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Iain dragged a chair over and set his bundle down on it before slowly stretching and looking around the room. “I’m not looking forward to this,” he muttered.
Theodora appeared. “Which part?”
He pulled a sour face. “Is there any part of this that you think I should be excited about?”
She nodded. “You didn’t lose them too.”
Iain stopped in mid motion and smiled suddenly. “You are absolutely right. In the end, that’s what is the most important thing of all. Everything else we can and will get through. Open them up.”
Air hissed as the molecular seals on the pair of medics unbonded and the air pressure equalized. The units slid open to reveal a small limp body in each of them. Iain gathered up the redheaded one and put her in his lap as he sat down next to the green haired one. The redhead sleepily opened her eyes and looked at him. “Daddy?”
“Myrna, how are you feeling?”
“I’m a little dizzy.” She looked down at herself. “Where are my jammies?”
Iain glanced at Saoirse as she yawned next to him. “I’ve got clothes for both of you over in the chair. You don’t remember what happened, do you?”
“What do you mean, Daddy,” Saoirse asked as she sat up and climbed into his lap with her sister.
Iain braced himself. “Do you remember the birthday party at Melanie’s?”
Myrna looked at her sister, who frowned. “We were there. Now we’re here.” They both looked at him with almost identically puzzled expressions on their faces. “Daddy?”
“You two aren’t really little girls, not in your minds, so I’ll be blunt. The leagues attacked us, Haven, Kerrik and the rebellious governments with some nuclear weapons. Melanie’s place was inside the blast radius of the one that was used on Austin. You two and your mother were the only survivors.” He hugged them both tightly. “You and your mother were pretty badly hurt and had to heal. I wanted to be the one to wake you up so I could tell you what happened.”
Saoirse cocked her head. “What did you do to them?”
“While trying to kill as few people as possible, the league governments have been destroyed by our satellite constellation. However, the story for public distribution is that Haven did the bombardment. They lost a lot more people than we did, including Shikarou and his family. Of the immediate family, only Elizabeth, Candace, Bellona, Kozakura, Jamie and their harems survived. Kozakura is the regent and she wanted the world to think Haven destroyed the leagues.”
“She wants to look strong,” Saoirse said. “You said she was the regent?”
“There is a son named Stephen who stayed in their home dimension. He is the heir and Kerrik is going to get him today. As soon as he can, he’ll become the king and Kozakura will go back to being a princess.”
“Where is Mother?”
“I woke you first so I could tell you what’s happened and ask for your help with her when she wakes up.”
“Mother is going to be very angry with the leagues,” Myrna said. “And they have proven they are a world level threat if they are willing to use nuclear weapons. How can we help her destroy them? We’re just four.”
“I need your help keeping her from going on that rampage,” Iain replied. “She’s going to be angry and frightened because the attack killed her friends, hurt her pretty badly and almost killed you two. The leagues have been pretty much neutralized, at least in the short term. If she rushes out and kills a bunch of people, she’s going to be upset with herself for not doing her due diligence and selecting her targets carefully. I don’t want her going through that guilt if I can keep her from doing so and that’s why I need your help with her.”
Myrna looked at him with her intelligent blue green eyes. “What else happened, Daddy?”
“The leagues specifically attacked us. They made sure they knew where Lucifer and I were and sent a suicide bomber with a nuclear device to kill us. We were at the ranch and I placed a nuclear damper there as soon as I could after we bought the property. It kept the device from going critical. So the bomb made a mess that was a pain to clean up and killed the person carrying it, but that’s all it did.”
“Mother is going to be very angry at them,” Saoirse said. “You are the one thing she loves more than she loves us.”
“I’m not going to argue this, young lady,” Iain said firmly. “And trying to figure out who she loves most sounds like a pokegirl status argument, which I don’t do and you two are supposed to be too young to be interested in. Will you help me?”
“We aren’t strong enough to stop her, Daddy.”
“I don’t need you to try to overpower her. Just be the adorable voices of reason you can be, just be the most adorable you’ve ever been to her.”
“We will have to be careful,” Myrna said. “She still has not accepted that we are who we are and wants us to be only her babies. We cannot be too wise around her. She finds it disconcerting. Only you understand and accept the truth about us.”
“Maybe it’s because I have so many secrets too,” Iain replied. “Secrets I can’t share, just like you can’t.”
“Your secrets wouldn’t scare them, Daddy. Your secrets might kill them.”
“Myrna, you stay the fuck away from my secrets. Being hard to kill is not the same thing as being impossible to kill.”
She hugged him. “Daddy, that’s all I know about your secrets. I can’t see anything about you any more than Miriam or Haley or Seraphina or Olivia can.”
“Haley was at the party,” Saoirse said.
“She was,” Iain agreed. “I will send your twees the entire casualty list if you want.”
“We will wait to be told so we can be sad,” Myrna replied softly. “Mother will feel that she has to do something.” She smiled disarmingly. “If I were an adult, I would too.”
“We’ll figure something out for her. Do I need to figure something out for you little ladies?”
Saoirse shook her head. “We’re kids, Daddy. When we’re a little older we’ll help with the rebuilding.”
“You wear the bodies of children,” Iain corrected. “You are no more a child than I am human anymore.”
“But is it not true that you once wore the body of a human, Daddy? We can be children, for Mother and the others. And it’s not for very long that we have to pretend.” Myrna hugged him again. “We love you, Daddy.”
“I love you too.”
Saoirse hugged him hard. “Can you help us dress before we wake Mother?”
Iain slid them onto the mattress of the medic and retrieved the bundle of clothes. “I’ve got a nice dress in gold for Myrna and one in purple for Saoirse.”
“Does mine have extra frills,” Myrna asked.
“Like I’d forget something that important,” Iain replied as he held it up. “Now stand.” She did and “helped” him get the dress on, which roughly doubled the time it took. “You can do your own underwear.”
Then he helped Saoirse get her dress on. “All right, ladies, any hints for waking up your Mother so she doesn’t go destroy Greece?”
“Why would she want to destroy Greece?”
“The man who took responsibility for the attacks is from Greece and I haven’t been able to get my hands on him. However, I think he’s still somewhere in Greece.”
“My hint is don’t tell her yet, Daddy,” Saoirse said calmly. “And have teleport blocks up when you do so she can’t leave before you finish talking.”
“Wow, why didn’t I think of that?”
Myrna giggled. “Is it just coincidence that there is a teleport blocking field up?”
“Yes,” Iain replied deadpan. “Absolute coincidence.”
“We should not tell her,” Saoirse insisted, “until you are certain that you cannot find this evil man.”
Iain cocked his head. “Made up your mind already, did you?”
“Father, he ordered the attack that almost killed my sister and mother and did kill many of my other mothers, sisters and my only brother. I can think of no way he could do that and not be consumed with evil.”
Iain’s eyebrows had risen while she was speaking. “If I do catch him and you get near him, should I be worried about his life?”
Saoirse smiled sweetly. “No, you don’t need to worry about his life. If I get close to him it will end.”
“She is right, Daddy,” Myrna said.
“You two sound more like me than your mother right now.”
Saoirse smiled sweetly again. “Father, are we not your daughters too? You made us be, along with mother and part of you is part of us.”
Iain stared for a second. “You two aren’t sociopaths, are you?”
“No, Father, we are not. We are not as gentle as Mother would like us to be, but we are not that much like you. But we have watched you and we agree that sometimes things must be done even if it is without the approval of those who call themselves Celestial.”
Iain raised an eyebrow. “What about the rule of your mother about threats being world threatening before she’ll act?”
“We do not share that rule. We understand that there are only the two of us, but with that understanding, we will fight the small evils to keep them from becoming large evils.”
“You do realize that it’s because of her philosophy that your mother is home so she can be here with us and help raise you two. If she had your philosophy, she’d be gone all the time, chasing those little evils, because there will always be small evils.”
Saoirse laughed an adult’s laugh. “Daddy, we would be overkill in capturing pickpockets. But we will become involved in events like those which were going on in the Illinois Free Republic. If Mother had decapitated their government, you would not have had to kill Anton Rush.”
“So medium sized evils?”
“Yes, Daddy. That and things like Mantis nests and Wasp hives, if only so we keep in practice.”
Iain eyed them for a moment. “It sounds like you’re going to be here for a while.”
Myrna smiled. “We will be here for centuries, Daddy. You are right and this world needs us to stand with you and Mother. And, later, you will show us how to travel to other worlds to help them, but we will always return home to our clan and family.”
Iain kissed each of them on the forehead in turn. “That works for me. Now, let’s wake your mother up and keep her as calm as we can while I explain what happened.”
“Ten minute break, ladies,” April called. She spat her mouthpiece into her hand. “After that will be the last session before lunch.”
“Fuck,” Elizabeth muttered as she pushed away from the wall and headed for the closest picnic table. Candace and Bellona trailed behind her, all three of them dripping sweat as they walked. Elizabeth dropped onto the bench and tossed the two black canteens at her sisters before grabbing the bright red one and spinning the cap off. “I thought lunch was hours ago and we skipped it.” She tilted the canteen back and took a deep drink. The liquid had enough blood in it that she wouldn’t throw it up later, but it was also loaded with electrolytes and only April and Theodora knew what else. It tasted terrible, but it kept a Vampire hydrated and going.
Bellona opened her canteen and let the cool lemonade flow down her throat. “I owe Kasumi an apology,” she muttered as she stopped to breathe.
Candace glanced at her as she drank from her canteen. “What for?”
“When she came back to Haven after her first visit to Grey Clan she told me that the training program here shamed the one we had when we trained regularly. I told her she was full of shit.” The Dragonqueen took another deep drink. “I was wrong and she wasn’t exaggerating. If anything, she understated the programs here.”
“She reported what she experienced,” April had joined them. She smiled and took a drink from her canteen. “I was under orders not to let her see our real program since she was still an outlander and she and Iain were only friends then.” She looked past the Dragonqueen at Elizabeth. “So, what did you think of the hunting lodge?”
Bellona looked interested. “I’m supposed to go there the day after tomorrow with Iain.”
“When we first got there I thought it was horrid,” Elizabeth admitted.
April smirked at her. “And now?”
“I can’t wait to go back.”
“What is it like,” Bellona asked.
“I can’t tell you,” Elizabeth said.
“It’s a rule,” April stated firmly. “The hunting lodge must be experienced before anyone who has been there will discuss it with you. That started with Zareen and Marguerite when they went and it’s become both tradition and rule, backed by both Iain and Ninhursag. And we don’t talk about it around anyone who hasn’t been yet.”
“When do I get to go,” Candace asked.
“That’s up to Ninhursag,” April said. “By the way, you are excused from training after lunch so you can go with Iain to Haven.”
Candace sighed. “I want to see Stephen again, but I don’t want to miss training.”
Bellona turned to stare at her. “You like this?”
The Nurse Joy kami shook her head. “I talked to Iain about why he’s taking you two to the hunting lodge and not me. The faster I learn to fight, the sooner I can go to there too.”
“Is it that bad there,” Bellona asked.
“Yes,” April said. “And that’s all I’m going to say. Candace knows what she has to do and she doesn’t have to progress nearly as far as she’s worried.” She looked at Candace. “I do not make the final decision on when you can go. But in a month or two, if you graduate from the conditioning course like I expect you will, I don’t see why you wouldn’t be able to go. At that point you can approach Ninhursag about it. If she says no, come to me and, if I think you’re ready and she’s making a mistake, I’ll talk to her.”
Elizabeth looked from Bellona to April and back. “Don’t take this as an attack, Bellona, but you wouldn’t have done that if Branwyn said no to us about something.”
“Of course she wouldn’t have,” April interrupted. “Branwyn was a typical alpha. We are clan and Ninhursag understands she can’t be everywhere at once and she can’t see everything that goes on. I am the beta and I am on the command staff, so I’m in the line of succession and she trusts me to always keep the interests of the clan foremost in my mind, even if I disagree with her about something.” She smiled. “Anyone can disagree with anyone here, even Ninhursag, as long as one is polite while disagreeing and remembers that the chain of command binds the lower ranks more than the upper.” Her smile faded. “There are four minutes remaining. Anyone needing to pee should go now.”
“How long do you expect to be gone?”
Kerrik’s ears flicked. “Only a few minutes on this side, Bishop. Is your damper running?”
Caradoc nodded. “It is. I still don’t like the fact that they used nukes on us, even if they didn’t work.”
“Take a look at the satellite feeds from Cassiopeia and you’ll see that neither Iain nor I are happy about it either and, when we and Kozakura are done, the leagues shouldn’t have that capability anymore or, honestly, the capability to do much at all.”
Bishop shrugged. “I just want to live in peace with my family.”
“You had to fight,” Raven said as she joined the two men. “In Tropic you did.”
“If they’d been willing to let me alone I’d still be living there,” Bishop said quietly. “Texas is better, but it cost me the life of one of my Milktit kits and an Avariel to find that out. It was too steep a price to pay.”
Kerrik nodded. “We’re trying to create a world where all the kits who aren’t feral will survive to grow up.”
Bishop smiled. “And I can’t change the past, so living in it doesn’t do me or anyone else any good. I know.”
“People will need your crops more this year than ever since you moved here,” Kerrik said. “We’ll be feeding people all over the world.”
Bishop’s smile widened. “And you’re killing the pirates that sent the man who murdered part of my new family, so I’m not protesting, Wolf. Pirates will always need killed.” He bobbed his head to Kerrik and then to Raven. “Be well, Wolf, Raven.” Then he was gone, trotting down the road to where Shima waited patiently in her centaur form.
Only Raven’s eyes tracked him as he left. “Is he all right?” Kerrik could almost hear the unspoken, “is he going to become a problem” in her voice.
“What’s going on reminded him of what it cost to get here,” Kerrik said quietly as he watched Shima take to air after Bishop got on her back. “It can make a man like Bishop thoughtful, and that sometimes looks like he’s being moody. He isn’t though. Bishop just doesn’t like the idea that his family could have been wiped out like Shikarou’s or Iain’s. That’s why we gave him a damper, even though he isn’t going to be a target of the leagues.” He shrugged. “And I could be wrong. He’s part of my group and that could make him a target after all and we could have missed a nuclear warhead.” He turned to Raven. “Are you ready to go?”
The Archmage smiled. “We’re waiting on you.”
“Did you finish searching Misery for contraband?”
Raven fell in beside him as they headed for the back yard. “Twice. Each time I found different items. And I’ll search her again when we get to Blue, but hopefully we won’t find any more prohibited grenades or plasma weapons. Anything else is less problematic and we can deal with it.”
His ears flicked. “I think I’ll have to have one of my talks with her.”
Raven flashed her fangs in a quick grin. “I don’t think even you can override her love of weaponry and gadgets.”
“It just takes the right motivation, and the right person giving it.”
“This I have to see.”
Everyone else was waiting for them and Kerrik immediately turned to Misery. “I gave you a list of items that were forbidden for anyone to take on our trip, right?” She nodded slowly. “Good. I am going to have you strip searched when we get there. If we find anything on that list, be it an energy weapon, ammunition, magazines, forbidden grenade or even a set of electronic lockpicks, I will interfere in the harem dynamic and officially demote you to the lowest member of the harem for the next year.”
Misery’s mouth dropped and her ears flattened. “What the fuck?”
“You will have violated a direct order from me, again, which I am tired of tolerating. If I do demote you for cause, after you’re the lowest of the low and everyone else outranks you, I will spend the next year finding the most shit jobs I can think of for you to do. I’ll even make you stand still while Ava and Kasserine beat you up.” The Mini Top’s eyes were getting bigger and bigger. “I will also give you a direct order to obey any instruction from the girls in my harem who outrank you, which with your new rank will be everyone, and I will use Cassiopeia to monitor your adherence to my instructions. Any willful violation will result in the addition of three months of low rank, cumulative, each time you incur a violation.” He raised a finger. “And, at the end of that time, you will have to fight for whatever place you can rise to in the harem. You will still, however, not be able to become my maharani, no matter what happens.”
Misery grimaced. “I need to go to my room for five minutes.”
Kerrik cocked his head. “Several days ago I gave you an order about what to not take and now you want to correct your willful violation of it? You have three minutes and not a second more.” His ears flattened for an instant. “And you do not want to be late returning.”
“Shit.” Misery vanished.
I do not see what the problem is with her taking a few items, Whisper noted.
“We are planning to maintain a low profile,” Autumn replied. “Kerrik is already wanted by the Blue League because of his association with Haven. The virus he’s going to upload will remove any active arrest warrants, but some overly officious policewoman might look at timestamps and previous warrants and just might try to detain us on general principles. Also, someone might have a paper copy of a warrant and not believe us when we tell them it is no longer valid. And if they find advanced technology, they will confiscate it. Raven, Whisper and Misery will react as they do, we will back them up and then we’ll have the murder of police added to our list of things the Blues will want to arrest us for. We’ll just actually be guilty of that crime.”
Raven looked at Kerrik. “She’s right, isn’t she?”
“You know she is, at least about how you will react. Honestly, I won’t react much better than that, not after living free here in Texas for several years.”
Misery reappeared. “I’m ready to go now.”
A shimmering portal opened in the air a few meters away. “Raven?” She looked at him. “Move them out. I’m last.”
“Misery, you have point. Everyone else goes fifteen seconds after she does.”
Everyone filed through and Kerrik closed the gate behind him as Raven turned to Whisper and Morwen. “Secure the area and return.”
“Understood,” Morwen said as she lifted off to hover.
Kerrik watched them fly away, his eyes lingering on the young Vampire. She was going through a growth spurt and he suspected she was going to be as tall as her father was. She was also fitting in better than he’d ever thought she would, which was both gratifying and a little worrisome, at least in that her role models were all professional murderesses. Well, professional murderesses and Autumn, who was not a murderess by nature, although she was still a consummate professional and had given orders which had resulted in a whole bunch of situationally harmless people being killed. “I don’t see a reason for Morwen to stop getting lessons from Elizabeth, even with all that’s happened. She may have to go to Sabine more often since Elizabeth will probably be getting pregnant fairly soon.”
Raven glanced at him. “Is it wrong for me to say that I’m glad she’ll be training more with a Grey. Your son’s family has always been a bit off and Ninhursag will bring them into the fold as fast as she can.”
“Considering that the culture that made them feel off is the same one that made my son vindictively remove the things that could have kept him alive because they were associated with Iain Grey, no.” Kerrik shook his head. “It’s the reason I am not going to protect him from his actions this time.”
“Are you angry with him?”
“Of course I am. He did something colossally stupid and got himself and most of his family killed. He didn’t even replace the damper with one that Selene had built, just because he was concerned Iain might see it and think that he might believe that Iain could be right about something.” His ears flattened and he hissed softly. “Again.”
“Are you mad at Iain?”
Kerrik shrugged. “He’s alive and my son is not. I’m not unhappy he’s alive, but.” He sighed. “Shikarou would never have thought to put a damper in place because he’d never think any league would dare attack him. Bellona would have, but she wouldn’t have put it in surreptitiously, and he would have told her no when she asked for permission.” Kerrik’s jaw flexed and there was an audible grinding noise. “Sometimes I wish my son wasn’t so much like me.”
“Iain went to Cassiopeia to get permission to put in a damper at our home. He didn’t come to me. And she didn’t come to me either to pass on his request. Instead she authorized it without informing me. What does that tell you?”
“You don’t make any claims to perfection.”
“No, but that nuke would have killed all of you, leaving only me alive. Hell, I don’t even have your personalities backed up and clone tanks established for you.”
Raven hesitated. “We all have daily backups,” she said quietly. “And bodies waiting for us.”
Kerrik’s ears canted amusedly. “Iain again?”
Her voice was soft. “Yes. About a year ago I found out what they were doing and went to Cassiopeia, who sent me to Theodora since she’s better equipped for storage. She sent me to Iain for permission and I had us all set up with daily backups. He said he was doing it was because you shouldn’t be alone.”
Kerrik was silent for a long time. “Iain has been a good friend, hasn’t he?”
“Yes, he is.”
“I’m not used to having friends. Family, but not friends.”
The Archmage grinned. “Me either. I think we should keep him, though.”
“Me too.” He lifted his head. “And our patrol is coming back.”
We did not find anyone, Whisper said as they landed in the clearing. We chose this area in Noir because it’s very rugged and mountainous to keep ferals and humans away and it appears to be working as intended.
“Good,” Kerrik said as he turned to face Misery. “Strip.”
The Mini Top’s eyes went wide. “What? I got rid of everything so you wouldn’t do this.”
“I said I would have you strip searched when we got here. I never said there was a way that I wouldn’t. Take it off.”
Misery sighed and began taking off her clothes. She was efficient about it and soon stood nude next to a large pile of weapons, equipment and a few bits of clothing. “Do I need to unbraid my hair?”
The Archmage quickly searched the pile. “Flashbangs weren’t on your list, right?” Kerrik shook his head. “Then I can’t find anything.”
“Thank you. Misery, you can get dressed now.”
Morwen had been looking the pile over. “Can you teach me how to hide so much gear on my body?”
Misery glanced at her as she started putting everything back on. “Make it worth my while and I can.”
“We’ll talk later,” Morwen said.
When she was dressed, Kerrik reached out and pulled Misery to him. He looked into her eyes. “Do you know why I did that?”
“You said you would and you don’t lie.”
“Close, but no. You are a part of my life and I am a part of yours.” Kerrik stroked her cheek gently. “I want to trust you, but you lie to me about things that you shouldn’t. So I’m going to need proof that you’re telling me the truth for a while before I can start trusting you again. I’m going to need your help with this or it’s not going to work.”
Misery sighed and kissed his palm. “I’ll try. I just enjoy pissing Raven off so much and that’s an easy way to do it.”
“You’ll find other ways. You’re good at that sort of thing.”
She chuckled. “I am.”
“So, I’ve explained but I’m not going to apologize. Am I forgiven?”
Her ears flicked. “I’m going to bite the shit out of you the next time we fuck.”
“That’s not any different from normal,” Kerrik observed dryly.
She grinned. “True.” She leaned forward and gave him a quick kiss on the lips. “Forgiven.”
Morwen shook her head. “We’re all crazy as fuck.”
“Speaking of crazy,” Kerrik kissed Misery again before backing up a few steps. “Morwen, did you want to see your mother while we’re here?”
“I’d love to, but my mother already thinks I’m weird. I know that, here, it’s only been a few weeks since I left home, and I’m an adult now and she wouldn’t understand.” She gave a weak smile. “And I don’t want to kill her male, but after being a Texan and part of this family I’m not going to put up with any shit from him.”
“He’s your father,” Autumn said.
“He stopped being my father the day he sold me into slavery,” Morwen replied. “It happens to lots of girls on this world and I was just lucky enough to get sold to Kerrik. If Elizabeth hadn’t contacted him, I’d still have been sold, only to some stranger who probably wouldn’t have waited until I came of age before raping me.” She gave Kerrik a mock exasperated glare. “Instead I got the one guy who made me wait. I had to practically rape him.”
You liked that, Whisper said.
Morwen grinned. “I did.”
“Speaking of Tamers,” Kerrik pulled a pokedex out of his pocket and activated it. “Ok, we’ve got decent radio reception as well as a weak satellite uplink. Radio it is.” He changed screens and activated a program. “Let’s check my bank account in London. And here it is, frozen as I expected. Virus uploaded.” He waited a moment and hung the pokedex from his belt. “And that’s that. Blue has an upgraded Video Girl, but she can’t be everywhere at once and the virus is turning everything it infects into a launcher to maximize the spread rate.” He took Raven’s hand. “Let’s go to London and find my Stephen.” They vanished.
“I’ve been doing some reading about this place,” Autumn said as she appeared nearby. “Are we listed as part of your harem and what is your status?”
“I’m a Tradesman and all five of you belong to me. Thanks to that virus, your records say you’re all pokewomen and reaching the upper middle part of your life, which will reduce the desire of most people to acquire you, even if I were inclined to agree to a salvage match with anyone. We’re all ex-military and everyone is licensed as being sheriffs and thus ;having police powers so we can carry firearms and some other exotic weapons and gear. Our records also say that, until recently, we were retired Hunters and homesteading near the ruins of Muir of Ord, which is about twenty kilometers west of Inverness. We’re moderately well off and have records of sales and internet activity around and in Inverness as well as elsewhere but the activity is spread out enough in time and location that it’ll be hard for people to remember us.”
“What changed,” Morwen asked.
“We were attacked by Bladebunnys, our home was leveled and the kattle that we owned were killed or carried off. None of my harem are listed as having woodworking or stonemason skills, so being moderately well off doesn’t mean we have enough to rebuild. Ergo, we’re on the road again to actively hunt and sell ferals until we can go back home to rebuild or we find somewhere else to settle down.”
“Are we successful,” Misery asked curiously.
“That depends on how well you and your sisters can catch ferals and not kill them if we have to fight them,” Kerrik said. He looked up as a light rain began to spatter around and on them. “Of course it’s raining, it’s London. If it wasn’t raining, it wouldn’t be London. Let’s nip into the closest shop and get some ponchos.”
Considering my ears, I would prefer an umbrella, Whisper noted.
“Fine. Let’s buy what we need and head for hospital.”
A few minutes later the group, now wearing or carrying various types of rain gear, walked briskly down the street. The rain was intermittent but always light and there were plenty of people taking advantage of the last rays of the sun as it sank towards the horizon in order to complete their errands.
Kerrik’s twee let him know every time his pokedex was scanned by someone else, which happened at least once every couple of minutes, but no one bothered them for nearly half an hour until a young man slid in front of Kerrik and held up a hand. “I know you’re a Tradesman, but I’ve been trying to find a Mini Top for a while. I’d like to buy yours.” A Nekomata stood vigil next to him, her eyes alertly scanning their surroundings.
Kerrik chuckled. “Do you have fourteen or more active warrants out for your arrest?”
The man blinked. “No.”
“Then you haven’t been bad enough to deserve having her.”
The man’s mouth dropped and then he grinned. “I doubt you have fourteen or more active warrants.”
“Not anymore but, yes, once I did. Look, there are Mini Tops and then there is this one. She’s more of a pain in the ass than anything else you can imagine.”
“I am,” Misery said with a flash of her fangs. “I have a thirty centimeter strap-on cock that I love using on little boys like you.”
Kerrik sighed. “Sir.”
The Mini Top’s ears flicked. “Oh, right. I love using it on little boys like you. Sir. I’ll use it on your harem too.”
The man’s eyes had bugged. “What?”
“As you know if you’re really interested in Mini Tops,” Kerrik said calmly, “as a group they like anal sex. What the entry doesn’t say is a rather small percentage of them like to give more than they like to receive.”
“You let her do that to you?”
Kerrik shrugged. “Let isn’t really the word I’d probably use since she figured out how to wriggle out of restraints. Then again, you never know what you’re going to like if you haven’t tried something.” He smirked. “I didn’t. What you need to do is go to a pokegirl center and ask to look at the confiscation lists. There should be several Mini Tops listed since some people tend to stick them in storage and then forget about them until the league confiscates them for being over the limit or not rotating them out often enough. Or at all.”
“I’ll do that,” the man said quickly. He turned and almost jogged away.
Raven gave a low laugh as Misery laughed loudly. “How many outstanding warrants did you have?”
Kerrik checked his pokedex. “Thirty two and the virus is still searching for more.”
Morwen cocked her head. “Do you think there’s an analog of Iain here?”
“Not yet, if ever.” Kerrik’s ears flicked. “If the timelines synch up, Monica will be the Minister of Defense and over forty years old when he’ll get here. Right now she should be twenty and in her second year of OCS.”
“If I remember correctly,” Raven said, “we need to go five more blocks and turn left before going another six blocks to get to the hospital.”
Kerrik nodded. “We should see it when we turn.”
We didn’t see it last time, it being night, Whisper noted.
“It’s probably concrete, not that impressive on the outside and bigger than the surrounding buildings,” Morwen commented. “Before the war, hospitals could be rather pretty, with statuary and other adornments, but anything like that could draw feral pokegirls to wreak havoc and so external decorations were abandoned over the years. Ferals seem to think that the statues are challenging pokegirls of different breeds.” She smiled when Raven looked surprised. “I was going to be an architect, remember?”
The Archmage shrugged. “I’d forgotten there was a reason behind your drawings. It was just a part of you.”
“I’m not sure if I should feel insulted or not.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Autumn said. “If you are, keep it until we’re home. You two fight here and Kerrik will probably just put both you into storage until we’re home again.” She smiled mirthlessly. “I certainly would.”
Raven turned to Kerrik. “Would you do that?”
“I’d definitely consider it.” He looked past her to Autumn. “And I see that Ninhursag comes by her political and tactical skills naturally.”
Autumn gave him a wide smile. “Thank you.”
“Raven?” She looked curiously at him. “We’re standing still.”
She blinked. “Sorry, sir. Let’s go.”
The hospital was as Morwen had described it, an unprepossessing oversized block of concrete, steel and glass with a discrete sign naming it the St. Agatha of Sicily Memorial Hospital.
“Doctors and interns don’t live here,” Morwen said. “What if it’s his day off?”
“He’s got a flat in Tower Hamlets,” Kerrik replied. “But he’s a resident here and with the hours that the interns and residents work, he’s more likely to be here than there, so I thought we’d start here first.” He opened the door and stepped aside. “Ladies first.”
“We’re in Blue, sir,” Raven said. “Here we’re not ladies.”
“I refuse to let some pennyante league decide what place my women hold in society. Now get your ass inside.”
Whisper grinned. Yes, sir. She darted past him and into the lobby.
“Who is St. Agatha,” Autumn asked as they entered the hotel.
Kerrik shrugged as he joined them. “During the Roman Empire she was a Sicilian noblewoman who dedicated her life to Jesus Christ and the Lord. Some Roman got a hardon for her and she told him no. He was a prefect and a judge and he charged her with being a Christian, hoping she’d acquiesce to his desires for her to avoid being imprisoned. Instead, she confessed and refused to recant. As punishment, she was first forced to work in a brothel where she was beaten and raped. When that didn’t make her give in, he had her imprisoned and tortured in various ways, the most well known of which was when her breasts were cut off. Miraculously, they grew back after an angel visited her in her prison cell. That made this Roman angrier and he sentenced her to be burned at the stake but an earthquake stayed the execution and she was either tortured to death or died in prison, depending on which source you believe. She never recanted her faith and died a devout Christian.”
Misery’s ears flicked. “Sounds like she was treated like some pokegirls are.”
Kerrik smiled slightly. “As long as there are sentient beings who are not part of a hive mentality, some of them will be assholes.” He headed for the counter and the Catgirl who waited behind it. She had been sorting boxes of supplies on a cart behind her but had stopped and faced them with a patient expression when they’d entered. “Good morning, I’m trying to contact one of the residents here, a man by the name of Stephen Wolf.”
Her ears flicked. “I don’t think there’s anyone here by that name, sir. I’ve never heard of him.”
“Even I can smell her fear,” Morwen said. “She’s lying.”
Whisper’s antennae extended. She was told to say she didn’t know who he was. She does know she hasn’t seen him in a week and doesn’t know what happened to him. She likes him.
Kerrik read her nametag. “Annette, I know you aren’t being completely honest, but that’s ok. I’d like to ask you a question, if you don’t mind.”
She hesitated before nodding, as her ears went halfway flat. “What is it, sir?”
“If Stephen had worked here and then abruptly didn’t and people had been ordered to pretend he’d never worked here, who would most likely know what had happened to him?”
Her ears came up and she smiled slowly. “Who are you?”
“I’m Stephen’s grandfather.” Kerrik smiled back at her. “Yes, I don’t look that old but I don’t age like most people do.”
She blinked. “You have longevity?”
“That’s as good a word for it as anything else. What is important is that I’m concerned about my grandson. I don’t want to quiz you about something you probably don’t know anything about and I figure you’re following orders, but I know that Stephen was a resident here since I visited him here two weeks ago.” His ears flicked. “If he was removed for cause, that’s just life sometimes, but I haven’t heard from him in a while and I’m getting concerned for him.”
“Dr. Hastings might know what might have happened to a resident since she runs the residency program here, but she’s not in today,” Annette busied herself at her desk. “That only leaves Director Bannon up on the fourth floor.” Her tail flicked behind her. “He would either know anything about an intern that anyone could want to know or he will know who does, sir.” Her head came up and her eyes met his. “If you do find anything out, please, could you let me know? I’m worried.”
“Are you bonded to Stephen?”
Annette shook her head. “No, sir, I’m not, but he’s always nice to everyone. That made him stand out compared to the other residents and many of the other staff.”
Kerrik cocked his head. “Are you sweet on him?”
She blushed. “With all due respect, sir, I don’t think that’s your business.”
“My apologies for prying, I thank you for your suggestion about who would know about any missing interns and I hope you have a nice day.”
“Thank you, sir. You too.”
Raven looked at him. “Stairs or elevator?”
“Stairs are less of a death trap.”
“My thought too. Morwen, point. Misery, rear. We’re going to the fourth floor.”
“Sir?” It was Annette. “Above the first floor, the stair doors don’t open from the stairwell until you get to the roof.”
Kerrik smiled slightly. “Do people use the stairwells for smoking and breaks?”
Annette’s eyes twinkled merrily. “Sir, that sort of thing is against hospital policy, but it is true that you might encounter someone stepping into the stairway to get a breath of air away from the other staff.”
His ears canted amusedly. “Then let’s hope I get lucky.”
Her return smile was slightly lecherous. “I’m sure you will, sir.”
Morwen laughed and pulled open the stairwell door. “This way, sir.”
Nobody was on the fourth floor landing and the door was locked when Raven tried it. “Morwen, time for a practical.”
Kerrik’s eyebrows rose as the Vampire stepped forward, put her finger on the door handle and murmured quietly. There was a soft click and she pulled the door open. Raven nodded. “Good job. Whisper, you’re on point from here on.”
“You took an apprentice,” Kerrik asked quietly as they followed the Cabbit Splice down the hall.
“I took a page from what the Greys are doing and I’m teaching my family some useful spells to get them used to the idea of using magic. Later I’ll see who is interested in learning more than just the basics.”
“I’m proud you’re cooperating with each other.”
Raven’s fangs gleamed in her quick grin. “Iain had to fire two maharani before he found a decent one. I know that firing me would distress you and so I want to ensure you don’t have to do that.”
“You are so considerate of my feelings.”
Whisper spoke over her twee. I’m at the elevator and there is a floor map as well as a directory. Dr. Bannon’s office is in four nineteen and I know where it is. Follow me.
The doors to Bannon’s office were of heavy oak and larger than normal sized. “Well, his office is opaque to outside observation and probably at least partially soundproofed,” Kerrik said with a smile. “That’s great for privacy but bad for personal security. Think they’ll have cameras?”
“Unlikely,” Autumn replied. “Not in the office of someone as powerful as the director of the entire hospital. Plan?” Her hand twitched towards her bow. It was interesting to note that she’d learned to use her magic to make her bow and quiver become so unremarkable when she had them slung that most people would completely overlook their presence. Kerrik knew she had them and knew he could see them but there was this low powered urge to ignore them and the threat they represented. Raven wasn’t immune to it either and was working to see how she could use her magic to create the same effect on anything she was carrying.
“I am willing to start out polite, but I am also becoming concerned about Stephen’s whereabouts, so I’m not going to stay that way for long. That and I need to know if Bannon knows anything useful. If not, we’ll try Stephen’s flat next.”
“Annette was told to pretend she never knew Stephen,” Misery said. “Someone here knows what happened to him or, at least, has a very good idea of what might have happened to him.” She looked back at Kerrik. “You know it’s probably the government, considering their interest in Shikarou and his family.”
“I can hold out hope that he told them to fuck off and quit, and that telling everyone that he never existed is someone’s cute idea of petty revenge, but I know.” He grimaced. “Screw polite. I’ve lost too many people recently. We’ll do quick and dirty and don’t let anyone send out any alarms or alert security if we can. But we don’t kill unless absolutely necessary.” His anticipatory smile made Misery blink in surprise. “For now.”
Raven nodded. “Misery, secure the receptionist when we enter. Morwen guards this door while I and Whisper watch the room. Autumn deals with anyone loitering in the room with Whisper as backup as necessary.”
The receptionist is a Doe, Whisper said to them all. She is a minimal combatant and Misery will be able to take her down alone. I sense no one else in the room and three minds in the area ahead that the Doe associates with Bannon’s office. One of those minds should be Bannon because the Doe knows he’s in his office with his two pokegirls. However, there is a telepathic shield spell up so I can’t probe anyone in his office from here. I can only detect their presence and that is difficult enough.
Morwen grasped the handle of one of the doors. “Ready.”
Misery placed herself in front of the door, glanced at Raven and made a hand signal to Morwen. The Vampire jerked the door open to give Misery a line of sight into the office. Instantly Misery vanished as she teleported.
Kerrik and the others rushed in to find Misery lowering the head of the Doe onto the desk. She’s asleep, Misery told the others through her twee. Bannon has a Cactrix and a Doggirl in the office with him. They’re his harem. The Doe is not. She bit the Doe on the shoulder and healed the wound as she lifted her head. A second later she had become the Doe, down to her clothes. I can immobilize Bannon and temporarily neutralize his harem until you can secure them.
Kerrik’s ears flicked. Do it.
Morwen stays at the door, Raven ordered. Whisper and Autumn are team one. Me and Kerrik are team two. Misery, you’re lead.
Misery knocked on the door. “What,” called a voice from the inside. She cracked the door and looked inside, ever the dutiful secretary. Then she vanished again.
A man bellowed wordlessly in pain and Misery’s voice rang out over his yelling. “If anyone moves I’ll kill him.”
Raven slammed the door open and caught the two pokeballs that Misery tossed to her. She activated both at the same time, recovering the two pokegirls who were still in the process of moving forward from their posts.
Misery was in her own form and standing behind the huge desk that dominated the far side of the room. She was holding a man’s head down with his face pressed hard against the blotter. An energy blade glittered in her right hand, the blade hovering a centimeter above the crown of the man’s head.
Kerrik settled down in the chair in front of the desk. “Let him up.”
Misery released the man and dismissed her energy blade but didn’t otherwise move. “He knows the answers to your questions.”
The man’s face was red where it had been pressed into the desk and his eyes were filled with a wariness overlain by building rage. “Who are you?”
“I am Stephen Wolf’s grandfather. If you tell me you don’t know who that is, I will have the woman behind you break your hand. If you tell me that twice, I will have her remove it. If you tell me that a third time, you won’t be able to respond do any more questions that I might ask.”
“Which hand,” Misery asked eagerly.
“Surprise me.” Her psychotic giggle made her prisoner cringe. “You are Director Bannon, yes?” The man nodded. Kerrik’s ears flicked. “This is your only warning. Answer me out loud or I’ll have the woman behind you pull off one of your ears. Are you Director Bannon?”
“I am,” Bannon said hesitantly.
“I’m glad you’re willing to be reasonable and obedient. As long as you remain that way, nobody here has to be hurt during my visit. I will ask my questions, you will answer them, we will leave, you will get your pokegirls back and you can go back to pretending to be someone important. Do you understand me?”
“Is my grandson, Stephen Wolf, still a resident here?”
“No,” Bannon said. “He was removed from the residency program.”
“Did he leave under his own power or was he taken away by some group or individual?” Bannon hesitated and Kerrik cocked his head. “You have ten seconds.” He waited. “Five. Four. Three.”
Bannon jerked when Misery gripped his ear with her claws. “He was taken away!”
“Just to make sure we’re clear, the woman will rip your ear off at the count of zero,” Kerrik said pleasantly. “Her reflexes are much faster than a human’s so it may be gone just as soon as her brain processes the z syllable and long before I get to the o.”
“Don’t pull away,” Misery whispered loudly into Bannon’s ear. “If you do and I jerk to keep you still, I may pull the ear off by accident and then where would we be? I’ll have to find something else to pull off at that point.”
“Now, now, no threats to Dr. Bannon,” Kerrik admonished her calmly. “He’s been cooperative so far, even if a bit reluctant. But I can understand his fearing the government. He just needs to learn that right now he needs to fear me more.” Kerrik leaned forward slightly. “Was he taken by the forces of the Blue League government?”
“Yes. It was Department Six that ordered he be removed from the residency program. Wolf left under his own power and I haven’t seen or heard from him since.”
“Who was the officer in charge?”
“Did he leave you his card in case someone like me came along?”
Lie, Whisper announced. Bannon winced, indicating she’d told him too.
Do we have to murder him? It was Morwen and he could tell she was speaking only to him.
Kerrik’s ear flicked. You plead for his life?
I don’t have a problem killing. But this is murder. Whisper or Misery can get the answers we need.
Morwen, sometimes context is important. Unless I let them eat his brains, we won’t know everything. And that would kill him just as certainly as if I did.
It is your decision, Kerrik, and I’ll do what you want. You know that. I just didn’t think you murdered people just because. There’s always been a reason before, when you killed, and Bannon doesn’t meet the standard you’ve set in the past. The standard that I thought you wanted me to follow.
Kerrik slid to his feet. Indeed, you have grown into a remarkable woman, Morwen Wolf. “Release him and let him retrieve this card or whatever it is.”
Morwen looked at Autumn. Relieve me so I can have a word with Bannon.
I relieve you, the Elfqueen said as she joined Morwen at the door. Don’t let Kerrik murder him if you can.
Misery let Bannon go so abruptly that he hit his head on the desk. He lifted his head, cursing softly, only freeze when Morwen invaded his personal space by leaning across the desk until she was almost nose to nose with him. “If you do anything to make me regret asking my male to keep you alive,” the Vampire said menacingly, her fangs glittering in the light as she spoke, “I will hang you from the ceiling by your wrists and make a tiny incision in your femoral artery so you can feel yourself dying, centimeter by centimeter. Your universe will become the pulsing of your heart as it kills you and the splash of each drop of blood hitting the floor. And then, eventually, you will die and your universe will end forever.”
Bannon shoved so hard on his desk to get away from her that he slammed his head into Misery’s chest. He jumped to his feet to get away from her lazy swipe and raced for a file cabinet. “I’m getting the card,” he said frantically. Folder after folder was pulled from the cabinet and dropped on the floor until he opened one and waved a business card at Morwen like it was a holy item that would protect him from her. “Here!”
Morwen plucked the card from his hands and offered it to Kerrik. “Master.” Her eyes swiveled back to Bannon. “Sit.” He obediently returned to his seat as Kerrik took the card and examined it carefully.
Autumn watched from her post at the door until her eyes suddenly widened. She smiled slightly and reached out with her twee. I am calling for Stephen Wolf, the son of Shikarou and the grandson of Kerrik. I am Autumn and I am in the harem of Kerrik.
I am Stephen’s twee, something said back to her. He is unconscious and cannot respond but I know that he would want me to ask for rescue. Kerrik mentioned your name to Stephen in a letter he received.
I will require proof, Autumn replied, for Kerrik to believe me. Tell me something that he knows that others should not.
The twee didn’t hesitate. As a child, Jamie Harris once got into a great deal of trouble for breaking a vase that belonged to Candace Wolf. Stephen was the one who truly broke the vase and got Jamie to agree to take the blame for him. Kerrik knows this because Stephen told him once when they went drinking together in Stephen’s second year of university.
Autumn reached out to Kerrik. I am in communication with Stephen’s twee. It says he’s unconscious and then, to prove it was really Stephen’s twee, it related a story to me about how Jamie took the blame for a vase of Candace’s that Stephen broke. It says he later admitted the truth to you. Can we triangulate his location somehow by having the twee ping the satellite constellation or something?
Kerrik’s ears flicked and he turned to regard her curiously. What are you trying to do?
I am doing as you have commanded in the past and focusing on the mission. Are we here to bring Stephen back to Haven or are we here to vent your frustrations on the Blue League for the death of Shikarou, whom they did not kill?
Kerrik grimaced. Stephen. Are you working with Morwen on this?
Perhaps. Autumn smiled at him. What we don’t want to see is our male lower himself to the barbaric standards of the Blue League in behavior. They capriciously murder and torment to amuse their rulers. You have not. You do not. When we kill, it is to advance our purpose, whatever that is at the time.
Kerrik opened his mouth but hesitated before nodding. You are correct. We are not Blues and we will not lower ourselves to the behavior of the leagues we despise. His ears canted sideways for a heartbeat. When we leave here I will show you how to use the constellation to triangulate a twee that wishes to be located. Since you and Morwen are being the voices of reason, what about Bannon?
Autumn’s glance at the Director was as indifferent as one that Mother Nature might give a solitary human. Wipe his memory or destroy his brain. She smiled when Kerrik looked surprised. Keeping Bannon from revealing our presence will advance our mission and only those two ways will guarantee he will not. He cannot be trusted to keep his word and remain silent about our visit.
Kerrik looked at Whisper. “Remove his memories of our visit. Try not to break him but don’t let it stop you from doing what I ordered.”
It’ll be my pleasure. The Cabbit’s antennae unrolled to their full extension.
“Wait,” Bannon protested before he slumped forward.
“Killing him is more reliable,” Raven noted.
I can wipe his mind without any difficulty. Whisper’s ears flicked irritably. Stop distracting me or I will kill him.
“The pokegirls saw us,” Morwen interjected. “They’ll need adjusted too.”
No problem, Whisper’s mental laugh was chilling as she showed gleaming white fangs in her grin. I can wipe them after I finish with Bannon.
“Once we’re done we’ll return to our entry point,” Kerrik said.
“What about Annette,” Raven asked.
“I don’t think we need to do anything to or about her,” Kerrik replied. “Nobody is going to quiz a pokegirl about something that Bannon doesn’t remember happening.”
I’ll work as fast as I can, Whisper said.
“Triangulating a twee is slightly more problematic than triangulating radio,” Kerrik said. “That’s because hyperspace communications are, by design, harder to detect and harder to track. But with the constellation and Stephen’s cooperation, or at least that of his twee, we can do it.”
“How does this work,” Misery asked.
“It’s not that different from a normal triangulation except that the propagation of hyperspace communication is much faster than radio. Fortunately, the constellation is designed for exactly this sort of thing for finding trapped or lost clan members. While we could get a rough location with only a few satellites, I want to know precisely where Stephen is being held so we’ll be using the entire constellation to find him.”
“What happens if the people holding him don’t want to release him,” Raven asked.
“My grandson is coming with us. If we can retrieve him without killing anyone, fine, but I won’t let the presence of others stop us. If they insist on us killing them, we will.” His ears flicked as he turned to Morwen and Autumn. “Is that understood?”
“Perfectly,” Autumn said. “At that point they are our enemies and they will die.”
“It’s them or us,” Morwen added. “Strike sure and fast.”
“Not to mention,” Misery said. “They might kill Stephen to deny us our prize if we take too long getting to him.”
“And that is why, when we locate him, I’m not going to be limited by you ladies if things start to fall apart.” Kerrik looked around the room. “I’ve lost too many of my family already.”
“We’re with you,” Raven’s voice brooked no dissent. “And we will bring him home.”
Kerrik looked around the clearing as he pulled his pokedex out his pocket. They were back on the mountainside at the point they’d entered this universe. “If you want, grab a snack or take a bathroom break while I reconfigure the constellation. Once we deploy to rescue Stephen we’re going to be rather busy.”
“We don’t need snacks,” Raven said as she immediately took charge. “Morwen, overwatch. Misery, relieve her in ten minutes so she can take a leak. Whisper, let me know when you’re back so I can go. Autumn, you’re with Kerrik.”
People scattered as Kerrik contacted the satellite constellation and started issuing commands. When he finally looked up, Morwen was on watch nearby while Misery did laps overhead. Raven, Whisper and Autumn were scattered around the area and ready to backup anyone who needed help.
A hologram of the planet appeared with a blue dot pulsing on it. “There he is.” The image expanded as the viewpoint dropped for the surface to reveal a small complex of buildings. As the image moved, the dot settled into one of the buildings, stopping well under it. Kerrik touched another button. “According to what I can find, this is an old abandoned military base in Wales.” His ears flicked. “I really doubt my grandson chose that place for a bender.”
Morwen cocked her head. “Do you think it’s a Department Six secret facility?”
Kerrik’s ears flicked. “That would be an obvious conclusion.”
“What is that,” Raven asked.
The Vampire glanced at her. “It’s the intelligence arm of the Blue League Security Force.”
“It’s a silly name.”
Morwen shrugged. “Before the Blue League, the previous government’s intelligence service was MI6, which meant it was the sixth ministry in the government. Blue probably kept it because a Scot was in command at the time and Scots are so bloody hidebound it’s, as the Americans say, funny.”
“Are you a Scot,” Misery was watching her curiously.
“Heaven’s no, I’m English. You’ve heard Elizabeth’s accent. She’s a Scot, as is Candace.”
Misery gave Kerrik a quick glance and a wink before turning back to Morwen. “You sound the same as they do.”
Morwen glared at her before drawing herself up haughtily. “I am not going to rise to your paltry attempts to be insulting. I don’t sound anything like I’m bloody Scottish, and if you can’t hear the difference it’s because you’re a ruddy foreigner.”
“That’s enough.” Autumn looked at Kerrik. “How do we get there?”
“I’ll teach Raven a new spell so she can use clairvoyance on places where she only has coordinates,” Kerrik replied as he summoned his backpack. “Once she can see our destination, she can take us there.”
“Why haven’t I learned this spell already?”
Kerrik’s ears flattened for an instant at her tone. “You haven’t needed it yet and you’re not formally trained in magic enough to use my books for independent research.”
Raven gave him a hurt look. “I’m an Archmage. I can learn anything.”
“Yes, you are and yes you can, but your knowledge comes from whatever you were implanted with when you were decanted along with whatever you’ve learned since then from the Awareness and anyone you could train with. On the other hand, during her time with the Pendragons, Dominique has been through a formal apprenticeship or other training program. You will too, it’s just I haven’t had time to make you my student because I had to focus on defusing the threats posed by first Iain and now Kasserine and Ava. Once they get to a certain point I’ll have more time that I can use to make you my student and give you the formal background to allow you to do self study.” He smiled at her mulish look. “Once you’re finished with your training, it’ll give you a significant advantage over Glinda and Tattypoo, even if they do become Archmages like you are.” He managed not to smile at the calculating look that appeared in Raven’s eyes. “And now it’s time for me to tutor you in this spell. Do you want it or not?”
“I’ll take that as a yes. Come with me and we’ll get started.”
Raven gave him an eager smile. “Good. Autumn, you’re in charge.”
Autumn’s eyes widened. This was new. “Very well, Raven.” She watched Kerrik and Raven walk away before turning to the other members of her harem. “Whisper, track them but keep your senses sweeping the area at the same time. The priority is keeping all of us safe instead of just Kerrik. If they get attacked, we’ll hear the fighting. Misery, Morwen, stand down but stay alert. Break out some food so we’ll have a meal before we deploy to rescue Stephen.”
Morwen nodded as she shrugged out of her pack. “On it.”
Raven finished casting the spell and closed her eyes. “I see the area. The building is rather well maintained for one that’s been abandoned. That and the guards at the front door make me think there’s something more than meets the eye.” She frowned. “I can move the viewpoint like you taught me but I can’t move it inside the building.”
“That means there’s a barrier against scrying in place,” Kerrik said. “Your spell can’t pierce it.”
One amethyst eye opened to peer interestedly at him. “Can you?”
“When we get there I’ll see if I can lower the barrier without them noticing. If I can, then you can finish surveilling the building before we enter. If not,” he shrugged, “we’ll make it work.”
Raven’s eye closed as she nodded. “I’m moving the viewpoint away from the building and looking for someplace quiet for us to teleport to. I’m sending the visuals to everyone through my twee.” She was silent for a minute. “This should work. What do you think?”
Kerrik shrugged. “Whisper, scout.”
I go. The Cabbit vanished. No alarms and I don’t sense anyone moving to intercept. This is satisfactory.
Raven took Kerrik’s hand. “Misery, Morwen, Autumn, go. Keep the perimeter tight.” The landscape around them changed, becoming warmer and finding them in a clearing in a heavily wooded area with the rest of Kerrik’s harem spread around them. “Can you bring the barrier down without us being detected?”
Kerrik’s ears flicked. “Done. See if you can find Stephen so we can go straight for him.” He smiled nastily. “Having him disappear without a trace just might get someone shot.”
“If we kill them it would keep the league from having to shoot them,” Misery noted eagerly.
Kerrik glanced at her. “Fighting the battles you have to fight keeps you from dying early. Fighting all of the battles you can fight does not. I want you around for the next few centuries more than I care about the lives of people who will be dead in forty or so years anyway without putting ourselves in unnecessary danger.”
The Mini Top blinked. “When you put it that way, I agree.”
He smiled. “Good. Not to mention, it’s funny and amusing if you can get your enemies to kill their own people for you and that just might happen when we spirit Stephen away under their watchful eyes.” His ears flicked as he looked at Raven. “Anything to report?”
“The building is larger than it looks and extends underground,” she said without opening her eyes. “I’m tracing the hallways while looking for the way down.”
Kerrik reached out with his twee. It was risky since a telepath could be scanning Stephen’s mind and might pick up the conversation, but if that happened they could just kill everyone here except his grandson. Stephen, we are outside. Can you describe where you are being held?
Stephen’s twee responded immediately. We are in a bed in a cell in the medical area of the prison. This is located on sublevel one, which is immediately below the basement.
Thank you. “Raven, his twee says he’s in a medical cellblock in the level under the basement, which is sublevel one. That matches where the constellation put him.”
“I’ve found the elevator in the basement. I’ll follow the shaft down a floor and locate him as quickly as I can.”
Start by going to the left when you exit the elevator shaft on sublevel one and turning right at the first intersection, Whisper said. Kerrik glanced at her. She had her antennae fully extended and gave him a quick smile when she noticed him looking at her. You removed any blocks on psychic investigation too, so I’m doing my job. There’s an agent changing clothes in the locker room who was guarding Stephen’s zone and saw him. He also knows there are psychics in the medical area scanning for everything and so I am not going hunting for Stephen’s mind. I can easily destroy any of them, but if they detect me and sound an alarm before I can kill them it will make rescuing him more difficult.
“I appreciate your restraint.”
“Found him!” Raven’s eyes opened and she gave Kerrik a triumphant grin. “Whisper’s directions were spot on.”
Kerrik cocked his head. “Spot on?”
“Too much time around Morwen and some of Iain’s girls,” Misery said.
Morwen giggled. “Makes her sound more proper.”
“Shouldn’t that be properer,” Autumn asked curiously in a bad British accent.
Morwen scowled. “That’s not a word!”
Raven grinned again. “But it does sound like something a stuck-up British wench might say.”
Morwen’s scowl deepened. “Raven, I didn’t realize that you thought Autumn was stuck-up.”
That was an excellent attempt to turn them against each other, Whisper noted. However, we are on a mission. Do we teleport in and retrieve Stephen?
Kerrik shook his head slightly. “If you ever stop sniping at each other,” he muttered.
“You’d probably be surrounded by our corpses,” Autumn said distinctly.
Kerrik gave a quick laugh. “That’s true enough. Raven, fetch Stephen out.”
She closed her eyes again. “Misery, I’m sending you an image so you can go there. Retrieve Stephen Wolf. If disturbed, kill.”
“I hunt.” Misery vanished. What a fucking mess. He’s got three IVs, some kind of mechanical drug dispensing system, probably morphine or some other narcotic and a urinary and fecal catheter with bags for each. ETA two minutes.
“It’s almost a pity that Stephen isn’t a pokegirl,” Autumn noted. “Give him a healing cycle and everything’s repaired, even if we haven’t discovered all of his injuries.”
“I can do the same thing to a human or a pokegirl,” Kerrik replied. “They don’t have to have a pokeball, though.”
Misery appeared, holding a long, sheet wrapped bundle. “I didn’t want the mess of removing his tubes except for the drug pump one, so the bags are lying on his chest. I didn’t remove the drug pump needle either. I cut the tubing and tied it off with a knot so he doesn’t backflow and bleed out.”
“Nicely done,” Kerrik said as he took Raven’s hand. “Back to the gate entry point.” They vanished.
Morwen grabbed Whisper’s hand as Misery and Autumn vanished. “I want to make a quick stop at the hospital on the way.”
The Cabbit Huntress’s ears flicked. Are we going to get in trouble for this?
“Kerrik will want to deal with Stephen and things like urinary and fecal catheters sound gross. There were some boxes of disposable gloves on that trolley that Annette had at her workstation and I want to swipe a box of them to show how much we are concerned about Kerrik getting filthy and don’t want him to.”
Whisper’s antennae flicked and they were standing outside the hospital they’d recently left. She grinned savagely. We make Kerrik happier and piss Raven off? Let’s do it. She dragged Morwen inside with her.
“I feel like I’ve been run over by a herd of stampeding Ponytaur or sparred with Nanu.” Stephen lifted an arm and made a face. “Everything hurts.”
Kerrik offered him a canteen. “You’ve been kept unconscious for at least a week. If it was deep enough to induce a coma, you didn’t move at all during that time unless someone moved you. Your muscles are going to be unhappy about that until you get some decent exercise.”
Stephen grimaced as he uncapped the canteen. “I have to do more exercising to hurt less? Grandfather, that’s just cruel.” He lifted the canteen to take a long, deep drink.
“So you go ahead and hurt.” Kerrik’s voice was flat. “You’re lucky I showed up when I did, and I wish it was because I’d gotten word you were a prisoner and just come to rescue you.”
Stephen peered at him over the canteen before lowering it. “You didn’t know?”
“The system was set to wait three weeks before alarming if you went silent,” Kerrik said. “You’ve only been a prisoner for a week. It’s been a couple of years for us since we last saw you.”
Stephen sighed. He yelped suddenly as the canteen, forgotten in his lap, fell over and spilled cold water over his groin. He knocked it away from him and wiped ineffectually at his crotch. “Bloody hell.” Still wiping, he looked up. “What happened that brought you here?”
“There is no easy way to tell you this, but the kingdom was attacked by a suicide bomber with a small nuclear device. Your father and most of the rest of your family was killed by the attack. Kozakura is sitting on the throne as regent until we return.”
Stephen sucked air in a hiss. “Mum?”
“Candace was elsewhere on the island at the time and wasn’t harmed. However, she’s no longer in the kingdom. She, Bellona and Elizabeth are with the Grey clan and are joining Iain’s family.” Kerrik shrugged when Stephen looked surprised. “Shikarou never changed the succession. You are the heir to the throne and Kozakura wanted to get them out of Haven for two reasons, the first of which is that she didn’t think you wanted to take them into your nonexistent harem and you can’t let them go to someone ambitious because they’re princesses in the royal family and know things that would definitely be used against you.”
“Tame me mums?” Stephen shivered. “She’s right. What’s the other reason?”
“She didn’t want to have to kill them when they stood in opposition to some policy change you or she made that they felt didn’t honor your father’s memory.”
“She must have meant me,” Stephen said. “Kozakura worships the ground Father walks on. Her biggest regret is probably that she is his daughter and can’t be his woman. She’d never change any of his policies.”
“She’s grown up,” Autumn said from where she stood sentry in a small stand of trees. “She’s not the same woman you knew.”
Stephen snorted. “My sister is a glacier. All that ever changes about her is the color of the ice you see. It’s always cold, hard and unyielding on the inside.”
“You are in for quite the surprise.” Morwen said. “And I believe it will be a pleasant one.”
“Stephen?” Stephen looked at Kerrik. “It’s been nearly five years since the move. A lot has changed, including Kozakura.”
Stephen leaned back and folded his arms as he plastered a truculent look on his face. “Tell me what’s changed.”
“May I take a stab at that request,” Autumn asked.
“Sure,” Kerrik replied.
“We live in Texas, where your grandfather has a harem,” Autumn said. “And he let me join it, after not shooting me in the face when we met. We fought a war with the Sunshine League and won.”
“I remember the maps that Grandfather brought us to show us the world they’d be moving to. Texas is some rebellious league, right?”
“Texas isn’t anything like the leagues,” Autumn corrected him. “Which is why they want to destroy us. The leagues are trying to conquer Texas, Nippon, Israel and Ireland while Blue is trying desperately to finish conquering Great Britain.”
“What about my dad’s,” he broke off, “the kingdom? Why don’t you live there?”
“Poppet pissed me off,” Kerrik said. “So I left. A little more than four years ago, Iain Grey showed up with his harem and an army from another pokegirl world like this one. He’s become a supplier of military and other supplies to the rebellious nations, although Shikarou and I have been supplying materiel to Nippon more than Iain has. He’s also become a close friend and that’s why Kozakura trusted him with your,” his ears flicked, “mums.”
“That,” Autumn said, “is why the leagues decided to use nuclear weapons on us.”
Stephen goggled at her. “What?”
“They attacked Haven’s capital city, Austin, the capital of Texas, the capitals of Nippon, Ireland, the English rebellious forces and Israel. They also tried to kill us and Iain’s people, but failed because we had technology in place to keep a nuclear device from working properly.”
“Why didn’t my family have that?”
“The simplest answer is that your father didn’t want it,” Kerrik said.
“And the not so simple one?”
“Isn’t simple at all, but I’ll tell it to you once we’re back home. So, what happened to you?”
Stephen gave him a bitter smile. “I was called into Bannon’s office and, without any warning, thrown out of the residency program. Director Bannon told me that I was being removed for being a security threat to the Blue League. They gave me a sack with my personal possessions and told me to shove off. I went home to find my flat had been broken into and BLSF personnel were there waiting for me. I was grabbed, thrown on the ground, someone gave me a shot of something and I woke up here. Until my twee told me, I had no idea I’d been asleep for as long as I have.”
Kerrik nodded. “What do you need from your flat?”
“I’m sure my possessions, as meager as they were, are gone for study to see if I had any technology they could pilfer. We made sure I was completely sanitized and didn’t have any unusual technology except for my twee, which they didn’t know about.” He sighed and rubbed his face tiredly. “I was trying to avoid getting in trouble because of my heritage. I’m tired of all of this and sick of this place.” He looked at Kerrik. “Maybe medicine wasn’t such a wonderful career choice.”
Kerrik shrugged. “Nobody forced you to go to university or apply for medical school.”
“That’s not exactly true,” Stephen said. “My mum strongly suggested that if I didn’t want to be a Tamer then medicine was a tried and true profession that couldn’t go wrong since people always needed doctors and if I decided I didn’t like treating humans it was always simple enough to transfer into the veterinary programs and treat pokegirls instead. Father agreed with her and so medicine it was.”
Misery was looking at Stephen unhappily. “Did you just say that pokegirls get treated by veterinarians like we’re some kind of fucking animals?”
Stephen nodded. “The law has been changing so there are larger numbers of free pokegirls than ever before, but it’s still called veterinary medicine, so, yes, pokegirls go to veterinarians. I don’t agree with it, mind, but that’s the way things are here.”
Misery’s ears flicked. “Do these veterinary clinics also see dogs and cats?”
“Only the exclusive ones see the rare pets,” Stephen explained. “I’d end up in a clinic somewhere where there was no pokegirl center or gym, and I might also treat livestock like kattle, but it’s unlikely I’d see dogs, cats or bird pets unless someone had a breeding farm nearby. The only people who own those are really only the aristocrats or the animal pet breeders and they usually have their own vets on staff.”
I wonder how much we could get for Pandora’s cat, Squirrel, Whisper asked with a thoughtful expression on her face.
“We’d just clone cats and sell the kittens,” Kerrik muttered. “You just don’t like Pandora’s cat because she climbed your bare legs.
And my bare back, shoulders and neck. And then she bit one of my antennae, the little beast.
“You were naked at the Barton Springs pools. I can see why she’d confuse someone so green with a tree,” Misery said amusedly.
“We’re still deployed,” Autumn warned.
Kerrik opened the dimensional portal back to his property. “Raven, let’s go home.”
The Archmage Huntress immediately rapped out orders. “Autumn and Morwen on point, Whisper is after them. Misery is guarding Stephen and I’ve got the rear.”
Misery reached down and grabbed Stephen’s hand. He yelped as she jerked him to his feet. “Don’t get used to this, Highness,” she muttered. “Get your own fucking girls.” She held up a finger when he started to speak. “I already know and I don’t care how much your muscles hurt. Stay close to me unless a fight starts and then get the fuck behind me and stay there. I won’t let you be targeted if it’s at all possible, but I’m not going to die for you. You’re not my male.”
Stephen rubbed his hand absently. “Are you really expecting a fight at Kerrik’s house?”
“I always expect a fight. That’s why I’m not dead.”
Autumn and Morwen disappeared through the gate. A few seconds later, Morwen reappeared. “Clear.” She turned and went back through the portal. A second later, Whisper followed them through.
Raven’s head moved slightly. “Misery.”
“Stay close, Stephen, or I’ll drag you.” Misery headed for the gate. Her eyes narrowed when Stephen balked. “What is it?”
“I’ve never done this before. This is all a little scary.”
“No time like the present.” Misery grabbed his arm and shoved him through. “Fuck me,” she muttered before following him.
Raven looked at Kerrik. “That is your grandson?”
Kerrik lifted his shoulders in a shrug. “He’s been a bit sheltered. His mother’s just a tad overprotective.”
“I thought tad meant a little. That man has been a fuck ton protected.”
“He’s a pretty decent person,” Kerrik said. “And he’s not a moral or physical coward. He’ll adjust quickly.”
Raven shook her head. “Make sure April sees to his military training and he’s got a fighting chance.”
“You couldn’t train him?”
“I could make him a killer, Kerrik. Haven already had a killer as the king. All he did was lounge around in the sun and take the kingdom inward with his isolationist policies before he got himself killed with those same policies. Haven needs a soldier and a statesman that’ll look outside the kingdom. April will make him a soldier without breaking him and Lucifer might help him a bit with statesmanship. She certainly talks enough. Your mother will finish whatever political education he needs without breaking or insulting him.”
Kerrik’s ears were canted sideways in surprise. “Look at you, the political expert. When did you get interested in politics?”
“I’ve spent too much time around Iain, Ava and Kasserine. I want to perfect my eleven languages and so I’ve been practicing with Ava and Kasserine before their classes start. Your mother is a political junkie and made me realize that I need to learn more about it too, so you won’t fire me. I was surprised to find out it’s actually interesting.”
“Mother,” Kerrik said quietly, “trained through her entire childhood and adolescence to be the Queen of Evermeet. She can’t just turn that off.”
“Did you?” Kerrik frowned and Raven chuckled. “Kasserine told us you’re a prince and have the same training she had.”
“I was once in the line of succession for Evermeet,” Kerrik’s voice was tight with suppressed emotion. “My mother was the accepted and wanted heir. I was neither but, yes, I was given the same education and military training she received. But while she was raised to be the heir to the throne, I was raised to be an assassin and to one day hopefully make the ultimate sacrifice to protect the throne and remove the abomination that was my existence.”
Raven blinked at the low growl in his voice. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
Kerrik cupped her cheek in his hand and she sighed in relief. His chuckle was almost natural. “We tease those we care about, Raven, and you were teasing me.” He chuckled again and this time it did sound normal. “If you’d asked me if I was over what had happened to me so long ago, I’d have said that I was and I would have believed it so I could have said it and it wouldn’t have been a lie.” He pulled her into his arms and held her tightly against him as she wrapped her arms around him and clung fiercely. “And you just showed me that I would have been wrong. I am still angry about what happened back at the beginning of my life.”
“They’re all dead, aren’t they?”
Kerrik nodded. “Dead and dust, where they belong. And thanks to me taking Iain back to meet Mother and Ava, their descendants are all lost in the changes we wrought in time. All that remains of that past is me, Mother and Selsharra, and they are the only ones that treated me as anything even close to being a person.”
“Would beating on me make you feel better? I’ll let you if it will.”
“I know you would,” Kerrik hugged her tighter for a moment before releasing her. “And if it would help me, I’d do it in a heartbeat. It won’t but thank you for offering.”
Raven stepped away from him, her eyes busily searching his. “What now?”
“Now we step through that gate and then take Stephen to see his sister. Iain is supposed to have Candace there when we arrive. Kozakura will take charge of Stephen after that.”
“Is his life in danger from her?”
Kerrik shook his head. “Even if she wanted the throne, and she says she doesn’t, Kozakura would not kill Stephen over it. If she were interested in consolidating her power in that fashion, Jamie would already be dead as he’s a Tamer, recognized as a prince and popular, making him a much more significant threat than Stephen could be.”
“She would have killed Faelan too, wouldn’t she?”
Kerrik nodded. “And she would never have sent Candace, Bellona and Elizabeth to Iain. Instead, they’d have been quietly vanished. At Iain’s, they’re safe from almost anything.”
“Not to mention that his vengeance would be pretty terrible if they were murdered,” Raven noted. “Kozakura isn’t stupid enough to think that you’d protect her in that kind of situation.”
Kerrik smiled. “You have been paying attention and you’re right. I would not protect her in that event and she is more than astute enough to know that. And everything suggests that without my protection, if Iain decided Kozakura had to die, she would.” He offered her his arm. “And we need to go.”
She took the proffered arm and they stepped through the portal together, which closed behind them.
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)