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There was no official throne of the Kingdom of Haven, and Kozakura didn’t want to cobble one up, so she sat behind the desk that Shikarou had used in the Presidential Palace. It had been cleaned and polished to remove as much of the smoke damage as possible that it sustained when the Presidential Palace had caught fire during the attack, but heat darkening mottled the surface of it. Her face was composed and her ears still, but her eyes were still molten with fury as she took a deep breath and began in a calm, even voice. “I am Kozakura, Queen of the Kingdom of Haven. This is addressed to the oath breaking, murderous rabble who call themselves the leaders of the leagues and the Planetary League Council, their subordinates and the workers who do the everyday work of making the government run. However, it is being broadcast anywhere that the leagues have television or radio and emailed to everyone with an email account.”
She paused for a second. “Two days ago I was a princess, but that changed in a heartbeat when you murdered my father, the king, in a horrific and cowardly attack using a nuclear device. Then you issued a warning and a threat that this was just a small demonstration of your power and resolve to defeat Haven and then you demanded my surrender and the surrender of my subjects.”
Her ears went flat. “Demand my surrender? I will instead destroy you.” Her ears came back up and she smiled coldly. “Or, as the survivors have discovered by the time you receive this message, I have already begun the process of destroying you. The first salvos targeted your nuclear stocks wherever they were and then I killed your leaders. Now I will destroy your governments, both civilian and military. For the next forty five days, everything that bears a government emblem will be bombed until it is destroyed. Unlike you, I will not deliberately target your civilian population, but it will not shield you if your forces seek to hide behind civilians. I do not wish to target hospitals and other medical facilities or religious edifices, but if you try to hide weapons and other military equipment in them, I will not hesitate to destroy them.”
Her smile vanished without a trace. “You, the member leagues of the Planetary League Council, you were united and unanimous in your decision to terrorize the people who disagreed with your treacherous ways and murder my father. That has made my decision simple and I will destroy you all. Up until this point, the Kingdom of Haven merely wished to be left alone. That is all my father truly desired. We meant you no harm, and you mistook that for the inability to do you harm. You are already learning the error of that mistake. Those of you who survive the cataclysm that you have called upon yourselves would do well to remember that lesson.” She leaned forward, her eyes intent. “Make no mistake, if I have to do this again, I will not destroy whatever of your government remains. I will instead destroy your entire civilization. I will destroy your manufacturing, your food and your libraries. I will watch your people starve and then I will watch them be eaten by feral pokegirls. Those of you who survive what I will do need to heed my warning. Do not provoke me again.” She waited several seconds. “End recording and send.” She looked at Iain and Kerrik where they stood with Nejiko, Ganieda and Raven. “How was that?”
“As queen, you do not need their approval or disapproval,” Nejiko said firmly. She glanced at Iain with an amused look. “And this one is a barbarian.” Zareen snickered softly.
Kerrik shook his head as Raven bristled. “You didn’t follow the script at all.”
“Still,” Iain interrupted the Hunter Archmage before she could continue, “for a first announcement of world devastation, even if improv, it wasn’t too bad. I’ll have to adjust timing.” He frowned. “Daya?”
She appeared. “Sir?”
“Begin bombardment to match Kozakura’s announcement and continue for forty five days instead of what we’d planned.”
“I request confirmation that Oxbow is now weapons free.”
“Confirmed. With Kozakura’s modifications added, follow the plan.”
“Yes, sir.” She grinned. “Theodora and I are beginning bombardment of the nuclear storage depots, missile sites and hidden storage locations. Primary impact time in seventy five seconds.” Her smile faded. “Request weapons free for Oxbow Lake.”
“You are weapons free for Oxbow Lake.”
“Yes, sir.” She vanished.
Kozakura frowned. “What is Oxbow Lake and why wasn’t I briefed on it if it is, as it sounds, part of Oxbow?”
“Oxbow Lake is a secondary firing plan,” Iain explained. “We will be destroying the militaries of everyone except our friends. Oxbow Lake targets all of the large infestations of feral pokegirls that we have found and wipes them out too, in order to give the civilians a better fighting chance to weather what we’re doing to their governments. It uses more drones, shuttles and specialized weaponry designed for whatever type of pokegirl and environment my forces need to operate in to destroy them.”
“Did your Celestials come up with that,” Kerrik asked curiously.
“No, Kasumi did.”
Kozakura smiled. “My mother is kinder than the world deserves.”
“She is.” Iain looked at Kerrik and Raven. “You headed home?”
He shook his head. “I’m off to Nippon. I’ve got a meeting with the Imperial family to discuss what happened. None of them were hurt in the blast but they’re a little upset at having another nuclear weapon used on them.”
Iain nodded. “Give them my condolences for what happened to them.” He blinked. “No, don’t mention me. I’ll be better if I just don’t exist for them.”
“Too late,” Kerrik said with a smile. “They contacted me to arrange this meeting and to thank me for the firefighter ships you sent. I, of course, corrected their misunderstanding about who was saving their people, which brought up the names of you and Lucifer.”
“That wasn’t very nice of you. It would be quicker just to kill me.”
“That’s why we didn’t do that,” Raven said with a grin.
Iain glared at her. “What’s your problem?”
“Kasserine and Ava are too slow and no fun to chase. I want my play toy Iain back.” She flashed a toothy smile. “You’re much more fun to chase.”
Zareen’s eyes narrowed and she stepped silently forward behind the Archmage, only to stop when Iain shook his head. It was just a tiny motion, but the Nightmare smiled and returned to her post as he raised an eyebrow. “You need to remember something that Kerrik once said about an elf who was going to fight a duel, and that’s the fact that everyone is undefeated until they aren’t.” She blinked at his amused smile. “I don’t think either Kasserine or Ava has shown you everything they can do, and I’d like to suggest you don’t try to get them to make their best effort.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Kerrik is using you as a device to motivate his students. That’s fine, but he won’t let us fight back.” Raven scowled angrily as he continued. “As for them being slow, I was slow in the beginning too and April is putting them into fighting trim as fast as she can. I think you’ll find they’re going to improve faster than I ever did since they’re already both trained fighters. I wasn’t and they have already shown me that they learn at a faster rate than I ever did.”
Kerrik put his hand on Raven’s shoulder as she started to snap something. “I warned you that he’s not the same person you used to terrorize.”
“You have either taken complete leave of your senses or something has seriously changed about you,” Raven said curiously. “And you have never been an idiot.” She cocked her head curiously. “Can outlanders participate in challenge days?” She smiled coolly. “Oh, they already have since Monica’s harem participated before they became clan. Do you accept challenges?”
Iain’s eyes narrowed slightly. “You know I do. Just remember what the rules are.”
“I do,” she said sweetly. “We’ve swiped your idea and have challenge days too. Be seeing you.”
Kerrik sighed. “Raven, please remember one thing.”
“I have never allowed Iain to fight back. He’s occasionally hurt you, but he’s never had free reign to try and stop you. I’m not saying you won’t win, you are a powerful pokegirl after all, but he will probably surprise you.”
“I hope he does. We grow through challenge, after all.” She smirked at Iain. “That’s something else Kerrik says.”
Kerrik glanced at Iain. You said that the Ark you took me to is mine to do with as I wish? Is that correct?
Yes. Going to take Raven hunting?
I’m going to let her dance with things that don’t give a shit how powerful she thinks she is. And I won’t take the others with us so she can’t use that innate competitiveness to fight harder because Misery and the others are watching.
That’s kind of cruel.
She needs the lesson before she challenges you. He took Raven’s hand. “Let’s go. We have a trip to Tokyo and I want to take the others with us.” They vanished.
Nejiko frowned. “She is aware that you are spirit folk, is she sir?”
“Want challenge,” Zareen was watching Iain. “Get?”
“First she has to challenge me,” he noted quietly. “I’ve just let Ninhursag know what might be coming and I suspect Raven won’t get the chance to challenge me if she appears at one of the challenge days.” He focused on Kozakura. “Sorry, I’m woolgathering.”
“You are problem solving, Iain-san, and I enjoy watching you do it. It reminds me that there are methods beside picking up a sword that can be employed to neutralize a potential foe.”
“Thanks, I think.”
Her ears flicked. “I am sorry, but I have not been able to find a solution to the problem I mentioned earlier, except to seek your assistance again. This means that I will require another favor from you.” She nodded to Nejiko and the Phoenix opened the door. “Please come with me.”
Iain waved towards the door. “After you.”
Kozakura smiled. “What would Mother say to you watching my ass as I walk?”
Zareen grinned widely. “Iain not dead. Him watch. Kasumi know.”
Kozakura chuckled. “I suppose that’s true enough.” She motioned to Nejiko and they headed down the hall to a doorway. “Inside, please.”
Inside, Iain was surprised to discover Candace, Elizabeth and Bellona, whom he hadn’t seen since his arrival. He’d presumed they were busy with the cleanup or off mourning. They were seated at a table that filled the room. A tea service on a trolley waited nearby. He bobbed in a quick bow. “Ladies, I’m so sorry for your losses.”
“You lost too,” Bellona said quietly. She looked at Kozakura. “What is this about?”
“Iain-san, please sit.” Kozakura looked at Nejiko. “Serve.”
“Your Majesty,” Nejiko murmured and headed for the tea service.
Iain settled down as Zareen took up station behind him. “I’m curious too. What is this favor you want to ask of me?”
Kozakura’s ears flicked. “Please understand that I know how serious a favor is from you. You are spirit folk and you may ask anything of me in return, except for my life or my soul, which must be negotiated out beforehand.”
Iain’s eyebrows rose. “You’ve been talking to Ygerna.”
“I have also been talking to Yuko-sama. The spirit folk of my heritage have similar rules. My favor is simple and yet complicated, as are many of them. I want you take these women into your harem.”
Candace shot to her feet. “What?”
There was a steely hiss as Nejiko drew her sword. “Sit or I will have to harm you.”
“I think we can resolve this without me needing clean clothes,” Iain said quietly. “Candace, please sit down while Kozakura explains why just she requested what she did.” He looked at Kozakura. “You will explain.” It wasn’t a question and his tone suggested that the meeting was over unless she did what he wanted.
“My father made no provision for his death,” Kozakura said quietly as Candace settled back down and Nejiko put her katana away before returning to making tea. “But no matter whether Stephen takes the throne or I do, these three are pokewomen and need to have sex regularly. The fact that they are grieving does not change that.”
Bellona blinked. “Shikarou never changed the heir,” she said thoughtfully. “Stephen isn’t here.”
“Grandfather has agreed to bring him here to take the throne and either abdicate for someone else or rule as king,” Kozakura said. “I will happily give it up to him if he wishes it. But that does not change the truth that neither he nor I will make you part of our harem and, unless you become part of the ruler’s harem, you cannot stay in Haven. And another truth is that even if you were willing to try, and you are not, you three could not tame each other enough. You do not like Candace enough for that and all three of you prefer men. I do desire to see you taken care of properly, and Iain-san has the resources to indulge your various hobbies, although Candace will likely have problems as he has no organized tamer program and shows no signs of wanting one, but she will adapt. More importantly, Iain-san will allow you to keep any secrets that you have about Haven or will not obviously act upon them if you do divulge them to him once he has your loyalty.”
Iain eyed Kozakura. “What about Gwyneth?”
“I have no choice but to make Gwyneth a member of my harem unless Stephen keeps her,” Kozakura said with obvious distaste. “It helps that she was never truly a mother to me, considering that she felt that ruling her Queendom was more important to her than social niceties like attending to family, but her forces would go with her if she voluntarily left Haven and so she must be a part of the ruler’s life, whoever that ruler is. She cannot be allowed to become independent any more than these women can remain in Haven.” Her ears canted sideways. “Whether Stephen or I take the throne is immaterial. We will make changes that Father might not have liked. These women were princesses and are each strong enough and confident enough in their past roles in the government that they would openly oppose us if they felt we were not continuing Father’s legacy of leadership and tradition.” Bellona looked surprised and then nodded once as she continued. “Contrary voices will not be allowed in Haven, especially not when the transition from Father to either me or Stephen is still fresh in the memories of our subjects. Therefore, once they openly defied the ruler they would have to be tried and executed as an example to the others. If Stephen was too squeamish to do so, I would have them assassinated, even if it is against his direct orders.” Her ears flicked. “The kingdom must survive even if I am forced to commit seppuku for such an act to protect it.”
Zareen moved slightly. “Not want.”
Kozakura nodded once. “You’re right. I don’t want them to leave. They are the only close family I have left except for my brothers and Mother, but I don’t want to kill them. In Iain’s harem they will be safe and can visit from time to time and, later, Stephen and I can come to see them there.” She looked at Iain. “I considered asking Grandfather to take them, but Raven would destroy them as individuals the first time they stood up to her, and Grandfather wouldn’t stop her.” She glanced at the women. “And they all despise Svetlana, so I could not in good conscience offer them to my uncle. I would like them to have the chance to be happy again one day.” Her lips tightened. “And I despise her too. I have never understood how my uncle can love her so much, but he does.”
“Candace is a kami,” Iain noted.
“She is, but she can still go feral,” Elizabeth said in a dead voice. “She and Shikarou ran some tests to prove it.” She’d been staring at the floor and ignoring the discussion up until this point. She raised her head and looked at Iain with eyes red from weeping. “My daughter is dead. I asked Shikarou to have more children and he said that the time was not right and I would have to wait a few years. I can’t replace her, but I still want more children.”
“Have many,” Zareen said confidently.
Iain glanced over his shoulder. “She was asking me.”
Iain smiled and nodded to Elizabeth. “She’s right. Children are welcome.”
“You don’t like Vampires,” Bellona said.
“I happen to think Elizabeth is just fine as a person,” Iain replied, still watching Elizabeth. “I had to consider that one day I might host Kerrik’s harem and made adjustments to feed Raven if it became necessary. You can’t hurt me by feeding from me, and if you need,” he smiled. “You get.”
“What about Ninhursag’s opinion,” Candace asked suddenly. “She is the maharani.”
“She should be here,” Kozakura said. “Iain-san, please summon her.”
Ninhursag appeared. “Iain has been sending me the video and audio feed of this meeting since he realized what was happening,” she said. “So I greet you all but there’s no need to bring me up to speed.” She looked at Iain. “April says this is almost a repeat of last time.”
“I disagree.” Iain didn’t smile at the Wolf women’s confusion. “When I lost several people once before, while I mourned them and we all missed them, we understood that the mission must go on and that sometimes the fallen must be replaced. At the time, that mission was to stop Sanctuary from utterly destroying us, so the situation is eerily similar. That was when Ninhursag, among others, joined us.”
“Eve brought Iain to meet me and he gave me what I needed,” Ninhursag’s voice was soft and lulling. “It freed me of entanglements and I joined his family, something I have never regretted doing. He will give you anything you need, too.”
Iain glanced at her. “So you think about what you might need or want, but while Kozakura might be hoping that I’ll take you three with me today, it isn’t quite so urgent that you can’t stay here a few days and think about what you might want from joining us.”
“Ninhursag, you haven’t expressed an opinion of the situation.” Bellona was watching the Elfqueen closely. “How do you feel about this?”
“I believe that each of you would be welcomed into my family and that, in time, you’d prove to be significant assets.”
“In time,” Candace didn’t look pleased. “What does that mean?”
“We are a fighting clan,” Ninhursag replied. “We are at war and there are no noncombatants in the clan. You will train and you will train to our level.” She looked past Kozakura. “Right, Nejiko?”
“It was brutal,” the Phoenix answered. “I thought I was fit and that Kozakura-sama was fit but we were not ready to join their battle teams. Even after three months, we are still not.”
“I’m a Nurse Joy,” Candace protested.
“You are a kami,” Ninhursag’s voice was hard. “Even if you can still go feral, you are a kami and you are the blood of a powerful line of kami. Even if you weren’t a kami it wouldn’t matter. Siobhan was a Nurse Joy and she trained with us. You will learn to fight if only to defend yourself because we don’t have the assets to leave a team on standby to protect you while the rest of us fight.”
“Kozakura, what happens to us if we refuse to go with Iain,” Bellona asked suddenly.
Kozakura’s ears flattened for a heartbeat. “If you refuse me,” she said coldly, “then I will have to decide what must be done with you, and quickly, before Grandfather brings Stephen home.”
Candace looked shocked. “You’d kill us?”
“You would presume upon me or Stephen just as you did Father and that will not be allowed. Father was willing to indulge you because, after over twenty years, his rule was secure. Mine or Stephen’s will not be so for several years. While capable of cutting people open without concern, Stephen is still remarkably squeamish and it would be much easier to present him with a fait accompli than listen to his arguments about why you should live. For the same reason, I cannot merely banish you, for you would seek to return once Stephen was here and he would allow it if he were the king or argue with me about it if I were queen.” Her ears flicked. “I would offer you to my uncle and Jamie before I had you killed, but I have few options if they refuse to accept you into their harems and you try to remain in Haven.” She looked at Iain. “And if they wish to consider your offer, let them do it at the Sabine House instead of here. I do not have time for them. I have a kingdom to rebuild and,” she grimaced, “an already rebellious Elfqueen to bring into line.”
Ninhursag’s eyebrows rose. “Is there a problem with Gwyneth?”
Kozakura nodded. “It has only been a few days since my Father’s death and yet she has already approached me about letting her establish a fully independent queendom and having her rule jointly with me or Stephen. My father would not have allowed that and I cannot do so either. It makes our security situation even more precarious if I cannot trust her to do as told when she is told to do it.” She looked at Bellona. “If civil war breaks out between me and Gwyneth, you three will be safer with the Grey clan than here.”
“During a civil war, if we were captured, Gwyneth would have us killed out of hand,” Bellona’s voice was quiet. “But you have no forces with which to face her. She has the army.”
“I would have to hire mercenaries,” Kozakura said. She looked at Ninhursag with a slight smile. “I hope I could get a discount since my mother is part of the clan.”
Ninhursag blinked. “You’re talking about hiring us, not the Sisterhood?”
“I trust you and your forces. You would keep casualties as low as possible by striking straight for Gwyneth and her bodyguards. And since they don’t have living bows or train like you do, your court and the goblins would rip through Haven’s military without slowing, if need be.”
“True.” Ninhursag looked at Iain. “Well? Hiring out as mercenaries is a tradition among the historical clans.”
Iain chuckled. “You just want to kick Gwyneth’s ass.”
“That’s not true. I also want to crush her vaunted troops before I defeat her in personal combat. That way her defeat is total and she can watch it happen. She’s been telling me for years how great her army is and how much mine sucks ass. I’d love to prove her wrong.”
Iain shook his head and looked at the three women. “I don’t suppose that even one of you isn’t an ambitious bitch of a pokegirl.”
Candace snorted. “I’m not even a pokegirl or woman anymore and that truism is still true for all three of us. We’re all ambitious, each in her own way.”
Iain sighed. “How much money do you have in the treasury, Kozakura?”
She gave him a smile wide enough to show her fangs. “Do not make me have to ask my mother for a loan, Iain-san.”
“We’ll work out how much to bill you afterwards,” Iain rubbed his face for a moment. “And you three will be safe at my ranch and you won’t be safe here. Pack some basics and be ready to leave in an hour.”
“Before anyone protests,” Ninhursag said. “I need to ask you a question. Do you three have your pokeballs with you?”
“Kozakura made it mandatory to have our ball with us all the time,” Elizabeth was watching the Elfqueen curiously.
Bellona was staring at her. “Are you threatening us?”
“No, I’m not.” Ninhursag glanced at Iain, who was watching impassively. “This is harem business.” His eyes flicked to her for a second and he nodded slightly. “Zareen.” The Nightmare made an inquisitive noise. “I relieve you.”
“Relieved.” Zareen strode towards the table as Ninhursag drifted back to where the Nightmare had been standing.
Ian raised a hand and Zareen stopped cold. “Whole sentences please. I don’t want there to be any misunderstandings.”
Zareen smiled. “Spoil fun. Do.” She looked at Kozakura. “Pokegirls are property in Haven, yes?”
Kozakura nodded. “Yes, Zareen-sama. Unless they have been manumitted.”
Kozakura blinked. “Selene, did Father ever free his harem?”
She appeared. “Your Majesty, King Shikarou freed select members of his harem under Haven law. None of these are in that group. He spoke of freeing Candace but never did.”
“Who do they belong to now?”
“They were the property of the King, so as of this moment they belong to you as Queen Regent, Your Majesty.”
Kozakura regarded the three shocked faces staring at her and smiled slowly. “Iain-san, I cannot begin to repay you for what you have done for us since the attack, but I want to give you two pokewomen and a kami slave as a token of my appreciation.”
“He accepts,” Ninhursag said.
Zareen nodded. “Can Candace still go into a pokeball?”
Kozakura nodded. “She can, Zareen-sama.”
“Then perhaps she isn’t a kami,” the Nightmare noted.
“I hadn’t thought about it, but since she also can still go feral, maybe you’re right.”
“Why do you call her sama and Iain san,” Bellona asked.
Kozakura chuckled. “Iain-san is my friend. Zareen-sama frightens me.”
“Zareen-sama frightens anyone smart,” Nejiko said.
Zareen’s eyes glittered as she moved towards the table again. “This is not a threat. This is a series of choices you get to make and the consequences of making them. You will pack two bags with your immediate possessions,” Zareen said as she stopped behind the women’s chairs. They immediately twisted around to look at her. “No Dikon and no magic storage. Kozakura will have the remainder of your possessions shipped later. Argue with me or try to stall us and I will hurt you. You will then go in your pokeball with what you wear and then you must trust Haven’s people to not steal your important things while packing them. I would not trust them not to try to gain revenge on women they will never see again, or so they will believe. Presume that the packers will be pokegirls who are in different harems.” She smiled evilly. “You have one hour. In one hour and ten minutes, be back here.” Her hand blurred and she touched each woman on the top of the head. “I have marked you. If you run, I will find you. I will not kill you, but that is the only promise I make about what I will do to you when I catch up with you.” Chairs screeched as she dragged Bellona’s and Elizabeth’s back from the table and then did the same to Candace’s. “Your time begins now.”
The three women hurriedly left.
Ninhursag looked at Zareen. “Switch.”
“I stand relieved.” The Elfqueen sat down next to Iain. “I know that was odd,” she said to Kozakura, “but it’ll play to what they understand about how they’ll be treated when joining a new harem. We remember the earliest lessons best, after all.”
“I thought it might be something like that, Ninhursag-san.”
Ninhursag gave her a teasing smile. “I thought we were on a chan basis.”
Kozakura’s ears flicked. “That is when we are in private, and nothing here will be private for the new ruler for several years.” She sighed and rubbed her eyes tiredly. “I thought I wanted this but I truly hope that Stephen will take the throne.”
Iain chuckled. “Even if you just dumped three angry women on me, don’t forget you’re not alone.” Kozakura growled in the back of her throat and Iain nodded. “I know you’re saving their lives and I know they don’t realize just how ambitious Gwyneth has always been. She’s a queen, queens have assassins and they want to use the toys they have. Shikarou’s death just gave her a chance to listen to her ambitions.”
Zareen shifted slightly. “Lower queen easier?”
Kozakura looked up. “What?” She frowned, her ears flicking. “Maybe, but Gwyneth isn’t going to get ousted by Brigid. Gwyneth keeps too tight a hold on her.”
“Clan have assassins.” Zareen smiled slowly. “Gwyneth meat.”
Kozakura looked at her, and then Iain, Ninhursag and, finally, Nejiko. “Selene, privacy for everyone except us, you, Theodora and Daya, retroactive for the last two minutes.”
“Done, Your Majesty.”
“You could kill Gwyneth?”
“We had plans to neutralize everyone, including Gwyneth,” Ninhursag said quietly. “We had to be able to get to them to capture them. Killing Gwyneth wouldn’t be difficult.” She looked at Iain. “But killing her might not be the best choice.”
Kozakura’s ears flattened. “If we go to war and I don’t kill her she’ll probably kill me. I hope you like me better considering you’ve never interacted with Gwyneth.”
Ninhursag was still looking at Iain. “It’s my court, right?”
“Within the restrictions we agreed upon, yes. What is this about?”
“We have rules about expanding my court. All my new court members get bonded by you. What if I presented you with a war capture to bond into my court? Would you refuse to bond her?”
Iain’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Gwyneth’s pretty ambitious.”
“She has nothing on me,” Ninhursag reassured him. “And Adrianna would really like a subordinate Elfqueen to boss around. I’d like to reward her with one.”
Kozakura was staring at them. “You would take Gwyneth?”
“It would actually be better than killing her,” Ninhursag said amusedly. “I get a junior Elfqueen that Adrianna gets to break for me, Bellona gets to vent some of her grief by helping, and Brigid gets sent a message that her position is only secure as long as you don’t send us after her too. It also keeps us from having to butcher some of your troops to get to Gwyneth in the first place. An alive Gwyneth being gifted to another court where she is the least queen of all is a much better warning than dead Gwyneth would ever be.” She shrugged. “As for Gwyneth, her problem is she has been allowed to be a royal bitch for too long with nothing to check her ambitions except Shikarou, who didn’t really understand the grenade he was playing with. I’m a much bigger fish in a much bigger pond, even if my court is smaller than hers is. My court is also much more loyal and when Gwyneth tries to coopt someone in it, Adrianna and Bellona will get to peel the skin from her back until she decides that’s a really, really bad idea. And, in the end, I can always kill her later.”
“She’s free to leave,” Iain pointed out.
“Leave the most powerful court she’ll have ever seen after we captured her away from her entire seat of magical and military might and Brigid takes her place? Leave to go into exile since Brigid would kill her in the instant that she set foot on Haven? I would have to exile her to get her to leave.”
Kozakura was watching them expressionlessly. Finally, her ears flicked, although her face didn’t otherwise change. “I have one question, Ninhursag-san. Will this be more or less expensive than hiring the Grey clan to fight her?”
“It’ll be a lot cheaper in that your army will be untouched in case you need it against Tropic or someone else.”
“It’ll be cheaper,” Iain said. “Besides, if I beggar you, you won’t be much of an ally later when I need it. That and your mother and both of your grandmothers will be disappointed in me.”
“And Grandfather will tell me that I should have bargained better if you rob me blind,” Kozakura said with a smile. “May I hire Ygerna to negotiate on behalf of Haven?”
“No you may not.”
Kozakura’s smile became a soft chuckle. “I thought not, but I would be derelict in my duty to my kingdom if I didn’t try to get the best negotiator I could.”
“Queendom,” Ninhursag said. “You are a queen and therefore this is a queendom, even if you are regent. If Stephen takes the throne it will revert back to being called a kingdom.”
Kozakara’s ears flicked. “Is there a gender neutral name for a kingdom?”
Iain smiled. “Yes, it’s called an empire.”
She blinked. “I believe that empire would send the wrong kind of message. While I accept Yuko-sama as my ancestor and superior, Nippon is an empire and my paternal grandmother is an empress. I would not seek to draw unfavorable attention from her onto me or my,” her ears flicked again, “my queendom.”
Theodora appeared. “Iain, April has asked me to remind you that you are scheduled for training in half an hour and wanted me to see if you were free for it.”
Kozakura made a noise suspiciously like a giggle. “I wouldn’t dream of keeping you from your obligations, Iain-san. Ninhursag-san can remain as my guest while your new harem members finish packing.”
“I thought you liked me.”
Her amusement vanished. “I do, Iain-san, and that is a serious problem indeed.”
Ninhursag raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“If I remain the queen, Ninhursag-san, I will be expected to produce heirs. Because of what has recently happened to my family, I will be expected to produce them soon.” Her eyes were lingering on Iain. “Iain-san will not cheat on my mother, which is admirable, but if he would it would solve several of my problems at once, since he is powerful, our children might be truewizards and he is arguably pure blood spirit folk, even if tatsu.”
“A dragon is a dragon, Iain-san, and dragons are tatsu. My children will be raised as a mix of East and West as Haven is exactly that and will become more so if I remain the queen.” She leaned back in her chair. “But Iain-san is honorable and will not breed me over my mother’s protests.”
“I’m glad you’ve finally understood that,” Iain said quietly.
“Oh, I do and I’m not sure you should be happy about my understanding.”
He frowned. “What does that mean?”
“You will not cheat on my mother. I accept that and it speaks well of you. My father would not have hesitated in a similar situation. But my mother is a practical woman and so she will understand what I am doing and what my need is when I approach her later and ask for her permission to pay court to you.”
Ninhursag snickered when Iain’s mouth dropped. “I thought we were friends.”
“We are, Iain-san,” Kozakura said reassuringly. “But need outweighs want and I will need to produce the strongest children I can.”
Iain dropped his head into his hands. “You will look elsewhere first, right?”
“I most certainly will. If I can find a worthy mate who isn’t you, it would make my mother much happier, and I have learned that her being happy with me is safer for me.” She sighed and looked at the ceiling for a moment. “I didn’t have any feelings either way when my mother left Haven, except for irritation that she went to you, since Father didn’t like you very much. She and I hadn’t ever been close, and our relationship was very formal at that time.” She dropped her gaze back to him. “Now, knowing what I do about those events, I wish my Father hadn’t driven her away or let her leave when she tried. I could very much use her help and advice right now. Not even Gwyneth’s killers could touch her, and she wouldn’t stand against me, at least not publicly.”
“We’re friends now,” Iain said quietly. “Don’t let the fact that Kasumi is a Grey keep you from seeking her counsel. If you do, it’ll actually help since that’ll keep us appraised of how things are going here and whether or not you need help and suddenly became too proud to ask for it again.”
“I hoped you would allow that. Thank you.” She smiled warmly at him. “However, I will now admit that I have no more favors to ask of you, which is good since I’m not sure how I can repay what I already owe you. Mere money will not erase my debt to you.”
“One problem at a time,” Iain said. “Let’s get your rule secured and Brigid into your harem and then we’ll see what happens next.” He looked around the room. “In the meantime, you’ve just decided to ignore our friendship and send me back to April’s evil intent while Ninhursag gets to stay here and play dominoes or cards with you.”
“I am not ignoring our friendship, Iain-san. I am also not ignoring my friendship with April-sama or the fact that if I kept you here so you could skive off from training, she will remember that and, one day, I will be her student again, giving her the opportunity to punish me for helping you.”
“True.” He smiled. “If you’re being willing to sacrifice me to save yourself, well I can understand that, so this makes more sense.” He stood as Zareen moved to stand next to him. “Ninhursag, I’ll want to talk to them before they get settled.”
“You will. April will cut your training short when I bring them home if you’re not finished yet.”
He bowed to Kozakura. “I wish you well.”
She rose and bowed back. “Thank you, Iain-san. I wish you well too.”
He nodded, Zareen took his hand and they vanished.
Iain sank into an overstuffed chair near the wall of his office, ignoring his desk. “Please sit down, ladies.”
Candace, Elizabeth and Bellona looked at each other before the Dragonqueen sighed. “I guess I’m the spokeswoman.” She gestured towards the door exiting the room that they hadn’t entered from. “We were told that leads to your bedroom.”
“That’s the bathroom,” Iain said. He nodded to a second door as they visibly relaxed. “That’s my bedroom.” He didn’t smile when they tensed again, but Ganieda looked amused. “And we’re not going there right now, so please sit.”
Bellona nodded as they sat down in chairs that were close together. “Do you really need a guard in your office?”
“I’ve had that discussion with Ninhursag and April several times,” Iain chuckled at memories, “and the answer so far seems to be yes, although it’s not the answer I want to hear.” He did smile at their obvious surprise. “I’m the Grey but I’m not any sort of an absolute ruler and I can’t order Ganieda to leave.”
“They’re worried that you’re going to line us up and bend us over to bring into your harem,” Elizabeth said. “And you could use Ganieda to force us. So what was that show with Kozakura really all about?”
“Gwyneth wants an independent queendom and has wanted one for probably as long as she can remember,” Iain said. “The process of establishing one would go much more smoothly if the bomb had finished off the royal family completely. Her assassins and courtiers will encourage her to complete the job the leagues started. By publicly giving you three to me, Kozakura was letting Gwyneth know that even if she wins in a war between her and Kozakura, going after you three will start a war between Grey and her queendom that she really doesn’t want.”
“So that was a ruse,” Bellona asked curiously.
“Not completely. Kozakura is right that she can’t afford to have anyone standing against her right now and you three would be rallying points for disaffected. If that happened, she would have to make examples of you. The truth is that she doesn’t want to do that and so you had to leave. I was fortunate that she chose to ask me to take you in. I thought that a good idea and accepted.”
“No,” Ganieda said. “Candace, if he didn’t want you, you wouldn’t be here. You won’t get any mercy fucks here.”
The Nurse Joy blushed bright red. “Stay out of my head.”
Ganieda’s ears flicked “I wish I could.” She glanced at Iain. There’s a huge pity party going on in her head right now.
Be nice, she’s almost completely alone now. That’s got to be traumatic for anyone like her.
“I thought Poppet was his favorite,” Candace snapped.
“Marguerite is my favorite from that batch,” Iain said mildly. “And Ganieda is right. If I hadn’t been willing to bring you here and ask you join us, Kozakura has no way to force me to do anything, much less invite a woman into my bed and my life. And to be a bit brutal about it, your lives seem to be important to Kozakura. You’re not in my bubble just yet.”
Elizabeth’s eyes lit with the first real curiosity he’d seen from her so far. “Ask?”
“Yes, ask. I’ll ask you as a group now and individually later to join us.” He smiled. “So, I would like to ask each of you to consider joining my family. I know you don’t know me very well and you don’t know the situation here much either, but I think you could be happy here and I think you’d fit in well.”
“Kozakura gave us to you,” Bellona said. “You don’t have to ask us anything.”
“This isn’t Haven,” Iain replied. “Slavery is illegal here. You became free when you were released from your pokeball. If you don’t want to stay, I won’t force you to. There are lots of men and women here in Texas who would welcome you into their family. Or you could try to make your own way.”
“The only place you can be a slave here,” Ganieda said, “is inside your own head. In Texas you’re free. The government will not trade or countenance trade in aware pokegirls and neither will they give you government assistance if you can’t make your own way. There are some charities for pokegirls, though, and they would help you while you get on your feet in the world.”
“If we stayed,” Candace asked, “what would we be doing?”
“That depends on what you want to do as well as what you can do,” Iain replied. “Everybody trains to fight. There are no exceptions to that. Everyone from me down to the children four and older train, if only on where to go and what to do when the shooting starts.”
“I would ask Bellona to become my intelligence attaché,” Theodora said. “Daya and I run the intelligence network the clan operates, but I could use an organic to help me distribute and explain the data. I could also use her to assist in building humint assets around the world once the bombardments stop.” She looked thoughtful for a second. “Irena could use Candace’s help. Siobhan’s death left her scrambling since she’s a Sanctuary Goth and not a Night Nurse. She’s responded well, but she would welcome the help, once she and Candace sort out who is going to be in charge.”
“If she’s not a Nurse Joy, I would be the obvious person to be in charge,” Candace noted.
“I think I’ll need to referee their first meetings,” Iain said firmly.
“I agree,” Theodora smile was anticipatory. “Should I send for her now?”
“Sure, why not? Let’s just rip the bandage off all at once and be done with it.”
“I didn’t have a place in the government,” Elizabeth said softly. “What about me?”
Theodora looked at Iain, who smiled. “You were once a ranked combatant in Shikarou’s harem and you’ve got slippery morals. I’m sure you’ll be somewhere on the leaderboards once you’re back in fighting trim and I can use your abilities with some special projects.”
Elizabeth frowned. “I have slippery morals?”
“Remember that I know your past a lot more than I should,” Iain replied. “You did once turn an entire family of humans into Vampires to avenge what they’d done to their daughter after she went through threshold.”
Elizabeth’s mouth dropped. “How did you know that?”
“She hasn’t read your stories,” Bellona said. “Branwyn restricted access to them and Elizabeth wasn’t allowed to read the vast majority of them.”
“I’ll get you a pokedex today and it’ll have the site rip on it,” Iain said. “One of the things about me, Elizabeth, is that I know things that I shouldn’t be able to know. I wrote a lot of this stuff in stories about Shikarou and his family, including you. The site rip is a copy of the stories from a website and has those stories. So later today you can start reading them if you want. I’ll make sure each of you gets a copy of those stories.” He frowned. “Elizabeth, when did you last eat?”
Elizabeth blinked. “I don’t eat. I’m a Vampire. I drink blood.”
Iain sighed. “It’s still eating. When did you last consume blood?”
“It was two days before the attack,” she said in a small voice. “I don’t like regular blood anymore and Shikarou usually fed me every two or three days when we got together.”
“You must be famished,” Iain said. “Would you like to try my blood?”
“I am very hungry.” Elizabeth closed her eyes for a moment. “Candace is the only kami around right now and she refuses to feed me.” Her eyes opened. “But I was told you don’t like Vampires.”
“I’m not a big fan of them,” Iain admitted, “but you’re not a Vampire, you’re Elizabeth. I’ve met Elizabeth a few times and I like her. You’re my guest and you need food, so get over here.”
Elizabeth carefully came over. Iain scooted over in his chair to make room on his right side and she frowned. “What?”
“Sit next to me. We don’t know each other well enough for you to sit in my lap, and I don’t want to seem to be taking advantage of you. For that reason, you don’t get to use my neck either. You’ll drink from my wrist.”
“Oh.” She settled carefully down in the chair seat beside him. She glanced at him with a curious expression. “Do you want to take advantage of me?”
“Did anyone tell you that I’m not human?”
She nodded. “You’re some kind of spirit folk.”
“I’m a dragon. And, as it seems, I’m a greedy drake of a dragon. I’d like to take advantage of each of you.” He placed his arm in her lap. “Now, I believe you’re perfectly capable of biting me, or do I need to get my knife?”
“I can do this,” she said. She lifted his arm and sniffed it delicately. “I’ve never smelled a scent like yours before.”
“It’s not repulsive, is it?”
She was sniffing his wrist. “No,” she said almost absently. “Far from it.” Her stomach rumbled loudly and she blushed. “Sorry.”
“You haven’t fed in the better part of a week,” Iain forced himself to relax. He wasn’t really looking forward to this. “I’m surprised you’re not biting me already.”
Elizabeth straightened up and looked directly into his eyes. “I am the mistress of my hungers and I will never let them rule me. I made that promise to myself to remind me that I was once human and I will always be the mistress of my fate as much as I can possibly be.” Her smile turned teasing. “And I have visited before. Coming up to someone and just sticking your thing inside them is rude, and Greys despise rudeness.”
Iain chuckled. “True. Now, please feed.” He managed not to wince when Elizabeth sealed her lips on his wrist and sank her fangs into his arm. She was skilled and it didn’t hurt, but part of him rebelled against letting anything parasitize him and he crushed that part of his survival processes ruthlessly. For now.
Elizabeth sucked once and hissed. She bit him again, sucked, hissed louder and raised her head, giving him a hurt look. “You heal too fast for me to get more than a taste. I don’t want to rip your arm open but I don’t think I can feed otherwise.”
“Shit. Sorry.” He closed his eyes for a second. “OK, I’ve fixed that. Also, drink until you’re full.”
She shook her head. “I’d take too much and you’ll pass out or die.”
“I set things up so I could feed Raven, who takes a gallon of blood a day when she isn’t doing strenuous exercise. You can’t harm me. Hell, I could feed you, Raven, Whisper and Morwen every day without any adverse effects.” He smiled at her expression. “Yes, really. Now, go ahead and put your mouth back on my wrist. I’ll warn you before I start bleeding.”
Her eyes widened. “Before you start bleeding?”
“Yes. Mouth. Arm. Now.” Elizabeth quickly fastened her mouth on his wrist again. “I’ll try to find a flow rate that isn’t too fast or too slow, but if you want me to increase my bleed rate, tap my arm above my elbow. If you want me to slow the rate, tap my arm below the elbow. When you’re full, tap me in the crook of my elbow. Got it?” Elizabeth made a muffled uh-huh noise against his wrist. “Blood flow in three, two, one, now.”
Elizabeth’s mouth was suddenly filled with blood and she swallowed quickly for a minute before blood began to ooze from the sides of her mouth despite everything she could do. She immediately slid her hand up his arm and tapped him with an elegant finger below the elbow. The blood flow slowed until she could keep up and she relaxed a bit.
Bellona sniffed the air. “What is that incredible smell?”
“You’re a Dragonqueen,” Ganieda said. “You’re probably fixating on Iain’s blood.”
“That smells wonderful,” she said as she eyed Elizabeth jealously.
“It’s because he’s a drake.” Bellona gave her a puzzled look and Ganieda smirked. “That’s what a male dragon is called and the part of you that’s a dragoness is responding to his maleness. I’ve been told by another dragon type that he smells even better when he smells like a drake and you after you’ve had sex with him.”
Bellona looked at Iain speculatively. “That’s interesting to know.”
Iain was staying out of that conversation right now and he instead looked at Candace as Elizabeth fed. “The biggest potential problem was you, believe it or not.”
Candace looked surprised. “Me? Whatever for?”
“You say you’re a kami,” Ganieda said. “Kasumi doesn’t want other kami with Iain. Fortunately for your continued living, Zareen got to Kasumi before Iain went to ask her for permission to take you in.” Her ears flicked. “Zareen doesn’t think you’re really a kami, but another bad job of magic on the part of Shikarou. I don’t care either way, but the facts that you can still use a pokeball and can go feral suggest she’s not completely wrong. But it means that Kasumi told Iain that he could keep you. She also said that…”
“Enough,” Iain said firmly, cutting Ganieda off in mid word. “Not her business yet.”
Ganieda’s tail lashed slowly from side to side for a few seconds. “True. She must decide to stay first before the condition goes into effect. My apologies for talking too much.”
“What is she talking about,” Candace asked.
“She’s not allowed to tell you,” Iain replied. “We want you to decide that you want to stay because you want to stay, not because of some carrot that might be dangled in front of you.”
“Except for Iain’s carrot,” Ganieda said with a grin. “That’ll be more than dangled for you.”
Blood spurted as Elizabeth laughed against his arm. She tapped him quickly on the inside of his elbow and began licking his wrist clean as the blood instantly stopped. She looked worriedly at him. “I’m sorry for the mess.”
Iain chuckled. “It’s all right. It’s Ganieda’s fault, not yours, and the blood will clean up.” He looked back at the Snugglebunny Splice. “My dick is not a carrot.”
She grinned back at him. “I’m a rabbit and I like nibbling on it. Sounds pretty much like the definition of a carrot to me. A nice, big, tasty, juicy carrot.”
Elizabeth and Bellona laughed while Candace giggled loudly and looked surprised for a second. Elizabeth wrapped her arms around Iain’s arm and leaned against him, resting her head on his shoulder. “I could really use a nap right now. I can’t remember ever being this full.”
“You’ll have to wait,” Irena said from the doorway. “While you won’t get given to April until tomorrow, you’re still getting your medical portion of the induction testing done today. We should be able to finish before dinner if we leave now.” She smiled thinly. “I’m Irena, by the way. I’ll be guiding you through the process as we go through your medical checkups and baseline evaluations. Tomorrow morning, after breakfast, April and Sofia will start your testing. You’ve been assigned rooms here in the house down on the first floor, which is where my room is. Things are a bit hectic with everything that’s happened and so I’m afraid I don’t know who your mentors are going to be, but if everything goes properly, you’ll meet them after dinner and hopefully before the memorial.”
Bellona frowned. “Memorial?”
“Tonight we’ll be inscribing the names of our dead on our wall,” Iain said quietly. “The harem will be there.”
“What about us?”
“Ninhursag said you go,” Irena said. “It’s not optional, either. She has already announced that until and if you decide you’re not joining us, you are part of the harem and you do all of the harem group activities.”
“I’ve already talked to Kozakura,” Iain said quietly, “and when she has the memorial for her family, I’ve been invited to attend the ceremony and I’ll take you with me if you want.”
“We’d all like to be there,” Bellona said. “Even if we join your clan, we all lost friends and family.”
“Then you will,” Iain replied. “Irena, Candace here is a Nurse Joy.”
“I know who she is.” Irena came into the room and stopped in front of Candace’s chair. “You ran a program in Haven for tamers a lot like the one where you came from. We don’t have anything like that in Texas or in the clan and we’re not going to. But Siobhan was our Chief Medical Officer. You can have her job if you want.”
Candace looked surprised. “You’re not going to fight me for it?”
“You might want to be careful about throwing around the word fight here,” Irena said. “Especially since you haven’t fought a pokegirl battle in years, if ever. I’m not going to contest you doing a job which you are more capable of doing than I can, since I never wanted that job anyway.”
“Iain said you were a Night Nurse at one time.”
“I was. I also had the equivalent of an MD. Mother had me training from childhood until I went to Iain at seventeen. But my ambitions lie in other directions than healing people now, at least outside of combat medicine, and that consists of stabilizing the patient, getting them to Theodora for long term medical care, and returning to fighting on the battlefield until someone else in the clan gets hurt and needs us.”
“We don’t fight,” Candace stated.
“We do here,” Irena said. “You will train with the combat teams just like everyone else here does, including Iain. Ninhursag gave that order and she commands the harem. We’re part of the harem and so she commands us too.” She looked around the room. “Now, we need to get to medical, so if everyone except Iain and Ganieda will come with me, we can get that taken care of before dinner.”
Iain looked at the large piece of metal and took a deep, slow breath. His family and the rest of the clan was drawn up where they could hear him, here in the park, but not assembled in any way. Most of them in small groups and talking quietly with any children carefully ensconced nearby. They waited patiently, waiting for him to speak. He gave a mental sigh and began with the first new name. “Eve Grey.” The names hadn’t been inscribed in any particular order and he moved on to the next without a pause. “Dianthus Grey. Raquel Grey. Daphne Grey. Silver Grey. Chuck Grey. Winifred Grey. Melanie Grey. Canaan Grey. Ryan Grey. Siobhan Grey. Undine Chambers. Joyce Grey. Allison Grey.” He paused for a second before moving on to the children. “Hannah Grey. Rebecca Grey. Haley Grey. Jessica Chambers. Michael Chambers. Lisa Grey. Sherrie Grey. Harriet Grey.”
He turned to face the group. “They are gone but never forgotten. Here, their names will be remembered for a million years and, here, in this park, their ashes have been returned to the soil from whence they came, In the years that come, those ashes will help to bring new life from death, as the universe has always done. One day we will join them, both in death and in returning to this soil. Such has been the way of the clans since the beginnings before recorded history and so it will be when all of us here are nothing except names on the wall with the rest of our families and bits of memories kept by our archivist.”
“Yes,” he said quietly, “they were murdered, but this is a place and a time of reflection, not of hate. Always remember that. Here we remember our lost, here we love and cherish them. Our enemies have no place here and they will never exist here for this is ours and it is only our place. Here is only for clan, family and our allies who have been allowed to reside with us for eternity. Join with me for a moment of silence as we remember the best times we had with the ones we have lost and then I invite you to remain as long as you want.” He waited sixty seconds and smiled slightly. “Although please remember that this is not a refuge and April will come looking for you tomorrow when it’s time to train. She’s not our enemy and so has free access if you try to claim this as a hiding place.” People chuckled as he bowed formally to the group “I speak for the names on our wall when I thank you for coming.”
As they’d planned, Ninhursag immediately took charge. “There will be refreshments, starting in ten minutes back at the ranch. The children’s area will be set up but the people running it won’t be putting them to bed. That’s up to their mother as will be getting their children from here to the ranch, although I’m sure you can ask Theodora or anyone else for help with transportation.” Her eyes lingered on Iain for a moment. “Iain was supposed to read to Canaan’s girls tonight. We’re still adjusting things and that includes the reading rotation. We want to keep the disruptions for the children that we can control to the absolute minimum possible, so that won’t be changed as far as the children are concerned, and then only with very careful planning. That means you don’t ask him to read for anyone tonight since it would be out of rotation and children do better with a routine they know. I mean it. Do not bother him about it. He will tell you no and later I will take my irritation out of your hide.”
She looked around the park area. “Arianrhod has something to say to the goblins before they disperse, so you will see her before leaving. You’ll also notice three new faces here tonight,” she motioned where Bellona, Candace and Elizabeth stood in a group, looking a bit lost. Everyone looked at them and Candace paled under the stares. “I know that they were from Haven and therefore weren’t really our friends before tonight. But that has changed and, unless they decide to refuse our invitation, they will be considered Greys and harem from here on.” She smiled at the three of them. “I know the methodology behind your coming here was a bit unusual, even for the ways that other people from Haven have joined us, but I welcome you to our family. Please see what we have to offer before deciding that you don’t belong here. I believe that this could easily become your home.”
“Thank you,” Bellona said politely. “We hope so too.”
“Marguerite will take you back to the ranch and show you your rooms,” Ninhursag dropped her voice to a conversational level as she joined the trio. “And, since you are clan, you are welcome to come to the social we’re having as well as the refreshments.”
“Thank you,” Bellona said. “But we didn’t know the people you’re mourning very well.”
“I know. But the fact remains that you are Greys now and this is a good time for you to start getting to know the ones of us who are still here.” Ninhursag sighed. “As I said about reading to the children, things are a bit of a mess right now and your joining us was rather unexpected. It’s not a good excuse, but it’s why I don’t have mentors set up for you yet. I hope to have them ready for you tomorrow before you go to training. So you can expect to meet them sometime around breakfast.”
Candace was looking confused. “Mentors?”
Ninhursag nodded. “While the Wolf family of Haven hasn’t officially added to its ranks in many years, we have been more active in our growth and it was decided that mentors would be assigned to newcomers to help them more easily transition into being Greys. A lot of the people we lost were active in the mentoring program and we’re scrambling to make up that experience so you will get the help you’ll need.”
Bellona’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean, we didn’t add to our ranks officially? There were no new harem members since before we came to this world.”
“True,” Ninhursag said agreeably. “However, Shikarou did fuck women outside the family and some of them did get pregnant by him. Up until recently, in our family, anyone like that would be incorporated into the outer harem. First it promotes unity, second it keeps Iain’s children close to us, where they belong and, third,” she smiled thinly, “it puts any pokegirls carrying Iain’s children under my authority, which is definitely where they belong.”
Bellona looked surprised before nodding. “If Branwyn had thought of doing that and Shikarou gave her permission, she’d have done the same thing.” She frowned. “So how many women did you have to add that way?”
“None,” Ninhursag said. She smiled when Bellona stared at her in disbelief. “Except in some very special circumstances that the Wolf family of Haven wasn’t aware of, Iain doesn’t go around fucking women who aren’t family, and so far he has been very careful not to get any of them pregnant. There was exactly one child of his born of a woman who wasn’t a Grey at the time, and that was Camille Chambers, who got pregnant with Michael Chambers as part of the same program that let Monica have James, the genetic child of a different Jamie Wolf.”
Elizabeth blanched. “Was that the Michael who just got put on the wall?”
“It was.” Ninhursag’s voice was suddenly bleak. “Iain lost his only son to those bastards.” She shook her head. “He didn’t love Michael more than the others we lost, but he has no other sons yet. It’s not important for clan succession, but we’re all pokegirls from the future worlds and we know how important sons are.”
“Will you add more women to the family,” Elizabeth asked.
“There are a few that we were already in the process of adding,” Ninhursag replied. “Other than those and you three, right now we want to rest and mourn our dead. Adding to the family to make us stronger will be important, but later.”
“I see,” Bellona said.
“Now,” Ninhursag said briskly, “here comes Marguerite and she’ll be taking you to the house. Please remember that she isn’t Poppet and isn’t anything like her. She’s actually friendly.”
“Considering those pants,” Candace muttered, “and Poppet and her insistence on dresses, I doubt we’ll confuse them.”
“Then there’s the fact that I have green eyes,” Marguerite said with a smile as she approached the group, “a much better disposition and I’m much smarter than any Poppet could ever be. With all of that, I can pretty much assure you that you’ll never confuse me and Poppet Harris.”
“I never said she was humble,” Ninhursag muttered. Candace laughed.
“I see no reason to be less than I am,” Marguerite said as her smile became a quick grin. “Now, let’s get you to the house. Your bedrooms are petty generic right now, but we’ll start customizing them tomorrow.”
“We,” Bellona asked. “Are you going to be our mentor?”
“I’ve volunteered to be Elizabeth’s,” Marguerite replied. “April will be Bellona’s and Candace’s mentor is going to be Kasumi. You’ll meet us in our official roles right after breakfast tomorrow.”
Ninhursag frowned. “Who decided that?”
Marguerite smiled. “I did and then I asked people to help. April asked me to take over the mentoring program so you didn’t add it to your already overwhelming list of responsibilities and I did.” She smiled at the look of surprise on her maharani’s face. “She is a good beta.” Her smile vanished. “Or is it me being helpful that’s shocked you?”
Ninhursag shook her head. “No, you became a Grey wholeheartedly. I’m just glad you hit the ground running when April handed you this project. We need more of that.” She looked at Bellona and the others. “And apparently I leave you three in good hands. I bid you all a good night.” She watched Marguerite herd her charges towards the transport to the door room before going off to find April.
Iain was almost to the chamber holding all the magical doorways to other places when Ganieda put her hand on his shoulder. “Turn in here,” she said quietly as a nearby door silently opened. “Monica and her group are coming up and they want to talk to you.”
Iain turned and headed through the open door into what looked like a storage room or perhaps an equipment bay of some sort. Remotes of various types were lined up against all the walls. “Prying again?”
“No, Monica used her twee to tell me. I could sense their minds and knew they were there, but I’m trying not to peek into clan outside of when it’s professionally necessary.”
“Ok.” Iain waited and watched them as they entered the room. It had been a rough couple of days and it showed, but then nobody was untouched from the events in Austin.
Monica was carrying James and her eyes met his as soon as she saw him. I hope you can help Camille. She’s tearing herself to pieces over this and I don’t know why.
Iain looked the Ladyien over as she stepped forward. She looked grief stricken, but that only made sense. But the crushing guilt he saw etched in her face didn’t. She clasped all four hands together in front of her. “I’m so sorry, Iain,” she said in a voice filled with agony. “It’s all my fault. Can you ever forgive me?”
Iain wrapped her up in his arms and she went so limp he had to hold her up as she sobbed into his chest. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about but there is no way that any of this can be your fault.” He stroked her back and hair soothingly as she wept. It was odd, he thought as she cried, that he was still dry, but then she had insectile eyes and therefore no tear ducts.
Eventually her sobs slowed and she lifted her head. Again, he was briefly surprised that her face was completely dry as she looked up at him. “Please don’t hate me,” she whispered. “That day, Monica wanted us to clean our rooms before we went to the party. Undine was being a bitch, as usual, and I was fed up with her so I told her to just go on. She offered to take Michael along with Jessica so I’d not be as mad at her. I sent them, Iain. If I hadn’t, they’d still be alive.” Her mouth twisted, “Your son would still be alive.”
“You silly girl,” Iain kissed her on the forehead. “I know full well that if you’d had the slightest idea that the party wasn’t, as you Blues put it, as safe as houses, you’d have never let them leave. It wasn’t your fault Undine was being lazy and selfish as usual. It isn’t your fault that the leagues decided to attack us that day. It isn’t anyone’s fault except the leagues. They murdered our people and our children. You are completely blameless.” He held her tightly. “It’s not your fault, it’s not Undine’s fault, it’s not the fault of anyone here.” Iain gave her a slightly stern look. “And you need to remember that Michael was our son. He wasn’t just mine and you need to stop beating yourself up over his death.”
She looked up at him with a desperate expression. Iain knew she wanted so badly to believe him, but it was hard. “It isn’t my fault?”
“No. It’s the fault of the individual leagues and the PLC. They decided we had to die. Even if the rebels had capitulated, Grey clan was designated an outlaw organization. They’d have killed us all as soon as they could as a warning against ever daring to stand against the leagues.”
“What are we doing about them,” Donna asked from where she stood behind Monica.
“They gave us a binary choice,” Iain replied. “Either we die or they die.” He looked at the Kung Ewe. “We are not going to die.”
“Spot on,” Donna said.
“To that end we’ve already started by destroying their nuclear arsenals. Now we’re destroying their military bases and units if they try to assemble, along with their civil government buildings. Those we’re bombing in the early morning so they’re mostly empty.” He slid his hands up Camille’s body to cradle her head in them, stroking her cheek with his thumb and smiling when she almost purred at his touch. “You know me,” he said softly. “If I thought this was your fault, I wouldn’t lie to you about it.”
“You wouldn’t,” she murmured. “You’d tell me and we’d deal with the situation.” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I didn’t kill our son.”
“Or Jessica or Undine,” Iain tilted her head up and kissed her gently. “And, one day, we will probably outlive some of our other children too. Sometimes that happens. Some of them may outlive us.”
Camille nodded. “Yes,” she said quietly. “And that could include our children with Monica and Donna, yes?”
“Yes, Cammie,” Monica said from behind her. “And April’s kids and those of everyone else.”
“Stop teasing Cherry,” Iain let Camille go. “She loves you very much.”
Camille took Monica’s hand. “The others are waiting for you, Iain. They need you as much as I did. Go comfort them too.” Her eyes were bright as she cocked her head. “But don’t forget us. We want you too.”
“Could I get a hug before you go,” Donna asked. She stepped into his arms before he could answer. Iain held her tightly as she nuzzled against him. “I even miss Undine,” she said softly. “But I can’t stop thinking about the children. You’ve been where the dead go. Are they all right?”
“They are well taken care of,” Iain said loudly enough for all three women to hear. “And right now that’s all you need to know.”
Donna gave him a quick kiss and stepped back. “And that’s enough.” She looked at Monica. “Don’t let this opportunity escape you.”
Monica laughed and hugged Iain, smiling up at him when he hugged her back. “Should I start calling Donna mistress?”
“I don’t think she needs the encouragement,” Iain replied. “You three take care of each other, but don’t forget you’re not alone. You’ve got the rest of the clan and your future family here.”
“We haven’t,” Monica said as she pushed gently away. “But I’m worried about you. You have buried yourself in work ever since the attack. Don’t think I don’t recognize what you’re doing. I did it as Minister. It’s classic avoidance, Iain.”
“Miles to go yet,” he said. “I can’t fall apart, not right now.”
Iain made a face. “Soon. You and the others won’t let me get by with much more.”
“How bad is it?”
“It could be a lot worse. The military situation is under our control, but the political one is a complete mess. We’ve decapitated the leagues and have no idea what’s going on internally. I don’t really care, but people like Lucifer, Kasumi and Pandora would like to know if the leagues are trying to surrender to us. Fortunately for our side, while the use of nuclear weapons frightens almost anyone, it mostly made our allies even more determined to resist the leagues. We’re putting together a briefing for the first week of the bombardment. You’ll be invited to receive it with the general staff. In fact, once we’re married, you’ll probably be asked to join the general staff.” He smiled for an instant. “And by probably, I’m saying that you’ll probably be asked before we can get away from whoever marries us.”
Monica chuckled. “We’ll just have to move quickly then.” Her humor faded. “Do you want me on the general staff?”
“I don’t think you want to be on the general staff,” Iain said quietly. “But I think we need you on it. Just remember this isn’t Blue, you’re not the Minister of Defense and I’m not the President of the Blue League. The last thing I want you to do is sacrifice yourself and your family on the altar of what the clan needs.”
“But if the clan needs me,” Monica began.
Iain cut her off. “It doesn’t matter. If you really want to help the clan get stronger, I’d suggest you badger either Cammie or Donna into taking that position on the general staff when it's offered to you. You can advise them while they pick up command experience. After all, they did spend twenty something years of watching you maneuver through the political quagmire that is Blue League politics, and during all of that they should have learned something about how it’s done.” He shrugged. “Later on, the three of you can rotate through that post so none of you give up all of your time to the clan.”
Donna giggled quietly. “Watched, Iain? We paddled the kayak through that quagmire for her.”
“Then you should get up to speed even faster than I’d dared to hope.”
“That gives each of us time off,” Camille said thoughtfully. “Which will help when we’re pregnant or have newborns.” She looked at Monica. “It’s an elegant solution.”
Monica shook her head. “I don’t think I’ll have to badger either of my ambitious pokegirls into taking a turn in our seat, Iain. But, for some reason, I think you just made sure they’d badger me into taking my turn.” She smirked at him. “And that was nicely done.”
“I happen to have my own quagmire to negotiate and I like to think I’m a quick study.” His smile faded. “And I have to get to the reception before people start getting stupid drunk.”
Monica frowned. “Twee keep alcohol from affecting us.”
“They do, unless you ask your twee to keep from neutralizing the toxins,” Iain replied. “Then alcohol and other drugs work normally.”
“Do you do that?”
“No. I’m a truewizard and being drunk could kill everyone around me, or worse.”
Monica raised an eyebrow. “Worse?”
“I remember an episode of an entertainment series I watched when I was on my original world. It was called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In this particular episode, a man went to a witch to get her to cast a spell and make a particular woman fall in love with him. Something went very wrong and the spell made every woman who saw him fall in love with him, including the witch. Some of these women weren’t into sharing and decided that if they couldn’t have him all to themselves, they were going to kill him and, presumably, themselves. Others were busy fighting other women who wanted him.” He shrugged. “That’s just an example of the kind of thing my losing control could cause. On the entertainment series they fixed the problem and canceled the spell, but what if I can’t reverse whatever I did?” He frowned. “And I have to go. Be well, ladies.” He took Ganieda’s hand and, a second later, they were gone.
Ninhursag Grey - Elfqueen & maharani
April Grey - Duelist & beta
Dominique Grey - Blessed Archmage
Pandora - Fiendish Archangel
Zareen - Nightmare
Sofia - Ria
Vanessa – Evangelion
Lucifer – Megami Sama
Ganieda – Snugglebunny Splice
Heather - Elfqueen
Marguerite – Unicorn
Scheherazade – Dread Wolf
Irena – Sanctuary Goth
Lynn – Dire Wolf
Rosemary – Mistoffeles
Golden Cloud – equine unicorn
Arianrhod -Fey Goblin Female
74 male Goblins
89 female Goblins
Queendom / Outer Clan
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
Myrna (Age 4)
Dorothy: Duelist (Age 3)
Olivia: Megami Sama (Age 6)
Seraphina: Megami Sama
Miram: Angel (Age 5)
Caltha: Nightmare (Age 0)
James: Jamie Harris kid (Age 2)