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Iain was standing in his lab and looking at his bed in the sublevel. “How long was I gone?” He dropped a backpack on the bed and began stripping.
“You’ve been gone nine minutes on this side,” Theodora said as she appeared. “Your hair has grown about enough for you to have been gone on the other side a little more than a year.”
“It’s been eleven months.” He headed for the shower. “Don’t you dare run me out of hot water.”
Theodora laughed. “Can I keep talking to you while you shower?”
“Yes, and Daya can join us if you don’t mind.”
“I don’t.” She grinned. “Threesomes are kinky.”
“Only if nobody gets their feelings hurt.” He stepped into the shower as another form appeared next to Theodora’s. “Hi, Daya.”
“Hi, Iain.” She peeked around the door for an instant. “You’re more muscular than I expected you’d be after a year of not training.”
“That would be because I was training.” Water started pouring and steam quickly filled the room. “I am invoking privacy.”
“Understood,” Theodora said with a look at Daya, who nodded. “What great and powerful secrets are we being trusted with today?”
“I can now become a full sized, sexually mature dragon.”
“Did you test this sexual maturity with anyone or masturbate?”
Iain laughed. “I did not.”
“You weren’t celibate for a year, were you?”
Daya frowned. “Is there another woman coming to join the harem?”
“Not that I’m aware of. Nor are there any bastard children out there from my bloodline.”
“That’s good,” Daya said. “Is Michael Chambers a bastard?”
“Clan children are automatically legitimate,” Iain said. “Since descent is matrilineal, maternity is more important than paternity and every mother knows who her children are.” The shower cut off and the warm air dryer cut on. “I’ll need new clothes, including shoes.”
“I have prepared a room that should comfortably hold your adult form,” Theodora said.
“Let me guess, is it conveniently close to the testing facility in medical?”
She smirked at him. “By a remarkable coincidence, it is.”
Iain shrugged. “Then let’s get that done before I get dressed.” He padded on bare feet for the transport system. “Please tell me I’m not going to have to spank it to get you a sperm sample.”
“I will draw the sperm directly from your testes with a really sharp needle that’s three meters long.”
“I am so glad I know that’s a joke.” He jogged down the tunnel exiting his lab and turned towards medical before increasing speed to an easy lope.
April ran her fingers through his hair with a dreamy smile. “Is it going to get centimeters longer every time you go for training?”
“At least for a while, yes. I’m growing it out and, for you this is a shortcut. When do you want me to start cutting it?”
She winked at him. “Never.”
“It’s too long already,” Eve said.
“I am going to disagree with you on this, my love,” Lucifer said. “I too am interested in how long he can grow his hair.”
“I’m going to stop before it gets as long as Poppet’s or Kerrik’s,” Iain said. “Floor length hair is something I do not need.”
“Theodora says your full size is nearly fifty five meters long,” April said. “I want to see it.”
“I have to show it to Caintigern first, otherwise she’s going to arrive when I change, and I don’t want her commentary while I’m trying to listen to the ladies I actually care for. I’m scheduled to see her tomorrow morning, so you’ll have to wait until I get back from that. Then I figure you’ll get out your evil April persona and test to destruction.”
“She has a good April persona,” Allison asked curiously.
“Not for you,” April said pleasantly. “I will have to take you on board for that kind of testing.”
“We’ll be going to an orbital complex that apparently Theodora built a while ago for dragon Iain to train at. She was apparently planning for me to figure out how to become full sized. She even had Dominique install a door without knowing what the facility was for. It’ll let me do everything I was doing on the Theodora, just with more room to do it in and more things to use against me. It’s got a fancy new control room for you to abuse me from.” He smiled amusedly. “She’s even named the complex after nerdy things in my head. It’s called the Danger Room.
Theodora appeared. “He can’t train on the Theodora anymore. His wings are too wide to fly in the transit tunnels. I thought this might happen, which is why I made the Danger Room for him to train in.”
Iain sighed. “I can train at any size and it carries over to the others.”
“Yes, but you need to get used to your new mass and momentum.”
Iain nodded. “I won’t argue with you about it. The trees smash a lot more quickly when I crash into them, but it still hurts and only my scales have kept me from being crippled during a couple of landings that didn’t go as expected.”
“Did you get laid regularly.” April asked.
“I realize that twice a week isn’t regularly for around here, so, technically the answer is no.”
“Was it the same retired fighter that you were fucking before?”
“Nope. She’d gotten married and gone adventuring again with her new husband. But since I can be an elf now, I had far more choices available.”
Silver cocked her head curiously. “Do you prefer elves over human for sex?”
“I don’t have a preference, except that elves tend to be cleaner as a group. Elven communities don’t stink the way that human cities can. Elves who work in the sex trade also tend to have fewer social diseases than the equivalent humans, although it’s fairly rare for everyone on Toril. I don’t know if those kinds of diseases don’t exist on Toril, people there have a better resistance against them or perhaps they have more access to the magic necessary to permanently cure them. Because of my twee as well as my magic, I can’t catch anything like that, but I can smell it and it doesn’t do anything positive for my urge to have sex. Also, elf professional whores tend to bathe more between clients.”
“You paid money for sex,” Allison asked, her ears flicking up and down uncertainly.
“Only when absolutely necessary and that was in the beginning. I made a few friends in Evereska who just want to have a good time. After that, it was usually just them or some horny adventurer in a tavern. Female adventurers like that I don’t want children with them, I’m not broke and soaking them for their cash, I don’t want them to retire and settle down and I’m not afraid of them because they kill things for a living.” He chuckled. “It also helps that I’m not some thirty year old, never been married farmer with a potbelly and bad teeth.”
“How are Ava and Kasserine going to take you having elven lovers?”
“I wasn’t planning to discuss it with them.”
“And if they ask?”
“Then I’ll keep it as concise as possible.”
“Kasserine is going to ask,” Allison said. “She knows what you’re doing.”
“If Kasserine asks,” Ninhursag noted, “then Ava will ask too.”
“I have no plans to lie to them,” Iain said firmly. “If they ask, I’ll tell them the truth and let the chips fall where they may.”
“Did you fuck any dwarves,” April asked.
“No, I didn’t. I did visit some local dwarven communities and look into the situation, but it didn’t pan out. Dwarves in the Dalelands are pretty insular and they don’t welcome strangers, not even strange dwarves. There are dwarven brothels but even then, the women and men who work them prefer to deal with regular clients and not new ones. On top of that, the dwarves that work in a brothel are usually of the lowest social order because any dwarf with a family will always have a place to eat at the table, even if they all must share gruel together in order to feed everyone. The women or men at a brothel are the outcasts and criminals, and the criminals are the ones who can’t be successful thieves, so they’re all more than a little desperate. Because of this, newcomers to a dwarven brothel need to have both hands firmly on anything they own that has any value. Any extra hands need to be aimed at protecting themselves from a knife in the back or knockout drugs in the wine. And the dwarven escorts or high class courtesans only have an established clientele and it takes years to win their trust enough to join that list.”
“There are men in dwarven brothels,” Silver shook her head. “That’s weird.”
“No, it’s not. Any decent brothel will have at least a few males on staff to satisfy clients with those kinds of desires. Elven and human brothels have them too. I presume that hobgoblin and orc brothels would have something similar, but I didn’t go near hobgoblin or orc communities. And drow are right out since I don’t want them trying to enslave me every time I visit.”
He snorted. “Not interested in having to tell Kasserine and Ava that I saw elf slaves and didn’t try to do anything about their plight. I’m not sure if they’d get upset or not and I don’t see any reason to have to find out. I figured that slaves would tend to work the brothels and, besides, orc, hobgoblin, goblin and bugbear women just don’t do it for me.”
He rubbed his eyes. “Is there anything else? I’m supposed to take Kasserine and Ava over to Kerrik’s for their first classes. The ladies want me to be around for their first couple of lessons and Kerrik didn’t have a problem with it. Then April wants me to run the obstacle course a couple of times.”
“I certainly do,” April said. “You’ve been gone for a year and I want to see how much of that time you’ve spent sitting around on your ass.”
“Very little of it,” Iain replied. “Nightraven has always wanted her students to stay fit, which is why I didn’t come back the first time, after a decade, as a slug. And I’ve convinced her to use magic to create increased gravity fields in some areas so I can train in them like I’ve been doing under Theodora’s guidance.” He grimaced. “I’d rather do that training under Theodora, since she has a better idea of my limits and can fine tune gravity for more levels than not strong enough to be much of a workout and so strong it’s an effort to breathe, but I figure any higher gravity training is better than none.”
“I would rather you did that training under my control too,” Theodora said. “Since it means every time you return I’m going to have to reestablish what your maximum gravity tolerance is.”
“Trust me,” Iain said, “it sucks for me much more than it sucks for you.”
“Has anything changed,” Ninhursag asked.
He frowned as he thought. “I’m horny as fuck most of the time. And I’m hungry a lot of the time.”
“None of that is new.”
He laughed. “True. My flying has gotten better but Dominique will have to test and give you her results. Nightraven has also been working with me on formal magic, although it’s not really important to her except as an adjunct to truewizardry, so what she teaches is very specific and all over the place. Once again, however, that’s Dominique and Kasumi’s purview.” He smiled. “I did bring gifts, including seeds and cuttings for you.”
Ninhursag’s eyes lit up. “You should have told us the important parts first.” Allison, April and Silver laughed.
“I’ll remember that for next time.” Iain sighed. “Now I think we’re reaching the point of diminishing returns on this meeting. If I’m right, I am off to Kerrik’s and then April gets to abuse me.”
“Did I get a gift,” Silver asked curiously.
“I’m not sure you’ll think of it as a gift, but yes.” Iain leaned down and whispered into her ear. “You didn’t get a turn with my frustration when I was with Kasserine and Ava. Well, I was pretty frustrated while I was away, so after I get back from Kerrik’s and before April exhausts me, I’m going to find you and I’m going to fuck you until I’m not frustrated anymore.”
Silver moaned softly, turned and kissed him hard. “That’s the perfect gift,” she whispered back. “Don’t be gone too long.”
“I’ll let you know when I’m ready to return from Kerrik’s place.”
“As soon as you do, I’ll be in the rose garden, waiting.”
Iain straightened up as Silver closed her eyes and shivered. “Anything else?”
Ninhursag grinned. She was watching the Umbrea, who was staring at Iain with a hungry expression on her face. “You’d better go before Allison jumps you.”
Iain chuckled as he headed for the door.
Eirian watched him curiously as he shook the pellet out of the jar. “My lord, I will be your test subject. If the twee fails to grow, I will not be harmed. If it grows improperly, I will not be harmed. At the worst, my head and brain will be destroyed and allowed to rejuvenate to remove it.”
“Once I give this to you, it should be permanent. What I will do means that it will incorporate into your matrix and if you are damaged, it will regrow with you. I want it that way, so I don’t have to replace a twee in my undead harem every time one of you decays to skeletal to scare someone. I was going to have you create a lich out of a feral just for this project and then destroy it after the tests were complete. Now, are you sure you want to be the test dummy for this?”
The silver Dragoness bobbed her head in a nod. “Yes, my lord. If it grows wrong, then you can destroy it. Any harm to me will be temporary, and it is possible that what might work in a freshly dead lich might not work in us, the oldest and first in your undead harem. If it does work in me, it will work in the rest of the harem.”
“As usual, your logic is impeccable.” He held the pellet between his thumb and forefinger and fed magic into it. “Twee grow in living tissue by using the life energy of the host to power their development. Before coming here, I helped slaughter chickens and kattle. I absorbed their life energy and held it inside me. Now that life energy will be infused into this twee so it’ll have the energy needed to grow in your head. I’ve accelerated that growth to take only a few minutes.”
“Would human life energy give more energy than an animal’s, my lord,” Geraldine asked.
“You’re confusing life energy with souls,” Iain answered. “A sentient soul is more powerful than a soul from a creature that isn’t sentient. Life energy is just that and is the same from life to life. A bigger animal or even a younger animal doesn’t really have much more life than a small one, but a healthy creature has a lot more life than a dying or sickly one.” He looked up. “I actually killed the animals by absorbing their life but I did it while I was cutting their throats so it looked like they were dying as everyone else expected them to die, which was by exsanguination.”
“Did any of them suspect what you were doing, my lord?” It was Sorrel.
“I told Pandora what I was going to do before I did it and she watched closely with all of her abilities. She didn’t have any objections after the fact, so it’s not an evil act. It’s just a painless way to kill things more reliably than by using my anger.”
“Where did you learn this technique, my lord,” Emerald was watching the twee as he fed more energy into it.
“I had wondered about it and I’ve reached the point where Nightraven will allow me the odd question that’s off topic from what she’s teaching. She gave me some advice on how this might be done and then made me figure it out.” And how to prevent it from happening to them, but Iain wasn’t discussing that.
“How quickly does it kill?”
“It’s almost instantaneous.” The pellet was glowing brightly, and Iain turned to Eirian. “Last chance to change your mind.”
Eirian cocked her head. “You will change my mind, my lord, not me. Give me my due as your maharani and implant me first.” Iain started to say something and stopped himself with an effort. “What is it, my lord?”
“Apparently I’ve spent too much time around my teacher while I was gone,” he said. “I was going to comment that your due is whatever I say it is.”
Eirian’s smile was cold. “Yes, my lord, it is, and it is good that you finally remember it. Use us as you will but use us. For too long we have stood idle while you used your living harem, but we are much more obedient and willing to do whatever you command without objection. And we will never deny you anything, whether it is something you wish from us or something or someone that you wish that we can bring to you.”
“I’m pretty sure that you’re trying to lead me over to the Dark Side,” Iain said. “And we both know that the cake is a lie.”
Beryl barked a laugh. “We are already there, my lord, for the darkness pervades us and you. We only wish you to embrace what we are and what we can do.” She sobered. “It is strange that we wish to please you, my lord. Before you there was our slayer and we felt nothing, for he felt nothing and didn’t understand anything that he didn’t experience. And I know that you have not ordered us to feel pleasure in serving you, but we do.” Her smile reappeared. “Even Sorrel, who despises her unlife, and Geraldine, who wants our power but doesn’t want to be dead or to acknowledge you as her lord, feel pleasure when they carry out your will.” She shook her head. “But you instead listen to Pandora, who is strong in making you weak. Lucifer and Kasserine understand that we are tools who can do the biddings that the living would or could not and that we should be used in that manner.”
Iain looked from her to Eirian before glancing at the pellet in his fingers. “Is this about something you want me to want you to do or something that you’ve already done to show me what I should be doing with you?”
Emerald grinned. “Come Malachite. We will fetch the trophy.” She and Malachite ran from the chamber. They returned carrying a large chest between them, which they placed on the deck in front of Iain.
Malachite opened it with a flourish. “Behold, my lord, the fruits of our labors.”
Iain looked in the chest and was astonished at what he found. Staring back at him was a head. It was the head of an ape and barely fit inside the chest. The right side of the face was badly scarred to the destroyed eye socket while the other side looked untouched. There was a distinct reddish cast to the flesh on the damaged side and the fur that surrounded the head. “Is that the Megapithicus trophy?”
“The alpha trophy, my lord,” Emerald said triumphantly. “We went to one of the Island’s you passed through without stopping at and hunted the artifacts and tribute necessary to summon the Megapithicus, which we then destroyed along with its minions. When we teleported back to the obelisk, the trophy arrived on the platform with us.”
“There are tasks, my lord,” Eirian smiled when he looked up at her, “that you feel need to be done but take time that you do not currently feel you can schedule to accomplish. Task us with them and they will be done expeditiously.”
Iain glanced at the ceiling. “You obviously couldn’t have done this without help since you can’t know what tribute was needed to fight any of the bosses.”
Theodora appeared. “I used data from your memories to tell them where they needed to go and what they needed to do, but if their twee implantation is successful, I will be able to upload precise information that will help them immeasurably.” She looked in the chest. “It is interesting to note that the trophy isn’t made of living tissue and it has a cunning web of nanocircuitry built into it. I would like a second trophy that I can dismantle to copy this circuitry and determine exactly how it works and what it does, but it should be possible to build a handheld device that activates any of the obelisks as well as the entrance to the Tek cave when I have all three trophies and samples of the tribute. I did examine the leftover tribute that they’d gathered, and these items too have nanocircuitry in them, possibly so the upload devices know they’re genuine and not some kind of copy. It seems to function as an ID code verification and I suspect that we will discover that each is a unique identifier that can be referenced back to the specific bosses on that particular Ark.”
“The question then becomes is it boss specific or specific to the individual boss battles and changes for each one,” Iain was looking at the trophy. “And obviously the trophies themselves do not degrade into nothingness when they are removed from their Ark.” He frowned and looked up. “Do you have all ten cave artifacts?”
“We do,” Eirian said. “And we are gathering the tribute required to access all of the bosses. However, the element we procured decayed almost instantly when we arrived here. It did not decay on the Ark, so we can use it there, if we knew about how to use element in construction.”
Theodora smiled at him. “I analyzed the material and it is made of interlocking nanobots that depower and release when removed from the Ark environment. I know it’s not a power supply. Instead I suspect that it functions as a waveguide allowing items made of it to access broadcast power. I have given Eirian the necessary equipment to set up to see if the Ark she is on uses broadcast power and how you might be able to access and use it. The problem is that it would be much easier to analyze if I could do it since I can adjust on the fly with my scans.” She gave him a coquettish look. “I would also like trophies, artifacts and tribute from other Arks that are of the Island so I can compare the circuitry and the outputs to see if they are indeed unique to each Ark. I suspect it will be since I would have done it that way, but we are talking about constructs manufactured by organics, so there are no certainties about logic being used in them.”
“I hear the request for coordinates and either Dominique’s assistance or a completed gate opening device of your very own.”
Theodora laughed. “I wasn’t trying to be subtle about this.”
“That’s probably for the best because you weren’t subtle. Eirian, don’t move. Don’t talk, don’t even breathe until I tell you that you can.”
The silver Dragoness went completely still as Iain stepped forward and a little to the right. He pushed the pellet against the scales of her head and it disappeared. “When your twee tells you it is awake, use it to speak to me, but do not move until I tell you that you can. If not, in ten minutes I’ll let you know that it didn’t go as planned.” In his mind’s eye a timer appeared at ten minutes and began to spin down to zero. He stood almost as still as she did, except he was breathing, and waited.
There were a little less than four minutes remaining when he heard Eirian’s voice in his mind. My lord, can you hear me?
I can. Tell you twee to do what I tell it to.
Yes, my lord, it is ready for commands from you.
Eirian’s twee, run a full diagnostic and report results.
It took a couple minutes before he heard her voice again, but the timbre was much flatter than earlier. Full pattern growth attained. Operation within design parameters. Memory assessment running for one hundred and sixty four seconds. Full memory assessment timeline cannot be calculated due to inadequate measurement of memory storage. Full diagnostic shows no irregularities in operation.
Iain drew his pistol and shot Eirian under each eye. The rounds punched through her head and out the back of her skull where they ricocheted off the wall and around the room for a few seconds, hitting several of the other liches watching before their energy was spent. One bounced off the force shield he’d erected before pulling the trigger. Her scales kept the visible damage to the back of her skull to the exit holes, but the shape of her skull visibly changed from the hypersonic rounds passing through it. “Eirian, rejuvenate.”
When the holes had closed and her skull looked normal, Iain holstered his pistol. Eirian’s twee, run a full diagnostic and report results.
Again he waited a few minutes. Full pattern growth attained. Operation within design parameters. Memory assessment running for six hundred and forty eight seconds. Full memory assessment timeline cannot be calculated due to inadequate measurement of memory storage. Full diagnostic shows no irregularities in operation.
Eirian, you are free to move as normal.
She straightened. “You should have had Aurum or Beryl destroy my head with fire, my lord, but otherwise your tests should still be sufficient. Will you do that to the others?”
“No, you got to be my special crash test dummy. They don’t get that honor.”
She grinned. “My lord, anything that elevates one of us over the others is to be treasured as the honor that it is.”
Iain shook his head. “What do I normally say at this juncture?”
Her grin remained. “Pokegirls are weird.”
“Exactly.” He pulled the bottle of twee pellets out of his pocket. “You’re the maharani, set them up in whatever order you want to show favoritism with and let’s get this done.”
She gave a low, evil laugh. “You should not understand us so well, my lord.”
“It will distress Pandora, my lord,” Ling said. “You should not inform her.”
“I don’t tell her nearly everything,” Iain replied with a toothy smile. “And she would understand what I was doing, she just wouldn’t like it.”
“Will you need to test the different pokegirl species or Julia and Geraldine because they are human,” Arum asked curiously.
“No, the big questions were would it grow in an undead brain and would it grow normally in one. All of you have brains that are more than similar enough that there shouldn’t be any other issues, but if you find something Theodora needs to study, let her and me know.” He watched Eirian lining people up. “Something has changed while I was gone. I can become a full sized sexually mature drake now.”
Eirian turned to him. “Why did you leave us here when you went to Nightraven’s?”
“You weren’t there the first time and you haven’t been on me as soon as she is around. I didn’t see any reason to leave you in whatever limbo you enter in case you needed to come to my rescue.”
“How would we know, my lord?”
“Theodora, you explain it.”
“Iain acquired a memory from Nightraven of a day over a thousand years ago and shadow walked there so he could release a weaver drone into the solar system.”
“It was a lot earlier than that,” Iain said. “I asked for a memory from at least a thousand years ago and she asked me what I was going to do. Then she gave me a memory from around -34,000 DR, which is during the time that the Sarrukh and some of the other creator races ruled Faerun.”
“The weaver drone built a gate transmitter system and a small facility for basing the Theodora and the Ouroboros out of it. The facility has a holographic projector and energy shielding that makes it almost undetectable, keeping it from being attacked by the spacefaring races in Realmspace, and it has modern weaponry and defensive force fields for the unlucky few who penetrate the illusion. The actual gate transmitter system is connected to satellites in some asteroids in orbit around Toril so that Iain can call for help if he needs to. You’ve been to the exit point a few times, so you can go there and then track him down by twee or the spell that Dominique used to find him when Aglaii had him.”
Iain nodded. “Worst case you come out the last time I took any of you there and have to hide until you hear me call for help. Since I take you with me most places, it won’t be more than a few years.”
“Could we build a base there,” Geraldine asked.
“Let’s see, do I let you lose on a planet filled with magic and stuff when even I could hear the greed in your question?” Iain looked thoughtful. “Sure, just remember my rules.” He looked at Eirian. “You can go out, but right now what I really want you to do is to build as comprehensive a history of the region as you can. We note the libraries and cities that were destroyed and when so I can take you back in time to loot them right before their destruction, or right afterwards if it involves poisonous gas or monsters that just killed the residents.” He looked the Dragoness in the eyes, “And as much as I’d like to say it does, that does not include Myth Drannor. And always keep in mind that there are people there who know about liches and how to fight them.”
“We will have Theodora build us body armor,” Eirian said. “And perhaps we could convince you to go to a close universe where we can loot this Myth Drannor.”
“I called it right,” Iain said with a smile. “You represent the Dark Side.”
“I will bake cookies, my lord,” Sorrel said. “The Dark Side is supposed to have cookies.”
“Theodora told you that, didn’t she,” Iain said as his smile became a laugh.
“She told me that years ago, my lord, but I wanted to save the surprise for an appropriate time.” Sorrel took off her helmet. “My lord, if you were to offer us our lives back, I would accept that offer only if there is a place in your harem for me when I am no longer dead.”
Iain looked at her seriously. “You wouldn’t want to go back to McMahon and his little kingdom?”
“My lord, there I was a cog. I was your guard that day because it was on my work schedule. Before that day I had only seen McMahon in passing and he got me killed because he was being, as you would put it, a little shit. I was ashamed when I was alive and observed his behavior towards you. Here, I work directly for the Grey. Why would I want to give that up?” She smiled slyly. “I was a pokewoman who had never had children, my lord. I would expect that to be different if I were in your harem here.”
“It would be.” He took a deep breath and let it out. “But that’s a discussion for another time.”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Something about you has changed,” Caintigern said as she opened the door to his knock.
“Everyone becomes a little different as every second passes,” Iain replied.
She frowned. “You have learned to completely hide your power. That is good, but perhaps not as good as you might think it to be.”
“Why is that?”
“If I had not sensed your power when you released it, I would have destroyed you when we first met. Then I would not know that my grandniece lives and what had happened to my bloodline.”
“You only noticed my power when I released it. Besides, you’d probably have been happier without all of that,” Iain noted.
“I was not happy. I had purged myself of all distractions from my thinking and emotion is a powerful distraction. More importantly, I would not know the magnitude of my error and would not be, as I am now, planning with Nightraven to correct it.”
Iain wasn’t sure what to say. “You’re welcome?”
She smiled. “My grandniece is the one who should be grateful for your intercession. My presence and abilities improve her chances of success substantially.” Her smile faded. “However, I am grateful that you made me aware of the situation.”
“Yeah, well you keep hold of that gratitude while we take a trip. Nightraven is waiting for us in Ragnarok. She has asked that I not discuss the reason for the meeting, but you will learn a reason as to why I seem to have changed.”
“It would be easier if you told me now.”
“Our enemies cannot see where they have not been,” Iain said.
“We have enemies upon this world?”
“Potential ones include the legendary pokegirls, the agents of the nations that Texas is at war with and the gods like Danu. Others exist and we won’t even know who they are until they reveal themselves.”
“All you say is true,” Caintigern replied. “They are of no real threat to me or my grandniece, but they could cause you some little trouble.”
“Little? I think they could turn me into pudding without breaking a sweat.”
“I am learning from watching your family that you have surmounted great difficulty before. And, so far, you have risen to confront and overcome every threat to your family. I have no reason to doubt that you would not do the same for any of these potential enemies, if it became necessary.”
Iain just shook his head. “The problem is that I have to win every one of those encounters and my enemies only have to win one of them and then I lose. That means I would be stupid to seek out more of those encounters than the ones I have no chance of avoiding.”
“You are not a stupid drake,” Caintigern said as she took his hand. “But remember that striking early might find your enemies unready for your assault. Even if they are more prepared to withstand your attack than you expected, never allow them to dictate the conditions for the battle. Giving them the gift of control in war makes it much more likely that they will achieve the single success they require to be victorious over you.”
Iain frowned. “While one of the tendencies of the People is to attack in preference to defending, that doesn’t sound quite right for something they might teach.”
“It is from a human named Clausewitz, not one of the People.”
Iain shook his head. “You have managed to surprise me.”
“You knew I was reading books from your library. Your claim that while I know a great deal about combat I know little of war spurred me to read some human classical battle stratagem books to see if you might be correct, for even though there are only three of us, we will wage war on the People to destroy Blacktooth’s line.”
“Did you learn anything you think is useful?”
She nodded. “I must know myself as much as or more than I know my enemy, and in attempting to do so I have realized that your assertation was at least partially correct in that the People do not study war or wage war the way humans do. This is important not only because Blacktooth’s vassals used group tactics to destroy my line, but we also do not know the current situation well enough to plan our return and victory. I would not have considered doing reconnaissance beforehand if you had not made the comments you did.”
Iain chuckled. “I am glad I was able to be of some help. Now step.”
They stood in a pretty glade with a small spring fed pool in the center of it. Old growth forest surrounded the glade with an almost impenetrable wall of oaks. A square black rock stood silent sentry next to the spring. There wasn’t anything wrong he could see, but something about the place made him uneasy and he heard Caintigern hiss softly as he urged her forward, “Step.”
They exited inside the top chamber of the lighthouse in the Highlands. Animals didn’t come here so it was a good place to enter the Ragnarok Ark. Caintigern looked at him as they used the stairs to descend to the ground floor. “What was that place?”
“I’m not sure but something there wasn’t right.”
She nodded. “There was something ancient and powerful that could touch that place from its own universe and it wanted to open a door to where it lived.”
“That’s usually something that isn’t friendly to beings like us,” Iain noted.
“I have encountered only two of them in my travels, but if their behavior is any indication, you are correct. The first tried to consume me and the second wanted to capture me to take to its lair where it would first torture and then consume me.”
“I’m glad you escaped without harm.”
She paused to look curiously at him. “Do you not wish me dead?”
“That was yesterday. Today I don’t.”
“Why did you change your mind between yesterday and today?”
“I can’t discuss that until we get to where Nightraven is waiting.”
Her gaze turned suspicious. “Did you breed her?”
“I have not had sex with Nightraven.”
“He will,” Nightraven said as they stepped off the stairs into the lowest level of the lighthouse. “He is my mate.”
“Courtships take years,” Caintigern stated.
“That is tradition,” Nightraven replied. “I will set aside tradition as necessary to succeed in my goal of revenging my blood’s destruction.”
“Tradition exists for a reason,” Caintigern said with a hint of anger in her voice. “It is not lightly set aside.”
“I will set aside tradition, I will destroy tradition and I will expunge the memory of tradition from the People if necessary,” Nightraven’s voice was cold. “I will be Queen and my voice will be law unto all of the People. It is because I have set aside tradition that I will allow Iain to be your mate while he is mine. If we fall, our children will continue the war, but in order for them to do so, we must have children.”
“Even if I accept that you have set aside tradition,” Caintigern said evenly, “there remains one,” she glanced at Iain, “difficulty.”
Nightraven looked at Iain. “Show her that the difficulty is no longer.”
Iain shook his head and trotted down the path a short distance. A pair of Equus were grazing here and he slapped his hands together as he called loudly. “Git!” They bolted down the path. Iain checked quickly since sometimes an Allosaur would chase something into the area. Once he was sure the area was as safe as anything got on an Ark, he shifted to his adult dragon form.
“As you can see,” Nightraven said as Iain stretched out on his stomach, “he can now mate with us either as a biped or as a hexapod.”
“We shall see,” Caintigern said as she changed to her dragon form. “Roll onto your back,” she told Iain. She cocked her head. “I am requesting that you roll onto your back.”
Iain chuckled as he rolled over. “Thank you.”
“Is this your true size,” she asked curiously. “If it is not, it should be an effort to change to as well as to maintain.”
“It is my true size,” Iain said. “And shifting to this form is just as easy as becoming my human form or the dragon horse.”
“I have not seen this dragon horse form,” she said as she leaned closer to examine him. “You smell like a mature male.”
“The dragon horse form came about from trying to become a unicorn for the one I have to breed,” Iain said. “I didn’t figure you’d be interested in,” he broke off with a hiss when Caintigern licked his penile sheath. Instantly he twisted over onto his stomach again. “Don’t do that again without permission.”
Nightraven shifted to her dragon form and lunged, sinking her teeth into Caintigern’s neck just behind the head. Her claws dug into the dirt as she twisted and jerked to the right, throwing Caintigern over the edge of the cliff and then releasing her bite before she could be dragged over too.
Iain lifted his head and looked over the edge. “Think she’ll recover and get airborne before she hits?” He winced. “She didn’t. That’s a lot of blood.”
“She touched my mate without permission,” Nightraven’s voice held the echo of a snarl in it.
“Aren’t I supposed to be her mate too?”
“Yes, but until you are, you are not.”
“That is a very valid point, but am I really your mate yet? Here she comes.”
Nightraven halfway curled up and slid sideways until she was tucked up against his side. “Do not speak while she and I discuss the situation.”
Caintigern landed in a cloud of dust and folded her wings. “That was a well executed attack, my grandniece. I had no warning of it until you struck.”
“I had little choice,” Nightraven bobbed her head in a nod. “If I had not bled you, he would have and you would have taken offense at his defense of himself.”
“He would strike me?” Caintigern sounded amazed.
“He fears us,” Nightraven said, “for he is not stupid. And you had him on his back, which none of the People like. He was ready to attack you if you tried to taste him again.”
“I had anticipated that he would and I would have evaded his bite. It is why I was distracted when you bit me.”
Nightraven’s neck twisted slightly so she could see him with one eye. “Iain, how would you have countered her defense?”
“Caintigern is proud,” Iain said calmly. “I thought she’d expect me to try and bite her and she would have counterattacked to show I could not defeat her. The angle I was planning to try and bite her would give her one easy side to come in to bite my neck and I was waiting to hit her with an upwards hammer fist in the jaw. I would have preferred to use an uppercut, but my shoulder only allows limited movement upward for my arms. I’d have to shift to a hybrid dragon and biped form to get that movement and I haven’t practiced with that concept yet.”
“Has he gauged your response correctly,” Nightraven asked Caintigern.
Caintigern was looking at Iain. “He is a remarkable drake.” She looked back at Nightraven. “He assessed my plans correctly. I am not sure what an upwards hammer fist is, but considering that this is Iain, I am sure it would have injured me. How long has he been successful?”
“Iain returned to me a year ago to become my student again and showed me he’d learned how to take his true form. In the timestream that you currently live in, it was only a few hours ago.”
“Do I get a year alone with him too?”
“Not so long as you live where you do,” Nightraven replied. “That is his primary timeline and his progress in it will be slow while he is my student. He wishes to watch his daughters grow and help in their development. While they are not the People, I accept this, for he will do the same for our daughters.”
Caintigern started to speak and stopped. “And the tradition that drakes are not involved with children will also be laid aside, will it not?”
“My tradition is that I help raise my children,” Iain said firmly. “I won’t be their drake or their sire, I will be their father.”
“Imagine our power and his cunning mixed in the same Princess,” Nightraven said. “And what he is can be taught.”
“Is this why you chose him as your mate?”
“It is but one of the reasons. I also chose him because, while he is fears what I am, he is not afraid of me.”
“I had noticed that behavior in him. He is afraid of what I am, but not of me when he is in front of me.”
“Showing fear just makes me prey,” Iain said. “I understand that reaction in us from my hunts. And neither one of you would give me the slightest respect if you thought of me as prey.”
“My other students have always smelled like prey,” Nightraven said. “Even Kerrik was prey while he was mine, and he was the best choice before Iain brought himself to me.”
Caintigern cocked her head. “Brought?”
“When just a fledgling and even though he knew what he does about me, his cunning knew I could teach him not to harm the ones he loves, and he unconsciously sent himself across universes and sought me out to be his teacher.”
“What does he know about you?”
Iain nodded. “Nightraven seeks her own students. She has refused and slain every prospective student who has presented him or herself to her and asked to be taught.”
“Why did she not slay you?”
“I did not kill Iain because I knew the instant he arrived in my world that he had not come to me. His power had sought me, not him. He wanted nothing to do with me for he is not stupid.” Nightraven looked back at him again. “It was destiny.” She looked at Caintigern. “And he proved he is destiny again when he found you, the one ally I can fully trust to want vengeance as much as I do.”
“Destiny is a girl’s name, not mine,” Iain muttered.
“Perhaps we will name our first daughter Destiny then,” Nightraven sounded amused.
“I’m sure there is some naming tradition we’ll be expected to follow,” Iain said. “And naming her traditionally will help with her acceptance by the other People in your court and later if she becomes Queen.”
“See,” Nightraven said. “Cunning.”
“What I am,” Iain said, “is hungry.”
“What would you like to hunt,” Nightraven asked.
“I want pizza, but I doubt I’m going to find a 2000 kilogram supreme pizza with extra cheese running around out here waiting to be eaten.” He snorted. “And since this is Ark, if there was, it would be mostly bread. Either that or I’d show up just in time to watch the last of it get swallowed by a Giga. So the pizza will have to wait until I get back to the ranch.” He made a rumbling noise deep in his throat. “So how about trikes? They’ve got a decent amount of meat on them.” He chuckled. “And when you bite the first meal, extra meals come running to try and save it.”
“If you catch it behind the frill,” Caintigern said, “you can kill it almost instantly and others will not try to protect it.”
Iain nodded. “That’s why you bite it on the tail first. The three of us can eat more than one trike and so we use their behavior against them. I bite a trike and it attacks me and others come to defend it. You let them pass by and bite them and they’ll turn to go after you and then I bite them again and they turn to go after me again. Eventually they’ll realize this isn’t going to end the way they want and they’ll try to flee, at which point we finish them off. If we do it right, nobody gets hurt except the trikes.” He lifted his head and looked down his muzzle at Caintigern. “And that’s pretty much what we’ll do to Blacktooth’s descendants. We lead them around and strike at their flanks until they’re all dead. At that point, all that’ll be left are the ones hiding in whatever you use for a castle with the Queen and then Nightraven kills her. Or you kill her. Somehow she ends up dead and somebody from your lineage sits on the throne. She orders the rest of Blacktooth’s family and servants killed out of hand and Bob’s your uncle.
Caintigern’s head tilted sideways slightly. “I do not have Theodora here to explain your slang. What does that mean?”
“It means and there you have it.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that we’ve completed Nightraven’s goal. Then we take stock of our losses and resources and decide what happens next.”
“I will not adopt your sayings.”
Iain nodded. “That’s probably another tradition that lesser races can’t know anything interesting. You might want to remember that the reason I can help Nightraven and you to be successful is because I came from one of those lesser races and I don’t think or behave like a drake.” He chuckled. “Except, of course, for being greedy enough to want two royal dragonesses.”
“You are greedier than any drake I have known of until I met you,” Caintigern said firmly.
“Greedy or not, the one thing I am not is ambitious. Since I’m not, Nightraven doesn’t have to worry that I’ll let you two fight your battles and then backstab the survivors so I can put myself on the throne of the People.”
“The People would never accept a drake ruling them,” Caintigern said.
“The People accept whoever is strongest,” Iain countered. “Fortunately, I don’t want to be king. It’s annoying enough being the Grey with people I love and like. I certainly wouldn’t want to do it with a bunch of dragons who kiss my ass to my face while plotting to murder me because they feel that somebody with a dick got uppity and the dragonesses want to ensure that no other drake gets the idea he can ignore tradition and be better than they are.”
“It would be best if you did not speak that way to dragonesses who do not know you,” Caintigern said.
“Yes, but it’ll be a great way to lure some of Blacktooth’s people into traps, won’t it? If I tell them the truth about how I feel about their society, they’ll chase me to the ends of the planet to beat me into submission. And you can slip in with them and pick them off when they separate to find my hiding place.”
“Again,” Nightraven said. “Cunning.” She spread her wings and sprang into the air. “Now we hunt.”
Ninhursag put her hand on his shoulder. “You look tired.”
He grinned and leaned over to kiss the top of her hand. “I’m fine. I just wonder how many times I’m going to have to do show and tell before I’m done.”
She smiled warmly at him. “You’ll do it as often as you need to. And you’ll do it where nobody can see you being testy about it because you’re you.”
“Well, earlier it was Caintigern. Now it’s the command and general staff. Later it’ll be Kerrik, Magdalene and Tanika.” He was looking into the distance. They were on the Danger Room and it was surprisingly nice. While it was correctly described as an orbital complex, that was because it was in orbit around Sol, not the Earth. The topmost level of the complex was a disk three kilometers across that had a transparent dome a kilometer high at the uppermost point to let in sunlight. The entire complex rotated on its axis in order to simulate a day/night cycle comparable to the one on Earth. Underneath the sunlit level were three more levels just as wide with three hundred meter high ceilings for Iain to train in. Below that was the control equipment and the other million and one items needed to survive in an artificial ecosystem.
But there were no animals. The plants in the sunlit level were pollinated by wind or by insect sized robots if necessary.
Iain had been amused to discover that Theodora had recreated his exercise pit full of sapphires, only much larger for his full sized form. He was even more amused to discover that she’d apparently decided he was going to be half again larger than he actually was, for the exercise pit was a hundred and twenty meters in diameter and six meters deep.
Considering that meant it held roughly a hundred and twenty nine billion sapphires, that was a lot of treasure.
“Time for the show,” Iain muttered.
Ninhursag nodded and headed for where April was waiting with everyone else.
Present were his command staff, which comprised Ninhursag, April, Allison, Silver and Lucifer. In addition, his general staff was here, which included the command staff along with Dominique, Eve, Canaan, Sofia, Vanessa, Ygerna, Kasumi and the new addition of Kasserine. Ninhursag had invited Mielikki and Kasserine had brought Ava. Iain had known that Ninhursag was going to bring their goddess and it was pretty much a given that wherever Kasserine went, so did Ava while she was still a minor. He didn’t really expect that to change once Ava became an adult, either.
Also on his staff were Theodora and Daya, but they were here all of the time.
Allison grinned when Iain looked at her. “Are you going to strip for us?”
Silver whacked the Umbrea in the back of the head. “Stop that. You’re not alone with him and not everyone thinks you’re funny.”
Allison’s grin didn’t go away. “He was amused and that’s all that counts.”
Iain looked at Kasumi and she smiled reassuringly. “I expect Allison to be a barbarian and so do you.”
Iain chuckled. “We all know why we’re here and why we’re not doing this on Earth.” He shifted to his full-sized form and laid down, curling his tail around his body as he regarded them expectantly. “You can touch me if you want.”
“You’re not moving your mouth,” Ava said as people began approaching him cautiously. “But you’re talking.”
“I can project my voice from just under jaw,” Iain said. “It’s a peculiarity of my race.”
Kasserine touched his skin. “The unicorns here do it too.”
“That’s because they were created by a dragon of Iain’s race,” Vanessa told her. “And he used his blood to do it so they can do some of the things Iain’s race of dragons can do.”
“Are they aware of this,” Kasserine’s voice was curious.
“We’ve told Golden Cloud. I don’t know if she’s told the rest of them.”
“She hasn’t decided if she believes what she’s learned,” Ninhursag was running her hands over the scales of his hide. “So she hasn’t told them. I think they’ve been told by others in the clan, but I think they believe the idea is absurd.”
“She believes it,” Mielikki said. She hadn’t approached him and stood with Kasumi a short distance away. “She asked me to confirm the truth of what Iain had told her. Now she’s trying to decide if it is something that the others need to know.” She looked up at Iain. “It’s hard for her right now. She’s trying to rise to the challenge that she feels has been thrown down by some of your other women and actually think about things that she never has before. For some reason she desperately wants your approval and I don’t think she knows why but I can see it frustrating her.”
“Is there anything I can do to help her out?”
“I would ask that you offer her the use of a teacher, if such a device will operate successfully on her, and that you make it sound like you came up with the idea on your own.”
Air gusted out of Iain’s nose in a sigh that made several women jump. “I have,” he said. “She turned it down at the time. I’ll offer it to her again and suggest some things she might like to learn more about.”
“I believe she will be much more receptive to the idea,” Mielikki replied.
“Good.” Iain looked at Kasumi. “How are you doing?”
“I am a little uncomfortable,” she admitted. I crave you more than I did when I licked your neck, she said through her twee. But I will not embarrass either myself or you in front of everyone else.
I love you, he sent to her. Her answering smile lit up her face.
“There are no legends of dragons that I know of in Silver River,” Sofia said. “I was told of none when I was a child. There are legends of winged serpents, but you are not one of them.” She leaned close and sniffed him before taking an experimental lick of his hide. “But I am not surprised that you are so magnificent.”
Iain chuckled. “Magnificent. I like that word.”
“Careful,” Ygerna said. “Dragons of legend often let their overweening pride lead to their downfall.”
“Have no fear of that,” he answered with a laugh. “I am well aware that after this is over, April is going to kick my ass until I get good enough to stop her. Then she’ll cheat so she can make me get stronger still. My pride can’t be overweening when she keeps whittling it down to the size of a puppy.”
Most of the women had stayed on his right side, but Dominique had gone all the way around his head to his left shoulder. “Would you spread your wings?” He did so and she gave a low whistle. “They are certainly,” she paused.
“Magnificent,” he supplied helpfully.
Dominique laughed. “I was going to say big. Can you really fly with these?”
“I can and I can fly reasonably well, although I’m not as nimble as I am in my smaller form.”
“Could you fly through the rings?”
“Only if you make them larger. Right now my nose wouldn’t fit through them.”
Dominique grinned. “True. And when I do?”
“We’ll find out. I don’t think it’ll be too much of a problem as long as you don’t expect me to ignore inertia and momentum.” He chuckled softly. “I can ignore it, but it won’t stop being a thing just because I pretend it isn’t. And, no, I’m not yet to the point where I can make it do what I want, but I intend to figure it out so I can be as agile as I am used to being.” His teeth showed this time when he laughed. “I am not looking forward to losing control and slamming into a wall in microgravity during training with what I mass now. Then we get to find out how much stronger my bones have become.”
“Speaking of testing,” April said. “I want to watch you move. Stay on the ground at first and then we’ll see about your flight. Dominique and Eve will fly over you and record for me.” She turned to Lucifer. “You’re best at close flying, so I’d like you to fly upside down under him while he flies and record his motion.”
“I would be honored,” she said.
Theodora could record me from all sides at once, Iain said to April through his twee.
And she is going to do that for me. But your women want to help, she replied. Let them. If they all want to get horny staring at you, well so do I.
Shutting up now.
April laughed. “Ladies, I suggest you move back to Mielikki and Kasumi.” She watched the group drift away from Iain and towards the other two women. “Iain, how fast can you go from lying down like this to a full sprint?”
“In just a few paces, like before.”
She waved a hand and Dominique and Eve took off to hover overhead. Lucifer joined them a second later. “Show me in three, two, one, now!”
Mielikki checked to make sure Heather and Ganieda were as far away as they were willing to get from Iain before returning her attention to watching him stare at the ley line. “How are you going to loosen it up before you open it?”
“I’m not,” Iain said. “When I slice the line open, it’ll return to its resting state as the magic drains out of it.” He looked at the fifth person there. “Do you have any questions?”
Queen Ygerna was looking at him. “What has changed?”
He raised an eyebrow curiously. “I meant do you have any questions about what I’m doing.”
She ignored his comment. “You are different than you were when we last spoke. You don’t feel stronger, although I suspect that you are. You feel,” she frowned as she thought, “more complete?”
“I was told once that if you meditate on the whichness of the why you can learn a lot more about yourself,” Iain said.
“Why is it that my analog is pregnant?”
Iain glanced back at her. “Do I have to explain where babies come from to you?”
The last person in their group chuckled softly. “From what I have read about her past, I believe that Her Majesty has had at least one child, Mr. Grey. Please stop teasing her and putting our alliance in jeopardy.”
“Yes, Your Highness.” To get Princess Zara to join them here in Ireland without a huge security contingent, Iain had agreed to take responsibility for her security while she was out here. That meant he’d had a private meeting with Queen Anne, where she’d demanded he swear a vow to do as he’d agreed to. The requested vow had been debated, agreed upon and given. “Mary, I’m getting ready to start.”
Mielikki nodded. “I’m observing.” She’d been renamed Mary in a ceremony that ensured Iain could say that was her name if asked without it being a lie and was here as his assistant and general Girl Friday. Ninhursag had insisted that Vanessa be one of his guards for tonight, but April had convinced her that Vanessa’s place was with the ready response team that was on standby to get involved if there were any problems.
“Is this really a ley line that I’m looking at,” Zara asked.
“It is, Your Highness,” Mielikki replied. “The spell Ganieda cast on you allows you to see mystical energy such as ley lines and other supernatural phenomena. By opening the ley line, Iain will release most of the energy that’s stored inside it. Your mages will become more powerful if they are inside the area it spreads to and, while ferals would be more powerful too if they were aware, as ferals are not aware of things like that, they will only be as strong as they were before.”
“We’re in Ireland,” Zara pointed out. “Will he be doing this to ley lines in Scotland, England and Wales?”
“We are going to wait for a formal request from the Queen,” Mielikki said. “And right now the plan is only to work on ley lines inside territory that the British already occupy, in order to keep Blue from being able to take much advantage from the situation.”
“Magic items created by your mages and pokegirls inside the field will also be stronger, no matter where they’re used,” Iain said. He focused his will. “And done.” He looked at Ganieda. “What’s the betting?”
She grinned. “Less than five minutes for me, less than ten for Heather.”
“I say it’ll be less than two minutes.”
She scowled. “Stop crowding my bet.”
“I’m not betting. I don’t want what you’re wagering.”
Zara eyed him curiously. “What is this?”
“Pokegirls in stable harems bet on things as another form of competition.”
“What is the prize?”
“Time under Iain,” Ganieda said.
Zara frowned. “Time under,” her eyes widened and her mouth set. “You’re not amusing.”
“No, you are not,” a new female voice said. “Iain Grey, what are you doing in Ireland and what have you just done?”
“One minute and sixteen seconds.” Ganieda muttered.
“My Lady!” Ygerna dropped to one knee.
Iain bowed to the two identical women in front of him. Both had taken on the aspect of the younger Danu, but he could still tell them apart. “Lady Danu and Lady Danu, I hope you are well today.”
“Who are they,” Zara asked Ganieda in a low voice.
“Danu is the goddess of the fey,” the Snugglebunny muttered back to her. “Just like the Sidhe, she’s real. The fact that there are two of them is another story for later. Now get behind me.”
“Lady Danu,” Iain said, “I have unlocked the magic stored in this ley line and it is going back where it belongs in the environment.”
“You have made it useless for travel,” one Danu said.
“I have made it less useful for travel, Lady Danu,” Iain replied. “A sufficiently skilled mage can still use it. But why I did it is rather important to you.”
There was silence until the younger Danu smiled. “Very well, Iain Grey, why have you released the magic in the ley line and made it more difficult for Ygerna’s forces to travel the lines?”
“We believe the reason that the fey became infertile is because the magic went away,” Iain said. “Since the magic is coming back locally, the situation should reverse itself around here for supernatural beings.”
“You believe,” the older Danu said. “Do you have any proof?”
“I’m Mary and we believe the change should happen quickly,” Mielikki said. “You have read the magical energy and fertility of your servant Ygerna. Read it now and see if she is more fertile than before.”
Ygerna’s head came up and she gave Mielikki a startled look. “What?”
“Stand, Ygerna,” Danu said. The Sidhe Queen obediently shot to her feet. Danu clapped a hand to Ygerna’s belly. “You are correct, Mary,” she said with amusement. “In a few days here, Ygerna would be fully fertile. Is Iain Grey to breed her too? We would not object to this. It can be his reward for doing this for us.”
Queen Ygerna did not look happy at the prospect.
Iain shook his head. “I don’t know Her Majesty very well, Lady Danu. We’re not friends, much less lovers and going to bed with her for reasons like that isn’t fair to her. And, I promised my wife that she would be my only Sidhe wife unless she decides otherwise,” he paused, “without coercion. Queen Ygerna is exactly that, a queen, and I am not only a lowly commoner, I am not part of her court nor shall I be in Ireland much.” He shrugged. “I don’t think you want her relocating to Texas. This means you will be able to have your fey have children when they’re adult.”
“Why did you not tell us of this sooner,” the older Danu asked.
“Up until recently it was nothing more than conjecture,” Iain said. “Lady Danu, we wanted to be sure this was true before bringing it to your attention.”
She nodded. “You will open all of the ley lines in Great Britain.”
“You will provide me with a sufficiently detailed map to be able to locate all of the airborne, surface and subterranean ley lines in Great Britain and I’ll use that to decide which ones to open now and best aid the war against Blue. You don’t like them either since we both know they will exterminate your fey again if they can.”
The younger Danu snapped her fingers and a metal bound tome appeared floating in front of him. “Take it.”
Iain raised an eyebrow and took a step backwards. “Mary.”
Mielikki held out a hand towards the book. “It’s safe.” She pulled it from the air and opened it. “This is a remarkable gift.”
“If he does what he says he will,” the younger Danu said, “it is a gift well given.” She looked at Iain. “If not to breed her, why bring Ygerna here?”
“She is the queen of the Order of Pendragon and, while we are not lovers, we’re on the same side. This will affect her and so she needs to know of the changes that are coming,” Iain replied. “She is an ally of the British, represented by Crown Princess Zara here, and we all want Blue defeated. She has every right to be here and so she was invited.” He looked at a confused Ygerna. “It is only your due, Your Majesty.”
“Thank you,” she said regally. “I would have been loath to believe this if I had not witnessed it.”
Iain nodded. “And you’re the best person out of the Order to be able to assess what changes will be needed so your people can continue using the ley lines for travel with a minimum of disruption.”
“True,” she said thoughtfully. Her eyes refocused on Iain. “I appreciate this.”
“We haven’t always been on the best terms, Your Majesty,” Iain said easily, “but we have never been enemies. Keeping this from you would have been, at the very least, incredibly spiteful and, more likely, disastrous for the war effort.”
She nodded. “I would have you return to the Order’s demesne on the summer solstice that you could be rewarded for what you have done this day.” She smiled widely at Iain’s sudden wary look. “I will reward you with a knighthood, Iain, no more. It is a grand honor. There have been only three knighthoods given to anyone outside the Order since its founding.”
“With your permission,” Iain said, “I’ll have my wife contact you and make the arrangements.”
“You have that permission, Iain Grey,” Ygerna bowed to both Danu. “Lady and Lady, what is your wish?”
“I wish Iain Grey to be as respectful as you are,” the older Danu said sourly.
Ygerna glanced at him. “Lady, attempting to modify his personality to carry out your will might ignite war between the Order and Grey Clan. Is that your wish?”
“His behavior is acceptable, having improved greatly from our first meeting,” the younger Danu said. “You will not attempt to change him without our direct order.”
“Yes, my Lady,” Ygerna replied formally.
“You may leave us.”
“My Lady,” Ygerna said. She cast a spell and a doorway opened in the vicinity of the ley line. “Be well, Iain Grey.”
“And you, Your Majesty,” Iain replied. She winked at him and stepped into the doorway, which closed behind her.
“Once the fey were not confined to Ireland,” the younger Danu said as soon as the ley line portal closed. “Once they were not confined to just the British Isles.”
“I’ll be opening select ley lines all over the world,” Iain replied. “I’ll choose the ones that serve my purposes first, Lady Danu, but it will leave them available for the fey to visit in order that they might have children.”
“As long as we remain on good relations,” Mielikki said, “we are willing to sell you an updated map of those locations.”
“Sell?” The older Danu didn’t look happy. “You should just give them to us, Mary.”
“The price will be nominal,” Mielikki countered. “By paying for these maps, they will become your property without any consideration as to whether or not accepting them from me puts you in my debt, to be called upon for payment whenever I want.” She smiled grimly. “If you would rather be indebted to me, then by all means, I will provide them for what would be seen as free. However, we all know that nothing is truly ever free. Still, if you want the map for you owing me favors in return for each updated copy, I accept your offer.”
“We do not keep money,” Danu the Younger said.
“You know the locations of every place your fey fell,” Mielikki noted. “Many of those places are holdings that have within them many treasures that could aid my clan.”
“You wish us to become merchants,” Danu the Elder snapped. “Hauling around a bag full of trinkets with which to appease your greed?”
“I would prefer that you become brokers of information,” Mielikki said with a smile. “In return for a new map, you will give us the location of one of these places that still holds things of value and stand aside as my clan gleans it.”
Danu the Younger looked thoughtful. “What if you decide that the value of the place we provide the location for your clan to loot is inadequate?
“Then I will approach you with any issues that I have over the value of what was provided, and we will work together to ensure that it doesn’t happen once more.”
Danu the Younger looked at her counterpart, who nodded. “This is acceptable to us.”
Mielikki smiled. “When the first map is ready I will contact you. It will be at least a month before that will happen, more likely two.”
“We understand,” Danu the Younger said. She looked at Iain. “Be well, Iain Grey.” Then they both were gone.
Mielikki turned to Princess Zara. “Your Highness, I must caution you that the two Danu were trying to bewitch you so that you would not have remembered what just took place. I prevented that because you need to understand that Queen Ygerna is your ally in the war with Blue because her goddesses want her to be. If that changes, she will abandon your alliance without a second thought or even a warning as you have no formal alliance between your queens.”
Zara nodded slowly. “Who are you that can stop the power of a god?”
“They are not gods as you would recognize them,” Mielikki said. “Having had no worshippers for thousands of years, their power has waned like ice in sunlight. But they already have fey children that they are raising, and they will undoubtedly raise them to worship both goddesses. Eventually their power will begin to grow again and they will one day reconsider just how useful the British are to them. Historically the Sidhe and other fey races looked upon humans as chattel, or at best as vassals. That is because the goddesses they worship see you as such. That viewpoint has not changed, and you needed to be aware of this so you could warn your mother.”
Zara was watching Mielikki closely. “They’re not our enemies for the moment is something we’re used to understanding. But what can we do, in the long run, to protect our subjects from what they might decide to do to us?”
“I would like you to allow Iain to make available in the British lands some books for sale. These books are religious texts of the worship of a goddess named Mielikki. Some of your people will read them and decide that they will convert to her worship. I would like that you not interfere with that progress, and as Mielikki grows more powerful, she will be willing to protect Britain against the machinations of the Danu goddesses to protect her worshippers. Without her help or the help of someone comparable, you will not be able to resist either Danu, and they will act to protect their newly reborn fey.”
“We will not want to convert wholesale to the worship of some foreign god,” Zara said.
“And you will not be required to,” Mielikki replied. “The books will find the people who will want to convert, who already want to convert and do not know what they search for. Those will provide Mielikki with enough of a reason to involve herself that the Danu goddess will not see anything unusual in her behavior. These prospective worshippers will be made happier by their conversion.”
“If this isn’t requiring us to convert,” Zara said thoughtfully, “what Iain wants to offer for sale is up to him and the shops he is selling to. Britain is Anglican, but we have never required our people to be homogenously Christian. Will that be acceptable to this Mielikki?”
“I believe it will be,” Mielikki replied.
Zara looked at Iain. “You’ve been very quiet during this discussion, Mr. Grey.”
“It’s not really my business, Your Highness. I’ve already been offering the books Mary is talking about and some of your booksellers have purchased copies of them. And as for the whole situation where the fey suddenly stop being so helpful isn’t something I expect will crop up for a couple of human generations. Your grandkid who sits on the throne might have to deal with that particular problem, but I don’t see you or Queen Anne having to.”
She smiled at him. “You know, you can call me Zara in private.”
Iain returned her smile. “I didn’t know that, but I will from now on. And I’m Iain.”
Zara was looking at the ley line. “How much of a difference do you think this will make?”
“Until your mages learn to use the extra magic in their spells,” Mielikki said, “very little. I expect the development will be incremental as well. As Iain noted earlier, what this will do, however, is let you make more powerful magic items with your magical pokegirls almost immediately, and Blue will not be able to match what you are doing.”
Iain shrugged when Zara looked curiously at him. “Mary understands this better than I do so I told her to explain when she could.”
“Isn’t she your apprentice?”
“She is my assistant and runs errands for me if I need them. I am not a master of any type of magic and so I can’t take apprentices. Dominique is my mistress in this magic.”
Zara nodded. “I understand. If there isn’t anything I’m needed here for, I would like to return to Glasgow.”
“Ganieda will take you back,” Iain said as the Snugglebunny Splice came forward. “Thank you for attending.”
She smiled. “Thank you for inviting me. I’ll have to make arrangements for some of our mages to come out here before they’ll believe what’s happening, but this is important.” She raised an eyebrow. “What do I need to offer to get that map of opened ley lines from you?”
“I’ll make sure you get the updates as soon as they’re available. You destroy every trace of Blue and I’ll call us even.”
Zara took Ganieda’s hand. “Iain, I want you to understand that everything you’re doing for us won’t be forgotten. Is there anything you would request from us?”
Iain shook his head. “I’m good, Zara. Lucifer, however, would like to be a duchess or get some other noble title.”
Zara smiled. “There are developments in process that might make her happy then. But don’t tell her anything about it.”
“I won’t. She likes good surprises.”
“Then she will be pleasantly surprised. But you request nothing for yourself?” Iain shook his head. “If you were offered a reward of some kind, would you refuse it?”
Iain chuckled. “I don’t think I can. Certain women, including all of the ones here, have threatened me with some non-enjoyable bondage and a ball gag to keep me from refusing any kind of presents from your government.”
From behind him, Heather giggled. “He’s right,” she said.
Zara was obviously trying very hard not to laugh, but tears glittered at the edges of her eyes until she blinked them away. “Good. I would not want to offer you some gift only to have you refuse it out of hand. Mother would definitely not appreciate you doing so to her.”
Iain just shook his head. “Take care, Zara, and tell your mother I appreciate her letting you come out here by yourself.”
“I will. Take care, Iain.” She and Ganieda vanished.
“You like her,” Dianthus said.
“What’s not to like,” Iain replied. “She’s smart, pretty and not really interested in me.” He turned to Mielikki. “Did you say a little while ago that you know who are going to become your worshippers? If we could just ship the books straight to them it might save some time.”
“That isn’t how it works, Iain. I do not know the individuals involved, I just know that they exist.”
“Then enlighten me, please.”
She smiled. “It’s simple statistics. At any given time in a population, a small but significant percentage of people is willing to embrace new ideas. Those of this group that encounter my texts will read them and a smaller percentage of them will actually convert to my religion. Many of these will drop my religion for the next new thing they find, but some will stay the course and become true believers in my religion.” Her smile faded slightly. “In hard times, people either cling desperately to what they already know or frantically seek out new things, ideas and customs in a hope to find something that will bring them solace. This is obviously one of those hard times, and my texts will be read by some of those frantic people. The overall numbers of the frantic group is much higher than the numbers of experimental people in a peaceful situation, so my religion will begin to grow once again. You will provide guidance and comfort to those that I choose to become my new priests and priestesses. If we could, I would like to do this in Blue territory as well, but I do not see that as being easily done, although eventually my texts will be smuggled into Blue land by true believers.” She smiled. “But the process has already been started here, in Britain as well as in Indigo, Johto and the other leagues in North and South America. I even have two prospective worshippers in Israel.”
“So the ladies Danu could do something like this too?”
“They could indeed, but they will not,” Mielikki said. “They will fixate on the fey, as history shows they have always done, and deny themselves the growth potential found in the human race.” She smiled. “And I will not try to change their minds, for in this case the more is definitely not merrier.” Her smile disappeared. “I will speak to the clan’s fey and, if they will have me, I will accept their worship. One day, no matter what we do, we will find ourselves opposed to the desires that the goddesses will have and they will seek to use our fey against us.” She looked at Iain. “I could use your help in this.”
“We’ll talk to them together,” Iain said. “And we’ll do it tomorrow.”
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