copy nomagical books, but Kerrik’s version lets me copy anything in print, with any magic involved also being copied and reproduced.”
She looked surprised and then smiled warmly. “I would rather that than you steal it.” The doorbell rang and she frowned and turned to Iain. “What do you see?”
He was amused at how quickly she’d gotten used to using his perception. “I see a Sun elf with a wagon and a crate in the back of the wagon,” Iain said as he rose to his feet. He frowned. “Inside the crate is the body of a Moon elf curled into a ball. Did someone order a corpse?”
Kasserine rang the bell to let the elf outside know he’d been acknowledged. “What could this be about?”
“I’m not sure. I suppose Kerrik could have sent it for me, but something isn’t right.”
Kasserine motioned for him to join her as she headed for the front door. “Why would Kerrik send you a body?”
“I’m a necromancer and I have to raise a couple of corpses once a month or things can go a little strange. But since I put them right back to sleep and don’t leave any sign that anything has happened, I was just going to visit a crypt if I had to do it here. Besides, sending me a body is kind of risky. What happens if the crate gets opened by the wrong person?”
“Were you going to tell me that you were a necromancer,” Kasserine asked curiously as they entered the entranceway.
“I was. It just hadn’t come up yet. I’m not hiding now,” Iain pointed out. “Trying to make the pretty lady like me, remember? Just because she’s agreed to marry me doesn’t mean I have stopped caring about how she feels about me. I want you to like me even more now.”
She smiled. “And what is your final goal in that, Iain?” When Iain hesitated, she took his hand. “I have asked, I want an answer. I might even need it.”
Iain nodded. “I’m just worried I’ll frighten you.”
“I want the ultimate prize, Kasserine.”
“You mean children?”
“No. Children are important, but that isn’t what I’m talking about now. I want your heart.”
She looked confused. “I don’t understand.”
“I want you to love me.”
Kasserine gaped at him. “I, I,” she stammered.
“I’m sorry I scared you.”
She pulled her mouth closed. “You didn’t frighten me, Iain.”
“Kasserine, you can lie to me with your mouth, but your body tells the truth.” She frowned at him and he sighed. “Kerrik can hear heartbeats. I can’t, at least not yet, but I can smell the adrenaline your body just released on your breath. Adrenaline is released when your body decides it needs to fight or run.”
She slowly flushed red. “I don’t think I can love, Iain.”
“You love Ava. No, she’s not me and she’s not male, but she shows you can love.” He looked past her. “The delivery driver is getting ready to ring the bell again.”
Kasserine took his shoulder and stared into his eyes. “We will finish this discussion later, Iain.”
“That’s up to you,” he said quietly. “Considering how much it bothers you, I probably won’t bring it up again.”
“We will finish this later,” she said firmly and turned to the door.
The driver looked relieved when the door opened. “Kasserine of Evermeet,” he asked, looking at her curiously.
“I am her,” Kasserine said cautiously.
“I have a delivery for you,” he motioned towards the crate. He looked past her at Iain. “I’ll need your help to unload it.”
Kasserine looked back at Iain when he grunted. “Iain strong. Iain carry,” he muttered as he walked past her. She burst out in giggles, which continued when he glanced back at her and grunted again.
Iain grabbed the crate and heaved it up. “If you don’t mind, I can carry this without you.”
“I’ve carried enough crates to want to carry one I don’t have to,” the elf said with a grin.
Iain looked at Kasserine. “My pouch, coins.” His voice was suddenly flat, and he didn’t look happy. “Take it and pay the nice man. I’m taking this around back. Do you remember the outfit you wore when we last saw the Swift Arrows?” She blinked and nodded. “Get it before you come to inspect your delivery. Ava too.”
Kasserine took Iain’s pouch from his belt and gave the driver a silver. He blinked and grinned, expecting copper. “Thank you, milady.” She nodded absently to him and headed inside as the driver happily drove off.
When Kassering and Ava, wearing their weapons and armor, raced outside, Iain was standing a handful of meters away from the crate. Standing between him and the crate and facing it were Eirian, Aurum, Beryl, Sapphire and Emerald. Between him and the Dragonesses stood Liadan and Matilda.
As she and Ava approached, she could hear Eirian. “My lord,” she said angrily, “as soon as you realized what you were holding you should have thrown the crate far from you and released us that instant!”
“By then,” Iain said calmly, “I was already holding the crate. If it wanted me dead, it would have killed me before I could have tossed the crate away.” He glanced at Ava and Kasserine. “That’s close enough, ladies.” His eyes met Kasserine’s and she realized he was worried about them. “That corpse I told you about? It’s not a corpse. It’s a lich.” He gritted his teeth. “Unfortunately I didn’t realize what it was until I was already holding it against my heart.” He raised his voice. “You can stop pretending to be dead now and come out.”
“I feel the presence of your minions, necromancer,” a female voice sounded from inside the crate. “They are more than a match for me. Will you grant me safe passage?”
“No,” Eirian snarled.
Iain glanced at her. “Eirian, I command here. Lich in the crate, you may come out. If you even seem to be the least bit threatening, my servants will take you down instantly.”
“I am opening the crate,” the voice called. Nails groaned loudly and the top of the crate bulged from within as the lich inside put her hands on the top and slowly shoved. With a slow shriek, the nails pulled free and the lid slid off to the side to thump to the ground. At the same glacial pace, she stood and turned to face Iain. “I thank you for your honesty.”
She was fully fleshed, and, like some of his undead harem, wearing clothes in good repair. Her black hair was in a thick braid that dangled to the backs of her knees and her gold specked green eyes were bright and clear as she regarded him warily. Iain’s eyes narrowed as he examined her closely. He frowned. “Are you Selsharra?”
Kasserine gasped as the lich cocked her head. “I do not know you, necromancer. How is it that you know me?”
“Because other than the long hair and the eyes, you’re almost the spitting image of Ava.”
“Who is Ava?”
“That’s her over there, behind Kasserine,” Iain said. “She’s Kasserine’s daughter. Now, yes or no, are you Selsharra?”
“I am. Yes.”
Iain glanced at Kasserine. “What does your ring say?”
“It says she’s telling the truth.”
Selsharra smiled slowly. “Cunning, necromancer. Who are you?”
“I am Iain. Just a moment, please. Eirian.”
The silver Dragoness hadn’t stopped watching Selsharra. “My lord,” she said in a voice still heavy with anger.
“She’s a baelnorn and part of Kasserine’s family.”
“That does not make her any less of a threat, my lord.”
“No, but it lowers the potential that she is a threat to me.”
“Does it, my lord? You are not of the bloodline she protects.”
“No, but I’m going to add to it. She might want to at least not kill me because of that.”
Selsharra frowned. “What does that mean?”
Kasserine stepped forward. “Iain is betrothed to me and Ava, Selsharra. Do you remember me?”
Selsharra nodded. “I knew you from your blood the instant I saw you. You are the Princess Kasserine.” She sighed loudly. “You should have been queen after the other line failed. If I had known you lived, I would have seen to that, but it is too late now.” She held up a roll of vellum. “I received this only yesterday, which told me that you were alive and what city you lived in. Not knowing where in the city you were, I arranged to have myself shipped to you after I journeyed here to Drelagara.”
Kasserine chuckled. “I am glad you didn’t put me on the throne. Ava and I wouldn’t have met Iain and doubt I would have seen my son again.”
Iain raised his arm. “Eirian, I have never found fault with how you interpret my orders. Do not make me find fault now.”
Emerald laughed. “If you fire her, my lord, I would always be obedient to you.”
Eirian snarled loudly. “We obey, my lord. Return to him.” The other liches dissolved into smoke and flowed onto him, with exception of Liadan, who didn’t turn to smoke but just poured onto his arm. Eirian turned and bowed to Iain. “Forgive me, my lord.”
“I have not yet found fault, Eirian,” Iain said gently. “There is no offense that needs forgiveness. Now rejoin me.”
“Thank you, my lord,” she flowed onto his arm.
Iain sighed. “Sorry about that, ladies. Sometimes they’re a bit overprotective.”
“How is it that you allow your minions such freedom,” Selsharra asked.
“They are not minions. They are part of my undead harem and I let them be as alive and free as they can be,” Iain said, “as long as it doesn’t make them a menace to the things around them.” He rubbed his eyes. “Sorry. Still grumpy.” He bowed. “I am pleased to meet you, Selsharra. I apologize for the rudeness of your arrival here, but I’ve never met a baelnorn before and it didn’t occur to me that you might be family, so I was acting to protect Ava and Kasserine. Did Kerrik send you that scroll?”
“It is unsigned,” Selsharra said. “Does Kerrik yet live?”
“He does. Unfortunately, his blood is no longer that of the line you protect.” He looked at Kasserine. “Look, if you want to get reacquainted with your great grandmother and introduce her to Ava, I can just go work on dinner so you can be alone.”
Kasserine held out her hand. “Come here, Iain.” He came over and she took his hand, gripping it tightly. “Selsharra, this is Iain and he is betrothed to both Ava and to me. If things go as we hope, he will be our husband and the father of our children. Yes, he is a necromancer and commands powerful undead. But are they truly any worse than the assassins the king or queen commands? They obey him. I accept him as he is and I therefore accept the necessity of their existence for they protect him, and at his order, us.”
“I protect our line,” Selsharra said. “I do not protect those that breed with our line.”
“I would like you to protect him too,” Kasserine said.
“I will not.”
Iain squeezed her hand as she started to reply. “It’s all right,” he said quietly. “I have my guardians. I can understand her reasoning. It’s why she was granted undeath. She just has to accept that I’m going to help her protect you and so is the rest of my clan. And since she’s protecting you, I will protect her too.”
“I can protect them,” Selsharra snapped.
Iain grumbled softly for a second. “Excuse me for a moment, Ava and Kasserine. I need to step over here so my undead can protect me from Selsharra after I make her furious with me by pointing something obvious out.”
Kasserine gripped his hand harder. “If it is to remind her that she has done such an outstanding job of protecting her line,” she said loudly, “that Ava and I are all that is left, then let me do it for you.”
Iain chuckled. “I was also going to note that she didn’t even know you were alive.”
“That is also true,” Kasserine called. “So far as you were aware, your mission had already failed. What have you been doing for all of these centuries, great grandmother, while we have been struggling to survive?”
Selsharra smiled at her. “I knew that someone of my line was still alive and I have been fruitlessly searching for you since the throne passed to another line. I am sorry for my failure. I should have been able to find you but I could not.”
“It might have been something Kerrik did to protect you,” Iain said quietly. “The new king and queen, if they knew you were alive, might have tried to find you to remove any chance you could take the throne away from them. The best way to keep that from happening is if you were conveniently dead, and likely with an accident of some kind. After all, they suddenly had a bunch of assassins they had to find work for. All Kerrik had to do was keep them from being able to do so by making you unable to be found and might have inadvertently kept Selsharra from locating you too.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Ava said, taking Iain’s other hand. “We are together now. Iain will stop trying to be mean to you, you will stop trying to be mean to Iain and you can meet me and give me many presents.”
Selsharra laughed. “She reminds me of your mother, Kasserine. Ever the peacemaker.”
Ava smiled. “I will try to make peace with friends. But my enemies will get my sword.”
Selsharra laughed again. “I like her.” She looked at Iain. “Shall we have peace, necromancer?”
“We can, but you need to use my name.”
“Then you will not seek to control me?”
Iain looked surprised. “I never thought of doing that. You’re family and you’re not an evil baelnorn. The fact that you’re protective of my future wives is great. It would be even better if you would help protect the rest of my family, but I’ll take what I can get.”
“Then there will be peace between us,” Selsharra said. “As for gifts,” she looked at Kasserine and Ava, “do you think I would stand by and allow someone who was not of our blood take our heritage from us? I have gathered up and guarded all of our treasures since the last of my line that I knew of passed from this life. It is now yours. We just have to retrieve it.”
Iain chuckled coldly. “I bet the new king and queen didn’t like you doing that.”
Selsharra grinned. “They did not. Their descendants still send the odd force to try and destroy me to recover what they feel should be theirs.”
Iain looked at Kasserine. “You’d probably be able to hear their screams of frustration when they discover she’s disappeared with all of her treasure.”
Kasserine looked confused. “They will?”
“She’s your family. She’s welcome to come with us and get to see her family grow. And since the assassins can’t get to us, so much the better. And if they somehow do, I’ll do to them what I did to Jenova.”
“What did you do to this Jenova,” Ava asked.
“I cut off her head, packed it in salt and sent it to the people she was important to with a letter telling them not to trouble me again. And when they ignored me, I infiltrated them and brought down their government before changing it into something that wouldn’t bother my family anymore.”
Selsharra laughed again. “I like him. He thinks like a king.”
“He is the leader of his clan,” Ava said.
“And as the leader of my clan, I invite Selsharra to join Grey clan, just as Kasserine and Ava have done.”
The baelnorn frowned. “I am undead. What benefit do I get from becoming clan?”
“You will get unrestricted access to these two ladies,” Iain replied. “As an outlander you would not and my house’s defenses should be able to keep you out of it. If they can’t, I will improve them until they can. It’s nothing personal but we have enemies who would be much happier about their lot in life if we were dead and so I try to keep anyone who isn’t clan out of my home unless they are invited.”
“What benefit do you get from me becoming clan?”
“You’re a powerful being. I realize that you only want to protect Ava, Kasserine and their children, so you’d train to help protect them better. But what I, as clan leader, would really hope to get from you is your knowledge. In your head and in your libraries are spells and things that we would love to have you teach us. On top of that, you have all of the history and lore that you know, and I would love to see that written down so we can help preserve it.”
“What use do you have for the history and knowledge of the elves of Evermeet?”
“These ladies are clan and they and their children might want to study that so that someday they can use the knowledge of where they came from to help them work with the rest of us to shape where we are going. I know I want to study it too.”
Selsharra eyed him curiously. “Your words are intriguing. You said that they are leaving Evermeet. Where are they going?”
“They are going with me and Kerrik to a different world completely, where my family lives. We will probably establish a holding here on Toril, but we are not elves and so we will not be allowed to remain on Evermeet. Also, at my home, neither Kasserine nor Ava will be demeaned as they have been by their own people. That brings me to a question. Why did you allow Kasserine to be treated as she was, both by family and clan?”
“I protect my lineage,” Selsharra said. “I decided long ago that I would not seek to rule over it or control it in any way. Their decisions are their own, even if it leads to their doom. I did council the queen not to banish her aunt, but my advice was ignored.”
Iain shook his head and looked at Kasserine. “I’m glad I got to meet the smart side of your family.” He shrugged. “I guess that isn’t a fair evaluation since your sister’s descendants were in a bit of a quandary when they realized that they would still die of old age when you refused to, you ungrateful woman. That, of course, meant you were always around to take the throne if they did something really stupid.”
“Considering I had to publicly renounce all future claims to the throne before I could become a baelnorn,” Selsharra said, “it is likely that your reasoning is accurate.”
“Well they’re all dead now, so it doesn’t matter,” Iain said. “And your days of eking out a living are over. You and Ava both will be clan and are welcome to all we have.” He looked at Ava. “As long as it fits in your room.”
Ava giggled. “I can’t keep things under your bed anymore?”
“You could, but I’m pretty sure that someone would toss it out eventually.” He sighed. “You said you hold the legacy of Kasserine and Ava. How big is this legacy?”
“It is the accumulation of thousands of years of books, magic and treasure,” Selsharra said. “I do not understand your question of it size.”
“The combined volume of all of this stuff,” Iain said. “Is it larger than this house?”
“Yes. The libraries alone would not fit inside this home.”
“I don’t suppose you can shrink it down so it fits in a pocket or magical storage device?”
“Would you be willing to accept help moving this collection?”
Selsharra nodded. “As long as I can supervise the move, yes.”
“Let’s see if we can go the easy route,” Iain muttered as he reached out with his twee. Kerrik, do you have a moment?
His response was immediate and amused. Yes. The vampire tried to seduce me to keep her freedom but she’s been bound for delivery. What is it?
Thank you for sending the message to Selsharra. She arrived and is getting to know her missing relatives. I have asked her to come with us to One and it turns out that when your aunt’s line died out, she gathered up the family’s belongings and has been keeping their legacy safe ever since. Could you move them to One or do I need to get Grey to do it?
Iain felt Kerrik’s surprise. She kept Mother’s legacy safe? I guess she did something useful after all. If I move this legacy, can I get access to the books?
“Selsharra,” Iain said, “I’m negotiating with Kerrik to move your collection. If he does, can he copy the books from the library that can be copied for his collection?”
“He will not damage the books?”
“He has magic that can copy them without him ever having to touch any of them. They will not be damaged.”
“The library is many thousands of books. I have continued to add to it over the years.” She smiled slightly. “I enjoy reading.”
“Are we talking less than ten thousand books or more?”
“I would estimate at least fifty thousand books are in the library.”
“I see. And can Kerrik copy them?”
“For this, he can. After all, once he was of the line I protected.”
“Thank you.” Iain reached out again. Selsharra says that you can copy the books that can be copied. There are over fifty thousand books in her collection, so you will still owe me after the move is complete, even with the other things that need moved. And I want your copying books spell so I can copy magical tomes too.
He heard Kerrik’s laugh in his head. Well bargained, my soon to be former student. I accept your terms. I will move everything that Selsharra tells me is my family’s and anything else she can steal and I will pay the remainder of my debt by granting you access to copy parts of my library in return equal to hers.
“That’s interesting,” Iain said.
“What,” Kasserine asked as she squeezed his hand.
“Kerrik has agreed to move Selsharra’s legacy, but his terminology was very interesting. He said that he would move everything that Selsharra tells him is your family’s and anything else she can steal.”
“What does that mean,” Ava asked.
“It means that if there are things that Selsharra knows of somewhere that belong to you, but she wasn’t able to recover, Kerrik might get them for her. And if she somehow acquires other things she wants him to bring, he will.”
Selsharra smiled slowly. “That is very interesting. Can he get these things that I point out are really ours?”
“He almost certainly can,” Iain said. “Just please don’t tell him the whole island belongs to Kasserine. I suppose we could put it out in the Gulf of Mexico or somewhere warm out in the Atlantic Ocean, but what do we do with the elves who aren’t family who live on it?”
Selsharra nodded with a grin. “I will remember that. Anything else?”
“You just met these two ladies. It would probably be best if you didn’t steal anything that would seriously piss them off.” He raised a finger. “Oh, her former clan kept Kasserine’s spell books when she was banished. Since there’s probably no way to tell which books in their library were hers then or even if they survived, claim all of their spellbooks and their entire library so we can be sure to get the knowledge back.” He looked at Kasserine. “Are you willing to let her do this?”
She looked into his eyes and her voice was soft. “Would it trouble you if I did?”
“No. I want you to be happy.”
She looked at Ava, who smiled. “You can finally punish them for what they did to you, Mother. Do not let this chance escape.”
Kasserine nodded. “Selsharra, I want my spells if they can be found but take everything that’s magical that they own if you wish.”
Selsharra grinned. “If I had ever doubted that you were mine, I would not doubt anymore.” She looked at Iain. “They have joined your clan. What is its name?”
“We are Grey.”
“I like your views of justice and revenge. I will join your clan too.”
We would hunt with her, my lord, Eirian said to him from where she rested on his skin.
“Selsharra, do you require any assistance with what you’re going to do?”
She shook her head. “You cannot help me.”
“What about some of my dead harem? Eirian has offered to hunt with you.”
Selsharra looked surprised. “Not long ago they were ready to tear me to pieces.”
Silver smoke came from under Iain’s shirt and became Eirian. “I never intended to destroy you. You are too valuable. I would have instead had my lord bind you to him so that you serve him forever and could never harm him. He has allowed you to remain free, which I accept because you are now clan. I offer our aid because you are now clan. We are clan and therefore I offer our help because clan is paramount, and we help each other when we must.”
Selsharra looked at Iain. “You could bind me?”
“I haven’t tried it on a baelnorn, so I don’t know. Would you like their help?”
Her eyes lingered on Eirian. “Yes, I would.”
“My lord, what are the rules of engagement?”
“Don’t kill anyone Selsharra says not to.”
Eirian turned her head to grin at him. “My lord, what if we kill them before she can tell us not to?”
“Then she’d better get faster at telling you first.”
Eirian laughed. “Yes, my lord. Skye, Liadan and Sorrel will remain with our lord. The rest are with me.” Smoke poured from Iain’s body to become the remaining eighteen members of his dead harem. “We hunt.” They became smoke again and merged onto Eirian’s body. “Now you can teleport me and take us all,” she told Selsharra.
“Excellent,” the baelnorn said. She grabbed Eirian’s wrist, muttered an incantation and they vanished.
I want to thank you three for remaining with me, Iain said to Skye, Liadan and Sorrel.
You are welcome, my lord, Skye replied. I am third and therefore it is my place to remain. Liadan does not believe in restraint and lusts too much for the kill while Sorrel is reluctant to kill if she can avoid it. But both are among the most diligent at guarding you and so they are valuable here.
“You don’t smell like smoke,” Ava had pulled his hand up and was sniffing it.
“It’s not real smoke,” Iain replied. “It’s probably closer to a metaphysical ectoplasm than anything else.”
“They frighten me,” Kasserine said quietly. “I am glad they are under your control.”
“I keep them that way because they frighten me too sometimes,” Iain replied. “I can’t release them because they would terrorize the world. All I can do is keep them close because I don’t want to destroy them. They’ve saved my life before.” He let go of both women’s hands. “I believe we were taking tea and Ava was trying to figure out how she could get my cookies.”
“You haven’t eaten any of them,” she said accusingly. “Don’t you like them?”
Iain shook his head. “Should I make fresh tea,” he asked Kasserine.
She smiled impishly. “Please. May I have your cookies?”
“Remember this lesson. Sometimes it is easier to ask for something than scheme to take it for yourself.” She smirked at her daughter and led them inside.
“Be careful,” Kasserine said to Iain. She kissed him on the cheek.
“I will,” Iain said. “And I should only be gone an hour.”
Ava grabbed his hands and leaned forward to whisper in his ear. “Don’t you dare disappear. You’ve given Mother hope. Me too.”
“I’ll be careful,” he said.
“Good.” She kissed his other cheek.
Iain smiled at them and stepped into the closest shadow in the library, which rose up to swallow him. He exited on a hilltop overlooking a nice lake. It was pretty, but the air was acrid and cold and something in it made him want to cough. He resisted the impulse so as not to draw predators. The atmosphere has a higher than comfortable amount of NH3, his twee told him. Do not tarry as it will begin to burn your lungs.
Iain stepped and was in his lab on the Theodora. “Hi.”
She appeared along with Daya. “Welcome back, Iain. You’ve returned at the appropriate time but you’re alone. Is there a problem?”
“Yes, but not with the women, although I’ve recruited another into the clan. Her name is Selsharra and she’s a baelnorn.” Iain sent the information on the baelnorn to both women.
Daya frowned. “A free willed lich might be a security threat even if she’s related to Kasserine and her daughter.”
“Her only interest is in keeping the line of Kasserine and Ava alive. We got along, and I don’t think she’ll be a problem but feel free to keep an eye on her.”
Daya grinned. “That’s you accepting that you can’t stop me from doing so.”
“I do what I can. Theodora, I’m sending you some volumetric requirements. After I leave Kerrik and I will be returning with the accumulated treasures of Kasserine’s line. We’ll need a space that big for the preliminary storage before we start segregating it out. Appended you’ll find a rough inventory.”
“The current library isn’t big enough,” Theodora said. “I’ll start adding on.”
“Build a new chamber to house these books and another for the magic and treasure. Keeping them separate will make Selsharra happier and it doesn’t mean we can’t access them. Also look all of them over while you’re scanning them and do whatever repairs need done.” He frowned. “And Kasserine’s private library will be arriving later when she moves here. Make plans to keep that separate from everything else. I think she’ll want to go back from time to time to add to it.”
“Will the clan be going there to establish a base?”
“That’s a distinct possibility. There are a lot of things there that we could pinch or even buy for use or sale here.”
Theodora nodded. “Daya and I will review your memories of the maps of the Forgotten Realms to locate a secure place to build where we won’t be disturbed for a while.”
“I’ll see if I can get some current maps when I return,” Iain said. “It’ll be thousands of years there before the Realms as my maps show it comes into being.”
“Then we will have to conduct orbital surveys when we get there,” Daya said. “We will want accurate maps and reconnaissance of the architectural styles in use.”
“I guess we will. I’ll ask Kerrik for some maps too.” He dug into his pouch. “And I have a couple of samples for you.” He dropped a small silver bar of metal and another of a greenish metal on his desk. “The silver one is mithril and the other is adamantine. See what you can learn from it.”
“And if I can make more of it, right?”
“Of course.” He rolled his shoulders slowly. “You are instructed to build some hyperspace capable scouts crewed by nonsentient AIs. Send them to give us a first look at the ten best neutron stars on your list. Pretending we won’t need planet killers again won’t make us not need them again, so we’d better have them when we do need them.”
“Does this mean I might get my present,” Daya asked curiously.
“The destruction of the world ship is on the list of possible targets. However, exterminating the Magog entirely would require killing a lot of slaves and breeding captives on Magog held worlds too, so I’m not sure of the feasibility of that step. For now, I am authorizing the scouts”
Theodora nodded. “Hypothetically speaking, what if I could tell you that there were fifty of them, they left over a year ago and nineteen of them have returned and that I might already have the results of their surveys? The others aren’t late, they just had farther to travel and won’t return for a little while longer.”
Iain wasn’t surprised. “Which one is best for our needs?”
“There is one in Ursa Minor that’s six hundred light years away that is almost perfect except it’s isolated above the galactic ecliptic so we’d have to ferry all of the building supplies there.”
“Start scouting the closest systems to it and see if you can locate the supplies we’ll need. In fact, scout the closest systems to the best six of all of the choices you have results for. A habitable planet would awesome, but we can build a habitat if we need to. Also, I’m uploading a shopping list of items I want before I go back.”
“I have the list,” Theodora said. “I could make the items instead of giving you the ingredients.”
“Yes, you could.” Iain flashed a grin. “But I’m courting two ladies and it makes a much better impression to make the food I intend to gift them with instead of just arriving with it.” His grin reappeared. “And there is little better than fresh from the oven cookies or, in this case, fresh from the stovetop.”
“True.” Theodora was grinning too. “I’ve seen the children swarming around you like a pack of hungry wolves while you’re trying to get the cookies off the tray and onto the cooling rack. I’ll have your list ready to go in a Dikon in fifteen minutes.”
“Iain, I want to thank you for letting me join your family,” Daya said quietly. “The other Iain’s life wasn’t as hectic as yours, but it also wasn’t as full of children, love and affection. I am glad I can experience this with you.”
Iain smiled at her. “Mi casa es su casa.” He frowned for a second. “And that’s not really true. You don’t have to feel at home. You are a Grey and you are one of us. This is your home, now and forever.”
Daya gave him a pleased smile. “You have no idea how wonderful hearing you say that makes me feel.”
“I’ll try to keep you feeling that way,” Iain replied. He sat down in his chair. “It’s hard to reconcile I’ve only been gone a few hours. It’s been a couple of weeks for me. I have to get back into the mindset though, since this is going to become a regular thing. Well, it’s going to become a regular thing for me.”
Theodora’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “It is?”
“I’m not trying to keep something from you,” he replied. “Kasserine and Ava will need a teacher and the only person we can trust not to mess with them is Kerrik. But he can’t have them and me as students because I’m more advanced and someone will get frustrated. So he’s going to release me as his student and I’m going to back to Nightraven, who is likely to keep me for years at a stretch.”
“But you’ll make sure you’re gone only minutes here,” Theodora said.
“Yes. I will not miss out on my children and the people that I love.”
“How do we keep you safe while you’re there,” Daya asked.
“You have to accept that there will be times, like at Kasserine’s house, that you can’t guard me,” Iain replied. “You will also have to accept that I won’t go out of my way to place myself in danger, but that I cannot always avoid it, especially considering some of my lessons. Nightraven has never had a student die on her permanently and you’ll have to trust that I’ll come back. Everyone else, including Theodora, has had to learn this lesson.”
Daya blinked. “You said permanently. What does that mean?”
“Theodora has already resuscitated people here that would have been dead in most other places and times. That includes me after I brought Kerrik back to his full power. Nightraven can do the same and, one day, I will be able to do that too. And Siobhan is pretty close to being able to do that as well.”
“I still don’t like it.”
“Daya, do you think I do? We are talking about me taking enough damage that I have be resuscitated. I’d rather avoid the situation entirely and usually try really hard to do just that. But it’s not always going to be possible, and sometimes I’m going to get hurt, even with all of the safeguards we have in place to prevent that.” He leaned back and stretched. “How is the work on the Ouroboros progressing?”
“Much faster than anticipated after you authorized us to use all of the extra manufacturing capability Theodora set up to rescue me. It is making my hull growth rate increase to almost eight times the initial production rate. It should be completed in six months and fully outfitted for war trials in nine.”
“Good. Then we can switch to my other project before next year.”
“I’ve already allocated resources to Oxbow and will ramp up production as more facilities come on line,” Theodora said. “When the ferals swarm the world we will be ready for rebuilding after the leagues die.”
“What happens if they don’t get hurt badly enough,” Daya asked.
“Then we’ll give them a push into the abyss,” Iain said grimly. “As long as the leagues exist as they are, they will want to turn my children and my clanswomen into slaves. So the leagues have to go. And we aren’t going to destroy them by showing them how wonderful we are and waiting for them to get a clue and start emulating us. That would take too long and not all of them are smart enough to realize how awesome we happen to be. We’re going to have to kill them if the ferals don’t.”
“So we wait?”
Iain nodded. “We wait for nature to take its course. Historically many of the leagues only survived by pulling back until they could concentrate enough forces to stop the ferals, sacrificing the rest of the country as needed. For most of them, they had to contract until they almost ran out of land. That’s why the world’s population where we came from was still so low. All they could do was stop the feral onslaught and wait until the ferals turned on each other and the situation stabilized when they died down to a more constant population level. Only then did the leagues begin to carry the fight to them and so cautiously expand. Even three hundred years later the cities were just shadows of what they had originally been. The leagues finally had some useful weapons and gear with which to fight the ferals, but they didn’t have the hands to manufacture enough of the equipment or the hands carry what they could make to the battle. Because of you two ladies, we will have both. And if we have to, we will use it on the leagues as well as the feral pokegirls.”
Daya gave him a curious look. “What about Japan?”
“I’ll put a bug in Kerrik’s ear about having the Emperor make a decree letting pokegirls be free there.” He smiled. “If necessary I’ll have Ava bring it up. Honestly, as long as aware pokegirls are just treated equally with the other humans, I don’t care what kind of government they have. I don’t really care about the government the leagues have as long they stop trying to enslave pokegirls. If they free their girls, I’ll let them be too. In the short run what form of government they have isn’t important and in the long run it won’t make a bit of difference.”
A drone floated through the tunnel entrance and deposited a Dikon on Iain’s desk. “Here are the items you asked for,” Theodora said.
Iain picked it up and shook it experimentally. “Did you take the liberty of adding things to it that you think I might want but didn’t have on the list?”
Theodora looked innocently at him. “It is possible that other items might have fallen into the storage unit while I was filling it with your shopping list.”
Iain didn’t smile. “Somethings these things happen?”
Theodora eyed him warily. “You don’t sound happy. You’re not upset at me, are you?”
“I haven’t seen what you added yet. If I don’t like it, I’ll come back and rip you a new asshole, and for a while you’ll be forbidden to do things like this for me.” He glanced at the other hologram in the room. “And just to be safe I’ll forbid Daya at the same time so you can’t ask her to do the things for me that you would or so she wouldn’t decide to do them on her own.”
“I don’t think that would be fair to me,” Daya said.
“This isn’t about fair. This is about me asking for a couple of hundred coins and getting a ton of silver and gold along with another ton of almost priceless trade goods which would have every thief in Drelagara hunting my ass if word about it got out as well as ruining my attempt at running under the radar by bringing me to the attention of the government of Evermeet, who would be upset that they didn’t have my treasure under their control. It also might have made me look like I was deliberately trying to be a dick to Kasserine and Ava if they’d decided I was flaunting what I had in their faces since they were nearly flat fucking broke.”
Theodora flushed scarlet in embarrassment and then sighed. “I’m sorry for what I did.”
“Fortunately for you it worked out relatively well. But next time I expect something closer to what I ask for. I realize you were only being helpful, and I do appreciate it. However,” his voice trailed off.
“If you’d needed more than what you’d asked for you’d have sent someone back for it or come yourself once you had a better idea of what their situation was like,” Theodora said.
“Right in one.” He held the Dikon up. “Do you want to take this away and adjust the contents before I open it?”
She shook her head. “I didn’t do that this time. What I did do was look at what you were asking for and make some additions along the same theme. You’ve also got some extra pots and items to make the cooking you want to do easier in a low technology system.”
“I did get the double boiler and the fondue pots, right?”
“I replaced the sterno canisters with a contact heater that will put out more consistent heat for three years straight, making it run for decades of normal use, but yes. It’s waterproof and built into the bottom of the fondue pot for even heating.”
Iain blinked. “Did you just design and make that?”
“I did.” She smirked. “Why?”
“Because I was going to start serving fondue on some of my dates with my ladies. That’ll make things much easier.”
“Some of them will like that,” Theodora said with a laugh. “Will there be wine with it?”
“Properly aged wines are hard to find, and Lorena’s friend’s wine is all right for a table wine but that’s about it,” Iain noted. “I’ll come up with something. Maybe I’ll go to Archer’s vineyard. He’s got some good wines. The only real problem I have there is Alice and her kids wanting to touch me. Although, in a few years Joyce will be producing some very good wines if she stays interested.”
Daya laughed. “She’ll stay interested if you stay interested.”
Iain shrugged. “Just between us girls I can’t deny the truth of that. But whether she’s interested because I’d like her to be or not, she’s very smart and she has a flair for making alcoholic beverages that a lot of people don’t, including me. I haven’t told her yet, but Lorena served some of our wine at a couple of small gatherings of lawmakers she likes, and the result of those was that I’ve been asked to enter some of our wine into next year’s wine festival in Austin.”
“Joyce is going to panic,” Theodora said quietly. “She’ll be terrified that if she’s eliminated you’ll look bad.”
“I know,” Iain replied just as somberly. “That’s why I haven’t told them yes and I haven’t said anything about this to Joyce. I’m trying to figure out if it’ll be good for her. I’m not worried about the reputation of the ranch or us as vintners. Most of those contests are rigged so that the winners are always locals that the judges have known for years. Besides, we aren’t going to even look at making wine on a commercial level for years, if ever. We’re already known for high quality Santa Gertrudis and for kattle as well as all the tech gadgets we dispense.”
Daya was watching him with shrewd eyes. “But you’re curious as to how well our wines would place, aren’t you?”
“I am,” Iain admitted. “I have a competitive streak too.”
“Then talk to Joyce about doing exactly that. Tell her you have no expectations of winning and this is just a lark to see how well our wines do. You might also tell her it’s to season her for potential contests later where you would want her to try and win. If she thinks it’s a battle for experience, she won’t be upset at losing if you’re happy about how she performed.”
“And framing it as a battle will also make her try her hardest to win,” Theodora noted.
“I am always willing to listen to people smarter than me when they have good ideas,” Iain said. “I’ll talk to her first and, if she wants to do this, she can contact the judges about entering so she’ll get the entire experience from beginning to end.”
“How do you think we might do,” Theodora asked.
“Lorena had some of the judges, who are also state representatives, attending at least one of these parties and they pestered her for days afterwards about where her new wines came from. She refused to tell them where she got it from and then called me to brag.”
“You said you’d been invited to submit to this festival,” Daya noted.
“Apparently one of the judges, a man named Rodrigo Lopez, had a clue and talked to Aaron, who showed him a bottle. Aaron mentioned it to me and Lopez buttonholed me while I was in Austin on business three weeks ago.” He frowned. “I mean last week.”
“Does Lorena know Aaron spoiled her fun,” Daya asked.
“She does. As soon as he figured out he might have screwed up, he told her. She thought it was hilarious that Lopez went to such extents to find out who made that wine.” Iain stood and stuck the Dikon in his pouch. “And I should be going.”
“I have put down a storage building for Kasserine’s belongings until we can move them into their rooms. As for the other things she’ll be bringing, we’ll figure out where they’ll go if she’s attached to them. And their rooms are ready for them now.”
“Good to hear but have a house ready in case they don’t want to live with us.”
“I do, but don’t tell them unless they insist.”
Iain smiled. “I won’t. I want them in the house with us too. It’ll be better in the long and short run to surround them with friendly family members rather than give them a way to avoid us. That’ll just stretch out them getting used to us.” He stretched slowly. “I don’t think I’ll return before I bring them here, but it’s going to be another week or two so I’ll set up another meeting at the,” he broke off and frowned. “Nomenclature update: Eleven is the universe we rescued Daya from, Twelve is the Toril that I’m bringing Ava and Kasserine here from and Thirteen is the empty Earth that we’re starting to colonize.”
Theodora smirked at him. “And?”
“And I’ll set up another rendezvous at the Irish compound on Thirteen in a few days subjective time, which will probably be in a few minutes for here.”
Daya chuckled. “Allision is eagerly waiting her turn after Ninhursag’s and April’s reports of the time they got to spend with you. As pokegirls, they were fairly detailed to make others jealous.”
“Great, now I’m bragging rights.” He snorted. “Yes, I know that’s been going on for years already. It’s just usually not this blatant.”
“It isn’t this blatant where you can hear it,” Theodora corrected him with a smile.
“I am going back to Evermeet now.”
“Be careful and I love you,” Theodora said.
“I love you too.”
“I look forward to the day you can say that to me,” Daya said wistfully. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“Patience, dear sister,” Theodora said soothingly. “Rome wasn’t built in a picosecond.”
“Daya.” She looked at Iain curiously. “When that day comes I will tell you proudly, but I will not lie to you about something that important. You deserve better than that and, from me, you will get it.”
“I thank you for your candor,” she said slowly. “I also noticed that you didn’t say if you come to love me. You said when.”
“You are smart and pretty, Daya. You can model the situation better than I can and make sure you don’t pull the stupid stunts Theodora sometimes does until after I love you, just like she did. But you are mine, now and forever, so either I love you or I release you and I have no plans to release you.”
She was watching him with an expression he didn’t recognize. “There are times, Iain Grey, when your ability to think seems to approach ours and that shouldn’t be possible for an organic mind.”
Iain shrugged. “I think that the word seems is important in what you said. But I’m not going to worry about it and neither should you.” He adjusted the hang of his cloak. “Now, ladies, I must take my leave of you. I bid you a good day and I will see you soon.” He smiled. “Especially from your timeline.” Then he stepped into a shadow and was gone.
Daya regarded the spot where Iain had stood for a few seconds before looking at Theodora. “He did not deny anything. Is this part of what you call his cheating?”
“I don’t know. Iain doesn’t reveal everything to anyone, not even me. Have you found anything about him distasteful?”
“I have not.”
“The focus on that and don’t worry about incidentals. Accept that Iain is Iain and love him as he is and cherish him as he changes and grows. Help me to nurture and protect him so that he can be with us forever.”
Daya nodded firmly. “That I can and will do. Back to work.” She vanished, followed a millisecond later by Theodora.
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
Dead Harem (22)
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 analog of Iain
Alabaster – Dragoness (white)
Onyx – Dragoness (black)
Lapis – Dragoness (blue)
Garnet – Dragoness (red)
Iolite – Dragoness (purple)
Malachite – Dragoness (green with white swirls)
Dabria – Dark Queen
Omisha – Demoness
Mother s & Children