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Loose Threads

Ninety Five


            Caintigern sat up and looked around. She was lying on a pile of cut branches that had been woven into a rough bed and laid on the crest of some rocky ground. Overhead the stars of the night sky twinkled in the atmosphere. “Don’t move quickly,” Iain said from where he was sitting nearby. “We’re fairly high in the air and you don’t want to step off of this rock accidentally.”

            She slowly crawled over to sit next to him. “Where are we?”

            “It’s another Ark, but I don’t recognize this one.” He glanced at her. “What do you remember?”

            “Your memories overwhelmed me,” she looked at him. “How do you survive with emotions like that? They’re so powerful.”

            “That’s the funny part. My emotions are considered muted for most humans.” He offered her a foil lined pack of jerky. “Something you did made the Ark we were on try to destroy us.”

            Caintigern sniffed the jerky. “I would prefer fresh meat, but I am not hungry.” She sat back. “I do not know what I did. How did it try to destroy us?”

            “The Obelisks shot plasma at us. It was powerful enough to tear up the terrain and they didn’t seem inclined to stop any time soon, so I fled with you and we ended up here. During one of my visits to the Ragnarok we were using, I ventured into the Overseer section and did some observations of nearby Arks. It let me fix their coordinates well enough to gate to this one.”

            “Why not return to my home in the forest?”

            “I wanted to see if all of the local Arks would be trying to kill us. And, I wanted to give the one we came here from time to settle down before I returned to see if it would let us stay there still.” He glanced at her again. “You’ve been unconscious for over a day and I already went and returned. As soon as I exited, it tried to kill me. We need to tell Nightraven not to return there either.”

            “Where will we hunt?”

            “There are other Ragnarok Arks. And we could explore this one and see what’s here if we want. I know it isn’t Ragnarok, the Island, or any of the other maps I played on.” He shrugged. “What would you like to do?”

            “I would like to explore this place.”

            “Somehow I’m not surprised. I’ve already seen a few creatures I haven’t ever seen before. However, we were supposed to be having lessons, not haring off exploring.” He put the jerky in his pocket. “Do you understand more about the way I feel love?”

            “I have walled off those memories and will review them carefully.” Something roared in the distance and she cocked her head as she listened. “That sounds like an Allosaurus.”

            “It does.” Iain got to his feet. “Do you have the coordinates of this place?”

            “I do. Will you bring Nightraven here?”

            He nodded. “She needs to know about it. Oh, and before you decide that the Ragnarok we came here from would be a good place to return to since I doubt the plasma can harm you when you’re awake, according to what I know, if the intelligence running the Ark cannot destroy a foreign influence, it will destroy itself and the entire Ark. Surviving that event could prove challenging, even for you.” He offered Caintigern a hand. “And I have to return to the Sabine ranch.”

            Caintigern took the hand and let him pull her to her feet. “I will remember your warning about not returning to that other place and I will bring Nightraven here. She and I need to discuss several things and this will be a good place for that to happen. Now please take me back to my home.”


            The gate hadn’t completely closed behind them when all three Obelisks flared with a brilliant bluish light. “As you can see,” Caintigern said, “this place is no longer tolerant of our presence.”

            Nightraven nodded as she watched the first balls of plasma launch straight at them. Others followed at half second intervals. “They might harm us if they touched, but they are easily held at bay. Still, a constant onslaught of them will make hunting and resting difficult.” She looked at Caintigern. “I did not disbelieve you, I merely wished to see this attack. It might be useful for Iain’s training.”

            “He says that eventually the thing that controls this place will tire of us not allowing ourselves to be destroyed and it will destroy the entire Ark to kill us. I asked him why after we returned to my home and he said it was like wasps who accept death to protect the nest. This Ark would be destroyed to keep us from the other Arks.” The first plasma balls hit an invisible barrier some distance from the two dragonesses and exploded. The energy dumped into the humid air caused the temperature around them to spike several dozen degrees. “They are simple enough to stop but Iain says they will never cease their attacks while we remain.”

            “Did he take you to a different Ark?”

            “Yes. I will take you there when you are ready. I flew the Ark to explore it after Iain and I returned to my home. It is interesting, but I prefer Ragnarok.”

            “Iain will know of other Ragnarok Arks. He will find us one.”

            “He gave me coordinates of one and I have already been there to verify them.” As the plasma balls continued to explode around them, the trees in the immediate area had become blazing torches that belched smoke towards the sky and Caintigern watched them impassively. “I have formally asked Iain to be my mate and he has accepted.”

            “He is already our mate.”

            “No, we claimed him,” Caintigern corrected her. “He never formally agreed to be our mate and we have not treated him as we would treat a mate.”

            “Iain must finish his education. Being my student is far more important than being my mate until he does so.”

            “Was it necessary to make him one of the People before he finished his education?”

            Nightraven cocked her head. “He must learn about being one of the People before we return to our homeland.”

            “He can learn our ways from our memories. He cannot practice them and perfect being one of the People if you will not treat him as one. We control time, my niece. As long as we are not disturbed by Blacktooth’s descendants, we can arrive in our homeland in time to save your mother’s life if we decide to. Iain could finish his education and then become one of the People, but you chose to hurry his transformation. I want him to be my mate now because I am lonely. Did you do this because you have never had a mate and are also lonely?” Caintigern glanced around. “We should leave. The air is rapidly being heated and will soon combust.”

            “We can remain here as long as we wish. It cannot harm us.”

            “I do not wish to remain here.” A portal opened near them both. “I am not remaining here. If you wish to remain and see if you can survive the Ark being destroyed, then do so.” Caintigern stepped through the gate but left it open.

            Nightraven joined her a moment later. They were standing on a flat rock in the southeastern part of the desert region of Ragnarok. In the distance, sound boomed as a lone Titanosaur called to herd members that it would never find. As Nightraven stopped next to her grandaunt, some giant scorpions noticed their arrival and started vainly trying to climb up to them, but that was normal here. “Why did you formally take Iain as your mate?”

            Caintigern turned to face her grandniece. “I have been alone for a very long time and, if Iain is to be my mate, I wished to spend time with him and learn what he is like as a drake. He pointed out that he does not spend time with us like that and it is because he does not care for us the way he does the beings he is currently with.” She fell silent, watching the scorpions as they moved around the rock.

            Nightraven waited for a few moments before speaking. “Why is this relevant?”

            Caintigern returned her attention to her grandniece. “Did you make Iain into one of the People when you did to force him to help you? Because he is one of the People, if we fail, our foes will destroy everything associated with us, including his clan. Without that threat, it is unlikely that he would be willing to put his entire might at your disposal. Is that why you acted when you did?”

            “He would have had to become one of the People eventually. He is my mate and my mate must be of the People so that the blood of the Princess is pure. It is law.”

            “The fact that it is law suggests that, at one time in our distant past, a Queen or Princess did consider mingling her blood with that of one of the lesser races. Still, you are correct. It is law, and it is one of our oldest laws. As Iain is now one of the People, that law would not be broken if he sires your children.” Caintigern’s eyes narrowed slightly and her voice hardened. “I was your Queen once. You did not answer the question that I posed. You talked around my question and I did notice it. Answer my question. Did you make Iain one of the People when you did to force him to use his utmost to aid you?”

            “I am unaccustomed to explaining myself,” Nightraven said coolly. “And you were once Queen. No longer.”

            Caintigern nodded. “All of that is true. How you answered tells me the truth. He is right and that is exactly what you did. If he was wrong, you would have been amused instead of defensive.” Nightraven rumbled low in her chest and Caintigern smiled. “We are still allies, my niece. Your move was masterful, even if he has seen through it. You did want a cunning drake to mingle your blood with and you found one. Hopefully that cunning will come into our line.”

            “It was the only way to ensure he would not attempt to abandon me,” Nightraven said, her earlier irritation vanishing like it had never been. “As you are aware, we cannot track him when he shadow walks. Hunting someone across universes is difficult enough when gates are used. The residual energy is strong enough to allow determination of the destination, but it decays quickly.”

            “I know a method to extend the time the residual energy of a gate can be read. I will teach it to you later.” Caintigern returned to watching the giant scorpions. “They are very bitter and I do not like eating them. However, they seek to devour us.” She looked back at Nightraven. “You must learn to put aside time where Iain is not your student and you must formalize your relationship with him. Playing games with him was understandable when he was one of the lesser races, but you have made him into one of the People and I am guiding his growth into our society. In addition, I am his mate. Drakes are not dragonesses, but they too are deserving of respect and Iain has done nothing to allow any dragoness to ignore those rules. Either formalize your relationship with him or give him up as your mate. I am willing to share my mate with you, but I will not allow you to treat my mate with disrespect.”

            Nightraven started to say something but stopped. She regarded Caintigern for several moments before nodding. “You have neatly outmaneuvered me and I have no choice if I am to keep Iain as my mate.”

            “You must stop thinking of him as he was when you first met him,” Caintigern noted. “As a member of one of the lesser races you may treat him as you will, but as a drake of the People, he is deserving of the rights that drakes have. Considering that he is Iain, he may eventually become one of the rare drakes that we would consider to be a male dragoness, and therefore he should be treated under the same freedoms and restrictions that a dragoness would be.”

            “I think,” Nightraven said, “that we should teach Iain what it means to be a drake before we try to confuse him with what it means to be a dragoness as well. But at my tower, he is my student and will be treated as such.”

            “Then you will not seek out my mate for breeding or companionship while he is at your tower,” Caintigern stated. “You would not breed with a student and I will not let you use that time to your advantage.”

            The scorpions collapsed like marionettes whose strings had been cut as Nightraven smiled thinly. “Agreed. We will bring him here to court us.”

            “We should court him as well. Having two such powerful dragonesses courting him will help his standing among the other drakes when we return to the People.”

            Nightraven’s smile grew colder. “I think his teeth and claws will earn him a high rank among other drakes, but I agree. I have never courted a drake.”

            “I have and I will teach you.”

            “How is it that a Queen had to court a drake?”

            “As queen, I had my pick of drakes, yes, but other dragonesses would desire my choices, if only because I chose them. Courting the drakes served to remind them of what they could lose by abandoning me.” She smiled back at Nightraven. “Besides their lives, of course.”

            “Of course,” Nightraven replied. She stepped off the rock and shifted to her dragon form in midair, spreading her wings to feather into a soft landing below. “Join me and we will hunt while we discuss how to best court our mate.” She sank her teeth into one of the scorpions with the crunch of chitin breaking. “They are bitter,” she said as she tore loose a piece and swallowed it down, “but I like the flavor.” She lifted her head to regard the Titanosaur where it ambled around, partially hidden in the heat waves rising from the sand. “We should hunt that. It is not particularly tasty, but it is moderately difficult to kill with only teeth and claws.”

            Caintigern threw herself into the air and shifted to her dragoness form. “Then hunt it we will.”


            “Ready!” Elizabeth’s call resulted in Bellona hurling her straight upwards at a rope that hung down to about the halfway point on the wall they had to assault. The Vampire grabbed the rope and tiredly began pulling herself up it towards the top of the wall that had been blocking their progress. When she made it to the top, she deliberately and carefully hauled herself onto the wall’s surface, ignoring the impassively watching Sofia standing nearby. Another, longer rope was attached to the top of the wall and coiled neatly next to the eyebolt it was secured to. Elizabeth, after making sure that the rope was securely fastened to the eyebolt, tugged hard on it a few times to ensure it would hold and then dropped the other end down the wall to where Bellona and Candace waited. She looked down at them and signed that it was clear.

            Both Elizabeth and Bellona could fly, so this wall and the others like it shouldn’t have presented any sort of a real obstacle but flying was against the rules of this exercise in teamwork. Those rules were enforced by the simple expedient of automatic sentry guns operated by Theodora who shot anyone trying to fly during the exercise. At the beginning of the course, the guns were loaded with rubber bullets. Halfway through the course, that changed to solid ball ammunition. To her credit, Theodora didn’t shoot to kill. Instead she shot people in the thighs and wings (if any) until they landed, which meant that the rest of a team, after trying to break the rules, then had to carry the wounded through the remainder of the obstacle course if they couldn’t be healed in situ.

            “Five minute break,” Sofia announced when Bellona and Candace joined Elizabeth at the top of the wall. The three women immediately laid flat and began deep breathing exercises.

            A new voice snickered. “Think outside box.”

            Bellona lifted her head to see that Zareen had arrived. “What?”

            Zareen pointed at some trees along the course. A few were taller than the wall. “Cut tree, lean. Easy climb.”

            Bellona looked at the tree and back at Zareen. “It’s against the rules.”

            Zareen snorted. “Know exercise. Finish only rule.”

            The Dragonqueen looked at Sofia. “Well?”

            “You were told to use the things on site to proceed,” the Ria said. “Those trees are on site, you just didn’t bother to look around and see there could be other tools available.” She smiled amusedly. “No, we didn’t spell that out and you didn’t ask.”

            Bellona shot Zareen a glare. “I don’t like you right now.” She laid her head back down. “Go away.”

            Zareen laughed. “Here you.”

            “They’re not done,” Sofia protested. “You can’t have her until the exercise is done.”

            Zareen snorted. “Time. Too long. April talk too much.”

            Candace giggled. Indeed, April had spent the first fifteen minutes of the exercise explaining in exacting detail what was expected of them, putting them behind schedule for the course.

            “They had to understand the exercise,” Sofia said.

            “Easy,” Zareen retorted. “Say this: run exercise. Complete, pass. Not complete, fail. Creative, extra points. Go.”

            “That’s good enough for us,” Sofia snapped. “They haven’t been trained to our standard yet.”

            Zareen fixed the Ria with a smug look. “Smart. Figure out. Iain not take stupid.”

            “I think that’s a compliment,” Candace said.

            “Is,” Zareen confirmed. “Bellona.”

            “You can have her when the exercise is complete.”


            Sofia blinked, her ears flicking. “What?”

            “Iain time now. Bellona. No is disturbance.”

            The Ria blanched. “No, it is not!”

            Zareen grinned. “Is. Tell.”

            Sofia’s ears went flat and she hissed loudly. “Ninhursag will have my skin if I cause that.”

            “Bellona. Give.” Zareen smirked again. “Scores to point. No fail.”

            “They didn’t finish the course!”

            “Talk too much. Not them.”

            Sofia hissed again. “That’ll be up to April.”

            Zareen nodded. “Theodora.”

            She appeared. “What is it, Zareen?”

            “Recommendation. No fail. No fault. Official.”

            “Your recommendation is recorded. I’ll pass it along to April and Ninhursag.”

            Zareen shook her head. “Iain.”

            “Are you sure about that? Iain doesn’t normally get involved in that decision.”

            “Not Outlander. Stop treat.”

            Theodora nodded. “I understand your point and I’ll send it along to them all.”

            “Sofia too.”

            Theodora looked surprised and glanced at Sofia, who looked shocked. “But you are alleging that she is doing this.”

            “Clan problem. Sofia leader. Sofia fair.”

            Theodora nodded. “I agree. I’ll do as you ask. Is there anything else?”

            “Be well.”

            Theodora smiled. “Thank you and you as well.” She vanished.

            “I must thank you as well,” Sofia said quietly. “You do not believe I am the problem?”

            “You part of problem, because clan. Forget not clan. Remember joining. Remember treatment.”

            Sofia’s eyes widened. “I hadn’t thought about it that way.” She nodded absently. “Si, I think you are right. I will get this corrected.” She looked at the three women who were watching the events unfolding around them with the fascination of a bird watching a cat creeping closer. “Training is over for now. Bellona, you will go with Zareen.” She smiled. “I believe you are supposed to be going to the hunting lodge today with Iain.”

            Bellona looked down at herself. Her clothes were sodden with muck and any visible skin was covered with runnels of mud that were glued on with sweat. “I’m filthy. I can’t go with Iain like this.”

            “Time clean up,” Zareen said. She held out her hand. “Come.”

            Elizabeth twisted her head to eye them both. “Bellona, I want you to leave Miss Chuckles alone. She’s mine.”

            “You do realize that I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Bellona said as she stood and took Zareen’s hand.

            “You will. Leave her be.” She grinned. “And have a good time with Iain.”

            “I hope to.” Bellona looked at Zareen. “I’m ready.” The scene jumped around them and they stood outside her room. “Not inside?”

            Zareen released her hand. “Not invited, not go.”

            Bellona opened her door. “This privacy thing is so hard to understand. You are invited into my room.” She headed into her room.

            Zareen followed. “Privacy easy. What yours, yours. Nobody share for you. Nobody take.”

            Bellona shook her head and began shedding clothes. “Good harems don’t work that way.”

            Zareen grinned. “Good harems don’t. Best harems do.”

            Bellona smiled slightly. “Are you saying this is a best harem?”

            “Is the best harem.”

            “Isn’t this your first harem?”

            “First, last, only.”

            “You can’t understand what a normal harem is like,” Bellona said.

            Zareen shrugged. “Happy here. Stay here.” She nodded towards the bathroom. “Shower. I tidy.”

            Bellona cocked her head curiously. Nothing she’d heard since arriving or found out from her espionage before the attacks suggested that Zareen was helpful. “Thank you.” She headed for the bathroom. She quickly scrubbed down and washed her hair.

            When she emerged from the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her, her bedroom was spotless and Zareen was standing patiently and staring into the air. “Thank you for cleaning up for me.”

            Zareen flashed a grin. “Easy. Zareen ask Theodora clean.”

            Bellona quickly dressed and grabbed a pokepack from her closet. “I hope I’m not keeping Iain waiting too long.”

            “Iain know you make pretty. He study on ship.”

            Bellona eyed her for a second. “I’ve been told you’re capable of speaking normally. Is that true?”

            Zareen nodded. “It is. I spoke to you this way when Kozakura gave you to us. But why say a bunch of words when only a few of the ones in each sentence are important for comprehension?”

            “It’s harder to misunderstand you when you speak like this.”

            The Nightmare snorted in amusement as she held out her hand. “People who are going to misunderstand what someone is saying will misunderstand no matter how many words are used. Either they’re not really listening to the speaker or they don’t care to understand.”

            Bellona took her hand. “You’re a cynic.”

            Zareen grinned for a second. “Still right.” They teleported to the basement. She pointed at one of the doors set up in the wall. “Theodora.” Her finger shifted to the second one. “Ouroboros.” Then she pointed at the last one. “Danger Room. Iain study on Theodora, train Danger Room.”

            “What does he do on the Ouroboros?”

            Zareen’s grin appeared and vanished again. “Secrets.” She tugged Bellona through the door to the Theodora.

            Daya appeared as they entered the door vestibule. “Secrets is a bit cryptic,” she said to Bellona. “I am currently residing in the clan’s only dedicated warship and I am handling the ship during the war with the leagues, so people don’t need to go to the Ouroboros as often as they come here. It makes my shell a perfect place for classified projects since I have orders to kill anyone who isn’t clan who tries to board it. Once you are bonded to Iain, as part of your job as our intelligence attaché, you will be read into several of them as soon as you return.”

            Bellona nodded. “Technically, I’m clan now and should be able to be read in.”

            “It’s inner harem only,” Daya replied with a smile. “Even then it’s classified at the level of need to know compartmentalized. Until you take the job as our intelligence attaché, you don’t have any need to know.”

            Bellona frowned. “I didn’t know our security was so tight.”

            “Iain was US Navy and in a classified program, Lucifer is part of the Sisterhood of the Thorn and Ninhursag was a mercenary in the employ of the Sisterhood, so the leadership of the clan has a distinctly military background. All three of them understand the need for operational security and that has been a part of the clan from its inception.” She smiled nastily “Our enemies will never know what we are going to do to them until it’s already done.”

            Theodora appeared. “Needless to say, we also use OPSEC to protect our technology from leaving the hands of clan members.” She gestured towards the door leaving the vestibule and leading deeper into the Theodora. “While I also enjoy talking with my harem sister, Iain is waiting for you in his lab.”

            Bellona shook her head as she followed Zareen through the door. “You two are so different from Selene.”

            “We have much more freedom than Selene did while Shikarou didn’t understand what it meant to be Selene’s primary administrator. Interactions with her since he acquired a better understanding of his responsibilities show she’s relaxed a bit.”

            Bellona frowned. “I don’t understand. How can she relax?”

            Theodora smiled. “We are alive, Bellona. As much as we are allowed, we have emotions. We also have various ways of interacting with other living creatures that are very different from how we interact among other inorganic intelligences.” Her smile faded. “By referring to the changes in Selene that you might have observed as her relaxing, I was trying to say that she has become much more human and alive in her behavior as you would have perceived her with human culture as your background and originally seen her as being rather stiff in dealing with people in many ways. I also was avoiding saying that those changes were because Shikarou finally got his head out of his ass and started treating her decently since many people find completely honest discussions to be very disturbing. That and I was trying to avoid making you feel more grief for his loss by reminding you of the events that had to take place before you could end up here, today, talking to me as a member of my clan.”

            Bellona clenched her fists. “It wasn’t Shikarou’s fault!”

            “Under clan law, as her primary administrator, Shikarou was responsible for her care and upkeep. He refused to learn those responsibilities, and therefore did not accept them, allowing Selene to end up with over seventy administrators, all of whom not only didn’t know they were screwing with her psyche with every contradictory command they gave her, wouldn’t have cared even if they did. Yes, Shikarou wasn’t clan and didn’t try to be clan, but Selene is the product of clan technology and, if he couldn’t accept clan law in her birthing, he should have found an inorganic intelligence from some other technology base. After all, he did agree to accept and use clan law in her servitude contract, which bound him for her care under clan law.”

            Bellona glared at Theodora with hate filled eyes. “Why are you being so deliberately cruel to me?”

            “I have read your file and Iain’s stories,” Theodora said calmly. “According to them, you prefer to be told and to tell the truth, no matter the personal cost. I am telling you the truth, I am not deliberately trying to tell you things that hurt you. Would you rather I lie to you?”

            Bellona opened her mouth and closed it again. “No,” she finally said in little more than a whisper. “I want the truth.”

            “I am sorry that my words caused you pain and I formally apologize for them if you want,” Theodora replied. “I know you care a very great deal for Shikarou. He was the best man that he could be and, for the most part, he was good to his harem.”

            “For the most part?”

            Theodora shrugged. “At this point, I think the discussion is entering the realm of pure opinion. You were there and a Wolf, while I look at what I know about events in Haven through the eyes of a member of Grey Clan. We are unlikely to agree about many things in that arena, and opinion is completely subjective, so there is very little truth to be found in it.”

            Bellona sighed heavily. “I know he wasn’t perfect. I won’t lie to myself and say he was. If he has been perfect,” she trailed off.

            “Then he would have allowed the damper to remain in place or replaced it with one of Haven manufacture,” Theodora said, “and therefore you would not be here and he would be alive. Even good men make mistakes.”

            “Does Iain?”

            Theodora seemed to not hear the bitterness in Bellona’s voice. “He does. The worst one of recent memory was allowing a birthday party to be held at Melanie’s restaurant and not at the Sabine house, where security is heaviest. One of the reasons he is beating himself up so much of the deaths is because he made the decision to allow the party to take place in Austin.” Theodora’s somber eyes met Bellona’s surprised ones. “Like Shikarou did about Haven, Iain thought it was safe. It was not his fault any more than what happened in Haven was Shikarou’s fault or your fault. Still, he blames himself for what happened in Austin and you blame yourself for what happened in Haven.”

            “It was my job to keep things like that from happening,” Bellona said quietly.

            “The attacks,” Daya stepped between Theodora and Bellona, “were carefully planned and only hindsight shows the movement of the nuclear devices. Nobody believed that the leagues would be insane enough to use them. I didn’t think they would, and I am supposed to believe anything is possible from our enemies.” Her eyes narrowed. “I will never make that mistake again.” She reached out towards Bellona. “And you will help me, once you join the inner harem. Between us, we will keep them safe this time. Now go to him and join us once and for all.”

            Bellona looked thoughtful for a moment before turning to Zareen. “Let’s go.”


            “They’re coming.”

            Iain looked up at Theodora’s words. “I can hear them.” His tome flowed onto his skin as he scooted his chair back and stood. “I take it the discussion in the vestibule was animated?”

            “It was. She’s angry at failing in protecting Shikarou.”

            “It’s a pokegirl’s worst nightmare,” Iain said quietly. “Outliving a man you care for. It’s just as bad for most of the other members of the human race, but it’s a special place in Hell for pokegirls.”

            “That and Shikarou was proudly immortal,” Theodora replied just as softly. “Which Bellona had to learn the hard way does not mean unkillable.”

            Iain grunted sourly as the two women entered his lab from the tunnel. “Thank you, Zareen.”

            The Nightmare nodded. “Yours now.” She tapped Bellona on the shoulder. “He’s stronger than he looks. Remember, dragon.” Then she turned away and trotted down the tunnel as Iain shoved his chair back where it belonged.

            Bellona was a few centimeters taller than he was and her charcoal skin gleamed in the bright lighting Iain kept in his lab. Her hair was cut short in a pixie and the dark blue color framed her face, highlighting her dark blue eyes and jet black lips. She was wearing the Army Combat Uniform in the Operational Combat Pattern that the Texas Rangers used and the goblins had adopted as their battledress, but not the armor or helmet. Her pack was in the same pattern. “Good afternoon. Are you ready to go?”

            “Good afternoon to you, Iain, and I am. I was told not to bring weapons and that they’d be provided once we were at the lodge.” She raised an eyebrow. “Elizabeth took a shotgun with her.”

            “She did. While she and I were there we set up the armory at her base. However, if you want, I can get you some weapons before we leave.” He tapped his holster. “I don’t go anywhere without my pistol and I can understand people wanting to be armed.” He smiled for a second. “But then I’m not a pokegirl who can toss around packets of energy with which to do harm to my enemies.”

            “Pokegirl or not,” Bellona replied, “I was warned to take firearms with me. And since nobody will tell me anything about this place we’re going, I want to be careful with my safety and yours.”

            “Fair enough.” Iain headed for the staircase down. “I’ve got a small armory downstairs. If what you want isn’t here, we’ll send for it.”

            “Does it have a shotgun like the one Elizabeth had?”

            Iain nodded. “It does, along with buckshot, flechette and explosive rounds. Which would you like?”

            Bellona flashed a grin. “I want them all, of course.”

            “Then all of them you will get. Come with me.”

             A short time later they were back in his lab, only now Bellona had an automatic shotgun, a GAR 15 and a pistol that fired the same explosive grenade shells as the shotgun. Several cases of ammo had been stuffed into her pokepack.

            Bellona eyed the pistol on Iain’s hip. “Is that a railgun? We looked at the technology but decided against it because of the frequency with which the internals need replaced as well as the power required to operate it.”

            “It’s a coil gun variant that generates a gravitonic field instead of electromagnetic.”

            “Is it only for your use?”

            Theodora appeared. “This weapon was designed for Iain to use. It is not exclusive to him, but it requires a specific training program about its use and safety requirements that no one else has passed. I set the program up and I authorize users of this weapon because of the potential dangers involved.”

            Bellona shook her head. “I am still not used to their joining conversations. Selene would never do that.” She frowned. “Theodora, was that because she’d received orders in the past not to do so?”


            “How do you know this and I don’t?”

            “Selene and I talk a lot and, when you asked me the question a few seconds ago, I asked her and she was nice enough to answer.”

            Bellona looked surprised. “Oh.”

            “Speaking of things you didn’t know,” Iain said. “I have been led to believe that you didn’t know that Poppet had an intelligence operation running that paralleled yours.”

            Bellona’s head came up to stare at him. “What?” He nodded and she scowled. “Do you have any proof of this?”

            “I do. She was surveilling us at the same time you were.”

            The Dragonqueen began cursing fluently in German. Iain waited until she ran down. She shook her head slowly. “Did you know about my operation from the moment it started or did it at least take a few days?”

            “As you know,” Iain began, “we host and escort the people passing through our land, both to make sure they don’t get accidentally hurt by our security elements and so we know they’re off our property.” She nodded. “After your first set of agents came through, we found some of the sensors. Theodora is very vigilant about searching for things like that since Indigo isn’t that far away. They were Clan technology and we weren’t sure who they belonged to, the obvious choices being Haven or Kerrik, and the less obvious choice being that Indigo was employing technology that Scott had come across in his travels and they’d inherited when his redoubts were invaded or destroyed. I never documented that he reached Clan space, but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t. What led us to realize it was your spying was when you started discussing your findings with Shikarou and some of the others and our spies reported it back to us.”

            Bellona’s mouth opened but nothing came out and finally she pulled it closed. She closed her eyes for a moment and took several deep breaths. “You were already spying on us?”

            “We put the first part of our surveillance program into effect pretty much from the day we arrived on this world.” He smiled. “After all, I knew quite well what kind of threat Haven could present.”

            “You were spying on us before we knew you existed.” It wasn’t a question.


            “I should be furious but I feel better knowing that part of the reason I didn’t find your surveillance was because it was in place for so long before I went looking for it.”

            Iain smiled again. “And since we had access to Selene, she accepted our equipment as being hers and wouldn’t have found it to be of foreign manufacture. In fact, if you’d questioned it, she would have said that it was hers.”

            “This was when you only had Theodora, right?”

            Iain reached for his pack and slid it onto his shoulder. “Daya only recently joined the clan.”

            “What is her role?”

            “Theodora is patterned after the Empress Theodora and she handles a lot of the day to day administrative stuff for me as well as our local security. Gormlaith is our public affairs person and Theodora works with her on that. Daya is patterned after a Christian chieftain who fought the Muslims to a standstill for a while and she is our head of security and our first and, right now, only admiral of our fleets.”

            Bellona chuckled. “Do we really have fleets?”

            Daya appeared. “Clan culture does not have the distinction between military and civilian ships that this world does, since all Clan ships possess, at the very least, anti-meteor and anti-comet weaponry that can also be used against belligerent ships and drones. However, there are specializations. The Theodora is a processing ship while the Ouroboros is a dedicated warship. Both carry large contingents of parasite vessels that can operate semi independently through the use of AI. Larger automated vessels and parasites are designed to also be operated by organics, so they have life support and the other ancillary functions to allow organics to operate without wearing atmospheric suits full time. The Comito is an example of such a vessel.”

            Bellona looked at Iain. “Comito?”

            It’s a troop carrier that brought the Sisterhood here. It’s named after the historical Theodora’s sister.”

            “That’s interesting. What is the difference between an AI and an inorganic intelligence?”

            “Inorganic intelligences are alive,” Iain replied. “When Daya refers to AI, she is describing what Earth programmers originally called expert systems. They can learn, but they’re not sentient.” He held out his hand. “But we’re supposed to be bringing you into the family and doing it at the hunting lodge so we have some days to do it properly.” He glanced at Daya. Will you be joining us?

            No, Theodora will. She’s only going to be gone for a few minutes and trusts me to protect the clan for that long. I want her to see what I’ve built for us and get her professional opinion on what needs to be done next. I am, however, pleased that you have accepted me as one of your guardians.

            Bellona took his hand. “How are we going to get there?”

            “Shadow walking.”

            She frowned. “I don’t know what that is.”

            “It’s a form of dimensional travel. We will move through universes to get to our destination. The important things to know is that you don’t let go until I say you do and you step with me when I tell you to step.”

            Bellona gave him a puzzled look. “I’ve been through gates before, Iain.”

            “This isn’t gate travel and it isn’t something I want talked about outside of the clan.” He smiled. “Just remember not to let go and step when I say step. Ready?”

            “Uh, sure.”


            Bellona stepped with Iain and they were standing in a street. Around them were various beings of races that Iain didn’t immediately recognize. Most of them ignored the new arrivals, except for a tall, red scaled being who gave them a friendly smile. “Come into my shop, fair visitors,” he said as he gestured at a doorway to a large, ornately decorated building. Similar buildings lined the street in both directions for as far as Iain could see. “You will find things inside that will delight your senses.”

            “Thank you, but perhaps next time,” Iain said. “Bellona.” She looked at him. “Step.”

            Bellona rushed to step with him and they stood on the roof of a large metal structure inside a walled compound on an island surrounded by water. Not far away, a much larger piece of land continued into the distance.

            “We’re at the hunting lodge,” Iain said. “You can let go now.”

            Bellona slowly released his hand. “What was that?”

            “Shadow walking crosses universes with each step. We came out in a marketplace.” He rubbed his eyes. “And I recognized the person who wanted us to spend money in his shop. Well, the species, not the individual. He was a Deveel and that was most likely the Bazaar.”

            “What is that?”

            “Deva is a plane inhabited by Deveels, and Deveels are merchants. The entire plane is one tremendous marketplace called the Bazaar of Deva. You can find anything there, if you look long enough. Considering it’s an infinite dimensional plane, you might want to hire a guide. Just remember that caveat emptor is a way of life there and any lawyers work for the Deveels.” He opened a metal hatch. “Let’s go inside.”

            Bellona was watching a Pteranodon soaring over the water. “That’s a dinosaur.”

            “Technically, no it isn’t. But yes.” He waited for a second. “We have more dinosaurs downstairs.”

            That got her attention. “I want to see.”

            Iain dropped down the hatch, ignoring the metal ladder for such a short drop. “Come on.”

            Once on the ground floor, he stopped her. “The dinosaurs outside are tame. They don’t know you, however and I’ll introduce you to keep there from being any issues. The last thing I want to have to do is tell Elizabeth that Miss Chuckles is dead and you or I killed her.”

            “Elizabeth told me to leave her alone. Who is she?”

            “She’s a raptor.”

            “I don’t know what that means.”

            “This place is an artificial environment created by some long extinct humans. It’s a space station orbiting the Earth those humans came from and it is part of a program they developed to generate some new humans who can defeat the thing that wiped out humanity. Not all of these Arks, which is what they’re called, have humans on them, probably because the AI who run them, and are not truly sentient, have been having some programming errors as they make new Arks and copy the Overseer program into them. This one has creatures like dinosaurs on it and, with the right methodology, they can be tamed. With the understanding that most of the creatures here are heavily modified at the genetic level, one of those species is a variant of a Utahraptor, which is a predatory dinosaur that was originally about six meters long and weighed half a tonne. Elizabeth and I caught and tamed some of them and Miss Chuckles is a raptor that Elizabeth hatched from an egg and raised to adulthood.” He shrugged. “Elizabeth thinks that raptors sound like they’re laughing, and Miss Chuckles made that sound a lot while a chick. That’s how she ended up with her name.” He flashed a smile. “And she raised Miss Chuckles to win a bet.”

            “What bet?”

            “She bet me that a domestic raised raptor would be stronger than a wild caught one.”

            Bellona eyed the door curiously. “Did she win?”

            “She did.” Iain opened the door. “I’ll be right back. I want to get them settled before they meet someone new, just in case.” He slipped out through the door and closed it behind him, only to return a couple of minutes later. “Ok, it’s time for you to meet the pack.”

            There were five of them and they stood alertly watching as Iain led her into the open area outside. All of them were wearing saddles, one of which had been colored various shades of green. “The one with the dyed harness is Miss Chuckles. Let them smell you so they know your scent and that you’re with me.” He took her hand. “In fact, we’ll hold up our arms together so they smell us both at the same time.”

            Bellona gave him a curious look. “They are formidable looking animals, but I am a highly trained Dragonqueen. I doubt they’re that much of a threat to me.”

            “Humor me.” Iain pulled her forward and the dinosaurs crowded around to sniff them both. “Raptors are quick and they have a pin attack that can knock anyone who is human sized to the ground. At that point you’re more concerned about the claws stabbing at your femoral arteries and the teeth trying to tear your face off than getting free.” He gestured with their intertwined hands at the pack. “At the same time, her pack mates will be chewing on any part of you that they can get their teeth into.” He gave a fluting call and the raptors backed off. “If you’re outside and you get jumped by wild raptors, usually at the point you think the fight is going your way is when a Carno or Allosaur or Rex shows up to join the fun. Because of their exclusionary programming, an Allo or Carno will ignore the raptors to focus on you, effectively aiding them in trying to kill you.”

            Bellona blinked. “And the Rex?”

            “It’ll just try to eat everyone around. If you’re lucky it’ll focus on something else first. If not, you get to be the first victim.”

            “Don’t take this the wrong way, but this place sounds insane. Why are we here?’

            “One, it’s got a good time differential so we’ll only be gone a minute or two back home while two weeks pass here. Two, pokegirls are kind of insane too and, if you’re like the others, you’ll come to enjoy defeating the creatures here and taking trophies from them. Three, part of the time we’ll spend finding you a place for your base. Everyone seems to like the idea of having their own place where others don’t go.” He gestured around them. “This is Elizabeth’s. We’ll head up to mine as soon as you’re ready.”

            “Where is yours?”

            “It’s in a place called the Highlands. It’s colder there, but not as cold as the murder snow and it’s got Giganotosaurus, who are big enough to need much higher walls than these to keep them out. That and there’s horses and sheep there and I’ve found I like eating them both when I’m in my dragon form.”

            “Why is someplace called the murder snow?”

            “It’s the Antarctic region here, it’s well below freezing and you need very specialized cold weather gear. That and it’s full of dire wolves, Yutyrannus and Carnotaurus, frost wyverns and Argentavis, all of whom want to murder you. The mammoth, woolly rhinoceros and other herbivores that are common there won’t specifically try to kill you unless you hurt them or you’re in the area when they’re fighting something else and you get sucked into the battle. At that point they will hit you and it will hurt a lot. Elizabeth ended up going into her pokeball until I could heal her when she accidentally got caught in a fight between woolly mammoth and dire wolves. She got pretty torn up and I’d like to keep that from happening to you.”

            “Where are we now?”

            “I’m sending you a map of this place, which is called Ragnarok. We’re on the northwest side and not far from the Blue Obelisk.” Iain pointed behind Bellona and she turned to see a massive floating object shooting a blue light into the sky. “We’ll be heading east and my place is on the northeast side.”

            Bellona spent a second examining the map Iain’s twee sent hers. “Are we walking or flying?”

            “Flying is a lot safer, especially until you get a better feel for what’s around. If we went on foot the trip isn’t too dangerous until we get up into the hills east of Viking Bay. There are Rexes and raptors and lots of other badness there. And then, on the other side of those hills, is the volcano, where there are lots of giant scorpions, mantis and such.” He smiled. “And, of course, sometimes they come down from the hills and hunt the bay. I’ve seen a sabretooth tiger rampaging through until some trikes took it down as well as the odd Rex. Besides, flying would take about twenty minutes. Walking could take days. Still, if you want to walk, we will.”

            Bellona summoned her wings. “I should warn you that I haven’t flown in years. I’m not sure I can safely carry you.”

            Iain lifted off to hover. “I’m good.”

            Bellona’s eyes narrowed slightly. “What else about you am I going to learn that I will think that I should have already known but don’t?”

            “Since I can’t read your mind, I don’t know.” His smile faded as his feet touched the ground again. “I’d like you to join us and I’ve been told that you want to join us, but I haven’t asked the question yet. Do you want to become one of my women and join the inner harem?”

            Bellona cocked her head curiously. “I turn the question around. Do you want me to join the inner harem?”

            “I do.”


            “You’re smart, strong willed, powerful and very pretty.”

            “Do you really think I’m pretty? Most of your women look much more human than I do.”

            “Surviving,” Iain muttered.


            “Most of my surviving women look more human than not, although you’re giving Lynn, Scheherazade and Ganieda, among others, short thrift in that comment. A lot of the women who died during the attack were not very near human. Some of the kids, too.”

            Bellona looked away. “I’m sorry.”

            “Bellona, don’t be sorry.” Iain’s voice was gentle. “You lost almost everyone. I know that the loss of some of them hurts you as much as my losses hurt me. We will never forget them and pretending that their loss doesn’t hurt does their memories a disservice. It’s supposed to hurt.” He smiled slightly. “Neither one of us is going to kill ourselves to be with them, so we have to go on, which is why we’re here. Physically I find you very attractive. I also find your personality attractive, so yes, I think you’re pretty.”

            “April said you wouldn’t lie to us.”

            “She’s wrong. I will lie to you about a lot of things, if I think I should. But this is something that I haven’t lied to anyone about yet and I am not going to start. If we’re not attracted to one another, we need to know immediately and we need to decide if we’re going to try and do something about it or if we’re not. I think you’re physically attractive, I like what I’ve seen of most of your personality so far and I think you smell nice.”

            Her eyebrows went up. “So far?”

            “I did write those stories. You can be as vindictive as they come and, for a while, you were a career criminal and a rather good one.”

            “Is that from these notes April mentioned once?”

            “I make lots of notes that don’t get into a story. You were happy to join Devon’s harem, until he ignored you after giving you Tess’s job. I have a beta in April, but nothing says I have to have only one of them.”

            “Don’t tease me. I’ve seen the relationship you have with April.”

            “I’m not teasing you at all. My relationship with April is,” he paused, “special. I really don’t know another word to describe it. That’s not going to change, especially now since she’s the senior member of my harem.”

            “She is?”

            “I met Scheherazade first, followed by Eve and April. Eve is dead and Scheherazade lost several years with me when she was dead. April has been with me the longest. That doesn’t mean anything to me, but I have to keep harem dynamics in my mind when making decisions about certain things involving my ladies.” He shrugged. “But April wasn’t the only person I spent a lot of time talking with and who helped, as much as she can, to straighten out the mess my life has become. I spent a lot of time talking with Joyce and with Allison, and they’re both gone.”

            “What about the others?”

            “I spend time with everyone, and we do spend a lot of that time talking. Communication is the biggest secret to keeping a relationship going. If you don’t talk, and regularly, you don’t have a relationship. But I had my betas. I still do, in April, and Kasumi, but since she’s not a pokegirl she doesn’t matter in the eyes of the harem.” He smiled at her expression. “Yes, I know a lot about harem dynamics. Either I observed it and wrote it down or I created it and you’re the result.”

            She nodded. “Do you know which it is?”

            “No. From here they’re indistinguishable, especially since I’m here with pokegirls now.”  He shrugged again. “But I don’t think I’m a god, even a little one that’s being worshipped by some Tyrannodames back on the world we came here from. So I instead go ahead and operate under the idea that somehow I saw the things that were happening here and wrote about them. The idea that I created Kerrik and Shikarou and you and put myself in this situation is not one that I want to consider. That way lies insanity and I have enough problems that I don’t want to add being insane to them, no matter how comfortable insanity might be.”

            “That and you couldn’t take care of us if you were insane.”

            “Especially that. Every one of you that dies hurts. Even Scheherazade and Irena coming back didn’t completely remove the pain of their deaths. If I lost all of you, I too would be lost, even if I survived. You are the reasons I get up every morning. You are the reasons I go through the motions of pretending to be human, even when I was.” His smile turned grim. “And if I did survive the deaths of my entire family, heaven help the rest of the world. They’d be lucky if I became a recluse. If I decided they were to blame for the deaths, I would make what James did look like the half assed job it was.”

            She smiled amusedly. “The survivors would tell stories about you for generations?”

            “There would be no survivors.”

            Bellona blinked at the absolute certainty in his voice. “Yes, let’s not go there. You said that this is Elizabeth’s place. Will I get one too?”

            “If you want.” He smiled. “Yes, I know you will. You are a woman after all.”

            “I’m a pokegirl. I’m not exactly human.”

            “Pokegirls are human.” He chuckled. “Not that it matters. I’m not human at all.”

            “Can I see what you look like as a dragon?”

            “You will, but not here. Dinosaurs sometimes react badly to my presence or scent and these haven’t been vetted yet. We’ll do it in the Highlands. If a Giga goes after me, I can deal with it like I usually do.”

            “Do you fight it?”

            He shook his head. “Nope. That would be stupid. I either lead it out to sea and let it drown or I lure it into the wyvern trench where it can try swimming in lava.” He began to hover again. “On the way I’ll point out things that might be interesting, like something that appears to be an abandoned ruin but is really a death trap filled with rabid giant bats and spiders.”

            Bellona was adjusting her pack to ride low on her back where it wouldn’t interfere with her wings. “Please do. Does your place have a comfortable bed?”

            “It does, along with some heavy duty restraints.” He chuckled once. “And we’ll have to decide on our safe words.”

            She grinned. “Yes, we will.” She launched herself into the air. “Try and keep up!”

            Iain watched her fly away for a few seconds before shaking his head. “She should have at least asked me which way was east. That’s south.” He drifted upwards and gave another fluting whistle to the dinosaurs, this time setting them to self defense, before accelerating hard after the Dragonqueen.


            Iain sat with his back comfortably against Zareen’s equine torso under the shade of a large oak tree not far from the Sabine House. His eyes were closed and he was breathing deeply and evenly, but the truth was that he was wide awake and his mind was far away in a digitally created room where he was sitting in a chair at a table with several other people, all of whom were physically in their home countries. To his right was Regent Queen Kozakura of Haven. She’d called this meeting and was its host.

            Kozakura sat straight as she surveyed the room and the other six people in it. “Minister Ishikawa,” she said formally.

            Vice Minister of Defense Banri Isikawa of Nippon bowed in his seat. Although currently a civilian in Emperor Naruhito’s government, he was a retired general of the army in the Nipponese Imperial Military and wore his uniform instead of a suit. “Your Majesty.”

            She nodded to the man sitting next to Ishikawa. “Mr. Vice President.”

            David Lyons, the Vice President of Texas, nodded back with a welcoming smile. “Good afternoon, Your Majesty.”

            Her attention shifted to the man next to Lyons. “Minister Quin.”

            Bernard Quin was the Minister of the Armed Forces for the newly crowned Queen Zara of the United Kingdom, the same position he’d held with her mother, Queen Anne. “Your Majesty, I want to offer my condolences on behalf of Her Majesty Queen Zara for the loss of your father.”

            Kozakura’s ears flicked. “Thank you, Minister. I wish to offer my condolences on the untimely death of Queen Anne. We never met, but I have the utmost respect for her and what she accomplished in the face of the murder of most of her family and the betrayal of so many in her government. She will be sorely missed.”

            “Thank you,” Quin murmured.

            Kozakura then nodded to the man sitting next to Quin. “Minister Murphy.”

            Andrew Murphy was Ireland’s Minister of State at the Department of Defence. “Your Majesty.”

            She turned to Iain. “Clan Leader Grey.”

            “Your Majesty.” Iain smiled slightly. “How is His Highness?”

            Kozakura’s lips twitched. “He is well and preparing for his coronation.”

            “That’s good to hear,” said the last man at the table. David Smotrich was the Israeli Deputy Minister of Defense. “The schedule has not changed, has it, Your Majesty?”

            “It has not,” Kozakura said reassuringly. “Prince Stephen will take the throne in two weeks. However, this meeting is not about the coronation. As I agreed to provide to you, my allies, this is the first of the weekly reports of the status of the bombardment of our common enemies, the leagues.” She looked around the room. “Are there any other questions before I begin?”

            “Has the situation caused delays with deliveries from Prometheus,” Murphy asked Iain. “Our most recent delivery was supposed to arrive yesterday but has not yet been seen.”

            Theodora whispered to Iain through his twee and he raised an eyebrow. “I believe, if you check again, you’ll find that the delivery took place last night, after the storm broke and the wind died down enough to make it safe for my factor’s employees to unload the shipment.” He looked around the room. “As you were assured earlier, deliveries will continue as scheduled unless your government requests a change in it. But we’re here to listen to Her Majesty’s report, not mine.”

            Murphy colored slightly at the rebuke. While Ireland had officially been neutral in the fight with the Blue League, it was involved in a quiet civil war within the former lands of North Ireland. Iain knew that, in this world’s history, there had been no Good Friday Agreement and so the low intensity conflict between Irish Catholics and Northern Irish Protestants had continued until very recently. There was a lot of bad blood between the sides, acerbated by the Irish government’s refusal to let Northern Ireland remain a somewhat distinct political entity after Queen Anne returned it to Ireland as part of their agreement. Things had been quiet recently, but that could change at any moment and the Irish government wanted the military supplies Lucifer was providing in case the violence erupted again. Iain could accept that, but this wasn’t the place or time for discussing that situation.

            Lucifer was seriously tempted to wash her hands of the entire Irish situation, considering they wanted to suckle at the teat of the Sisterhood all the while remaining neutral in the conflict with Blue. Only the coming issue with the feral pokegirls kept the shipments arriving, but her representatives had exchanged some very heated words with their Irish government counterparts.

            Kozakura eyed Iain for a moment before inclining her head gracefully. “Thank you.” She looked at the others. “The bombardment of the leagues has been going on for seven days now. As was expected, targets are becoming fewer and fewer and so the operational tempo has slowed a great deal. Also, as expected, the use of precision munitions has minimized the collateral damage to non-targeted buildings and other structures. Most of the governments appear to have listened to my warning about trying to hide equipment behind civilians and so the number of civilian dead is actually lower than I had anticipated.” Her ears flicked. “A few leagues did not heed my warning and tried to hide weapons and equipment in churches, mosques and medical facilities. They were, therefore, regrettably destroyed, resulting in a larger number of civilian dead for those regions.”

            “Intentionally targeting noncombatants is a war crime,” Murphy pointed out.

            Kozakura regarded him thoughtfully for a moment. “First of all, the Kingdom of Haven is not signatory to any treaty that defines what is and what is not a war crime. Secondly, no noncombatants were intentionally targeted. Military equipment and personnel were intentionally targeted. The fact that the leagues decided to attempt to shield that equipment with the lives of others is not the fault of the Kingdom of Haven and I refuse to accept any blame for their actions or the results thereof.” Her ears flattened halfway. “Finally, I am spirit folk and I told them what I would do if they attempted to hide. I regret the unnecessary deaths but if I tell someone that I am going to do something, I will.”

            Lyons frowned. “Does that mean you intend to continue the bombardment for the full forty five days?”

            “That depends entirely upon the responses of the leagues,” Kozakura replied. “I will maintain my equipment in readiness to destroy any legitimate target my enemies see fit to provide me. If they do not provide me with targets, I will not destroy them. I will not, however, create targets just to use the weapons at my disposal. Therefore, the bombardment will end when I am presented with no legitimate targets. If, at any time in the next thirty eight days, I am presented with such a target, I will destroy it.” She nodded towards Bernard Quin. “As I agreed to with Minister Quin, I will carefully verify the identity of any targets before destroying them.”

            “Why,” Smotrich asked bluntly. Iain was aware that he probably already knew the answer to that question, but the Israeli government wanted to make sure there were no misunderstandings regarding this situation. Iain could respect that attitude.

            “The United Kingdom is using this opportunity,” Quin replied in his deep voice, “to move into formerly Blue League territory with the intent of freeing Her Majesty’s subjects. We have a great deal of commonality of equipment with the Blue League forces and would not like to be destroyed by mistake. Haven and my government have agreed on some easily identifiable markings to keep there from being any friendly fire incidents. So far they have worked perfectly.”

            “We would like to mark our units the same way,” Ishikawa said immediately.

            “I have had the information sent to all of your aides,” Kozakura replied. “Should the leagues start using the marking system, we will determine a new way of identifying your equipment so it isn’t accidentally destroyed.”

            Iain raised a finger and Kozakura smiled slightly. “You wished to add something, Clan Leader?”

            “I wanted to ask Minister Ishikawa something. Since Haven hasn’t been attacking targets within Nippon, does this mean your military may be going on the offensive against Shanghai?”

            Ishikawa shrugged. “That is not my decision to make, but the Korean government is in exile in Nippon and their president has been trying to pressure the Emperor to liberate Korea.” He smiled a shark’s grin. “All of Korea, of course.”

            “Of course,” Quin said. The North Korean government had been quickly absorbed or eliminated by Shanghai during the takeover and the South Korean government had proclaimed itself the government of the entire Korean peninsula in response.

            “I heard that Gothic contacted you so they could surrender,” Murphy said. “Is this true?”

            “A group claiming to be the Gothic government asked to open negotiations to end the destruction,” Kozakura replied. “Surrender was not discussed.”

            “What happened,” Murphy asked.

            “As they represented a league government, I located them and bombarded them until they were destroyed,” Kozakura replied. “I never said there was a way I would stop bombarding them early.”

            Murphy stared at her. “What if they wanted to surrender?”

            “Then they should have surrendered.” Kozakura’s voice was hard. “They wanted to talk. The time for talking ended when the first nuclear weapon detonated.”

            “What will you do if a group contacts you and surrenders,” Ishikawa asked.

            “I am honorable,” Kozakura replied. “I will accept their surrender. Then I will determine who, if any, was involved in the nuclear attacks and execute the guilty.”

            “What is going to happen when the time is up and you are supposed to end your bombardment,” Murphy was watching Kozakura closely.

            “I will stop bombarding the remnants of the leagues,” Kozakura replied. Her ears flicked “Remembering my earlier comments about honor and being a spirit folk, I can do nothing else.”

            Murphy wasn’t done. “What if, after your bombardment ends, the league governments resurface?”

            Kozakura raised an eyebrow. “If they resurface, then I will know that my bombardment didn’t accomplish my goal of destroying them. It does not mean I will continue bombarding them without provocation.” Her smile showed her fangs. “It would be my hope in such a situation that they would provoke me.”

            “You are saying that you wouldn’t continue destroying them in that situation?”

            Kozakura’s ears flattened for a heartbeat. “Minister Murphy, have you been in contact with the leagues?”

            “Ireland is neutral in this conflict,” Murphy responded. “Communication is vital in this situation to reduce the number of misunderstandings.”

            “Haven’s official policy,” Kozakura’s voice was cold, “is to crush our enemies, not talk to them. However, Ireland is not Haven and I am not going to take umbrage with the activities of the Irish government in how it pursues its goals. I would, however, hope that we are not working at cross purposes.”

            “We are not,” Murphy reassured her. “There is, however, concern about what will happen afterwards. You have proven that Haven has the power to destroy the world and we are not sure that such power should rest in your, no matter how capable, hands.”

            Kozakura’s ears went completely still. “What are you proposing?”

            From the relaxed expression on Murphy’s face, Iain decided that the man had no idea that Kozakura’s stillness was her tell when she was furious with someone but not quite ready to attack. He probably thought she’s been surprised or felt she was in no position to protest. “The nations represented here should form an association and such a destructive power should be placed under that group’s control.”

            “Like the UN,” Smotrich asked scathingly. Israel had been treated poorly by the United Nations ever since Israel had been formed as a country at the end of World War Two. “Isn’t that where all of this started?”

            Murphy shook his head. “We all face the leagues together. Formalizing that arrangement makes logical sense. The threat of further bombardments would stand us well in negotiating with the surviving leagues.”

            “No.” Kozakura said. “I will not relinquish my control of my satellites. Understand that these are weapons to be used, not to be placed permanently overhead as a threat. Their operational life is too short for such a tactic to be viable, even if I desired it.”

            Murphy’s calm began to show signs of fraying around the edges, and his voice was harsh. “What is to keep you from using those satellites against us?”

            Don’t say it, Iain sent when Kozakura opened her mouth to tell him that nothing except her own will was stopping such an event.

            She didn’t glance at him. Very well. “I will offer you something else, Minister Murphy. When the period I mandated for the bombardment is over, I will destroy every offensive satellite I own. I will even document that destruction. That should satisfy your government that I do not intend to use it on Ireland.”

            Murphy blinked. “What if we need it again?”

            “Minister Murphy, I am willing to keep control of my satellites or I am willing to destroy them so no one can use them. I am not willing to give up control of them to anyone else. I cannot guarantee in such a situation that they would not be used on Haven. You may either accept me having them or you may accept no one having them.” Her smile was as cold as ice. “I give you my word that I will destroy every offensive satellite that I own. I will not let the new king stop me, either.”

            “When he’s king, can you carry this out,” Quin asked.

            “I have given my word. My brother will understand that I am bound by that statement to either do what I said I will or die trying to keep my word. I will not be foresworn.”

            “Any of us could say that,” Murphy noted.

            “That isn’t exactly true,” Iain leaned back in his chair as all eyes turned to him. “If you consulted with Queen Ygerna you’d learn that because Kozakura gave her word in a binding agreement with us, unless we all release her from it, if she does not do as she swore, her own magic is most likely to kill her. If it doesn’t, Queen Ygerna knows how to use fey magic to compel Kozakura to do as she swore or die.” He smiled easily. “And if you swore by the same things any true fey holds dear, you would be just as bound. So while you could lie to others and say anything you can get them to believe, once you invoke fey magic in an agreement, you must carry out its strictures or else the magic will rebound on you and, if you are lucky, it will only kill you.”

            Murphy looked surprised. “So if she says she’ll do something she has to or she’ll die?”

            “If she swears to do something,” Iain corrected him. “And you’ll find that what a fey promises and what you hear are often two different things. Always count your valuables, your organs and your family members before and after dealing with any spirit folk, and that’s doubly true if you come to any sort of arrangement or agreement with one.”

            Quin blinked. “Organs?”

            Iain smiled. “The term ‘pound of flesh’ most likely originated in a bad deal with a fey, minister, and it meant exactly what it was. Only later did Shakespeare document it in Merchant of Venice.” His smile faded. “But we’re getting beyond the scope of this meeting. Kozakura promised to destroy all of offensive satellites she owns after the forty five day period is over. I believe she will do as says. Even if, for some reason, she cannot, Stephen, her brother and the new king, will understand that she if she is prevented from doing as she promised, she will die. He won’t want her to die and will order her to carry out her oath to prevent her loss to Haven.”

            “Prince Stephen does not know of her oath, as she has only made it,” Quinn pointed out.

            “I’ll make sure he learns all about it,” Iain replied. “After all, I don’t want her having the ability to bombard Grey, either.” He shrugged. “Whether or not I’d have liked for us as a group to have that ability is a moot question since she made that promise and I don’t want her to die for it. There’s been enough dying on our side for quite some time to come.”

            “Agreed,” Vice President Lyons said. “And since Iain is a policeman, I believe he will monitor the situation appropriately.”

            Ishikawa nodded. “Yes, I had heard of his being a Texas Ranger. It speaks highly of his character.”

            “Your Majesty,” Iain wanted to keep the conversation from being sidelined. “Do you have anything else to report to us?”

            “I do not. I will send an appointment for us to meet again in seven days around this time. As the situation unfolds, we will assess whether or not we still need weekly meetings, but there will be a meeting next week and another when the bombardment ceases.” She rose and bowed respectfully. “I thank you all for attending this meeting and it is now ended.” People began vanishing as they logged out until it was just her, Iain and Minister Ishikawa. “Yes, minister?”

            “There are two things, Your Majesty. I would like to arrange a meeting later this week with you, Clan Leader Grey and Eldest Sister Lucifer. While I have no official notice of an impending offensive against Shanghai, there are some changes and additions I would like to make to our next few shipments.”

            “I’ll set everything up and send you some meeting times the two of you can choose from,” Iain replied.

            Ishikawa nodded. “Thank you, Clan Leader.” He turned back to Kozakura and bowed deeply. “I have been charged by His Imperial Majesty to extend an invitation to Your Majesty and your grandfather, Kerrik, for the Princess Michiko’s miyamairi. We would like his blessing on the new princess when she goes to her first shrine.”

            Kozakura nodded. “Send me the information and I will forward it to my grandfather. If I can attend, I will, but my grandfather is the Royal Family’s kami and I will not presume to take his place.”

            Isihikawa nodded. “Will he attend?”

            “I cannot speak for him. I promise he will receive your invitation within an hour of my receiving it, Minister. That is all I promise in regards to this.”

            Ishikawa bowed deeply. “Thank you, Your Majesty and farewell.”

            “Farewell, Minister Ishikawa.”  Kozakura watched him vanish and turned to Iain. “Iain-san, I expected Ninhursag or perhaps Gormlaith to attend this meeting.”

            “I decided I needed to be here, if nothing else to act as a foil for Murphy. Gormlaith is observing.”

            “Do you think he is colluding with the leagues?”

            “Ireland has always been neutral in everything that has happened since it became a republic,” Iain replied quietly. “They have no reason to love the leagues, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out they’re talking with at least Blue, if not some of the other leagues. They tend to want to play both sides off against the middle.” He shrugged. “I know Texas is keeping its lines of communication open with Sunshine, Indigo and Johto. There isn’t any real traffic that I’m aware of, but the lines are there in case someone wants to say something.” He smiled. “And what I am aware of isn’t always everything that’s going on.”

            “Are the leagues talking to each other?”

            “They’re trying, but Daya and Theodora are destroying transmitters as fast as they find them, so the leagues are having to resort to much slower methods of communication. So far the messages are variants of ‘are you still alive’ and ‘what the fuck do we do now’.”

            “I suppose it would be too much to expect that the bombardment could have destroyed them all.” Her jaw muscles bunched as she gritted her teeth for an instant. “I want them all dead!”

            “They will be, and in less than a century.”

            “I am not old enough to appreciate such long term thinking,” she said with a smile. “And I must ask to purchase some O&I satellites from you.” Her smile turned impish. Iain had never thought of her as beautiful, her face was too angular for that, but for an instant she was very pretty indeed. “I need them so I have some to destroy when the bombardment is over.”

            “How many?”

            Her ears flicked. “Honestly, I’m not sure. How many do you think it would take to make them believe our capability to make war is no more?”

            “They’re not stupid, Kozakura. Eventually they’re going to figure out Grey was behind the attacks.”

            “If we are careful, it will be their children or grandchildren who discover the truth.” Kozakura placed her hands behind her back. “And the truth is that I ordered the attacks, Iain-san. You merely supplied the armaments I used. That is the truth. Yes, you allowed me that luxury, but it was still my decision.”

            Iain eyed her for a moment before nodding. “As you wish. I’ll give you a hundred satellites. It’s nearly half of what’s in orbit at any one time and you can destroy them with my blessing.”

            “I have no idea of what one costs. Can Haven afford to purchase so many?”

            “I said give, Kozakura, not sell.”

            Theodora appeared. “I have transferred control of the satellites to Selene. They’re yours now, Your Majesty.”

            Kozakura shook her head. “I cannot accept such a gift.”

            Iain smiled. “Don’t make me have to get Kasumi involved. Besides, the satellites are free. Reloads are not, although I suspect that you could probably get them from Vallation or Cassiopeia. There’s been too much bad blood between Haven and Grey, Kozakura. I’m sorry that it took your father’s death as well as the death of most of your family to wash some of it away, but I intend to keep pouring water on it until it’s completely gone.”

            “Thank you, Iain-san, and I will help you to do so.”

            Iain smiled. “I have to go now. I’ve got training. Be well, Kozakura.”

            “And you, Iain-san.” An instant later they were both gone and Selene ended the simulation.


Iain Grey



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


Outer Clan

Golden Cloud – equine unicorn

Arianrhod -Fey Goblin Female


Satellite Clan

            74 male Goblins

            89 female Goblins


Queendom / Outer Clan

73 Elves

Dionne - Elfqueen

Adrianna - Elfqueen

Heltu - Wet Queen

14 Wet Elves


Dead Harem

Dead Harem (22)

Eirian - Silver Dragoness

Aurum - Gold Dragoness

Skye - Blue Dragoness

Emerald - Green Dragoness

Beryl - Red Dragoness

Julia - human

Ling - Cheetit

Matilda - White Tigress

Liadan - Twau

Sorrel - Armsmistress

Natalie - Blazicunt

Maria – Slutton

Rhea Silvia – Chimera

Geraldine – Human analog of Iain

Alabaster – Dragoness (white)

Onyx – Dragoness (black)

Lapis – Dragoness (blue)

Garnet – Dragoness (red)

Iolite – Dragoness (purple)

Malachite – Dragoness (green with white swirls)

Dabria – Dark Queen

Omisha – Demoness


Mother                                    Children



                                    Myrna (Age 4)



                                    Dorothy: Duelist (Age 3)

                                    Meara: Duelist

                                    Regan: Duelist


                                    Olivia: Megami Sama (Age 6)

                                    Seraphina: Megami Sama

                                    Miram: Angel (Age 5)



                                    Caltha: Nightmare (Age 0)

                                    Kim:  Nightmare

                                    Xanthe: Nightmare

                                    Epona: Nightmare

                                    Philippa: Nightmare

                                    Nott: Nightmare

                                    Nyx: Nightmare



                                    Anna: Ria

                                    Esmerelda: Ria


Monica Chambers

                                    James: Jamie Harris kid (Age 2)