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Heather appeared with Iain and let his hand go as she moved away and resumed her station as his guard. As second later Ganieda appeared with Kasserine and Ava, releasing their hands and stepping backwards to get out of the way. Iain barely had time to look around when a small saffron haired girl raced in his direction using enhanced speed. She skidded to a halt in front of him and stood patiently, staring up at him with big eyes.
Iain knelt and picked her up. She was as stiff as a board until his arms tightened around her. Then she gave a long sigh against his neck and went limp in his arms. “I missed you, Daddy,” she whispered against his neck.
Iain stood, cradling her against him. “I missed you too, Miriam. If I’d known I wasn’t going to be home last night I’d have warned you, but I didn’t get the chance to. Sometimes that’s what’s going to happen.” He turned to Kasserine and Ava. “This is Miriam. Miriam, this is Kasserine and Ava. Ava is the lady with the special eyes.”
“Hello,” Miriam said.
“Hello,” Kasserine said to her. She smiled at Iain. “You were obviously missed by her,” she observed quietly. “It is a good sign for your fitness as a father.”
“She’s very lucky,” Ava said with an envious look in her eyes. Her gaze shifted to him. “I am glad that you are my betrothed instead of my father, but,” she trailed off wistfully.
He nodded. “I lost my father when I was a child, but I had one for a little while. Our children will all have me as their father.”
Ava blinked and blushed slightly. “Good,” she said.
“Now I want you to meet Lucifer.” He headed towards where Lucifer and the rest of the children waited.
Lucifer watched them as they walked up to her and rose as they stopped. “Good afternoon, Kasserine and Ava. I am Lucifer.” Her eyes twinkled as she smiled. “Should we shake hands, bow or exchange kisses?”
Ava grinned. “Ninhursag says we kiss.” She stepped forward and kissed Lucifer gently on the lips. “I am Ava and I greet you, my future sister.”
Lucifer nodded. “I greet you, Ava, but I hope that after this you won’t expect all of our meetings to be so formal.”
“I won’t,” Ava said happily. “Mother insists I be formal for the first time with everyone here, but after that we can just be family and friends together.”
“Your mother is a wise woman,” Lucifer replied. She turned to Kasserine. “I am Lucifer and I welcome you into your new family, our family.”
“Thank you.” Kasserine gave her a quick kiss on the lips. “It’s all a bit overwhelming.”
Lucifer smiled. “Please, sit. There are most of the children here right now, but we’ll do the introductions later. As for finding this place being overwhelming, I must find myself in agreement with you. I had a better idea of what joining Iain’s family would be like than you did but I still didn’t expect the warmth of the reception I received.”
Once everyone had settled down, Lucifer watched indulgently as Haley appeared in front of Iain. “Daddy?” He pulled her into his lap and she gave him a happy smile. “Thank you.”
Ava was watching the girls and her eyes swept the other children. “There are so many identical ones here. Is that normal?”
Lucifer nodded. “Pokegirls have two reproductive phases in their lives, that being when they are pokegirls and, later, about halfway through our lifespan, when we become pokewomen. While pokegirls, we usually have litters of identical children, and they are always pokegirls like their mother. These pregnancies are parthenogenic in nature and so we don’t need a male to fertilize us to make us pregnant during the first half of our lives. Pokewomen do require a man’s sperm in order to become pregnant and they tend to have single births for the rest of their lives. We never enter the stage that humans call menopause and are fertile until we die. Most of the members of the harem are pokegirls.”
“Iain mentioned that is why the wild ones, which I’ve learned are called ferals,” Kasserine noted, “are becoming a major problem as they reproduce.”
Lucifer nodded. “They are endemic to all the continents, most of the islands and any body of water we have checked.” She smiled again. “But enough shop talk. Iain, Seraphina has something she wants to tell you.”
“Yes, Daddy,” Seraphina said as she sat down next to him. “I promised Miriam and Haley that you would come back,” she said quietly. “I know it wasn’t my place to make promises for you, and if you want to punish me, I understand.”
“I will always do my best to return to my ladies,” Iain said back to her. “And this time I’ll overlook you trying to obligate me to something.” He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. “This time.”
“I told you that he would forgive you in this,” Lucifer said to Seraphina. “Just don’t do it again.”
Seraphina leaned against him. “I love you, Daddy.”
“I love you too.” He looked at Lucifer. “Anyone else I need to chastise or comfort? If not, I thought they could play chase the dragon.”
Lucifer made a show of considering his question as children excitedly shot to their feet. The children loved this game, but Iain didn’t offer to let them chase him often since it was rather disruptive. “I do not believe there is anyone else at the moment.” She looked at the children as Haley clambered out of his lap and he put Miriam down. “And you’ve got them all excited, so I suppose finger painting will have to wait.”
Iain nodded. “Catch me if you can,” he called as he shifted to his small dragon form and raced away.
Lucifer watched Ava and Kasserine watching him run off before reaching for a thermos. “I thought we would take tea and begin to get to know each other. Iain will be back in about ten minutes or so, which is about how long it will take for some of the youngest children to become winded from chasing him. At that point he’ll lead everyone back for drinks before they can become so tired they turn irritable.”
Kasserine nodded. “I believe that would be excellent.”
Iain sat down next to Kasserine and looked at her and Ava. “So, ladies,” he asked quietly, “how was your first day here?” It was evening, and dinner was over. There was no movie scheduled so people had slowly been scattering to do whatever they were inclined.
Ava looked questioningly at her mother, who smiled at Iain. “You warned us that we would be dropped into the maelstrom that is your family. I assured you that I understood what you were warning us about and,” she glanced at her daughter, “I was wrong.”
“I thought it was wonderful,” Ava said. “Even if I won’t be able to walk tomorrow.”
“You’ll be fine,” Iain reassured her. “Between our magic and your twee’s repair capabilities, you’ll be ready to go again tomorrow.”
“Really? I wish I’d had a twee when I was learning from Mother.”
Iain chuckled. “I’ll have enough trouble keeping my hands off of you for a year, Ava. I wouldn’t have wanted to meet you at any younger than you are now.”
She blinked and suddenly looked inordinately happy with herself. “Thank you. I can’t wait either.”
“You will,” Kasserine was smiling as she said it, but her tone was serious. “I enjoyed today as well, Iain. Your family is very open and friendly. It has been a very long time since I was welcomed anywhere as warmly as we have been today. It’s hard to believe it’s true, but I know it is and I’m overwhelmed by it.”
“I hope you two like it as much tomorrow after April gets through testing you to see where you need to be in our training program. You’ll also start learning about our technology and our magic so you can get up to speed on that.”
“I have been asked if I wish to join your instructors in magic,” Kasserine said. “I am willing to, but I didn’t know if you wanted my lessons to remain separate so you could focus on them.”
“Well, if you don’t mind, I think you’ll find that you’ve suddenly gotten many more students to teach, and Ava can be your aide if you’d like. There are several different schools of formal magic here and the goal is to cross train everyone we can in as much as they want to learn. Speaking of that, I understand that Selsharra will be joining us tomorrow.”
“That is good to hear but as far as the magic instruction goes, wouldn’t it be better to focus on one style at a time until everyone masters it?”
“You can take that up with Dominique and Kasumi, who have been setting up the classes. I’ll do whatever you ladies want. I just want to get better at formal magic so I can get better with everything else.”
“We’re going to learn English tomorrow,” Ava said. “I’ve been told it’s the primary language in Texas.”
“It is, but Ninhursag has suggested we learn a clan language that nobody else knows and I think they may be considering elven as one of the final candidates.”
“That is nice to know,” Kasserine said. “May I help to influence that decision?”
“Go right ahead. I will want you to join my general staff, if you’d be willing.”
Kasserine smiled. “Ninhursag has already invited me and I have already accepted. She also invited Ava, until I reminded her that my daughter is still a minor.”
“You’re her mother.”
“I am going to get tired of hearing people tell her that,” Ava grumbled.
“I am not,” Kasserine said. “Soon enough I will not be able to say that about you for you will be an adult almost before I take my next breath.”
“I will always be your daughter, Mother.”
“You will, but soon you will no longer be my child. You will understand when you have children of your own.” She turned to Iain. “What are your plans tomorrow?”
“I’ve been away for a month, for me at least, although a day has passed here. April and Sofia tested me to see where I’d been slacking off and I understand they’re planning to work to correct whatever deficiencies they discovered, starting tomorrow after breakfast. After lunch I’ve got my scheduled time with the Texas Rangers and then some errands to run. Then I’m helping with dinner.”
“You have become a constant in my life since I met you, Iain,” Kasserine said. “I will miss that. You did warn us that it wouldn’t be the same here, but nonetheless I miss it.
“I miss it too,” Iain replied. “I have some free time the day after tomorrow. What if we skipped lunch and went on a picnic instead? After we eat I can show you some of the interesting places around here.”
Kasserine smiled. “That would be nice. Can Ava come too?”
“Of course she can,” Iain grinned. “If you want her there, she’ll be there.”
“I have noticed that Kasumi, Ygerna and you all have guards,” Kasserine said. “Will I be required to have pokegirls as my guards too?”
“Do you want guards?”
“I was stripped of my guards when my sister had her second child and the possibility of my actually becoming the queen became very remote, so I have not had any in a very long time. I would no longer be used to the restrictions that they bring, but I thought it prudent to ask.”
“Ygerna has guards from when she was queen and then queen in exile. Kasumi’s pokegirls are actually her harem from when she was adventuring, and they guard her because it became part of their job when she was married to Shikarou. I guess they saw her as a princess. So for both of them, their guards are a holdover from their previous life. You understand they’re not a status symbol.”
“I remember how onerous their presence could be and I know any status they bring often isn’t worth the price that must be paid for such protection. I would not want any if I can avoid it.”
“You don’t have to have them.”
“And for that I am grateful,” Kasserine said. “But I understand that yours will accompany us on our picnic. Ava will have to learn to ignore their presence when they are on duty just as I once did.”
“I’m sure she’ll be a quick study.”
“I will,” Ava said.
A shadow approached them and resolved into April. “I am sorry to disturb you,” she said, “but it’s time to put the children to bed and Iain reads a bedtime story to each group of them in turn. Tonight it’s my girls and they won’t go to sleep until their father reads to them.”
“What did you do last night,” Iain asked.
“You get one night off between rotations,” April replied. “You took it last night, so you won’t get a break after you read to Zareen’s this time.”
“That works for them so it works for me.” He smiled at Kasserine and Ava. “If you will excuse me?”
“I’m still a minor,” Ava said. “When do you read to me?”
“Ava,” Kasserine said warningly. “He will read to your children. You’re too old for that now.” She looked at Iain. “But I do find myself wishing you could have been there to read to her.”
“I’ll bring a book along on the picnic.” He rose. “Good night, ladies.”
Ava popped to her feet and kissed him on the lips. “Good night, my betrothed.” She looked at Kasserine. “Now you.”
Kasserine shook her head but got up and kissed Iain. “Good night, Iain.”
“Good night.” He looked at April. “Lead on.”
She took his hand and they headed for the house. April didn’t speak until she was sure they were out of earshot. “I can see Ava is going to be a firecracker, isn’t she?”
Iain chuckled. “She already is. When I got back from being gone an hour, she took the opportunity to show me that she already knows how to kiss pretty well.”
She laughed. “Just remember that when they frustrate you too much, your devoted wife is here and willing to help her husband in his time of need.”
“Whatever did I do to deserve you?”
“I believe you went around the counter and woke me up when the bell didn’t.”
“You were a shameless hussy that night, showing me your nude body.” He grinned. “I’m glad you haven’t changed.”
April laughed again and dragged him inside.
“Someone has a sense of humor,” Iain noted as he read Mielikki’s t-shirt. “Clan Grey Security Proactive Forces? I hadn’t seen that shirt before.”
She smiled. “I like it too and it’s more accurate than not. We’re currently arranging events such that we are the guides of our fate for both the clan and our enemies.”
Iain checked her record with his twee before reaching for an EVA belt and handing it to her. “You got certified for EVA?”
“I did. I didn’t like being the obvious newbie and I found the vest as confining as the brassiere that Pandora tried to get me to wear.”
That was in interesting bit of information that Iain decided not to pursue. “Well, since I helped design the EVA certification course and I know it’s not easy, congratulations.”
Her smile faded. “I will agree that it wasn’t easy. Your course killed me three times and I had to retake the course twice before I passed.”
Dianthus gave her an amused look. “It killed me ten times and the death average is fourteen.”
Iain shrugged. “Now that you’ve graduated, I can tell you that it’s a Kobayashi Maru test. You cannot pass it without failing. You have to die at least three times before you can earn a passing grade.”
“It killed me eight times. Why did you make it so difficult,” Dominique asked as she fastened her belt into place.
“I read up on how to use the EVA system and did a bit of practicing on board before I took my first EVA,” Iain said quietly. “Then I managed to injure myself and spill my atmosphere out of the protective field. It doesn’t regenerate instantly, and I ended up losing an eye and a lot of lung tissue. It incapacitated me, and Theodora had to rescue me. After that, I made a command decision and she and I designed the current EVA course. Then I took it and died three times, but nobody who has passed the course has been seriously injured during an EVA.”
Dianthus grabbed his arm. “Why am I only hearing about this now?”
“Because Iain was going EVA long before you joined us,” Dominique said. “He makes so many fuckups we don’t normally dwell on his past ones.”
Iain shook his head. “I’m pretty sure that wasn’t complimentary.”
“That would be because it isn’t.” She looked at Iain. “Status check.”
“All systems are online and functioning properly,” he replied instantly. “Dianthus?”
“All systems are online and working like they should,” she said. “Mielikki?”
“I am all systems green,” she said with a smile. “Dominique?”
“All systems are green.” She looked at Iain. “Why am I here? I don’t even know what you have been doing out here.”
“You’re my magic girl and you get to learn exactly what we’re doing today. Also, I want to test something, and you are the person I want for it.”
“Because I’m hot?”
“You are, but that’s just a side benefit today. You’re the only person in the clan besides Ygerna who knows the spells I need cast and she isn’t coming near this project. And you’re my go to girl for magic.” He activated the force fields on the airlock and pumped it down to vacuum before opening the outer hatch. “Mielikki, you’ve got point.”
She nodded and headed outside. Iain had noticed that since Marguerite had joined the family, more and more women were switching to regularly wearing yoga pants. He just hadn’t realized the trend had made it to Mielikki. But that’s what she was wearing today, dark blue yoga pants that matched her t-shirt along with the heavy boots mandated for walking across the sharp rocks of Mars.
Dominique nudged him. It isn’t a half bad ass, is it? However, it would be better to pay attention to our surroundings instead of where she wants you looking.
Iain just shook his head and fell in behind Mielikki as she turned unerringly and headed for the ley line that waited a few hundred meters to the west. Behind him, Dianthus and Dominique followed.
When they were inside the ley line, Iain looked at Dominique. “Can you use this ley line for travel with your spells?”
Mielikki smiled. “Now I understand why you asked her here today. It’s a good question and must be answered before we proceed.”
“I can use any ley line for travel,” Dominique answered.
“This is Mars. Test please.”
Dominique cast a spell. “Yes, this ley line is open for travel, but I don’t have anywhere to take us.”
“All I needed to know is if you could use it for traveling.” He looked at Mielikki. “I’m going to start now.”
“I am monitoring the ley line. May I read Dominique in while you’re working or do you need quiet?”
“I will be lost in what I’m doing unless someone touches me.” He focused his attention on the ley line and began examining it magically.
“We believe that the infertility of the fey in general is due to a low magical level that persists all over the Earth,” Mielikki said quietly to Dominique. “We also believe that the magic of the Earth has been absorbed by and is being stored inside the ley lines. So we’re going to open this one up and release its energy to see if it changes the background. We decided to experiment here because it won’t cause problems on Earth for us.”
“Why can’t Ygerna be involved in this? She knows a lot more about ley lines than I do,” Dominique asked.
“She worships Danu and therefore her goddess can access her mind whenever she wants to, and Ygerna can hide nothing from her if she seeks it.”
“Shouldn’t she be happy that Iain is trying to make the fey fertile again?”
“She would, but it might make her realize that when Iain augmented his sperm production with his magic, it also imbued his sperm with more than enough magic to overcome this infertility. It’s why Ygerna is pregnant now and possibly why Kasumi got pregnant so quickly. That would make Iain a source of new children even if this doesn’t work, if he could be controlled.”
Dominique growled low in the back of her throat. “I take it, that this control would be over the clan’s already dead bodies?”
“That would make it much easier, or at least both Danu would believe that.”
Dominique glanced at Iain. “Could you and Vanessa, working together, kill them?”
Mielikki smiled. “Killing a deity, even a weak one like Danu or myself, is not easy but I believe that with Iain’s help to keep them from fleeing, we could.”
“You’d have that help,” Iain muttered.
“I thought you’d be lost in what you are doing,” Mielikki said.
“I thought I would be too, but I didn’t consider that the ley line might be helping me.”
“I don’t understand.”
Iain frowned. “It’s not really helping me, but,” he paused for several seconds. “Do you understand about electron energy states?”
“I do not,” Mielikki said.
“OK. Have you blown up a balloon yet?”
“I have done that for the children.”
“When you fill up a balloon and then let go of it without tying it shut, what happens?”
She smiled. “It goes flying around.”
“What is happening to the balloon while it’s doing that?”
“It’s emptying the air I just put in it.”
Iain nodded. “It does that because the elasticity of the rubber the balloon is made of forces it to return to its initial state, which is empty and a lot smaller than it is when blown up. For this discussion we’ll pretend that the balloon, when empty after being blown up is the same size it was before it was blown up. This ley line is like a balloon in that I know the state it’s in, which is full of magic, is like a full balloon. If I can start it emptying, it’ll continue the process without supervision until it is empty at some much lower energy level, but it won’t dissipate completely.” He looked thoughtful. “The question is what caused it to start absorbing the magic in the first place.”
“I may have an answer to that,” Mielikki said. “I believe that when a universe is created, it is in balance between magic and technology. As time passes and sentient life develops, it chooses which path to primarily focus on and that choice orients the universe in one direction or another. If it is oriented towards technology, the magic is removed, probably by this absorption into the ley lines. Some mages may still develop, but they will never have the range or power that ones in a magic oriented universe will.”
“The Tirsuli clans live in a universe where they mix magic and technology almost equally,” Iain said. “How does that mesh with your theory.”
“Exceptions can always be found,” Mielikki said. “Perhaps the gods of the Tirsuli universe are aware of this orientation process and have blocked it somehow.”
“Does that mean that the ley lines will reabsorb the magic,” Dominique asked.
“Perhaps,” Mielikki said. “But there was enough magic on Earth for long enough that evolution or some gods created a series of creatures that needed ambient magic to reproduce. That suggests that the absorption will be very slow, if it happens again at all. I say at all because a large portion of the pokegirls use magic to one degree or another and could cause the Earth to slowly reorient to be magic specific instead of technological.”
Iain had still been focused on the ley line. He blinked and smiled. “Ah.” Using his magic, he reached into the ley line and touched a certain point. “And I’m done.” At that touch, part of the sides of the ley line had ceased to be and magic was pouring out in an invisible cloud and dissolving into nothingness, but he could feel the magic around them growing slightly more powerful as he watched. The holes he’d put in the ley line widened along its length in both directions until he couldn’t see the ends of them anymore.
Mielikki’s eyes went wide. “It worked. I can feel the magic getting stronger.”
“We’ll give it a few weeks and then do this to a couple of ley lines in Ireland to give the two Danu goddesses something to distract them before we do the ley lines on our property.” He turned to face them. “But first, Dominique needs to see if she can open a ley line portal now.”
The Archmage frowned. “You changed something.” She cast a spell. “It’s harder now, but I can.”
“What do you think the difference will do?”
“It’ll take a more powerful wizard to make the spell shape the portal.” She cocked her head. “Why is that significant?”
“Because otherwise we’d have to invade the Order of Pendragon’s demesne and force them to evacuate so we didn’t seal them in it forever when I do this in Ireland. But now you’ve proven they can still get in and out of their base, it’ll just mean fewer knights will be able to cast the spell.”
Mielikki held out her hand. “The magic will take work to learn how to shape it properly, but when a wizard does learn how to manipulate it, he or she will become much more powerful than they were before the ley lines were opened.”
“You’re our goddess,” Iain said. “Get hot figuring out how to do that.”
“I am not a goddess of magic, Iain.”
“You’re the only goddess we’ve got,” Iain argued. “So, expand your horizons and your portfolio and figure it out.”
Mielikki looked thoughtful. “I could, but it would take time and a lot of work. Could I borrow your go to girl for magic to aid me?”
“No, I can’t be borrowed,” Dominique said firmly. “But I will volunteer to help you and so will every other spellcaster worthy of the name. We’ll definitely want Ava and Kasserine involved.” She looked at Iain. “That should include Raven. She’s talented, she just needs discipline.”
“I have to explain to Kerrik what’s going on anyway, so I’ll ask if she’ll help. What about Shikarou’s people?”
Dominique grinned. “Absolutely. I definitely want to see Shikarou’s face when he gets introduced to his aunt and grandmother, especially since they’re both marrying you.”
Mielikki clapped her hands together with a smile. “You thought this would happen. That’s why you want to open lines in Ireland first. That way Ygerna can help with the research and the Danu goddesses can steal that knowledge from her for the fey and they won’t bother us for a long time.”
“And Yuko and I can sell this to Morai so the Japanese have it,” Iain said. “Or Shikarou or Kerrik can give it to them. I’ll make sure Israel and the Royals gets the information too. That’ll leave the leagues floundering along without understanding it along with the ferals, making our wizards more powerful than theirs until their spies manage to steal the information and eventually they manage to verify that it’s true.”
“You intend to open more ley lines than the ones in Ireland and Texas,” Mielikki said excitedly. “That was always your plan.”
Iain nodded. “It was. It’s always been about staying ahead of our enemies.”
Mielikki was just staring at him until Dianthus smiled. “Neither Dominique nor I will say or do anything if you kiss him.” Mielikki glanced at her and the Elfqueen nodded. “We’ve discovered it’s a great way to motivate Iain to stay creative in the hopes he’ll get more kisses or perhaps more affection of a different sort. Then when his creativity solves a major problem, we give him the entire reward so he works harder on the next one.”
Mielikki turned contemplative eyes on Iain. “I will have to remember that.” She blinked once and her eyes returned to normal. “But he hasn’t solved this problem yet,” she said briskly.
What are you doing, Dominique asked Dianthus through her twee. And why involve me? I don’t like seeing Iain with other women.
It is going to happen, Dianthus replied, the clan has already accepted it and you bet the same as I did that it will happen much sooner than later. I am making sure our bet is the right one.
Dominique gave Iain an apologetic shrug. “She’s right. It does work, you like it and our little rewards certainly motivate you.”
Iain just gave a tiny shake of his head. “Let’s get back to the shuttle. Dominique, you have point.”
Iain looked at Ninhursag and then the rest of his command staff. “Kerrik will be teaching Kasserine and Ava in truewizard magic. Because of the level I’ve already attained, he can’t teach me at the same time. There are only so many hours in the day so he’s releasing me as his student, at least for the present.”
Ninhursag scowled. “Is this the good news or is it the bad news?”
“You’re not going to think there’s good news,” Iain said. “I don’t think there is either, but I will do what I have always done, which is what I must to ensure my survival and the survival of my family and clan.”
Allison’s ears flicked. “Will self-study be enough for you?”
“It will not and Caintigern won’t be teaching me anything until she gets a feel for the rhythms of the magic’s ebb and flow. Considering we’re planning to change those significantly in the near future, it’ll be a while. That leaves me one option.”
“Nightraven,” April spat through clenched teeth.
“I learned a lot from her,” Iain pointed out.
“She took you for a decade,” April countered. “We didn’t know it, but you experienced it. Are you willing to do that again?”
“I am. I’ll have Theodora refresh my memories when I return so it’ll seem like I was never gone for most people.” He shrugged. “I have to learn, and I don’t have any other options.”
“I don’t like it,” Silver said. “I didn’t like it when you were gone for a month but it was only a day here.”
“I don’t like it either,” Ninhursag said as she looked around the room. “But what choice do we have? Iain is right. This is about his survival. What price is too much to pay for that? Each of us would give up a decade of our life regularly without hesitation for him. Now he gets to do it for us.” She looked at Iain. “You can’t hide this from the harem.”
“Actually, with the help of the women in this room I probably could hide it from most of them,” Iain replied, “but I’m not going to try. My life affects yours as much as yours affects mine, and that’s true for every woman I’m involved with.” He shrugged. “Besides, this smacks too much of lying for me to consider it. But I wanted to talk to you first because this has to happen and I’m not going to let attempts at logic or emotion change my mind. So I’m going to tell them,” he said. “And they will react.”
“And they’re going to be scared and furious,” April finished for him. “They’ll blame you for their fear and anger. It might actually be easier if you don’t tell them.”
“I don’t care.”
April smiled. “I didn’t think you would, but I had to point it out or I’d be a shitty beta.”
“He probably couldn’t hide it from Zareen or Mielikki for long,” Ninhursag said. “And Kasserine and Ava may be as smart as Zareen is.”
“I’ll ask her to let me come home as often as I can,” Iain said.
Allison grinned. “You will have to make arrangements to get laid while you’re there. I don’t think the harem is large enough to take a decade worth of Iain’s sexual activities in a few hours or even spread out over a whole day.”
Silver snickered. “We’d all slosh.” Iain just looked flatly at her and she giggled. “Yes, really.”
He sighed and then chuckled. “You just might.”
“No,” Daya said. “Physically you would not be able to slosh. You might gurgle a little and you would definitely leak a lot.”
Iain dropped his head as the room erupted with laughter. When it started to die down he looked around the room. “Tough crowd.”
Ninhursag shrugged. “We’ll make it work out. I think we should have you explain this again during a general staff meeting and then before the clan. That’ll let us follow the chain of command down and keep people from feeling they weren’t told appropriately.”
“When will this start,” April wanted to know.
“We’ll do the general staff meeting tomorrow,” Ninhursag answered. “Then we’ll wait a day to let the leaks start before calling a clan meeting and having him confirm it. It’ll also let Melanie be here for the meeting, so she hears it from him too.” She looked sideways at Iain. “Then, what, three days for the angst to start to subside?”
“Give it a week,” Allison said. She looked at Iain. “Are you courting Arianrhod?”
“No,” Iain said slowly. “Why?”
“Something she said a couple of days ago caught my attention. It gave me the impression that she might be angling for a promotion to something like what Lucifer has with us.”
Ninhursag grimaced. “She’s been spending time with Sofia and we all know how she feels about the harem growing. I’ll have a talk with Arianrhod and see what is what with her.”
“I am aware that she is making changes within the goblins,” Lucifer said, “in order to bring their structure more in line with that of the harem’s combat forces. As the overall commander, she reports to me and I have found her reports to be thorough and accurate. I did ask her why she was making the changes and her response was that she felt they were clan and needed to adopt the clan ways that would make them stronger as well as keep the goblin ways that she felt were superior to ours.”
“I’ve heard Sofia saying that too,” April said. “It’s becoming almost a mantra among the goblins.”
“If they’re talking alike,” Silver said, “they’re probably scheming together.”
“Silver,” Iain said, “you are part of the expansionist faction and you haven’t been quiet about it. Are the expansionists putting Arianrhod forward as a harem recruit?”
Silver shook her head. “No, but she’s on the list of potential candidates, and with what’s she’s been doing it’s only a matter of time before we do.” She smiled grimly when Ninhursag glared at her. “You can tell me what to do and I will do it. You can’t tell me what to think and you can’t touch my free time. No matter how much you try to ignore it, I am well aware that less than a ten minute flight to the east are the Indigos, who will kill all of us they can and enslave the survivors unless we’re strong enough to face them down. The fact that the new general is shit doesn’t change that because she can be fired or shot at any moment.”
Ninhursag sighed and looked at Iain. “I was willing to let Eve go through my possessions but no, you had to invoke privacy for me.”
“And I will invoke it for Silver too,” Iain said gently. “I love you, but we are laying down the foundations of how this clan will operate for the next ten thousand years, God willing. Besides, while I’m not completely sure about her reasoning for adding to the family, she is undisputedly right about Indigo.”
“You are such a greedy drake,” Allison said cheerfully. Iain looked startled and she grinned. “Kasserine and Ava are turning out to be rather chatty now they’ve accepted we’re not going to murder them in their sleep. They’ve never had friends outside of each other.” She cocked her head. “Is Ava really a virgin?”
“That’s what she says,” Iain replied. “I believe her. But it makes sense if you think about it. Under elven law, Ava is a minor for another year. To Kasserine, she’s just a little younger than Sofia and Sofia was underage when she came to us.”
Allison’s grin returned. “Well she won’t be a virgin for a moment longer than she has to. And she has some definite plans for you on her wedding night. I’d get plenty of rest the day before if I were you.”
“I have an idea about those plans,” Iain said with a smile. “I think I’d have to take off a couple of days beforehand just to be safe, but you ladies won’t let me do that. Not that I’d volunteer, either. I’ll just take my chances with her.”
“You’ll need to be a lot more careful with Kasserine,” April said. “She reminds me of a couple of Penance I saw when I was running the clinic. She sounds normal, but she’s holding herself together by force of will only. I’m going to have Siobhan and Canaan examine her. She will probably need time in dreamtime with you before she marries you.”
“Just let me know when,” he said quietly. “I will be there.”
“And that is why it’s so hard to chase anyone off,” Allison said with a smile to take the sting of her words away. “And why Silver’s faction will always be able to do an end run around the closed faction.”
“Enough rabble rousing,” Iain’s voice brooked no dissent. “So I’ll leave for the first visit in ten days.”
“What do you think her answer will be about how often you can come back to visit,” April asked.
“I expect she’ll keep me as soon as I return to her and when she lets me go I’ll be able to tell you how long it’s been.”
April sighed. “That’s what I thought would happen too. Be careful, Iain. I know you usually are, far more than we give you credit for, but I love you and while your world ends when you die, your world won’t be the only one that ends if that happens.”
“No unnecessary risks that I can avoid,” Iain agreed.
“Stay in shape too,” April said. “I’m going to beat your ass back to where it should be if you don’t.”
“I’ll do what I can.” He looked at Ninhursag. “So tomorrow the general staff, the next day the harem and then I’ll stick around to comfort and reassure for a while.”
“We’ll make it happen,” his maharani said.
The door swung open as he approached. “Thank you,” Iain said. He knew Nightraven was up on the battlements and headed up the stairs as the door closed behind him. She glanced at him when he stopped nearby before returning to the telescope and the lectern holding the large book that had been set up in front of her. Periodically she’d make some notes in the book before returning to her observations. Iain waited patiently while she worked.
Finally, she put the pen in the inkwell and turned to him. “Yes?”
“I am your student and I am to be your mate,” Iain said quietly. “It has made our relationship complicated as it is now time for me to return to my studies under your guidance.”
“Our relationship would not be complicated if you behaved like a proper drake,” she replied.
“If you wanted unthinking obedience you would not have chosen me. And if you didn’t want a drake smart enough to realize that, you definitely would not have chosen me.”
“I told you to return to the moment I sent you home,” she said. “Considering events since then, I will overlook that requirement.”
“Considering that I’d have to fuck with your timeline since you don’t already remember me doing that, it’s a good thing you will.”
“You understand how I teach. By coming here to be my student again, you understand I will continue to teach that way.”
Iain didn’t outwardly react, but inside he’d been hoping she’d have changed her mind. “I do. I would ask that I be allowed to return home regularly. By using shadow walking, I will only be gone long enough to run to the transit point and back to the tower.”
She nodded. “Agreed, as long as you haven’t forgotten your lessons when you have returned.”
“I will not.” He hesitated. “I need your help.”
“With many things,” she said. “Be specific.”
“I need your help to give you what you need. But to do so we need to go somewhere else. I thought Ragnarok.”
Her bright green eyes regarded him for several seconds before she stepped to his side and grasped his hand. “Take us there.”
Iain wrapped her in his power. “Step.” They stood in a forest of incredibly tall trees he didn’t recognize. Overhead, a bluish white sun showered them with light so brilliant that it almost drowned out the light from the smaller, reddish sun that was to their left. The air was humid and stank with something he couldn’t identify. “Step.”
They stood next to the stream that ran down the Highlands section of Ragnarok, not far from the waterfall that hid the cavern’s entrance. Nightraven looked at him without releasing his hand. “Why were you vague at my tower.? We are safe there from observation.”
“Are we safe from Caintigern spying on us there?”
“No. Nor are we safe here from her. She can see anywhere she has been, just as I can.”
“She’s never been here,” Iain said. “The Arks are the creations of a race of humans and thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of them orbit each Earth close enough to that timeline to be similar. On the ones we visit regularly there’s a way to get to a section that’s not accessible to most and from there you could see other Arks in orbit around them. This one is yet another Ark and neither you nor Caintigern have been to this Ark before today.”
“How many of these Arks have you visited?”
“A couple of dozen so far. There seems to be some for every modded map that was in my game of Ark and there are probably even more of them, considering that I haven’t played that game for several years, just waiting for me to find them and explore them.”
“Is there another Ark where you and Caintigern go that I have not?”
“No. Are you jealous of her relationship with me?”
Nightraven had been looking around them but at his question, she looked back at him. “That is a question you should not ask.”
“I disagree. I think I desperately need to know the answer to that because of our situation, but I wouldn’t demand you answer it so I guess I won’t know.”
She released his hand. “What is it that I need that you need my help to give me?”
“You need an adult drake. Specifically, you need me to be an adult drake.”
“I could force you to take the form of an adult drake, but it is likely that you would trapped in that form forever. Human form is much easier to work with when teaching and I am not sure that you would be accepted as one of the People if you cannot change form.”
“I can become an adult drake,” Iain replied. “I just haven’t yet. But I’ve been thinking about it since a discussion with someone else about giving them what they needed, and I think I know why I haven’t become an adult drake. I think I might be able to solve that today and, if so, I thought you should see it before Caintigern does.”
She frowned slightly. “I can help you become an adult drake?”
“I believe so, yes. I certainly hope so or else we have a huge problem.”
“Why have you not become an adult drake yet?”
Iain took a deep breath. “I have met two dragonesses of the People. One is you and the other is Caintigern. Both of you are, compared to me, incredibly old and incredibly powerful.”
Nightraven nodded. “That is true.”
“I know your past in detail that you would be much more content with if I didn’t and I know a lot about Caintigern’s past as well. I know just how lethal both of you can be and, let’s face it, you could obliterate me with just a thought. I can only resist your compulsions, which neither of you like.”
“That is also true.”
“I was not born one of the People. I don’t think like them. I wasn’t raised in the culture of the People. I think that’s a good thing, by the bye. Drakes must either have a slight bit of hereditary brain damage or they don’t feel some emotions the way I do. Or maybe they’ve been bred to be more compliant than I will ever be.”
“Please tie these things together, Iain. Why are these facts important in the reason behind why you have not become an adult drake, since you believe you can?”
She raised an eyebrow. “I do not understand.”
“We take a shape by picturing it and becoming it. We want to become something and we do. It might take a little practice, but it shouldn’t take too long to master a new form.”
She nodded. “Fear?”
“I’m terrified of you and Caintigern. I have admitted it to both of you and you acknowledge that fear as rational. I suspect you and she enjoy it. But what you didn’t consider, and I didn’t consider until recently, is that I am so afraid of both of you that I don’t want to have sex with either of you. I don’t want it so much that someplace in my mind, some part of me refuses to become an adult drake because it feels that my becoming an adult drake is only so I can breed you and possibly Caintigern.” He shrugged. “I don’t want to become an adult drake and so I can’t.”
“That is an absurd idea and yet I can see where it might be applicable in your case,” Nightraven said. “I am not aware of any other who has been made into one of the People and Caintigern is not aware of that event happening before either.”
Iain nodded. “Considering the People’s attitude towards other races, it is probably almost vanishingly rare, brought about by necessity such as in your case, where a drake or dragoness cannot return to the People.”
“You have given this some thought in detail,” Nightraven said.
“It’s what I do.”
“I will not fetch you a dragoness of the People that you are not afraid of.” Nightraven’s eyes met his. “I do not like that Caintigern wishes to mate with you. She has had many drakes and children. I have had neither. But she is useful and her blood is my blood and might succeed should I fail. No other drake would dare mate with her, so it falls to you.”
“So you are jealous but never let Caintigern know that you are.”
“Yes. Adjusting your mind to make you unafraid of us is not easily done and is quite perilous, even before your special defenses are taken into account.”
Iain sighed. “Talk like that just scares me more. Nobody gets to root around in my brain except me.”
“You need my help. How?”
“I need to be able to think about you and sex without my testicles trying to crawl inside my torso. And I really hope that adjusting me to desire you is just as perilous as making me unafraid.”
“It is.” She cocked her head. “You fear me that much?”
“A few minutes ago, that admission would have made you happy. You’ve certainly not gone out your way to try and alleviate any of my fears of you.”
She nodded. “A few minutes ago I would not have understood the gravity of the situation.”
Iain sighed and rubbed his face wearily. “This is crazy, and it’s not going to work. I’ll figure something out.”
“Iain.” He looked up. “This will not alleviate your fear, but I too have some fear about this. In order to allay that fear, I have been, as you have guessed, observing you, both before your spirit transformed you, and after. I believe I can help you achieve what we need. Will you let me do so?”
She shook her head. “That response will not help. For this once, you must trust me and trust that what I will tell you is the truth, for it is.”
“Iain, there is no try,” Nightraven said as she began to unlace her tunic. “There is only do or do not.”
Iain stared at her. “What? Was that a Yoda joke?”
She nodded. “It was, and it was to show that I have been watching you for some time, Iain. I had to watch you closely after I changed your spirit as I did not know when you would become one of the People. I was impressed that you resisted the change for as long as you did, but it meant that I watched you for many years. It means that I have watched you with your many women.” She paused. “I will admit that the way you flicker through time and space when you shadow walk has made it all but impossible to track you when you do, so you were correct when you suggested to Caintigern that you could flee us that way. Please do not.” She finished unlacing her tunic and pulled it off, tossing it to the side.
“What are you doing?”
“I am setting the stage,” she said as she stripped off her boots and leggings and laid them on her tunic. Then she turned to face him, unashamed in her nudity. “I am Nightraven, of the Royal bloodline that has ruled the People since the dawn of our history until the abomination of Blacktooth destroyed us in betrayal. Only the blood of the one you know as Caintigern is purer than mine and it could be said that hers is tainted by her actions that doomed the Royal line in the first place.”
“I have had no drake and no children.” She placed her hand on her stomach. “Iain Grey, I have chosen you to be my mate. It is your seed and your seed only that shall fill my womb and fertilize my eggs. It is your seed and only your seed that will make my belly swell with our children.”
She stepped forward and took his hands. “You are an adult. But you must be able to take your adult form of a drake in order to hunt for me when I am gravid and again so that you may protect us and later fly with me, your daughters and your sons. We will protect them, teach them to hunt and later how to fight and survive without us if necessary. If you will do this, I swear that you will be the only drake, ever, to breed me.” She tightened her fingers on his. “I will also try to adapt to some of your ways and help you to love our children as you would, for if it will make them stronger as you say, then it might be better than the way I was raised.”
She released him and stepped back. Then she shifted to her dragoness form. “Fly with me, my mate. Hunt for me and let me feed from your kills.”
The transition was effortless as Iain shifted. He looked at her and shook his head. “You certainly know my triggers.”
She looked him over. “Stretch out and let me see my mate.”
“Is something wrong?” Iain stretched out, carefully folding his wings against his back. This form felt right, and he didn’t feel any heavier than he did when he was in his small form.
“I have never seen a drake as large as you are,” she said. “You are larger than Caintigern. I have never seen any of the People as large as you are. Why did you choose this form?”
“Theodora took my DNA and used a computer program to age it into adulthood to roughly the same age as Caintigern. Then she made images of that result and gave them to me to study. I’ve been using it to supplement the memories that Caintigern gave us.”
“Was it difficult to become this size? When we try to become larger or smaller than we should be, it is often very difficult because it is not the image of ourselves that we carry inside.”
“It was easy. This is my form.” He spread his wings and turned his head to examine them. Other than being larger and perfectly sized for his new form, they didn’t look different, and neither did the rest of his body that he could see, leaving him slightly disappointed. “And my extra training should mean flying won’t be a problem.” He refolded his wings and returned his attention to Nightraven as she cocked her head curiously.
“What extra training?”
“I’ve been training in gravity that’s higher than what we’re used to as being normal. I want to be physically stronger than any drake or dragoness I have to fight, since they only go to physical combat as a last resort and I can probably keep their magic from doing much to me as I close. Once we come to grips I can overpower and dispatch them in short order, if things work out as I think they will.”
She sat back on her haunches to regard him. “That goes against the combat traditions of the People.” Her head nodded slowly. “Which means that our foes will not be expecting it. I would like to test you. If you are as powerful as you suggest, we will learn how to train me the same way.”
“Caintigern keeps talking about how tradition is so important to the People.”
“She has still not truly accepted that she is the Blood Slayer and what it means. When she does, she will realize that victory is the only goal and tradition will not stand in the way of putting the Royal bloodline back on the throne where it belongs.” She dropped to all fours and moved forward until they were nose to nose. “You still have much to learn, and it is best if you remain my student. During your lessons I will treat you as I always have. But here, you are my mate and I am yours. Let us hunt together.” She spread her wings and leapt into the air to circle overhead.
Iain launched himself into flight and immediately discovered that he wasn’t as nimble as he was in his small form, but that only made sense. But learning about his new mass and momentum would be easier than it was going to be in microgravity when Theodora tested him to destruction, probably with April’s help. He turned and climbed to follow Nightraven.
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