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            This work is fiction. The work has no relationship with any person existing at any time anywhere whether real or imaginary or copywritten. Everything in this work is mea culpa. 

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Loose Threads

Eighty Six

 

            Dominique watched everything around her with obvious interest gleaming in her dark red eyes as April finished her readiness report on the clan’s forces. “Things are much less formal here,” she muttered/whispered to Iain. “It’s surprising.”

            “There are only eight members on the command staff,” Iain kept his voice low. “And we know each other pretty well so it’s relaxed.”

            Ninhursag smiled from where she sat as April leaned back in her chair. “The fact that the general staff is much larger and a bit more rambunctious is why we use a modified version of Robert’s Rules of Order there. That’s not necessary here. Now, why did Iain insist that this needed to be presented to the command staff and not wait for a general staff meeting?”

            “Because what we’ve accomplished has both tactical and strategic concerns that I wanted to air here first,” Dominique’s smile was cold. “And the command staff does not leak unless it’s by plan.”

            Allison’s ears flicked. “What is this momentous discovery?”

            “In summary, Iain and I have discovered how to apply doorway theory to interdimensional portals and, theoretically, entrances into hyperdimensional spaces as well. This means that we can establish stable, permanent or temporary doorways to other worlds. In addition, by starting with Ygerna’s and Ganieda’s design, research into one of Iain’s ideas led us to a method of making the doorways turn on and off on command. The biggest difference is that the way we’ve applied this concept means that when the doorway is shut, the portal it is connected to stops working until the door is reopened again.” Dominique looked around the room. “Any doorway can be a command doorway, and with permission Iain and I will begin modifying all of our existing doorways into command doorways so it’s harder for them to be used against us. The biggest limitation right now is that interdimensional doorways can only be established between mirror objects.”

            Silver gave her a puzzled look. “What does that mean?”

            “In layman’s terms, it means that there has to be an object in the same place in any dimension we open a permanent doorway to. What it means practically is that the doorways, at least right now, can only established on planets and not ships, and they have to be in the same physical location on each planet. We’ve also partially solved the size limitation on a door, at least on the intradimensional ones.”

            Daya smiled. “Does that mean you can build them large enough for me and Theodora to put ships through them to shorten transit times inside the solar system?”

            “It does. Later we may be able to apply it between solar systems, but our work in that is still very preliminary.”

            Ninhursag nodded. “That sounds rather useful. How does it work?”

            Dominique frowned. “Have I ever told you that something I’m presenting is too complicated for you to understand?”

            Ninhursag’s eyebrows rose. “No, you haven’t.”

            “I am now. This is cutting edge magical theory and practical application. Iain and I had to create a new magical type of math to puzzle this out, and we used the mechanical version of dreamtime while working out the math. It took the equivalent of about a century and a half of constant work to do it and over a year of research in real time.” She shrugged. “I’ll present my research and findings for you to read if you want, but it’s essentially a new language that only Iain and I speak and Theodora can’t cheat and teach it to you just yet.”

            “It’s magic,” Theodora noted in an annoyed tone. “Daya and I have spent the electronic equivalent of a couple of millennia trying to puzzle it out but it doesn’t make sense.”

            Ninhursag nodded. “I’ve seen some magical theory where the math has chunks which don’t follow the rules of logic.”

            Theodora snorted. “None of this seems to. It starts illogically and jumps around before ending illogically. Still, it works and seems to be repeatable.”

            “We won’t be able to use these to invade someone we can’t otherwise reach,” Iain was playing with his empty tea mug. “Just like with regular door portals, we have to open each end of the tunnel and we have to go to the destination to do so. But it does mean we could put a doorway into someplace like the Order’s demesne if we wanted to. As an interesting side note, doing so will stabilize a hyperdimensional space like a tent spell so it can’t be ended or modified as long as the door is in place.”

            “I knew a little about the project,” April looked around the room. “He came to me for authorization for the first interdimensional test so I knew where he and Dominique had gone in case there was a problem.”

            Ninhursag leaned forward curiously. “What was the test?”

            “They set up a doorway at the farm on Sadogashima to the corresponding farm on Six, Kasumi’s home world. I was standing by with Ganieda and a reaction team if they were late getting back to us.”

            Dominique smirked. “We opened a doorway between Six and here that shuts down when we close our door. The door on the other side can be used for the same thing too, but I hid the entire gate magically and the door is fastened to the wall. The door on our end has been placed inside a metal vault at our farm. When it’s closed, a metal cover locks over it so nobody can open it unless they have authorization. And Iain’s two inorganic harem women have cameras and probably weapons installed in and around the vault.”

            Daya smiled. “And we’ll install a similar vault on the other side once we return there.”

            “Ninhursag is aware and now the rest of you are learning that some time ago I authorized Theodora to construct a Tirsuli technological gate generator,” Iain met each person’s gaze in turn. “That unit commissioned and she and Daya have been using it to open portals to some of the worlds we’ve visited and may return to. They’ve been sending through the equipment necessary to build matching portals on the other side since it drops the power requirements by several orders of magnitude and keeps the exit from potentially random jumping across universes. The system in Six has been finished and tested so they can now transit back and forth without Dominique if it becomes necessary.”

            Lucifer nodded. “Can the Ouroboros move yet?”

            “I am not combat ready yet,” Daya said. “However, my engines are complete and operational trials were satisfactory enough that I will be going with my clan if we leave this universe. If that happens, I will bring some construction vessels with me to continue work on my shell no matter where we go.” She looked at Iain. “I would like to request a doorway whose dimensions are large enough to safely pass our largest craft from my asteroid belt construction site to near the moon and another one from the Saturn fueling station to the moon.”

            “You ladies will be doing most of the construction,” Dominique grinned. “And I just released the plans to you. Iain and I’ll do the enchantments but that only takes about four hours.”

            Theodora nodded. “I have the plans. I also want a transit between the Jupiter fueling area and Luna as well as the Uranus harvesting facility and Luna. Construction at all of the locations has been scheduled and the last will be completed in two hundred and sixty two hours from now. I have sent you a schedule with the locations and scheduled completion times.  I would like you to enchant them as each is finished to avoid delays so that in twelve days all will be ready for use.”

            Dominique looked surprised. “Is there a rush?”

            “We have never liked the transit times between our major construction centers and Earth,” Daya replied. “We are too far away to quickly respond if there is an emergency and Earth is where we are surrounded by enemies on all sides.”

            “They will be available to do the enchantments as Theodora has requested and they will complete the work on schedule,” Ninhursag announced. “This is a clan survival issue.”

            Iain had been starting to speak but shut his mouth at that. “Very well. You and April free up our schedules and we’ll do it. I’ll put off my next trip to my teacher until then too, just to be safe.”

            “I’ll take care of it,” April said.

            “What is going on,” Dominique asked.

            “Ninhursag invoked clan survival,” Iain explained as everyone else watched curiously. “We all agreed that is the one priority level that gets the absolute highest priority, immediate resource allocation for expedited completion and it can’t be overridden unless the rest of the command staff unanimously opposes the declaration.”

            “Can general staff invoke clan survival?”

            Ninhursag nodded. “You can, and if you do it’ll trigger a meeting of the command staff within the next five hours to address the issue. We may decide it isn’t truly a survival issue, but we must meet to decide. It doesn’t have to be a face to face meeting, but we will address every single clan survival declaration.”

            “I didn’t know that.”

            “Now you do and you can tell the others.” Allison’s ears flicked. “It’s new and the rollout for the general staff wasn’t supposed to happen for another month, but now works.”

            “I have a question. What is the difference between the command and general staffs?”

            Lucifer chuckled. “It is very simple, Dominique. The general staff coordinates the regular activities of the clan and reports to the command staff. Since the command staff members are on the general staff, we each have responsibilities toward both positions and when a general staff member reports to the general staff, he or she also carries out their responsibilities to inform the command staff. The command staff has one duty, that being to ensure the continued survival of the Grey clan. There was some confusion in the beginning about that duty, as Iain’s survival and the clan’s survival are not truly the same thing and many of us would equate the two if we could. As the custodians of the clan’s survival, we were the logical choice to provide the chain of succession for the clan, should Iain fall.”

            “When,” Iain grunted.

            “We hope Iain will survive to step down instead of dying at his post,” April said with a smile.

            Dominique grinned. “Let me guess, is the second and unwritten duty of the command staff is to keep Iain alive and well?”

            “Of course it is,” April replied. “However, it is our sworn duty to ensure the clan survives even him if it becomes necessary.”

            Iain stood. “Well, I wish long and healthy life to all of us. I don’t want to lose any of you and I don’t want to be lost.” He looked at Ninhursag. “You’re the chair today but I think we’re finished.”

            “We are.” Ninhursag looked around the room. “We’re done for today. Theodora will send you the schedule for our meeting next week.”

            Dominique got up. “Chair?”

            “We’re all ambitious bitches of one stripe or another,” Silver said as she joined them. “We rotate who chairs the meeting so we all get a little experience being in command of the rest, just in case.”

            “Oh. What about Theodora and Daya?”

            Silver grinned. “Theodora chairs the next meeting and Daya has it after me.” She looked past Dominique to Iain. “Your presence has been requested by Golden Cloud. The herd is having another social with the moon horses and Golden Cloud hopes that you and Ava being present will keep things from getting out of hand like last time.”

            “This one isn’t near the marijuana or opium patches or the coca trees, is it?”

            “No.”

            “Then I don’t foresee nearly as many problems as the last one had, but I’ll be there.” He grinned. “I think I’ll requisition a squad or two of goblins armed with clubs from Arianrhod.”    “Can I help,” Dominique asked eagerly. “I can crack skulls with the best of them.”

            “Sure.”

***

            “Are you here for a reason or are you just bored?”

            April leaned back on his bed and grinned at him. “I’m here because I like spending time with my husband. I also like watching you get undressed or, as in this case, get dressed up in your adventuring gear. Finally, I have been ordered to be here when you’ll let me, to the point where I’m relieved of other duties when you’re transiting.”

            Iain glanced at her as he fastened the cloak around his neck. “Why does Ninhursag want you here?”

            “Your promise to me. As soon as you return from a trip to your teacher’s I’m supposed to ask you exactly how long you’ve been gone and you have to answer.”

            Iain didn’t have any response to that which did not involve large amounts of profanity, so he avoided the issue. “I’m going to ignore you now.” He shrugged, settling the cloak into place. “Theodora, what’s the status of our appointment with Queen Anne?”

            “Nothing has changed. You and Lucifer are summoned to court in Edinburgh in a month and a half. No reason has been given, but we both can guess why.”

            “How long would it take you to grow back one of my legs?”

            Theodora frowned. “About a day and a half if the subject is healthy, and you are. Why do you ask?”

            “If I time losing the leg just right, I could miss that meeting.”

            “That’s a nice attempt to pretend you don’t want to be there, but we both know that you want to experience Lucifer’s pleasure if she gets an award of arms,” Theodora noted.

            “Besides,” April interjected, “Irena and Siobhan could restore your leg in minutes.”

            “Too many women know me too fucking well,” Iain grumbled good naturedly as he grabbed up his sword belt and buckled it on. He picked up his pack and turned to the bed. “That’s it.”

            April bounced to her feet and wrapped her arms around his neck to kiss him. “I love you,” she murmured.

            “And I love you,” he replied.

            “So,” April gave him a wicked grin. “When Nightraven realizes what she’s missing and wants you to bed her, will you?”

            Iain managed not to laugh and kept his answer deadpan. “If and when that day comes, of course I will. I have a reputation to uphold.”

            April released his neck with a low laugh. “Good. Make her regret waiting so long.”

            “I’ll see what I can do.”

            She dropped back onto the daybed he kept in his lab. “Don’t be gone too long. Myrna and Saoirse are really excited about the birthday party and they want their father there.”

            Iain shook his head slightly. “Unless something goes very seriously sideways, I’ll be back before you can get out of bed, April. The party Melanie is throwing for them isn’t for another two weeks, and I will be there.”

            April stretched languorously. “You were gone over a day last time.”

            “No, I was gone over a day when I brought back Ava and Kasserine. I’ve made three trips since then. Last time I was gone two heartbeats, according to Theodora. Now I love you and I have to go.”

            April grinned at him again. “Tempted to tarry with this young maid, my lord?”

            “I’m looking forward to a year of work and the occasional adventuring lass,” Iain chuckled. “They’re horniest when they have just returned from a near death experience, which means they might not have bathed just yet and probably have been imbibing cheap beer, mead or ale. If they’ve been unusually successful they might be drinking wine, albeit it’ll still be cheap wine. You have no idea just how tempted I am to linger, which is why I have to go.”

            April laughed as he stepped into the nearest shadow and was gone. An instant later he returned and her laugh died in her throat at the sight of his face. She sat up, her eyes intent. “How long?”

            Under his armor, Iain was wearing different clothing from when he’d left. His hair was in a thick braid that fell to just above his sword belt. Even his cloak was a different color and seemed to change hue slightly towards the green of the walls as she peered at it. He sighed and dropped his pack on the floor next to the bed. His voice sounded weary as he spoke. “Fifty seven years, four months, twenty two days and three hours.” He took a deep breath and let it out through his mouth. His eyes suddenly sparkled familiarly. “And I’m back.”

            April shot to her feet and stood in front of him, her hands held out towards him but not quite touching. “What went wrong?”

            Iain twined his fingers in hers and smiled when she gripped him fiercely. “Nothing went wrong, my love. I have always pointed out that Nightraven will keep me just as long as she feels it is necessary. She felt I needed to stay the whole time until now. This time, she felt that what I needed to learn required a complete grounding in formal magic, which I didn’t have. So she apprenticed me out so I’d get one. The wizard she picked doesn’t normally take apprentices because he’s an extremely hard taskmaster and he proved that reputation again with me. I was his student for fifteen years and ran errands for him for nearly twenty years after that. However, as a plus, I should suddenly be doing much better in my magic classes.”

            April’s eyes searched his. “No new wife?”

            “No new wife or children,” Iain reassured her. “There were a couple of women who wanted appointed to that position, but it was about who my teacher in formal magic is and not about me as a person. One of them even got my name wrong during her announcement of undying love.”

            “I take it your teacher was famous?”

            “Or infamous, depending on who you talked to. Nightraven wanted me to learn from the best and the best wizards can’t help getting a reputation or of being well known, no matter how reclusive they might be.”

            April smiled. “So, after fifty seven years, were you getting a reputation too?”

            “Unfortunately, yes I was.”

            There is a general staff meeting in ten minutes, Theodora said in his mind.

            Iain blinked. “Really? You called a general staff meeting over this?”

            April nodded. “I did. They need to hear about what happened.”

            “I just have time to shower and change. Did it occur to you that maybe I wanted to go to bed or otherwise spend time with my wife for the rest of the day since I haven’t seen her in decades?”

            April’s mouth dropped. “Shit. I just fucked myself, didn’t I?”

            “No, you just got yourself not fucked.”

            She gave him a weak smile. “Tonight?”

            “It’s not one of the nights I get to pick.” He tugged his hands free. “And I still need to shower.”

            “We could do something quick in the shower,” April suggested hopefully.

            “I’ve been celibate for a month because I knew I was coming home and you were in my bed. I don’t intend my first fuck here to be quick. First orgasm, maybe, but not the first fuck. I want that to last for hours. So I’m going to go shower by myself and you can wait here. I do appreciate you being responsible.”

            April grimaced. “I don’t. Go and shower. I’ll be out here seeing if I can smother myself with your pillow for being an idiot.”

            Iain wrapped her up in his arms and she sighed as she relaxed against him. “You did what you thought was best and you did it selflessly. I do appreciate that, and your secret is safe with me.”

            April frowned up at him. “Secret?”

            “That you can rise above being an ambitious bitch of a pokegirl and think of others before yourself. I’m sure that’s a sign of weakness in the harem for my beta. Almost anyone else and we’d already be naked with your legs wrapped around my waist and your nails in my back.”

            April giggled softly. “After the meeting, since you’re been gone for at least a year, you’re scheduled for testing with me and Sofia. The three of us could come back here for some endurance tests first.”

            “I won’t say a word against it.”

            “Good.” She pushed him away. “Now go shower. You smell like horse.”

            “Yes, my love.”

***

            Ninhursag eyed Iain. “What’s his name?”

            “He’s a human and the name he is best known as is Elminster. I’d met him before at Nightraven’s, but until she told me to put on my elf form and go be his apprentice I had no idea they’d worked out some agreement involving me. He wasn’t a bad instructor, but he wasn’t you ladies.”

            Kasumi nodded. “Did you complete your apprenticeship?”

            “I did and then I served as an errand boy for him for twenty years after that.”

            Ygerna smiled at him. “And did you cast spells during that time and not just use magic items to create spell like effects?”

            Iain shook his head. “Ouch. And yes, I did. You’ll see when I have my next class with you and the rest of the clan’s mages.”

            “Where are your spell books,” Kasserine asked curiously.

            Iain eyed her briefly. “Safe.”

            Ygerna laughed. “And that is the right answer no matter where they are. We ever protect our spell books, but you understand that we will demand to review them to see your level of advancement, preferably some time in advance of your next class.”

            “I’ll have copies available for each of you tomorrow after my next free time.”

            Kasumi cocked her head curiously. “Not your originals?”

            “Nobody touches my original spell books but me.”

            Kasserine smiled. “Now you sound like a mage.”

            Iain chuckled. “I guess I do. It’s just hard worn experience after I had to chase down a thief who managed to rob me.”

            Allison’s ears came up. “What happened to him?”

            “It was a her and she proved unable to survive the experience of most of her blood leaving her circulatory system.”

            Silver glanced at Allison. “They’ll never find the body?”

            Iain shrugged. “Vultures or other scavengers probably found her. I didn’t try to hide her corpse.”

            Silver sighed and relaxed. “I’m glad you didn’t eat her.”

            Iain cocked his head. “Since I’m pretty sure you’re glad I didn’t have sex with her before killing her but I’m also confident that’s not what you’re concerned about, let me reassure you that as far as I know, I have never consumed a sentient being, be they friend or enemy. It’s not out of revulsion because they’re sentient, it’s because most of them have terrible diets and if they taste like they smell,” he made a face, “ick.”

            “You ate that goblin’s head,” Silver said quietly.

            “It was just Lefan’s head and it didn’t taste very good.” He rubbed his eyes. “Adventuring as a dragon is pretty much asking for everyone around to feel challenged to kill me for the hoard I don’t have. Even other dragons are leery of me since they’re the pinnacle of evolution, and they know everything that needs to be known anywhere but they still don’t recognize my species. Fortunately, I don’t smell like a dragon unless I’ve been in my true form recently and haven’t bathed yet.”

            “How did you manage not to end up with a huge family in all of that time,” Allison asked. “You charmed all of us in only a few years.”

            “I have a family and I wasn’t looking to add to it,” Iain replied. “I wasn’t dating anyone, and I wasn’t asking around to get betrothed. And if I even got the slightest idea a woman wanted something more permanent, I stopped visiting that township for a few years. There was one ranger who was convinced she was going to be the one to tame me, and she moved from township to township until she would find me. Then I changed kingdoms without warning.”

            “I have never heard of a mage named Elminster,” Kasserine said.

            “You wouldn’t have. In Nightraven’s world the time is different. In your world, Elminster would be born nine thousand years after we left Evermeet to come here. He’s human but has been around for over a thousand years because he’s a Chosen of Mystra and therefore he ages very slowly.”

            “Are you friends with him,” April asked.

            “We are, although you wouldn’t approve of it.”

            April’s eyebrows rose. “We wouldn’t?”

            “He’s well known as one of the most powerful mages of the region and possibly of the world. As his friend, I can get caught up in the mischief that comes for him, and that mischief is very often lethal to the unwary.”

            Ninhursag nodded. “And we don’t like you being in those situations. But you managed to survive for a half century. I think it’s only fair that when we test to see where your skills are, we also reassess how hard you’ve become to kill and what it means for our insistence on your security.”

            “You’ll forgive me if I don’t start with the halleluiahs until I actually see results that I consider positive.”

            “Any concern that we might harbor about your remaining the cunning male we all admire,” Lucifer smiled widely at him, “has been put to rest with this display of intelligent caution.”

            “Good.” He looked around the room. “I think we’re approaching the point of diminishing returns, and if that’s true then I understand April and Sofia are supposed to test me in order to make sure I’ve been keeping up with my training.”

            “Have you,” Allison asked.

            “At my request, Nightraven made me a magic item that can be used to adjust local gravity and I’ve been keeping up with my workouts as best I can over the years.” He shrugged. “It’ll do until I learn how to adjust gravity without an aid.”

            “Do you think April and Sofia will sign off on the training you’ve been doing,” Silver asked.

            Iain glanced at April and smiled. “We all know it doesn’t matter how much or how well I might have trained and kept in shape while I was gone. The only thing that matters is I wasn’t here and that I wasn’t training under April’s and Sofia’s supervision. So I expect that later they will test Iain to destruction and, instead of telling me how well I might have done without them, they’ll just plan how to make me get even better than whatever level I am currently at.” His smile faded. “Since it was their pushing and training, along with the training I’ve gotten from everyone else here, that helped me to survive the last fifty years so I could come back to you, I won’t protest what they and you’ll be doing to me. I’ll complain and bitch while it’s going on, but I will never say that I don’t need what you’ll be doing to me, because it’s why I can come home where I belong and why I will continue to come home every time that I have to leave.”

            “And that,” April said as she got up and came around to put her hand on Iain’s shoulder, “is why we will always find a way to push him harder than he has been pushed before.” She grinned. “I, like many of us, don’t want him to leave in the first place but I will do my damnedest to make sure he comes back to us.” She looked at Ninhursag. “I believe we’re done.”

            “I agree,” the maharani said. “He’s all yours.”

            “Just a moment,” Allison protested. “What do we tell the rest of the harem?”

            “We don’t tell them anything,” Ygerna stood. “And neither do we endeavor to hide any of what we have learned from them. We are all aware that Iain must travel to his teacher in order to learn. We have never made much about how long he must be with her when he is not with us. We should not make much of it now.” Her eyes met his. “It is true that this is the longest he has been away from us, but it is also true that one day he may well be forced to remain there longer.” She smiled slightly when he nodded once. “Instead we should focus our attention and the attention of the rest of the clan on when he is home and not when he is not. Let those who would stand against us learn when they face him that he has improved greatly and not from studying the sudden furor within the clan from an absence that they cannot without that tumult recognize.”

            “If nothing else,” Dominique leaned back in her chair, “I believe that this is like Iain becoming a dragon. If he accepts how long he must be gone, then we should too. Otherwise we get excited and upset for him, which we know he doesn’t appreciate.” She smiled. “Thanks to my finding that out for the rest of you. You’re welcome, by the way.”

            Iain chuckled with everyone else. “Just know that while I do accept it as necessary, I don’t like it and I will try to return as soon and as often as I can.”

            April took his arm. “The meeting is over and you’re mine now, mister. Quit trying to delay what’s coming.” She looked challengingly around the room. “Anyone care to join him with me and Sofia?” Nobody spoke and she shrugged. “Your loss.” With that she dragged him out the door.

***

            “Do you believe you can breach my wards and enter my residence?”

            Iain turned from where he’d been looking at the area where the entrance to Mielikki’s doorway to her home existed. “I wasn’t even thinking about trying. I was waiting for you.”

            She looked him over with a frown. “You went back to Nightraven’s earlier today. How long were you gone?”

            “Nearly sixty years.”

            She stepped closer to him. “You are a full priest and high level. I can still feel your connection to me, so you did not dedicate yourself to another god. And yet, you grew in power, which means you were in my service and yet I was unaware of it. This would have taken the approval of my counterpart so that she could stand in my stead. How did you get it from her?”

            “While I was Elminster’s apprentice he often would send me into the woods around his tower in order to gather herbs and other plants for his researches and my studies. The fourth year I met a Sun elf woman who claimed she was a ranger who lived a few days travel away and patrolled the area. Her name was Halani.” Iain shrugged. “I would see her a couple of times a year and we’d talk a bit about everything she could think of, including religion. It wasn’t until the seventh year of my apprenticeship that I figured out she was your analog.”

            “What did you do?”

            “Nothing. She wasn’t causing me any trouble and I didn’t reveal what I’d discovered. She wanted me to think she was Halani and I thought it rude to burst her bubble. For all I know, she wanted me to discover who she was, but she kept up her act and so did I.”

            “Did you lie with her?”

            “Even though I was an elf at the time, I wasn’t a member of a local family or clan. As an outsider, I had to keep in mind that the relationship between the Dales people and the elves is complicated and I wasn’t going to be the person who screwed that up.” His teeth flashed in a quick grin. “When I had some free time I’d go to the city of Highmoon for company. I didn’t really consider relationships in the Dales proper as I didn’t want to have some farmer’s daughter or barmaid showing up with her daddy, mommy, and all of her brothers and sisters to demand I marry her. I certainly didn’t want that from an elven clan. And to answer your actual question, no. I didn’t even try to bed her and she didn’t offer. Besides, I want you to be my first goddess.”

            “What happened with Halani?”

            “She disappeared early in the ninth year of my apprenticeship to Elminster. Later that year a priestess of Mielikki showed up and informed me that I was behind in my monthly devotions and that I needed to start doing them again. She brought a group of dryads with her who were arguing about who was going to claim me.” He chuckled. “They were most put out when I informed the group that I’d been doing my monthly duties. I’d been exploring the area around the Vale of Lost Voices when I ran across an ancient male treant. He’d lost a leg in a fight with something, he never said what, and had just started the long process of growing it back, so his mobility was a bit limited. Because of that he needed some help with things around his area. He tolerated me but didn’t accept my presence until after I killed some orcs who thought he’d make a dandy flaming brand. Helping him out with everything he needed was going to take more than the once a month workday your religion requires so I got permission from Elminster so I could drop by every tenday or so and help out for a half day until I realized that I could use what I’d learned from Ninhursag to force his body to regrow his leg much faster than it would normally take. It took another year to convince him to let me do it but after that we became friends and he welcomed my presence instead of just accepting it. I cut back my visits to every three tendays or so, but I continued visiting him over the course of my time in the Dales. His name sounded like a babbling brook. Originally I thought that odd, but after thinking about it realized that a treant wasn’t restricted to the forest in which he lived and there was no telling how widely traveled he was. Whenever I went back to visit Elminster I’d be sure to run by his part of the forest and check up on him.”

            Mielikki looked surprised. “You preferred a male treant over a dryad? She might have become your lover.”

            “Like I said, I didn’t want to cause trouble around where I was staying. Off and on, I was there for thirty five years and I didn’t age during it. Even elves show some kinds of changes over that amount of time and another long lived person like a dryad might have noticed. At that point, she would have decided my genes were perfect to help her produce her next daughter or two and I was working rather hard to avoid entanglements that could result in children. In the meantime I was slowly progressing as an itinerant cleric of yours.”

            “You spent no time at a temple or church?”

            “Only when I was passing through and only when someone high in the hierarchy told me I had no other choice. Temples and churches have somewhat arbitrary rules put in place by the administration and there was plenty of work for a cleric of Mielikki on the road. I had copies of the books you gave me and I’m good at self-study. As for the major holy days, I spent them alone.”

            “Why?”

            “I was the only priest of yours on that world and I didn’t want to confuse anyone or cause problems in case you ever travelled there.”

            Mielikki gave him a warm smile. “Are your women aware of how hard you worked to remain faithful to them and to me as much as you could?”

            “Other than you, Ava and Kasserine, no.” She raised an eyebrow curiously. “Kasserine bluntly asked about my sexual activities while I was away. She wants to make sure I don’t end up like the men she’s known before, who get a woman pregnant and vanish on them. She can understand I’m not that way without truly believing it since it’s all she’s known.”

            “And Ava?”

            “Was there when Kasserine asked her questions. She trusts me more, but right now she seems to think that any elven woman who gets to know me will want me as much as she does. Other women too. She thinks that’s smart of them, but she hopes I’m more interested in her then I am in them. The fact that I don’t want kids with them reassures her that I like her more.”

            The doorway to Mielikki’s home appeared and she headed through it. “Come.”

            Iain smiled slightly as he followed her.

            She glanced over her shoulder as he followed her towards her cottage. “Are you enjoying looking at my ass?”

            “I haven’t seen you for several decades, you’re a beautiful woman and I’m watching all of you, not just your ass. I’m also enjoying your scent, which I have missed.”

            “You have changed.” She opened the door and waved him in.

            “I’ve had a lot of time to become more used to what I am. During those years I had the chance to grow into being a dragon and my olfactory sense is just as important to me as any of my other senses. If nothing else I had that hammered home during a year long expedition into the Underdark to retrieve a book for Nightraven. Light just attracts trouble, so I didn’t use it unless I had to. And while I have darkvision and my perception, down there hearing and scent become much more useful. I took that to heart and try to use all my senses all of the time.”

            She nodded. “Would you like some apple juice?”

            Iain smiled. “I would.”

            “Then sit and I’ll be right back.” She disappeared through the doorway as Iain settled down at the table.

            She came back with two wooden goblets and a stone ewer full of juice, filled both goblets and sat down next to him. “I am very proud of you. Many men would have had families if they were gone that long, especially since for you it is still a lifetime you lived through there.”

            Iain took a swallow of the juice and chuckled when the effect hit him. “I have a family here. I consider my time away from here like being deployed, only my women want me to get laid while I’m on deployment. But even though they want me to get laid, they definitely don’t want me to add to the family without their input.”

            “They would let you and you know it.”

            “I do, and I also know that letting me do something and wanting me to do something are two different things. It’s like cheating on my goddess with some other goddess. She’d probably forgive me if I did lie with another goddess, but I don’t want to take that chance and I’m really only interested in her for a relationship.”

            “I appreciate you not seeking out other goddesses.” She picked up her goblet and turned on the bench to face him. “I want you to remember that I spent many years living in the forest before Golden Cloud met you, so I understand what it’s like to be alone when you might not want to be alone. You can always talk to me about what it was like or anything else. I also spent several thousand years living on a Faerun, so I can understand that part of things as well.”

            “I guess there is something,” Iain’s voice was quiet. “I was born just a bog standard human. No magic, nothing too remarkable about me, at least as far as I knew. Then I got involved with pokegirls and the clans and everything else. On top of all of that, I’m a dragon now and pretty much immortal.” He paused, looking thoughtful for a moment. “Up until my last trip to Nightraven’s, it hadn’t really registered just how much my world has changed. For me, being what I am hasn’t changed the fact that I live from day to day, just like everyone else does.”

            He drank deeply from his goblet, pausing to shudder violently once. “Adventuring is a career for the young. That’s true across all of the races that might become adventurers, no matter whether they’re good or evil, and it’s especially true for humans. And there’s a rhythm to that career. The regular adventurer starts out not knowing anything and the death rate among them is horrendous. It’s even worse than tamer mortality back where we came from since tamers face mostly feral pokegirls and not sentient foes who lay traps and plan to be attacked in much greater detail than any feral can.” He drained the goblet. “Then the surviving adventurers get some seasoning and the death rate goes way down for a while until they get cocky and start taking on really dangerous foes like dragons, giants or orc kingdoms and then the death rate skyrockets again. The survivors from that eventually retire from active adventuring, be it by building a stronghold or a tower somewhere or moving somewhere to enjoy the riches they’ve gathered. Some of them join a city guard or become more active in a guild so they can use what they’ve learned to rise to a higher position of power. Some few become nobles. Some retire to a place like the Dales to take up some trade they’ve always wanted to do.”

            Mielikki held up the pitcher. “Refill?”

            “Please.” He watched her fill the goblet. “All of this takes place in roughly a decade. If they continue adventuring for much longer than that, most adventurers start feeling the effects of all of the injuries they’ve sustained, the scars and badly healed broken bones, magic they didn’t successfully resist, and they start feeling their mortality as the years scroll by. For races like elves and dwarves, the absolute numbers can be different, but the percentage of their lifetime that they spend adventuring isn’t much different than it is for humans. For me, it’s very different. I heal completely, and I don’t age. But it didn’t sink in until I had returned from an errand of Elminster’s and Falcar, a guy who I had adventured with during my apprenticeship, turned up and told me about his son, who had just turned old enough become an adventurer. He wanted to hire me to go with Dramal and his group to make sure they didn’t die on their first adventure.”

            He drank more juice. “I hadn’t seen Falcar in almost twenty years. He was not inside my bubble. I knew he’d gotten married and had four kids, but that was because I kept up on the events around the Dales. But knowing that and having it sink in were two different things and seeing him again was a shock. Falcar had just turned forty and was fat. He’d become a successful merchant and was wearing expensive clothing and perfume, of all things.” He turned to look at Mielikki. “That’s when I realized for the first time that I was going to watch the people around me age and die. Don’t get me wrong, their deaths won’t affect me in the slightest, but whether I look like a human or an elf or a dragon, my brain wasn’t wired for immortality and knowing what was coming kept popping up in my mind for years after that. It’s still bugging me a bit.”

            “Did you take Falcar’s son adventuring?”

            “Dramal and I went with his adventuring company when they headed out on their first mission to investigate a ruined castle that had recently come to light.” Iain chuckled. “Every seasoned adventurer for miles around knew about that castle. It’s usually left alone as a starter dungeon for newbies. I later found out Falcar had arranged for them to ‘discover’ some vague notes about it and the dangers it held. It was close enough to the Dales that nothing really powerful would inhabit the ruins but far enough out in the wilderness to not stay empty for long. At the first camp we made I discussed with them what my role was to be, which was not fight their battles for them, but to instead make sure they weren’t overwhelmed. They didn’t have a problem with that, although the leader of the group didn’t like the fact that their wizard, who was his girlfriend, came to me several times for advice and pointers. He thought she was looking to dump him and trade up.”

            “Was she doing that?”

            “She was looking to survive. It is true that she didn’t think her future lay with the leader forever, but the first time she said something about me and her I was quietly up front with her about the fact that I was married. She respected my forthrightness and, after that, just wanted tips and maybe a free spell from my books if she could sweet talk me into giving her one. Instead I gave her some ink she didn’t have, the formula for it and a quick primer on how to safely transcribe scrolls into her spell books.”

            Mielikki nodded. “That is a much better reward than just a spell. What did you find in the ruins?”

            “Some necromancer was setting up shop in the ruins. He was just getting started on his life experiences and was nearly as inexperienced as Dramal’s group was, making it a pretty good beginning adventure for them. It also highlighted the problem they had in their party since they didn’t have a cleric. The ruins held way more skeletons and zombies than they were comfortable trying to defeat and they could have used a cleric to keep some of the undead at bay as well as for healing magic. I showed them some tricks for destroying mindless undead and they cleaned out the ruins. I only had to step in once, and that for a group of four minotaur that we stumbled across after retreating from the ruins to regroup. They had the party badly outgunned and I had to intercede and deal with them. They beat the necromancer and then we gathered up all the loot they could carry. I showed them how to safely bury the treasure they wanted to come back for some distance from the ruins and how to take visual terrain sightings instead of marking the treasure by leaving a trail for some monsters to camp. Then I escorted them home.”

            “Was that the end of the mission?”

            Iain shook his head. “Falcar came by a couple of days later to thank me and offer me the money. I turned him down since I’d gotten several books out of the necromancer’s lab and they were worth playing shepherd to some newbies. I also warned him that this was a one time thing and if he spread word of what I’d done I’d find him and hurt him. I was not going to be babysitting again. Elminster asked me about it a little later and why I’d agreed to do something like that for someone that wasn’t my friend. I explained about the Shepherd program I’d come up with for Blue and how it helped keep the death count down and he became very thoughtful. A few days later he hosted a meeting of a bunch of the local retired and active adventurers and made me explain everything again. They were all good types and quizzed me for a while about how something like that could work for them. Later they instituted their own version of what we’d discussed, which they also called the Shepherd program. My understanding is that not only did it drop the mortality rate for the local kids starting out, it also seriously thinned out the local monster population, which made things safer for everyone. And, in the end, it helped them localize the lair of a newly adult blue dragoness that had been quietly infesting the region and causing trouble.” He grinned. “I was in on that assault. That was veterans only and that poor dragon never knew what hit her.”

            “Did you get much treasure from her lair?”

            “I claimed the corpse and let everyone else divvy up the treasure.” Mielikki blinked and Iain smiled. “I turned that dragon into spell components and other items and stored them in Dikons to keep them fresh. When I was done, the dragon was just a stain on the ground and a memory. Then I held onto everything until I could make it to Waterdeep and Baldur’s Gate. Wizards and sages paid a premium for fresh dragon parts and the little meat nobody bought ended up being sold to wealthy individuals who wanted to eat dragon. The hide I sold off to someone who wanted dragon leather armor. I definitely didn’t lose money refusing part of the dragon’s treasure.”

            Mielikki took a drink from her goblet. “I have never been mortal and so I cannot truly understand what a mortal must undergo when they become an immortal. I have seen it before in heroes who were ascended or those who rose to become gods, and I have seen how traumatic it can be. I suspect that for you it may be a recurring problem because, thanks to our clan’s technology and magic, your immediate family will not age and die like true mortals will, so encountering mortals will remind you of what you have gained as well as what you have lost, such as your humanity.” She met his gaze squarely. “I also believe that most of their lives and deaths will not affect you as they will not be inside your bubble.”

            “You’re right.” Iain emptied the mug in one long swallow. “It was just a shock to see Falcar and struggle to recognize him.” Mindful of the spinning room, he put the goblet down carefully. “Thanks for taking the time to talk to me.”

            “You are welcome,” Mielikki drank from her mug. “Are you likely to be gone again as long you were this time?”

            “Eventually, I’ll be gone even longer,” Iain rubbed his eyes. “Kerrik and I talked about what he could share about his time as Nightraven’s student and it is very likely that I will be sent on at least one mission that lasts a century or two. It’s part of how she will evaluate my progression as her student. For everyone here, however, it’ll still be an instant.”

            “For you, however, it will not.” Mielikki nodded. “Then we need to explore what kind of relationship we will have before then.” She drained her cup and put it down before turning to him. “When is the next night you get to choose your bed partner?”

            “It’s tonight and I’ve already asked Winnifred. After that it’ll be nearly a week because of the changes.”

            “When is your next scheduled free personal time?”

            “It’s the day after tomorrow, after lunch.”

            “May I ask for a boon?” She smiled at his surprise. “I would like to ask that you use that free time on me and that we journey to this hunting lodge that I have heard about so we may spend some days getting acquainted. I know that this is beyond the scope of the agreement that you made with the clan regarding your free time, but I believe this is necessary.”

            “Why?”

            “The Mielikki of Nightraven’s world knows that you exist and she has given you her approval. If we have a physical relationship I know that she will not be able to separate you from me, even should she successfully seek one with you. Also, during the time we spend at the hunting lodge I will teach you how to recognize the presence of any god or the servant of a god, even if he or she is hiding their godhead from you.” She smiled when his eyebrows rose. “Also, you expressed a wish that I be your first goddess. I would like to grant that wish and I would like to grant that wish before this other Mielikki takes on the identity of some horny adventurer and tries to ensure that wish can never be fulfilled.” She toyed with her goblet. “I ask this because I do not want to coerce you, but it is something that I want.” She smiled slightly. “I was willing to wait for our relationship to develop at its own pace, but I want this relationship.” Her eyes were serious as she looked into his eyes. “There is something worse than death for a god. If we lose all of our worshippers, as our power slips away, so does our identity. Eventually we forget who we are and all that is left is a shade that spends eternity shrieking in powerless fury and fear. That almost happened to me before the herd asked to worship me. I know that you are nearly ready to begin decanting the new unicorns and I fear for what that may mean for me and my relationship with the herd. But I know that if we are together, you will never let me be lost. I need to be assured that will never happen to me.”

            “You think my free time will give us the opportunity to develop a relationship?”

            “Iain, either your women have not yet realized that you can be gone as long as you want to be during your free time or they do realize it and have not yet considered that you would choose to be gone for days at a time, but I have. For me, it means we would have the time to build a decent relationship, similar to the time you had with Kasserine and Ava in dreamtime.”

            “Except with the very real chance that you could become pregnant.” Iain shifted on the bench. “And before you remind me that you haven’t been pregnant before, I’ll point out that you’re a goddess and I’ll ask if you have wanted to be pregnant in the past. Have you?”

            “I have not.”

            “And now?”

            She shook her head. “The time is not yet ripe. But, someday, yes. I am intrigued by the various ways our family has reacted during their pregnancies and I wonder what mine will be like.”

            “Then we definitely need to explain this plan to the command staff before we go,” Iain’s voice was thoughtful. “We have discussed what I could do with my free time, so they’re aware that I could be gone for months at a time if I wished to, but they also know that I don’t want to be gone that long. So if we’re going to do this, I want to be honest with them so that when we come back and are much more casual around each other as well as lovers, it doesn’t surprise them.” He gave an abrupt stake of his head. “No, we need to brief the general staff instead of the command staff. They need to know too.”

            “That would be only prudent.”

            “And you can help me with some projects that could benefit from another pair of hands.”

            “Such as?”

            “The hunting lodge isn’t on the Island anymore. Now it’s on an ark called Ragnarok, with other creatures and some interesting terrain on it. I want to see if I can introduce plants to grow on the Ark, such as great grapes and some spices. I’m also interested in seeing if it’s like the game I remember and the dinosaurs can be domesticated. But for that I’ll need to cultivate some native berries as well as do a lot of hunting for meat to make narcotics.” He grinned. “I tried to cheat and brought in a dart gun with modern tranquilizers, but everything I shot went into convulsions and died. I tried with other sedatives and everything that I shot with them died too, no matter what drug I used. I brought back the corpses of some of my attempts and some that I’d killed as a control sample and Theodora determined that they are engineered to only react well to tranquilizers that are infested with the local nanites, otherwise their internal nanites go wild and melt organs until the animal undergoes systemic shock and complete organ failure. She’s working on removing that dependency in the samples I’ve given her, but it’s slow going and meanwhile we can see if they can be domesticated. If so, and if she can get them to live outside the Ark environment, we have another tool to use in the fight against ferals. And, honestly, I like the idea of using bioweapons to fight bioweapons.”

            “And if they can be domesticated but cannot be raised here?”

            “Then they’ll make dandy guardians for the hunting lodge and we can use them as dogs when we hunt.”

            “That sounds like a worthwhile endeavor,” Mielikki said. “I am an outstanding huntress.”

            “I look forward to seeing you prove that to me.”

            Mielikki’s eyes narrowed. “Is that a challenge?”

            “I believe someone was just throwing around the word outstanding while referring to herself and some ability that, conveniently, nobody else has seen. That’s likely to garner a challenge or two.”

            “I accept your challenge,” Mielikki said flatly. “We will compete, and I will be victorious.”

            “Do I need to ask Ninhursag if she’ll give you a living bow so we’re almost equal,” Iain asked.

            “Did you not learn the spell when you watched a hundred Elfqueens and then Ava and Kasserine use it to get their bows?” She smiled when he looked surprised. “I was not there, but you are my priest, Iain, and I know well how intelligent you are. Since you learned that spell, you can either teach it to me or use it on a suitable tree for me. While your omega tree is quite impressive, my trees are the oak and the yew.”

            Iain rose. “Let’s go back to the ranch and I’ll set up an appointment with the general staff and then I’ll teach you the spell to summon a living bow. Hopefully you can use it.”

            Mielikki frowned. “Has there been a problem?”

            “I haven’t tried to cast it but Kasumi, being Kasumi, learned it and tried to use it. The trees refused to respond to her entreaties. Ninhursag offered to intercede for her, but Kasumi, once again, being Kasumi, thanked her very much but declined. She wants to see if she can learn whatever it is she’s not understanding.”

            “She must be aware that it may have to do with what she is and not who she is,” Mielikki said thoughtfully.

            “She is,” Iain said as he put the goblets back on the tray with the pitcher. “But she’s never faced a magical issue that she couldn’t resolve and she wants to take a shot at this one before admitting she’s finally found one.” He handed the tray to her. “Add the fact that she’s having to do this behind Kozakura’s back and she wants to wait and do more study.”

            “You are concerned that Kozakura could learn this spell and take it back to Haven?”

            “She and Neiiko are very smart,” Iain replied. “We’re not sure that the Haven queendom has this spell. If we give or trade this spell to an expansionist, tyrannical queendom, that’s one thing. If we let them steal it to use against us, that’s not going to happen if we can avoid it.”

            Mielikki rose gracefully. “Do you want to see the rest of my home?”

            “Do you want to show it to me?”

            “Not just yet. A girl would like to keep some secrets.”

            “Then the fact that I am incredibly curious about what is down that hallway doesn’t matter, does it?”

            “I’m pleased that you are interested, but otherwise, the answer to that question is no. I will return shortly. After that, we will return to your universe and arrange for a meeting of the command and then the general staff later today so that we can brief them on what you and I will be doing.” She smiled. “And what you will later be doing with every other member of the clan, once they allow me to have the first vacation with you.”

            Iain sighed. “Nobody who is pregnant gets to do this until after she’s delivered. All of our children are born here and I don’t want to find out that newborns or the unborn get infested by the Ark nanites before their twee wake up to protect them and then melt in the womb when we come home.”

            “That is wise,” Mielikki nodded. “And the fact that their turn is delayed and not disallowed will make them unhappy as opposed to furious.” She headed for the doorway leading deeper into her home. “I’ll be right back.”

            “I’ll wait here.”

***

            Ygerna waved a hand towards the target a dozen meters away. “Cast a magic missile spell and strike the target with it.” Iain obediently cast the spell and three bright violet sparks leapt from his hand to unerringly impact the dummy they were using as a target. “You colored them?”

            “Elminster hosted some wizard contests while I was his apprentice and still at his place. The wizards brought their apprentices and made us compete against each other. A dozen apprentices casting the same spell at the same time at the same target meant I had to do something so I knew which spells were mine.” He smiled slightly. “And changing the color is moderately difficult for a novice, which showed I was better than the others.”

            “Did you win these competitions,” Rosemary asked.

            “I won more than I lost. I also exposed at least two former apprentices who had been set up as ringers to win the contests, pissing their masters off big time when I did so.”

            “What happened to them?”

            “Elminster made me compete against them one on one to see if I could defeat already experienced mages.” Knowing what was going to be asked next, he just went ahead and answered it. “I beat one of them and was narrowly defeated by the other one.” He smiled amusedly.

            “What,” Rosemary was watching him curiously, “is that smile for?”

            “Oh, her master was ecstatic that she won, at least until later when he found out we’d hooked up after the competition. It turned out that he wanted in her bed and she’d been telling him no.” Iain shrugged. “He tried to kill me for that.”

            “Did you kill him,” Kasserine asked.

            “No, but I gave him a scar he’ll carry for the rest of his life. Elminster had asked me a couple of years before that little issue came up not to kill his guests after he watched me take apart a mage assassin who’d tried to kill him in a market in Baldur’s Gate. The assassin either targeted me by mistake or because he wanted to get me out of the way before murdering my instructor. I turned him into a pincushion before Elminster knew we were under attack. After that I got to bodyguard him along with my other duties as his apprentice.”

            “I have reviewed your spell books,” Ganieda noted. “Some of the spells in them are among the most advanced a formal mage can use. Can you cast all of the spells in there?”

            “I can.”

            “I also noticed some spells I don’t recognize among the normal repertoire. I checked with Kasumi and Kasserine and they both verified that they didn’t recognize them either. One of them has your name on it. What is Grey’s Binding?”

            Iain chuckled. “I had to create a new spell as part of my apprenticeship. That spell is the formal magic adaptation of the rune chain technique.” He shook his head. “It was a lot harder to figure out than I initially thought it would be.”

            Dominique frowned. “You turned a pokegirl technique into a spell? Does that mean you know how to use rune chain like you do hellfire?”

            “It does. I learned it from Zareen.”

            “Can I have that spell for my books,” Rosemary asked eagerly.

            “Any of you who wants any of them is welcome to any of the spells in my books,” Iain replied. “In fact, you’re all welcome to keep the copies of my books that I made for each of you. As for Grey’s Binding, that’s the only one I developed. The others that are nonstandard are ones that I copied from captured spell books or scrolls I ran across during my journeys.”

            “It’s traditional for a wizard who has an apprentice graduating from his or her apprenticeship to give that student a spell from his books that will challenge the student to advance enough to be able to cast it,” Kasserine said. “What spell did Elminster give you?”

            Iain grinned amusedly. “I don’t think he’s ever heard of that tradition. He offered to let me purchase some spells, but I’d only sold the one dragon for spare parts and I’d have needed to have sold about a dozen of them to afford his prices. I did quite well without paying for his magic.”

            “Did you craft any magic items?”

            Iain shrugged. “I did a few potions here and there for some emergencies and a wand of magic missiles during my apprenticeship to learn how it’s done, but nothing more elaborate than that. It would require I build a lab and I was either at Elminster’s place, Nightraven’s castle or on the road somewhere. Honestly, if I’d had the chance to build or buy a place of my own, I’d have passed on the opportunity.”

            Kasumi frowned. “Why?”

            “My family is here and building a place without them, first, wouldn’t be a home and, second, would have sent people in the area the idea that I was settling down and might want to start a family there. If you’ve got the money or power to build a stronghold of any kind, the locals figure you’re rich, powerful and stupid enough to drop whatever you’re doing to help them out whenever they so much as crook a finger.” He grinned. “Or marry their pretty and, as far as they know, virginal young daughter. And the local nobles are even worse about figuring I’m there to solve their problems than the commoners are.”

            “How famous were you,” Kasumi asked curiously.

            “I’d lived around the Dales for over thirty years and I am a mage. I was known there, but only by people who might want to know who the local adventurers were. I did have a licensed adventuring company on file as required by law to perform heroic acts, but I was the only member. Elsewhere I was just an elf passing though and I was happy with that. I did get adopted into a dwarven clan but that was pretty much an accident.”

            “How does one get accidentally adopted,” Ava eyed him curiously. “Were you mistaken for the person they really wanted to adopt?”

            Iain rubbed his eyes. “I got sent on another errand by Elminster that took me through a city called Raven’s Bluff. After passing through it, I got attacked by a band of robbers who were not that interested in holding me up.”

            “I don’t understand,” Ava said.

            “They figured it was easier to loot my corpse than it was to demand my valuables, so they ambushed me. The survivors fled into some woods and I, not being in a good mood after they shoot my horse out from under me, gave chase. They thought they’d gotten away and went back to their base camp. They were all humans, so I waited until night to go in and finish them off.” He smiled. “I learned from you ladies to never give someone an advantage if I could avoid it.”

            “Good,” Dominique said. “Don’t.”

            “I pulled back into the woods and waited for morning, just in case I’d missed someone who was hiding or away hunting or something. Then I looted the camp. Imagine my surprise when I picked the lock on a large stone chest to find a female dwarf trussed up inside it. I cut her loose and, once she was sure I wasn’t one her kidnappers, offered to take her back to Raven’s Bluff. Gaviel told me that she belonged to Clan Hammerhand, a dwarven clan that operated a mercenary band in the city. She let me know that she had been kidnapped from Raven’s Bluff and asked me to take her to Earthfast, a dwarf community a week’s travel to the east where her clan was moving.” He shrugged. “I had already fed her from my supplies and so she was mine to take care of under dwarven rules, so I didn’t have much of a choice. I let her outfit herself from the loot and we headed east, after I went back to Raven’s Bluff for a trio of horses.” He settled down on the grass. “What I didn’t know was that the Earthfast mountains, where Earthfast was located, were crawling with goblins and orcs. What was supposed to be a week trip took nearly a month. We lost the horses before the end of the second day when they panicked over the side of a cliff. Gaviel would have died at least three times if I hadn’t been able to heal her wounds.” He made a face. “She liked melee a lot and she had a lot of anger issues to take out on anyone who attacked us. She also wasn’t used to fighting on the surface and the tactics you use underground just get you filled with arrows. Fortunately for her, she was very good at combat and a quick study, even if she was about as stealthy as a bulldozer. Long story short, we made it to Earthfast, where I learned she was the previous Ironlord’s daughter. He was the king of Earthfast and, it turns out, not a Hammerhand, although Gaviel did belong to the mercenary group with the same name. He’d died in a war recently with some Mongol like barbarians. Anyway, the remains of Gaviel’s family adopted me into their clan, Clan Shieldstar.”

            Ganieda grinned. “Did you fuck her?”

            “No. Earthfast has been under constant assault by the goblins and orcs and most of the women of the city had been killed over the years. Any woman there had her pick of suitors. I thanked them for the adoption and went back to salvage what gear I could from the dead horses and then the robber’s camp.”

            “What about the orcs and goblins,” Kasserine asked.

            “If I’m by myself, they’re not much of a threat and I can travel faster on foot than I can on horseback, at least in the mountains.”

            “Can I hear the long version of that story,” Rosemary asked.

            “Not right now,” Ygerna said. “Iain, let’s get back to seeing what formal magic spells you can cast.”

            He clambered back to his feet. “All right.”

 

Iain Grey

 

Inner Harem

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

 

Outer Clan

Melanie – Iron Chef

Siobhan – Nurse Joy (Glasgow)

Golden Cloud – equine unicorn

Arianrhod -Fey Goblin Female

 

Satellite Clan

            74 male Goblins

            89 female Goblins

 

Queendom / Outer Harem

73 Elves

Dionne - Elfqueen

Adrianna - Elfqueen

Heltu - Wet Queen

14 Wet Elves

 

Dead Harem

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

 

Vanessa

     Myrna

     Saoirse

April

     Dorothy: Duelist

     Meara: Duelist

     Regan: Duelist

Canaan

     Hannah: Huntress

     Rebecca: Huntress

Joyce

     Lisa: Milktit

     Sherrie:  Milktit

     Harriet: Milktit

Lucifer           

     Olivia: Megami-Sama

     Seraphina: Megami-Sama

     Miriam: Angel

     Haley: Angel

Zareen            

     Caltha: Nightmare

     Kim:  Nightmare

     Xanthe: Nightmare

     Epona: Nightmare

     Philippa: Nightmare

     Nott: Nightmare

     Nyx: Nightmare

 

Sofia

     Anna: Ria

     Esmerelda: Ria