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“No?” Pandora’s eyes narrowed dangerously, as did April’s. The Duelist folded her arms but remained silent as Pandora continued speaking. “You don’t get to just tell us no. Explain.”
Iain returned their angry glares with one of his own. “I know you want to see where my limits lie, but I will never fight all out against someone if it’s only training. I don’t care about your threats and I don’t care about what you try in order to make me fight full out. I will let you chop me into bits and go into a healer first. No matter what stunts you pull, I will know that nobody here will actually try to kill me and I will not fight anyone who isn’t trying to kill me at a hundred percent of my abilities.”
Kasserine put her hand on Pandora’s arm when the Archangel started to speak. “Are you saying, husband, that we must either allow this to be the best we see from you or must we find someone who will truly try to kill you for you to fight?”
“I’m saying exactly that,” Iain nodded to emphasize his words. “Getting the two confused could be bad. In training it could be bad for whoever I’m training with and in a deadly fight it could be very bad for me.”
“Iain, there is no way you could beat me,” Pandora said.
“In any real fight, anyone can win and anyone can lose,” Iain replied. “I will grant that there is not a high chance that I could critically wound you or even kill you, but you only have to get unlucky one time and I will have lost another one of my women and her children. Not fucking happening.”
“Is this about me being pregnant?”
Kasumi shook her head. “Now it is only your anger speaking, Pandora. Iain does not hold your pregnancy against you and he will not until you are as far along as I am.” She looked at April. “I have been working with remotes on the Theodora so that I may learn the Tendo school of martial arts from Happosai’s memories. We could use remotes to fight Iain. They are limited only by the software protocols that Theodora programs them with and would not hold back if Iain were injured but would still not kill him. Theodora will not allow that to happen.”
April looked dubious. “I don’t know,” she said slowly.
Theodora appeared. “April has been reluctant to consider the use of remotes as training aids.”
“They wouldn’t be that useful against pokegirls,” April snapped.
“While the humanoid remotes do not have the capacity to be seriously threatening to a pokegirl using her full ability skillset, they can indeed be useful in training in hand to hand combat and I can scale their strength and other physical abilities to give most of the harem a strenuous workout.” Theodora sounded slightly waspish, a lot like a woman who knew she was right and who’d had this particular discussion with this particular person several times. Iain knew she had. “My heavy combat drones could be reprogrammed and redesigned to overwhelm almost anyone in the family, especially in single combat.”
“I’ve used the remotes while working to master Kerrik’s style,” Iain leaned back against a tree trunk and slid back and forth, like a bear, to scratch an itch between his shoulder blades. “I’m sure they can be used to simulate opponents like some of the ones I faced while adventuring during my last trip to my teacher’s.” He smiled. “And Pandora can fight them first.”
The Archangel’s head snapped around. “Why would I want to do that?”
“So April can see if they’ll work in this role or not and so you can get a feel for what I might be facing.”
April nodded suddenly. “We’ll reconvene on the Danger Room in half an hour. I want Lucifer, Ninhursag and Sofia there along with Elizabeth, Candace and Bellona.”
Kasumi smiled. “So they can see the prowess of their new male. That is an excellent idea.”
April shrugged. “Theodora is right. She has nagged me for a while about using them, so I think this will be a proof of concept test for the remotes. Because of that, I want Sofia and Ninhursag there. Right now, Sofia is working with our three newest Greys to start putting together a customized training program for each. But if I can get them horny for Iain at the same time,” she flashed a grin, “I won’t let that stop me. I’ll see all of you in half an hour on the Danger Room.” Heather appeared. “And now that Iain’s guard is here, I am leaving.” She vanished.
Kasserine frowned slightly and Iain touched her on the arm. “Husband?”
“I know that look and I’ve already told Ava to meet us there.”
She gave him a grateful smile. “Thank you. I wasn’t sure how to justify her presence for this, but I know she would want to be there.” And I don’t like being that far away from her, she didn’t say but Iain heard clearly.
“It’s actually pretty easy,” Iain replied. “Besides me, you and she are the only people here trained in both the weapons and the techniques I will be using and both of you are an excellent judge of capability. And April can consult with you afterward on how useful the remotes might be for this sort of thing.”
“These are robots, are they not?”
“Most of them are a type of robot called an android, which means they are shaped like living creatures, usually humans or elves and they can operate exactly like a human or elf can. They also have flesh over their metal or ceramic bones to simulate living beings more. However, as machines, they can also possess greater speed and strength to test the subject.”
Kasserine looked thoughtfully at him. “You use these to train in the style my son is teaching to me and Ava? Can we use them too?”
“Yes, as long as you remember their limitations. They are machines and if you screw up too badly, Theodora will hurt you with them. She’s good at judging limits and she will push you right to them.”
Kasserine smiled. “Both Ava and I wish to improve as fast as we can. If nothing else, she has adopted your goal of seriously injuring Raven while remaining within the constraints that Kerrik puts upon us when we train with him.”
Iain chuckled. “Goals do help to keep us focused.”
Kasserine blinked. “Ava will meet me at the house. Excuse me.” She kissed Iain gently on the lips and headed off at a brisk walk.
Pandora watched her go with a mixture of amusement and irritation in her eyes. “Is she ever going to stop kissing you like that?”
“I hope not,” Iain replied as he took Heather’s hand. “Will you give Kasumi a lift to the house?”
“I will. This is not going to get you out of sparring with me.”
“I don’t want it to.” She looked surprised and Iain smiled at her. “First, I enjoy the workout with you and you push me, which I need.”
“If you won’t go a hundred percent with me, I’m not really pushing you, am I?”
“This is where I learn from my mistakes,” Iain replied. “And here they don’t cost me my life.”
“Before the attack,” Pandora noted, “we were planning to put a base on Kasserine’s world. Have those plans changed?”
“They have not, although we might put it on a world next door so it doesn’t interfere with Kerrik’s timeline any more than necessary.”
“Then later, you can take me adventuring and I can see what it is really like.”
Iain grinned. “Let’s see, I take an Archangel who was once a Seraph out to smite evil? I don’t think that would be a problem for anyone except the evil we end up facing.”
“Not as long as you understand there will be others from the harem adventuring with you,” Heather said.
“We’ll figure something out,” Iain squeezed her hand. “Now, let’s be off.”
April waved a hand around the primary testing control room on the Danger Room. “Be seated, ladies.”
Ninhursag watched Sofia and Arianrhod sit down together and turned to April. “Why is she here?”
April glanced past her. “Arianrhod has become Sofia’s and my assistant. Since Sofia has just delivered and I just got pregnant again, we felt the training team needed to expand by at least one more to add some depth. Arianrhod is as creative as Sofia is when putting together scenarios that you and the rest of the clan will find challenging.” Her eyes dimmed for a moment. “And, as much as I hate admitting this, she will be a good replacement for some of our fallen.” Her eyes met Ninhursag’s. “That’s your official notice, by the way. I will be putting her forward as a harem recruit at the command staff meeting next week or the week after.”
Ninhursag chuckled, but it had a forced tone to it. “I never thought I’d see you as expansionist.”
“I’m not. I know we need the strength to keep Iain and my family safe and right now we aren’t that powerful. That’s all I really care about.” She gave the Elfqueen a crooked smile. “It’s the same reason I didn’t fight your joining us.”
Ninhursag couldn’t think of a good response to that so instead she looked around the room, since she’d never been in here before. It was mostly empty, with a table and chairs at the back of the room and a pedestal with some simple controls in the middle of it. Ninhursag frowned. “We won’t be able to see anything.” She blinked when she suddenly saw the plains outside clearly, with April standing at the pedestal a faint hazy image overlaying it. Her skin prickled at the sunlight hitting it and the breeze was cool and dry. According to her senses, she was standing on the plains and listening to the grass moving in the breeze. “How?”
April chuckled. “This is true Tirsuli technology, Ninhursag, and the visual feeds are being injected through your twee into your mind. When you’re more practiced, you can control the viewpoint anywhere around the testing zones. Right now I have that option locked and all of you will use the same viewpoint I do. If we had guests who didn’t have twee, there is an attachment for the chairs that provides neural input through the brainstem for the same effect.”
Ninhursag nodded. “I knew we used a mix of human and clan technology, but I didn’t realize it was this advanced.”
April chuckled. “This is still a mix of sorts, but it’s the most I’m comfortable with. When Iain trains alone, he controls the whole facility with his twee. There are some manual control rooms, but they’re used to restore the environmental controls as well as twee or Theodora and Daya control in case of an emergency.” She glanced past her at the others. “Now, Theodora has just given your twee some instructions on how to use the systems here, so I would like everybody to project a hologram of herself onto the field with Iain and Pandora and then we’ll get started.”
“Why can’t we be there physically,” Kasumi asked.
“We can’t be hurt up here or inconvenienced by weather or sudden changes to the terrain,” April replied. “When Theodora and I work with Iain, walls of force and other things appear, disappear and move around without warning and they can kill if you run or otherwise suddenly interpose your body into the zone where one of these fields is about to appear.”
“You couldn’t warn us if they are going to do that,” Ava asked.
“Then it would warn Iain and ruin the surprise,” April’s smile was evil. “Now, let’s get this testing done.”
When April’s holographic form sprang into existence nearby, Pandora and Iain were watching a wheeled remote slowing to a halt in front of them. It’s three tires all turned to the right, allowing it to spin in place to show it carried a meter and a half long wooden box as its payload. Theodora appeared next to it. “Please use this sword instead of your own for the testing, Pandora. It’s made of battle steel and you cannot break it.”
“And before you protest that it isn’t your sword and you’re used to the one you carry,” Iain said as he popped the latches on the box and lifted the lid to reveal an unremarkable looking cut and thrust sword. “I borrowed your sword while you were resting during one of our training sessions last month and this is supposed to be an exact copy, except it’s made out of a better material and it doesn’t have that long scratch I put on your sword with mine.”
“You took my sword?”
Iain grinned. “Obviously not since you’ve still got it on your hip.”
Pandora lifted the weapon from the box. She hefted it and gave it an exploratory swing. “It does feel just like mine.”
“Theodora, could we have a low force wall please?” A blue wall of energy a meter and a half tall sprang into existence in front of Iain and Pandora. “Since you aren’t attached to this sword, try to break it on the wall.”
“Very well.” Pandora raised the sword over her head and brought it down on the edge of the wall. She struck with the flat of the blade and expected the weapon to snap at the impact point. Her eyes narrowed when the blade stopped on the wall but nothing else happened. She raised the sword again and brought it down with all of her strength. The sword bounced off the wall and spun out of her hand to land nearby. “Ow.” Pandora rubbed her right palm. “That stung.” She walked over, picked the sword back up and spun it in the air. “I’ll use it.” She gave him a smile. “Is it for training only?”
“It’s yours if you want it and for whatever you might want it for. The edge is sharper than your sword’s, but then you can’t put that kind of edge on steel and have it last for more than a few minutes in a fight. You should never have to sharpen it and it doesn’t conduct electricity.”
“I find sharpening my weapons to be relaxing.”
“You still have other steel weapons,” Iain noted. He broke off when a dozen human looking figures trotted out of a hole in the ground a hundred meters away and headed for them. All were dressed identically in black keikogi that made them sexless and were holding swords. “And there are the remotes. These have synthetic flesh and organs, so when you cut them they will bleed and spill things just like the living would. However, an inspection would show that all of the tissue is the same since they don’t use muscles to operate anything. Instead they have motors and carbon nanotube bones.”
Pandora was watching them. “Do they have to be so realistic?”
“No, but these are all of the model that Kasumi and I sometimes use for training and we want them to get us used to the mess that real combat can be.”
Kasumi cocked her head. “You use other models?”
“I do. I fight more than humans and some of the models I train with mimic their abilities too. I also use some completely inorganic robotic remotes for some more strenuous training bouts.”
“I am kami. I will examine these to see if I should train against them as well.” She held up her hand and rotated her wrist in a circle. “How is it I feel the breeze?”
“Theodora is using data from my twee as well as nearby sensors to let each of you feel things like that.” He turned to April. “You’re in charge of the testing.”
The Duelist nodded as a glowing ring a dozen meters in diameter appeared on the ground a few meters towards the waiting remotes. “Pandora, advance into the ring and stand. You can move around, but do not leave the ring. If we need to, I’ll move the ring while Theodora cleans up the wreckage, but sometimes we have to fight among the bodies of our kills so you are not to leave the area without my order.”
Pandora moved to the ring, summoning her armor and shield as she did. “Understood.” More remotes appeared from the hole and jogged to join the first group.
April waited a few seconds. “Begin. Theodora will control the exercise unless I override her.”
“My remotes will not kill you, Pandora,” Theodora said as the figures spread out. “But they will hurt you unless you fight them. They will start out fighting as if they are alive, so they will hesitate and not strike in unison. But they will not retreat and they will fight as a trained group, so be warned. And as the time advances, so will their skills and their tactics. I will adapt them as they fight so it will not stay as easy as it will start.”
The remotes advanced in a group, spreading out further as they did. One lunged ahead and paused when it realized it was alone, but that had broken the stasis and more moved to join it and, when they attacked, they were human fast.
Pandora’s response was a blurring defense, chopping through swords, arms and skulls with equal ease. The air filled with a red mist of blood and flesh as she fought. The wounded and crippled remotes fell back briefly, drew knives or grabbed swords from the ground and resumed the attack. Soon Pandora stood alone in a field of carnage.
Theodora nodded. “First wave complete. Second wave commencing.”
“Stop playing and challenge me,” Pandora snarled, her eyes blazing.
Theodora turned to April as a hundred more remotes left the hole and headed towards Pandora. “That would involve changing my demonstration. Will that invalidate your proof of concept?”
April looked surprised. “Is that important?”
“These are training devices that you have ignored because of personal prejudices against them. They can be invaluable in individual and group training and I want them used more than I want to show Pandora not to ask for challenges from me.”
April’s eyes narrowed slightly and then she nodded curtly. “I have ignored your advice on them. Challenge Pandora and I’ll consider this test validated.”
“I will hold you to that.” The remotes stopped and spread out as another group left the hole. These carried shields along with their swords. They stopped with the second wave except for five, who continued on to face Pandora. “Second wave paused. Challenge wave one commencing.”
The five remotes spread out on one side of Pandora, raised their weapons and shields and then the first of them attacked in a blur. Pandora responded instantly with a devastating overhand chop with her sword that the remote deflected with its shield as its blade licked forward to clang off of Pandora’s hastily raised shield.
She drove the shield forward in a bash and the remote hopped backwards as it stabbed at her ankle, forcing her to lower her shield to block and retreat a step. Her eyes narrowed and she pressed the attack in a blur of light from her sword.
April glanced at Theodora. “They’re evenly matched.”
“No, they are not. The remote is twenty percent slower than Pandora is when she’s moving at full speed and has only half of her strength. She’s just not used to moving that quickly when fighting defensively. The ones in the next full wave will be as fast as she is at full speed, if I decide it won’t harm her pregnancy.” Theodora sighed. “I didn’t realize she was this badly out of practice but between the two of us we’ll get her back into fighting trim quickly.”
They fought for another minute before Pandora locked blades with the remote and snapped its weapon with a twist as she smashed it in the body with her shield. It flew away from her, hit and rolled to its feet as it grabbed an abandoned sword from the earlier wave and raced towards her. Her sword flicked over the top of the remote’s shield and sank deep into its face. Pandora tried to pull back the sword, but the body came with it and she knocked it free with her shield before stabbing her sword into the dirt to clean it and taking a step backwards to clear space. “Next.”
“She’s breathing hard,” April noted. “And, yes, we will get her back into fighting trim or I’ll remove her from Iain’s guard. Still she apparently doesn’t yet feel challenged. Send in her next opponent.”
“Change wave one complete. Challenge wave two commencing.” All four remaining remotes attacked as a team.
Iain stepped into the glowing ring. All remains of the destroyed remotes had been efficiently removed by other remotes under Theodora’s control, and all that remained of the fight were the stains of blood, both synthetic and real, on the ground. Pandora, being Pandora, a pokegirl and who could be as stubborn as anyone Iain had ever known, had refused to stop fighting until Theodora had announced the combat finished and stopped sending any other remotes to fight her. At that point she’d only been standing through force of will and was losing blood from a nasty stab in her thigh as well as other cuts that had slipped through chinks in her armor that she hadn’t had the time to heal during combat.
“You don’t have any gear,” April said from where her hologram stood. “I don’t think that will let me get a good idea of how you fight.”
Iain glanced at her. “I will not go gentle into that good night,” he said in elven. Instantly he was wearing his adventuring gear. He lifted his faceplate so April could see him. “I’m ready.”
“That was an excellent contingency spell,” Kasserine said quietly to Kasumi. “But I do not recognize the phrase he used to activate it.”
“It’s from a poem,” Kasumi replied. “I’ll help you look it up after we finish here.”
“He wears two swords,” Ava said. Indeed, Iain wore a cut and thrust sword on his right hip and another rode across his back, slanted towards the right. “Do you think he is truly proficient in a two sword style?”
“It would explain why he has no shield.”
“How did you do that,” April asked curiously.
“It’s a spell. I got attacked once in a bath and decided I didn’t like being attacked by armed people while I was naked, so I set up a spell to gear me up if I needed it.” He smiled. “It really helps if you wear underwear with this outfit, but in an emergency I can deal with the binding and chafing.”
“Where do your other clothes go?”
“They’re in my pack.” Iain shrugged his shoulders, making the light backpack that rode low on his back shift. “In the field I’d later move them to a Dikon to get rid of the bulk and weight and to make room for loot.” He drew both swords in a smooth, practiced motion. “My pack is mostly empty right now, so my clothes don’t interfere.” He reversed the sword in his left hand so the pommel was up and he was holding the blade point down, like an oversized dagger. “Now, if you don’t mind, I believe you have arranged for me to have an unavoidable engagement with those remotes.”
Ava leaned towards her mother. “I have seen a dark elf two sword style that has a starting form that is similar to Iain’s. Could that be where he learned this?”
“I understand that in the time where Iain is taking his lessons the dark elves have been the drow for several thousand years, are hostile to all others and therefore wouldn’t teach him voluntarily, so I don’t think he could have learned this from them. We will ask him later.”
April looked the situation over carefully. “Don’t hold back, Iain.”
Iain drove the point of his sword into the ground to hold it up and closed his visor before he recovered his weapon. “I train to survive, April, not show off. Survival involves not overextending, but if you’d like I can adjust the scenario to show more of my skillset from the beginning.”
“That would be helpful.”
“Then transfer control of the scenario to me.”
April looked at the hologram of Theodora. “Theodora, I transfer control to Iain.”
“Transfer complete.” Theodora glanced back at her. “I really wish you hadn’t done that. You will too.”
April frowned. “Why?”
“Iain isn’t as careful with his own safety as you are.” Theodora chuckled as Daya appeared nearby. “It’s a failing that many of you have. You won’t be as careful of your own wellbeing as you will be that of the people you love.”
Iain rolled his head in a circle to loosen his neck muscles. “Theodora, set lethality interlock to one and run scenario Anthill Four Oscar.”
April blinked. “Lethality interlock? I’ve never heard of that before. What’s that?”
“The lethality interlock limits that amount of damage a remote will do in combat. The higher the interlock number, the less violence it will do to a target before pulling back. Level one means that the remotes have had their limiters almost completely removed and will chop Iain to pieces if they can but not quite kill him.” April went white as Theodora nodded to Iain. “Conditions set. I’ll need to get some more remotes out of storage so you have three minutes. Will that be with flaming pigs or not?”
Iain’s face was invisible behind the mirrored visor, but his chuckle was clear. “No flaming pigs today.”
Kasserine frowned. Flaming pigs?
Daya turned to look at her. I will reply out loud so everyone else can hear this. “During sieges, often diseased animal and human carcasses were shot into the besieged camps. Sometimes the carcasses were dipped in pitch and were set alight to add more potential damage, at the expense of lowering any disease factor, although the corpses did tend to burst open upon impact to spread disease vectors. Theodora was asking if Iain wanted artillery shot at him during this exercise.”
Ninhursag gave Daya an incredulous stare. “Do you often shoot artillery at Iain?”
“I’ve never shot artillery at Iain. Theodora jealously guards any access to his training exercise programs. If he trains on the Ouroboros, I will do the same thing to her. But Theodora has used it on occasion in some of Iain’s exercises. Siege weapons proper aren’t that common in the world where he trains with his teacher, but Iain does report giants and other creatures that can hurl various sorts of projectiles during fights and so it has been incorporated into some of his training.”
Kasserine moved a little closer. “What are we waiting for?”
“Iain has asked for Anthill Four. That simulates either him assaulting an enemy stronghold without using overwhelming force or of him wandering into the area of someone else assaulting an enemy stronghold and not using overwhelming force. The enemy response is like an anthill or termite mound that has been kicked over. He will face waves of increasing strength and sophistication. Four designates the technology level and Oscar designates the enemy race, which is orcs, which sets their tactics. We are,” she paused for an instant, “waiting for the archers to join the teams.”
April suddenly looked unhappy. “Archers?”
Twenty remotes trotted into view. Most were armed with a mix of swords, axes, maces and clubs but three carried short bows and quivers. The remote in the lead raised its axe and bellowed something in a language. Then they charged as the archers stopped, raised their bows and reached into their quivers for their first arrows.
“The language is orc and the order was to kill Iain,” Daya said quietly.
Iain drove his swords into the dirt and his compound bow flared into existence. Arrows flashed and the archers dropped as the projectiles sank into their chests. Iain killed a few more of the attackers before his bow vanished and he picked up his swords. He waited until they were committed to the charge before racing forward to meet them.
April’s eyes narrowed. “He left the circle,” she pointed out to Theodora.
“Oh, right.” The circle vanished. “Iain’s techniques in the open are predicated on using his mobility. He would be unlikely to ever stay in that circle if he’s fighting this way.”
Lucifer moved up to stand next to Ninhursag as Iain closed with the remotes. Whereas Pandora had used her superior strength to cleave through her foes and their equipment all the while counting on her shield and armor to protect her, Iain was much more fluid. He dodged or deflected incoming strikes and stabbed and sliced in a whirlwind of steel which, while not as fast as a pokegirl with a decent level of enhanced speed, was faster than any human could move. As he advanced and retreated, he left a trail of dying and dead around him. “You’ll notice that he only uses the last fifteen centimeters of his blades for his stabs and cuts and utilizes both weapons equally. It’s very,” she paused, “efficient.”
“I know you,” Ninhursag muttered with an amused glance at her former employer and sometimes commander. “You were going to say elegant.”
Lucifer smiled. “It is, in a way, elegant. You’ll also notice that he must be using his perception since nobody has found a blind spot in his attack or defense, even from the back.”
“The helmets can provide three sixty degree vision compressed on the visor,” Ninhursag murmured.
“His helmet is in standby alert mode,” Theodora said from the air in front of them. “He told me that he doesn’t use it powered because the circulation fans make noises that some enemies can hear and the power supply, when active, was never intended to last for weeks away from the sun or a charging unit. It can be in standby alert for decades on a single charge but can still activate instantly upon detecting toxic gasses and other threats.”
“Where did he learn this technique? It’s nothing like what anyone here teaches.”
“I’ve never asked and Iain hasn’t volunteered that information. He has uploaded it, however, to the Iain Grey database. If someone wants to study it, it is in the public domain.”
April watched the last remote fall and nodded as another twenty remotes appeared. These also carried swords and axes, but many had throwing axes on their belts and there were seven archers instead of three. One didn’t wear the leather armor that the rest did and carried a staff. The group paused at the sight of the dead bodies and Iain stabbed both swords into the ground so he was free to cast a spell, which was aimed at the archers and the staff wielder. He recovered his weapons as a fireball detonated among them and they exploded into flames along with some of the others who had been too close to the blast.
The group hesitated again when the fireball ripped through their rear and Iain stuck his swords back in the ground, summoned his bow and began butchering the front ranks until they charged. They hurled their axes and Iain slipped sideways to avoid them before countercharging into their midst to cut them down like their predecessors.
Everyone from the training exercise was assembled in what looked like a cafeteria on the Danger Room. People were getting snacks from an auto chef while others were sitting in small groups and discussing the exercises they’d seen today. Amusingly to him, Iain was sitting alone with a large mug of water, where he was studiously ignoring the calculating looks flashing from the group where April, Sofia, Arianrhod, Ninhursag, Kasserine and Ava were huddled together. Whatever they were concocting was going to mean nothing but harder work and more trouble for him and, for the moment, he was perfectly content not to poke the bear and find out how hard it would hit him back.
He looked up when someone blocked his view of the wall he’d been blankly staring at to find Pandora glaring at him. “I’m glad to see you’re out of medical.”
“Why haven’t I seen you fight like that yet?”
He figured she’d been following his fight while in the healer. “You taught me a particular style. When we train, that’s the only style we use. You have never asked or told me to fight any other way.” He leaned back in his chair. “As a point of fact, the few times I did anything creative, you shut me down and told me to only focus on what you’d taught me so I could learn it properly.”
Her glare softened and she pulled out a chair to drop heavily into it. She smiled abruptly. “I suppose that’s true, but I didn’t know you’d been cheating on me with other instructors.”
“I’m a guy. No matter how awesome the woman is we’re training with, we often do that sort of thing. Besides, you know I’ve been getting lessons in swordplay from Kasserine, Kasumi and Ygerna, but you never thought to see if what they’d been teaching could be incorporated into your style.” He rubbed his eyes. “As good as it is, someone smart told me that if you’re not learning new things, you’re stagnating.”
Pandora shook her head. “If I’m so smart, why haven’t I been following my own advice?”
“It’s never too late to start.” He gave her a solemn look. “I think that the problem you might be having is one that a lot of my family is experiencing, that since you still see me as human and as mortal, the idea that I’ve lived nearly a century somewhere else and learned other things without visibly aging is still hard for everyone here to process.” He shrugged. “Hell, I’m the one that lived through it all and sometimes it’s still hard for me to wrap my puny mind around. Aging is how you notice the flow of years, after all. For us, that won’t happen. Instead, we’ll have the same set of moments I had where I walked into a village I hadn’t visited in twenty years and suddenly it was a small town filled with faces that I didn’t recognize,” he made a face, “or an uninhabited ruin that was partially overgrown.”
He looked up when Lucifer put a hand on his shoulder and smiled down at him. “We who possess longevity and came here from our home world will be old enough to understand those feelings and the pain they can bring.”
“It didn’t bring me pain,” Iain said. “But there were some really odd instances, like the one where I walked into a village I hadn’t been in in almost exactly twenty years and found that a woman I’d spent a bit of time with was now in her forties and had a nineteen year old half elven daughter. It turns out that this daughter’s mother had been telling her that I was her father, because I was known as a moderately powerful wizard, I hadn’t been a dick to her and the other potential father was a scumbag that she’d fucked while they were both high on something.”
Lucifer chuckled. “You know that could not have happened to me since I am not a pokewoman yet and definitely not male. How did you resolve the situation?”
“Any mid-level priest can determine if two people are related. I paid for me, the girl’s mother and the daughter to travel to a nearby community to meet with a sufficiently powerful priest who determined I wasn’t the girl’s sire.”
Pandora’s voice was low. “Did you abandon the girl to her fate?”
Iain made an amused noise. “I thought about it, but I knew that if I did I’d get the look I’m getting from you right now, and I’d get it from a lot of the women here. The opinions of you ladies are important to me, so I didn’t just leave. It turns out that the daughter, Olmara, had an affinity for formal magic and I paid to have her apprenticed to a decent wizard that I knew. She actually did quite well during her apprenticeship and we kept in touch over the next few years while she was adventuring.”
“And you fell out of contact with her after that,” Pandora asked curiously.
“No, I came back home. This is still an ongoing thing and when I get back to Nightraven’s I’ll go into the village where I get my mail and see if there’s another letter from her.”
“If you are an elf here and one of the pokewomen gets pregnant by you,” Lucifer asked curiously. “Would any human children be half elves?”
“They would, unless I let my dragon genetics breed true. Then I’m not sure what would happen.”
“Can you let your dragon genetics breed true no matter what form you wear?” Iain nodded. “I believe I should inform the others of that interesting piece of trivia.” Lucifer sat down next to him. “What year is it there?”
“It’s 841 by the way the Dales reckon time. In two years, Silverymoon’s ruler will create a mythal for it and I understand that Nightraven and I will be there to watch it happen.”
Lucifer cocked her head. “Is she using your author abilities to know things to know when events like this will happen?”
“She’s smart,” Iain replied, “so of course she is. You would too.”
“How does she know about your author abilities?”
Iain smiled. “As you suspect, she’s been monitoring me when I’m not at her place.”
Lucifer sighed and laid her head on his shoulder. “I am sorry that you have to do this for us, but we are all pleased to see you growing in power so rapidly. Even Pandora is pleased although she feels she must protect you from yourself.”
“I knew when I went back that everyone but me has mixed feelings about what I’m doing.”
“You do not?”
“I have to do this to protect you all. One day, when I’m powerful enough, I might be able to keep what happened in Austin from happening again. Yes, being away from all of you and the rest of my family is rough, but I know I’ll come back and I’d pay any price to keep you safe.”
“We will pay that price too, to keep you and the rest of our family safe,” Lucifer’s voice was gentle. “But you already know that.”
“I know. Did I make a mistake in not knocking out the leagues before they could attack us?”
Pandora made a noise halfway between a laugh and a cough. “You couldn’t and you know it. Too many of us would have fought you tooth and nail to prevent the killings that we who survive accept now. In hindsight, yes, we made a mistake, but we treated the leaguers as rational people and, unless we just start murdering people wholesale because they might do something to hurt us, we always will.” She fixed him with a slightly annoyed look. “And, even now, we won’t let you preemptively murder people. What we’re doing to the leagues is arguably self defense for us, our children and all or our futures. As you can guess, that’s the only reason I’m not screaming about how we need to show restraint and stop now.” She nodded towards Lucifer. “But we will need to follow up with our plans to do our best to replace the leagues with something better or all of this killing will be for nothing except revenge.”
Lucifer’s head shifted slightly on his shoulder. “The cleanup must come first. After that, we already have plans for the Sisterhood, Lucy’s Sisterhood and the Celestial Alliance to assist in rebuilding elsewhere, although the damage isn’t as nearly as extensive as you might think. Our space based military forces are proving to be rather selective in the destruction they are raining down on our foes. There is very little collateral damage.”
“I hadn’t looked,” Pandora admitted. “I was afraid to. Now I think I will.”
“Good. Speaking of children,” Lucifer said calmly, “Miriam has announced that she is not going to call you Father anymore, Iain. She said she will only explain her reasoning when you are there to hear it too. She said she wants to wait until it’s just us.”
Iain rumbled deep in his chest. “Shit, like I need this now. Has she a new name for me like the Butcher or the Monster?”
“She says she’s going to call you Iain from now on.”
“You know, at the moment, I’m neck deep in alligators. Can this wait a few days?”
“It can, but not too much longer than that. I want to solve this mystery and quickly since Olivia and Seraphina don’t see what she’s doing as abnormal, but they also say it’s her reasoning to explain.”
Iain frowned. “Did you just say that our daughters are colluding against us more than usual?”
Lucifer chuckled. “I echo that sentiment.”
“Hopefully by not using his foul language,” Pandora said.
“I do not typically use profanity,” Lucifer replied. “But Iain is our Iain. Now the question is why is Elizabeth coming to join us and looking furiously at Iain.”
Iain took a second to process the words. “What?” He looked around. “So she is.”
The Vampire almost stomped up to the table and glared at Iain. “I was supposed to be first,” she said angrily.
Lucifer lifted her head from Iain’s shoulder. “I sincerely doubt Iain deserves that tone from someone who hasn’t joined us formally yet,” she said evenly in a calm voice that fooled neither Iain nor Pandora. “What was it you were supposed to be first about that has you so unhappy with him?”
“This is between Iain and me.”
“You are outer harem and we are in a public forum,” Pandora noted amusedly. “If you’d wanted this to be a private discussion, you should have asked Iain, politely, to speak with you in private. Her voice hardened. “You didn’t, and I don’t see any reason to let you drag him off now that I know how upset at him you are. His safety is my paramount concern and you are lethal, girl.”
“I’ve known Candace for years,” Elizabeth half snarled. “I know her moods. She got fucked yesterday. Was it you?”
Pandora’s chair screeched backwards as she rose to her feet and turned to face Elizabeth. “You had better curb your tongue. Iain doesn’t discuss what he does with whom. He’s not a braggart like Shikarou was.”
Iain got up and came around the table as Elizabeth balled her fists and tears began rolling down her face. He gently wrapped his arms around her. “It’s all right,” he said soothingly. He glanced at Pandora and she gave a quick nod before sitting back down with Lucifer. “I think that you and I need to take a walk. Theodora and Daya have my security here so Pandora and Lucifer don’t have to tag along.”
Elizabeth nodded stiffly and Iain gestured towards a door as it slid open. “Let’s go this way.”
They walked for a few minutes before she glanced at him. “I thought we were getting along.”
“Then why Candace? She hadn’t spent much time with you at all. Why not choose me instead?”
Iain stopped and turned to face the Vampire. “First of all, yes, Candace joined my harem yesterday. Second, that has nothing to do with my relationship with you. This isn’t some game show where there’s a winner or a loser. You are joining my harem too. I hope Bellona is as well.” He cocked his head. “Or did you decide to leave?”
“I don’t want to leave, Iain. I like it here. I want to stay.”
“Then you will.” Iain reached out and took her hand. Elizabeth looked curiously at their joined hands before looking back at him. “He wasn’t big into physical contact, was he? I understand it’s a Nipponese spirit folk sort of thing.”
“That’s what I was told too,” she said quietly.
“I’m different. If you’re in my bubble, I like touching.” He smiled slightly. “Within reason.”
She raised an eyebrow. “What is reasonable?”
“If you snore in my ear I’m going to move you.” She smiled. “And if you, like a couple of individuals I won’t name, like to sleep with your nose in my armpit and sometimes lick when you dream, you are definitely getting moved when that cold wetness wakes me up.”
Elizabeth giggled. “Who does that?”
“I said I’m not going to name them. I keep everyone’s privacy. I also don’t do sex in public, mostly because it will offend someone, even if they don’t speak up then. And, yes, being insanely jealous is offended too. It’s also because if whoever is offended is part of the harem’s power structure, she’ll punish whoever I was with if she can get away with it. I try to keep that sort of thing from happening, but we both know that it does and not all of it gets reported to me to deal with.” He shrugged. “And if it, as it usually does, happens under privacy, I am unlikely to learn about it unless someone involved comes to tell me.”
Elizabeth’s smile faded. “You know a lot about the power structure of a harem.”
“I’m an author. I either saw it from a distance or I helped to create it with my writing. That and I’m attentive to the people I care about. That includes their politics since between the harem, the clan and the septs, it can get pretty Byzantine.” He smiled thinly. “And no matter what anyone says, I’m just as involved in the politics around here as the rest of us.” He flashed a grin. “I even once had Theodora pull up my entry on both the public and pokegirl only portions of Tamer.net back on the world we came here from.”
“Did you like what you found?”
He chuckled. “It was filled with lies, believe it or not, and most of them were not very complimentary. I think Eve and some others tried to make me as unattractive as possible for pokegirls looking for a new tamer.”
“That’s smart.” She sighed and lifted her hand and his to look at them. “I didn’t have much of a social life after becoming a pokegirl. Nonsexual physical contact is going to take some getting used to. Are you the only one allowed to initiate it?”
“No, but you need to understand that sometimes I’ll politely refuse. And if I’m already cuddling with someone it would be rude to intrude unless invited. And in those situations, the woman I’m with is the only one who can issue such an invitation.”
“That’s only fair.” She looked at their joined hands again and smiled briefly when he squeezed her fingers. “I want to join the harem today.” She met his gaze. “Tonight, preferably.”
“Tonight I don’t get to choose my bedmate.” She looked shocked and he smiled. “Let me guess, Shikarou wouldn’t let that stop him, would it?”
“Of course not.”
“Well, here it’s not of course not. Ninhursag, I presume with April’s input, puts together my sleeping schedule five days a week. The other two days are mine to choose whomever I fancy at that time. My next day to choose is two days from now.”
“Oh.” She nodded decisively. “I can wait two days.”
“Talk to Ninhursag as soon as you can. Like I said, I don’t get involved in her scheduling, but she wants you to join us too, so she might change the rotation so you get to sleep with me tonight or tomorrow night. That’s not a guarantee, mind you, but it can’t hurt to try.” He smiled slowly. “And if she doesn’t change it, let me know.”
“What can you do?”
“I didn’t want to bring you into the family with a quickie, but I could if you were willing and unwilling to wait two days. It would cement your place in the family and let you know we’re not going to kick you out. I’m off to Caintigern’s for class in a bit but we could work something out this afternoon if needed.” He glanced back the way they’d come. “But go to Ninhursag first. If she changes the schedule and then you jump the line this afternoon, she’s likely to be a bit unhappy.”
“And then I’d be treated like I’d had sex with you in public and offended her.”
“Well, someone would smell me on you and, since they’re waiting for you and Bellona to join us, it would be reported up the chain so it could be used as a goad for Bellona.”
“Do they know how well you understand harems?”
“Ninhursag and April do.”
He started to say something and stopped. “What is it, Iain?”
“I was going to name some of my dead women as ones who also understood. Then I remembered they were dead.” He gave his head a shake. “Go back and talk to Ninhursag about your night with me. The sooner you talk to her, the better.”
“Can I talk to her now?”
Iain nodded. “She’s still in the break room and there aren’t any teleportation blocks up right now.”
“I’m sorry I got angry at you.”
“It won’t be the last time and there’s nothing to forgive. Now go and get that appointment.”
“I will!” She vanished.
“I guess I don’t rate a lift,” he muttered as he headed back for the break room at a trot.
I can’t change the nightly schedule for Elizabeth, Ninhursag said in his mind. I set it a week in advance and right now we all need the time with you too much. However, I’ve spoken with April and we are giving you a dispensation. You are getting an extra free period tomorrow afternoon so you can take Elizabeth to the hunting lodge. Take a few days there with her.
It sounds more like you’re giving Elizabeth a dispensation, not me.
Her laugh sounded like she was right beside him. It is. When our daughters are born, I will see this hunting lodge.
Iain nodded to himself. And together we will hunt the things that live there.
We will indeed. What about Elizabeth and tomorrow?
I’ll make the arrangements on my end. Are you telling Elizabeth what is planned?
It’s for the best so she knows her maharani approves. I do not know what you told her but she is eager to join us.
No, she’s eager not to be alone. She likes me, though, and I can work with that. That leaves only Bellona.
She is ready, she has only to admit it to herself. That will come when she sees how Elizabeth and Candace are treated once they are harem. And the job that Theodora has offered to her has more than piqued her interest since it sounds like she’ll have a much freer hand than she ever had with the Havenites. But, as you say, one thing at a time. First Elizabeth, then Bellona.
What about Gwyneth?
Gwyneth will be taken tomorrow night. She will not be given to you, however, until after Bellona is ours. In fact, she will not be given to you until she and I have settled things, which could take a few days. Do not expect to see her except in passing for at least two weeks.
She’s not anywhere near my bubble yet. I was just curious, not horny for another Elfqueen.
Good. Show Gwyneth none of the special favoritism you like to dole out until she’s firmly one of us and respects her place in our clan.
I won’t. Iain smiled wryly. Or should that be yes, my queen.
I would prefer you say yes, my love.
Then yes, my love.
“I’ve always found it amusing that,” April turned to face her three charges, “that this, the obstacle course, is infamous, but it’s not really that bad and everyone doesn’t use it every day.”
Candace frowned. “We’ve heard you make people do this course daily.”
April nodded. “It is in use daily, but we rotate through the teams that use it, so no individual runs the course two days in a row unless there’s something special going on. What you must always keep in mind is that my goal, and the goal of my team, is to train you on how to survive. A secondary goal is to teach you the teamwork necessary to meld with your unit and the rest of the clan. You are clan, and I want each of you to live for centuries. But the leagues,” she paused and shrugged. “Let’s be honest and admit that what is happening to the leagues will weaken them and a lot of civilians are going to rise up against them, but it’s unlikely that we will destroy all of the leagues. Even if we do, the attitudes that created them won’t die. Some humans will always hate us for what our ancestors did to them, whether that offense happened yesterday or five hundred years ago. Some humans will always believe that we are less than they are. Because we can go feral, some will insist that we are no better than animals, to be used and discarded when no longer needed. And those people will look at our clan and hate us for being strong and they will want to tear us down and destroy us utterly. We must stay strong because there will always be a lot more of them than there are of us.”
Sofia’s ears flicked. “And we must be strong because other pokegirls will want Iain and they will want his blood. If we are weak, they will force themselves upon us and him. He will kill them when he can, but not all of our sons and daughters will be as powerful as he is and so we must be strong for them too.”
“I’m not a fighter,” Candace protested.
“Did you know that, at Shikarou’s orders, Selene pulled all of your records that she could find all over Blue and,” April glanced at Bellona, “elsewhere, before you moved here?” April’s eyes skipped over each of the three women in front of her in turn. “Knowing that those records existed, I asked Kozakura for them and she directed Selene to give me the ones applicable to the three of you. You were top of your form at your final school, a program that was deliberately designed to wash out Nurse Joys who couldn’t cut it. After all, you were supposed to be treating humans and they wanted the best. You were originally scheduled for one of the best jobs of all, that being to work the hospitals of London, until for some reason Director Reynolds entered a large number of black marks into your record and you were instead sent to an endless cycle of morgues, league owned ranches and pokegirl centers until you met Shikarou.” Candace had turned red and then white. “I presume he took a fancy to you and you resisted him?”
“His son,” Candace growled, “was the Assistant Training Director and an oily, sadistic and utterly loathsome man who thought the students were his private harem. Any who bonded to him were dismissed since he didn’t want anything more than a fuck toy.” She grimaced. “He also gave the final, private interviews for all of the students who were assigned to more prestigious positions after graduation. I had avoided him up to that point but couldn’t avoid the interview.”
“What happened,” Bellona asked.
“He told me to spread my legs, I refused and he had orderlies tie me down before he cut off my clothes and then raped me. He’s a sadist, like I said, and beat me when I didn’t acknowledge what was happening. I didn’t respond to that either and he couldn’t orgasm. Sexual sadists often have that problem when their victims won’t help them create their personal fantasies. He said afterward that he didn’t think I was hospital material or should treat people and I was reassigned.”
“That just proves you are a fighter,” April said. “That hasn’t changed and I am grateful for it.” She looked at Bellona. “I will admit that I am not sure what Theodora and Daya are planning for you if you accept the position you’re being offered. That’s annoying because I’d like to be able to add you to my training cadre. Dragonqueens can be very useful in that regard in general and I know you are interested in that sort of program since you were the beta in Shikarou’s harem and ran his training program while he was on his journeys. You have a lot of experience we could use and I’d like to be able to put you to work for me. Since you’re a Grey now, I’d hope you’d be interested in helping us get stronger.”
“I am,” Bellona said. “And I am also interested in what Theodora is offering. If I can arrange it, I’d like to help you too.”
“I don’t see where she can’t do everything that she wants,” Theodora’s voice sounded from a point in the air to April’s left. “Keeping her happier will help her and both of us utilize her to her full potential.”
Bellona laughed. “I’m supposed the be the trainer who can manipulate others to do better than they think they can.”
“Theodora can out pokegirl any pokegirl,” Sofia said. “It will be interesting to see what her puppet will be able to do once it joins us.”
Bellona frowned. “Puppet?”
“Theodora is building an organic shell that she will use to interact with us on a more physical and personal level,” April said. “I don’t know the details about how she’ll do that, but the Tirsuli have a lot of technology I don’t begin to understand.” She shrugged. “But that has nothing to do with this discussion. You’ve already completed your preliminary physical testing. Now that testing is complete, we’ll start you on a focused conditioning program for the next six weeks to bring you up to enough of a physical standard to join us in team training. During this, we will be evaluating you for any other issues that need to be dealt with as well as what preliminary assignment you will receive once we put you in a team.” She smiled. “Also, tomorrow you’ll get a rare treat and you’ll get to meet Commander Howard.” She grinned at Bellona. “You’ll like him. He’s one of my secret weapons.”
“Who is he?”
“Rich is a Texan who once worked for the US government. He was a Navy SEAL who instructed at BUD/S school, which is where SEAL recruits train, and then was recruited into the Special Operations Group portion of the CIA’s Special Activities Division. They did covert paramilitary stuff all over the world. He was involved in and survived the Revenge War, including executing two raids into Scott’s facilities that were discovered off of the coast of Maryland. During the last raid, he fell off of a catwalk during a firefight and broke his back. He was medically retired and moved back to Texas right before the Leagues took over.” She grinned evilly. “I hired him as a consultant, and he’s helped me to pattern parts of our training program after the ones the SEALs used for their induction and ongoing training. I also repaired his back and helped set up a conditioning program for him as part of his payment for helping us. I have been trying to entice him into joining the clan.”
“His two pokegirls are the only outlanders we have let complete our training program,” Sofia said. Her teeth gleamed in a quick smile. “They are good, but not as good as we are. It annoys them greatly that they are not as good as we are and that they cannot continue to train with us to improve.”
“What else are we going to learn,” Elizabeth asked.
“You’ll learn to use all of the equipment we field, including weapons, first aid gear, electronics and our armor. Yes, that includes you, Candace. While you may have an auxiliary role in combat, one day you’ll need to be able to protect yourself and Nurse Joy don’t normally have an array of combat related techniques. All of you will be heavily encouraged to cross train in techniques as well as weapons and we have an array of instructors who will be available to help you to widen your talents. That includes some basic training in magic and spellcasting. If seriously interested, you might progress farther in that, but that’s a long time in the future. You will also all train in Krav Maga, which is currently the clan’s martial art of choice. Once you have qualified as a general soldier, then we can look at more specialized training.” She smiled thinly. “What with your training, the jobs that you’ll be handed from Ninhursag and other superior officers in the harem, as well as the other chores and hobbies you’ll pick up, that should keep you rather busy for the first year.” She looked from one woman to the other. “Are there any questions about what I’ve said so far?” They looked blankly back at her and she smiled. “Then come this way and we’ll start with some evaluations on how well you can shoot.”
“The thing to remember,” Iain said, “is that no matter what happens, do not let go of my hand and, when I tell you to step, step with me.”
Elizabeth watched him curiously. “What is going to happen?”
“Well, you’re going to learn one of our secrets that nobody in Haven ever knew anything about. I have the ability to walk from universe to universe and I can take people with me. You and I are going to a place we call the hunting lodge, where we’ll spend a few days alone bringing you into the harem and family before we come back.”
“Is this anything like dreamtime?”
Iain shook his head. “No, the places we will visit are very real, which is why you can’t let go. If you go running off and I can’t find you, you’ll be lost.”
She swallowed hard. “How many people have you lost?”
“None, and I’m not going to lose you today.” He smiled at her. “Where we’re going has a very different time differential than here and so, when we return, although we will have been gone for several days, only a few seconds will have passed here.”
“So this is a hunting lodge.” She patted the tactical shotgun hanging from her shoulder. “Is that why I was issued this?”
Iain nodded. “It’s for personal protection, although I wouldn’t use it on anything really dangerous there.” He held out his hand. “It’ll be easier if you see what I’m talking about before you start asking what could be so dangerous that buckshot or tiny grenades aren’t immediately lethal.” He reached out and took her hand. “Are you ready?”
“No.” Elizabeth gave him a weak smile. “I want you to bond me but I keep learning secrets that make me nervous. It shouldn’t be that bad, but Bellona had what she thought was a sophisticated surveillance program set up to keep an eye on things involving your family and she’s been completely blindsided several times since we got here.”
“We knew all about her surveillance,” Iain said simply. “It wasn’t as nearly as complete as she thought it was, but it was pervasive enough to be irritating and make us have to work around it, lest we let her know we knew what she was doing. Poppet had her own surveillance network. It was completely separate from Bellona’s and we had to deal with it too.”
Elizabeth looked surprised. “I didn’t know that. I don’t think Bellona knew that. She’s going to be pissed off when she finds out.”
“I figured as much from what you just said. I guess I’ll be the one to tell her. I’ll do it when I take her to the hunting lodge.”
“What did Candace think of this place?”
“She hasn’t been yet.”
“But you and she fucked.”
“We did, but the hunting lodge isn’t a place for someone who insists she can’t fight. Once she gets that silly notion out of her head, I’ll take her there, unless she gets pregnant first. Pregnant women can’t go. There are some environmental conditions that I don’t want anyone getting into unless they have a functional twee. And of the people I might be willing to test that with, I absolutely refuse for it to be our children. The rule I instituted is no unborn babies and no children under the age of ten, even if they have twee. Too many things might try to snatch a child.”
“This place is sounding more and more dangerous.”
Iain smiled. “It’s a hunting lodge. For pokegirls. It’s not going to be any fun if it’s nothing more than fat goats waiting to be slaughtered.” His smile faded when she didn’t look convinced. “Would it help if I told you that nobody who has gone there with me has come back and announced that it’s just too dangerous?”
“Is that true?” He nodded. “That does help.” She frowned. “Well, that depends on who has been.”
“Marguerite, Zareen, April and Mielikki have been so far. Marguerite and Zareen have been to the hunting lodge twice, but that’s because the first time we were only there for a few hours and we didn’t do any hunting. April went before she got pregnant, so she could see the place and report back to Ninhursag.”
“I don’t trust anything that Zareen says is fun,” Elizabeth announced. “She would think fighting a legendary barehanded is fun. But Marguerite isn’t crazy.” Her eyes went wide. “Please don’t tell Zareen that I said she was crazy.”
“I won’t tell her anything about this trip. It’s between you and me and everything stays private unless you decide to reveal it.” His hand tightened on hers. “Now, I want you to step when I say step.” She nodded. “Three, two, one, step.”
They stood in an old library. Dim electric lights were scattered around the room and sunlight coming in through windows override its feeble attempts to illuminate the room. A man who had been sitting at the table in the middle of the room and reading an ancient looking book lurched to his feet, one hand held up defensively. “Who are you,” he demanded harshly. He had shoulder length shaggy brown hair and a hawk nose that perched below piercing blue eyes.
“I’m Iain and this is Elizabeth,” Iain replied pleasantly. “We’re just passing through and will be gone in a second, just as soon as you stop building whatever spell I can feel.”
The man’s eyes narrowed and then relaxed as he frowned. “You do not serve the Dark or the Light.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know what those terms refer to,” Iain said. “May I ask your name, sir?”
“I am Professor Merriman Lyon.”
Iain looked surprised. “I know you now. We do not serve either the Light or the Dark and are not, truly, of this world. We are travelers, moving onward to a faraway place, unless you seek to stop us.” He smiled. “But I, too, hope that here the Light is triumphant, for the Dark would bring suffering and pain to the world and too many worlds are like that already.”
Elizabeth frowned. “What does the Light offer?”
“The Light offers only one thing, choice,” Iain replied. “It seeks to allow mankind to develop on its own, without interference, for good or for ill. The Dark offers nothing. It only takes and controls.”
“The Dark offers lies,” Lyon said. “And you are of the High magic, are you not?”
“I suppose, after a fashion, but this is not my place and the struggle between Light and Dark is not my war.”
Lyon smiled. “You do indeed sound like the users of High magic. Do you have any advice to me?”
Iain shook his head. “The Six are already prophesized and are well chosen for what the Light needs. If you and the other Old Ones keep to the path they have chosen to walk then all will be well. Now, we must go.”
“We could use your help. If you change your mind, please come soon.”
Iain looked at Elizabeth, who was smiling with amusement. “Three, two, one, step.”
They emerged inside a metal room with a ladder heading up and a doorway leading somewhere else. “What’s so funny?”
“Please come soon.” Elizabeth giggled. “You will.” Her head came around when something hooted loudly nearby. “What the fuck?”
“It sounds like a Gallimimus and that’s its alarm call.” Iain started up the ladder. “Follow me and we’ll find out what’s going on.”
Elizabeth waited until he’d cleared the hatch before flying up after him, stopping when she realized this was a second floor and Iain was disappearing up another ladder. She hovered and then followed when the way was open, pausing when he headed up a third ladder. “How big is this place?”
“Three floors. This is the roof.” Iain shoved open a heavy hatch cover, drew his pistol and flowed up onto the roof. “Come on up.”
Elizabeth flew up to join him. The roof was flat and covered by another roof, this one transparent, that was held up by pillars. “Where is this Galley whatever?” The area was filled with huge redwoods that towered over the building they were in. Shrubs taller than a person covered the ground and blocked most of the view. A high metal wall as tall as the building they were in surrounded the building and a massive gate was closed to keep anything out.
“It’s a Gallimimus and it is long gone.” Iain gestured towards something moving through the shrubs roughly parallel to the wall. “And that would be why. I’m going to yell to call them. It’s Terror Birds.” He didn’t pause, raising his voice to a loud yell. “Hey, you bastards!”
The movement immediately turned in their direction and a two meter tall flightless bird with a heavy beak exploded out of the bushes towards them. Seconds later, two other birds Elizabeth hadn’t seen followed it. They ran up and disappeared beneath the wall, but she could hear them calling to each other as they ran around the wall, looking for a way in. “What is going on?”
“We’re on an Ark, a space station that functions as an artificial ecosystem. This one has dinosaurs and lots of other dangerous beasties on it. The creatures are replaced by the control system faster than they can be killed, so this makes an excellent site to come and test yourself by hunting the creatures that are here. Other than perhaps the computer control system, we are alone on this Ark. Others are supposed to have people on them, but I don’t go near those because of the potential issues.” He glanced at her. “There are a lot of different areas on this Ark, which is called Ragnarok. This place was where Mielikki felt the most comfortable, but I thought we’d go to another place that’s on a beach. As a Vampire, I know you’re not a huge fan of really bright sunlight, but this beach is quieter and it’s not that bad about the sun either. Most of the creatures there aren’t that dangerous, with some raptors and wandering brontosaurs. But a place not far away has lots of interesting things to explore and large flying birds to fight.”
“I’m here to join the family.”
“Oh, we’ll do a lot of fucking,” Iain said with a grin. “All over the place, probably. But eventually we will have to go find food, especially since I’ll be eating for two.” He motioned out towards the trees. “When we fly out of here, keep your eyes open. There are some larger than tiger sized marsupial cats that hang out about two thirds of the way up the larger trees and they’d like nothing more than to pounce on something as tasty looking as you, somehow they can maneuver in the air while they’re jumping and they can jump all the way to the ground without getting hurt. But once we’re above them we’ll be safe from their attacks.”
Elizabeth’s eyes were round. “How do we avoid them?”
“Don’t fly in a horizontal straight line and follow me. We’ll go pretty much straight up and then fly over the trees. When we’re above the tree line, you’ll see a snowy area on a hilltop not too far away. It’ll have mammoth, wooly rhino and other things. The temperature up there is well below zero. Don’t go near it, instead keep following me. I’ll turn to put the icy area to my left and we’ll head into the Highland region before turning and skirting the outside of the volcano. If you lose sight of me, don’t forget you have a twee and you can always talk to me.” He shrugged. “But the only way you’re going to leave my side is if we get jumped by wyverns and can’t evade. If that happens, I’ll lure them away while you keep going around the volcano.”
“Wyverns? These aren’t pokegirls, right?”
“Nope. They’re large quadruped flying reptiles that can breathe fire, poison, frost or lightning. I’m used to dealing with them and they won’t catch me.” Iain took her hand again. “I need you to trust me on this. I am not going to do anything stupid and get seriously hurt, much less killed here. I’ve got a beautiful woman to take to bed and nothing is going to keep me from that except her changing her mind.”
She winked. “Then you’re taking her to bed since I’m not changing my mind.” She gestured towards the trees. “You know where we’re going.”
Iain lifted off to hover as he drew his pistol. “Please wait here for a moment until I call for you.”
He darted out from under the transparent roof and climbed so he was hovering above it. He rotated in place slowly and then stopped, lifting the pistol as he lowered to stand on the clear roof above Elizabeth. The crack of the pistol was muted by the roof structure between her and Iain. Elizabeth watched as something about the size of a horse pokegirl in centaur form tumbled limply down the trunk of one of the larger redwoods to disappear into the bushes.
“You can come up now.”
Elizabeth flew up to hover next to him. “Was that one of those cats?”
“It’s called a Thylacoleo and yes.” He pointed. “That one isn’t close enough to jump at us when we fly up, but the one I shot was way too close.”
Elizabeth saw what he was pointing at and used her twee to zoom the view. “It’s huge. Pretty, but I wouldn’t want it jumping on me.”
“Yeah, well, the big dangers are bad enough but some of the little dangers are even worse.”
“Smaller predatory dinosaurs and animals.” Iain smiled. “Compys will try to gang up on you, Dilophosaurs spit a blinding venom and Troodon have a paralytic poison that doesn’t quite knock you out while they strip the flesh from your bones. But they mostly come out at night. Mostly.”
“How the fuck is this place fun?”
Iain gestured around them. “This place is an arena. It’s a battleground and only the strongest survive. We are the strongest. And I’ll give you a primer on what to look for and what to avoid. Many of the creatures here are peaceful unless provoked.”
“And everyone liked staying here?”
“They did. They have the same fire in their blood that you do, the one that says: ‘I am going to be victorious and Iain is going to eat the creatures I defeat and turn them into the blood I drink to prove my superiority.’”
Elizabeth smiled. “That does sound pretty cool.”
“But first I bring you into the family.”
Her smile became a grin. “First you fuck me until I am as content as Candace looked.”
“Challenge accepted.” Iain shot upwards. “Stay close!” Elizabeth raced after him.
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)