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“Fuck,” April breathed as she entered the room behind Allison. She changed direction and made a beeline for Scheherazade and Irena, hugging them hard. “I am so glad to see you two.”
Irena raised an eyebrow. “Iain warned you.”
“Of course, he warned me,” April said. “But it was still hard to believe.” She turned. “Ninhursag.” She paused. “Allison, you, Lucifer and Silver too. Come here.”
Allison was watching the newcomers with an unhappy cant to her ears. “What is it, April?”
“I’ve told you about when we were attacked by that fucking dwarf and what it cost us,” April said. “I warned you that Iain wouldn’t let them stay dead if he could. This is Scheherazade and Irena, two of the women we lost that day.” She turned to look at Iain. “What about the others?”
“They’re gone,” Scheherazade’s voice was weary. “On to whatever awaited them.” Her ears flicked. “Although I never found out anything about Sable.”
“I’d been waiting for you and the others,” Irena said. “And Iain, of course. Then I was captured by Drakh raiders.” She smirked. “They couldn’t resist my powers until they sewed my eyes shut so I couldn’t aim at them. Then he shows up and rescues me and here I am.”
April grinned. “Iain can give you the ability to see even if your eyes are shut so that won’t stop you.”
Irena grinned back. “That will be very nice,” she purred. She held out her hand to Ninhursag. “I’m Irena and I understand you’re the maharani now.” She jerked her head towards Scheherazade. “While she’s not rude and she’s a dog, one of the tricks Iain never managed to teach her was how to shake. Usually she claims she’s too busy.”
Allison snickered at the expression on the Dread Wolf’s face. “Oh, I like you,” she said to Irena. Beside her, Lucifer chuckled softly.
Ninhursag took the proffered hand. “I am Ninhursag and I am the maharani. Were you really dead?”
“I was. I remember dying and then I was in the Land of the Dead. Iain brought us back to here and now we’re both alive.” She blinked. “Your children are doing well.” Ninhursag looked surprised and she smiled. “I was a Night Nurse for most of my life before I became a Sanctuary Goth. I kept my abilities except for my armor when Iain evolved me and checking health is automatic for me. April’s pregnant too. Is everyone pregnant except us?”
Ninhursag chuckled. “Not yet, but Allison here is eager to be next.”
“Iain told us a little bit about what was going on while we were in medical and getting dressed.” Irena glanced at Scheherazade. “While I was getting dressed and she was refusing clothes. I know the Umbrea is Allison, the Pegaslut is Silver and the brunette is Lucifer. I also accept that I’m subordinate to all of you. In fact, I’m subordinate to everyone until I earn my place.”
“Shay is being quiet,” April was watching the Dread Wolf.
“Iain said she’s lost inside his head,” Irena replied. “He said she’s getting reacquainted with him and it might take a while.”
“I can hear all of you perfectly well,” Scheherazade said as she looked at them in turn. “And my status in the harem is what it has always been. I protect Iain and nothing else matters.”
April raised an eyebrow. “You will have to be tested to see if you’re good enough to be in his permanent guard,” she said coolly. “Just like anyone else would and just like you’d insist anyone else would have to be. I don’t doubt that you’ll eventually be in his guard, but you have a lot of catching up to do with the rest of us.”
Scheherazade’s ears went back for a second before she nodded. “Iain warned me that would be the procedure. I was hoping he was wrong but very well.” Her ears came up. “I am looking forward to pitting myself against Canaan and some of the others.”
“She has been watching us for a while,” Iain said as he joined them. “So she knows a lot more than Irena does. She said she hasn’t had a chance to watch since I became a little dragon and went off with Nightraven.”
“Then she’s missed a lot,” Ninhursag noted. “Is this what the meeting is about?”
“I thought you wouldn’t like to get blindsided by a couple of my women returning from the dead,” Iain said with a smile.
“How do we treat them,” Silver asked.
“We are newcomers again,” Irena said. “Treating us any other way would cause more trouble than good. We’ll just have to work our way to whatever position we can rise to, just like everyone else does.”
Silver turned to Iain. “Siobhan refused an appointment to the general staff. I think Irena should take her place.”
“Let’s get them settled in first,” Iain said thoughtfully. “Siobhan and Irena need to meet and work out their differences.”
April frowned. “Irena, I remember how you fight. Siobhan is good and she’s going to surprise you but remember that she’s pregnant with Iain’s daughter.” She raised a finger. “Not a pokegirl, his human daughter.”
Irena shrugged. “I won’t fight her while she’s pregnant if you’d like. If she insists, Iain won’t let her kill me and I can endure anything else.” She shrugged again when April looked surprised. “The Drakh were very unhappy with me and, since I couldn’t be killed, they didn’t have any reason to hold back, especially after they found I could use my healing magic to kill their controllers every time they tried to infect me with one of them. Yes, I can kill things in the Land of the Dead. They are psychically linked to their controllers, so when I killed a controller, the one who had infected me with it got to feel it die and would almost die with it. That made them mad and scared. They’re not very creative about torture but they make up for it by being very enthusiastic and thorough.”
“Was it bad,” Allison asked.
“I understand a lot more about what Iain went through,” Irena replied. “And what he really means when he says he’s functional. I am too and it won’t keep me from pulling my weight.” She looked past April to Iain. “I also know just how much of a lie what you’ve told me probably was when you said you were functional.”
“I have a job to do.”
“Are you still having the nightmares?”
“You are not going to keep me out of them this time.” She gave him an anxious look when his eyes narrowed “Please? After what happened to me, I need to know I’m not alone.”
“Crafty,” April muttered. She turned to Iain. “I know you’ve been locking us out of those nightmares. Are you going to deny Irena something she needs, Iain?”
“Fuck,” Iain said distinctly.
“What was that,” April asked in a sweet tone. Silver snickered, the sound echoed by Scheherazade.
“I didn’t mutter,” Iain said sourly. “We’ll see if Irena really needs that and if she does, she’ll get it.”
“Welcome back,” April said warmly to Irena.
Scheherazade stared at her in shock. “You knew he was going to bring me back to life and you didn’t stop him?”
Lynn’s ears flicked amusedly, her eyes gleaming in the predawn light. “I didn’t know when he was going to do it, and I didn’t know what he was planning until after I became a Dire Wolf and gained precognition, but yes.”
“You should have stopped him.”
“Scheherazade, is his personality very different from when you were originally in his harem?”
The Dread Wolf glanced back where Iain was standing with Lucifer and Pandora. “He’s gotten harder, but not really.”
“Can you put out a volcano by squatting and peeing on it? I can’t, and Iain, when his mind is made up, is that volcano for us. As for the issue of two of us in his harem, it isn’t an issue at all. There are not two Dire Wolves here since you aren’t a Dire Wolf.”
“I had things to do there,” Scheherazade grumbled.
“And you have things to do here,” Lynn said. “And these things are for him and with him and us. Tell me you’d rather serve these masters in death instead of our Iain in life, here and now. Tell me and let it be the truth and I will consider killing you.”
“You are not much of a Celestial.”
Lynn chuckled. “I will help keep Iain from being evil. Any Celestial would accept that as a life’s work well chosen and you know it, because if he goes evil the world will suffer in his grip. If being a little rough on our enemies will keep his soul and heart safe, then so be it.” Her tongue lolled in a laugh. “You are just upset that he tricked you back to being alive and you didn’t get to choose to live on your own. You are not upset to be here and back in his bed.”
Scheherazade looked back at Iain again. “True.” She straightened and gave a low laugh. “He made sure I had no chance to resist him. It was very well done.”
“Our male is very cunning. Have you been on the Theodora?”
Ears canted sideways confusedly. “Just when I went through medical but otherwise, no, not yet. Why?”
“Have you seen your daughters as they sleep? Watching them is what inspired me to become a Dire Wolf in the first place.”
Scheherazade went very still. “What are you talking about?”
“You are the only Dread Wolf, my sister. Iain was not going to let your legacy die and he cloned daughters from your DNA. He just didn’t know how to raise them to be strong like they should be, so they still sleep on the Theodora. I stumbled across them by accident, but Theodora explained their presence when I asked and I knew then that they’d need a Dire or Dread Wolf to teach them how to reach their ultimate strengths. You were dead, so I determined to become that which they needed. And I am even happier that you are here to be their mother instead of me, for you can teach me as well.”
Iain. He looked in Scheherazade’s direction at her mental call. Lynn told me about the Dread Wolf kits. Are there also kits of Irena, Hathor and Montsho?
Irena will want to help with her kits, but I will be the mother to the others. It will be my penance for not returning when I should have, years ago, and my homage to the sisters who you could not recover.
I think they’d like you doing that, Iain’s response was solemn. And thank you. He turned back to the man he’d been talking to. “So, Colonel Russo, are your people ready?” What he’d actually called Russo was Sgan Aluf Russo, which meant he was a lieutenant colonel, but then they were speaking Hebrew since they were at the airfield in Haifa and Hebrew was the official language of Israel.
Russo nodded. “There’s a field over there,” he pointed, “that’s been put aside for your lessons. Everyone is waiting there.” He frowned slightly. “Why did you not land there like we’d planned?”
“Haifa traffic control told us land here,” Iain replied. “I explained where I expected to land and they repeated the order to land here. I don’t like missiles being fired at me or pokegirls being sent to knock my ride out of the air, so here is where we landed.” He looked at Ninhursag. “Since we’re still supposed to be at the field, get them moving.”
She grinned. “See you there.” She waved to Dionne, who chivvied the group of Elfqueens into a run towards the field. Ninhursag watched for a second before running off to join them. The ad hoc company she was leading was unusual in that it was composed of nothing but Elfqueens, all of the ones from the clan and the remainder being select volunteers from the Sisterhood’s infantry to make an even hundred.
“Your Hebrew is excellent,” Russo said approvingly. “But I don’t recognize your accent.”
Iain shrugged. “When I wanted to learn Hebrew, the teacher I found was a Karaite who had made Aliyah from Egypt. She taught me both Hebrew and Arabic.”
Russo looked surprised. “You don’t follow their beliefs, do you?”
Iain chuckled. “I’m aware that they’re considered heretical, but I’m not Jewish, so no.”
“I had heard you were emigrating to Israel.”
“No, I’m not. I own land here, but I am not an Israeli citizen and the government agrees that I don’t have to become one.” He looked at Pandora. “We need to get moving too.”
“Lucy has point,” she said as Lucifer jogged off. “Zareen and Ganieda are with you and I’ll be with Lynn and Scheherazade, who are observing and will not be involved in your defense unless I bring them in. Kasserine and Ava are being transported in by Canaan and will meet us there”
“I have a car,” Russo said. “You can ride with me.”
“Thanks, but I won’t have that car when a feral wants to pull off my head and keep it as a trophy,” Iain said with a grin. “And that means that I run too, but I’ll see you there.” He looked at Zareen. “You lead.”
She nodded and headed off at a run, with Iain and Ganieda dropping in behind her while Pandora took to the air. To follow Israeli law as per their agreement with the Israeli government, the Nightmare wore a black bikini top and a scrap of cloth around her hips that could charitably be called a skirt. Except for the color and the size, it was identical to the outfit being worn by Scheherazade. Lynn was wearing shorts and another bikini top, but the Dire Wolf was seriously considering switching to the skirt because the shorts bound annoyingly during fights or even while merely running.
Iain wasn’t really concerned about an attack by feral pokegirls, not since there were another thousand Elfqueens and their tamers, these from various active duty Israeli military units, waiting for them in the park. Still, they had rules for a reason and he’d seen attacks happen in the damnedest places. And Israel’s security was good, but it had to contend with the realities of life where the agents of the leagues and the other enemies of Israel looked just like everyone else and would be very unhappy with what was going to happen today.
Lucifer was waiting when Zareen, Iain and Ganieda ran up. “Nothing to report,” she said without ceasing her vigil. “Can you feel the tension?”
Iain chuckled as Pandora landed nearby and moved to his side. “You mean the tension from over a thousand Elfqueens, each of whom knows that she is the best of the lot out here? Hadn’t noticed it.” He glanced at Zareen when she laughed. “This was Ninhursag’s idea, but the Israelis signed off on it and we have permission to crush anyone getting out of hand.”
Ganieda’s ears flicked. “I’m looking for threats, but since our queens have all trained together for over a month and the Israeli queens haven’t, it’ll be a very short fight. Canaan is incoming.”
A second later, the Huntress Splice appeared with Kasserine and Ava. Her antennae uncurled as she released her passengers. “I don’t detect any threats from the Israeli Elfqueens, but April has cleared all of us to act preemptively if we do. We are not to let our people get hurt if it can be avoided.”
Zareen’s growl was hungry. “They prey. Not look us.”
Ganieda’s grin showed her teeth all the way back to the carnassial teeth in her jaws. “She’s right. They’re busier watching each other than they are watching our people. Any action by anyone would become a free for all almost instantly.”
“In such a situation,” Lucifer noted calmly, “the threat to bystanders would be great, and our people will be in the middle of such a melee.” She looked at Iain. “I have already lost too many of my sisters during the recent rebellion to want to watch more die this day.”
“April is right,” Iain said. “If you detect anything, we don’t wait to act.” He glanced at Lucifer. “Retreating is still acting and if they start fighting each other, we pull back and wait for the dust to settle. If necessary, we pull back to the shuttle and then to Texas. I’ve told Ninhursag and she’s warning the other queens that Option Four is in effect.”
“Thank you,” Lucifer said quietly as her eyes swept around them.
“Right now they’re tense,” Canaan’s eyes were closed as she scanned. “And the IDF has issued some bloodcurdling threats if they cause us to leave before they get what they want.” She smiled broadly. “There shouldn’t be any trouble. Later, maybe, but we’ll be gone by then. These Elfqueens are all ambitious and they desperately want what Ninhursag is going to give them because of the power boost each of them will get from it, them and any court they may form someday.”
Ava looked at Iain. “Are there any pokegirls that are not ambitious?”
He laughed. “I’m sure there is one or two. Somewhere.”
Ganieda cast a spell. “I can detect blocking spells to keep us from being magically observed and Daya verifies that she has swept the sky for spy satellites.” She cast another spell. “And my guard spell is up so I’ll know if anyone tries to either observe us or send out some kind of message.”
“They can’t keep this secret forever, but at least their enemies won’t learn what’s happening here today.” Iain said as he watched Ninhursag’s group form a loose column four rows wide and twenty five deep in front of the Israeli formation. The Israeli queens had their males and females with them and Iain’s people quickly broke the thousand Elfqueens up into groups of ten, each of which was taken away by one of the Grey Elfqueens. He glanced at Ava and Kasserine, but both women were alert, with their weapons held ready. “Ladies.”
Ava smiled without ceasing surveillance. “Husband to be.” Kasserine just gave him a glance and a brief nod.
Each Grey Elfqueen led her group to one of a hundred squares of tilled ground that had been marked by ropes and stakes with a sign holding a number from one to a hundred. The Israeli Elfqueens formed a line as the Grey Elfqueen with their group killed everything in the square to ash. Then she motioned to the first of the Israeli Elfqueens. “Grow your tree.”
A hundred olive trees grew at different rates of speed until they were mature. Then the Grey Elfqueens taught the Israeli Elfqueens the spell required to call a weapon from a tree and stepped back as the first Elfqueen in each group cast it on the tree they’d just grown. When each Elfqueen had her bow and quiver, she then put her olive into fruit and harvested a small sack full of olives to plant in atonement for the life she was about to take and then she killed her tree to ash before moving to the back of the group as the next Israeli Elfqueen stepped forward with her olive pit.
Ava looked at Iain. “Why are they harvesting from the tree before killing it?”
“Ninhursag made it a condition to learning the spell,” Ganieda answered. “They have each sworn to plant the olives they harvest someplace where they should do reasonably well and then grow all of them to saplings before a month has passed.”
“Is there a curse involved with such a geas,” Kasserine asked curiously. “It does not seem like Ninhursag to do such a thing.”
“There are no immediate repercussions to not planting the olives since there is no geas involved,” Iain said. “Although Ninhursag will undoubtedly ask about it if any of these Elfqueens request assistance in the future and she’ll refuse to help if they lied and are forsworn.”
“I’m nervous,” Ava admitted.
“You’re doing fine,” Iain reassured her. “Just keep going the way you are and everything will be all right. We’ll just wait here until they’re done and gone.”
“Russo and his staff are watching us more than the Elfqueens,” Pandora noted quietly as there was a flash of light from a pair of binoculars from the group of Israeli officers on the other side of the park area.
“They just pokegirls,” Zareen said. “Iain is Iain. I watch Iain too, if choose.”
Pandora chuckled. “We all do.”
Iain glanced at the group. “Shay?”
“Russo is confused that you chose to be with us instead of with the humans,” Scheherazade said quietly. “Granted, he understands we’re much sexier than anything over there but still, we’re just pokegirls.” Her ears flicked. “And he’s not happy that the government is still dealing with you after you met with the leadership of the liberal party.”
Iain shrugged. “For the most part I don’t have a problem with the Likud, but the conservatives aren’t all that interested in letting pokegirls be free and people,” he said. “The liberals in Yesh Atid are at least open minded about the idea of pokegirl freedom and rights after they do their military service just like all other Israeli citizens and I plant seeds where they might germinate. Besides, I checked very carefully beforehand, and I did nothing to violate Israeli law. I also had the same discussion with the Likud.” He smiled slightly. “And I’m being very nice about everything.”
Pandora glanced at him. “Oh?”
“The Israeli’s are between where they didn’t need us at all and, once their manufacturing base finishes gearing up with our assistance, where they won’t need us nearly as much as they do now,” Iain said. “But right now they desperately need us. Lucifer and I discussed it and decided not to use that as leverage to promote the changes we’d like to see in Israeli society about pokegirl rights.”
“We did, however,” Lucifer said with a flash of a smile, “let the Israeli government know we had decided not to do just that and why.”
Kasserine’s eyes widened. “Ava, pay close attention to this. I have not given you much of an education in statecraft and you could learn much from our betrothed and our sisters. Letting someone know that you choose not to press an advantage can be more powerful a tool in the long run than actually using the advantage against them.”
“That can be true with a rational person,” Iain noted quietly. “With others, such as several of the other local governments, if you have a hammer that’s all they seem to respect and that only after you hit them with it to prove you will use it.”
“I don’t want to lead the clan,” Ava said confidently.
“You are a princess of the clan,” Kasserine gave her daughter a hard look. “That is how outsiders will see you and they will believe that you can speak for the clan whether you wish to or not. Therefore you must remember that at all times and guard your speech just as much as if you did speak with the ability to obligate the Grey with your words. As his wife, you will be expected to be able to have him listen to your words, at the very least, and others will try to get you to speak to him what they want to speak to him but cannot.”
“And someday,” Lucifer said, “you may well represent some portion of the clan, either as an ambassador or a military officer. Your mother’s lessons will be well remembered then.”
Ava sighed good naturedly. “Iain?”
“How many mothers did I accept in my life when I agreed to marry you?”
Iain smiled. “All of them, I believe. And don’t think it’ll stop once you become an adult, either.”
“I think you’re right.” She flashed him a grin. “At least their advice is good.”
“Iain is right. We’ll continue to advise you after you become an adult,” Pandora said. “And the smart ones will seek your advice too, for you know things we do not.”
“They’re finishing up,” Lynn said. She bowed to Ganieda and again to Canaan. “Thank you.”
“We’re letting her piggyback in on our telepathy,” Canaan said to Iain’s inquisitive look. “It’s a good way to learn how to infiltrate and remain undiscovered.”
They watched as the Elfqueens were set up with targets and rotated through to shoot, not only to show themselves what they could do now, but to try and give the Israeli command elements that were present the beginnings of an idea of what they now had in their possession. It was nearly lunchtime when the field began to clear as the Israeli Elfqueens and their tamers moved into busses and were carried away.
Russo’s car showed up and he joined Iain and his group. “What I saw was very impressive,” he said. “I was told that they can give these special weapons to their subordinates.”
“The spell they learned can be taught to many Elves and Elfqueens,” Iain said. “But even those that can’t learn the spell itself can have it cast for them so they get a living bow. The arrows are longer ranged, much more accurate and deadly and, whether deployed individually or in groups, will help you to reduce collateral damage when striking back at the terrorists.” He flashed a smile, “while still ensuring fewer terrorists escape.”
“Good,” Russo said. He gestured at the last roped off area, which was a hundred meters across. “What is that for?”
“We are giving Israel the gift of a tree,” Iain said. “It will feed a lot of people in the fall and can be grown in very arid regions.”
“There is no tree there,” Russo pointed out.
“We’ll be growing it after you’re gone,” Iain replied. “We still have things we haven’t taught you yet, so this will be a private ceremony for clan only.” He carefully didn’t smile when Russo looked unhappy. “The government should have told you that they’ve already approved this too.”
“I was informed,” Russo said curtly. “It doesn’t mean I like it.”
“I’m sorry you’re upset,” Iain said gently, “but this is Ninhursag’s decision and I can’t countermand it. If it makes you feel any better, I’m not that excited about it either.”
“No, I’m not. It involves some ritualistic magic and, as part of it, I get to bleed. I happen to think my blood belongs inside my body, but I made her a promise and I keep those.”
“Will we need to know this ritual to grow the tree elsewhere in Israel,” Russo asked curiously.
“No, you won’t.”
“Then I should be going so you can bleed for Israel,” Russo smiled with sudden amusement. “Are you sure you’re not emigrating? We Jews shed our blood for our homeland too.”
Iain just chuckled and held out his hand. “Go have breakfast.” Russo shook and left as he turned to Pandora. “Let’s go.”
Kasserine put her hand on Ava’s shoulder as she started to speak. “He was lying to the colonel, Ava.”
“Of course I was,” Iain said as they fell into a jog. “If he heard me say I was looking forward to this, he’d probably freak out a little.”
Scheherazade glanced at him as they ran. “I know this is your fault.”
“I remember all the running and hiking you did in the beginning when we met. Now you’ve got everyone doing it.”
Iain started laughing so hard he broke stride and had to stop. Everyone else stopped around him as he laughed. Finally he got his laughter under enough control to shrug before breaking back into a run. “I think April and Sofia had more to do with this than I did, but if it is my fault, then I accept the blame with pride.”
When I was put in charge of our training, April said to him through her twee, I looked up the best ways to condition everyone. Running is one of the best and is easy to adjust for various levels of speed and endurance. I knew you’d been training like that when we met, but I don’t think I chose running because your methods influenced me. We also do a lot of water exercises and swimming for toning and conditioning.
I doubt it was because of me. Iain grinned at Scheherazade and fell back into a jog. “Whether it is my fault or not, it’s about time you got rid of that flab.”
Scheherazade’s ears went flat. “I have no flab!” Behind Iain, Ava giggled loudly. “Mister, I am going to make you pay for that crack.” She grunted when Pandora jabbed her in the ribs and ground to a halt to rub the impact spot. “What was that for?”
“I was testing to see if your body could cash the check your mouth just wrote,” the Archangel said with a smile. “I think you might want to listen very carefully to any challenges Iain might issue to you so you don’t get trapped into a contest where he can outmatch you.”
“Catch up,” Iain called back to them since nobody else had stopped running. “Or I’ll ask April to issue demerits!”
Pandora scowled and sprinted off, Scheherazade in close pursuit.
Ninhursag was waiting for them with the Elfqueens of the harem assembled nearby and the Elfqueens from the Sisterhood scattered around as sentries. She was standing with an Elfqueen with reddish orange hair who wearing a Sisterhood uniform.
The Sisterhood Elfqueen smiled at Lucifer. “Eldest Sister.”
Lucifer nodded to her. “Major Natalia.”
“I’ve invited Natalia to observe,” Ninhursag said. “It’s not about the ceremony since she’s not harem, but she will part of the team planting Omega trees around Texas and she can use the experience watching one of them grow to maturity.”
“I understand and agree,” Lucifer said formally.
Ninhursag turned to Ava and Kasserine. “There are some questions I have to ask you before we get started. You are not pokegirls, but you are clan and you are elves. I know you want this, but do you understand that being Iain’s wife, being an elf and carrying a living weapon will give you rank and responsibility within the court?”
Natalia stirred. “Within any Grey Elven court, including the ones in the Sisterhood or the ones we’ll have when we leave active duty,” she said distinctly.
“We have discussed this at length with Iain and with you,” Kasserine said. “I accept the burden that I will shoulder today and Ava is ready to do so as well. While physically she is still my child, she is capable of discharging this duty with the solemnity that it requires and I not only allow her to do this, I encourage her as it will help her to continue her growth as a princess of our clan.”
Ninhursag looked at Ava. “While your mother can forbid you from accepting this, she cannot force you to take up this responsibility. What is your opinion on what I have offered to you?”
“When I first accepted your offer,” Ava said slowly, “I did not understand the responsibilities you were asking me to assume. When you, Mother and Iain helped me to realize what I was going to be doing, it was terrifying. Nobody seeks my opinion on anything. But after getting clarification from you, Iain, Mother and Selsharra, all of whom pledged to assist me to their best ability, I believe I am as ready as I can be to do this.” She smiled. “I will require a lot of help, though, so don’t be surprised when I come pestering you for help getting answers to questions that I can’t answer on my own.”
Natalia smiled suddenly. “There are no princesses among the Elves. There are Elves and there are Queens. I am satellite clan, and so my voice means little here, but I will accept you as our first Princesses and I will advise the other queens to do so as well. You will be of the Elves, but belonging to no court, for you shall be the advisors to all and so the bridges between all of the courts.”
Kasserine frowned. “Neither Ava nor I will accept such responsibility until we know more of what you and the others might require of us. Our first duty is to our clan and our children.”
Ninhursag grinned. “And that’s the wisdom that so many courts need, but we’ll talk more about how you might help us later, sister, if you decide you want to.” She turned to Iain. “Daya and Theodora have verified that there isn’t anyone around but clan. It’s time.” Iain summoned his bow and pulled an arrow from the quiver. He flipped it over and offered it, nock first, to Ninhursag. She took it with a smile as his bow vanished back onto his arm. He held out his arm and she stabbed him in the palm with the point and then rolled it around to cover the head with blood. “Thank you.” She stabbed herself in the hand, turned, knelt and plunged the arrow into the ground. She stood and held out her hands to Kasserine and Ava. “Let me show you what our power feels like. Iain said that’s how he learned to duplicate it.”
Kasserine took Iain’s hand without looking in his direction and he chuckled as she pulled him into the line with the others. He felt Ninhursag focus her will and the Omega tree seedling began shooting upwards. Beneath them, the ground trembled and rock groaned as the roots spread to feed the trunk and branches as the tree grew at a fantastic pace. Finally the growth slowed and stopped, leaving the newly grown Omega tree shining in the sunlight above them.
“Did either of you feel anything,” Ninhursag asked.
“I felt your power,” Ava said, “but nothing from the tree.”
“I also,” Kasserine added. She looked at Iain and reluctantly released his hand.
“Well, Iain didn’t feel anything in the beginning either,” Ninhursag said. “You will in time. Until then, I am going to cast a spell on each of you that will let you see what I see when you look at plants. That way you can tell how the tree is responding when you cast your spell for a living weapon. Are you ready?”
“I am,” Ava said eagerly.
“Close your eyes,” Ninhursag told her. She began casting a spell as Ava quickly complied and finished the spell by kissing Ava on each eyelid. “Now open your eyes while I do this to Kasserine.”
Ava opened her eyes and they promptly went wide. “So beautiful,” she said quietly. She moved closer to Iain as Ninhursag cast the same spell on her mother. “Is this what she always sees?”
“Yes,” Iain replied. “Eventually, you’ll learn how to see this without her. I can see it too, but I don’t most of the time because it’s just too distracting to me.”
“If you used it all of the time,” Dianthus said as she joined them, “you’d get used to it and it wouldn’t be so distracting.”
Iain chuckled. “That’s what everyone says to me. Most of the time, however, I don’t need to see how well a tree is doing. And with perception along with my upgraded vision and seeing magic and other things it can get really confusing.” He looked at Ava. “With practice, you’ll be able to shift rapidly through the various modes of sight you’ll learn how to do. I find doing that regularly is easier than trying to filter through everything at once, especially in the beginning.”
“It is very pretty,” Kasserine said as Ninhursag stepped away from her. “Iain, can you teach us how to see like this with our power?”
“With a little practice, yes.” He smiled. “The amusing thing to me is that I can’t cast the formal spell asking a tree for a weapon. Hopefully you two can teach that to me later.”
“You already have your weapon,” Ava pointed out.
“Knowledge is always useful,” Iain replied. “And one day I might want to teach this to someone else, like one of our children.”
“Ava,” Ninhursag interrupted gently, “It’s your turn. Just cast the spell like we taught you.”
Ava stepped forward. “Relax,” Iain said. “Remember your centering exercises.”
She took a deep breath, closed her eyes and slowly released it. “That’s better,” she murmured. Then she began casting the spell. When she was finished, she placed her hands on the trunk of the Omega tree and closed her eyes. Almost immediately, two parts of a nearby branch began swelling. “Thank you,” she said quietly as she opened her eyes. Wood sloughed away from the swellings to reveal a sturdy black and silver recurve bow and quiver. Ava carefully collected the items and moved back to Iain and her mother. “Mother, now you. Then we can try out our gifts together.”
Kasserine smiled at Iain. “I look forward to our rematch.”
He shrugged. “If you want a real competition, you’ll have to shoot against Dianthus and Ninhursag. They’re our best.”
“And I will try myself against them,” she said as she moved forward to face the tree, “but I still look forward to our rematch.” She closed her eyes and began casting her spell.
“Break.” Pandora lowered her sword and Iain did the same. She was watching him with an interested expression. “What has changed?”
Iain raised an eyebrow. “I’m five years older than I was before lunch?”
“That explains the time interval that allowed you to change,” Pandora said, “but that does not answer my question. Can you tell me what you’ve been doing for those five years?”
Iain headed for the closest bench, sheathing his sword in a smooth, practiced motion as he did. Pandora watched him with interest tinged with amusement that vanished when he glanced back at her. “What do you think is different?”
The Archangel’s eyes narrowed. “Does that mean you won’t answer my question?”
Iain dropped on to the bench and pulled his water canteen from his belt. “That means I may be able to answer a carefully crafted question. I’m not even going to try my hand at answering a blatant fishing expedition of questions.” He took a deep drink from the canteen before recapping it and tossing it at Pandora.
She leaned her sword against her leg and snatched it from the air. “You’re sweating, but you’re not really breathing all that hard. Your style has changed, a lot, and you’re not as cautious as you used to be.” She frowned. “Your behavior reminds me of a much more seasoned fighter, than you did a few days ago.” The frown increased. “I thought you were studying magic on these trips.” She drank from the canteen and lobbed it back at him, deliberately tossing it a little too high.
Iain chuckled as he bounced up just enough to catch it in one hand without actually standing up from where he was sitting. “I study whatever my teacher tells me to whenever she tells me to study it. There’s a lot more to being a successful truewizard than just tossing spells around.”
“Have you been getting a great deal of sword training over there?”
“No.” She frowned and he shrugged. “I’ve been getting a lot of applied sword experience.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You’ve been killing people.”
Iain laughed. “I’ve been killing a lot more than just humans, my love. I’ve been killing a lot of sentients and creatures. I’ve even killed or, more accurately, destroyed some undead. I’ve also been learning a great deal about small group tactics and interpersonal relations with strangers. Finally, I’m also learning a lot more about negotiating contracts and my own practical worth.” She gave him a puzzled look and he sighed. “Theodora, please explain to Pandora what adventuring is.”
Pandora blinked. “How are you getting laid while you’re doing that?”
“Most of the time I’m not.” Iain got to his feet. “Contrary to what you see in gaming, nearly eighty percent of all adventuring bands are completely male and, often, in the mixed bands people are paired off or not interested at all. Fortunately, I’m not part of a long term and established adventuring company and the expeditions don’t usually last more than a few weeks.” A resigned look crossed his face when Canaan appeared behind him, carrying Kasserine. “Is this really necessary?”
“If she did not believe that it was, Pandora would not have asked me here,” Kasserine said as she stepped up and took his hand. “I will understand much more of what you say than Pandora will and, perhaps, even though I have never been an adventurer, I will know more precise questions to ask.”
Iain gave her an amused look. “Very well.”
“If you have been an adventurer, you will have equipment for your journeys. Where do you store it?”
Iain sighed. “It’s in my lab.”
“If you brought it to this universe, then would it be acceptable for us to see your equipment?”
“Then may we now journey to your lab where you will then let us examine it?”
Iain looked over at her. “You’ve been spending too much time around Ygerna.”
Kasserine smiled and squeezed his hand. “I believe, my husband to be, you are the fey that tricked me into becoming betrothed to you when I did not watch my words carefully enough while in your presence. If Ygerna had anything to do with that event, it was likely only because you acted out of a desire to protect her, among the rest of your family, from my son’s wrath. And since you are currently being fey to Pandora, it is in our best interests if I watch my words as carefully now as I should have then.”
“Fine.” Iain pulled her hand up and kissed her knuckles, carefully not smiling when she blushed slightly. “Pandora, Canaan, we’ll need transport to the Sabine House. Ninhursag and April will meet us there.”
Kasserine’s eyes searched his. “You willingly give up your secrets?”
“The fact that Nightraven let me bring my gear here tells me I can let you know about this, at least.” He smiled as he gently pulled his hand free of hers. “And I am not trying to keep secrets about this but, just like Kerrik, there’s a lot of what’s happening that I can’t share.”
“If you do, she will kill us?”
Iain tried to look relaxed as he carefully navigated the landmines in that simple question. Because of their relationship, Nightraven was unlikely to wipe out his family even if they learned something they shouldn’t. Still, that didn’t mean she was out of options in enforcing her dictates on the rest of the universe, much less on his family and him. “If I do, she will most likely be very unhappy and you never know for sure how she will react to being very unhappy. Lashing out is definitely possible and, to anyone who isn’t her, such a reaction might look pretty indiscriminate in who or what she lashes out at.”
Canaan raised an eyebrow as she took Kasserine’s hand. “That is an odd answer.”
“She could simply take everyone she’s unhappy with, put them in temporal stasis and use them to decorate her house. Or she could do something completely different, like wiping their memories. What she does and who she does it to isn’t predictable. Considering that I’d have to think like her to be able to predict what she’s going to do, I’m not sure I want to be able to do that.” He felt Pandora grab his hand. “I believe you wanted to look over my adventuring wardrobe.”
Ninhursag and April were waiting outside when they arrived at the Sabine House. The Elfqueen gave Iain an amused look. “We had an idea of what Iain has been doing during his visits to his teacher because he made a promise to April to be more honest to her.”
“And I’ve gotten very good at the questions I ask,” April smiled widely at Iain. “Haven’t I?”
“Yes,” Iain grumbled. His smile, however, ruined the effect.
“I want that promise,” Pandora said.
“That’s not how it works,” April shook her head slightly. “He doesn’t give us the same things and you know it. It’s how he spreads the signs of his favor.”
“It also would promote inter harem cooperation,” Kasserine said in a musing tone. “You have to go to one another to get a more complete idea of what Iain has been doing.”
Ninhursag’s head came around like a turret to pin Iain in her gaze. “Well,” she asked dangerously.
Iain gave her an innocent look back. “Well what? Shall we go? Sure.”
“Is Kasserine right?”
“I’m sure she’s right about a lot of things. She’s a pretty bright lady.”
“Have you been giving information out piecemeal so we have to cooperate to know more about what you’ve been doing?”
Iain chuckled before smiling innocently. “Would anyone believe that I could ever be that subtle?”
Ninhursag snorted. “Someone living in northern Indigo might think you couldn’t be. We know better.”
Iain’s smile vanished. “Then you’ve got your answer, haven’t you?”
Kasserine put her hand on Ninhursag’s arm. “Why are you asking him to confirm what you already know to be the truth?”
“I’ve learned that sometimes, when I do, he’ll tell us other truths that we haven’t realized yet.”
“Very wise,” Kasserine said. “Now, I wish to examine Iain’s equipment.” She turned red when April snickered loudly. “I did not mean sexually.”
April opened her mouth and Iain covered it with his hand. “Unless you’re going to see if she’s offended and if you need to apologize, please don’t.” She nodded and he pulled his hand away. “Thank you.”
“I have not been offended,” Kasserine said. “Yet.”
“Are we going to go look at my gear or not,” Iain asked crossly. “If not, I believe Pandora is supposed to be kicking my ass, I mean training me.”
Kasserine took his hand. “Let us see your equipment, Iain, that we may pass judgement of the suitability of it.”
“At least you’re honest about what you want to do.” He led her into the building. “Then come on, ladies.”
Once in his lab, Iain led them downstairs into where his bed and bathroom were. He smiled at Kasserine. “Not that I mind the contact, but this would go faster if I had both hands free.”
“Then, for that reason only, you are free of me,” she said as she released him. “But I warn you that it is only for a short time.”
“And she won’t let you go far,” April added. “None of us will.”
He disappeared into the closet. “Understood.” He was back a moment later with a pair of hangers that he laid on the bed before heading into the closet again, this time returning with a long chest that he dropped next to the hangers. He opened the chest with a flourish. “Here you go.”
Canaan was fingering the leathery outfit on the hangers. “This is Tirsuli armor like the one you wore while fighting Kerrik.”
“If you’ll remember, as soon as he started hitting back, the fight was over,” Iain said with a smile. “And it is. I asked for and received permission to use modern armor. The helmet and gloves are in the chest and the boots are still in the closet.” He looked at Kasserine. “The armor is modern in design, gives protection probably better than your enchanted armor and also protects against toxic gasses and whatnot. Everyone who sees it thinks it’s some kind of enchanted leather. It’s what I wore when fighting Zarn.”
Kasserine’s eyes unfocused for an instant. “It is very remarkable,” she said. “But it is not invulnerable. How will you repair it in the field?”
Iain pulled a package from the chest. “Here are some nanites that I can use to repair the armor or almost any of my gear if I need to. I use the command system to grow new nanites to replace any expended ones from the repair kit so I never run out. In an emergency, I have the software in my twee to use my internal nanites to grow an entire new kit.”
Ninhursag picked up the sword scabbard in the chest and drew the sword that rested in it. The weapon glowed with a cold bluish light. “What is this?”
“It’s enchanted,” Kasserine said. “Most enchanted blades glow.” She looked at Iain. “How do you use your bow and not draw inordinate attention to yourself because of its uniqueness?”
“I learned a new form for my bow.” Iain held out his hand and a black and silver recurve bow appeared while an identically decorated quiver appeared on his shoulder. “It’s almost as powerful as my compound and I’ve trained until I’m almost as fast with it.”
Pandora took the sword away from Ninhursag and hefted it. “Why not train with this?”
“Honestly, I hadn’t thought about it. I am trying to find a mage who can either make me a new sword that I can afford that doesn’t glow or suppress the glow this one has.”
“Why,” Canaan asked.
“I have always striven to be unobtrusive on the battlefield. Waving that thing around just tells archers to focus on me right after any obvious spellcasters. It also tells smart monsters or foes that I can hurt them so they’ll focus on me.” His bow vanished. “Some guy in metal armor is supposed to be the meat shield and I will never volunteer for that job unless it’s to protect family. I use my bow for a long time before ever drawing my sword in most instances.”
“Do you adventure as a human or a dragon,” April asked.
“I usually am an elf,” Iain admitted. “Non-elves expect elves to be odd and have odd habits while most elves will presume I’m from a different clan with a different culture and traditions. That makes it a lot easier to explain away any unusual behavior or my better vision as an elf, whether male or female.”
April’s eyebrows rose. “Female?”
“Some of the adventurer groups are women only,” Iain said. “A couple of the ones I had to join are that way and so I had to become a female to do so.”
“Can you show us,” Ninhursag asked.
“Will you show us,” April interjected as Iain opened his mouth.
Iain gave her a look and shifted to female. She was elven and the same height, only slenderer. Her hair was now a deep glossy blue. Her figure was definitely female and athletic in build. Only her eyes were the same, except flecked with gold. Her voice was distinctly feminine, and not like his normal voice at all. “Yes, I’ve learned some new things.”
“Are you really a girl?” Canaan grabbed Iain’s shirt and pulled it out to peer down inside it. Iain reacted instantly, punching the Splice in the throat hard enough to knock her backwards a few steps. She gurgled once and put her hand to her throat, which glowed briefly. “Was it really necessary to crush my esophagus?”
“If Iain knew that it wouldn’t kill you, yes it was,” Kasserine said. “That was incredibly rude.”
“I thought about stabbing you through the throat,” Iain replied pleasantly. “And Kasserine is right.”
Canaan grimaced. “I apologize for manhandling you.”
“Accepted,” Iain said. He shifted back to male.
“Are you completely female when you’re like that,” Ninhursag asked.
“I am, although I suppress the reproductive cycle since I don’t want to either ovulate or have periods. Lots of things have decent scenting abilities. I can smell when a woman is ovulating or having her period and I don’t want to lose surprise because I get detected by those hormones.”
Theodora appeared. “Could you become a pokegirl?”
Kasserine nodded. “When you are an elf, do you have our gifts?”
“If you were a pokegirl, would you have her breed’s gifts if you wanted but not if you didn’t?”
Iain blinked. “Probably.” He looked thoughtful. “If I understand what you’re hinting at, I’m not sure it would be useful.”
April frowned. “Explain what you geniuses are discussing.”
“The question is, if Iain became a pokegirl and he could suppress becoming feral, could I study that and use it to research a cure in you or your children,” Theodora said simply.
“If you’re wrong,” April’s eyes narrowed angrily, “my husband would go feral. You are not going to take that chance with him. Ever.” She gave Iain a pleading look. “Please don’t try this. It isn’t worth the cost if you’re wrong.”
“I am not agreeing not to participate in a properly controlled study that might help you with that,” Iain said quietly. “But I will offer you oversight of such a project and you’d have to sign off on the safety protocols involved before there is ever any testing that involved me becoming a pokegirl and trying to keep from going feral while one.”
“I want the authority to transfer that oversight to someone else if I decide that they’re better qualified to keep you safe during this project than I am,” April stated. “And I want your promise not to experiment on your own.”
Iain looked into her eyes for several seconds before nodding. “Agreed. You can explain to the command staff what’s going on and I’ll give you my promise before them so they all get to hear it.”
Canaan grinned. “Monica is going to love learning you can become a girl.”
“Privacy,” Iain said. “My abilities are not to become common knowledge, at least not yet.” He looked at Kasserine. “You may tell Ava since I know you don’t want to keep secrets from her.”
“I will explain that this is covered under privacy,” she said with a grateful look. “And thank you.”
“The rest of my gear is in there,” Iain said. “It’s mostly odds and ends. With my healing I don’t bother to carry potions or anything like that since I’m tired of having other party members try to mooch them off of me with some vague promise of replacement that seldom actually happens. The only way to really stop that is to not have it for them to try and borrow in the first place. Once in a while some thief tries to steal some of my gear. Every piece has a subspace transmitter on it that I can activate with my twee, so they don’t get to keep it for long. And trying to pickpocket or cut the purse of someone with perception is hilarious. The monetary treasure I bring back I’ve been slipping into the pile of money that Selsharra brought back with her, but honestly I get sent on expeditions more for arcane bits of history, knowledge or something like that instead of the rich hauls that thrill gamers.”
Kasserine eyed him curiously. “Have you had sex with an undead vampire too?”
“I have not.”
“Would you if one offered?”
Iain shook his head. “I honestly can’t think of a situation where I would voluntarily do anything like that.”
“I can accept that answer.”
Iain looked around. “Anything else?” Nobody spoke. “Just remember that this is covered under privacy. The command staff,” he smiled at Kasserine, “and Ava can be briefed, but right now that’s it.” He repacked the chest and picked up the armor. “Let me put this away and we can get back to training.”
Ninhursag Grey - Elfqueen & Maharani
Allison – Umbrea & Maharani Executive Officer
Eve Grey - Megami Sama
April Grey - Duelist & Beta
Silver – Pegaslut & Beta Executive Officer
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
Daphne - Whorizard
Lynn – Dire Wolf
Chuck – Wolf Queen
Ryan – Unicorn
Winifred - Rack (German)
Rosemary - Mistoffeles (Uruguayan)
Joyce – Milktit
Irena – Sanctuary Goth
Scheherazade – Dread Wolf
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